“It’s Christmas, Theo. It’s the time of miracles.
Russ shook his head and turned off the video. “Stupid move, Hans. You planned it all in too much detail. You had no flexibility. One New York cop with a gun, and your whole plan fell apart.”
The headless horse tumbled to a halt right in front of Wayne and Wanda in the middle of 28th St. As they watched, it became a headless red devil, a seven foot tall wooden statue in the middle of the road. That was no match for 28th St. traffic. An SUV and a Prius swerved madly around it, almost colliding with a red Mazda that passed them. But the semi that spread behind them had no chance to avoid the obstacle. It crunched right over top the figure, all eighteen wheels crushing it, kicking up splinters that flew everywhere. The driver screeched to a halt as fast as he could, but he had a full load. It took nearly a block before the truck and trailer halted.
Wayne and Sean tore their eyes away from the scene before them. Wanda had recovered her composure to go try to care for Kevin; but once she got there, she just shook her head and looked at them.
Wayne looked at Sean. “So that’s it? The red devil gets away, and this all starts over again tomorrow? That’s what the legends say, right?”
But Sean’s eyes showed need to despair. They were practically on fire. “Fuck the legends!” He stuck the fingers of his left hand in his mouth and blew a loud whistle that pierced the night for blocks. “Wubs!”
Wayne dropped the bag of stirrups next to Wanda. Then he started pulling his other friends up near her, laying them one practically on top of another. If he could get them talking, he might hear clues to their nightmares; and if he used the Mathematics of Influence upon them, he might insinuate himself into their visions and lead them out.
Finally he raised them to sitting positions, all in a circle, each learning forward. He placed their hands loosely within each other’s around the circle. Then he said, “Wanda…” She groaned a little, so he leaned closer. “Wanda, where are you?”
Her lips barely parting, Wanda said, “I’m in Hell…”
Wayne peered out at Myra from under the table. “You haven’t… seen my crutches?”
Myra shook her head. “Nope. Were they part of your costume? A mummy on crutches?”
Wayne shook his head, grabbed the table top, and slid out from under the table. “No, just…” He looked around. “Just a bad joke. On me.” He pulled himself to his feet, the only pain being twinges in his shoulder.
He’d been so confident in his Cognitive Logic and his ability to see through any illusion. Confident? Hell, arrogant! The pucks had mastered Cognitive Logic and the Mathematics of Influence centuries before his birth. He could see through obvious frauds, but he been tripped up by us a pedestrian illusion. It made sense that he would need crutches, so he needed them. He tried to remember back to when that happened. In the sanctuary? Probably. And none of his companions had noticed the deception, either.
Crawling on his arms, his shoulders burning with the pain, Wayne struggled between the feet of the partiers, none of whom seemed to notice him. Of course they didn’t. Somewhere a puck was blinding them with the Mathematics of Influence.
He could clear their fogged brains, but only if he could stand up, look them in their eyes, distract them with the proper gestures, and tell them the proper words. Face down here on the floor, he was helpless. He needed his crutches.
So he slid along the edge of the crowd of costumed feet, taking shelter under the handicap table. It was solidly bolted to the floor by a single middle pillar. He grasped that, pulled himself to a sitting position, and rested. He just had to cross a few feet to the donut case, where his crutch –
Wayne’s eyes popped open as he stared under the donut case. The crutch was gone.
Wayne rolled to avoid getting stepped on by the Pushmi-Pullyu, but he failed. One of the rubber hooves caught him in the ribs, and he cried out. The people in the costume didn’t seem to notice. Then, worse, the other end of the Pushmi-Pullyu kicked his left crutch, sending it skidding under the doughnut case.
“No!” Wayne cried out. He turned to grab his right crutch so he could walk as far as the doughnut case.
But as if dragged by an invisible hand, the right crutch slid across the floor and into the dining area, far beyond Wayne’s reach.
He fell back on the floor in despair. Without his crutches, he would never reach the Comet.
The drive got progressively more tense as they went. Wayne admired his companions for their discipline: not a one spoke of what they saw and heard during the drive to the Galaxy. But Wayne could tell they were holding back. There were occasional sharp intakes of breath, muttered curses, and halting conversation starts the went nowhere. They jittered in their seats as if threatened by something they wanted to escape.
At the traffic light to turn on the 28th Street, Kevin finally lost it. He unbuckled and opened the van door before Wanda put a halt to his escape in her own inimitable style: From the seat behind him, she put him in a headlock. “Stop it, Kevin!”
“But the –”
“Stop it. You’re in the van, Wayne’s driving, and I’ve got a chokehold on your neck. I’ll put you out if I have to, but we really need you lucid.”
Everyone stared at the now empty chair – everyone save Wayne. He looked around at all of the faces with their mix of shock and fear, and he said, “So what are we going to do?”
His wife looked up at him. “Do?”
“About the pucks, of course! How we going to stop them?”
Kevin paced over and gently touched the chair where Harvey had sat. “Who says it’s our job to do anything about them?”
Getting frustrated, Wayne said, “Well, somebody has to.”
“But why us?” Wanda asked. “We didn’t ask for any of this. How is this our problem?”
Kevin was still blinking the red flash out of his eyes when he heard Paula moaning. He turned back toward the house and tried to make out where her voice was coming from. He saw something moving in the bushes to the right of the porch, and he rushed over. “Paula, are you okay?”
She sat up on her elbows, looked at Kevin, and said, “Did somebody get the number of that pooka?”
Kevin grinned. “If you can joke, that’s a good sign. Here.” He reached out his hand, clasped hers, and helped her to her feet.
Paula looked groggily look around. “Where’d they go? The pucks?”