All was as an empty void, as if space itself had sucked him up past the outermost layers of Earth’s atmosphere.  Yet he had not felt a sensation of being torn skyward into the vacuum of the outer reaches of space.  Rather, he had felt a crunching sensation, as if he had been pressed in on from all sides and then dropped from some great and nearly unfathomable distance.  Brad was only semi-conscious, and had the sneaking suspicion, internally at least, that he was coming in and out of some sort of blackout.  Yet only his ears seemed to be working during this phase.

Strange noises came at him from the darkness, rustlings and the occasional growling, as of a wild thing on the hunt for easy prey.  What’s going on, he asked himself through a fog of half-awareness.  What happened?  But these questions soon were overshadowed, for he could soon make out the voices of others around him.  Strange, alien voices, the verbal signatures of people he did not know.

“What do you figure he is,” asked one voice from the murky black.  This voice held a quality of authority and nobility.  As it spoke, something warm and fuzzy brushed against Brad’s cheek, not entirely unpleasant, but still foreign enough, given his circumstances, to make him uneasy.  A faint aroma of dust permeated the air filling his lungs, carrying with it a curious scent he thought of only as candy.

“Not entirely sure, though he looks a bit like the Commander,” said a second voice.  This voice was vaguely English in quality, the sort of voice Brad Jennings usually associated with stuffy college professors at Ivy League universities.  After this, the voices droned on a bit, but faded from clarity in Brad’s ears.  He was going out again, he knew.  But after an indeterminate period of time, he opened his eyes a small bit, revealing a blur of general shapes and colors.  “Ah,” said the English voice.  “I think he’s coming ‘round, old friend.”

A sound then came as of something rolling on a carpet, and Brad tried to sit up.  “Easy now, new guy,” said the first voice as Brad sat up with his head bent down.  The floor or ground under him looked like some sort of cheap fake leather, or mediocre grade brown cloth.  “Take your time.”  Brad rubbed his forehead, which was host to quite the lump (sore enough to complain at him), and tried to lift his head.  He took one good look ahead of him, around him, and then rubbed his eyes furiously, for surely what he saw was some sort of hallucination brought on by stress.

But a second look before him only confirmed what he had first seen.  Standing before him in what appeared to be the world’s largest paper refuse dump was a penny on its side, the face of Abraham Lincoln shifting and appearing to breath.  If he stood, it would easily come up to his waist.  Standing next to it was a Pez dispenser with a monkey head and extendable rock-em-sock-em arms, a silly thing he had once seen Cynthia using.

Behind him, towering like a paper, manufactured Easter Island head of some sort, was a paperback romance novel with a picture of some imaginary hunk wrapping his arms around a pale, large-breasted waif of a woman.  ‘Passions in Atlanta,’ according to the title.  In relation to Brad, it stood roughly the size of a twenty-foot wall.  He turned his head back around to look at the Pez dispenser and the penny, and all became darkness once again.


“Really, you must take it easy,” said the Englishman, who as Brad opened his eyes once again, turned out to be the Pez dispenser given creative license with the laws of physics.  The little pegs that acted as its feet weren’t exactly a single fused piece, but they surely didn’t look capable of bending as they did to offer him a rock-em-sock-em monkey paw to help him up.  Confused but willing to play along with this little trip down Wonky Street, Brad grasped the offered hand.  It didn’t feel furry at all; it felt like moving plastic, which made some acceptable degree of sense to him.

“Indeed, we saw you land.  You took quite the blow to the head,” said the penny with Abe Lincoln’s mouth.

“Yeah, I imagine I did,” Brad said, looking upward.  What appeared to be miles overhead, he saw a white sky (his entryway ceiling) with a single blazing yellow sphere.  The view seemed hemmed in, and there were enormous, jagged edges cropping his vision of the space beyond.  The zipper, he thought.  He looked back down at the Pez dispenser, which stood a scale foot taller than he.  It had a pleasant smile on its face, which it scratched liberally with a plastic hand.  “Um, where am I?  What is this place?”

