• Published 26th Feb 2021
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Tidalverse: The Fearsome Foursome - Alden MacManx

Four life-long friends go fishing one fine late spring morning. The Event happens. Now what?

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Chapter 11: Memphis

“Captain’s Log, Stardate 0/1602.13, 0800, Captain Frick recording. Have arrived at Cape Girardeau, Missouri after three days of sustained downriver travel. Spent the first night at Hoppie’s Marina south of Saint Louis, the second night at a quarry dock at what the maps say is Jackson Township, Missouri. Last night, we made it here to Cape Girardeau. Fred and Frack are setting up the purifier prior to refueling, Fran, Freida and Chopin are out scavenging in town. We’re going to stay until Monday, resting, refueling and replenishing. Frack’s getting worried. He’s down to his last two twelve-packs of Vanilla Coke, and once the refueling is started, he and Fred are going out searching while I tend the purifier. Rank has its privileges.

“If my navigation is anywhere near close to accurate, after we leave Monday morning, our first stop will be Wickliffe, Kentucky. That’s just south of where the Ohio River meets the Mississippi River. Wonder if we’re going to see a big daddy catfish down there. We have noticed that whenever we pass anything more than a creek feeding into the river, the fishing IS better. Haven’t seen any more big catfish, but it’s a big river.

“Tuesday’s target is New Madrid, Missouri. The river is going to start taking some serious wriggles down there, a lot of sailing for little southerly travel. With any luck, we can make it to Memphis before dark on Wednesday, but I honestly doubt that. Not with the way this river is going up and down, back and forth, zig and zag. I know, it only gets worse.

“As to the wildlife we’ve seen heading downriver, anything unusual or horrid, like manticores, storm birds, something that resembles an alligator, even something that looks like a dinosaur on two legs, splashing about on the shorelines have kept their distance, for which I’m glad. Hunting deer and squirrel is bad enough. Lots of them on the shorelines and flood control areas, for sure. Just glad we still have a lot of stock left from Saint Louis.

“Hope we can find some uncontaminated grain or flour here in Cape Girardeau. Our stocks are still good, thanks to the packets we have stashed in the ceiling net bags along with the tubs up front. Need to get some stuff to bake with. That’s Freida's job. She can cook from scratch. I need to read the directions on the box to do things somewhat right. Her pancakes are good, especially with barley grains tossed in while on the griddle. Barley’s good!

“I see they’re ready to start fueling, so let me wrap this log entry up and send it off to the WSU for archiving. Sandra, I know you tend to play my log tapes over the air, and I can’t stop you. I just wish you would tell me what my Arbitrons are! Captain Frick out.”

Frick quickly worked the keyboard, saving the audio log, then drafting a quick e-mail to Sandra at the WSU before attaching and sending the log recording. Once that was done, he gathered all the stuff he needed to clean and replace the fuel filters, including the large double-strength trash bags to dispose of the used filter material before heading out to the filter mechanism.

“Everything working right?” Frick asked his brother, putting the fresh filter material down on a clean tarp.

“Is now. Had a bit of a time getting suction started, but it’s working now. Today and tomorrow, dawn to dusk, and we’ll have full tanks again. We are going to have to get four more barrels of diesel down here tonight or tomorrow. Fortunately, we filled them last night. All we got to do is fetch them,” Frack told his brother.

“A chore I’m not looking forward to after lunch,” Frick muttered glumly. Levitating four barrels of dirty diesel from the gas station to the boat ramp was a job he knew he was best suited to do, but afterward the fumes gave him a headache.

“You’re best for the job, bro. We got the four here last night, didn’t we? Filling the barrels was easy at the station, it’s just getting them here that’s not so easy,” Frack said, putting a wing over his brother’s barrel and hugging slightly.

Frack was going to say something else, but Frick’s radio came to life. “Eagle Three to Command Center!” Freida called.

Frick used his magic to get his radio free from its harness. “Command Center. Go ahead, Eagle Three.”

“That place a little ways down the river we thought could have been a fuel storage area? Well, it’s a granary! Most of it in the silos have gone over, but there’s still some sealed barrels that are good! Corn, wheat, oats, barley, sorghum… a good variety here, with a dock!” Freida reported.

“Okay! Before we leave, we can tie up there and restock! Just label the barrels before taking off for a store or two, deal?” Frick semi-ordered.

“Already did, Command Center! Off to the next stop! Eagle Three out!” Freida said, ending transmission.

“Command Center out,” Frick replied.

“Well, that’s one thing we won’t have to hunt for here,” Fred said quietly.

“Nope, but we have some other hunting to do. You two ready to hit the Wal-Mart?” Frick asked the two ponies.

“Just need to hitch myself to the wagon,” Fred said, referring to the collapsible wagon they had made in Saint Louis, a wagon that folds for easy storage, built of three wide, thick planks laid side by side, bolted and secured to a piece of canvas large enough to cover the bottom of the wagon, four sturdy tires from a lawn cart, two wide planks for sides, shorter ones for front and tailgate, and locking braces underneath to hold everything together when unfolded. Folded up, it stores on the foredeck ahead of the grain tubs, securely lashed down. Sure, it takes Frick five minutes to fold and unfold it, or Freida and Fran about an hour, but it is very handy when in port.

