THOMAS J. PRESTOPNIK
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Copyright © Thomas J. Prestopnik
2005 - 2014
All rights reserved.
www.TomPresto.com
Read Chapter One from
THE SAVING LIGHT
Back Cover Text
CHAPTER ONE
Multiple Personalities
Something foul and wicked is lurking just beyond the timedoor.”

And as usual, all things grim and ghastly can be boiled down to one person–
Belthasar! After secretly passing through the timedoor, the spirit of Belthasar
inhabits a famous movie star and enjoys life in a new society, almost
forgetting his desire to exact some revenge upon Christopher and Molly
Jordan.
Almost forgetting.

With help from the magician Artemas, the Jordan siblings coax their
adversary out of hiding, unaware that many eyes are watching them. Traps
are secretly being set and a family’s strength is tested as a battle between
good and evil takes shape. Only when Belthasar’s ultimate plan is finally
revealed, however, do the forces of darkness appear insurmountable.

Belthasar schemes to recreate another copy of himself and establish his
own kingdom, throwing Christopher and Molly into their greatest peril ever,
along with their family, their friends and the magical world they have grown
to love so much. Can all be saved in the end, or has time at last run out?
The wave lifted it higher and higher in a clumsy upward tumble. Like an out-
of-control garden hose, it flipped and flopped and sputtered in a series of
awkward somersaults–then suddenly stopped. For a split second it was
poised high above the surface like a roller coaster balanced on top of a
towering arc before a final plunge. Then it fell, plummeting like a dizzy brick
in a wicked spiral toward the asphalt road. But a second wave of balmy air
caught it like an invisible hand, hoisting it up above the street and treetops
to again repeat the head-spinning process.

Belthasar wanted to scream, if only he could, caught like tumbleweed in a
warm November breeze while trapped inside a mosquito’s delicate body. He
had managed to fly along the street at a good clip after escaping off that dog
in a soapy stream of water. But a gust of wind severely tested him now and
he wondered if he would survive his first flight.

As the breeze sent him plummeting toward the road one more time, its grip
lessened slightly and Belthasar managed to sail straight ahead for a few
yards, thinking he had regained control of the situation. Then when he saw
a yellow delivery truck barreling directly toward him, he thought otherwise. A
pair of unlit glass headlights looked like two huge deadened eyes, growing
madly and eclipsing all else from view. Belthasar veered left at the last
moment and flew between two trees along the sidewalk. The road below
turned into a patch of green grass and Belthasar descended into the lush
foliage for safety.

He alighted on a single blade to catch his breath, his tiny heart pounding
and his ashen-gray eyes adjusting to this new perspective on life. He knew
he had to get out of this bug’s body soon so he could properly explore his
new world. Though overwhelmed by the situation, Belthasar laughed to
himself for outwitting his two greatest enemies–Christopher and Molly
Jordan. He was in their world now, unbeknownst to them, and he could
explore it at his leisure. What he would do here once he got his bearings, he
still did not know. But Belthasar felt certain that his plans for domination and
destruction would rival any he had made back in Endora and Solárin. He
had gained much information from the thoughts of those individuals he had
once inhabited who knew of this world’s existence, so that was a big help for
starters.

But now was the time for patience. Time to study the ways of this culture
and determine exactly how one goes about becoming a giant among men in
an exciting new world. Its citizens would never know what hit them.
Belthasar savored the moment, brimming with vile and disdain, yet he knew
there was much to learn if he wanted to do things right. He couldn’t wait to
begin.


Belthasar flew across the lawn of the nearest house to escape the hectic
street, heading toward the backyard. The steady drone of car engines and
the excited chatter of children getting out of school were soon replaced by
the occasional caw of a distant crow or the sweep of a gentle breeze
through a carpet of dried leaves. Belthasar sailed with ease from one yard
to the next, darting over picket fences and hedgerows and sturdy walls built
of colorful stones. He started to enjoy this new way of traveling and
wondered if it might suit his purposes when he spotted a small pond in the
next yard. Hovering above it in a mad dance were dozens of mosquitoes
enjoying the warm autumn weather. Belthasar joined the frenzied mob,
several times allowing his spirit to pass into the other insects.

“They’re all the same!” he thought disgustedly. “They look alike. They think
alike–not that there’s much thinking going on here. Humph! Though their
flying ability is superb, I need a grander host. I’m better than a bug!”