“Ah, allow me to explain,” said the monkey-dispenser.  “First, introductions.  I’m Sam, and this is my friend Abe.  Obvious reasons for his name, you know,” the dispenser said with a grin.

“How do you do,” asked Abe with a benign smile.

“Uh, yeah, hi,” Brad said meekly.

“And this,” said Sam, waving his arms widely to gesture to the entirety of the landscape around them, which appeared to be dotted with giant versions of the debris one might find in a purse, along with entirely unique landscape and objects (like trees.  Brad was pretty sure trees didn’t grow in Cynthia’s purse).  “This is the Land of Bag, my friend!  Let us be the first to welcome you here.”

Various thoughts went through Brad’s mind then, not the least of which was, this is a dream.  I’ve passed out or something, blood pressure went too high and I just blacked out in the hallway.  I’m probably in a hospital right now.  Another possibility was that this was some elaborate hallucination, brought on by stress.  Yet another possibility existed, but he didn’t want to linger on that one too long.  The implications were too unpleasant, but he had to give at least mental voice to it.

I’ve gone crazy, he thought.

Yet his senses surely couldn’t lie to him so convincingly, could they?  He could smell the sugary sweets inside of the Pez dispenser.  He could hear the rustle of giant swards of paper as a breeze passed by, overturning one of these sheets to reveal a rather faded receipt for a pair of shoes.  He could feel the ground under his feet, soft and springy, definitely a cloth feel under his shoes.  And perhaps most powerfully of all, he could not see any hint that all of this was some sort of temporary imagining, with the exception of spotting the ceiling if he looked straight up.

“So what’s your name, new guy,” asked Abe, rolling a little to the left, his face kept perfectly aligned to Brad.  Neat trick, the human thought.

“I’m Brad.  Brad Jennings, Amelia Police Department.”  The dispenser and the penny looked at one another, Abe fully turning to show his thinness to Brad, and then back at him.  The look on their faces didn’t comfort him any.  “Did I say something funny?”

“Not entirely, old chap,” said Sam.  “It’s just that, that’s a very human title you’ve given yourself.  Who made you?  Where were you purchased?”

“Excuse me,” Brad asked, confused.  He rubbed his head, and shivered as another breeze blew over him.  He only had his muscle shirt, his jeans, and his jogging shoes to cover him.  He was flesh and blood, and if this place really was some distorted version of the inside of his wife’s purse, would he be able to survive?  Would there be water, food, and shelter?  A toilet, for God’s sakes?

“Well, it’s just that if you’re like the Commander, then surely someone made you and put you in a package on a shelf,” said Sam.  “Any idea where you’re from?  I myself was purchased by the Great Keeper of the Land of Bag, who first thrust me here and for a time took me out on occasion with the Hand that Removes and Adds,” the chimp said with a measure of pride and a smirk.  “She did pry back mine head to produce the candies that are my innards, to take in sustenance.  She purchased me from the King of the Wilson Farms, in the Great Expanse of Amelia.  Additionally, I was made in China.”

“What isn’t these days,” Brad muttered, shaking his head.  “What about you, Abe,” he asked the penny.

“Ah, my memory fails me somewhat.  I only remember that there was a long time in which I was in the Tomb of Cash Drawer with many copies of myself.  One day, I was dropped from one Great Keeper’s hand into that of the Great Keeper of the Land of Bag, who summarily dropped me in here.  I have never been removed since.  I just roll along with Sam, who came along some time after that.”  Brad thought he might be getting the hang of this vivid dream, and decided at last to just play along until the end.  Clearly there was more to this than simple dreaming.

Brad had once read in a magazine the account of a young man who had been in a coma for three years after an auto accident.  The young man claimed to have dreamed of a grand and mythical place, a world full of adventure.  He claimed that he regained consciousness because he had completed the quest that he had been set upon in this dream of his.  If it worked for that kid, he reasoned, it can work for me.

