Note: Never again. I know this is what I said the first time, but this time I mean it. Seriously. Cross my heart and hope to die. Only over my dead body will I ever take my Muse and his friends on vacation again!

Caution: Muses Abroad!

By Dagmar Buse



On the first night, I lost Murray.

Immediately, I went to panic stations. Mele had trusted me to take care of the little guy, and now <this> had to happen! I drew a deep breath and prepared myself mentally and physically for a lengthy Muse hunt in the darkness of as-yet unfamiliar hotel grounds, when .... but let me start at the beginning.

After a summer plagued with disasters great and small, my family and I had decided to use fall break to soak up at least a little more sun and warmth. What we found at a last-minute travel agency was a resort hotel directly on the beach in Southern Turkey; if you look at a map of the Mediterranean Sea, it's about on the same latitude as Cyprus. Nice, sunny and warm even in the middle of October. Perfect, right? Right. Never mind the fact that two days after I'd booked and paid for the trip, they had an earthquake only a couple of hundred miles away - we were going to have a <great> time.

What I hadn't counted upon, however, was the fact that my Muse almost immediately invited his two buddies to come along. Faced with not only one, but three pairs of hopeful eyes from three rather cute little critters, how could I say no? I made it contingent on Murray and Heyoka getting their authors' permission, of course; I'm not totally stupid. (Secretly, I was counting on the fact that both Mele and Peregrine wouldn't <want> to be Muse-less for a whole week; shows you what I know.) I have no idea if they wanted to reward their Muses for work well done, or if I had pissed them off somehow and they wanted to get back at me - long story short, the night before we left Murray arrived via cyberspace at our house, followed shortly by Heyoka who portaled in from his home in Britain the way he always does. (And no, I don't know how he manages that - if you're absolutely dying to find out, go ask Peregrine.)

Anyway. The flight was uneventful, except for a brief shortout of the plane's cabin lights right after takeoff; apparently Heyoka had somehow managed to loosen his insulating travel bag. (Thunderbirds and electrical systems <don't> mesh well, and technically I wasn't supposed to have him on the plane at all - it's about the same reason as for using a cell phone in a hospital. Hence, the insulating bag.) Once that problem was fixed, everything went smoothly, although I was <extremely> grateful that Muses aren't visible and most of all <audible> to Unbelievers and Mundanes; some of their comments on the other passengers were ... uh ... unflattering, to put it mildly. Generally, though, the three behaved themselves. (I suppose Mele and Peregrine had mentioned a few of the things I'd told Ted before we left to their little fellows .... like something involving an "Authors Only" barbecue with grilled bear steaks, sauteed frogs' legs and thunderbird stir-fry ...)

We arrived at the resort around early evening, all of us happy, excited and eager to explore our home away from home for the next week. All, that is, except Murray. His long day (coming from California, he'd been up for nearly thirty hours by now) and his jet lag had finally caught up with him, so he'd conked out on the bus transfer from the airport. Which wasn't really a problem, only ... my husband was mostly out of commission due to a still-healing back injury, my son was guarding the carry-on luggage, Ted and Heyoka .... guess who was left in charge of check-in procedures, lugging all the heavy pieces of luggage <and> one limp, snoring frog? Exactly. Me.

By the time we were in our two-level room, had rested, called home and unpacked, Murray had woken up again (no doubt helped along by the antics of his two buddies) and was ready to take on the world. Well ... at least this little, unfamiliar corner of it. We then repaired <en masse> to the dining room. It was buffet style, so I was confident there'd be something for everybody. Sigh.

Between eating my own dinner, seeing that my husband didn't overtax his queasy stomach (he'd caught a 24-hour bug the night before we left) and taking in the customs in this strange place, I wasn't as observant as I should have been. Heyoka caused havoc at the grill, where a cook was preparing fresh lamb burgers, Ted went on a rampage at the dessert buffet - a plethora of cakes, cream confections and small sponge cakes soaked in honey ... and Murray disappeared. Or more precisely, he got lost. You see, the hotel consisted of the main building and several smaller "villas", containing four split-level rooms each. We had moved into one of those, and while the paths to and from the rooms, bars, shopping arcade and dining room were well if unobtrusively lit, there were also lots of dark, overgrown places in between, planted with lovely blooming bushes, trees and grass. In which there were ..... cicadas. <Large> cicadas, which were singing nicely, and tempting Murray's appetite more than the spaghetti, fricassee, salads and whatnot available at the buffet. I mean, I'm all for fresh food, but this ... this was ridiculous!

