Safe By A Haircut

Written by:
Jo


BILL & TED characters are trademarks of Nelson 1991 Inc. The motion picture BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE & © 1989 Nelson Films Inc. All Rights Reserved. The motion picture BILL & TED'S BOGUS JOURNEY © 1991 Orion Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Feel free to share these stories with your friends, but please don't repost on the web without asking the author's permission first. Thanks!!


The chilly wind blew bits of trash around the nearly deserted parking lot of the Circle K convenience store. The two teenage boys sitting, talking, on the curb were wearing their jacket and extra shirt respectively, which they normally kept fashionably tied around their waists. The taller of the two jumped up, sauntered over to a car as it pulled up and spoke briefly to the driver as she was getting out. He then bounced back over to his friend, who wrote something down in the notebook he was holding in his lap. The tall one looked up to see another woman making her way to the store entrance and called out to her.

"Excuse me! When did the Mongols rule China?"

The woman's eyes bugged out with surprise. She shrugged. "Ahh, I don't know.... I just work here!" She huffed into the store, shaking her head. Kids these days.

The two boys looked temporarily discouraged, but Ted shook it off with a shrug. "You wanna try the Thrifty Mart?" he asked his companion.

The shorter boy slammed his book shut and sighed. "Sure." It was beginning to dawn on him that their data gathering plan was not going to cut it, but he could not bring himself to discourage his friend's boundless enthusiasm.

They stood together and made their way out of the parking lot. As they reached the end of it, Bill paused and glanced up at the sky. A flicker of lightning danced among the clouds for a brief moment, then vanished.

"Looks like rain...." he murmured. They walked slowly away down the street.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Charles DeNomolos examined his reflection in the mirror closely. He marveled. Such a magnificent creature and utterly brilliant as well! Can there be any justice in the universe when all of the finest attributes in existence had been graced on one mere human specimen? He sighed. Such a tremendous burden to bear! Ah well, if it was his to bear then he would just have to bear it. What else could the future leader of the world be expected to do?

His humble revelry was suddenly interrupted by a harsh buzz from his desk speaker. He punched the button next to it with a gloved index finger, swearing under his breath. "What is it?"

"It's Eustance Grath, sir. He's here for his two o'clock appointment."

DeNomolos smiled. "Ahhh yes! I had forgotten! Show him in, Denise!"

"Right away, sir." Instantly, the large double doors in front of his desk swung open, revealing a small, mousy woman with slightly graying brown hair, cut short.

"Right this way.... sir," she sneered to the tall, scrawny individual who was cowering in the doorway. As Eustance stumbled into the office, she gave him a withering head to toe look and turned her nose up with a sniff of disdain. She shot a quick glance at DeNomolos as if to ask if he couldn't possibly do better than this.

"Er, thank you, Denise.... that will be all," DeNomolos muttered.

She gave him a demure little smiled and backed out of the office, closing the doors behind her. Like many executive secretaries throughout history, she had grown a bit motherly toward her boss.

Eustance stood with knees knocking and gaped with barely concealed terror through three inch thick glasses at his leader. DeNomolos casually waved him to have a seat. He was in a semi-civil mood this particular morning.

"Sssooo.... Eustance," he hissed. "How is your task proceeding? Will my robots be functional soon?" He grinned menacingly; all of his stained teeth shining yellowy.

Eustance swallowed hard and tried to find something useful to do with his jittering hands. "Uh.... well, n....no, sir. Not.... quite functional yet, sir. That is.... um, it will be a.... uh, little while yet, but...."

DeNomolos slammed a leather-clad fist down onto his desk. Eustance yipped like a puppy and barely restrained himself from bolting for the door.

"Not yet!?" DeNomolos bellowed. "Why not?!"

"Uh.... y.. you see, sir," Eustance squeaked. "It is a very complicated process. It takes time to p.. produce a lifelike animatron. They must be able to fool anybody. They must look and act just like the real Two Grea.... uh, I mean, well.... you know."

DeNomolos steamed quietly. When he had calmed down enough to speak below a laryngitis-producing decibel (his doctor had warned him) he continued. "Eustance.... you know that I value you highly as a technician and, I'd like to think, as a friend."

Eustance grinned stupidly. "Really, sir? Why that's very...."

"However," DeNomolos boomed.

Eustance cowered deeper into his seat.

"However, Eustance, I must impress upon you the importance of time. Time.... is of the essence. You do know that, don't you, Eustance?"

"What does he know about time?" Eustance thought. "Big lump of...."

"....And because time is of the essence, Eustance, it is therefore of the utmost importance that I get my robots finished so I can.... uh.... ahem. That is, you will have them finished soon.... won't you, Eustance?"

"Uh.... oh, yes, sir! In fact, we've already finished several prototypes! I have confidence that the two we are working on now will be the epitome of perfection! We've all been working double shifts, and...."

"Yes, yes.... good." DeNomolos waved a hand like someone who was trying to blow an odor away. "Just see to it that these ones you are working on now don't turn out to be more prototypes. Understood?"

Eustance cringed meekly. "Yes, sir."

"Fine. So.... how many more days 'til they are ready to function, and thus end the function of those two, real bubble brains, hmmmmm?"

Eustance broke out in a cold sweat. "Uh.... well, as long as we keep working at top capacity...."

"Yessss?"

"An.... and nothing goes, uh, wrong.... not that it will, heh heh...."

"Yessss?"

"Uh.... about.... four months, sir." Eustance cowered as DeNomolos seemed to physically expand before his eyes. The scientist in him marvelled at the purple veins that bulged from the thick neck.

"Four months!!! No.... no, it's too long! Make them faster!"

"But.... but, sir.... we...."

"Make them faster!!"

"We.... we'll try, sir."

DeNomolos panted for a few minutes, then he pointed at the door. "Get out."

Eustance moved faster than lightning. He called over his shoulder. "Oh yes, sir! Thank you, sir! You won't be disappointed, sir!"

He was already out of ear shot when DeNomolos murmured, "I'd better not be!"

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ted slurped happily away at his banana-strawberry flavored Frosty Slush, his mind wandering. Bill sat next to him and gazed dully at his own untouched drink. He glanced down at the bulk of their evening's work.... half a page of words and unconnected short sentences.

"Drag."

"What is it, Bill?"

"Huh? Oh.... nothing," Bill smiled weakly.

Ted looked at him strangely. "Oh. Okay." He turned back to his Frosty Slush.

A moment later, Bill suddenly slammed his book shut and threw it down on the pavement. "Damn!!"

Ted jumped up. "Bill! What's the deal? And don't try to tell me it's nothing this time," he added with his best imitation of a knowing look.

Bill looked up at him and shook his head helplessly. He picked up his drink and sighed, running a thumbnail along the cup, scraping off a bit of wax and flicking it away. "Aw, damn it, Ted...."

Confused, Ted sat back down next to him. It had been a long time since he could remember seeing Bill this upset, and he had at least understood why he was upset before. "Bill? Uh.... if you don't wanna talk about it, it's okay. You wanna go jam for a while?"

Bill picked up his notebook and opened it again. He pointed at the writing inside. "Do you know what this is, Ted?"

Ted glanced at the book and frowned. "Yeah.... it's our bogus homework, dude. So?"

Bill shook his head. "It's crap, Ted."

Ted jerked back with surprise, then smiled to himself. Now he understood. Bill was always being too hard on himself. "Naw, dude.... look! We've already got more than enough stuff for our report tomorrow, don't we?"

"In all reality, Ted, no. We don't."

"Oh. What else do we need?"

"We need a miracle, dude."

Ted considered this for a moment. "Well.... where're we gonna get one, then?"

Bill pulled Ted to his feet and sighed. "I fear we are not."

"Oh," Ted shrugged. "You want to go to the garage?"

"Ted.... have you forgotten that if we don't do something to get an A on this report your dad's gonna ship you out of here like yesterday's garbage?"

"Oh, that." Ted shrugged again. "Naw.... I don't really think he meant it, Bill. He's been goin' on about it all semester. You know how he is...."

"Dude, I wish you had mentioned something about this a little sooner. I do not think your dad was kidding around."

Ted looked a little worried as they left the Thrifty Mart lot and headed toward Bill's house. Then he shook it off with a toss of his head. "No, Bill. The more I think about it, I realize my dad could not really do something like that to me. It would just be too totally heinous, y'know?"

Bill looked down sadly and kicked a rock as they walked. "Yeah.... I know."

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

DeNomolos paced furiously. Four months! Ugh.... how could he stand for it? All throughout the prison-like complex people buzzed away in busy activity and he.... the head of the whole operation.... the brains!.... Reduced to meandering around his grandiose office with its teeth-grinding panoramic view with nothing to do! He desperately wished for something to go wrong somewhere so he could burn up his excess energy by engaging in some invigorating head-bashing, but, alas, his hand-picked minions did their jobs too well. Facts were that until his robot Bill & Ted plans were put into action, there was no use for him.... he was not needed! He spun around to the mirror to admire the almost human angst on his face. His buzzer sounded. He counted a good twenty seconds before reaching out to answer it. Wouldn't do to appear too desperate to "the help".

