by Norsebard


Contact: norsebarddk@gmail.com





This silly, little Halloween story is an Uber/original. All characters are created by me though some of them will (should!) remind you of someone.

All characters depicted, names used, and incidents portrayed in this story are fictitious. No identification with actual persons is intended nor should be inferred. Any resemblance of the characters portrayed to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer, Najara, Alti, Callisto, Ephiny and Solari from the TV show 'Xena Warrior Princess' belong to Studio USA/Renaissance Pictures/Universal or whoever actually owns them now. No infringement on their rights is intended.

The registered trademarks mentioned in this story are © of their respective owners. No infringement of their rights is intended, and no profit is gained.





Written: For the 2016 Royal Academy of Bards' Halloween Invitational.

- Thank you for your help, Wendy Arthur :)

- If you're interested in reading more about Xandra, Gail & Jonas, check out their first adventure "Trick Or Treat… and Transylvanians" which is available right here at the Royal Academy of Bards in my spooky anthology from 2011, "The Book Of Chills, Vol. 2."

As usual, I'd like to say a great, big THANK YOU to my mates at AUSXIP Talking Xena, especially to the gals and guys in Subtext Central. I really appreciate your support - Thanks, everybody! :D


Description: Xandra, Gail and Jonas return for more Halloween zaniness. This year, the trio of Xena-worshipping friends go to Professor DiMento's Hallowed Halls of Halloween Horrors amusement park in order to stay well away from the kind of trouble they found themselves in the year before. Unfortunately, trouble has a nasty tendency of popping up despite all their efforts, and thus, their imaginary alter-egos Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer once again step in to save the day…





Just after noon on October 31st, two thirds of the Collings family marched down Cypress Lane en route to the Pendergast residence. Unlike the year before where Xandra Collings and her best friends Gail Pendergast and Jonas Ohlsson had spent Halloween at a local street party, Xandra wasn't wearing the Xena Warrior Princess costume her mother had made for her, but a stylish outfit consisting of a dark-blue windbreaker, black basketball boots, a pair of black jeans, and a black shirt over a dark-toffee t-shirt that was a perfect match to her complexion.

Though Xandra was well into adulthood now - according to herself, at least: she had recently turned twelve - her dad had apparently insisted on coming along for the trip the three best friends was to make. Grinning, she leaned her head back to look up at the tall, handsome African-American who kept up his customary powerful stride next to her.

Frank Collings grinned back and sought out his daughter's hand for a little squeeze. She resisted at first - because it was just too embarrassing to be seen holding hands with one's father in public when one had reached the ripe old age of twelve - but soon surrendered, and they began swinging their interlocked hand back and forth as they marched along the sidewalk.

He had in fact been invited to the special day out by Gail Pendergast's moms Eve and Janet, and considering the trouble the young trio of friends had found themselves in the previous year, a little adult supervision couldn't hurt.

It didn't take long for Xandra's keen hearing to pick up the familiar sound of Gail Pendergast giggling merrily somewhere ahead. A broad smile broke out across her features, and she slipped her hand out of her father's grip so it wouldn't look like she was still a little kid.

"Oh, go on…" Frank said. Before he had even finished the brief sentence, his daughter had already taken off down the street with plenty of zip.

Xandra tore around the corner, opened the garden gate and raced into the front lawn of the Pendergast residence. It didn't take her two seconds to spot Gail Pendergast, her eleven-year-old best friend and - more importantly - the Gabrielle to her Xena. The two young girls jumped into each other's arms and let out identical squeals. They hadn't spent any time together for two whole days, and at that age, it was an eternity.

The happy squealing brought both Gail's moms to the kitchen window where they observed their daughter playing with the tall, dark-skinned girl. Janet Pendergast chuckled and wrapped an arm around her shorter wife's waist. "Hey, isn't it crazy the girls can still have so much fun pretending to be those silly characters?" she said while she gave her wife a little squeeze.

"Silly characters?!" Eve Pendergast said with plenty of indignation in her voice. "If it weren't for Xena and Gabrielle, we would never have met!"

Janet grinned and leaned down to kiss her wife on the neck. "I don't know about you, but I only went to the Burbank convention to check out the ladies."

"Yeah, right!" Eve said and let out a snort. "So why do you sneak downstairs at night to watch the old DVDs?  And don't say you don't, 'cos I've been watching you!"

"Ya shoulda joined me instead," Janet husked, shooting her wife a hooded, smoldering gaze that made them both break out in a hearty snicker.

Outside on the lawn, Xandra moved back an arm's length from her best friend to take in the sights of Gail's white canvas shoes, orange jeans and forest-green tunic that was held in place by a braided leather band around her waist. "You look gorgeous today, Gabrielle…"

"Aw, thank you, Xena.. so do you," Gail said, shuffling back and forth on the spot. Only then did she notice how well their clothes fit the classic looks. "Oh!  Oh, look at us!  Even when we don't wear our costumes, we… we still match!  Look!"

Xandra looked down at her own clothes and then at Gail's ensemble. "Yeah… you're right. That's a good sign. Oh, I'm so excited about today… don't you think it's gonna be so much fun to visit Professor DiMento's amusement park?  I heard they've got the best haunted house, like anywhere in the world!"

"Yeah… fun," Gail said, though the look in her eyes was one of concern rather than joy.

"It'll be just like the Haunting of Amphipolis!"

Gail shook her head. "I wouldn't know, Xandra… I'm not allowed to watch that episode."

"Oh…" Xandra said and instinctively reached out for her best friend's hand to give it a little squeeze. "Still not?"

"No. My moms say I need to be at least thirteen before I can watch it. It's very, very scary. I heard there's, like zombies and… and… maggots…"

"Yeah, yeah, there is."

"I don't like zombies and maggots," Gail said in a decisive voice.

"Perhaps we can watch it together?  I'll hold your hand when the scary parts come."

Gail glanced up at the kitchen window to see if her moms were still watching them. They were, so she took Xandra's hand and strolled a bit further away to gain some privacy. "I don't know if I want to watch it, Xena…" she whispered. "I've never told anyone, but a couple of months ago, I found one of the season six DVDs on the couch. I put it into the player and… and… it was the episode with the cannibals. Oh, by the Gods, that was so… so… awful. I only watched, like five minutes, and then I had nightmares for three days!"

Xandra nodded somberly. She moved up her hand and let it rest on her younger friend's shoulder in a comforting gesture. "I'll protect you, Gabrielle. Xena always does. That's all right… we can watch If The Shoe Fits again. You love that episode."

Commotion at the garden gate made the two friends look down there. It turned out to be the third member of their trio, Jonas Ohlsson, who had received a whack across his shins when his hand had slipped on the garden gate.

"Oh, Joxer," Xandra mumbled before her eyes fell on the two adults who followed Jonas into the Pendergast garden. One was her own dad, and the other was a large, overweight man with a three-day stubble and ill-fitting clothes. "Oh… is that Jonas' dad?  I've never met him before."

"Me neither… so let's do it right away," Gail said and took Xandra's hand.


The thirteen-year-old Jonas Ohlsson was knocking on the door to the early stages of puberty, and so far, nothing good had come out of it - not for his voice, his clumsiness or his social skills, and the growth spurt that had left his pantlegs a few inches short of reaching his ankles had been a downright pain.

Despite all that, he smiled when he caught wind of his two friends who came bounding in to intercept him. Unlike the color-matched Xandra and Gail, Jonas wore a faded denim jacket, a white t-shirt advertising Slurrpy! Root Beer, a pair of well-worn, brown corduroy pants, and brand new tennis shoes that were two sizes too large for him so his big feet had room to grow. "Hello, my warrior chums!" he cried, waving his long arm at the two girls.

"Hello, Joxer!" Gail and Xandra said as one. They stopped in front of him and had to lean back their heads to take in the full effect of their friend's latest growth spurt.

"So, Joxer," Xandra said and slapped her friend's tummy, "are you ready to enter the Bacchae lair?  Professor DiMento's haunted house?  Oh, it's gonna be so much fun, don't you think?"

"Yeah," Jonas said with a grin. He wasn't quite sure what a haunted house actually was, at least not in connection with an amusement park, but he wasn't about to appear ignorant to his best friends so he just played along with whatever came his way.

While Gail assumed a skeptical look on her fair face at the mention of the amusement, Xandra pointed at the large, overweight man who was still talking to her own dad. "Is that your dad, Joxer?"

"No, it's Dad's cousin Bengt from Sweden. My parents are at work, so… but cousin Bengt is staying with us for a couple of weeks. He volunteered to come along when Mrs. Pendergast called us."

"Bent?" Gail said, scrunching up her face as she mispronounced the name. "How do you spell that?"


"Oh… huh… Beng-t… that's an unusual name…"

"Not in Sweden," Jonas said and turned his head to look at his father's cousin. "He's from the Swedish side of the family… the one that stayed behind when Granddad Petter moved to the States in the 1960s."

"Oh," Gail said, not really sure where she should be looking for Sweden on the maps they used at school. She didn't want to be seen as a dumb blonde in front of her best friends, so she kept her mouth shut and waited for Xandra to ask for her.

Xandra never did, because Gail's birth-mom Eve came out into the garden carrying a purse and a windbreaker for her daughter. "Gail," she said, holding out the jacket, "it's pleasant now, but you know it'll get chilly later on. There's no point in catching a cold."

"No, Mom," Gail said and took the windbreaker. She quickly put it on before she put the purse's leather strap over her shoulder to let it sit on her right hip - just like the suede bag Gabrielle always carried.

Once Eve had made sure her daughter had zipped the windbreaker, she toured the small group of people and shook everyone's hands. "Great to see you, everybody!  Oh, I know we'll have a fabulous time this afternoon. Well, the kids will!"

The comment garnered plenty of chuckles from Frank and Bengt. The large man seemed out of place next to the athletic Frank Collings and the slender Eve Pendergast so he tried to arrange his plaid polyester shirt and his drooping jeans. No matter what he did, it didn't make the garments sit any better across and below his impressive belly.