When Ted and Heyoka came back to the table, I nearly had a heart attack. Ted's usually-white fur was covered in chocolate, chopped pistachio nuts and gobs of cream, while Heyoka still held a half-raw lamb burger in one claw, hacking busily away at it with his beak and spattering bloody bits of chopped meat everywhere. I shuddered to think what the frog would look like.

"Where's Murray?" I asked the two, after giving them a Look - only the first of many, as I was to find out.

"Isn't he here?" Ted asked, surprised, as he licked the last of the honey from his paw.

"Take a look around, Ted," I invited my sticky Muse. "Do <you> see someone small, four-legged and bright green around here?"

"Um, no," he mumbled, "just some cats." The animals had free run of the whole hotel, including the dining area. Ted tried sneaking a glance at Heyoka.Who had to swallow hard, on several accounts - the rest of the burger, the smart-alec remark I could see forming in his brain, and his suspicions.

"Don't look at me," the bird complained. "He <said> he was only going outside to hunt for a cicada or two!"

"And you let him go? All on his own?" I groaned. Not that I didn't trust Murray - to an extent, at least - but he wasn't exactly the most sophisticated Muse of the three. It's nothing that age, time and a bit more experience couldn't cure, but .... all that could wait; searching for Murray, however, couldn't. Quickly I organized things. My husband - an avid Unbeliever and therefore clue- and useless - we deposited in front of the TV in our room, to watch the broadcast of an international soccer match - Germany vs. Turkey, of all things - complete with Turkish-language commentary. Then, my son Gerrit, Ted, Heyoka and I searched the grounds and the beach. At least I didn't have to worry about him drowning; as a frog, Murray knows how to swim. No success, though - we found about half a dozen cats, hunting for mice (I hoped), a kickboxer practicing his sport, smooching couples galore, but no Murray. I was getting increasingly worried. What could I do? Losing a Muse is not exactly something you tell to whatever authority is around - not if you don't want to make the acquaintance of the local padded cell, anyway. Besides, what would I tell Mele? I had no idea how I could possibly tell her I had lost her Muse in the Orient ...

"Maybe he's been abducted and stuck into a harem," Heyoka speculated.

"Yeah, or one of those cats has eaten him," Ted added.

"Don't be ridiculous!" I snapped, my patience slowly but surely running out. "Cats don't eat frogs, and frogs also don't belong in a harem! Besides, harems have been illegal in Turkey since Mustafa Kemal deposed the last Sultan over 60 years ago."

"You'll never know," Ted ruminated, warming up to the subject. "Maybe there's some crazy rich man out here someplace who still has an illegal harem, and he tries everything to keep his belly dancers happy - including abducting newly-arrived American frogs."

"Of course!" Heyoka exclaimed, flapping his wings excitedly. He set off little electrical sparks in the garden lamps we passed, causing them to dim and flicker. "Where's the next American Embassy? We ought to inform them that one of their citizens has gone missing, and then they'll send in a Marines commando, and Navy SEALs will beach here, and then Ted and I will be interrogated, and we'll agree to help them, and we'll figure out Murray's whereabouts, and storm the harem, and free Murray, and we'll be heroes, and he'll never be able to nag us again!"

I closed my eyes briefly, prayed for patience - like, I needed it, NOW!!! - and shook my head as Ted immediately latched on to that harebrained idea and started to elaborate on it. Muses by definition have an overactive imagination, but so far the three had confined themselves to fictional characters, not to real-life situations. Before they went completely off the deep end, I had to do something - fast!

"Guys - guys, don't let's jump the gun here, okay? Why don't we just go back to the room, have a glass of water, regroup and think <calmly> about what we can do next, huh?"

"I ... I guess so," Ted said, clearly disappointed that I wouldn't allow him or Heyoka to indulge their love of the dramatic."If you're <sure> that Murray won't end up as a eunuch in the meantime ..."