So Belthasar moved on, circling the crowd of mosquitoes one last time as
they skated across the water. But he didn’t get far. As he sped toward the
grass on the opposite side, a dark wavy shape grew beneath him, growing
larger and larger like a menacing shadow. Belthasar glanced into the water
at the same moment that a large minnow jumped up, its eyes and mouth
wide open as it swallowed the mosquito and splashed back underwater.
Belthasar knew that he was doomed, and before the darkness completely
engulfed him, his spirit passed into the minnow before it digested its
mosquito snack.

“Disgusting!” he thought as he swam in the murky water. “Both the meal
and this dreary place.” A school of minnows zipped back and forth along the
stony bottom of the pond, a few of them occasionally surfacing to feed on
the buffet of flying bugs.

But Belthasar’s disgust quickly turned into fear. He was trapped in this
pond, only able to move from one minnow to another, doomed to swim in
circles for the rest of his life. He wanted to scream or howl, but knew he
couldn’t do either. He sadly realized his dream of creating a kingdom in this
world was about to burst like a soap bubble. Then all at once a dozen
minnows brushed by, fleeing to one side of the pond. Belthasar wondered
what had spooked them until he turned around and saw the disturbance.

Bubbles hissed and currents churned as something sinister roiled the water.
A huge black shape was visible through the surface on the edge of the
pond, its arm splashing through the water as if searching for something.
Belthasar kept his distance but looked closer, not as intimidated as the other
minnows. He was a tyrant after all, and had to keep up appearances, even if
it was only among a frazzled school of slimy fish. Then Belthasar noticed the
sharp claws and wet fur and knew what pursued them. He had seen this
kind before–had lived in this kind before–and it brought back horrible
memories of King Jeremiah’s coronation platform. But now he saw the
delightful irony of the situation and swam straight toward the creature to the
perplexed horror of the other minnows.

“I hated you once, but you can save me now!” Belthasar thought with giddy
excitement as he glided through the murky water directly toward the cat’s
paw that was causing such a commotion. “You may have me for lunch, furry
beast, but I shall have you to do with as I will!”

Belthasar swam into the furious sea of bubbles as the cat’s paw sliced
through the water, but the sandy striped feline never got the chance to enjoy
its tasty fish treat. For as soon as a few hairs on its paw had brushed
against the minnow, the cat suddenly bounded away from the pond like a
rifle shot, now possessed with the spirit of Belthasar. He ran through the
grass from one yard to the next as the warm wind and sunshine swept
across his whiskered face.

Then the backyards ran out.

The last yard lay adjacent to a narrow road with a small tract of woods just
beyond. Belthasar sat in the grass, licking at his paws, wondering where he
should go next. Into the woods? What danger or adventure might lurk there
he couldn’t begin to speculate. Perhaps he should travel the city streets
again to await other opportunities. After all, he had his kingdom to think
about again now that he wasn’t reduced to a little fish in a big pond. Then
Belthasar’s ears pricked up and his spine tingled. He realized there was
only one thing to do. Run!

Belthasar heard the growls and barks as clear as thunder as a large brown
dog bolted from the woods after him. Belthasar spun around and ran back
through the yards, searching for a place to hide or a tree to climb. He
suddenly chided himself for thinking like a timid cat and not a ruthless
despot. He needed no means of escape. Belthasar had exactly what he
wanted, and all it would take was a split second. Belthasar stopped running
and circled back in the grass and plopped down, waiting for the dog to come
to him. It would never know what hit it.

As soon as the drooling, barking, tail-wagging dog charged at the cat like a
furious bull, the cat sprang up and darted underneath the dog’s legs. With
the brush of fur upon fur, the dog’s dark eyes instantly grayed as the cat’s
eyes filled with its previous yellow fire. Belthasar, now a canine, had no
desire to chase a dizzy feline. He barked in victory and headed back to the
woods.

Suddenly Belthasar felt tired to the core of his very bones. Passing from one
animal to another so many times in a short span made him feel weak and
disoriented. He needed rest, and the undergrowth among the trees provided
the perfect spot. Belthasar crossed the road and traipsed through the cool,
sweet-smelling leaves that littered the ground. He plopped down next to a
tall elm tree, curled up and promptly fell asleep.