"Oh!  Wait a minute… Joxer?" Xandra said, looking around for their friend who was suddenly nowhere to be found. "We can't go yet… we've lost Joxer already!"

Bengt grunted and turned to the dark-skinned girl. "No, he just had to go inside for a whiz. I could take a leak myself, to be honest…" he said in a pleasant voice that carried the sing-song accent so typical of people of Scandinavian origin.

Eve and Gail Pendergast both scrunched up their faces and looked at their wristwatches - Gail obviously wore her prized Xena Warrior Princess watch. "All right," Eve said, chuckling at her daughter's mannerisms that were so similar to her own. "Well, now's the time if anyone else needs to go."

Nobody moved except Bengt who lumbered across the lawn to get to the front door of the Pendergast residence.

"Anyone else?" Eve continued, looking at the remaining members of the party. "Okay, I'll rig the horses to the chariot in the meantime." The statement was followed by a wink to her daughter and Xandra who both grinned in return.


Once the Pendergast family's Dodge Grand Caravan seven-seater minibus was parked on the driveway, Eve got out and opened the sliding door on the right-hand side. "Girls, you go in the back… seat belts."

"Yes, Mom," Gail said and took hold of Xandra's hand like they really were Gabrielle and Xena trying to cross a dangerous stretch of land. They soon clambered up into the Grand Caravan and scooted around the center seat to get to the back row.

Once they were in place next to each other, they waved at the adults who were still chatting in the driveway.

Frank Collings chuckled at his daughter's royal wave before he opened the front door and slipped onto the passenger seat. "Are you girls behaving back there?" he said as he clicked the seat belt in place.

"Yes, Dad." -- "Yes, Mr. Collings," Xandra and Gail said as one.

"Good. It's going to be that way for the rest of the afternoon, right?  Not like last year… right?"

"Yes, Dad." -- "Yes, Mr. Collings," Xandra and Gail said as one.

"Definitely not like last year," Gail mumbled, getting the shivers as she recalled the horrific events of the past Halloween.

Xandra noticed and soon mussed her best friend's hand. "It'll be all right, Gabrielle. All that is in the past. I promise. There won't be any Japanese monks in the bushes tonight."

Up front, Frank furrowed his brow at the odd description. He had already turned around to ask what on earth that was supposed to mean when he vaguely remembered a plot-point from the girls' favorite TV show. "Huh," he said and winked at his daughter. "And even if they do show up, I'll bet Hercules will be right there to save Xena and Gabrielle!"

"Oh, Dad!" Xandra said and let out a groan that proved just how far out of the loop Frank Collings really was - Gail just snickered and squeezed Xena's hand.

Bengt and Jonas finally showed up from their rest break and lumbered onto the center seat. With everyone in place and safely buckled up, Eve Pendergast got behind the wheel and reversed out of the driveway. Once out on the street, she honked twice at her wife who came running out onto the driveway waving a small object.

The passengers all jerked forward as Eve slammed on the brakes before they had made it ten feet down the street. "Oh, shi- shoot, I forgot my own purse!" she said and pressed the small button for the power window so she could retrieve the small clutch. "Thanks, sweetie," she said and made a couple of kissies at her wife.

"You're welcome. Have fun, everybody," Janet said, waving at the passengers who duly waved back.

Once the stylish clutch was resting in the center console, Eve released the brakes to make the Dodge trickle down Cypress Lane. "Are we all set?" she said over her shoulder.

"Mom," Gail said from the back, "are you sure you have your driver's license with you?  I mean, we have a police detective in the car…"

"Quite sure, young lady," Eve said, eyeing her daughter in the rear-view mirror. "All right… let's hit the road. How about a little music," she continued as she inserted a CD into the slot in the car radio.

Soon, the familiar sounds of a Bulgarian bagpipe filled the Grand Caravan, making the three younger passengers - but mostly the girls in the back - let out squeals of delight. Once the intro theme had concluded, it didn't take Xandra and Gail two bars to recognize the music, and they both cried "The Ring trilogy!"


Professor DiMento's Hallowed Halls of Halloween Horrors was every bit as colorful as the name suggested. The travelling amusement park was made up of thirty different rides and booths that were all designed to give the paying customers a nice, little fright.

All ages were welcome, and the youngest guests could start at the gentle boat ride where a ghoulish ferryman would transport them across the river Styx on a wooden boat - parents came free of admission if the child was under eight years of age. For young teens of a less-adventurous nature, a merry-go-round featuring various monsters and critters promised to spin them into a parallel dimension while playing creepy music that wasn't in any key known to Man.

Teens of a bolder nature could enjoy themselves on the Lost Mariner ride where Viking longboats hurtled around and around in tight, nausea-inducing circles while being jerked up and down like they were caught in a bad storm somewhere in the North Atlantic headed for Lindisfarne.

For others, the Wheel of Misfortune amusement was a better fit, or perhaps the zombie shooting gallery, or even the Severed Head Hoop'n Roll that awarded points and sweet prizes in the shape of Halloween-themed candy if the player could throw a monster-head through a basketball hoop. In short, there was plenty of fun to be had for everyone.

While the hundreds of kids present were burning off their sugar rushes, the adults all assembled at the many concession stands that offered most types of junk food ever created. The names of the products had all been given a Halloween-slant, so the hot dog vendor sold arms in bloodsauce, the burrito stand had brain matter wraps on offer, and the hard-working men in the back of the pizza van had put guts, eyeballs and chopped fingers on their menu - the disgusting-sounding ingredients looked quite a lot like spiced tomato sauce, whole mushrooms and sliced wieners when they were put on the pizzas.

The centerpiece of the entire amusement park was the famed haunted house Meduza. Nearly the size of a football field when fully operational, moving Meduza from town to town required the work of twenty roadies and five eighteen-wheelers.

Unlike most haunted houses, the guests weren't driven around the ride in open carts that couldn't leave the tracks in the floor - no, Meduza offered an experience like no other: Built as a maze of vast proportions, the guests were free to roam the Shadowlands at will. If they wanted to revisit a favorite section, they could; if they wanted to skip a section that threatened to fry their minds, they could.

Meduza employed the latest in entertainment technology to offer hundreds of ghosts, ghouls, goblins and assorted other hanging, creeping and crawling critters. The infamous Roamer Ghosts could appear anywhere and without warning through clever use of three-dimensional holograms. To offset all the high-tech tricks, many of the sections used old-fashioned methods to create the atmosphere, like multi-colored spotlights, directional heat cannons to simulate the fires of hell, and nozzles that could deliver bursts of frosty air created by dry ice for when the ghosts were near.

Before Xandra, Gail, Jonas and the adults could enter the promised land, they had to negotiate the small matter of the mile-long lines leading to the gates. Though four gates had been opened, the mill of people waiting to get in proved it was a popular amusement park.

"Whoa!" Jonas said, looking at the long line of people ahead of them. "Good thing I went to the bathroom before we left, huh?  I wouldn't wanna have to go now, that's for sure."

Eve Pendergast took that as her cue and turned around to look at the kids who had bunched up behind her. "There's a public restroom right over there if any of you have to go… nobody?"

"I'm good, Mom," Gail said with a smile. Xandra just nodded.

"Actually," Bengt said and pulled up in his drooping jeans, "I think I gotta go again. Can you wait for me?"

Frank chuckled and shared a look with Eve Pendergast. "Sure we'll wait, Bengt," he said to the large man. "It was only a forty-minute ride here, but… if you have to go, I guess you have to go."

"I got a small bladder and I had a lot of coffee earlier today," Bengt said with a shrug.

As the overweight man shuffled away, Xandra and Gail put their heads together. "He didn't smell of coffee when he came to your garden," Xandra whispered. "He smelled of beer." - Gail nodded and cast a supportive glance at Jonas who hadn't noticed a thing.


The line ahead of them moved so slow that Bengt had time to lumber back to the restroom for a second whiz so he would be in the clear for a couple of hours. Xandra, Gail and Jonas were still together at the back, but they split up and moved next to their parent when they were close enough to the gates.

Frank bought two tickets for himself and Xandra, and the small pieces of paper were promptly torn in half by a mountain-sized attendant who wore a uniform that was at least one size too small for his frame. They were handed the stubs with the mumbled instruction that they should always be ready to show it in case they were checked by one of the other attendants.

Behind the Collings', Gail stepped up to the gate and put down the money needed to buy two tickets. The man inside the glass booth processed the bills by inserting them into a machine of some kind. Soon after, a different machine printed out the two tickets, but as it did so, an electronic bell went off just above the heads of the two Pendergasts.

Gail jumped a foot in the air and let out a squeaky yelp out of sheer surprise, but her shock was transformed into a broad, toothy, happy grin when she read a message that appeared on a digital information screen in front of them - she had purchased ticket number ten thousand and had thus earned herself a pair of complimentary tickets valid for all the amusements and rides in Professor DiMento's Hallowed Halls of Halloween Horrors. "Oh!  Oh-oh-oh-oh… oh!  Sweet Aphrodite, look at that, Mom!"

"I see it," Eve Pendergast said, mirroring her daughter's broad grin. As Gail pressed her nose flat against the window of the booth to stare wide-eyed at the machine that printed out the two complimentary tickets on colorful paper, Eve glanced at Jonas and Xandra to see how the others would react. Jonas looked like he didn't understand it, but Xandra wore a grin that rivaled the toothiness of the one plastered onto Gail's face.

"Tell you what we're gonna do…" Eve said as the huge attendant tore the regular tickets in half and mumbled his usual spiel about the stubs, "you keep one of them, and then we'll give the other to Xandra. After all, Xena and Gabrielle should stay together, right?"