"I'm as sure as I can be," I answered, trying to keep the two in line. Gerrit's snickering didn't exactly help, but I couldn't spare much attention to my offspring right now. Just then, we reached the small path that led to our room. Before I could knock, something - no, some<one> stirred on the ground floor terrace.

"Where have you been?" Murray croaked at us, sounding rather ticked off. "I've been sitting here for <ages>, waiting for someone to let me in. The Giant can't hear me over the darn TV, not that he could, anyway, seeing as he doesn't believe in us, the Kid was off who knows where, and the rest of you just left me waiting!"

"Now wait a minute," I protested. Murray is pretty irascible at the best of times, which this was obviously not. "First you disappear from the dining room without saying a word to anybody, and after we've searched this place for almost half an hour - and not ‚ages', as you claim, you just sit here and have the nerve to complain <we> left <you> waiting????"

"Yeah, well, I <did> tell Heyoka I was going to catch me a bug or two," the wretched little frog replied, only slightly mollified. "Didn't he pass that on to you?" He cast an accusing look at the thunderbird chick.

"Don't try to shift the blame, Murray" I admonished him. "I'll let it pass this once, since nothing has happened and it <is> our first night out, but from now on, you tell <me> if and when any or all of you are going somewhere! Do I make myself clear, gentlemen?" I gave the Gang of Three my best no-nonsense glare - the one I usually reserve for my son when he's <really> messed up. It works equally well on headstrong Muses - sometimes, that is. I think. Hope. Whatever. I had to be content with grudging nods from the three buddies, and wearily went upstairs. This vacation was off to a <great> start! Once everybody was safely tucked into bed, I sneaked back to the bar and had a nice, fruity, soothing Mai Tai cocktail. It had a nice paper umbrella, too.

***

The next couple of days passed fairly uneventfully ... if you don't count the fact that every time Ted, Murray and Heyoka strolled together through the grounds, three abreast, I nearly choked on my laughter. I have no idea where they got the Ray-bans, and only Heyoka with his darkish plumage actually fit the image, but put Ted and Murray into dark suits, and I was irresistibly reminded of rejects from the "Men in Black" cast. Or was it "Pulp Fiction"? No matter; it was pretty darn funny, the way my three rather young travel companions desperately tried to project an image of being worldly, sophisticated, seasoned travellers. Needless to say it, uh, wasn't very successful ... since they usually appeared around the beginning of the day's activities, which were intro'ed by the Dwarves' March from "Snow White".

<*At this point, the author can't help but give in to an almost insane desire to giggle and snicker, as she recalls a certain yellow-green frog's reaction to a troupe of belly-dancers performing at the hotel - if Ted and Heyoka hadn't held him back, he'd have tangled his legs in his long tongue, it was hanging out so far as he tried to hop after them as they undulated offstage. Or Heyoka's attempts to snatch some of the small fish out of the shallow water at the beach - a dive-bombing thunderbird chick can make a mighty splash when he puts his mind to it. Besides, he nearly electrocuted himself every time he hit the water; his natural energies reacted somewhat ... forcefully with saltwater. (Please -- don't ask me what bribe I had to offer him to get him off the parasailers' parachute! Heyoka thought it was funny how he could attract lightning out of nowhere, but they sure didn't!) And then there was Ted. My cute, furry, angelic little Ted. With more hormones running amuck than he knows what to do with. So far, he'd been reasonably well-behaved - until he caught sight of a pretty little brown-and-white kitten - excuse me, "young lady of the feline persuasion" -- who he almost immediately started making a fool of himself over. Only massive threats on my part and Heyoka's assurance to rat on him to Nanook, the cute little polar bear girl living at Peregrine's and the object of Ted's easily-distracted affections, were able to keep him in line. Not without howls of protest and a few hours of sulking, of course, but I'm used to that. More or less. Another Mai Tai helped enormously.*>

Otherwise, things were going fine. The weather had cleared up, the temperatures of both air and water were perfect - the sea was actually warmer than the pool - and <then> Heyoka discovered a map of the region in one of the travel agencies' brochures of things to do. You must understand that the resort was at the foot of the Taurus mountain range, which made for a dramatic vista when you were swimming - a stretch of beach, lots of greenery that hid the hotel, and the craggy cliffs of the mountains reaching up nearly vertically against a cloudless blue sky. The problem was, the highest elevation in the Taurus Mountains is called Mount Olympos. And I was there with three <Muses>. Sigh.

