Tick ignored her, closing his eyes and bringing up the image of what Master George had shown him back at the Bermuda Triangle complex. He raised his mind’s eye to look at the Doohickey, the uppermost control.

“Okay,” he said, opening his eyes to focus on the real thing. While holding the rod with his left hand, he reached forward and turned the Doohickey three clicks to the right. He paused again, knowing it was better to get it right the first time instead of rushing and having to start all over again. He envisioned the Whatchamacallit, then the Thingamajig, slowly making the appropriate adjustments. He moved his attention to the next control down.

An ear-splitting crack made him yelp, looking up to see a huge seam had split the right door into almost two complete sections. Several yellowy arms squirmed through the opening, grasping and clawing to pull the pieces apart.

Tick, spurred into a fear-induced sense of focus, went back to work on the Barrier Wand.

“The water ruined the ruddy Sound Slicers, no doubt,” Mothball said as she ran forward to the doors, picking up a huge splinter of wood that had fallen inward onto the stone floor. She immediately got to work, whacking and stabbing any sign of the diseased yellow skin that squeezed through the large crack. With every shriek and scream of anger, she doubled her efforts.

Paul joined her, finding a smaller but sharper stick. Without a word to each other, they worked in tandem—Paul fighting the lower portion, Mothball the upper.

They only had to buy Tick a little more time.

Sofia felt rooted to the ground, screaming inside with helplessness. Sato stood beside her, frantically looking around as if trying to find something to fight.

“What happened out there?” Sofia asked him.

Sato looked at her, his eyes drained of the hatred and mistrust he’d shown back at Master George’s place. “He saved my life.” Sato pointed at Tick.

“He did?”

Sato nodded.

“That’s—” Sofia shrieked as something grabbed her ankle. She looked down to see a slick yellowed hand gripped around her, attached to one of the fangen, crawling out of the river. Behind it she saw another’s head pop out of the water.

Before she could react, Sato kicked down with his foot, breaking the miserable thing’s hand with a hideous crunch. It squealed and splashed back into the water, just as Sato got down on his knees and shot the other one with a muted thump from his Sound Slicer. The creature disappeared into the black water.

Sofia reached down and helped Sato back to his feet, then dragged him away from the river, seeing no signs of other creatures—for the moment.

The breaches in the doors were cracking wider, almost big enough for one of the monsters to squeeze through. A sickly arm reached inside, a glimmering silvery globe clutched in its hand. Sofia was about to shout a warning when Mothball whacked the thing’s arm with her huge stick.

The tall woman turned around, her face on fire with rage, yelling at the others. “Run away from the door! All of you!”

Paul didn’t argue, turning immediately to run down the dark tunnel. He grabbed Tick’s arm as he passed, half dragging him along since Tick was still focused intently on the Barrier Wand.

“Come on!” Paul yelled. “We need to get out of their reach or they’re going to fry us for dinner. Just a little farther in!”

Tick finally snapped his concentration and broke into a full run behind Paul. “I’ve almost got it,” he said, panting. “Just one more dial.”

The last word had barely crossed his lips when a horrible explosion of cracking wood boomed and echoed down the dark stone tunnel. The silver ball had been some kind of bomb.

The breach was complete.

Tick tried to ignore the noise of screaming and howling fangen pouring through the shattered doors behind them. Knowing he had no time left, he quit running and knelt down again, bringing the Barrier Wand up to his eye level. “Everyone come here!” he shouted. “Grab the Wand!”

He focused on the bottom dial—the Whattzit. He turned it to the correct position, then glanced over the other six controls, verifying each of them one last time. The other Realitants had gathered around him, leaning over to grasp the Wand in different locations, being careful not to cover up or bump the dials and switches.

The nightmarish sounds of the onrushing fangen grew louder. Sato used his free hand to shoot with his Sound Slicer, keeping some of them at bay, but Tick knew it was only a matter of time.

“Everyone ready?” Tick shouted over the cackles and war cries of the fangen and the teeth-jolting thumps of Sato’s lone weapon.

“Do it!” Mothball answered for everyone. “Be quick about it!”

Unable to prevent a smile from spreading across his face, Tick pushed the golden button on top of the Barrier Wand.

Nothing happened.

The haunting chorus of horrible sounds continued. Tick and the others were still trapped inside the Lemon Fortress.

Tick pushed the button again, then again, triggering his finger up and down several times.


“What’s wrong, Tick?” Sofia yelled.

“Dude, hurry up!” Paul added.

Tick ignored them, studying the controls to see if he’d made a mistake. One by one, he quickly scanned them, matching their positions with the image burned inside his mind. Everything was right.

He pushed the button again, with the same result.

No, no, no, he thought. Not after all we just went through. You will work. You will work!

“Tick!” Sofia yelled, swatting him on the shoulders in panic.

Tick could hear the creatures coming, could feel them.

Focusing, funneling the surroundings out of his mind and heart, Tick gripped the Barrier Wand, staring at it like he could melt it with his eyes. They’d come so far . . .

He felt that strange reservoir of heat deep in his stomach bubbling to life. He’d tapped into it twice before and now he reached for it eagerly, letting the warmth flood through his entire body, filling him with certainty.

Tick shouted into the air, louder than he’d ever shouted anything in his whole life.


He closed his eyes and pushed the button one last time.

Tick instantly felt a tingle shoot down his back and the world around him fell into dead silence.


The Calm after the Storm

What do you mean, it worked?”