"Yippie!" Gail squealed and slapped her mom a high-five. Moments later, she realized the consequences of her mother's plan. "But… then you won't be able to try any of the rides without buying a ticket… and it was your money, I only handed it over…"

Eve chuckled as she glanced at the Lost Mariner ride that went around so fast the longboats were blurry. "I'll live, sweetie. Believe me, it'll be better for all involved if my stomach doesn't have to suffer through any of these rides. Frank, Bengt and I will find a nice place to eat while you guys have fun. Okay?"

"Uh… okay," Gail said, but the apprehensive look she wore soon melted away when she locked eyes with Xandra who was bouncing up and down in a happy dance.


Later, Xandra and Gail marveled at the colorful look of the complimentary tickets. "By the Gods, Xena, it says right here that all we have to do is to show the tickets to the attendants at the rides… we don't have to pay anything, and we can go as many times as we want!" Gail said as she traced her pinkie along a line of text.

"It's awesome, Gabrielle. We've gone to the Elysian Fields without even dying."

Gail scrunched up her face and squinted at the many creepy rides and amusements near them. Though the air was filled with the merry sounds of kids laughing, there was a risk it was all a trick created by an unknown, evil deity to lure in unsuspecting warrior princesses and battling bards. "No talk of dying now, Xena… you never know who's listening…"

"True. I can't feel Alti's presence, but the witch may be here as someone else," Xandra said and shot the world a steely glare that the real Xena would have been proud of. The lure of the complimentary tickets proved too strong, and she was soon back to studying the colorful print-outs.

"I don't know who Alti is," Gail mumbled. "My moms still won't let me watch those episodes… they're far too intense… actually, I don't wanna watch those episodes… her voice gave me nightmares…"

"Yeah, they are kinda intense… most of them," Xandra said while nodding thoughtfully. "But Ares isn't here either, I'm sure of that. Anyway, what do you want to try first?  One of the easy rides, or…"

The question hung in the air as Gail craned her neck to look at the Meduza haunted house. A large part of her soul screamed in her ear that she shouldn't go anywhere near it, but another part taunted her for being a little peasant girl from Potaideia - or San Teodoro, California - who couldn't even see a dragonfly without running away. The real Gabrielle had never been like that, not even in her youngest years. Though a small quiver broke out on her chin, Gail nodded in the direction of the haunted house.

"The Meduza?  Gabrielle… Gail," Xandra said and leaned in towards her best friend so the world wouldn't hear what she had to say, "it's all right to say you're scared. It's all right to say you would rather try something else first."

"Xena and Gabrielle never got scared…"

"Sure they did… remember the episode where Gabrielle froze in a fight?  And Xena doesn't like small spaces, remember?  In the episode with the Horde?"

Gail's chin twitched at the mention of the feared Horde. Because of that episode, she had a strong mental inhibition against large brutes in garish makeup - she couldn't even watch pro-wrestling. "Yes, but… I think they forgot all about that later on… it was never mentioned again…"

"Well, that happened sometimes… but never mind that!  Xena wasn't afraid of admitting she was afraid. Gail, do you really wanna try the Meduza?"

A few seconds went by before Gail shook her head.

"It's okay, Gabrielle. We'll try something else," Xandra said and pulled her best friend in for a little hug.

"You're not mad?  I know how much you want to try the Meduza."

"I'm not mad at all. Hey, let's throw some severed monster heads instead… sounds like fun!  And we can win some Halloween candy!"

That caught Gail's attention, and she went up on tip-toes to see where the booth was. "Candy?  I love candy… where is it?"

"Right over there," Xandra said and gave Gail a little nudge in the back.


Twenty minutes later, the two best friends returned from the Severed Head Hoop'n Roll amusement carrying bags that were half-full of candy. Throwing the severed heads into points-giving hoops had been far more difficult than it had appeared from a distance, but plenty of candy had been won, so the girls were happy.

When they reached the hot dog stand not far from the Meduza, they waved at the adults and Jonas who sat at a picnic table busy eating 'arms in bloodsauce' and drinking 'embalming fluid' - sickly-green soda pops.

"Hi again, everybody!" Gail said, waving at her mom and the others. "Eww, what are those sodas?  They look… yucky."

"They taste just like Gatorade," Jonas said, holding a dripping chili dog in one hand and a plastic cup of the sickly-green stuff in the other.

"Oh… okay," Gail said and looked at Xandra whose face displayed a similar level of apprehension to her own.

Eve Pendergast dabbed her lips on a napkin and pushed away her half-eaten beef dog that had just been too large for her slender size. "You girls want a hot dog or something?  Or a burger and some fries?"

"No thanks, Mom, I think we're fine," Gail said, once again looking at Xandra who nodded and smiled at the older Pendergast as well.

At the table, Bengt Ohlsson eyed the half-eaten beef dog but couldn't quite get himself to ask for it. Ultimately, he didn't have to as Eve Pendergast had noticed the look of longing in the large man's eyes.

"Oh, here you go, Mr. Ohlsson," she said as she pushed the cardboard tray across the table. "It's really tasty, but just too large for me."

Bengt's face cracked open in a big smile, but the large opening was soon plugged by a huge bite of the beef dog.

Xandra raised both dark eyebrows and shot her dad a surprised look that he responded to by grinning. "So, anyway," she said to have something else to do than to stare at the large Mr. Ohlsson who went through the beef dog like there was no tomorrow, "Joxer… Gabrielle and me just wiped out a full pack of ugly mutants and rescued a princess. We won a bunch of candy but a lot of it are liquorice sticks… they're all yours. We only need to find a spare bag and you can have it."

"Mmmmpf!" Jonas cried through a mouthful of chili dog. Like any thirteen-year-old, eating candy was among his favorite pastimes, and in particular the oblong liquorice sticks that were so difficult to find in regular convenience stores. He chewed hard on the bite and washed it down with a healthy swig of embalming fluid. "Thanks, warrior chums!  Whenever you need a strong fellow at your side, just call Joxer The Mighty!"

"We will, Joxer," Gail said, seeking out Xandra's hand. Her eyes slipped over to the dark, foreboding Meduza that was lurking behind them. Even the facade of the ride was frightening with plenty of airbrushed monsters, living and otherwise.

Now and then, horrific screams and creepy music wafted out from the amusement when the exit doors were opened to release another group of terrified, but excited, guests. A man wearing a ghoul-costume including an elaborate monster mask stood at the entry checking the tickets. Though he only performed the same task as all the other attendants, the sight still sent a strong flutter of fear through Gail's tummy. It manifested itself by making her squeeze Xandra's hand just that little bit harder.

"What's wrong, Gabrielle?" Xandra whispered.

"I… I think I'm ready for the Meduza now," Gail answered in a matching whisper.

Xandra nodded and turned back to the adults. "Dad, Mrs. Pendergast… we're gonna swim to the bottom of the Alconian Lake now… Tartarus awaits us. If we're not back in twelve hours, send out a search-and-rescue team," she said in a no-nonsense Xena-voice that made Bengt Ohlsson drop his jaw.

Jonas hurriedly wiped his chin that carried more chili-stains than the hot dog he had just finished. Drawing his imaginary sword, 'Joxer' jumped up as fast as his big feet would allow him to, and ran around the picnic table to join his chums on the dangerous mission.

Eve Pendergast and Frank Collings both knew what Xandra meant, so they chuckled and waved at the kids. "That's all right, Xena," Frank said, digging his smartphone out of his pocket. "If you're not back by nightfall, I'll call Hercules. Or the Major Disasters Unit. Whichever is more appropriate."

Xandra grinned and briefly stuck out her tongue before she, 'Gabrielle' and 'Joxer' strode over to the frightful monster at the entry of the Meduza to begin their descent into the Underworld.


The line to get into the Meduza was long, but the people waiting to get in tended to be part of groups so it didn't take too much time for Xandra, Gail and Jonas to reach the ghoulish attendant whose freakish appearance was undermined somewhat by the fact that he used a lavender deodorant.

The man in the creepy costume needed to adjust his mask to authenticate the two complimentary tickets, but Xandra and Gail were soon allowed to move on into a staging area. It only took Jonas a few seconds more to join them, and the trio of friends was soon headed for the swinging gates to the Underworld.

A red light above the doors said they couldn't enter before the previous guests had been sent on their way, so the intrepid explorers waited while pretending they weren't at all nervous of what they would find on the other side of the gates.

Though the air held a pleasant scent of cotton candy, popcorn and frying hamburgers, the behemoth building in front of them stole away all the little pretenses of reality. All that existed was the dark presence of the Meduza, and it made Gail gulp down a lump that had found its way into her throat. She wished she had her trusty, homemade Amazon fighting staff with her, though the foam weapon couldn't even hurt a fruit fly.

The red light finally turned green, and the gates opened accompanied by the whooshing sound of pressurized air being released. The three friends looked at each other before they took the final step inside.

At first, they found themselves in an anteroom of sorts. The small room was lit by regular white light, but as the doors closed behind them in a new rush of air, the light turned orange and a floating, ghostly face appeared on a digital display on the wall. A creepy rumble grew in intensity from everywhere around them until the floor they were standing on suddenly shook and shimmied like they really had just been transported to Tartarus.

Gail squealed and grabbed hold of Xandra, but her terror was short-lived as the anteroom fell quiet once more.

Out of nowhere, pressurized air shot out of several nozzles and gave the three visitors a thorough blasting. "You are now in Meduza's realm," the ghostly face said from the display. "There is no escape… unless you follow the green exit signs. Now… enter the maze… if you dare!"

Jonas snickered out loud at the tickling he had received from the pressurized air, but he gripped his imaginary sword harder when the doors on the opposite side of the anteroom opened to reveal the first section of the Meduza.

Xandra tried to move ahead, but it was tough going since Gail stuck to her like glue. "Gabrielle, we need to move now… Gabrielle?"

"Not sure I really wanna… oh, I suppose I hafta," Gail mumbled though she would much rather spend the entire afternoon with her face buried in Xandra's black shirt. Looking into the maze, she gulped again and moved ahead on wobbling legs.