Heyoka, with his slightly mystical bent, conceived the idea that the three of them should go off and pay Apollo a brief visit, seeing as they were sort of in the vicinity and all. (Their reasoning was, Apollo, God of Greek Legends, God of the Muses, was their ultimate boss - the head honcho, so to speak.) It sounded wildly romantic to the three, and while I couldn't really fault the sentiment, no amount of well-founded arguments and reasoning could convince them that a) the God of the Muses was a myth ("But <we're> real, aren't we? Why can't He be, too?"), b) the Mount Olympos they <should> be heading for actually was located in Northern <Greece>, not on the coast of <Turkey> ("How do you know that <you've> got the right Mt. Olympos? What if <this> is the right one?"), and c), in my considered opinion they'd all been watching WAY too much "Hercules" and "Xena" ("HEY!!!!" "DID NOT!!!!").

So, swallowing my misgivings, I gave Ted, Murray and Heyoka permission to go God-hunting. At least I would have a day of peace and quiet with my family, without having to worry about the three guys getting into mischief around the hotel, shaking the lemons and oranges from the trees with Heyoka's Top Gun-style landings and takeoffs, scattering sand and small pebbles in the dining room because Ted had been playing on the beach, getting his fur all caked up and then not showering off, or Murray scaring the swimmers by brushing against their feet and mixing up the water-polo games because he took a fiendish delight in altering the ball's trajectory by jumping up and bumping it off-course. Only the fact that Heyoka doesn't have a physical manifestation yet and the other two's had been safely left at their respective homes, rendering them invisible to <everybody> except my son and me (who know about their existence) saved me from a lot of trouble with the hotel management. Anyway, this was going to be <one> day with no troubles. Right? Riiiiiight .........

They returned from their outing just as the sun disappeared behind the mountains, dirty, tired and all but at each others' throats. Murray and Ted were giving their British buddy the evil eye, and Heyoka tried to pretend it didn't matter. I let them cool off for a while, then collected all three around me, ordered them some non-alcoholic cocktails (little paper umbrellas and all), a Mai Tai for me and asked as quietly as I could, "What's wrong, guys?"

"Nothing," Ted growled.

"Yeah," Murray muttered.

"Don't know," Heyoka mumbled.

"Come on, don't give me that! You were the best of friends only this morning, and now you're hardly looking at each other? What happened on your trip? Apollo gone fishing?" I tried to joke. It didn't go over well. After a few moments of silence and some dark looks shooting back and forth, two of the three started babbling all at once.

"It's all Heyoka's fault!"

"Yeah, he said it was only a short climb! Short, my a .... ah, left foot!"

"He didn't tell us there was going to be rocks!"

"LOTS of rocks!"

"Hot rocks!"

"Stony!"

"Hard!"

"With sharp edges!"

"Yeah!"

Ted and Murray were airing grievances left and right, while Heyoka tried to get a word in edgewise, but it was no use; Mele and I had enough experience with the volume our two plagues ... um, Muses ... could produce, so I let them just run down until they needed to catch their breaths. Meanwhile, I slurped a second Mai Tai and cuddled Heyoka who seemed torn between being indignant and breaking into tears. When the two finally stopped outyelling each other, I tried to get at the <real> story of the day's events.

"What happened, boys? And please, we can all sing together, but not speak at the same time, okay?"

With a lot of asking and coaxing, the adventure got told. Apparently Heyoka had carried the other two a goodly part of the way, but deemed it bad manners to just "drop in", as it were, on the top of Mt. Olympos and, hopefully, Apollo. So, he deposited his two buddies about two hundred yards from the summit, to make the rest of the distance on foot. So far, so good -- Ted and Murray would have liked to indulge their laziness by flying in in style, but on the other hand didn't want to appear ill-mannered, so they agreed. What they all failed to take into account was that it was 200 yards straight up, in 90-degree heat, over an almost sheer cliff face - and neither a polar bear nor a frog are exactly what you'd call ideally suited to mountaineering. Whereas Heyoka's natural mode of locomotion is flying, or at least hovering. Add to that the fact that, naturally, no-one, least of all Apollo, was to be found on Mt. Olympos, and I had two <very> unhappy campers who chose to put all the blame on the hapless Heyoka.