“Actually, I’m human,” he said, at which the penny and dispenser chuckled nervously for a moment.  But they didn’t laugh long, for Brad looked them each in the eyes as seriously as he could without coming off as intimidating.  “I am the husband of the Great Keeper of the Land of Bag.”  Shocked gasps escaped Sam and Abe’s mouths, which they covered (Brad was fascinated to see the never-visible arms of Abe Lincoln on the coin appear in their coppery glory) immediately.

“This, this surely cannot be,” Sam ejaculated.  “How is this possible?  You are a Great Keeper, a human!  You should not be able to fall into the Land of Bag!  Oh, this is bad, this is surely terrible!  The Commander may look human, but he knows he’s an action figure!  He at least belongs here!”

“You can’t stay here,” Abe said, calming down audibly.  “There may be enough food and drink for you to survive for a while, but I don’t think you’re supposed to be here.  We can try to help you find a way out of the Land of Bag.”

“That’s madness,” said Sam, pacing back and forth through small blades of grass made of fine hairs.  Brad looked off to the right, and a short distance away, saw the spiny teeth of an old black plastic comb.  The trees in the distance, he saw when he concentrated, were made up of toothpicks and old hair ties.  As for the actual boundaries to the east, west, north and south, however, he could see no clear sign.  This truly was some strange world he was envisioning.

“How’s it madness,” he asked Sam, who stopped to stare at him.  “I got in, somehow.  I’ve got to be able to get out again.”

“There’s nothing tall enough in all the Land of Bag to reach the Mighty Teeth of the Sky,” Sam said hotly.  His plastic cheeks colored with agitation, and Brad had to admire his own imagination for a moment.  This was quite the scenario he’d arranged for his temporary coma, however long it might be.  The monkey crossed his arms and looked down pensively.  “Although, the Commander is rather clever.  He may be able to help us.”

“Okay, so lead me to this Commander of yours,” Brad said.  Before either Abe or Sam could make a reply, a cacophonous noise ripped through the Land of Bag, an ear-splitting wail that nearly crippled Brad, dropping him to his knees.  He covered his ears with his hands, and tried to keep his eyes open as gale-force winds tore past him.  Even with his ears covered, he recognized the sound after a moment, which he saw with some satisfaction was affecting his new companions in much the same manner.  It was Cynthia’s cellular phone emitting its tinny 8-bit ring tone.  It sounded like something out of an old Nintendo game.

A shadow spread across the ground, and Brad risked a glance skyward.  Off in the distance, what appeared to be miles and miles away, the pale, slender hand of his wife swooped down in dramatic slow motion, reaching through the Great Teeth of the Sky (the zipper, he thought, it’s just a zipper, don’t get sucked into this thing) to collect something.  Her hand wrapped around the cell phone, and lifted it like a tractor beam in a science fiction movie, with deliberate slowness.  The sound receded, but not before revealing to Brad another resident of the Land of Bag who had been put off by the sound.

It was an enormous blue spider of some sort.  Before he could stop himself, he shrieked like a girl and started to search the area for an escape route.  A thin, scratchy sound came from the multi-legged beast as it dashed toward Abe, Sam and him, and he wondered why neither the Pez dispenser nor the penny appeared too concerned about the approaching monstrosity.

When Brad took a moment to once again look at the creature, he realized it wasn’t a spider at all.  Spiders had eight legs; this thing only appeared to have four.  With the middle finger protruding like a long neck, he realized it was one of Cynthia’s old winter gloves.  He could make out the little heart sewn into the fingertip, and he remembered buying them for her.  How long ago did I get those things for her, he wondered.  It must have been almost a decade or more, because Cole hadn’t even been six months old when she’d lost the gloves.

And as he recalled, he’d purchased them for her because she wanted thinner winter gloves so she could better carry Cole around if she went someplace with him.  “Those thick, heavy things are no good,” she’d told Brad.  “I might drop him or his carrier with those things.  Get me something thin but warm.”  She’d loved the little hearts on the fingertips, a rare sign that Brad didn’t mind cutesy things on occasion.  He smiled at the memory of this approaching creature’s old existence.