Dusky twilight had settled upon the city when Belthasar awoke. A bright
swath of orange and purple clouds lay upon the horizon as the autumn air
cooled. The dog stood and stretched his tired muscles. And though
Belthasar felt steadier and more clearheaded, he was thoroughly famished.
Dinner was in order.

Belthasar bounded out of the woods, crossed the road and wandered
through the string of backyards once again. The houses and driveways
were bathed in shadows and splashes of warm yellow light that flowed out
of curtained windows. Belthasar sniffed the air and instinctively ran into the
yard behind the next house and nosed about the back staircase. No one
was in sight. All lay quiet except for the soft notes from a piano that drifted
through an open window.

Then Belthasar discovered what had so delighted his senses. Three
garbage bags were piled on a narrow cement sidewalk along the back porch
steps. He buried his nose between the bags, pawing at the plastic with
frenzied anticipation as a few flies buzzed about his twitching ears. When he
ripped a hole in one of the bags, Belthasar’s heart leapt with joy as the
scents of crushed egg shells, decaying fruit rinds and rotting meat perfumed
the nighttime air. His teeth locked onto a steak bone which he pulled out of
the bag, only to drop it upon the sidewalk a moment later.

“What am I doing?” he thought in disgust. “I am not a dog!” he tried to
convince himself, fighting off the urge to eat. “I can’t behave this way as
hungry as I am. I’ll forget my true self if I don’t get back into a real person
soon.” He walked backward a few steps, still drawn to the foul aroma but
using every ounce of willpower to resist. Maybe just one bite? But any
thought of an evening meal was driven from his mind when the back door
swung open.

“Get out of there, Comet! I thought I heard you poking your wet nose
through my garbage again!” A gray-haired woman in curlers and a bathrobe
trudged down the stairs to shoo the dog away. “Take off before I swat you
with a newspaper, you hear?”

As much as Belthasar yearned to exist in human form, he hadn’t the
slightest desire to use this woman as his host. Nor did he want to contend
with her in any way as she darted toward him with a rolled-up newspaper,
brandishing it like a sword. So in a desperate need for haste, Belthasar
passed into a fly that had just landed on his nose and ascended into the
night, leaving a confused and woozy Comet to fend for himself.

Soaring again. Belthasar cruised through the night shadows, more at ease
this time with his flying skills. Since the afternoon breezes had disappeared,
he was now able to fly high and low, blazing a trail of circles and loops
through the darkness. But as no one could see him, Belthasar felt that his
aerial skills were going to waste. He wanted an audience. He wanted to be
noticed! That would come in time. When he was king, people would listen to
his every word, and whether that was out of fear or loyalty, Belthasar didn’t
care. And best of all, people would obey him–or else! Oh yes, he would be
noticed one day. Belthasar was determined to get his due.

But for now he was a fly and rose high into the air like a rocket, then
plunged toward the earth in an exhilarating fall, feeling especially
magnificent. He landed on a small rock near the edge of the pond where he
had earlier swum with the minnows, feeling quite superior to his underwater
friends. The cloud of mosquitoes had since disappeared and the air
contained a crisp stillness punctuated by a few night noises. Somewhere a
door slammed. Distant voices echoed in the gloomy darkness. A bulky
shadow clumsily swished through the cool blades of grass.

Belthasar turned around, his multifaceted eyes scanning the low horizon, his
senses attuned to every element of sound and scent swimming through the
air. Something wasn’t right and he prepared to take flight, but just a moment
too late. Belthasar felt a wet slap across the side of his insect body and was
pulled through the air toward a cavernous black opening. He screamed
inside his mind as he appeared to sail in slow motion toward the frog’s open
mouth, stuck to its tongue like a ready-to-eat snack. Knowing that his flying
time had abruptly ended, Belthasar’s spirit passed into the frog an instant
before it greedily consumed the fly, then it lazily hopped a few steps toward
the pond.

“And I thought mosquitoes tasted revolting!” Belthasar mused, now trapped
in the frog’s bulging body.

But he had no intention of going back into the pond as his instinct seemed
to direct him. So Belthasar turned around and jumped a few times through
the grass toward the nearest house, pausing to catch his breath. The
sudden shift from an acrobatic fly to a lumbering amphibian tired him out
immensely, causing him to wonder how he was ever supposed to go
anywhere in a hurry in this body.