“I know the Wal-Mart is farthest away, but it’s the most likely to have what we’re looking for. The four of you know what to look for. I’ll take care of the ship,” Frick said as he helped Fred hitch up to the wagon.

“Don’t worry about it, Frick. Do the hardest jobs first, and the rest will go easy,” Fred told Frick.

“I’ll keep my eyes open for some Jolt, bro!” Frack said as he lifted off.

“You do that!” Frick called out.

That evening, after a day’s hard labor hauling goods from the Wal-Mart back to the Deliverance, Fred was asleep in bed next to Freida, when he became aware he was dreaming again. This time, he was standing, in his human form, on the shore of a shallow lake. Fish swam, birds flew, the plant life was lush, the scene was tranquil, and he realized he was facing a Native American gentleman, wearing an elaborate headdress and vest, and his one leg was twisted some, like he had a clubbed foot or some other form of defect. “Hello, Fred. Raven gave me your contact code,” the gentleman said in what Fred realized was Chickasaw. “My name is Kolopin, and I want to give you a warning.”

“Go right on ahead, Chief Kolopin. You have my attention,” Fred said, in English, with respect.

“Your plans are to continue south, passing a great city named for a city in a foreign land. In that city is a demon who is quite taken by the spirit of a great person who once lived there. The demon has some of my people and my wife’s people in thrall, forcing them to feed his capacious ego. Free them by sending the demon back to the place whence he came,” Kolopin said as the lake caught fire, starting as a heart shaped flame that quickly broke apart, the birds taking flight, fish taking to deeper water, and the lush green landscape turning black after burning yellow-orange.

“How will I know the demon? What guise is he taking?” Fred asked.

Chief Kolopin put a hand on Fred’s shoulder for balance as he picked something up out of the water at their feet, a scorched, soggy stuffed ursinoid. “Raven says you have a lot of wit and wisdom. Prove it to me,” the chief declared as he gave Fred the toy.

“I shall do my utmost, Chief Kolopin. I take it, you will be watching?” Fred asked, halfway sure he knew what the answer would be.

“Yes, I shall be watching. I can do little else until more of my people Return. Until then, the Great Spirit bids me to watch, guide, and atone for my crimes of centuries past,” the chief said with a sad sigh. “By helping my people and those of my wife, I can hope to atone, and be able to leave this place.” He gestured, and the burned-out scene of the lake was replaced by the first verdant scene. “Help me help my people.”

“Of course I shall, Chief Kolopin. Now that the need is known, it would be wrong to refuse. I want to be able to look my God in the eye when my time comes and say truthfully that I saved lives whenever I could. I will help,” Fred told the Chief.

What appeared to be a smile quickly passed over the Chief’s face before returning to its original mien. “Looks like that old trickster was telling the truth about you. First time for everything, eh?” the Chief said before turning and walking off across the lake, with an odd staggering gait, swaying to and fro as he strode.

The scene faded to a pale blue before darkening to black. Fred woke up in bed with a snort, remembering the dream he just had, wondering why his hooves felt wet. He rolled out of bed and immediately felt something go squish under his left forehoof. He turned on the light, and saw he had stepped on the very stuffed animal Chief Kolopin had given him. “I really should stop having a roll and molasses as a bedtime snack…” he muttered to himself as he went to the bathroom to dry his hooves and get the soggy stuffie off the floor before Freida found it and raised a fuss. He then went upstairs to use the computer in the pilothouse, checking some ideas.

That morning, over breakfast, Fred told his dream to the rest of the crew, using the stuffie for evidence. “So, another god came to you last night, Fred?” Frick asked.

“He wasn’t a god, Frick. A spirit, but not a god. Did a little research afterwards, and I found out who it was who called me. He gave his name as Kolopin, but he was known to the white men by another name,” Fred said around a mouthful of waffle.

“Don’t keep us in suspense, Fred- who was he?” Frack asked.

“He is known to myth and legend as Reelfoot,” Fred replied, reaching for his coffee.

Fran and Freida straightened in their seats, but Fran spoke first. “I’ve heard that name before! He was a chief who wanted a bride from another tribe. The Great Spirit said no, but he kidnapped her anyway. The Great Spirit, angry, stepped on Reelfoot’s village, burying him, his bride and his village under the waters of what’s known as Reelfoot Lake.”

Freida nodded in agreement. “He was Chickasaw, she was Chocktaw. The lake is said to have been formed after the New Madrid earthquakes back in eighteen-twelve. It’s said the Mississippi flowed backwards for a while, and church bells rang in Cincinnati during at least one of the three quakes, I misremember which one,” Freida admitted.

Fred smiled at his wife of many years. “Never underestimate a librarian,” he said, raising his coffee mug in salute.

“But, what about the stuffed animal? What could it mean?” Frick wondered.

“It’s obvious to me, bro,” Frack said. “A flaming heart, a teddy bear, and Memphis all add up to one thing.”

“Dear Lord,” Fred intoned, “please guide us, so we can find a way to triumph over the spirit of Elvis Presley.”

“At least we’ll have some time to think about the problem before we get there. What’s the latest weather forecast like, bro?” Frick asked.