“Ah, Lefty, there you are pooch,” Sam said, grabbing Brad gently by the wrist.  “Look, this would not be a good time for a long introduction.  We’ve only so much time before the Noise Blaster is dropped back in here with quite the crash.”

“Huh?  Oh, yeah, she never just sets the thing down,” Brad said.  Then he realized what sort of danger he might be in.  “Oh Jesus, that thing could crush me!”

“Or any number of us permanent residents,” added Abe.  “No telling how it’ll change the landscape this time, either!  Come on, we’ve got to get to the drop shelter,” he said calmly, rolling past Sam, Brad and the glove, Lefty.   Brad let himself be dragged along behind Sam for a few moments before himself starting to run over the grass of hairs and through the tangles of receipts, wrappers and Post-It notes.  Brad was impressed with his mind’s ability to make wilderness scenery and environs out of such things as colored bits of paper and brick-a-brack.  It said to him that he might have a future in something other than law enforcement, if he bent his focus to it.  He might make quite the abstract artist with this sort of imagery, if he could reproduce it.

“Where are we going?  What’s this drop shelter,” he asked, taking in a breath of a heavenly, feminine odor.  He looked to his left and spotted a leaking mini-bottle of perfume tipped on its side.  A small pool of the sweetly scented liquid shimmered invitingly, but the hand gripping his own compelled him forward.

“It’s a safe little contraption, sort of what I imagine a coffin is like to you humans,” Sam wheezed a few paces ahead of him.  “Abe and I have been using it for months to keep safe when the Noise Blaster is returned.  Now we must hurry!  Things have a tendency to move around in the Land of Bag, but never much!  If the shelter isn’t in the exact same location as last time, we don’t want to be scouring around at the last second for it in these woods!”

“There it is,” Abe shouted back to them from some thirty paces ahead.  Through the assorted ‘trees’ of toothpicks and hair ties (a couple of the trees, he noticed, were actually cigarettes with twist ties sticking out of them), he spotted the drop shelter.  It was one of Cynthia’s old sunglasses cases, a black hardened plastic affair.  Abe stopped just short of it, and Sam let go of Brad’s hand to pry it open and toss the penny in, head’s up.  Brad jumped in atop the penny right after.  “Hoomph!  Hey, Brad, get off my face,” said the indignant former President of the United States.

Sam clambered in finally, reaching up to pull the lid shut.  “What about Lefty,” asked Brad, concerned for reasons he couldn’t quite place for the glove.  He remembered its origin, and found suddenly that he didn’t want any harm to come to that single reminder of better times in his and his wife’s marriage.

“Oh, he’ll be just fine,” Sam said, pulling the case shut and wrapping the three companions in total darkness.  “He’s made of wool.  Only things that can really hurt him are sharp objects or fire.”

“Hence why the little fellow stays out of the northlands,” said Abe in the darkness.  The inside of the case smelled like the perfume that had been lying in a pool not too far from them, and a bit like dried hairspray.  “Bic lives up that way, and he’s a rotten one he is.”

“Bic,” asked Brad, incredulous.  “Like the lighters?”

“Precisely what he is, too,” said Sam.  “Always threatens to burn the whole of the Land of Bag into smoke and ruins, but he never actually does it.  I wouldn’t put it past him, though.  He’s got quite the temper.”  Brad suddenly had a bad feeling about his time in the Land of Bag.  If he sustained any sort of injury here, would it show up somehow on his actual body, out in the waking world?  Nonsense, he thought.  Utter nonsense.

Conversation petered out for a short time, and after what seemed like an hour had passed, there came a sudden, world-ending crash outside the sunglasses case.  The entire area rumbled, shuddered and bucked, but the quake didn’t last long.  Soon enough, Sam pushed the shelter open, revealing a landscape that was only slightly changed, with some of the drift piles of papers repositioned and little else.  “Well, it looks like it’s over.  Come on,” he said, stepping out ahead of Brad, who carried Abe and set him down outside on his edge.