“I’d rather be a minnow again,” he sarcastically thought as he took another
short hop through the grass. The house and driveway looked miles away as
Belthasar peered over the grass tops through his bulbous frog eyes.
Then, just as he felt a cool touch upon his webbed foot, he saw a flash of
light. Something approached. A beam of light swept across the lawn,
bouncing this way and that, accompanied by chatter and laughter. Belthasar
didn’t know what to make of it and grew frightened, feeling trapped in a body
that didn’t want to move as fast as he’d prefer. But he found a chance to
escape when he looked down and saw an earthworm gently glide through
the grass and over his foot.

“He’s much more mobile than I’ll ever be,” Belthasar concluded, and passed
into the worm in the blink of an eye just as the light approached and landed
on the frog’s slightly stunned eyes. A young girl screamed and the frog
jumped. Two other voices burst out laughing and the girl soon joined them.
Belthasar weaved his long, sleek, wormy body through the thick grass to
escape notice. But he didn’t get far.

“Scared of an itty bitty frog?” her brother teased.

“Am not!” she shot back. “Dad, tell him not to pick on me. He’s being–hey,
look at this!”

The young girl aimed a flashlight into the grass, reached down and picked
up one of the biggest earthworms she had ever seen, dangling it into the air
like a prized trophy. She waved it in front of her brother’s face, causing him
to flinch.

“Ooooo! Scared of a wittle wittle wormy?” she teased.

“Just scared of you,” her brother replied with a grunt.

“I’m just glad both of you aren’t going to the lake fishing with me on
Saturday,” their father replied. “You’d frighten away all the fish!”

“Very funny!” his daughter replied, still holding up the worm. “Well, this one
ought to catch you a whopper!”

Her brother removed the hole-poked cover off an old margarine tub and held
out the container filled with a dozen worms and some soil. “Throw it in with
the others.”

As the girl extended her hand through the air to drop the worm into the bowl,
Belthasar panicked, his body flailing like a streamer caught on a wire.
Fishing! Covered container! What were they going to do with him?
Belthasar knew he had to escape this undignified fate or else all would be
lost–but something was wrong. His spirit was trapped, paralyzed inside this
revolting worm. For some reason he couldn’t pass into the girl as he
helplessly dangled above the grass–and now above a container of worms
slithering over and under each other like a brood of snakes. This couldn’t be
happening!

As the father aimed his flashlight higher up, Belthasar saw the reason for his
predicament. The girl wore a pair of rubber gloves. Out of her fear of
touching a night crawler, she had put on a pair of yellow dishwashing gloves
to help in the search. Belthasar’s spirit couldn’t pass through the material.
He needed to touch an actual living being in order to inhabit its body or he’d
remain stuck in his current host. And a worm of all things!

“Now in you go with your little buddies, Mr. Worm!” the girl sweetly said,
admiring her nighttime catch as she suspended it above the bowl. “Nighty
night!”

She dropped the worm.

“Nooooooo!” Belthasar shrieked in his mind as he fell through the air and
plopped on top of the slithering gray mass of worms and soil. “Get me out of
here!” he tried to cry as he desperately crawled up the side of the margarine
tub. But he couldn’t get a grip on the plastic. All he could do was swim
among the other worms, his spirit passing from one to the other in a last
desperate attempt to control the situation. But his efforts proved fruitless.
Then total darkness descended as the lid slowly covered the bowl and
sealed it with the tiniest sound of deadly finality.

“Let me out at once!” Belthasar shouted at the top of his mind. “I demand it!”

But nobody paid attention. He felt his enclosed world rise gently up and
down as the man holding his plastic prison walked across the lawn. Several
minutes passed like hours, and since the cover had not been removed
again, Belthasar assumed they had stopped searching for more worms. He
listened for other noises as he jostled about among his slimy co-captives.
Another door slammed shut. Voices faded.

“Go inside and wash your hands now. You both still have homework to do."

“All right…”

“I’ll be inside in a minute,” their father replied as he walked across the
garage toward a small refrigerator beside a tool bench. He opened the door
and adjusted the temperature control.