"Yes, Denise?"

"Sir...." her voice rang with exasperation. She had been enjoying a juicy, romantic novel before being interrupted. "Your financial advisor, Peckinpierce, is here to see you. Should I tell him where to go?"

"No thank you, Denise. Your heart's in the right place.... send him in, please." DeNomolos was grateful for the distraction. He put on his friendliest sneer as the accountant entered the room.

"Ahhhh, Chuck ol' boy!" The handsome man glided smoothly up to him and gave him an oily handshake. "How goes the war, hmmmm? Heh haw!"

DeNomolos clenched his teeth. He had forgotten how obnoxious Frederick Peckinpierce was. When you are surrounded by creeps, you tend to forget which ones rub you the wrong way the most. The man made himself at home, settling in the most comfortable chair and smoothing out his pants. DeNomolos took a seat behind his gigantic desk.

"So, Freddie.... what brings you upstairs? Is there a problem with the books?"

Peckinpierce guffawed. Considering that each of DeNomolos' followers were required to turn their entire life savings, not to mention their every worldly possession, over to the tyrant as soon as they signed on, the matter of money was rarely a problem. He smiled radiantly. "No no, Chucky boy." DeNomolos cringed. "Actually, what brings me here has nothing to do with money, if you can believe that.... I hardly can! Ha! Anyway, what does bring me here is that little time observation device thingy you guys have lying around in the basement." DeNomolos snorted. Peckinpierce nodded his head. "Yeah, I know. That thing hasn't turned out to be of much use to you, but bear with me for a moment. Picture this: I'm hanging around down there, right? Not much of anything to do 'til we get those damn fake 'Great Ones' on their feet.... took a gander at them the other day. Nearly freaked me out permanently! Anyway, I'm hanging around and just for the heck of it I start playing around with the time viewer.... y'know, trying to think of something we could do to wipe those two jerks off the map a little faster...."

DeNomolos smiled wanely at him. Peckinpierce chuckled. "Yeah, I know.... I know. It's all been tried before.... and I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own twenty-twenties! I mean, at first I just started out with simple stuff. Y'know, like what if we sent a guy back in time to mow them both down with a high power laser cannon.... that kind of thing. Fun to watch, too, although it gets kind of blurry and fuzzy like. Anyway, since we devised a way to calculate the odds of actually being successful, as you well know, we discovered that anything we could try, aside from the robot thing, had a less than 38 percent chance of ever working! Not very promising, eh? Somehow they always survive.... now, now, don't get upset, Chuckums, I haven't gotten to the good part yet! So! After a while, I start getting bored with it, so I started entering in really impossible stuff.... stuff that even we couldn't pull off. Y'know, like what if a giant pit full of boiling flea dip just happened to open right up under Ted as he was walking down the street? I've always hated Ted the most for some reason. Anyway, would you believe that even if it were possible for us to make a giant pit of flea dip open up underneath the long-haired little furball, the chances of him even being hurt, let alone killed, actually lowered?? Can you imagine?!"

"Wow. Thanks, Fred. You've really made my day. Been nice talking to you...."

"No no.... I still haven't gotten to the good part yet!"

DeNomolos planted both elbows on the desk top and rested his chin on his palms. "Please hurry it up, Frederick. If it gets much better than this, I'm going to have you dropped into a giant pit of boiling flea dip."

Peckinpierce swallowed hard and grinned charmingly. "Oh. Oh, ha ha. Ahem, yes.... that's a good one. Uh well, anyway.... as you can probably guess, I got bored with that game as well. I was just about to give up when an idea struck me. 'Freddie, ol' bean,' I said to myself, 'maybe you're going about this the wrong way.... maybe you're approaching this from the wrong angle, hmmm? Maybe you need to step back a bit; get a look at the big picture'...."

"Maybe...." DeNomolos cut in, "You should get to the point!" He frowned dangerously.

"Ah yes.... well, to make a long story short, I set the machine back a ways and entered a scenario that actually turned up a 99.9 percent chance of success...." He trailed off and waited for DeNomolos to react. He was not disappointed.

"Wh.... How....? You...." DeNomolos literally leapt over his desk, grabbed the accountant by the shoulders and stared into his eyes. It was several minutes before he could find his voice. "What.... what did you do? How far back will we need to go??"

Peckinpierce threw back his head with laughter and clapped his ecstatic leader on the back. "What I did I will show you.... how far back did I go? One year, give or take a few weeks."

DeNomolos' mouth dropped open. "Hah?"

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Bill dragged along several paces behind Ted. He was deep in thought. There just had to be a way! Not for the first time that evening, he was assaulted by the strange feeling that the solution to their most pressing problem should have been revealed to him already. He pushed it away angrily. Easy solutions don't just drop out of the sky, did they? Not very likely. No, he just had to think.... there had never been a situation in his life that he could not handle; his parents' stormy relationship and painful divorce.... the way his dad acted toward him, as if he were nothing more than an amusing inconvenience at best.... none of that mattered. He had his own life to live. His own plans. Someday he and Ted were going to get their band together and go somewhere! That was a fact as far as Ted was concerned, but Bill did not always feel quite so sure about it all as his best friend did. In fact, the absolute faith and confidence Ted had in their future, as well as in Bill himself, left him all the more insecure.... and determined. To let himself down would be bad enough, but to let Ted down was unthinkable....

"Ted!!"

Bill started. He and Ted were in front of Ted's house, passing by on the way to Bill's. Ted's father was standing on the porch, an angry look on his face.

"Yes, sir?" Ted called.

Captain Logan pointed to the open front door. "Get in here, now!"

Ted cringed and glanced back at Bill. Bill caught up with him. "Bogus," Ted whispered. "It's only eight thirty. What does he want?"

"C'mon, dude." Bill gave him a quick shove. "Maybe he just wants to ask you something.... yeah, right." Together they slouched up to the porch.

"I want to talk to you, son...." Captain Logan began.

Ted sighed and glanced back at Bill with a desperate expression. As Ted went inside, Bill moved to follow, but Ted's father put a hand out to stop him.

"Alone, please, Bill!"

Bill stopped and glared up at the man furiously but silently. Captain Logan glared back for a moment then turned away with a kind of satisfied smugness. Bill caught a brief glance on Ted looking back at him morosely before the door slammed in his face. A moment later he could hear Captain Logan's voice raging away, telling Ted what a total disaster he was. Bill spun away from the porch with a huff.

"Great!" He glanced over at Captain Logan's expensive police car and stared at it with fury, imagining all the heinous things he'd like to do to it. He then stomped down the porch and around the side of the house until he was in front of Ted's bedroom window. Bill heaved an enormous sigh of frustration and sat down to wait.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

"It is time.... their separation is imminent."

Rufus inclined his head respectively to the Three Most Important People and turned to the waiting time machine, which was cleverly disguised as an ancient phone booth. It had been created based on designs they had gleaned from the Great Encyclopedic Archives of Historical Facts and was actually about five or six years out of style for the year they intended to use it for, right down to the small, lighted 20¢ sign inside. However, this was seven hundred years from the era that used such obsolete devices, so you could hardly blame them. Rufus gracefully slid the glass door aside and turned once more to his leaders.

"Be excellent to each other," he said soberly.

"Party on.... dude," he was answered with feeling. He stepped inside and dialed. A large, spider-like antenna rose out of the top of the booth and began to spin rapidly, showering sparks and currents of electricity down and around the booth. Then it exploded. Rufus leapt out of the booth just as the last burning fragments crumbled away. The Important Ones gasped for their airbourne chairs. Alarms sounded. People flooded into the room in a panic. Fire extinguishers were produced to put out the last of the smoldering debris. The room was filled with excited chatter until the sound of the Prime MIP's voice rose above the din.

"Rufus! What has happened?" Everybody hushed to a murmur and turned in a group to face Rufus, who was already hunched in concentration over a complicated computer read-out. He spun around to face the group, his face pale with disbelief. He opened his mouth to speak, but the words got caught in his throat. He shook his head violently.

"Rufus...." The Important One's voice was calm and controlled. "Please, we must know what has happened so we may move to corrent the malfunction."

Rufus looked at all those assembled. Hundreds of gentle beings he loved more than life itself. He turned to the Three.

"There has been no malfunction...." There was a murmur of confusion. Rufus' eyes filled with tears. "There was.... that is, someone has sabotaged the Circuits of Time." The voices around him rose sharply in panic. Rufus raised his hands to silence them. "A series of computer generated explosions throughout the circuits had been programmed to occur at the precise moment anyone attempted to dial the number to San Dimas, 1988. The damage is...." He spread out his hands helplessly. "....extensive."

The room was once more filled with the sounds of outraged alarm. The Three talked amongst themselves in hushed tones. Rufus hung his head quietly. He knew what extensive knowledge it took to plant such a program into their system. There were only a few people he had ever known in his life who had such skill. His old teacher, Charles DeNomolos.... ah, but he was dead. Himself, of course.... Christine Landers.... not a chance. And Eustance Percival Grath, who had disappeared years ago without a trace.... dead end.