“How far are we from where the Commander stays,” asked Brad as he took another look around the ‘woodland’ landscape they stood in.

“Well, from here, it’s maybe an hour to the place where Commander Artemis spends most of his time,” said Abe.  “That’s no guarantee he’ll be there, but it’s worth a shot.”

“Lead the way,” Brad said amiably, waving a hand forward.  Abe turned his thin aspect to Brad, and rolled forward, on through the woods.  Brad and Sam ambled along behind at a relaxed gait, Sam likely enjoying a familiar collection of sights, sounds and smells.  Brad, however, continued to shake his head in wonder at the unique splendor of the Land of Bag.  At one point during their walk, he thought he could just make out the hint of peppermint, and looking left, spotted a half-unwrapped candy-stripe mint, the sort that are popular around the Christmas season.  Of course, it was nearly as big as him, but that didn’t change the pleasant scent’s affect on him.

Angling slightly right, they followed Abe along a clear path through more of the woods, when Brad heard a sound in the middle distance that disquieted him.  A sort of low, feral growling came to him on the gentle breeze, and Abe stopped dead in his tracks up ahead.  Brad looked around, reaching for his sidearm out of instinct but finding nothing but a pocket.  “What is that,” he whispered to Sam, who brought his hands up into a boxing stance.

“It sounds like the Mirror Clam,” Abe rasped, rolling back toward them.  “I don’t like this.  The Mirror Clam is a strange beast which lures its victims in by showing them a reflection of themselves, and then disabling them by shooting a strange white powder into the air.  Knocks out just about anyone, even me,” Abe said.

“Is it dangerous,” asked Brad.

“Probably more so for you than for anyone that’s come before,” Sam said, taking a few steps forward.  “But it has done some goodly damage to some other residents of the Land of Bag.  Stay behind me, human,” Sam said, pumping his fists.  A shuffling sound came from their right, and Sam and Abe both turned to face the noise.  Sam took a few steps that way, and that was when Brad Jennings spotted the Mirror Clam.

The tag of clam seemed appropriate, for what he saw about fifteen yards to his left, behind his companions, appeared to be just that.  Somehow, it managed to bob from side to side toward him, finally stopping only just out of arm’s reach.  A wide, white thing with a single word stamped on its plastic shell, Brad nearly laughed at the absurdity of such a thing becoming a living creature, much less something dangerous.  It was a makeup compact that Cynthia had owned when they first got married.

He recalled her last using the makeup inside the compact about six months after their wedding, before they went to dinner and a movie.  She had looked wonderful that evening, and Brad relived the surge of pride he’d felt that evening whenever he caught some young fellow eyeballing his wife.  His primary thought that evening had been simple; yep, take a good look fellahs.  Because she’s coming home with me tonight.

Without any warning or sound to indicate it would happen, the Mirror Clam slowly sprang open, revealing a smudged mirror surface.  Brad saw himself there in the reflection, but it didn’t really seem like him he was looking at.  Something about the image before him appeared to be out of place, though he couldn’t say exactly what.  Hesitantly, he took a step forward.

Sam turned at that moment and grabbed Brad by the shoulder, hauling him away as a cloud of white spores plumed out from the bottom of the compact, filling the air with tiny flecks of chemicals.  Brad scurried away, still compelled to move toward the creature but now aware that that particular notion was some strange affect of seeing the mirror.  Even Abe seemed mesmerized by the Mirror Clam’s reflective surface, and he slowly rolled toward it, much as Brad had stepped forth.

Brad would have stopped him, but there was no need.  There came a sudden thump from behind the Mirror Clam, and it slammed shut with alarming alacrity.  Standing behind it was another man, this gentleman in some sort of space Marine outfit, a long, staff-like weapon in his hands.  He hopped up atop the Mirror Clam, and then sat down on its forward edge, keeping it closed as it bucked and thrashed for a minute before it came to a stop.