As they traveled into the first section, they spread out to look at the many creepy drawings and illustrations on the walls. In certain places, holographic eyes tracked the visitors while eerie, ethereal music could be heard from hidden speakers. Elsewhere, the walls had grown fur and seemed to throb through some kind of heartbeat.

A large paw equipped with fearsome claws tried to break through another wall; though the fabric was stretched to just shy of its breaking point, the claws were unable to penetrate it and reach the visitors. Heavy breathing and unhuman moans and growls could be heard each time the claws drew along the fabric.

Jonas walked around like in a haze with his eyes firmly fixed on the countless creepy things surrounding them, but Xandra looked a little disappointed. Gail didn't have her eyes open at all, so she couldn't comment on the quality of the special effects.

The trio stopped at a kitchen sink where the metal faucet spewed fresh blood at regular intervals. As the red liquid filled the sink, a tentacle crept up from the drain and seemed to soak up the fluid. A mirror above the sink only reflected the image of a recently undead zombie, not the visitors.

"Well… that's not creepy. That's just gross," Xandra said with a shrug as they moved further into the Meduza.

"I can't hear you," Gail said.

"I said, that's not-"

"And I don't wanna hear you!"

Xandra chuckled and reached around her friend to muss her blond locks. "It's kinda not so bad yet… remember when Xena and Gabrielle found Solan in the cocoon in Tartarus?  That scene was much, much creepier than this."

"Really?" Gail said and dared to crack open an eyelid. The kitchen sink wasn't that bad, she could see that at once. The zombie mirror was a little worse, but she chose to focus on something else. "You're right… actually, I think that Charon outside was creepier."

"Oh, the ghoul?  That was a good mask, yeah…"

"Can we move on now?"

"Sure," Xandra said and reached down to snatch Gail's hand instead. They offered each other a supportive smile before they turned the corner to move away from the first section.


Further into the Meduza, Xandra's tough standards had been met. Of course, it had meant that Gail's eyes had been firmly slammed shut once more.

"Okay," Xandra whispered in case the cannibal sleeping on a dining chair in front of them would stir and start to chomp on their flesh. Blood and guts dripped off the cannibal's chin, no doubt from feasting on the human carcass lying on the table next to it. "Now that's creepy… way creepy… way, way creepy…"

"Can we move on now, pleeeeeeease, Xena?" Gail mumbled. Since her eyes had long since been shut, she had her arms stretched out ahead of her - unfortunately, she was on a collision course with the cannibal.

Xandra noticed at the last moment and managed to get her friend steered back to a safe route through the section that had been made up to resemble a mountain man's cabin. Just as they turned the corner, movement behind her made her look back. The cannibal was just waking up, and snatched what looked like a haunch of lamb from the carcass. "Uh-huh!" Xandra said and hurriedly pushed Gail out of harms' way.


On they went, past countless horrors, gruesome dioramas and freakish lighting effects that made everything and everyone look like they were long since deceased. At one point, the trio of friends was caught in a holographic spotlight that shone bizarre patterns onto their skin that made it appear they were ghouls fresh out of the grave.

In another section of the Meduza, they found themselves inside the stomach of a gigantic creature. They had to shuffle past various flotsam that included severed heads and assorted other limbs, as well as an entire corpse that looked like it had been dipped in acid.

"By the Gods," Gail croaked, "this is gross!  Gross!  Gross-ss!"

Xandra chuckled as she steered her friend away from the rotting corpse. "Yeah… you said it, Gabrielle. It's nothing like I hoped it would be… it's not a haunted house at all… it's just… just… a collection of-"

"Icky-squicky-gross stuff!"

"Yeah. Where's Callisto when you need her, huh?"

Suddenly, Gail came to a full stop. Xandra didn't have time to slow down, so she plowed into the back of the younger girl but took a step back at once. "Oh… I'm sorry, Gabrielle… I know you're still kinda raw about the whole Perdicus thing…"

"It's not that, Xena…" Gail said and looked all around them though she preferred not to peek at any of the sick dioramas. "We've… we've… we've lost Joxer!"

Xandra's eyes narrowed down into slits. The warrior-girl drew her imaginary sword at once and pretended to twirl it several times to be ready to fight the enemies she was sure would attack them at the first opportunity. "Hades!" she hissed, spinning around to look behind them. There were freakish goings-on for as far as she could see, but their lost friend was nowhere in sight. "Where could he be?  Gabrielle, did you see any harpies?"

"No… no harpies or banshees or titans, or… or… but maybe there are sand sharks in here?"

"Huh… they only showed up on Hercules. No, we need to split up so we can-"

"La-la-la-la-la-la, I CAN'T HEAR YOU!  I CAN'T- hmpph!"

"Quiet, Gabrielle," Xandra whispered hoarsely, removing her hand from the pretend-battling bard's mouth. "If the creatures hear us, we're as good as dissected."

The look in Gail's eyes proved she would much rather follow the green exit signs until they found a door that led back to freedom, but at the same time, she knew that their lost friend had to be sad, lonely and probably frightened out of his mind somewhere in the deep, dark maze of the Meduza. Nodding, she clutched her imaginary Amazon fighting staff, and the texture of the hard wood against her fingers helped her gulp down her fears. "Sweet Aphrodite, Xena… we need to find him in a hurry… we've already seen a zombie… I don't wanna see any maggots!"

"Ewwww!" Xandra said and promptly got the willies. "Oh… from the Haunting of Amphipolis… right. The beasts must have taken him to their lair. And the lairs are always… hmmm… hmmm… this way, Gabrielle. Our friend needs us!  Sheeeeee-ya!"


The pretend-Warrior Princess and the junior-Battling Bard raced through the dark, creepy halls and corridors in search of their lost friend - alas, 'Joxer' was neither here, there nor anywhere else they looked.

In the meantime, other groups of squealing kids and adults had entered the Meduza, and they were treated to a puzzling display of two young girls racing around calling for a character from an old TV show. More than one youngster had to ask a parent or an older friend about the meaning of the strange word uttered by the girls, but even then it wasn't certain they would get an answer.

Xandra and Gail raced left, then right, then left, then right, then another right, then another left that saw them return to the same stretch of the maze they had just left behind. Starting over, they went right, then left, then right, then left, then another left, then a right, and then a final left that put them back at the anteroom at the start of the maze.

Spinning around, the pretend-Warrior Princess twirled her imaginary sword and began to trace the route in the opposite direction, hurrying past all the sections they had already visited: the paw that tried to claw through the walls, the holographic eyes, the faucet that spewed blood and finally the mountain man's cabin where the cannibal had gone back to sleep.

Xandra came to an impressive sliding halt on the smooth floor. Moments later, Gail came up behind her and put her hands akimbo to catch her breath. "Rats," Xandra hissed. "Where could he be?  Has he been whisked away to Mount Olympus by an angry God?  We've looked everywhere… or have we?"

"Yeah… ye- yeah, we… have," Gail said between bouts of frantic panting. Furrowing her brow, she studied the cannibal and discovered she wasn't afraid of it anymore. She had more important things on her mind now, like finding and rescuing their friend.

"I'm not sure we have, Gabrielle… look!" Xandra said and pointed at a second corridor leading away from the mountain man's cabin. Because of the freaky lighting effects, the entry to the corridor was hidden in the shadows which made it almost impossible to see unless the visitor was standing right in front of it.

"Oh!  And we turned to the right here… to get inside the monster's tummy!  We never went that way!" Gail said, pointing towards the well-lit passageway that guided the visitors to the creature section of the Meduza.

"We were fooled by the light… Najara!"

"Najara," Gail echoed, looking in awe at her tall friend. Regardless of the circumstances, Xandra Collings could always be trusted to save the day, or simply to come up with the right answers at the right moment - just like the real Xena of Amphipolis.

Letting out a grunt, Xandra raced over to the entrance of the dark corridor and disappeared into it. She came back almost at once and waved Gail over to her. "He's gotta be here… it's the entryway to a lava pit!"

"Oh, no… did Joxer fall into a lava pit?!" Gail cried, making even more people stare at her and the dark-skinned girl.

Xandra nodded grimly. "He may have. Knowing Joxer, he probably did."

"We… we have to rescue him!" Gail said and hurried past her taller friend.


Dozens of well-placed lamps and spotlights that pulsated between pitch-black and bright-orange created a glowing atmosphere inside the tunnel-like corridor. As the pretend-Warrior Princess and the junior-Battling Bard approached the far end of the long, creepy corridor that seemed to be made of granite, the sloping ceiling gradually forced them to hunch over.

Several heat cannons were going at full blast to simulate the suffocating temperatures emanating from the stream of lava running just beyond the field of view, and filtered spotlights created fiery patterns that flickered over the walls.

As Xandra reached the end of the corridor, she let out a surprised grunt and got down on one knee at once. She waved Gail over to her and put a finger across her lips to tell her chatty companion that she should keep quiet. "Look, Gabrielle," she said in a strong whisper as she pointed at the scene unfolding in front of them, "this is more than a lava pit…"

"By the Gods," Gail croaked, instinctively clutching her imaginary Amazon staff.

Some twenty feet ahead of the two girls, a row of people dressed in peasant garb were kneeling at the edge of a nasty-looking, fiery hole that resembled the top portion of a well. A half-dressed brute of a man towered above them holding a double-edged ax on a long shaft.

The peasants had their hands tied behind their backs, and it was clear they were going to be beheaded and used as an offering to the Fire God who dwelled at the bottom of the pit. One of the peasants was dressed in unusual clothes, namely bright-white tennis shoes, brown corduroy pants and a denim jacket.

"Joxer!" Xandra cried, waving like mad to get their friend's attention. She couldn't, because loud, ominous music started playing at that exact moment. With a click and a whirring noise, the brutish executioner raised the double-edged ax high above his head as he shuffled down to the first peasant with stiff, mechanical steps.

"Oh, Sweet Aphrodite… Joxer!" Gail croaked, but her voice didn't carry any further than Xandra's had.