"I didn't <mean> to make them get all sweaty and cut up their paws and flippers," Heyoka protested.

"I know that, Hey," I soothed him. "And I'm sure, once they calm down, so will Ted and Murray." It was time for another Look, and the two pals wisely decided to interpret it correctly. They let off their complaining and sulked for a while in silence, sipping and slurping their own cocktails. Just as they were finished, Ted spied the list of planned activities posted next to our lounge chairs. His black eyes lit up.

"Guys! Would you look at that?!?"

"What now?" Murray grumbled, unwilling to leave the nest of towels he was sprawling in.

"Here! The last night! Wouldn't that be <perfect> for us?" Ted was literally bouncing with enthusiasm, his earlier funk completely forgotten.

Heyoka peered at the colorfully written sheet of paper. He perked up immediately and grinned at Ted - a somewhat frightening sight with his strong beak, but it was enough to bring Murray to his buddies' side. Pushing his Ray-bans up his forehead (all three of them couldn't see worth spit through their oh-so-stylish shades, especially since they kept sliding off their respective noses, but that was irrelevant in comparison to the "cool" factor they hoped to achieve), he squinted at the programming Ted was pointing out. Slowly he, too, began to grin. Which should have been a warning to me, I guess, but I was much too glad that the boys were talking to each other again, so I just enjoyed my cocktail and neglected to put my foot down there and then. Believe me, I've lived to regret this moment of inattentiveness.

***

The last night of vacation ...

... is a time for packing, of reviewing the time spent on foreign shores, of looking forward to going home again ...

... and for letting one's hair down. No matter if you don't <have> any hair, but rather feathers, fur or slick skin, it's a time to party hearty. Especially if that evening's entertainment is scheduled to be a Karaoke contest. Aaaaaarrrrgghhhh!!!!!!!!

(Don't get me wrong - I'm sure there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of gifted amateur singers out there, who can give perfectly acceptable renditions of popular songs. However, in my opinion Karaoke contests at the holiday resort level are, as far as the competence of 95% of the performers is concerned, embarrassing at best and acutely painful to watch/listen to at worst.)

Anyway, that's what the Three Muses had set their hearts on. Gauging my reaction quite correctly (they are, after all, nothing if not capable of learning), they told me nothing until it was quite too late. They somehow had managed to register, and had also found some way around their invisibility problem. After long, involved debates that almost brought them to blows again, they had decided to render their special version of a Backstreet Boys' hit, calling themselves "The Backseat Boys" in an unsubtle pun on declaring themselves to be their authors' backseat drivers, so to speak. (I <know> that's lame, but blame Ted, Murray and Heyoka, not me, okay? It was <their> idea, after all!) Ordering a colorful Mai Tai cocktail (a double, to be on the safe side), I settled down in my seat and prepared for the worst.

The performance went roughly as I had expected - mediocre singers trying their best to entertain a few hundred intrepid guests, who wished mightily they would stop murdering their favorite songs. After about an hour of steadily increasing stagefright in my traveling companions, the Moment arrived - the MC announced "The Backseat Boys", and Ted, Heyoka and Murray took center stage. The time for their swan song had finally come - and boy, did I ever wish it had been just a swan who'd sung! It was also time for another double Mai Tai.

Let me put it this way ... apart from their less-than teen-idol looks and rather ... unusual "dance" moves, the voices warbling out "I'll Never Break Your Heart" were ... less than smooth. Or melodious. Or even on-key. I mean, bears growl, frogs croak and birds caw (unless they're songbirds, which Heyoka <definitely> is not), right? Now imagine, if you will, a chorus of them, unable to stay in rhythm, "improving" on the text as the mood hits them, and each "singer" trying to outyell the other two. Murray was hopping up and down like a punk rocker on Speed, Ted was mixing his performers and tried to moonwalk, falling flat on his face every thirty seconds, and Heyoka was whirling around the stage like a cross between a crazed hummingbird and Tinkerbell, trailing little electrical sparks instead of fairy dust in his wake. It was ... a one-of-a-kind performance. Certainly ... unique. It was ... something I hope I'll <never> have to see (and hear) again. Even fortified with a third Mai Tai.