The outfit appeared to be half uniform, half space suit, complete with a helmet.  The face shield obscured the man’s appearance, but Brad thought he could feel the man staring disapprovingly at him.  The weapon in his hands, Brad saw, was a discarded mascara applicator.  The points along it appeared much sharper than they would if seen at his normal size.  “What did you three think you were doing,” the man behind the visor asked in a harsh, guttural tone.  He patted the top of the Mirror Clam hard with a gloved hand.  “This thing isn’t exactly peaceful, as you should know.”

“Commander Artemis, we apologize,” said Abe, shaking his head, the effects of the mirror still visibly clinging to him.  “We were actually on our way to your camp with this visitor of ours,” he said, turning his animated, copper face towards Brad.  “Commander, may I introduce Bradley Jennings, a human.  He is the husband of the Great Keeper of the Land of Bag.”  The space Marine stood up sharply then, letting the weapon hang in his left hand, raising the visor on his helmet and saluting smartly.  Underneath the visor, he had a face so generic to his style of action figure that Brad felt certain he’d seen it a thousand times in Cole’s collection.

“Sir, Commander Tyler Artemis, Fifth Fleet commanding officer!  Galaxy Brigade toy line, made by Dynamic Plastics, sir!”  Brad returned the salute haphazardly, and then extended a hand to the Commander.  The action figure took it, and the two men shook.  Brad felt certain that the Commander was going to break his hand, so hard was his clamp.  He rubbed his bruised hand afterwards.

“Why so hard,” he asked.

“Oh, sorry, sir,” Artemis said, rubbing the back of his helmet awkwardly.  “It’s the karate grip they gave me at production, sir.”

“You mean kung fu grip,” Brad asked.

“No, sir.  Karate grip.  My creators didn’t want to get sued, sir.”  Brad almost laughed aloud at this, but felt that of the three inanimate friends he’d made thus far, this one seemed the most aware of his status as nothing more than a piece of debris inside of a monster of a purse.  As such, he might prove the most useful in helping him get out of the Land of Bag.  “Now, I must ask a personal question, sir.  Is the Admiral doing okay,” Artemis asked, folding his arms over his chest.  (-recording note, ended here on file number 13)

Admiral, Brad thought.  Who the hell is he talking about?  He tried to think about it for a minute, and then remembered, snapping his fingers as he did so.  Cole used to play with a lot of these Galaxy Brigade figures, and he always assumed the make-believe role of Admiral of the Earth Forces.  He looked Artemis in the eye (boy, those are detailed, he thought), and grinned.  “The Admiral is doing just fine, soldier.  Nothing to worry about there.”  He hoped, for once, that he could be right without having to contradict himself later.

Cole, he thought.  He isn’t taking the fights too well, I know it.  But what could he do?  Cynthia and he couldn’t go a full day without having some sort of spat, and the weekend doozies were just escalating more and more with each passing week.  What was worse, even though he encouraged honesty with his son, he didn’t think Cole was letting him know how he really felt about all the yelling matches held on an almost daily basis.

“Well, you came looking for me, you say,” the Commander said as the Mirror Clam made a hasty retreat behind him, off into the woods.  “What can I do for you, Mr. Jennings?”

“Please, it’s just Brad,” the human said, shivering as a chill cut into the soft, constant breeze.  “First thing’s first, is there anything to drink around here?  I’m pretty thirsty.”

“There’s a fresh water pond by my camp,” said the Commander, pointing in the direction of his place.  “Just follow me.  Oh, you should take this,” he said, scooping a Q-Tip from behind a pile of papers crumpled and colored to imitate a rock outcropping.  “It may come in handy.  You never know.”  Brad took the makeshift staff in hand, and followed behind Commander Artemis.

The group, four strong now, moved along clear pathways until they came to a clearing in the woods.  On the north side of clearing, Brad saw a Deer Park water bottle, one of the six ounce mini-bottles, tipped on its side.  Streaming out of the bottle was a constant run of water into a pond in a depression in the bag’s bottom lining.  Closer to them stood a sort of shed with an open front, and this as well Brad thought he recognized.  Sam hadn’t been lying when he said that the Commander was clever.