Growling, Xandra reached for her genuine replica Chakram but remembered at the last moment she hadn't brought it along for the ride out of fear of carving holes into the upholstery of Gail's mom's new minibus. With that plan out of reach, she was on the brink of jumping up to physically drag 'Joxer' away from the executioner, but before she and Gail had time to try anything, a strong burst of flames shot out of the fire pit like it was an overgrown blowtorch. The flames were gone as fast as they had come, but the message had been delivered.

"It's Dahak!" Gail cried and dove behind Xandra's back for some protection.

"Dahak?" Xandra said as she offered the executioner a steely glare. "Then this is the Halls Of War!  And if Dahak is here… Hope must be as well…"

The words had barely left her lips before she squinted hard and looked behind her at the shivering blonde. It looked like Gabrielle of Potaideia, it sounded like Gabrielle of Potaideia, and it certainly felt like Gabrielle of Potaideia, but one could never feel safe when going up against the minions of evil. "Quick, Gabrielle, tell me something I don't know… uh… no, wait… that's not right… uh…"

"How is that ever gonna work, Xena?  How am I supposed to know what you know or don't know… I don't even know what I know right now!" Gail shook her head and buried her face even deeper into the back of the black shirt.

"Uh… wait, I got this… tell me something that only you would know- uh… no, 'cos then I wouldn't know about it… shi-"

"Just like last year… just like last year!  And now Joxer's gonna lose his head and I'm gonna get into so much trouble with my moms and we'll both be grounded for a year and I won't be allowed to watch any of the episodes, not even my favorites, and I'm gonna miss them so much… and miss you so much… you're my best friend, Xandra, and I!  Don't!  Wanna!  Lose!  You!"


"Wha-*aaa*-t?" Gail said in a fierce, nasal whine.

"That executioner is just a mechanical puppet…"


"Hey, Jonas!" Xandra cried. When that still wasn't loud enough to overpower the ominous music that blasted out of the hidden speakers, she stuck two fingers in her mouth and let out a piercing whistle that nearly sent dust trickling down from the rafters - this time, Jonas heard and turned back to wave at his friends. "See?" she continued, reaching behind her to muss Gail's leg.

"I s'pose…"

Jonas saved them the trouble of coming to his rescue, because he got up under his own steam and dusted off the knees of his brown corduroy pants. "Hello, my chums… aw, that was fun. Did you see it?  The executioner moved right past me!" he said as he rummaged through his bag of candy to find one of his favorite liquorice sticks.

"We saw it, Jonas," Gail mumbled, getting to her feet.

"Yeah," Jonas continued, "just like that great episode where-"

Xandra knew which one even before Jonas had finished speaking the sentence. "Sacrifice!  We were just talking about that!"

"No… no, the one where Xena gets married to Ares… Soul Possession!  Oh, that's one of my favorites. Hey… neat!" Jonas said as he finally found a liquorice stick.

"Soul Possession?" Xandra said while a dark eyebrow went on a little tour of her forehead. When Jonas was too busy chewing on the liquorice stick to answer, she turned to Gail who could only shrug in return.

Xandra shrugged as well and put her arms around the shoulders of her two best friends as they turned around and left the execution site at the lava pit. "Huh… Soul Possession, huh?"

As a final exclamation point, Dahak released another strong burst of fire that blasted out of the pit through the aid of a metal nozzle.


The positive result of the daring rescue had left Gail Pendergast feeling far braver than she had been when they had entered the Meduza, so she took all the creepy displays in her stride. Closer looks always revealed that - although well-made - the monsters, critters, ghouls and ghosts were simply mechanical creations like the executioner at the lava pit had been.

The holographic eyes that kept track of the visitors as they walked past, and the ghostly faces that protruded from the walls at irregular intervals still freaked her out, but only until Xandra pointed out the lenses of the concealed projectors that created the effects. Knowing that the worst monsters were always those produced by her own imagination, Gail even ran ahead to check out the next sections while Jonas and Xandra studied the grisly setups.

A group of seven skeletons performing a danse macabre didn't do anything for her, so she moved past that and the next two displays until she found one that was more to her liking. She couldn't quite work out what it was supposed to be, but it had a cool-looking sorceress who was dressed in a purple robe, and holding a book of spells and a magic wand while standing in front of a magic mirror. The sheet of glass had a hall-of-mirrors effect, so Gail saw herself reflected at least half a dozen times. When the sorceress waved the magic wand, the mirror became black which in turn switched off the spotlights in the ceiling above Gail.

The darkness that fell upon her and the creepy music that began playing wasn't too bad until she felt rather than saw movement behind her. Thinking it was Xandra and Jonas, she didn't turn around at first, but the ghostly, pale-blue light that enveloped her made her breath hitch.

An insane cackle filled the air and prompted Gail to spin around on her heel. She found herself face to face with one of the Roamer Ghosts, a free-floating form that seemingly had no arms or legs. What the specter did have was a pair of deep-brown eyes that shone brightly with insanity, and a wild mane that seemed to flow freely around the ghostly head. "I am Leonora!  And you are mine!" the ghost screamed before it rushed towards Gail.

"It's the ghost of Callisto!" Gail cried and buried her face in her hands. A few moments went by where she held her breath, but then she noticed she was alone in the dark corridor. There wasn't any point in tempting The Fates, so she released the breath she had been holding and zipped away from the sorceress before she could conjure up something really nasty like the blind Cyclops or The Destroyer.

When Xandra and Jonas caught up with her a short while later, they continued past a scene where a large, deep-red monster drank from a chalice that it had dunked in a bowl filled with blood. Behind the monster, strange-looking humanoid creatures hung upside down with their arms stretched out below them like they wanted to drink from the chalice.

"Pffft," Xandra said and offered the display a casual, dismissive wave. "Bacchus' lair was far scarier than that in real life… and they completely forgot about poor Orpheus."

Snickering, Gail squeezed herself closer to her tall friend. She glanced left and right before she leaned in to whisper: "I'm not allowed to watch that episode… but I found clips on Youtube of the bite… you know."

"Oh, I know. Sneaky you!"

"You won't tell my moms?"

"Of course not, Gabrielle!  That would be most uncool."

The two girls rubbed shoulders and snickered at the secret they shared. Their behavior left Jonas puzzled - he had watched that episode many times without finding anything to snicker about, save perhaps for when the head of Orpheus had been mashed on top of a body of straw.


A torture chamber straight out of medieval times sent a chill down their spines, especially the sight of a young girl in shackles who had been tied to an evil-looking, bed-like instrument that had a removable pan below it. Above the young girl who appeared to writhe in fear, a slab of metal dangled from a frayed, flimsy rope - it was no doubt designed to come down and crush the unfortunate individuals tied to the torture rack so their blood could be collected in the pan and used for the Gods know what.

"Ew, now we're back to the icky-squicky stuff," Gail mumbled and wanted to move on, but Xandra put a hand on her shoulder.

"Do you know what this reminds me of?  Genia in-"

"In Many Happy Returns!" Gail said, finishing off her best friend's sentence. "Yeah!  You're right, Xena… it does. Oh, but we saved her, didn't we?  Those zealots didn't stand a chance against us!"

Xandra grinned broadly and pulled Gail in for a little hug. "Not a chance."

"Huh," Jonas said, "I almost never watch that episode. It's too… I dunno… strange or something. Too weird with that crazy warlord."

"Oh, but the poem!" Gail said and clapped her hands together. "The poem is so romantic!  Oh, I could watch that on repeat all day if my moms would allow me to…"

"Wait," Xandra said and turned towards her best friend, "your moms won't allow you to watch Many Happy Returns?"

"Oh sure they do, but I think they're worried I'm gonna wear out the DVD or something…"

"Oh… okay. That makes sense," Xandra said with a grin. The trio of friends turned away from the torture chamber and began to move further into the Meduza. Suddenly, a creepy sound effect was played from the mechanical puppet writhing on the bed.

It sounded like a young girl crying - a very young girl - and it didn't seem to fit with the rest of the display. For starters, it didn't loop like all the other recordings did, but carried on at random.

Gail and Xandra stared wide-eyed at each other before they turned back to the puppet. "Ew… ew, ew, ew, ewwwww!" Gail croaked and broke out in a full-body shiver. "That's way, way, way creepy!"

The look on Xandra's face proved that she agreed with every word. She had her teeth bared in a horrified grimace that only grew deeper when the crying resumed at an even louder volume. "I think… I think we should… should… move… on…"

"Yeah," Gail said and spun around, but before the two friends could go anywhere, they realized that they had once more lost Jonas somewhere along the way. "Oh, no!" she groaned, slapping a hand across her eyes.

This time, they didn't have to race through the entire Meduza to find their lost friend - he appeared on his own a few seconds later from a hidden corridor behind the torture chamber, waving his long arms to get their attention.

"Look… I think something's happened, Gabrielle," Xandra said. "He wants us to go over there… I'll check it out!"

"No, but…!  Oh, Xena…" Gail croaked, staring at her tall friend's back as it hurried past the torture chamber to get to the next corridor. "Well, I'm not gonna stay here alone, that's a fact!" she continued, setting off in a fast jog to catch up.

"What's going on, Joxer?" Xandra said as she came to a sliding stop on the smooth floor. Once again she drew her imaginary sword from the imaginary scabbard on her back. The heavy blade was given a couple of solid imaginary twirls to prove she was ready for anything. Just to be on the safe side, she did a three-sixty degree turn with the sword pointing ahead of her to scout for evil beings - there were plenty near them, but none seemed to be making any aggressive moves.

"There's a kid in there, Xandra… a little kid," Jonas said and pointed down the dark, narrow corridor where the ceiling was so low even a young teen couldn't stand upright. "She just cried harder when I tried to, uh… fumble down there, so… so… I wanted to ask you guys what you think we should do. Should we call security or something?"

Just as Gail caught up with her friends, the crying resumed. Being much closer, it was confirmed to the trio of friends that it was a real child crying, and not a recording at all. "Oh, we need to do something… she must be scared out of her poor, little mind… I know what that feels like," Gail mumbled, wringing her hands.