"Hmmm...." Rufus brushed the question of who did it aside for the moment. It was more important to concentrate on what to do about it! He knew how important it was to act soon. The streams of time were an incredibly complex organism and just as you could not launch a ship and expect it to reach its destination with optimal results before the planets in question were aligned just so, you could not go back and actually chance major events in the course of history until the ever shifting placement of your own time stream and the one you want to alter were in proper junction with each other. He, of all people, understood the disaster that would befall their "reality" if he could not go back to 1988 and prevent the permanent separation of the Two Great Ones. He had only a few more hours.... after which the past, as well as the present, would begin to alter. Rufus studied his read-out once more.... it was hopeless. There was no way under the sun to repair the damage in time. He glanced up at the Three Important Ones. The looks on their faces indicated that they already knew this as well. The Prime One beckoned to him.

"Rufus...." he whispered. "Is there nothing we can do? You are the foremost expert on the oddities of time travel. If there is anyone who knows anything that can be done to save us, it is you."

Rufus inclined his head in acknowledgment of the compliment and walked silently to his work station. He produced a key, opened a small drawer and removed a piece of ordinary writing paper and an antique pen.... both items rarely seen and less often used in their modern society. As those assembled watched in awe, Rufus worked the pen until it produced ink and carefully wrote down a short, simple list. He then put the paper and the pen back in his drawer and locked it. He turned to face the crowd.

"I have done all I can do. Let us pray that it will perhaps preserve something for us."

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ted slammed his bedroom door shut and leaned his back against it. He waited a few moments for his heart to stop pounding so hard, but it would not. Shakily, he made his way to the window where he knew Bill would be waiting for him. He managed to pull it open without making too much noise in spite of the fact that his hands, like the rest of his body, were shaking uncontrollably. He leaned out and looked around. Bill was sitting on the ground just to the left of the window, dozing. Ted crawled out, pulling the window most of the way back down, and crouched down over Bill, shaking him awake.

"Bill! Dude.... wake up! This is an emergency!"

Bill looked up, confused. "Huh?"

Ted gestured wildly in panic. "We are in serious trouble! My dad already signed me up.... my plane leaves tomorrow night!"

Bill snapped fully awake in an instant. "Wha....? No way! You said your dad...."

"Forget what I said, dude. I was wrong.... God, I'm so dumb sometimes!"

"Ted.... you're not...."

"Bill! My dad just let me have it, big time! He read me the total riot act! He...."

Bill gripped him by the shoulders. "Ted! Calm down! You're totally out of control, dude! We just need to go think.... you allowed out?"

Ted threw his arms up. "What difference does it make? He can't do any worse to me than he already has, 'cept kill me.... he'd probably enjoy that."

"C'mon...." Bill grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him away in the direction of his house.

When they were safely behind the closed door of Bill's garage, Ted sat down on the stage with a thump and stared at the floor, all of his earlier energy drained. Bill paced back and forth furiously, mumbling to himself. After several minutes, he stopped and whirled around to Ted, startling him.

"Okay! Okay.... now what exactly did your dad say?"

"Well...." Ted squinted his eyes in concentration. "He said I couldn't do anything right, I was a failure, I was wasting all my time with a worthless punk.... that's you. I'm...."

"No, Ted.... what did he say about military school?!"

"Oh.... that. He said he's putting me on a plane tomorrow night at eight.... I can't believe he'd do this to me. What are we gonna do??" Ted looked at Bill expectantly.

Bill gazed back at him for a few moments, then shook his head. "I dunno." He sat down next to Ted and joined him in contemplating a bug that was making its way slowly across the floor. "How long?"

Ted shrugged. "He says five years, but they can't really make me stay once I'm eighteen. I do know that much!"

"One year then. Man...."

Neither spoke for a while, then Ted stood up and walked over to pick up his guitar. He ran a hand along the neck lovingly, put it back down and stared at it.

Bill watched him with concern. "Ted...."

Ted whirled around, his eyes brimming with tears. "Bill.... I can't.... I can't do it!"

Bill fought down a stab of pain and bit his lip. "Ted.... I know it's hard, dude, but a year isn't forever, y'know.... and after that, we can do whatever we want to and your dad won't be able to do anything about it! We'll get the band going and be...." He searched for the right words. "Totally, uh...." He made a sweeping gesture with his arm. "Big!!"

Ted gave a short laugh and looked away, quickly wiping his eyes with his palm. Bill pretended to watch the bug, which was now scaling up the side of the stage. Ted walked over to the door control and flicked the switch. The door ascended slowly.

"You goin' home?"

Ted shook his head. "No way. Let's go for a walk."

"'Kay." Bill glanced down at the bug as it heaved itself triumphantly over the edge of the stage. "See ya." He got up and followed Ted outside.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Unbelievable!" DeNomolos shook his bald head. "Un-be-li-va-ble!!" He gazed with rapture at the Time Observation Unit monitor. Though the picture was only half visible through the fuzzy distortion on the screen, the figure was plainly visible, huddled beneath the majestic pines. It was curled into an almost fetal posture, looking pitiously tiny surrounded by the gigantic trees as it lay quite still, already partially covered with white powder from the gentle, but steady, snowfall.

Peckinpierce laughed with glee. "Well.... start believing it, Chuckles, 'cause there it is in all its prophetic splendor!"

"Are.... are you sure he's really dead?" DeNomolos squinted at the screen with apprehension.

"Oh yes! Quite certain! Why, just look at these readouts!" He produced a large pile of computer paper and crammed it under his evil leader's nose. DeNomolos snatched it away greedily and carefully pored over each line. A frightful smile spread slowly across his simian face.

"Well, wellllll...." he sneered. "The poor little thing runs away his first day and freezes to death in the Alaskan wilderness. Tsk, tsk...." Suddenly his smiled turned into a scowl.

"What.... what is it?" Peckinpierce asked, alarmed. "Did I miss something on the print out?"

DeNomolos waved him away. "No, no.... it's just that I did really want both of them dead, you know."

"Ahhh yes, of course." The accountant thought for a moment, the shrugged. "Ah well, if it's any consolation, that banal band will be done away with."

DeNomolos sighed. "Yes, this is true." He still looked a tad disappointed.

Peckinpierce slapped him on the shoulder. "Besides! Just think of all the fun we'll have watching the other one react when he finds out!"

DeNomolos brightened considerably. "Hmmmm! I hadn't thought of that!"

"And...." Peckinpierce played his ace. "Did you know that the princesses, having never escaped and being forced to marry against their will, committed joint-suicide to escape their fate?"

"Freddie!!" DeNomolos' eyes were bulging out of their sockets. Peckinpierce, fearing he had offending his leader, began to stammer out an apology. DeNomolos cut him off by throwing a weighty arm around his shoulder.

"My lad.... you are a genius!"

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Once again, two boys sat in front of the Circle K. This time, neither one bothered any passersby, what few there were at three in the morning. They sat close together with shoulders touching to try and ward off the cold. Every once in a while one of them would start a brief conversation with words like, "Remember when we....?" or "After I get back....", but after a while they both lapsed into silence and just sat together, staring out into space.

Suddenly the air was shattered by the blast of a car horn combined with the wail of a police siren. Ted leapt to his feet and stood at attention out of habit, causing Bill to fall over. They had both dozed off. It was already daylight.

"Yes sir, yes sir, yes sir!!" Ted sputtered, blinking rapidly as his mind tried to focus. Bill stood up and put a hand on his shoulder. Captain Logan was leaping out of his car, which had swung up in front of them moments before.

"Ted!! How dare you sneak out of the house! I guess you figured it didn't matter since I'm sending you off anyway, huh?"

Ted hung his head meekly. "Yes, sir."

Ted's father huffed. "Fine. So you've had your fun.... now you're coming home to pack!"

"But.... but, Dad! I have to go to school...."

Captain Logan grabbed him painfully by the arm, dragging him to the car and pushing him roughly in. Bill stood and watched angrily from the curb. As the car shifted violently into gear, he heard Captain Logan screaming.

"Forget it, Ted! That's not your school anymore, and I'm certainly not going to give you another chance to sneak out with that delinquent friend of yours!" The car spun around with a squeal and was gone, leaving Bill in a cloud of dust.

He waited a few minutes, then walked to Ted's house, but Captain Logan had apparently caught on to their trick and had parked the patrol car right up against the side of the house, effectively sealing in Ted's bedroom window. Bill stomped in frustration. "Damn!!"

He stood there for a while but couldn't figure out any way to get to Ted. Sadly, he slouched off to his own garage.... school was out of the question.... and spent the rest of the day immersed in a first class sulk. When six thirty rolled around, Bill stirred himself and headed to Ted's house. He'd be damned if Ted's creep of a dad was going to prevent him from at least seeing Ted off.

When he arrived, Bill was surprised to see that the patrol car was not sitting in front of the house. He nearly tripped as he ran to Ted's window and banged at it desperately. There was no answer. Too mad to care what would happen, he stomped up to the front door and pounded loudly. Ted's younger brother, Deacon, answered, looking hangdog.