“We’re good for today, so we can finish fueling and scavenging in the sun. Overnight, clouds will be approaching from the northwest, and by noon on the fifteenth, snow. Expected accumulations down this way will be no more than six inches, most probably three to four. Snow will continue through midday on the sixteenth before sputtering out. Ask me again tomorrow for further forecasts,” Frack reported before a forkful of waffle and maple syrup.

“Pardon me, Fred, but why do you say Elvis Presley?” Fran asked.

“Two of his songs are ‘Burning Love’ and ‘Teddy Bear’, and he lived in a mansion in South Memphis called Graceland. It was still a big tourist attraction, even though he passed on back in seventy-seven. He’s one of the top dead artists. I think only Michael Jackson has more sales. Looks like Elvis has a demonic fan club,” Fred told her between sips of coffee.

“It looks like it’s our job to take the demon down,” Frick muttered.

“No, Frick,” Fred said forcefully. “It’s not our job. It’s a request, nothing more. If taking out the demon is beyond our abilities, we can say we tried, but were not up to the task. Maybe others can. We just have to attempt it. If it works, then good, we have some more allies on the side of the spirits who owe us a couple. If not, then Kolopin will not be upset with us.”

“That’s good to hear, oh mighty spirit talker,” Frick said with a touch of sarcasm. “Any ideas on how?”

“Not now, but we have not got down there yet. Maybe something will come to us between now and then,” Fred said encouragingly.

“We can but hope. Fran, you take first half, Freida second. Let’s get started,” Frick said, getting up.

“Captain’s log, Stardate 0/1602.21, 1100 hours, Captain Frick recording. Finally, we are in sight of Memphis, and a sorrier sight I have not seen in a while. For one thing, the I-40 bridge has collapsed, leaving only the I-55 bridge crossing the river. Second, the city seems much more overgrown than Saint Louis was, with a lot more damage apparent. Weather down here must have been fiercer than further north. A lot of smashed windows, lines down, debris all over. Good thing we don’t have a car.

“Fred and Freida want to go to Saint Jude’s hospital for a scavenging run. I support the idea, because we can always use cotton and gauze for the fuel filters. That and it’s not far from the river off I-40. I can refuel the boat here at a yacht club while everyone else goes to the hospital. Brother will help me start before he flies off to join them.

“Fred had another dream of Reelfoot last night. From what he can gather from the clues, the main danger is around Graceland, which is south of I-55, so the north part of Memphis should be relatively free of trouble. The last good stop we had was New Madrid, seeing as we were stormed in for three days there. There is ONE good stopping place between New Madrid and Memphis, and we didn’t stop there because it’s not far from New Madrid. We had to anchor out in the river every night from there to here, rotating duty watches for everyone. I wonder if we can tolerate walking on dry land now!

“I’ll let the others scavenge what they want today while I hunt around the yacht club. I know there’s a big Bass Pro Shop in the pyramid. If it hasn’t been looted yet, it should be a good place to scavenge. We can use some more eggs.

“Time to start fueling. Sandra, if you want to chat, send me an email first, so we can match schedules, okay? Captain Frick out.” Frick then saved and sent his log to the WSU for editing and broadcast before heading out into the chilly morning to set up filling the fuel tanks. Some lucky scavenging in New Madrid led to acquiring some more powerful fuel pumps, so now fueling, instead of fifteen gallons an hour, is now more like twenty to twenty-five.

Fred, Freida, and Fran made their way through the pyramid’s parking lot to the front doors of the Bass Pro shop. As they approached the south-facing door, they noticed that the sun’s reflection off the front doors and windows was a little… off. One door was not reflecting like the others. Freida flew ahead to look. “Fred, Fran, a door here has had the window smashed out and cleaned up after. Whoever did it even swept up the broken glass. Same with the next doorway in. We’re not alone in Memphis,” she reported.

“We’ll be there in a couple of minutes, Freida. Wait at the door for the rest of us. Cornhusker Five to Cornhusker Four. What’s your ETA?” Fran radioed.

“Just passing the interstate now! Be there in a couple of minutes!” Frack called in.

Freida pressed her mic switch. “Meet me at the front door, Four. We’ll wait for the others before going in. We’ll need lights.”

“Two should have them in his pack, Three. Be there in a short,” Frack replied.

Frack flew over Fred and Fran before landing next to Freida. “Damn! Someone did a number on this!” he exclaimed.

“That they did. Neat, too. All the broken glass has been cleaned up. No shards or bits about.”

“Once I get unhitched, dig the lights out and we’ll go inside,” Fred told them as he came to a stop.

“Right, Fred,” Fran said as she started to pull the velcro tabs holding the harness together. Velcro is so much easier to manipulate than buckles.

Once everyone had their flashlights (Fred and Frack with head-mounted ones, Freida and Fran with big lanterns that could clip on their harnesses) mounted, they went in, one at a time. Fred first, then Freida, followed by Frack, Fran at the rear, her pistol in the holster, but the flap was loose and yes, it was loaded. Looking about, they saw the area right by the entrance was disordered, like there had been a storm, but someone had cleaned up somewhat after. Merchandise was set in a pile off to one side. “Someone’s been in here,” Fred observed.