Plus, as an added "bonus", Heyoka was unable to control his <electric> personality due to his excitement and messed up the sound system something awful, resulting in screeching microphones and crackling loudspeakers. The three were lucky that the entertainment staff (who I sincerely doubt will ever quite recover from experiencing such a stellar performance) decided it must have been a mistake in the system and cut the conquest short, announcing a Russian guest the winner.

Naturally, the "Backseat Boys" were highly offended. They felt cheated out of what they <thought> was a well-earned victory, and were getting quite vocal -- again! -- about the affair, when luckily (for me) Murray made a remark that, as Muses, they were predestined to excel at <any> kind of artistic endeavor. That was the opening I needed to burst their bubble ... and hopefully settle the matter to everyone's satisfaction. (Read: to get them off <my> nerves.)

"Um ... guys?"

No response; the three were still arguing loudly about the lack of musical talent they'd perceived in the other contestants; never mind that among them, they couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, but that was a bit beside the point right now. I didn't think Ted, Heyoka and Murray were quite ready to hear <that>, even if it came from me.

I cleared my throat and tried again.

"Ahem. Guys!"

The mumbling and grumbling threatened to devolve into yelling again. Time for the diplomatic approach.

"GUYS!!!"

<That> got their attention. Heyoka doesn't know me all that well yet, but both Murray and Ted were aware that when I start shouting, it's in their best interest to shut up and listen. Otherwise, they'd be needing large heaps of cushions to rest on for the next couple of days. After one look at me, the two swallowed the rest of their commentary and silenced the thunderbird. (Heyoka <did> look a bit funny with Murray holding his beak shut with both hands, thus dangling a few inches off the floor, but I believe it was actually Ted's paw exerting pressure on his back that convinced him that right now, attentive silence was the better part of valor.)

Smiling sweetly at the Gang of Three now that they were listening to me, I explained the Facts of Life to them.

"Boys, I know, you know and the rest of the fanfic-reading PR fandom knows that you're Muses, and usually work hard to earn your living. Not that either one of you couldn't put in a little more effort, as I'm sure Mele and Peregrine will agree, or confine delivery of ideas to more suitable times, or stop giving us wildly inappropriate fic concepts, but these are all minor points. Not that they aren't worth mentioning, but I'm ready to overlook that for the moment. Anyway, you're Muses." Here, I had to stop to draw a breath, and Ted, being my very own Muse, daringly interrupted me.

"You already said that."

"I know I said that. That wasn't the point I was trying to make."

"What <was> the point, then?" the little wretch asked rather cheekily.

Good question. However, I was not about to let him know that, so I glowered him back into silence. Once he'd carefully slunk back and was trying to hide behind his much-smaller buddies, I had picked up my thread of thought again.

"You're <Author's> Muses. That means your Supervisor is neither Terpsichore nor Calliope, but rather Clio, Thalia or whoever of the Nine Muses is responsible for whatever you're delivering to us. And while you're adequate and occasionally even good at your jobs -- <*no sense in making their heads swell with unnecessary compliments!*> -- singing and dancing are <not> your chief talents! Let's face it, boys -- you're just not cut out to give others a song and dance."

I was quite proud of my little speech, which had been ably supported by the four Mai Tais I'd had during the evening. (Well, I had to have <some> help in sitting through an hour of Karaoke, not to mention the bingo game beforehand, right? <Hic>. Ooops. Sorry. Besides, I'd started collecting those little umbrellas the second night out; it was my ambition to make it an even two dozen before we left. I was still two short, so I signalled the waiter, who just nodded and got out the cocktail shaker. But I digress. Where was I? Oh.)

Ted turned to his buddies.

"I wonder who's been giving whom a song and dance, huh, guys?"

"Not us, certainly!" Heyoka protested in his best "I'm British and don't you forget it" accents.

"Right," the frog added, looking at me with large eyes and flicking his tongue.