"Bill.... look, I'm not really supposed to talk to you, but...."

"What do you want?!!" Deacon took a step back as his father stormed up to Bill.

Bill looked him in the eye furiously. "I want to talk to Ted.... sir."

Captain Logan looked down at him as if he were the lowest form of life to ever slither out from under a rock. "He's gone," he said with satisfaction.

"Wh.... gone? Wait...." Bill faltered, taking a step back with the impact of what he'd jusr heard. "But.... but it's only six thirty! His plane doesn't leave until eight!"

Captain Logan smiled unpleasantly. "I decided to put him on an earlier flight.... and you are not welcome around here, so kindly get off my property. Now!" He felt a surge of disappointment when Bill didn't even flinch. Instead, Bill only gaped at him with wide eyes, his face pale.

"You didn't even let us say goodbye...." he said faintly.

Captain Logan frowned at him. "Bill, personally, if you two had said 'goodbye' a long time ago, I wouldn't have had to resort to such drastic actions. If it weren't for your lousy influence, my son might have made something of himself by now.... do you understand?"

Bill shook his head. "You couldn't care less what happens to Ted.... you just want something to show off to the rest of the world! To show what a bigshot you are!"

Deacon started to sob in the background. Captain Logan looked around. "Now wai...." He spun back around to Bill. "Look you....!"

"Go to Hell!!"

Captain Logan sputtered in fury as Bill ran away, cutting across the lawn as he went.

"And don't come back!" Captain Logan slammed the door and turned to Deacon, who was sniffing and wiping his nose. "Now what the Hell's the matter with you?!"

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

After he had packed the few things he was allowed to bring into his suitcase, Ted sat down morosely on the edge of his bed and racked his brain.... trying to think of some way to end this nightmare before it was too late. There was a soft knock on the door. "Yeah?"

The door cracked open and Deacon peeked inside. "Hey, jerkzoid."

"Hey, worm."

Deacon looked around. "Busy?"

Ted sighed. "Naw."

Deacon entered and perched awkwardly on the footboard. After several minutes of silence, he looked up at his big brother. "This is a real drag. I never thought Dad would really go through with it."

"I know.... me neither."

"You really gonna stay for five years?"

"Naw. I'm gonna split once I'm old enough."

Deacon shook his head. "Dad's not gonna like that...."

"Little dude, Dad's never liked anything I've ever done since the day I was born."

Deacon laughed. "Yeah.... he's always too busy bein' mad at you to give me much hassle...." Suddenly he choked up and looked away.

"Hey...." Ted punched him lightly. "Cuditout, okay? You can have my stereo and all my stuff when I'm gone.... all my good stuff's already at Bill's anyway."

"Ted?"

"Yeah?"

Deacon jumped up and hugged him around the neck. "I'm gonna miss you."

"Yeah.... you too, slug."

Deacon let go and ran out. Ted heard him slam his bedroom door. He got up and pulled his own shut again.

"Bogus."

As soon as he had settled back down, he was startled by a loud pounding. "Yes, sir?"

"Let's go, Ted," he father called.

"What?? But.... it's only five o'clock!" Ted tried to suppress the edge of hysteria that was creeping into his voice.

The door was jerked open. "I know how to tell time, mister! C'mon.... you've got an earlier flight."

Ted leapt to his feet, his heart pounding so loud he was sure his dad could hear it. "Dad.... dad, I...." Captain Logan just glared at him.

With a wave of nausea, Ted realized that this thing was really happening to him. He picked up his suitcase, lugging it past his father and went outside to the car without a word. Captain Logan put the case in the trunk and Ted got in the front seat beside him. As they drove off, Ted looked back one last time at his home. Then he stared helplessly out the side window as everything familiar to him slowly dissolved into unknown territory. All too soon, the airport loomed ahead.

Captain Logan cleared his throat. "Ted.... I know this is hard for you to understand now, but someday you're going to look back and realize that this was the only right thing to do."

"Yes, sir."

".... and you'll realize what kind of felon Bill Preston was destined to become...."

Ted did not answer.

Captain Logan turned to him angrily. "Ted!"

Ted hung his head, refusing to make eye contact. "I don't care what you say about me, Dad, but you're totally wrong about Bill. You don't even know him...."

"Nor do I care to!" Captain Logan snapped as he parked the car and threw the door open. "Hurry it up, Ted. It's this way."

Dully, Ted took his suitcase from the trunk and followed his father into the terminal. His mind seemed to be immersed in a thick fog as he watched his father have his ticket stamped and luggage checked. He sat down in the waiting area stiffly, feeling suddenly old. He noticed that people were bustling everywhere, like in a giant ants' nest, but it all seemed unreal somehow. Ted never heard the voice announcing that his plane was ready to be boarded, but suddenly his father was hauling him up and hustling him outside. At the foot of the stairs, Ted turned and looked his father full in the face for the first time that day.

Captain Logan grabbed his hand in a firm handshake. "Good luck, son.... Colonel Oates will be making a special trip to the airport to pick you up, as a favor to me. I want you to make a good impression on him."

Ted felt tears spring up in his eyes but fought them back down. "Yes, sir," he mumbled weakly.

He went up the stairs and stepped into the plane, stopping in confusion just inside the door. A pretty stewardess checked his ticket and bustled him into his seat. The plane was more than half empty. Ted looked around curiously. Near the back he could see a group of five or six nuns who stared back at him with mixed reactions. A few older men in business suits were scattered here and there, jointly ignoring him. Soon the door was shut and sealed and the stewardess pleasantly, if absently, explained the emergency procedures. She then went up and down the aisle, making sure everybody's seatbelts were fastened. Satisfied, she disappeared into a curtained doorway at the front with an "employees only" sign hanging over it. The captain's voice burbled happily over the speaker for a minute, then the plane started to move.

Ted's fog lifted with a painful snap. Moving! He was on a plane and it was moving, and it was taking him to Oates' Military Academy in Alaska! Ted gasped in pain as his body made an instinctive lurch forward, causing the seatbelt to cut into him. He looked around frantically, then out the window to his right. They were already leaving the ground.

Ted clutched his armrests tightly and shut his eyes. "I'm not going to cry, I'm not going to cry, I'm not going to cry...." he thought. He tried to force a sense of resignation on himself. When he had regained his composure, he opened his eyes, looking out the window again and murmuring softly....

"Goodbye, San Dimas.... goodbye mall, goodbye Waterloop, goodbye Frosty Slushes, goodbye.... Bill!!! I didn't say goodbye to Bill!"

In one movement he threw off his seatbelt, leapt to his feet, looked around stupidly at the other passengers who looked back at him apprehensively, then sat back down again, crossing his arms on the armrest to his left and burying his face, sobbing hopelessly.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Hey, Bill! Where's Ted?"

If he'd heard it once, he'd heard it a thousand times! Still, he was pleasantly surprised by the wave of outrage and sympathy that was showered upon him as he related his story over and over again in each class. Three girls had even given him their phone number! Bill had never felt so popular in school before.

"Man," he thought to himself as he sat down in history, his final class of the day. "Misery really does love company!"

Mr. Ryan looked over his glasses at him. "I missed you boys yesterday, Bill.... where's Ted?"

Although he was one of his nicest teachers, Bill felt a surge of anger towards him. "His dad's sent him to military school in Alaska.... because he flunked out in history!" He was immediately sorry for the outburst. He knew it wasn't really Mr. Ryan's fault that he and Ted were lousy students.

Mr. Ryan glared sternly at him for a moment, then his features softened. "I'm very sorry to hear that, Bill."

He was ignored by Mr. Ryan for the rest of the hour, for which he was grateful.... after all, he'd already flunked the class, too. Bill tried to amuse himself, but he couldn't shake the strange sensation that Ted was still sitting in his usual place behind him, and every so often it got so strong that he had to peek over his shoulder to check. Each time he felt a tremendous stab of disappointment when he saw the empty desk, still bearing the various pen-gouged scars that bore witness to its previous owner.

After class, Bill lagged behind until the other students had left the room. He walked over to his teacher. "Mr. Ryan? Look.... I'm sorry about what I said and everything. After all, you flunked us fair and square, right?"

Mr. Ryan shuffled some paper together. "That's all right, Bill. I understand." He looked up at him briefly. "Military school?"

Bill nodded. "Yeah."

"I don't know...." Mr. Ryan mumbled half to himself.

Bill said goodbye and sauntered out. A couple of kids in the hall invited him over to their places.... one even asked him if he wanted to join his band. But Bill had lost his earlier social mood. Gloomily, he walked home by himself and immediately retired to his garage where he dug up some "Missy-proof" snacks and stretched out on the stage, his portable radio blaring. He munched without much appetite and thumbed half-heartedly through a "guitar for beginners" book. He sighed sadly. It was going to be a looong year.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Cold!!!