“More than once, too. Why else would they clean up unless they intended to come back?” Freida half-asked.

“I wonder where they put the camping gear. We need some more goodies,” Frack said quietly.

Fran pointed at the aisle signs. “Back this way,” she said, pointing to the back of the big store and off to the left.

“I could fly in here. Lots of space,” Frack said as he looked around.

“Not yet. Too much of a chance of hitting something. You can walk,” Fred said.

Chopin tapped Fran on an ear. “Listen,” she whispered.

Fran stopped, holding a hand up. “Listen. Is that… singing?” she whispered. Faintly, the four could hear a strong voice singing a song from ‘Fiddler on the Roof’. “If I were a rich man…”

“The fellow has a good voice,” Fred whispered. “He’s no amateur.”

“I go look,” Chopin squeaked as she took off from Fran’s headfur. She looked at the singer and what was going on before coming back. “He’s collecting camping foods, loading them into a pack. He’s wearing a white coat and loose greenish pants. He’s like Fran, but what I saw was white fur, not dark. He has a pistol in a belt worn over his white coat.”

“How can we meet up with him without shots being fired?” Freida whispered.

“Leave that to me,” Fred ordered. “All of you, behind me. Fran, you’re at the back. Keep your pistol ready, but do not draw unless he does, clear? Same with you, Maw. Chance is coming up.”

Fred carefully moved up until he was just out of sight of the singer. He listened, waiting until the singer got to the second-to-last line, “...Would it spoil some vast eternal plan!...” the singer shouted.

Under cover of the shouting, Fred stepped into the aisle where the singer was. Matching tone and cadence, he did the last line with the singer. “If I were a wealthy man?”

Startled, the singer, dressed in a doctor’s coat, surgical scrub pants and crudely modified slippers, looked at Fred, then the others when they came out of hiding. He just looked for a moment, dropping the dehydrated food packs he was holding into his pack. “You, mister, have a very good voice,” he said in a heavy Yiddish accent. “Are you a cantor at a synagogue?”

“No, former sexton of Saint Isidore’s church, Columbus, Nebraska. I’m Fred Halvorsen, the griffoness is my long time wife Freida, the pegasus is Frack Larsen, and the pretty kitty is Fran Vasquez. We’re all from Nebraska, heading south. Who are you?” Fred asked patiently. Fran moved her paw away from her pistol.

“I’m Doctor Moishe Horowitz, here at Saint Jude’s from Jerusalem on a one year time contract. Pediatric surgery a specialty, not that I have done much of that recently. You caught me shopping. There are crates in the back, I just never tore into them yet. There’s enough out here. How did you get here?” he asked, zipping shut the pack and putting it on.

“By boat. The captain’s down at the local marina, refueling. It’s been a long trip down from New Madrid. I’m the First Mate, Frack’s the Engineer, Freida’s supplies and medical, while Fran is the Tech officer. How long have you been back?” Fred asked.

The doctor looked at a rather elaborate watch on his right wrist. “My watch says it’s December sixteenth. I know it’s later than that, but I have not figured out when I came back, save that it was hot, dark and muggy,” he said. “Do you know what day it is?”

“February twenty-second. That means you came back in late July. Lots of weather here since I take it?” Fred asked. “Lots of debris about.”

The doctor rolled his eyes. “Oy! Such weather I have never seen before! Days of rain and high winds, breaking windows at the hospital, then hot and sticky for a while, then it gets cold. I spend much of my days just cleaning up, salvaging what I can. I do a lot of singing just because I can’t stand the silence, you know?” he said. “Been camping now since summer at the hospital. It keeps body and soul together, but what I wouldn’t give for some fish!”

Fred turned to look at the others. “Think we should invite the doctor for lunch aboard the boat?” he asked.

“If Frick says it’s okay, then I don’t see why not,” Freida said, looking at the others.

“Frick says it’s a good idea,” came from Freida’s radio. “I’ll put some river fish on to cook, along with a pot of porridge for the rest of us. Should I put on some venison?”

“That would be a good idea, Frick,” Freida advised, not touching her radio. We should be back in a half-hour or so. We’ll leave the wagon here for later.”

“Sounds like a plan, Freida. Let me get started on cooking. See you when you get here. Welcome to the party, Doctor Horowitz,” Frick said before concluding. “Deliverance out.”

“How did he know my name?” the doctor asked.

Fran pointed at Fred’s radio, strapped to his working harness. “This is set to transmit on one frequency while ours are on a second. The captain is listening all the time. It’s proved handy,” she said to the bemused doctor.

“I can well imagine. Should I bring my pack with me?” the doctor offered.

“No, we have plenty for now. You just leave it here, and we’ll get it on the way back. We would like to see if Saint Jude’s has some supplies we can use,” Fred told him. “Shall we get moving?”

“Not a bad idea!” the doctor affirmed.

Over a most convivial lunch, which went on for almost three hours, the three ponies, two Abyssinians, one griffon and a breezie talked over fish, venison, porridge and a preserved jar of apples from their dwindling preserves store. The crew of Deliverance told of their adventures coming down the various rivers, and Doctor Horowitz (Please, call me Moe- everyone else does!) told them of his life in Memphis, having the overnight shift that night, walking down a corridor when a bright flash hit and suddenly it was daytime outside, and instead of being an old man, he was a young white cat-man. “The main thing that bothers me about being like this is that I can’t get my yarmulke to stay in place. Fur’s too short to pin it, and my ears tend to flick them off,” he told them at one point.

