This is a response to VC 28 Paul 7 ("Nevermore ... Evermore")...
Part 7 of the Wedding Adventure / Bird Woman Saga. Betsy continues to reminisce about the early days of her marriage from a park bench in Golden Gate Park in the year 2049...
In the spring of '93 it seemed as if half the world was wearing shiny metallic hats and the other half was sitting in trees flapping their arms. Human civilization was hanging by a thread as the "Cartan-Cappers" (named for the eccentric but brilliant founder of the world's leading supplier of guano-proof hats) struggled against huge flocks of ill-tempered, foul-smelling "big birds," ordinary people who had been infected by "smart guano" and were now causing widespread havoc by liberating henhouses and rioting for birdseed.
All of which made for sparkling conversation at the annual Archipelago Bowling Tournament. Larry and Dianne, resplendant in their Stanford Bowling Shirts, were trouncing Holly and Janine. Suzanne, well into her third Margarita, was trouncing herself at Solitaire, but still found the time to offer sideline commentary. And Roger was AWOL in the arcade section, feeding quarters into Leisure Suit Larry.
"GO MAMA!" yelled Janine as her ball hurtled across three lanes, bounced, and lodged in the cement wall of the alley, uncomfortably close to a Pepsi Machine. Holly, her lip quivering, bravely tallied another gutterball as Larry, ever the good sportsman, helped Janine find a heavier ball. Suzanne reached for her drink and wondered for the umpteenth time what was keeping their fearless editor.
You could have heard a pin drop when John walked in the door arm in arm with none other than the bird woman herself. There he was, the Mad Hatter of Wall Street calmly facing his arch nemesis, the Terror of the Skies, La Belle Dame Sans Merci. In the heady days that followed, tabloid headlines would scream "SHOOTOUT AT THE OAKLAND BOWLERO!" But for now the crowd was silent, instinctively sensing history in the making.
The bird woman, known as "D.R." (for Dark Raven) to her feathered friends, mounted a table, swept her inky black feather boa in a contemptuous arc, and addressed the crowd.
"Surface dwellers, hear me! You have all learned to fear the sound of my armies of the air, the squawk, the swoosh, and the splat! But even I, Queen of the Heavens, am bound by a higher power. The sacred starmaze rules all. And now, as the maze directs, I will risk my entire dominion on the outcome of a single contest. WINNER TAKE ALL! Prepare yourselves to doff your hats and join me. I do NOT intend to lose!"
She turned to John, who seemed almost in a trance, his mind already wandering through the higher dimensions of the maze. Their eyes met and for a moment it seemed as if the space between their stares might catch fire. John had not forgotten the events of his wedding day and she, for her part, had not forgotten her prison cell on Alcatraz or the "mouse" who had put her there! Slowly she extended her finger and pointed into the face of her former friend. "Surface dweller," she bellowed, "Choose your champion!"
John ambled over to his fellow Archipelagoans. "OK, here's the deal. One of us versus one of them. Ten frames. Winner take all. We've got to bowl our hearts out on this one! But don't worry. We've got a secret weapon!"
John slyly opened his bowling bag to reveal a large brown parcel. The return addess, in a childish scrawl familiar to all of them, read "Stuart L., Director of Poetic Research, SETI project, NASA."
"It's a bowling ball," whispered John. "A very SPECIAL bowling ball. Our raven-haired friend knows her way through the starmaze as well as I do, but I have friends even she does not suspect!"
Larry had learned over the years not to argue with the logic of the Starmaze. If the maze said "bowl!" then bowl they must, even if the fate of all mankind hinged on the outcome. He had only one question. "Which one of us will bowl?"
"Let me at 'em!" snarled Janine. "I ain't afraid a' no damn birds!" Holly turned pale. "But Janine, you keep hitting other people's pins. I've been practicing at the officer's club. I think it should be me." Larry looked thoughtful. "Yes, but Diane and I were on the Stanford bowling team. And Stanford, as you know, is synonymous with bowling."
"There's only one way to decide this," said John. "We'll have to draw straws. Here. Each one of you take one. Choose carefully; there's a lot riding on this. Whoever gets the broken straw will face the bird-bowler."
One by one the brave Archipelagoans lifted their straws and held them aloft. Larry and Diane raised their straws together: both unbroken. Holly closed her eyes and pulled: unbroken. Janine, grinning like a Cossack, yanked on her straw, but it, too, was unbroken. The blood drained from their faces at they turned to hear a familiar slurping noise.
"Damn!" said Suzanne, "How do you expect me to drink my Margaritas with half a straw?" As the realization sank in, the annointed champion of humankind began to sputter. "Oh no you don't! I can't even tell my thumb holes from my finger holes! It's a stupid game played by stupid people who yell 'Yabba Dabba Do!' Not me! Nope! Can't do it! Stop looking at me like that!"
But the worst was yet to come. John stepped before the crowd, from which a CNN camera had somehow sprouted, and made the announcement. "Good people of the Earth, we have our champion! Suzanne will bowl for mankind!"
The Bird Woman smiled. "Very well. And now you will meet MY champion!" She snapped a finger at her servant, a short woman who, disguised as a snotty waiter, had once been an uninvited guest to a certain wedding. "Yumi! Fetch the cage!"
With a snicker the small woman darted out of the bowling alley and quickly reappeared towing an enormous cage mounted on wheels. Inside the cage was a half-naked man with feathers glued to his chest and fresh guano dripping from his forehead. His eyes were wild and his hands gripped white-nuckled at the bars of his cage. Some yahoos in the crowd began to laugh, but the Archipelagoans looked on in horror.
It was Holly who broke the silence. Rushing to the cage she yelled, "Paul! What have they done to you!"
"Squawk! Squawk!" replied Paul, as he tried to bite at Holly's outstretched hands.
[Editor's note: As usual, the person writing each chapter gets to choose another Archipelagoan to write the next chapter, and that person is honor-bound to write. I choose a person who as been untapped until now, a person whose razor-sharp mind just might keep these plot threads from unraveling: our own LARRY! Those of you who wish to review the story to date can push the tree button (just above the word-o-meter), choose the Root option, and work your way forward through the chapters. Enjoy!]