Ted stood in front of the airport with both arms wrapped tightly around himself. He said goodbye to the three nuns and two businessmen that had befriended him on the long flight and scurried into the warmth of the main building. It was nearly deserted. He wandered over to the baggage claim area and waited for his suitcase to appear on the otherwise empty conveyer belt. He then went and sat down in a metal chair with a T.V. bolted to it and tried to turn it on. It wouldn't work.... then he noticed that you were supposed to put a quarter into it. He dug into his pockets, pulling out assorted knick-knacks including two business cards and a small rosary one of the nuns had given him, which he managed to fasten around his wrist with a rubber band, thinking it was one of the strangest friendship bracelets he had ever seen!

Finally he located a quarter. He was about to insert it into the machine, hesitated, then looked around quickly. Grabbing his case, he hurried off to find a phone. It didn't take him long to find a row of old-fashioned looking phone booths. The first one, he noted with disappointment, had an "out of order" sign on it. He tried the next one to it.... it was working! Quickly, he put in his quarter and dialed the operator....

"Yes?"

"Collect call from Ted Logan.... do you accept?"

"Yes! Of course!"

"Mrs. Preston? Is Bill around?"

"Hang on, sweetie, I'll check...." Ted waited nervously, leaning out of the booth and looking around. So far the coast was clear.

"Ted??"

"Yeah, it's me...."

"Ted.... where are you?"

"At the airport. My 'ride' hasn't shown up yet."

There was a pause. "You okay?"

Ted sighed. "I dunno. You?"

"Yeah.... ha! No, not really."

"Good. I hate bein' miserable all by myself."

"God, Ted...."

"Yeah, I know. I can't believe I'm really here.... I really can't believe I'm gonna be stuck here for a whole year!"

"Yeah, me neither. I nearly ripped Mr. Ryan's head off today...."

"You shouldn't have done that, dude."

"I know.... I apologized."

"That's good. You takin' care of my guitar?"

"Guarding it with my life...."

"You'd better, 'cause...."

"Ahem."

Ted spun around, surprised. A tall, fit man in a military uniform was standing in front of the booth. He was smirking wryly at Ted, his eyes twinkling. Ted clutched the phone receiver to his chest guiltily with both hands, as if trying to hide it. "H.... h...."

"Hello, Ted.... are you talking to your dad?"

"Um...." Ted swallowed. "N.... no, sir, I was...."

The man gently took the receiver from him and spoke into it. "Hello, Bill."

There was only a slight pause. "Hello, Colonel Oates."

"Ted has to go now, Bill. Okay?" The man smiled warmly at Ted, who was watching him with bulging eyes.

"Uh, Colonel?" Bill asked.

"Hmm?"

"D'you mind if I say goodbye to Ted? We didn't get a chance when he left."

The Colonel raised his eyebrows and handed the phone back to Ted. He took a few steps back to allow him some privacy.

"Bill?"

"Don't be scared of him, Ted! Look him right in the eye! He probably wears pink underwear!"

"Bill?"

".... with little, purple hearts all over them!!"

Ted stifled a guffaw. "Cut it out, dude! He's looking at me!"

Colonel Oates glanced meaningly at his watch.

"Uh oh.... I gotta go, Bill."

"Ted?"

"Yeah?"

"We're gonna get through this. Hang in there, okay?"

"Okay.... thanks."

"Bye."

"Bye...."

Ted hung up and turned hesitantly to the Colonel. The man swept up to him and, to Ted's surprise, swung a friendly arm around his shoulder, leading him outside. He went to a large, black car and opened the trunk, pulled out a rough-textured grey coat and handed it to Ted. "I think you'll be needing this."

Ted put it on gratefully. It was too big.

"Ha! Looks like your dad exaggerated your size a bit. Father's tend to do that with their eldest sons."

Ted looked down shyly. "Uh huh."

They got into the car and headed out of the airport. As they reached the road outside, Ted was stunned. He had expected snow, polar bears, snow, ice burgs, snow, igloos, snow, snow and snow! What greeted his eyes was snow, certainly, but also mile after mile of gorgeous, untamed wilderness.

Colonel Oates laughed. "Keep your eyes peeled, Ted. You never know when you might spot a moose around these parts."

"Really?" Ted asked then, remembering who he was talking to, quickly added, "Sir."

"Really."

They drove in silence for a while and Ted found himself actually enjoying the ride. Soon they turned onto a single, wide road that seemed to stretch on ahead of them forever.

Colonel Oates turned to Ted. "It's about a half hour's drive from here. So.... that was the infamous Bill, huh?"

Ted cringed. "Yes, sir."

Colonel Oates looked back to the road ahead. "Sounds like a bright, young man."

Ted grinned in spite of himself. "Yes, sir!"

The Colonel nodded, then cast a sly, sideways glance at Ted. "So, you only plan to stay with us for one year instead of five?"

Ted's grin vanished. He blanched. Colonel Oates just reached over and patted him on the shoulder.

"No.... that's all right. Once you turn eighteen, what you do with your life is your own business." Ted just gawked at him. "Besides," the Colonel continued, "You never know. You might actually like it here so much you'll decide to stick around, hmm?"

Ted looked away and shrugged. This was not the Colonel Oates he had always imagined.... dreaded! This guy was actually being nice to him! Ted wasn't sure how to deal with it....

They drove the rest of the way in silence. Jet lag started taking affect, and Ted nodded off. He dreamt that he was still in San Dimas in school. He was sitting behind Bill in history class, feeling bored. Bill glanced back at him and frowned, then quickly turned back to the front.

Ted leaned forward and whispered so Mr. Ryan wouldn't hear. "What is it, Bill?"

Bill acted like he didn't hear him.

Ted spoke a little louder. "Bill?" No response. "Bill!" He went to poke Bill in the shoulder. His hand passed right through. Ted jerked it back with a gasp of horror.

"Hey, sleeping beauty.... we're home!"

"Huh?" Ted sat up in the car seat in confusion. They were stopped in front of a large, metal gate that swung open as a man at the inside security booth waved welcome.

"Whooooaa!" Ted stared with mortification at the compound as they drove inside. It was nothing more than a collection of dingy, squat buildings scattered seemingly haphazardly around an area no larger than the parking lot at Disneyland. Snowdrifts piled high against the buildings, but the narrow "streets" that ran between them were relatively clear. With a shudder, Ted wondered if the students were required to do all of the shoveling by hand. He could feel his back ache already....

"Okay, Ted! Here we are...." Colonel Oates parked the car in front of a long, greystone building. As Ted got out, he found himself standing nose to nose with another boy around his age, wearing a coat identical to his own, although better fitting. There the resemblence ended. The boy was bulky and wide-shouldered. Ice cold blue eyes looked out at Ted from beneath brows so blonde they looked transparent. He sported a close crew cut that actually seemed to compliment his large head and square jaw. Ted felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up with dislike. He struck a defiant pose and stared at the boy with distrust.

The boy stared back at Ted, expressionless. Colonel Oates retrieved Ted's suitcase from the trunk and handed it to him.

"Ted, this is Bernard Simms. He's going to be showing you around and helping you get settled in. Bernard, this is Ted Logan."

Bernard offered Ted a stiff handshake. "This way, please." He did a smart about-face and marched into the building. Ted watched him with disgust.

Colonel Oates slapped him on the back. "I'll see you around, Ted." He inclined his head meaningly in the direction the other boy had gone.

"Yes, sir," Ted mumbled, and lugged his case into the building. When he was inside, he saw that it was the bunker. Rows and rows of flat-looking but meticulously made beds were lined up along each wall. Next to each bed was a small, metal foot locker. Bernard was sitting on one of them. He waved at Ted.

"Hey! Over here, kid! This one's yours." He jumped up, lithe as a cat. Ted stood in place as if he had grown roots. Bernard laughed. "Yeah, that Colonel Oates is some character, huh? Just don't let yourself get on the wrong side of him.... Well?" He looked at Ted quizically. "What are you waiting for? Get unpacked so we can go find something a little more interesting than a bunch of beds and lockers to look at!" He laughed again and punched Ted in the shoulder.

Ted clenched his teeth and walked over to his bed.

"Hold it!"

Ted stopped in mid-sit. He glared at Bernard, preparing to fight, but Bernard was still smiling at him chummily.

"Whoa there, kid! No one sits on their beds 'til it's time to turn in.... I thought you were supposed to be an army brat. Didn't you dad teach you anything?"

Ted stood up and walked right up to the boy. "My. Name. Is. Not. Kid! It's Ted!"

Bernard raised both his hands, palms up. "Hey! Lighten up, Ted! Peace, man! I'm on your side, for the moment.... unless you'd rather not be friends?" His face lost its friendly look.

Ted looked him up and down once and decided he wasn't keen on the idea of spending the next three weeks in the infirmary. He forced his body to relax. "Yeah.... sorry, dude. I guess I'm a little edgy. I'm not exactly a voluntary patient here."

Bernard smiled again. "Forget it, ki.... uh, Ted. By the way, the name's Bernard, and don't let me catch you ever calling me 'Bernie'."

"Okay.... Bernard." The two boys stood for a few moments, each checking the other out in the suddenly friendlier atmosphere.

"Boy, your hair's long."

Ted grinned proudly. "Yeah."

"Play guitar?"

"Yeah!"