About the ‘meshugganah minotaur down south’, Moe told the crew that while aware of each other, they tend to avoid each other, except on Tuesdays, where he wanders down that way for a few ‘office hours’ to tend to the medical needs of the ponies and of the minotaur. “That Elvis- bit of a hypochondriac, he is. He’d be coming up to see me every day for this or that or the other thing, except that he’s a real homebody. He won’t cross a freeway.”

“We’ve been warned about Elvis, Moe,” Frick told him. “About how he keeps the ponies there under thrall to feed his ego. What I want to know is how come YOU are not under his thrall.”

“Simple,” Moe said after a sip of coffee. “He may be meshuggineh, but he’s not stupid. He needs me, but I don’t need him. I stay north, he and his stay south, and other than my office hours, if one of his needs me, they know where I am. So long as he gets his narcotics every week, he’s happy.”

“Narcotics? What kind?” Freida asked, curious.

“Painkillers, mostly. Some hallucinogens, but not much, and not every week.”

“What about his herd? Are they under his control?” Frack asked. “What do they do down there?”

“About what anyone else in this world does, Frack. They’re renovating a nearby hotel, scavenging for food, fuel and everything else. They also are kept busy making costumes for his Friday and Saturday shows, where attendance is mandatory. I have to admit, he has a wonderful voice, but without a backing band, he’ll need to have one!” Moe said with a laugh.

“You’ve heard him perform? Why are you not a regular there?” Fred asked.

“I only went one time. Everyone else was having a great time, but I didn’t find it so great. After the show, I told Elvis and the rest that while it was an all right show, it just wasn’t my kind of music. We agreed to my ‘office hours’ and emergency visits, and I have not been back to a show since. Never been a fan of ‘Elvis the Pelvis’, not even back in the day,” Moe remarked.

“If I may ask, Doctor Moe, just how old were you when the Event happened?” Fran asked politely.

“Would you believe I was almost eighty? I only came over to Saint Jude’s because my Gilda passed on just after Hanukkah last year, and Tel Aviv became a lonely place. So, I packed up what I wanted, sold everything else to the kids, had myself a nice going away party before signing a contract to practice at Saint Jude’s before schlepping my way here. Seeing kids walking out of here with a smile on their faces was just the tonic my heart needed,” Moe said, a sad smile on his face, remembering.

“Well, one purpose we have here is freeing the ponies from Elvis’ thrall, as we explained earlier,” Fred said aloud. “Any ideas on how to pull off such a feat?”

“Ideas, oh, I can come up with a few, but before I say anything, I have one question to ask, Fred,” Moe said, holding up one finger. “Why?”

“We were asked to, by a Native American somewhat-legend, Chief Kolopin, also known as Chief Reelfoot. Apparently, some Chickasaw and Chocktaw are under Elvis’ compulsion, and he wants them freed. It would be nice to have spirits and deities owing us favors,” Fred told the Abyssinian.

Frick took that moment to ask, “Just how many ponies are under his thrall?”

Moe paused, counting on his fingers. “Thirteen. Twelve horses and a part-time parrot. He’s the one who lets me know when I’m needed to treat any injuries. He finds me, I get on my little scooter, grab my pack, and scoot on down. Then again, it sputters more and more, so I wind up pedaling.”

“Now, that I can fix. Just need a tune-up and some clean fuel. It’s not that hard to do, and you got much of what you need right there in the hospital. Gauze, cotton and sheets. You’ll need a foot pump to get the gas through the filter, and some octane booster to replace the decayed fractions, but we can do that,” Frack offered.

“He can do it, too!” Freida exclaimed. “He keeps the boat running, and right now, the filter system is cleaning several hundred gallons of diesel fuel so we can keep it in the tanks!”

“Where do you get the clean water? That’s one thing I miss, pure clean water. Getting it out of bottles can be bland, as well as drinking what comes out of camping filters,” Moe asked.

“The boat came with a water distilling unit aboard. Not big, and we have to be careful with showers, but it works, even in the Big Muddy,” Frick said.

“Come see me before you decide to leave. I just might want to travel with you. Seems to me this WSU you’re going to can do with a fresh doctor,” Moe said with an impish twinkle in his eye.

The crew of the Deliverance looked at each other, communicating by glance. Frick spoke after a few seconds. “Moe, I’m sure that would be a good idea. We’re going to have to figure out where you can bunk, either here in the saloon or hot-bunking with some of us. If you’re willing to put up with that for as long as it takes to reach Havana or Key West, then all I can say is let’s give it a shot, okay?”

“That’s all I can ask for. Who wants to make the Tuesday trip with me to Graceland?” Moe asked.

“Ask me again tomorrow, Moe,” Frick told the Abyssinian. “Today, we have some scavenging to do, as well as seeing you home. Going to Graceland depends on our stores loadout and fuel status. I’ll have a better idea tomorrow.”