Xandra bared her teeth in a grimace at the look of the corridor's low ceiling. She hadn't lied when she had mentioned to Gail that Xena was afraid of small spaces - she really was afraid of small spaces, at least spaces that were so small she would have very little room to breathe. "Okay… we need to… need to…" she said and glanced around for an attendant. "Find… someone… who… who can help… Hades. No security guys anywhere…"

"We need to help her right now, Xena," Gail said, already pulling her purse's leather strap over her shoulder. After thrusting the purse into Jonas' hands, she put her bag of Halloween candy on the floor, unzipped her windbreaker, whipped it off and put it over a gobsmacked Xandra's arm.

Two jaws hit the floor behind Gail as she strode over to the corridor's opening and crouched down to see how far in the child had gone. It wasn't too bad, a mere twenty-five feet or so, but crawling in and then crawling out with the child safely tucked away could potentially present a problem.

After fumbling around so she could sit on her thighs, she rubbed her face to prepare herself. The child's crying proved she needed to hurry, so she did a quick wave at Xandra and Jonas before she crawled into the dark mouth of the corridor.

"You go, girl!" Xandra cried, not quite believing her eyes as she watched the soles of Gail's canvas shoes disappear into the semi-darkness.

The look in Jonas' eyes proved he didn't understand what was going on either, but he quelled it by rummaging around in his bag of candy until he found a liquorice stick.

Xandra took that as her cue and began to look for one of her own favorites in her bag. She soon found one of her beloved miniature chocolates that had a creamy center with a strawberry flavor. Unwrapping it, she popped it into her mouth and let it melt on her tongue while they waited for Gail's return.


Deep inside the terrifying Cave Of Despair, Gabrielle, the undisputed Queen of the Amazons following Velasca's failed coup, crept forward one agonizing inch at a time. The walls were so close she could almost feel them collapsing on top of her, and the jagged edges of the granite floor dug into her exposed knees. She wasn't afraid of being hurt herself, but she was getting worried about the safety of the child she was there to rescue.

Though several of her Amazon sisters had warned her about the dangers of her mission, she had insisted on doing it herself. There were times where the queen needed to show the tribe what she was made of - this was one of them. She wore her Amazon battle gear, feathers and all, because such a dangerous assignment required a full commitment.

The crying child ahead of her only made her more determined to make it right, and she sped up her crawling until she reached a section of the corridor where the ceiling was higher. The little girl she was there for became frightened and pressed herself up against the far wall, but she seemed to relax when she realized it was just another Amazon and not a frightful monster.

Gail could hardly believe her eyes when she got a closer look at the young girl. The curly hair, the brown dress, the bone necklace, the pretty face - it could only be the fierce, proud, Amazon regent.

"Ephiny!  Oh, Ephiny… I'm so glad I found you!" Gail said as she slipped the final bit into the cave. She sat up on her thighs again and dusted off her hands. "No wonder Solari was beside herself… how long have you been missing? It must be several turns of the hourglass… are you all right?  Any cuts or bruises?  Did you bump your head?"

The young child stared at the older girl like she couldn't quite figure out if she was playing with a full deck or not. "My name is Emily," she mumbled, sticking her thumb in her mouth to suck on it.

Smiling, Gail decided to tone the game down a bit so she wouldn't frighten the young child - after all, she seemed to be spooked enough already. "Emily, that's a beautiful name. My name is Gail. How old are you?"


"Where's your mother?"

"I dunno and I miss her!"

"I'll bet. How did you get in here?"

"Was scary… scary everywhere…"

Gail nodded thoughtfully. It definitely was scary everywhere outside.

"I lost my mom… couldn't find her. I slipped in here to find her…" Emily said, sucking hard on her thumb.

"But she wasn't here."

"No… and now it's scary to go back out."

"Yeah. Okay," Gail said and rubbed her face. "Emily, close your eyes. I'll carry you out of here, but you have to promise me you'll keep your eyes closed through the whole thing. Is that okay?"

"Okay," Emily said, nodding so hard her curls bobbed up and down.

"Okay," Gail echoed, reaching out for the young girl. Once she had her safely in her arms, the pretend-Queen of the Amazons returned, and she narrowed her eyes into green slits. "Stay close, little Ephiny… I'll get you out and back to Solari in no time," she said in a steely voice.


"I know… I'm just playing pretend," Gail said and winked at the little girl to show she was a friendly being.

It worked as Emily broke out in a little smile. It didn't stay there long, but at least she had something else on her mind than crying. "I love to play pretend…"

"Me too!  Me and my best friend Xandra play pretend all the time… now sit tight and everything's gonna be fine. Okay?"


"And here we go…" Gail said and turned around inside the narrow cave so she would be lined up for her return trip.


Outside, Xandra and Jonas were still waiting for their brave friend to return with the child. It didn't take long before Gail popped her blond hair out of the mouth of the corridor carrying a curly-haired child of no more than four summers.

"Ephiny!" Xandra exclaimed upon seeing the little girl's many curls.

"Almost," Gail said, moving her legs around so she sat flat on her butt once she was clear of the entrance to the cave. She kept the whimpering girl's face close to her chest and put a hand on the back of the small head to protect her from the scary beings. "Her name is Emily. She lost her mom outside… somewhere. She came in here to find her, but there's so much icky stuff everywhere…"

"We need to find her mom. Sounds like a job for Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer," Xandra said and pretended to draw her sword from the scabbard on her back.

"Joxer The Mighty is ready!  Ha-ha!" Jonas said, thumping his chest. A moment later, he wished he hadn't as an ache spread out from the point of impact. "Ooooooh," he squealed, doubling over as the pain tingled his skin. He settled for drawing his own imaginary sword, but did so with a flurry.

Emily stared wide-eyed at the strange behavior of the two older kids, but remembered her agreement with her substitute mom and shut her eyes again. Sighing, she snuggled up into the spring-green tunic in front of her.

After handing Gail her windbreaker, Xandra twirled her imaginary sword twice and ran to the nearest major hallway to look for the green exit signs. There was only one, tiny little problem: she couldn't see any signs anywhere. "Uh… where's the exit again?" Xandra said, furrowing her brow.


The mood was jolly everywhere around the many amusements and rides in Professor DiMento's Hallowed Halls of Halloween Horrors. Kids of all ages laughed and squealed as they were exposed to thrills and gentle horrors from the booths and the monster mascots who had begun to roam Professor DiMento's realm within the park's limits. Plenty of cotton candy, popcorn, burgers, fries, hot dogs, pizza slices, taco shells and tortilla wraps were digested by the vast crowd, and it was all washed down by hundreds of gallons of high-sugar or diet soda pop.

Frank Collings, Eve Pendergast and Bengt Ohlsson had done a small tour of the park but were now back at the same picnic table they had used earlier in the day. They had each won a few trinkets and some Halloween candy, but Frank had cleaned out the zombie shooting gallery through his professional firearm skills. He had given his prize - a three-foot tall zombie doll - to Eve who intended to give it to Xandra once the kids got back since she just knew her Gail would faint the moment she clapped eyes on the scary doll.

Bengt Ohlsson had downed a large burger menu on top of the hot dogs he had consumed earlier, and dearly wished he could find a concession stand that sold beer so he could get the nasty aftertaste of the green soda pop out of his mouth - unfortunately for him, consumption of alcohol of any kind was prohibited throughout the park.

"Oh, by the way," Eve said and put her hand on top of Frank's, "congratulations on getting selected to organize the special task force. That's a pretty big step in your career, isn't it?"

"Thank you. Yes, I'm the newly appointed chief of the Anti-Radicalism Special Task Force. I move up one salary grade and I also get a better pension plan," Frank said as he toyed with an unused napkin that someone had left behind on the wooden table. "I'm happy. I've worked my butt off for so long, I feel like I deserve the credit."

"Oh, I definitely understand that."

Frank nodded and looked Eve in the eye. Though he tried to keep all his work-related habits at bay on his rare days off, and especially around the people close to his daughter, he couldn't help but observe the woman next to him to gauge if she spoke the truth, or if she was hiding something that he needed to dig out of her. "And you work in a travel agency, don't you?"

"That's right. Wild World Travel. We've specialized in photo safaris in Canada, Africa and South America. I'm a tour coordinator… so I coordinate the tours, ha ha!"

"Imagine that," Frank said and let out a chuckle. He cast a casual glance at his telephone to check the time. A large chunk of it had already gone by since the kids had entered the Meduza, but he knew how time flew when fun was had, so he wasn't too worried. Shrugging, he returned to the conversation. "Oh, and I heard the news from Xandra that you have just graduated from… something I didn't quite pick up."

"That's right, I did," Eve said while a faint blush tainted her cheeks. "I graduated from the Center of International Linguistic Studies. I had straight A's in French and Spanish."

"Oh wow, that's great… congratulations."

"Thank you, Mr. Collings," Eve said and looked down as a new wave of blushes attacked her cheeks.

Frank smiled at the woman before he turned to the overweight man sitting opposite them. "Bengt… what do you do, exactly?"

"I'm an industrial plumber back home in Sweden."

"I see…" Frank said, furrowing his brow at the mental image of the somewhat hefty Bengt Ohlsson being squeezed into a coverall. Perhaps the dress code for plumbers was different in Sweden?  "So do you have your own company, or…?"

"No. It's really difficult to keep small, independent companies going in Sweden… we got high taxes and a crazy VAT. I work for a company that does a lot of work on… uh… uh… unfinished buildings… uh, at construction sites."

"Oh, right…" Frank said, nodding like the answer explained a lot. A construction site would offer plenty of space for the rotund fellow. An image of Bengt Ohlsson trying to fit behind a toilet bowl to change a leaking feeder pipe prompted a smile to break onto his lips, but he chewed on his cheek so he wouldn't appear disrespectful towards the tourist - not that Bengt would notice.