I sipped my fifth Mai Tai of the evening and was beginning to like the way his yellow body parts sort of flowed together with his green body parts. Only, why were there suddenly two frogs, talking in stereo? I was reasonably sure I had left home with only three Muses, not four, and started counting. Squinting a bit at the furry, fluffy, slick beasties before me (hey, I'm short-sighted; I'm allowed to squint every now and then!), I slowly and carefully counted out two large white fluffballs who both said their name was Ted, four (or was it six? No, four) fuzzy sparklebirds who were called "Hey, you!" or something like that -- very practical, I remember thinking -- and half a pondful of frogs.

"Shtay shtill, hop boys," I told them. "How'm I shupposhed to count you out if you don' shtay shtill?"

"If you count us out, there can't be more than nine of us," one of the frogs told me with a really very nice grin on his wide mouth. The other six (twelve?) critters were grinning at me, too. Sweet little things, them! Helpful, too! <Hic>

"Right," I agreed. "That makes ... how many of you alto ... all at .. um ... how many?"

"How many do <you> count, Dagmar?" the cute little canary asked me. I had to think a bit.

"Um ... there's four white guys, and ... and ... six chickies, and ... nine, you said? Nine green guys ... that makesh ..." I had long run out of fingers, and looked at my companions for help.

"Twenty-five," the flyboy in grey suggested with a little wink.

That seemed about right, I thought, and felt the need for another crayola-colored drink to celebrate the fact that the problem had been solved, but I couldn't find my friendly waiter. Instead, the biggest white guy took my hand and tugged me to my feet.

"Come on, Big Girl, we're going home!"

"I don't wanna go home," I protested. I wasn't terribly clear why, but somehow I felt I should be doing something else. I looked for my waiter again.

"Yes, we are," the white guy insisted.

"No! I wannanother My Tie ... um, My String? Uh .."

"I'll make you a special one," the parakeet promised. Funny, I didn't think parakeets had strobe lights on them. This one had, though. Cute. <Hic>

"'Kay," I agreed. Now I had it again. "Last night, right? Goin' to celebrate, huh?"

"Yeah," the chameleon added. "But we'll all be more comfy at home."

"Don' wanna go home ..."

"We're not going there," one of the fuzzballs then said. I love that little guy! "We're going to take you to .. uh ..." he seemed to look a bit helplessly at his friends.

"A Roman-themed night club called <Room 1408>," the budgie helped. "With lie-down lounges and everything."

"Cool! <Hic> Lead on, guys ..." and I happily followed my cuddly little friends, stumbling only a little.

***

I don't know why, but I woke up with a killer headache the day we were supposed to leave for home. I was very sensitive to the bright morning sun, and only several cups of strong black coffee and a quick dip in the sea seemed to help. I'm not normally suffering from PMS, but it was the right time of the month, and maybe it was the cumulative effect of the unusually warm climate, the exotic food and a slight case of nerves to get everything packed and back home. Nothing else made any sense, of course.

I really was grateful that the Gang of Three was behaving so nicely, although I couldn't help wondering what they'd been up to last night after their performance had been so badly received. Well, I suppose I'd learn about it sooner or later; Mele and Peregrine were sure to grill their Muses on their vacation, and I could always ask <them>. Even so ... as I settled into my plane seat, I asked myself if I should attach any deeper significance to their broad grins whenever they looked at me. I asked my son, but he only shrugged; he'd preferred spending the last evening with his cronies, and my husband had taken off with a Tom Clancy novel. Well, it couldn't have been that bad; I'd been in bed early and had slept dreamlessly and deeply, contrary to other vacations, until my alarm woke me up. If only I could get rid of that headache! I also had a weird, funny taste in my mouth; maybe the goat's milk cheese at breakfast had been a little off.

Anyway, I got everybody home safe and sound, Murray slipped back to California through cyberspace and Heyoka portaled home. Ted was seeing them off, I was <finally> losing the headache as I started unpacking, when the faint echo of my Muse's voice reached my ear and brought it back worse than before.

"See you, guys! We'll have to do this again next year!"

For a moment, the universe seemed to stand still, as visions of yearly vacations with the <Trio Infernale> filled me with horror. And it wasn't even Halloween yet! Normal activities around me slowly resumed, and my head began to pound with the rhythm of Ted's words: "Again - next - year. Again - next - year. Again ..."

***

What exactly do you put into a Mai Tai?