"Hmmm...." Bernard thought in mock concentration. "Heavy metal?"

Ted nodded. "How'd you guess?"

Bernard laughed. "You're okay. Hurry up and unpack now. I gotta show you the rest of this sportsman's paradise."

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

There were three kinds of boys at the school, Ted observed. Boys like himself, who had been sent against their will and were just biding their time until they could get out..... boys who not only came voluntarily, like Bernard, but actually thrived on the military atmosphere.... then there were the boys who came on their own accord, fit right in and proceeded to walk all over any other weaker kid they could get their hands on. Ted had spotted more than a few of the third kind as he and Bernard peeked into the mess hall during lunch time.

His heart grew heavier as the afternoon progressed. This place was not for him.... in fact he wondered how much a place like this could change a dude in the space of a year. Maybe he'd come out of there so stiffened, starched and totally uncoolified that Bill wouldn't even like him anymore! Not that Ted would blame him.... who wants to try to start a rock band with an uptight, military-type dweeb? He shuddered, then frowned with determination. He was just going to have to make sure he didn't change! Bill was counting on him!! Ted lifted his head with pride. No matter what kind of horrible, heinous, totally egregious things they would do to him in this place, he would not allow himself to stop being.... well.... himself! He nodded, extremely pleased. Bernard stared at him strangely.

Ted was now dressed in the olive drab uniform all students were required to wear. No one had gotten around to exchanging his over-large coat yet. Bernard shook Ted's hand once more. "Well, Teddo.... I hope we'll get to spend s'more time together soon."

Ted looked surprised. "Your leaving?"

Bernard laughed. "No, do-ho! I've just got to get back to my regular duties.... all you have left to do is get your hair taken care of and then they'll give you your schedule. The rest is, as they say, up to you."

"After they what??"

"Take care of your hair. Y'know...." Bernard made a mowing gesture over Ted's head. "Bzzzzz!!"

Ted gawked at him in terror. "You mean.... I have to get a crew cut??!"

"Whoa.... take it easy, Ted. No one's gonna laugh at you or nothing. Everybody has to do it, so you may as well just forget trying to fight it." Bernard was obviously used to Ted's type of reaction.

"Oh maaannn. Oh man!!" Ted reached a hand up and felt his hair.... his pride and joy! He had fought, argued, pleaded, bargained and just plain bawled with his dad in order to be allowed to grow it to shoulder length.... and now they were going to just saw it off. Just like that. Ted sat down, defeated.

Bernard shook his head. "C'mon now, you'll get over it.... we all have, y'know." With that he gave Ted a friendly slap on the back and was gone. After a few minutes, a man came and directed Ted to a nearby building where he was placed in a waiting room next to another new recruit, who was also waiting to be shorn. They exchanged glances of death-row camaraderie and waited together in silence. After a short time, a man opened to the door next to the bench they were sitting on and motioned to the boy next to Ted.

"C'mon.... it's your turn."

The boy looked over at Ted with pleading eyes, then slowly stood up and followed the man, who shut the door behind him. Ted's ears were suddenly filled with a loud buzzing. He slapped at them a few times, then realized with a start that he was hearing the sound of the electric razor that was shearing that poor kid's hair off. Ted bolted.

He was already outside the building when he came to his senses. He stopped in the middle of the street in confusion. The sound of an approaching jeep brought him around and he dashed to the next nearest building and pressed his back up against it. He was sure the driver of the jeep would spot him but apparently he did not. In a split second, Ted realized the jeep was heading for the exit gate.

Before he could ask himself what the heck he thought he was doing, he creeped stealthfully along the building after the jeep then, holding his breath, dashed out and ducked down beside it. He stumbled along with it, trying to keep crouched down as it drove up to the gate and stopped. The security booth was on the opposite side of the jeep Ted was on. To his utter astonishment, the gate slowly opened and the jeep headed out. He had to run to keep up with it, positive that any second now someone would yell at him or shoot him or something. He heard the gate shut with a clang. A few moments later, the jeep began to accelerate and Ted, realizing he would not be able to keep up, veered off and dove into a ditch alongside the road. It was full of snow and he had to slap his hand over his mouth to stifle a yelp as the coldness bit into his hands and face. He listened as the jeep drove away, then risked a peek out.

He was completely alone.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The phone rang. Captain Logan put down his drink, his third that night, to answer it. "Yes?"

"Chet.... how are you?"

"Ah.... all right, I suppose, Colonel.... and you?"

"Fine. Listen.... I'm calling about Ted...."

Captain Logan retrieved his drink. "Oh God. What's he done now?"

"Now, now, Chet. Don't jump to conclusions. I think Ted is a very polite, well brought up boy."

"Thank you. Now, what did he do?"

"Um.... well, he hasn't really done anything, per se. I just think he went exploring on his own and...."

"And?"

"I don't want to alarm you, Chet. It's just that Ted seems to have gotten himself lost, and I thought you should be told right away...."

Captain Logan dropped his drink. "Lost??"

"Now, I'm sure he's still on the school grounds somewhere but we've started a search in the immediate area just to be safe. I'll call you as soon as he's located."

"Colonel.... just do my one favor."

"Of course. What is it?"

"When you find him, throw the book at him! This is just the kind of stunt I'd expect him to pull his first day! Don't give him any leeway, Colonel.... he's completely out of control!! Why...."

"Yes, all right, Chet. Look, I've got to go.... I'll call you back at oh-eight hundred your time and let you know Ted's okay. All right?"

Captain Logan sighed. "All right." He slammed the phone down and swore.

Hearing the commotion, Deacon came out of his room, taking in the ghastly look on his father's face and the spilt drink on the floor.

"Er.... don't you think that maybe you've had enough, Dad?"

Captain Logan just shook his head. "Yes, I do. More than enough."

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Deacon glanced at his clock. Eight thirty a.m. He couldn't imagine who his father would be talking to so early on a Saturday morning, but whoever it was sure had him upset. He tiptoed to his door and pressed an ear against it, straining to make out what his father was saying.

"Yes, but are you sure you've looked everywhere? He's very adept at hiding out when he wants to.... Yes? Yes.... all right. Yes, I'll hold on."

Deacon couldn't resist any longer. He opened his door, yawning noticably, and walked innocently up to his father.

"Morning, Dad. Who're you talkin' to?" To his astonishment, his father put an arm around his shoulder and pulled him close, holding him protectively. "Dad.... what is it??"

Captain Logan motioned for him to be quiet and spoke again into the phone. "Yes? Yes, Colonel, I.... what?? How long?? But, how is that possible? Don't you have a locked gate around the place? But where would he...." Suddenly his face went very pale. He nearly crushed Deacon against him.

"Yes. I understand.... no, don't.... it's not your fault. It's mine. I should have straightened him out ages ago. Yes, all right. Please call me as soon.... okay." He hung up the phone and pressed his cheek against Deacon's hair. He was crying.

"Dad! What's wrong? Did something happen to Ted? Dad??"

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Missy screamed. Bill came running from the garage to see what had happened. It was five thirty p.m. It was not difficult for Bill to locate the whereabouts of his parents. The barrage of yells, shouts and Missy's wailing were all coming from the den. As he entered the room, Bill was shocked to see his father almost coming to blows with an enraged Captain Logan. Missy was standing between them, tearfully trying to keep them apart.

"Hey! What's going on??" Bill demanded.

Captain Logan whirled on him like a madman. "You!!"

Bill barely managed to duck as the man's fist whistled over his head. Mr. Preston grabbed Captain Logan from behind and pulled him back away from Bill.

"You!!" the man continued to scream, struggling with his hands outstretched as if he wished to close them around Bill's throat. "It's all your fault!"

Bill gaped at him with wide eyes. "What? What're you talking about?"

"You damn well know what I'm talking about, you little punk! I know you were talking to Ted on the phone yesterday morning! You told him to do it, didn't you?!"

Bill shook his head, astonished. Mr. Preston dragged the hysterical Captain Logan to the door. "My son had nothing to do with it! You have a lot of nerve barging in here and...."

"Dad!" Bill shouted. "What is he talking about? What did Ted do?"

Captain Logan braced himself in the doorway and pointed at him. "What did you think he was supposed to do out there.... hitchhike?? There isn't a public road within thirty miles of the place! Don't you realize how cold it is there? Don't you realize what you've done?"

"Please...." Bill was frantic. "What's going on? Is Ted hurt? Somebody tell me what's going on!!"

Captain Logan suddenly became very calm. Mr. Preston released him cautiously. He stepped part way out the door and looked back at Bill with venom in his eyes.

"It should have been you," he spat. He turned and walked out.

Mr. Preston slammed the door. Bill looked up at him with confusion. "Dad.... what did he mean by that? I need to know. Please...."

Mr. Preston looked away. "Sit down, please, Bill...."