Eve Pendergast followed the conversation, but her eyes kept returning to her wristwatch while the two men spoke. It was getting late in the afternoon, but Xandra, Gail and Jonas still hadn't come out of the Meduza. Scrunching up her face, she glanced at the exit that wasn't too far from the concession stand they were sitting at.

"Time sure is flying, huh?" Frank said, checking his telephone again.

"Yes. You don't suppose they've run into trouble, do you?"

"Or caused trouble…"

A few crickets chirped while the undeniable truth of that statement settled among the three adults at the picnic table. "Yeah," Eve said after a little while. She began tapping her fingers on the tabletop as she remembered a few of the insane details from the previous year's Halloween. She and Janet had needed to ground Gail for a week after she had ignored the curfew they had set for her during that crazy evening - and not just once, but twice. At least the eyesore on Crawley Lane had been demolished after parts of the roof had collapsed in a January storm. The crazed owner, the former illusionist Florian Dumitrescu was never seen or heard of again.

"Tell you what," Frank continued, "if they're not back in five minutes, I'll buy a ticket for the damn thing and go inside to find them."

"Sounds like a plan. Please don't expect me to join you, because haunted houses… oh… what's going on down there?" Eve said, turning sideways on the wooden bench to get a better view of the commotion that took place a short distance away from the concession stand.

Bengt Ohlsson was already looking in that direction, but Frank needed to turn around to see what Eve had already spotted.

A tearful, sobbing woman in her late twenties crossed the neatly groomed lawns and patches of gravel with quick, frantic steps. Repeatedly calling out a name, she looked at every child she came across, and even under the benches and behind the garbage bins at the concession stands. A team of the amusement park's security personnel followed a short distance behind her, and they had been joined by a detachment of uniformed police officers and two K9 units.

Frank and Eve shared a quick glance that meant to say 'Well, at least we know why the kids have been in there for this long' before the police detective rose from the bench to intercept the woman and his fellow officers.

"Ma'am, I'm Detective Frank Collings, San Teodoro PD MCS. I'm guessing your child is missing?"

The woman came to a stop in front of the tall, athletic police detective, but she never really looked at him - her eyes kept roaming the amusement park just in case. The words took a while to filter through her brain, but when they did, she did a double-take and stared at the tall man in front of her. "San Teodoro PD-what?"

"MCS… Major Case Squad. Your child is missing?"

"That's right," she croaked in a voice marked by bouts of screaming and worrying. "Emily. My little girl. She's four. Blonde. Full head of curls. A dark-brown dress. She was there… then she wasn't. I only looked away for a second… but she was gone."

Nodding, Frank looked back over his shoulder at the dark, foreboding Meduza. "We've been here for a fair amount of time, but we haven't seen her. She hasn't found her way back to your car?"

The woman shook her head. "First place I looked."


As the uniformed officers and the park's security personnel reached the concession stand, Frank dug into his pocket to produce the leather wallet that contained the shield identifying him as a member of law enforcement. "Senior Detective Collings, San Teodoro PD Major Case Squad," he said as he flashed his badge. "We haven't seen the girl, but we have reason to believe she may have accidentally entered the haunted house there… the Meduza. It's definitely not for young kids, so it's a fair bet to say she must be frightened out of her mind. Ma'am… it's best if you stay here."

Stepping aside, Frank led the weeping woman back to the wooden picnic table. "Mrs. Pendergast, would you mind taking care of… Mrs…?"

"Weissberg… Oona Weissberg. And it's Miss," the woman croaked.

"Of Miss Weissberg while we get in touch with the management and ask them to evacuate the Meduza?"

"Of course not, Frank!" Eve said and jumped up from the bench at the picnic table. "Come, Miss Weissberg… have a seat here. Please don't cry… Detective Collings knows what he's doing… and… and we already have a special team on the inside. If your little girl is in there, they'll find her and bring her back to you… that's a promise!  Right, Detective Collings?"

Grunting an affirmative reply, Frank locked eyes with Eve Pendergast. At that exact moment in time, he knew that for next Halloween, he would need to send Xandra to the moon in order to stop her from getting into trouble. The whole trip to the amusement park had been arranged so they could keep a closer eye on the trio of friends, but trouble seemed to find them wherever they went. "Huh… perhaps the moon won't even be far enough. Maybe I need to send her to Mars…" he mumbled before he spun around and hurried over to the Meduza.


While 'Gabrielle' held little 'Ephiny' tight, 'Xena' hacked and slashed her way through the myriad of evil enemies attacking them. So far, they had met and defeated at least half a dozen harpies, several groups of banshees, a whole pack of dryads, lumbering zombies, drooling cannibals, possessed wolves and even Frankenstein's Monster - although they were able to outrun that particular foe without shedding any undead blood.

Racing around a corner on a quest to find the fabled green exit signs, Xandra came to a screeching halt on the smooth floor. Gail joined her moments later with her precious cargo, but Jonas couldn't see that far ahead and bumped into both his comrades-in-arms.

"Ooops… sorry," Jonas said and backed away so he wouldn't give little Emily another fright. To be useful, he spun around to guard the rear like he had been told.

"What's wrong, Xena?" Gail said, mussing the curly locks of the small child in her arms.

"I've found a green exit sign…"

"Yippie!  Where?"

"On the other side of that thing there…" Xandra said and stepped aside.

A small gasp escaped Gail's lips as she realized they had to cross a rickety suspended bridge that was supported by two strings of thick rope connected to a central pathway. Many of the stepping boards were frayed, cracked or even missing altogether, and if that wasn't bad enough, the bridge spanned a yawning chasm that reached untold fathoms down to a raging river - well, three feet down and onto a crash mat to be exact.

"By the Gods, that's sixty feet across… or more," Gail continued hoarsely. She looked around with worry written all over her fair face. "There's gotta be another exit… somewhere… there just gotta be…"

"No… I've looked and looked and looked so hard… that's the first we've found," Xandra said and pointed at the green sign that shone brightly in a section beyond the bridge.

Jonas wanted to see what had caused the delay, and made his way forward to peek around Gail's shoulder. "Neat!  Just like the suspended bridge in A Fistful Of Dinars!  Aw, I love that episode…"

"A Fistful Of Dinars… why?" Gail said in a puzzled voice.

" 'Cos the bad guys were so cool. And one of them got to kiss Gabrielle."

Narrowing her eyes, Gail went up on tip-toes to be closer to Jonas' face. "Joxer, the only one who's gonna kiss Gabrielle is-"

"Guys," Xandra said, holding up her hands to stop her best friends from getting into an argument, "can we discuss this later?  We have a dangerous bridge to cross, and I'll bet little Emily is getting kinda tired."

Gail smirked and helped the little girl in her arms find a better position. Though Emily wasn't a heavy girl at all, the added weight was taking a toll on her arms and her lower back, and she was looking forward to a breather and some of her favorite candy - chocolate, caramels or fudge. If she found a block of fudge, she would be the happiest Gail on the entire planet. "Yeah… I know I am. But Xena, I don't know if I can cross that bridge… I don't know if I can keep the balance…"

"I'll guide you along. Joxer, take the lead."

"The lead?  The lead!  Oh, I got the lead, Xena… have no fear, Joxer The Mighty is here!" Jonas cried and drew his imaginary sword. Stepping ahead and onto the bridge with fearless determination, his oversized tennis shoe snagged on one of the cables providing the lighting effects for the supposed river far below the bridge - the results were inevitable: he stumbled forward and only managed to grab hold of one of the ropes at the last moment before he would have taken a tumble over the side and onto the crash mat.

"Oh, Joxer…" Gail mumbled under her breath.

Up ahead, Jonas had barely managed to salvage his bag of Halloween candy, but he had everything under control - mostly - and pressed on across the bridge.

"Come, Gabrielle," Xandra said and moved up to stand next to her best friend. Smiling, she wrapped her long arm around Gail's slender waist to help her keep her balance. "I'll be your left hand… take the rope with your right… we can do this… keep your feet on the edge of the pathway… one step at a time… we can do this together."

Gail gulped down a nervous lump that had found its way into her throat. With Xandra acting as the left side of a two-armed, four-legged being, they went onto the suspended bridge and inched ahead at slow speed so they wouldn't step on each other's feet. Twice they had to come to a halt to stop a couple of nasty oscillations from getting too strong, but the partnership proved successful on the whole, and they had soon cleared the bridge.

Finally on safe ground, Gail released Emily from her arms before she sat down on the floor with a bump. Breathing heavily, she wiped a few drops of nervous sweat off her brow before she looked up at Xandra. "Thank you…" she said and reached out for her best friend. When their hands connected, they gave each other a little squeeze.

"It was nothing, Gabrielle… that's what friends do. Oh, and Joxer, thanks for clearing the path," Xandra said and swatted Jonas across the tummy.

"Ooof!  Uh… you're welcome…"

Emily didn't seem any worse for wear, and she even broke out in a little smile when Gail played with her. A few giggles and happy squeals escaped the young, curly-haired girl when she was tickled by Gail, and the little smile became a wide, toothy one as she tried to pay back the favor by tickling the older girl.

"I think we're ready to move on now, Xandra," Gail said and clambered to her feet. Reaching down, she took hold of Emily's small hand and held it tight in her own, larger paw.

Xandra snickered as she took in the sight of Gail holding hands with the young girl. "You look so cute together… I'll bet you'll have ten kids when you're all grown up, Gail."

"I'm not gonna have any kids," Gail said and shook her head vehemently. " 'Cos that would mean I would hafta kiss a boy. Don't wanna kiss a boy."

"Aw, but you could have that artificial insermi- insima- uh… treatment."

"No, 'cos I don't like needles either."

The statement - not to mention the logic of it - was so definite there was no point in continuing to discuss it. Grinning, Xandra snatched Gail's free hand and began to swing it back and forth. "C'mon, let's go outside and find the old folks."