“You’re a smart fellow, Frick. I can tell that already,” Moe said in his thick Yiddish accent.

Around ten Tuesday morning, Moe rode his overhauled and renewed moped from St. Jude’s to where the Deliverance was moored, to head down to Graceland. Going with the doctor are the three ponies, Frick, Frack and Fred, and Freida, the griffon. Moe led the four down through the deteriorating streets of downtown Memphis. Once south of I-55, it became apparent that some places are being maintained, others scavenged from, and one place, the Graceland Hotel, is being made habitable. Power stations are being put together, gasoline stocks being purified and set aside for generators. All of it being done in just such a way, a troop of Boy Scouts can do a better job at reconstruction than the dozen ponies currently living there. They slavishly follow Elvis’ directions, even when the workers have no clue on how to DO the orders they had been given.

It wasn’t until late afternoon that the minotaur made an appearance. The minotaur (call me Elvis) met and shook hooves with the Deliverance delegation, sunlight glinting off his jewelry, sizing them up, more than likely.

“Sorry for not meeting with you sooner, but ah have work in the back garden only I can get done properly,” he told the group. The other ponies nearby kept at their tasks, not really heeding the imposing presence of the minotaur. To them, they see him every day.

The Deliverance crew sized him up as well, and there is a lot of size to up. The minotaur stood a good two meters tall, the horns making him seem even taller. He wore a white jumpsuit with enough bling to dazzle a horde of fans, the ponies able to see themselves in the reflection of a gold belt buckle that must have been six inches wide and four high. An imposing figure the minotaur cut, looking down at the ponies and griffon. He offered tickets to the Friday and Saturday shows, hopefully with some music behind it. “Do you think you can have some sort of stereo system set up by Friday night?” the minotaur asked. The tickets were for Graceland, and dated the previous year, but the offer was accepted by the ponies, who quickly put them away.

“I should say so, Elvis! I should have it ready by Thursday. Just need a generator, gas, a table and a stereo and someone to spin vinyl,” Frick told the minotaur with enthusiasm.

“Bro knows what he’s doing, Mister E!” Frack affirmed. By the time he’s done, ponies will be coming up from New Orleans to hear your music!”

“We can get it done, Mister Elvis. We handle the big jobs!” Fred said with enthusiasm.

Freida shook her head, not believing what she was hearing. She made her way clear from the center of action to use her radio, on ship frequency two. “Cornhusker Three to Cornhusker Five. You copy?”

“This is Cornhusker Five. What’s going on, Three?” Fran called back.

“I think something strange is going on with the boys. They want to stay around and improve the quality of Elvis’ show. How they plan on it, I don’t know. Something’s up, and all the ponies here have fallen for it. The only ones who have not fallen for the minotaur’s charms are Moe, Joaquin the parrot, and myself. He knows we’re here, he talks a good talk, but whatever he’s doing to the ponies, it’s not bothering us. Something to watch out for.”

“Sounds like a plan to me, Three. Going to be home for dinner?” Fran asked.

“If not, I’ll call. Pardon, Frick’s coming.” Freida said as she let go of the mic switch.

“Freida, tomorrow, you take boat duty. I want Fran here to help me set up a sound system for Elvis, at the sound stage. Today, Frack, Fred and I are going to scavenge for generators and sound equipment. Tomorrow, we’ll bring the wagon. It’s Tuesday, and he wants it ready by Friday night, so we had best get cracking!” Frick said, sounding as eager as Frack is starting a job.

“Okay, Frick. What time do you plan on knocking off? I can let Fran know and have dinner ready,” Freida asked, her concern more noticeable by her tone of voice than by the set of her crest feathers.

“Can’t say for sure yet. I have to check out the sound stage first, to see what’s good and what I need to replace. Frack and Fred are going to check the electrical systems. Elvis wants to put on a good show, and we’re going to help him!” Frick said with joy. “You can leave with Moe when you want. We’ll probably knock off and head home when it's too dark to see.”

Freida sighed. “You’re the boss, Frick. Let me have some words with my husband, okay?”

“If you can catch up to him! He’s heading to the power station with Frack and one of the locals. Gotta run! Wasting daylight!” Frick said before trotting off to the sound stage.

Freida raised her radio to her beak once Frick was far enough away to not overhear. “Cornhusker Three to Cornhusker Five. Looks like we got us a problem. Film at six on NewsWatch Seven,” she said.

“Cornhusker Five copies traffic. Will await the film at six on NewsWatch Seven,” Fran replied, catching the code words Freida used.

That evening, aboard Deliverance, Freida, Fran, Moe and Joaquin sat around the saloon table, having a decidedly non-vegan dinner. “What you say about the ponies falling under his compulsions have been like that since before I arrived,” Joaquin reported. “I go along because it is better to be in a group, Elvis likes me, and I do not want to be alone. I was alone for days before finding Elvis, and no slight on Doctor Moe, but hospitals and I don’t get along.”

“As I have said before, Joaquin, there is no problem with that. I’m glad for the messenger service, but if you do not want to live at Saint Jude’s, then I won’t worry about it,” Moe told the Ornithian, looking at him with a gentle smile on his feline face.