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

After talking to his father, Bill went back inside the garage; his mind blank. Even behind the closed door he could hear Missy still crying in distress. He shook his head.... it was obvious to him that Captain Logan had finally flipped straight off the deep end. Poor Ted. Stuck in Alaska for a year, then he'll have to come home to a crazy father. Just one year.... strangely, it didn't seem that long a time to Bill any more. In fact, he actually smiled at the thought. He looked around the garage at all the work he and Ted had put into it.... for their futures. A bad feeling rose up in him but he pushed it back down. One year. He'd have to get a job after school. He'd need to start saving some money so he and Ted could get their own place.... when Ted came back. In one year. Wouldn't do for Ted to live with his crazy dad....

Bill picked up his guitar and plucked a note. He made a few minute adjustments as the sound died away. He really should buckle down and learn some chords, he thought. Then he could teach them to Ted when he came back. In one year.

In a single, fluid motion, Bill gripped his guitar by the neck and swung. It bounced impotently off the "Wyld Stallyns" sign behind the stage, punching a small hole in it. He stared at it.... blind rage swelled up.... he raised the guitar over his head with a yell and brought it down on the concrete floor. It shattered; the amp shrieking protest. Bill stumbled out of the garage and took off running.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ted pulled himself up out of the ditch, shivering. When his body was pumped full of adrenaline as he made his escape he had not noticed the cold. However, the rush had now completely worn off, and to make it worse he was soaking wet from lying in the snow-filled ditch. He pulled his coat tight around him and looked around, unsure what to do. He came to the full realization that he was in big trouble, no matter what he did. He knew he really should go back and confess right up front.... just get it over with. But then he remembered Bernard's words concerning Colonel Oates: "Don't let yourself get on the wrong side of him." Great. Ted pictured the nice Colonel Oates he had met that morning suddenly turning into the roaring monster of his nightmares. No way was he going back. Having made the decision, Ted felt a bit better. Now to decide what he would do.

"Hmmm...." He wished he could talk to Bill.... Bill always knew what to do. "Hey!" Ted thought. "That's it! I'll just find my way back to the airport and call Bill! Well, maybe not the airport.... they'll be watching for me there. Bogus. In fact.... I probably shouldn't even be on this road. It's the first place they'll look!" Ted immediately scanned the forest on either side of the road, looking for the thinnest area. He figured he could make his way into the cover of the trees a ways, then work his way in the general direction of the airport. There had to be some kind of city or village or something around it somewhere!

Satisfied with his plan, he picked a promising looking break in the trees across the road from him and started walking. Suddenly there was a loud, blasting noise. Ted gasped and turned to jump back into the ditch.... it was too late. An eighteen-wheeler was coming down the road toward him. Ted stood where he was and hung his head in defeat as the huge truck pulled up to him. It hissed slowly to a stop and the driver jumped out.

"Hello there, young man."

Ted sighed. "Hi."

"Please excuse me if I'm prying but.... are you lost?"

"No." Well, it wasn't exactly a lie.

"Oh. Just going for a little walk then?"

Ted made an exasperated gesture. "Okay, so you caught me. You don't have to rub my face in it, dude."

The man placed a hand over his heart, looking genuinely hurt. "Caught you?? Nothing of the sort! I just thought you could use some help."

Ted felt a stab of hope. "What kind of help?"

"Well...." The man scratched his beard. "Considering your hairstyle doesn't exactly match your wardrobe.... may I assume you're running away from, er...." He made a face and pointed in the direction of the military school. Ted nodded grimly. The man turned to his truck and opened the door, making a sweeping gesture inside.

"Care for a ride?"

"Really? I mean...." Ted knew he shouldn't accept a ride from a stranger but for some odd reason he knew he could trust this peculiar dude. "I mean, where were you headed?"

"Los Angeles."

"Wow!! Me too! I mean.... well, I'd like to go to San Dimas...."

"Well then.... hop aboard! I'd love some company."

"Oh wow.... I mean, thanks! I mean.... oh wow! You don't know what this means to me!"

The man inclined his head graciously. "Think nothing of it.... er?"

"Ted.... Ted Logan." Ted shook his hand heartily. "What's your name?"

"Rufus.... just Rufus."

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Bill woke up in an alleyway, his mind cloudy. He stared about in confusion and fear. Something terrible had happened.... he'd been running. From whom? Cautiously he stood and crept out from between the two trash cans he'd been lying between. There was no one around. The sun was setting.... or was it rising? Bill shook his head and slapped himself a few times. Much better. He stood up straight and walked out of the alley. As he recognized the street he was on and realized the direction of the orange glow in the sky he knew he had been out all night. His dad would mumble about that.... a little bit.

Sleepily, Bill made his way to the Circle K to get something to wake himself up with. He was disturbed by his sudden lack of memory, wondering if he'd been at a party somewhere the night before and gotten drunk. He'd only done it once before, but he seemed to remember feeling a lot sicker the last time.

"Oh well...." He arrived at the convenience store and bought a Coke. Then he went outside and leaned against the wall to watch the sunrise. It was a bit too early to go see if Ted was up.

"Ted!!" He dropped his drink and stumbled out into the parking lot, the full memory of everything that had happened crashing down on him. Ted was in Alaska. He had run away. It was too cold for anyone to survive unsheltered for very long. There was no shelter within walking distance of the school, except the airport. He wasn't at the airport. He wasn't at the school. He was just.... out there. Somewhere. They couldn't find him.... it might take them some time. There were miles of woodland to cover. There wasn't any reason for them to hurry. He'd either taken shelter somewhere or....

A car pulled into the lot then slammed on its brakes to avoid hitting Bill, who was standing there in the middle of it. Bill spun around to the car and pounded both fists down on the hood.

"How could you be so stupid, Ted? How could you??!"

The man in the car rammed it into reverse and took off out of the lot and down the street, going backwards all the way. Bill watched it go, feeling sorry for what he had done in some part of his mind but struggling against a much more insistant part of it that wanted to destroy everything in sight. He took off running again in the direction of his house.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Wow, Rufus! You've got the way coolest CD collection I've ever seen in one truck!" Ted fingered through a large box on the seat between them.

"I'm glad you approve, mi amigo."

Ted gazed with a bit of sadness out the window for a moment. "We'd have a lot more time to listen to more of them if we took a more roundabout route, Rufus.... couldn't we do some sight-seeing? I've never travelled across the country before."

Rufus chuckled. "Sorry, compadre. I'm delivering a very important load and the sooner I get it there, the better." He peeked over his sunglasses at Ted. "Trust me."

Ted sighed. "Yeah.... I guess you hafta make a living, don't you?"

"Well, aren't you at all anxious to get home?"

"Oh yah....! And no. I mean, I'm looking forward to seeing Bill. He's gonna completely flip when he finds out I'm not in Alaska any more. Problem is, so is my dad."

Rufus cringed. "Ah yes.... a police captain, you said?"

Ted nodded. "Yeah, right. Maybe he'll just lock me up in one of those jail cells where he works so he can keep an eye on me.... that's after he gives me the biggest chewing out of a lifetime!"

"Hmmm.... I guess you're going to be on bread and water rations for a while, huh?"

Ted laughed. "Yeah, that sounds about right. Y'know, you're pretty understanding for an adult, Rufus."

Rufus smiled. "I try.... but you know, Ted, I really believe you should pursue this rock band thing you've been telling me about...."

"Really? Man.... you're the only adult to ever tell me that!!"

"Seriously. I just have a very positive feeling about it. I think it's your future."

Ted sat back and looked at Rufus in awe. "Whoooooaaaa. Rufus, you just hafta meet Bill!"

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

As soon as the garage was in sight, he knew he couldn't go in there. He'd go out of his mind. Instead, Bill walked heavily into the house. He wasn't two steps inside the door when Missy came flying out of her and his father's bedroom with a cry and flung her arms around him.

"Oh Bill! Bill! Where have you been? We were so worried! I didn't know what you were going to do and I know how upset you must be and, and.... oh poor Ted! Oooohhhhh! How could something like this happen to him?"

Bill attempted to untangle himself from her clinging arms. "Missy.... please, don't...."

"Oh Bill, I'm sorry! I can't stand it! Poor Teeeeeeed! He was the sweetest person I ever...."

Bill pushed her away forcefully. "Stop it!!!" She stumbled backwards into Mr. Preston's arms as he was coming out of the bedroom. "You don't know what you're talking about! None of you do! He's just lost.... they're gonna find him!" He ran into his room and slammed the door. Missy turned and started weeping on her husband's shoulder.

Once inside his bedroom, Bill immediately glanced around for something to break. He spotted a trophy he had won in Little League and hefted it, aiming at the mirror over his dresser. He caught a look at himself.... at the hate on his face.... and shrunk back from it with loathing. He put the trophy back down gently. After a moment, he walked up to the mirror and looked into it again.

"Who're you kidding?" he asked his reflection. "You're just putting it off.... just like your dad does. The only human being who ever gave a damn about you is gone.... what do you think of that, huh?" His reflection just stared back at him calmly. He felt an unexpected twinge of guilt.... he should be feeling something right now, shouldn't he? Strangely, he suddenly felt utterly detatched from himself.... from everything.... like nothing really mattered. He didn't even feel angry any more. He just felt nothing. He spat at the mirror and lay down on his bed, staring at the ceiling, and listened to Missy cry.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Well, Ted, we're almost there. Your exit's coming up next."