The action figure had taken an old pack of cigarettes and converted the package into a sort of domicile.  The big white lettering on the north side of the shed stood out against a blue backdrop; Pall Mall.  Cynthia had switched to Marlboros about three years prior to Brad’s adventures in the Land of Bag.  “Well, this is it,” the Commander said, taking a seat on the cap from the Deer Park bottle.  “Pond is over there,” he said, pointing over his shoulder.

Brad sauntered over to the pond, which was clear enough that he could see the bottom quite easily.  “This,” he whispered to himself.  “Is even further proof that this is all just a dream.  The water shouldn’t keep coming.”  He took a sip from his cupped hands, and immediately felt better than he had since arriving in this strange landscape.  He splashed some of the water on his face, shook his head, and headed back toward the rest of his cadre.

All three of his companions were looking at him with curious expressions, even Abe.  “What?  Do I have something on my face?”

“No, it’s nothing,” said Sam, waving the question off.  “I’ve spoken with the Commander regarding the possibility of getting you out beyond the Great Teeth of the Sky.  He informs us that there may be a way after all,” he finished, indicating that the Commander should pick up where he left off.

“There is a way to get out of here, sir, or I should say, there are several,” said the Commander.  He removed his helmet, revealing a block of stiff, black plastic hair that didn’t move an inch, despite the liveliness and interaction of the rest of his toy body.  “The first and most obvious would be to somehow secure you to the Noise Blaster, which I take from all of the buttons on it is actually some sort of communications device.”

“It’s a cell phone,” said Brad.

“A what,” asked Sam and Abe in unison.

“A cellular phone,” said Brad.  “It’s a small phone that you can take anywhere with you.  Runs on a battery, gets its signal from satellite towers.  It’s complicated,” he said, feeling a little lame.  “Anyway, I don’t think that idea’s very safe.  Cynthia has a hell of a grip.  She might crush me to death.”

“Fair enough,” said the Commander.  “Another way would be to construct some sort of catapult or slingshot to fire you up out of here beyond the Great Teeth of the Sky.”

“Again, not very safe.  I could wind up falling to a rather grisly and unappreciated death,” said Brad, folding his arms over his chest impatiently.  “Any ideas that don’t involve a high risk of bodily injury to me?”

“To tell the truth, no, not many,” said the Commander bluntly.  He shook his head, and put his hand on his square sculpted chin.  He appeared to be trying to slim down the options list in his head.  “Well, there is the last option.”

“What’s that,” asked Sam.

“We head west, where there are materials to create a ladder up out of the Land of Bag.  But it won’t be easy to do.  There are dangers along the way.”

“Such as,” asked Brad.

“Well, as you saw from the Mirror Clam, not everything in the Land of Bag is precisely friendly,” said Abe.  “There’s all sorts of creatures roaming around this place that will try not just to hurt you, but to kill you,” he said somberly.  “There are things here that could hurt us as well.”

“Indeed,” said Sam, folding his arms.  “If Abe gets knocked on his face for too long, he’ll never wake up again.  That’s what happened to Thomas.”  Brad thought about that one hard, and realized that there must have been a nickel or two lying about.  “Me?  I could be broken without too much effort, myself.  The only way for me to stay in one piece is to use these punching arms of mine.”

“And the dangers are worse yet for you, human,” said the Commander.  “We aren’t immortal, and neither are you.  You could even drown in the pond, though we would be just fine.  The Mirror Clam could have snapped you in half if you’d gotten too close.  And there’s a score of other dangers, easily.”

“That’s not exactly encouraging,” said Brad.  He shook his head.  “But it isn’t really up for debate.  I can’t stay here.  I might starve to death if nothing else.”  He yawned, and stretched his arms and legs.  “For right now, though, I think I’ve had just about enough excitement.  I need to catch a few winks, if that’s all right with you.”  The Commander led Brad inside the makeshift shack, where he had put together a bed out of cotton swabs (probably dropped in there at the hospital Cynthia used to work at).  Brad laid down on this, and slept a dreamless sleep.

His adventure was quite far from over.