“It’s not that, Doctor Moe. I don’t want to live at Saint Jude’s AGAIN. I did when I was seven, for six months after a bad wreck. Took that long for all the bones to knit,” Joaquin said, shivering at the memory. “Brings back too many bad memories.”

“So, all the ponies immediately fall under Elvis’ sway at first meeting?” Fran asked.

Joaquin nodded after a piece of venison. “Immediately at the first meeting. Every pony I have seen that arrived after me, falls right under his influence, eager to do what he says as best they can. None have left yet, nor do they want to. A couple of the ponies are trying to refurbish the Graceland Hotel, at least partially. It’s habitable, but the power station isn’t fully working yet,” he told the group.

“Will the boys even come home for dinner tonight?” Freida asked.

“I should say so,” Moe said. “At least tonight. After, no promises. They will try to find any reason to stay there to finish their assigned work. It’s like Elvis becomes an obsession to whomever he meets, and all the ponies want to do is to cater to his every whim.”

“Why it does not affect Doctor Moe or me, I don’t know,” Joaquin added.

“It doesn’t affect me, either,” Freida said. “Right now, the common point I see is that we are NOT ponies. There are five earth ponies, four unicorns and three pegasi, plus one more of each, and all are under Elvis’ sway. What can we do about it?”

“I don’t know about you, but first thing I will do is send the WSU an email describing what we have found here and ask if they have any information they could send us about this,” Fran declared.

“What’s the WSU?” Joaquin asked. Freida and Fran quickly explained about the World Seafarer’s Union, and how they planned to join up with them. “Sounds like some good people.”

“From what we already know, they are. Do your folk have any sort of shortwave or world-band radios?” Fran asked Joaquin.

“No, nobody’s thought of it. When there are twelve ponies, myself and a minotaur, with a cat for a neighbor, imagining there are others is not easy. Plus, Elvis has his projects, and none of them involve looking for others that I know of,” Joaquin answered.

“Well, I’m going to find out something,” Freida said, slightly irritated at the implications of what she is learning about Elvis. “Cornhusker Base to Cornhusker One, priority two.” After a minute of silence, she repeated her call.

“Cornhusker One to Cornhusker Base, I hear you. What do you want?” Frick answered, sounding a bit irritated. Freida knew that was not usual for him, but not unknown.

“Cornhusker One, are the three of you going to be returning tonight? I would like my husband back,” she said with a little snark in her tone.

“Cornhusker Base, we will be back tonight, all three of us. Tomorrow we may stay the night, depending on how much work needs to be done. The sound system here should work, if I can feed power to it. I think we should be back within two hours, if I remember the maps right,” Frick said, sounding like he wasn’t paying full attention to his words.

“Well, if you are NOT back within two hours, remind Fred that I have the claws to pierce his ear, and I will fly out, find him, and drag him back if he is not here!” Freida snapped.

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t get your knickers in a twist, Three. We’ll be back when we get back. Cornhusker One out.” Frick concluded.

“From what little I know of all of you, I have to say that is not usual for the Captain, is it?” Moe asked.

“No, it is not. All three of them know that I have a long fuse temper, but if it goes off, I can whoop ass with the best of them. They’re in for some serious questioning when they get home.

“What about you, Joaquin? Plan on heading back?” Freida asked, her tone changing quickly from anger to concern.

“Yes, I will be, and soon. Flying at night, I can do it, but only when the moon is out. It’s not like there’s a big beacon light I can home in on. Plus, it would not do to let Elvis wonder what the hell I’m doing out for so long. If I plan on spending time with Doctor Moe, I let him know first,” Joaquin said before finishing his cup of coffee.

Freida nodded. “It would not do to have Elvis wonder. He’s so fixated on himself and his impersonations, I’m surprised he notices anything else around him.”

“What makes you think he does?” Moe countered. “He’s fixated on his performances, and having everyone working on making the area more habitable for everyone. I’m sure the generators will come on within a couple of weeks at most.”

“Plus working on the landscaping around the back of Graceland,” Joaquin told the group. “That’s something Elvis works on mainly by himself. Sometimes he’ll take an earth pony or a unicorn back there, but when I ask them about what’s back there, what they say doesn’t match what I see.”

Freida frowned as she thought. Two plus two kept adding up to twenty-two, and she knew there were pieces of the equation missing. “Something’s not adding up. Frick, Frack and Fred are in for some questioning when they get home. ESPECIALLY Fred,” she said, the determination in her voice coming through loud and clear, this griffon is not to be crossed.

“Joaquin, I think it’s time for this old cat to find his home. Care to escort me there?” Moe asked.

“Yes, Doctor Moe. We should get you home before it gets too dark,” Joaquin agreed. “Freida, should I tell your friends to come straight home?”

“Yes, thank you, Joaquin. Please do so. Remind them of the number-ten cast iron skillet,” Freida said sharply.

“Do I want to know about that? Joaquin asked curiously.

Moe quickly got up from his chair. “I'll tell you on the way back to the hospital, okay? It is one interesting story,” he said in a Yiddish accent that just shouted wisdom, patting the two-way radio he had been given the day before. They said their good-byes and departed.

Fran and Freida watched Moe’s moped tail light vanish as he drove up the pedestrian walkway. “You’ve got an idea forming, don’t you?” Fran said quietly to Freida.