Belthasar felt his new prison drop with a thud, then all movement ceased.
He wasn’t swaying through the air in an ungainly manner anymore. Then
the darkness, if it were possible, grew even deeper as he heard a door seal
shut. He squirmed among the other worms, his mind still red-hot with fury,
but after several minutes, he started to slow down. The others slowed down
too. From exhaustion? From a sense of defeat? Belthasar felt a slight chill
permeate the air. It gradually seeped into the soil and the other worms. And
himself! An uneasy sleep gripped him as his body grew cooler, and there
was nothing he could do to stop it. Belthasar tried to hold on to his dreams
of conquest and domination to give him strength, but even those became a
confused jumble as the seconds ticked away. His tragic end had arrived at
last, he realized, and all his plans for glory were finished as he lay helplessly
among a pile of worms. Even his thoughts felt frozen until he could barely
think at all. Then his world went dark.


The following Saturday dawned like a warm sunny September. The city
streets lay still as a car crept quietly out of the neighborhood, packed with a
fishing pole, a tackle box and a small plastic cooler. Inside the red cooler
was a bagged lunch consisting of a few ham and Swiss cheese sandwiches,
some chocolate candy bars, a packet of sunflower seeds and a couple
bottles of water. Next to the lunch bag was a plastic margarine tub with
holes in its cover. The driver turned on the radio and smiled, delighted to get
an unexpected day of fishing so late in the year at the small cabin in the
woods. Life couldn’t be better.

An hour later he stood on the shore of a tiny lake as the morning sunshine
dappled a line of nearby white birch trees, their remaining yellow leaves as
bright as sliced lemons. He set the cooler on the bottom of his rowboat tied
to a post on the water’s edge, then removed the bowl of worms, popped off
the cover and set it on a wooden seat before returning to his car for the rest
of his fishing gear.

The sun beat down like a gentle whisper, warmly touching the dark rich soil
inside the bowl. Soon the last traces of imprisoning coolness evaporated
and the spaghetti-like mass of worms started to move, jostling one another
for space and heat and light. Moments later the man untied the rowboat,
stepped inside and pushed off with an oar. He rowed out upon the gentle
surface of the lake now splashed like an artist’s palette with a reflection of
autumn’s vivid hues. He repeatedly dipped his oars into the water, moving
closer to his favorite fishing spot, eager to cast his line. Minutes later he
arrived and laid the oars inside the boat. Then, as if lifting a rare and
priceless artifact for examination, he picked up his fishing pole and leaned it
against his knee, fingering the hook between his thumb and forefinger.

“This beats a day at the office,” he said to himself with a chuckle, extending
the other hand toward the margarine tub now alive with earthworms.

The fisherman reached inside the slithering cluster, hooking a finger
underneath a particularly long and wiggly worm. The others sensed the
presence of the intruder as they fully awoke from their slumber, twisting and
squirming to evade capture. Except for one worm. Belthasar, finding himself
at the bottom of the pile, attempted to squeeze through the frenzied mob to
reach the surface. As the fisherman slowly lifted the long worm out of the
pile, it fought to stay with the others, curling one end of its body around the
other worms so that the man had to tug at it a few times to try to free it.
Belthasar struggled to reach that worm before it was pulled completely from
the bowl, fearing he would be too late to make contact. As the end of the
worm was slipping free from the others, losing its grip as it was being
tugged, Belthasar regained his senses that had been dulled from the cold.
He didn’t have to find a path to that worm directly. He could go through the
others! In a flash, his spirit repeatedly passed from one worm to another in a
desperate search for freedom–back, forth, up, down and sideways–until
finally Belthasar’s spirit entered the very worm that was being pulled from
the bowl at the instant it was yanked loose.

The man held up the worm to his large and amazed brown eyes, convinced
it was the very last one that his daughter had caught a few nights ago. It
wiggled wildly between his fingers like a live electric wire.

“You are a whopper of a worm! You’re going to attract all kinds of attention
down there,” the man confidently said as he brought the hook closer to the
bait. “Fish for dinner tonight!”

“Want to bet?” Belthasar thought with sneering contempt. A millisecond
later, his spirit left the worm and passed into the fisherman’s body.

The man sat up as straight as a soldier, his brown eyes clouding to gray. He
dropped the worm and the fishing pole at the same time and slowly stood in
the rowboat as it bobbed upon the lake.

“Ahhh… That’s better,” Belthasar said, stretching his arms and smiling with
poisonous glee. “It’s so good to have two legs again. And a voice!” he
shouted with defiance across the water. He looked around the lake and
studied his colorful woodland surroundings for a few moments, then sat
back down and slowly rowed to shore.

“Now, where to from here?” he whispered.
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