Ted looked up from where he was rummaging around in the glove compartment. "Wow.... we made it in two days.... and I've fallen asleep three times! How do you stay awake that long, Rufus?"

"Oh, sometimes you just have to stretch yourself."

"Oh.... yah. Hey!" He pulled out a piece of paper and looked at it. "What does this mean? 'When the circuits are repaired, go back to 1988 and purchase a truck....'"

Rufus snatched the paper away. "It's just a.... uh, story I've been writing. Y'know, science fiction stuff...."

Ted nodded. "Yeah, like Star Wars and Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next...."

"Right. Stuff like that. I'm not ready for it to be read yet."

"Oh, sorry."

They turned off the freeway. Ted directed Rufus until they found Bill's street.

"I better stop at Bill's first, Rufus. Once my dad gets ahold of me, I'm sure I'll be grounded for life or longer.... I just hope he doesn't send me back."

Rufus shook his head. "I don't think that's going to be a problem."

Ted cocked his head in surprise. "Really? Wow.... but how can you be so sure?"

"Well, I've done a bit of research into it...."

"Huh?"

"I mean into psychology, human behavior, y'know.... that kind of thing."

"Oh."

The truck came to a stop. "I believe this is where you get off, Ted."

"Huh?" Ted looked out the window.... they were in front of Bill's house. "Oh yeah.... er, how did you know which house it was, Rufus?"

"Lucky guess."

"Oh.... D'you want to come meet Bill? I know you'd like him a lot, 'cause...."

"Sorry, amigo. No time."

"Oh, okay." Ted looked disappointed. "Well, I guess I'll see ya around then, maybe."

"Perhaps." Rufus extended a hand to Ted. "Be excellent to each other."

Ted grinned. "That's cool.... well, party on, dude!" They shook hands and Ted hopped out and waved as Rufus drove away down the street. Ted watched until he had disappeared around the corner, then creeped up the driveway to the house. He reached up to knock on the door then hesitated, feeling suddenly shy. It was Sunday and he could see Bill's dad's car was there, so he knew they would all be home. He figured Mr. and Mrs. Preston would be glad to see him.... they seemed to like him well enough. Maybe Missy-Mom would even be so surprised she'd hug him or kiss him on the cheek or something! Emboldened, Ted knocked loudly on the door. Mr. Preston answered it.

"Ye...." His eyes grew as big as saucers and he stared at Ted with an otherwise completely blank expression.

"Uh.... hi, Mr. Preston. Um, is Bill home?"

The man's mouth dropped open but otherwise he didn't respond. Ted stared back at him politely, then he heard the sound of Bill's stepmom sniffling in the background. Thinking he had interrupted a fight, Ted hastily began to back away.

"Oh.... I, I can come back later.... um...."

The next moment was total chaos. Missy, having spotted who was at the door, came tearing out like a hurricane, knocking her husband over. She threw her arms around Ted, squealing, crying, laughing and smothering his face with kisses.

Bill heard a knock on the door, then Missy screamed. He realized Captain Logan had probably come to tell them they had found Ted.... he got up, pulling his shoulders straight and marched stiffly out of the room.

The front door was standing open. Bill's father was sitting on the floor like a mannequin. With a flash of rage, Bill thought Captain Logan had hit him. He charged to the door.

When Missy finally detached herself from him, still cooing happily, Ted caught a gasp of air and looked around in a daze, smiling vacantly. Bill was standing in the doorway, staring at him with an expression identical to the one his father was wearing a moment ago. Ted was suddenly aware of his unkempt state; the dirty military uniform and baggy coat. He yanked a hand out of one of his overlong sleeves and tried to wipe the lipstick off his face and smooth down his hair. He grinned shyly at Bill.

"Hey. Bet'cher surprised to see me, huh?"

Bill fainted.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ted sat on the arm of the couch at Bill's feet, trying to look as sorry as possible. Bill lay on the couch with a damp washcloth on his forehead. Missy was hustling happily around in the kitchen fixing lunch. Mr. Preston was sitting in the easy chair, still staring at Ted.

Bill removed the washcloth, tried to sit up, grimmaced and lay back down. He looked up at Ted. "You're gonna have to go see your dad, y'know."

"Yeah," Ted sighed. "I know. He's gonna kill me!"

Bill threw the washcloth at him. He missed. "Tell him he's going to have to wait in line, dude."

Ted hung his head. "I didn't know everybody was going to think I'd turned into a Fudgesicle or somethin'.... I just figured they'd be mad 'cause I ran away.... I'm sorry."

"I know.... you keep saying it."

"Sorry."

"Ted, what would you have done if this 'Rufus' guy hadn't shown up?"

"I dunno."

Bill frowned at him.

"Bill! They were going to shave off my hair!"

"That's right, Bill!" Missy came gliding into the room. "Poor baby...." She brushed the hair out of Ted's eyes. "Stop picking on him.... he's been through enough."

"Yes, ma'am."

She went back into the kitchen. Ted stuck his tongue out at Bill, who whipped a couch cushion at him.

"Don't play rough in the house, Bill."

"Yes, sir."

Ted snickered at him.

"Boys! Lunch is ready!"

"Uh, I don't feel up to eating yet, Mom!"

"Me neither, Mrs. Preston! Uh, I mean, I ate before I got here."

"Eugene?" Missy pouted at Mr. Preston.

"Oh.... I, uh...." He looked at her helplessly for a moment. "Be right there, honey." He followed her into the kitchen, shaking his fist at Bill and Ted when he was sure she wasn't looking. They laughed, then Ted leaned over and whispered to Bill.

"I lied."

"Me too. Let's go to the garage."

Inside the garage, Ted ran around, giddy with excitement. Then he leapt onto the stage. "Wow! It hasn't changed a bit!"

"You've only been gone since Friday, dude."

"Yah.... seems like longer."

"This is true."

Ted picked up his guitar and whirled around with it. He spotted the hole in their "Wyld Stallyns" sign. "Hey...." Then he spotted Bill's smashed guitar behind the stage. He gaped at it, then crossed his arms and glared at Bill angrily.

"Bill.... we agreed we wouldn't smash out instruments 'til after we started making some money with them!"

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Bill walked with Ted up to the front of Ted's house. "You sure you don't want me to come in with you?"

Ted nodded, looking up at the house. "Yeah. It would just get him madder...." He looked around to Bill. "I might be grounded for a while."

"I'll keep my schedule open."

"See ya...."

"Yeah...." Bill reached out and squeezed Ted's arm awkwardly. "I'm glad you're okay."

"Thanks.... later."

"Later."

Ted began up the walk to the front door. Reality shimmered briefly, then the scene dissolved and vanished, having never occured.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The booth landed with its typical thump. Rufus braced himself before opening the door. He didn't know if he would be witness to anything else he had ever been familiar with ever again. He knew he had least preserved their society. However, there were bound to be major changes. He opened the booth and stepped out into the main chamber of the Three Most Important People in the World.

"Greetings, Rufus.... have you been sight seeing?"

"Huh?!" Rufus looked around in disbelief. Everything was exactly as it had always been. "But.... but this is impossible!"

The Three exchanged glances, then the Prime One smiled at Rufus. "Is there something we can do for you, Rufus? If you have some free time, perhaps we can play some chess...."

"Everything is the same! I can't believe it! I don't believe it! It's not right!"

"Rufus...." Christine Landers, Rufus' favorite student, was beckoning him from the great hallway.

He turned to the Three. "Excuse me, please."

"Of course, Rufus." As Rufus left the chamber, the Three smiled knowingly at each other. Love could certainly scramble a man's mind at times....

"Christine, I...."

"Shhhh!" She grabbed his hand, led him down the hall into her private lab and shut the door. "All right. We can talk now."

Rufus shook his head in frustration. "Christine.... this is all wrong. I mean, this is all right! I mean, it's right, but it shouldn't be! Oh, how can I explain this...." She laughed joyfully at him. He frowned. "Christine, you don't...."

She poked him hard in the stomach with her index finger. "Oh yes I do, Rufus, you dope!"

"No.... no you don't." He put his hands on her shoulders and gazed sadly into her eyes. "Christine.... the Circuits of Time were sabotaged...."

"I know."

"They were programmed to explode when I attempted to make first contact with the Two Great Ones."

"I know."

"I had to go back and try to keep them together.... I did succeed, but...."

"It's okay, Rufus.... I fixed it."

"Come again?"

She laughed, pulled an old piece of paper out of her pocket and handed it to him. It read: "When the circuits are repaired, go back and prevent them from ever being damaged in the first place."

Rufus stared at the paper for several minutes. Finally he spoke. "I'm a fool."

"You're a fool," she agreed.

"Does anybody else know?"

She shook her head. "Nope."

Rufus sighed with relief. "You really should be rewarded."

She smiled charmingly. "Take me out to dinner?"

"I said you should be rewarded."

"I'll make do. I'm a trooper."

"Very well then." He offered her his arm and they left together, gazing warmly into each others' eyes.

THE END