“More than one. It’s deciding which one to use. I need more information, and with God’s help, I’ll have it by tonight!” Freida declared, smacking a fist into her open palm. Fran decided to get the dishes done without saying anything more. Freida went up to the fly bridge to await the menfolk’s arrival.

It was an hour and a half later before Freida could hear the echoing hoof clops of the approaching menfolk on the foot bridge connecting the island to the mainland. Using the fly bridge controls, she turned on a spotlight and shone it at the approaching trio. “Where have you been?” she screeched from her perch. “You should have been home an hour ago!”

Fred called back up to his wife, “Doing God’s work, or the next best thing! Hope you have supper on the table!”

“Frederick Einar Halvorsen, remember what we’re here for! Who do you listen to most? Elvis, Raven, Chief Reelfoot or God himself? You better give the right answer, or else you’ll be sleeping alone for the first time in almost fifty years!” she shouted.

Frick and Frack kept walking, but Fred stopped in his tracks as his wife’s words struck home. He didn’t stay paused for long, shaking his head hard enough to disarray his black mane beyond all hope of self-repair. “Got my tea, Maw?” he hollered back.

“Just need to drop the bag in!” she shouted as she made her way from the fly bridge to the saloon to do just that.

While Frick and Frack chowed down on the porridge and preserved fruit, Fred only picked at his meal. He leaned close to Freida and whispered, “Thanks, Maw. That Elvis, he’s a sneak of the first order. He has everyone working to his command, and I’m not certain how. You reminded me of who I DO serve, and I thank you for that. Have I ever said ‘I love you’, Freida?”

“More than once. What can we do about the others, and what about tomorrow?”

“Let me think. I may have to ask for advice,” Fred muttered, lapsing into silence as he ate. Frick and Frack were both suffering from what could be politely called ‘diarrhea of the mouth’, talking about what they did during the day, managing to praise and honor Elvis about every fifth word or so. It got to the point where Fran just could not take any more of the babble.

“Will you two SHUT UP for five minutes, for God’s sake?” she snapped before lapsing into a few words of Spanish that were vile, putrid, and foul.

Frick and Frack stopped mid-word, turning to glare at Fran. “Woman, it is not your place to tell us menfolk what to do!” Frick barked, his eyes glistening. Were he human, odds are he would have been reaching back to coldcock the cat. Freida, however, was faster, bringing her fist down on top of Frick’s head, avoiding the horn. Hard. Frick’s chin bounced off the table and he went unconscious.

“Paw, if you have any ideas, let’s have them now,” Freida said as Frack just watched in stunned surprise as Frick slid under the saloon table.

“Right, Maw,” Fred said as he reached for Frack with a forehoof and touched Frick with a rear hoof. “Freidrick Wolff Larsen, Frankland Wilhelm Larsen, listen to me. Stop playing Elvis’ game and play your own. Elvis’ game will only lead to ruin and unhappiness. Play with him, but you are your own game masters. Part of the game is not letting Elvis know he is commanding you any more. Just play along and we can count coup on him and his game.

“Elvis got to you once, but never again. Play along until we find his weaknesses and exploit them. He wants a sound stage and sound system, let’s give it to him before we let him have it!” Fred said in a low, but carrying voice, a white glow coming from his hooves and spreading over Frick and Frack. The glow persisted for a moment before fading.

“That should work, if I have matters correct. Any coffee, Maw?” Fred asked, his ears drooping.

“I’ll put some on, Paw,” Freida said, getting up to do so.

“Fred, just what did you do?” Fran asked, confused. Chopin’s antennae were waving about, which indicated the same thoughts were going through the pink breezie’s head.

“If I’m right, it countered what Elvis did to us, to a point. When we get back in his presence, his will will re-establish itself on us, making us his thralls again. But, once he is away from us, we will still do his bidding, but all it would take is a few words to break the compulsion. Doesn’t have to be specific, just enough for us to return to our own wills. Frick and Frack will need more help to break the compulsion than I will, because I have contact with Raven and other gods. I can make a thought shield to stop Elvis, and make it appear to the big bull that all is well. I got caught by surprise once. It won’t happen again,” Fred explained.

“Why were you three affected, but Freida was not? Nor are Joaquin and Doctor Moe.”

Fred shrugged. “Right now, I do not know. Ponies are affected, but no other species so far. Why that is, God knows, but not me.”

“But how will we end this menace?” Fran asked.

“Leave that to me,” Freida said in a voice so cold, frost filled the saloon.

“Freida, when you sound like that, I want to head somewhere safe, like Montana,” Frack said.

“Me, too!” Frick agreed.

Author's Note:

Safe? Montana? Frick, you swore you would never go back there again!

So, in Memphis, and meeting up with a minotaur Elvis impersonator. Just what is the minotaur up to? Why is he mind-controlling ponies? What's going on in the back garden? For the answers to these and... shakes head until something is heard rattling about ...that was close. Desmond has his place, but not in this story!

Two weeks, friends! Don't hesitate to tell me what I did wrong and right, okay?

Oh- in case you have not got the update, Merchant Mariner has started part two of Along New Tides, Along New Tides II: Thalassocracy. Give him a read, too!