"Xandra!" Gail said and broke out in a snicker. "You'd be grounded if your dad heard you say that!  I know I would be…"

The two best friends snickered at each other before they and Jonas set off for the final stretch of the Meduza that would take them to the exit.


The trio of friends took it easy through the last sections of the haunted house so their young associate could keep up with them on her much shorter legs. Whenever the things on display became too scary, creepy or just plain icky, Gail distracted Emily by tickling her ears or mussing her hair.

As they moved past the final section - more drooling cannibals, much to Gail's dismay - the ominous mood music that had accompanied their entire trip through the Underworld faded out and was replaced by an electronic signal that played a short jingle-like melody to get everyone's attention.

'Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the park management,' a disembodied voice said from the many hidden speakers. 'We kindly request you follow the instructions of the park employees and proceed to the nearest exit. We stress there is no immediate danger, this is a coordinated effort from the park security and the local police department to find missing Emily Weissberg, age four. If you have seen young Miss Emily Weissberg wandering around on her own, please notify the authorities who will be ready to speak to you outside. Thank you.'

The public announcement had barely finished playing when all exits and fire escapes were opened with clicks and hisses. Daylight streamed into the deep, dark maze of the Meduza, exposing the grisly displays as large-scale mechanical contraptions that could only scare the spectators when the power was on.

Xandra grinned and turned around to face her friends and young Emily. "Looks like Xena and Gabrielle and Joxer just saved the day again, huh?  I'm so, so proud of you, Gail… you only got a little scared at the beginning, but look at what you did!  I could never, ever have crawled in there to save little Ephiny… ever!  But you did."

"Awwww," Gail said, crinkling her nose as a bout of shyness washed over her.

"And remember," Xandra continued, "if you ever feel scared, just say it out loud 'cos it's all right to be scared… and then you can say I'm not afraid of the dark!  'Cos then you won't be!"

An insane cackle was suddenly heard near the small group of friends. Xandra didn't know what it was, so she didn't react. A moment later, a pale-blue light flickered into existence behind Xandra without her noticing. Gail and Jonas froze in place, and little Emily stared wide-eyed at the ghostly creature.

Xandra still hadn't noticed anything, so she briefly stuck out her tongue at her friends' odd behavior before she began to turn around. "Right?  Just say I'm not afraid of the-"

"I am Leonora!  And you are mine!" the free-floating Roamer Ghost screamed directly into Xandra's face. The specter's deep-brown, insane eyes shot fire for a few seconds before the rest of the ghostly head rushed towards the Warrior Princess.

"D- Aaaaaaaargh!" Xandra cried at the top of her lungs. For a split second, she jumped up on tip-toes and threw her arms out wide, but then she tore out of the Meduza like the ghost of Callisto was on her tail.

Jonas, Gail and Emily just stood there with their mouths hanging open. Once the holographic Roamer Ghost dissolved without a trace, the peace was restored. Emily broke the silence first by squealing and letting out an unbridled belly laugh at seeing not only the silly ghost, but the brave Xandra running away. The little girl couldn't stop laughing, and Gail and Jonas soon joined her in merry laughter as they fell into the steady stream of people who were being guided out of the Meduza.


Frank Collings had climbed up on top of the wooden picnic table at the hot dog stand to get a bird's eye view of the crowd of people exiting the Meduza. He had borrowed a walkie-talkie from the park's security personnel, but there was so much radio chatter on the electronic device he could hardly get a word in edgewise.

One by one, the visitors exiting the haunted house were met by a senior employee of Professor DiMento's Hallowed Halls of Halloween Horrors who offered them a full refund if they so desired. Those who had only just entered the maze when the call to leave had come accepted the offer, but most others declined and carried on to the police officers who were waiting to ask them about Emily Weissberg.

Scratching his hair, Frank glanced down at his three companions who had remained at the picnic table. Eve Pendergast's fair face was scrunched up into a mask of concern, and she paced back and forth ceaselessly while still taking care of Oona Weissberg who was close to a nervous breakdown. Bengt Ohlsson had taken advantage of the lull in the proceedings by buying another 'arm in bloodsauce' hot dog, and he was busy eating.

Frank suddenly spun around on the table top - he was sure he had heard his daughter yelling over the din of the crowd and the noises created by the other rides in the park. It didn't take long before he spotted Xandra come tearing out of the Meduza with her arms flailing in the air.

The girl - who was usually the epitome of cool - appeared to realize what she was doing as she stopped yelling and slammed her arms down her sides the second the other people present began to stare at her. She kept up her frantic pace, however, and that didn't trail off until she was a good distance away from the ghost of Callisto.

"Dad!" Xandra cried when she saw her father's athletic frame standing atop the picnic table. "Dad!  We have her!  We found Emily!"

"Hot dang!  I knew it!  I knew those crazy kids would find her," Frank cried, punching the air in delight. He jumped off the table in a hurry and strode the wrong way through the crowd to get to Xandra and her friends.

When Xandra and her dad met halfway to the main exit, she fell into his arms and gave him a big hug. "Daddy, we found Emily!  Gail's bringing her out right now… she got separated from her mom and ended up in a place that-"

"We'll discuss the details later, Xandra… is Emily all right?"

"She's fine… she's just fine," Xandra said, nodding hard. "There's not a scratch on her, and she's been giggling and laughing…"

"That's great to hear," Frank said and keyed the walkie-talkie. "All units," he said into the electronic device, "all units, this is Detective Collings. Emily Weissberg has been found. I repeat, Emily Weissberg has been found. She's at the main exit of the Meduza. According to the kids who found her, the girl is unharmed, but we better have an EMT unit and a crisis counselor on stand-by just in case. I'll notify the mother. Collings out."

While Frank returned to the picnic table to relay the good news, Xandra hurried back to the exit to help Jonas, Gail and the little girl that everybody was on the lookout for get through the crowd. "Hi again!" she said when she caught up with her friends. Grimacing, she made sure she only made brief eye-contact with Gail before she focused her attention on Emily. "Uh… I sorta wanted to run ahead to tell my Dad, and… things," she mumbled.

"Xena, we know nasty, old Callisto spooked you," Gail said, shifting Emily a bit further up her chest so the little girl wouldn't get trampled in the mess. "It's all right to admit you were scared."

"Oh, I wasn't just scared," Xandra said before she leaned in towards her friends so the entire world wouldn't hear her. "I damn near pooped my shorts!"

Gail snickered and shot her best friend a look of sympathy. "I thought it was kinda scary too. I saw one of those floating heads earlier. Emily couldn't stop laughing!"

"I heard," Xandra mumbled, but she quickly got back to being in a good mood.

"Mommy!" Emily cried, wiggling hard to break free of Gail's arms when she caught sight of her mother carving through the crowd to get to her.

Gail didn't want to risk dropping her precious cargo so she lowered Emily carefully onto the ground. The little girl was eager to be reunited with her mother, but Gail kept a solid grip on the petite hand in case the urges became too strong and she wandered off again.

Oona Weissberg stormed through the crowd with her arms stretched out ahead of her. She barged through a couple of people who were in her way before she threw herself down on her knees and pulled her daughter into a strong, never-ending hug that was punctuated by howls and sobs from both members of the Weissberg family.

Even before Xandra had time to fully congratulate Gail and Jonas on a job well done, they were intercepted by Frank, Eve and Bengt who all came running over to the main exit of the Meduza - well, Bengt lumbered along.

Frank offered his daughter a slapping high-five before he pulled her into a new hug that ended in a fair-sized squeeze. "Fantastic work, Xandra… thank you. Miss Weissberg thanks you too. I think you deserve a gold shield for all your hard work. Didn't Xena have a golden shield at one point?"

"I think that was Wonder Woman, Dad…"


Grinning, Xandra pulled back to look at her father. "But I didn't actually do anything… it was all Gail. She was so brave, Dad… you should have seen her!"

While that was going on, Bengt congratulated Jonas by slapping the young teen hard on the back. "Fan, du är en sjuhelvetes karl, Jonas… skitbra gjort, kompis!" he said in Swedish though Jonas could only understand a syllable here and there. "You want a chili dog or something?  I could eat," Bengt continued in English.

As Emily and her mother were met by two EMTs and helped away to an ambulance that had backed up to the main exit, Gail was nearly bowled over by a whirlwind that passed a strong resemblance to her mom. The two Pendergasts squealed and gave each other strong backrubs before they pulled apart wearing identical grins.

"I am very, very proud of you, young lady," Eve said and touched her daughter's nose. "When we get home, Janet and I will make sure you are well-pampered. And tomorrow afternoon… what do you think about hot chocolate and a whipped cream layer cake?  With cherries on top?"

The squeal that followed nearly blew out the windows of the nearby ambulance, and the happy dance that came immediately after the squeal underscored the fact that Gail Pendergast was quite pleased about her reward.

"You should be proud, Eve," Frank said as he wrapped an arm around his daughter's waist. "Xandra just told me that it was in fact Gail who rescued Emily Weissberg, and she did so single-handedly."

Gail blushed and shrugged and shuffled around and blushed a little more, but she didn't have time to say much before she was pulled into another strong hug by her mother.

"I love you, Gail, and so does Janet," Eve Pendergast whispered for her daughter's ears only.

"I love you both, Mom," Gail whispered back.

"So," Frank said, "I think we've had all the excitement we could have asked for. How about we all went over to Professor DiMento's candy store and stocked up the Halloween bags and then drove home?  Mrs. Pendergast has kindly invited us over for the rest of the evening. I suppose we could watch a… oh, I don't know… an episode of Hercules or something?"

"Oh, Dad!" Xandra groaned, clapping a hand over her eyes.

"I kinda like Hercules," Jonas mumbled. "Especially the episodes where Iolaus does something goofy. Or when they fight all the big monsters…" When nobody seemed to agree with him, he dug into his bag of candy to check if he had any liquorice sticks left. He did, and he scooped one of them up wearing a big grin.

Eve Pendergast chuckled along with the rest of them before she mussed her daughter's hair. "I think we should let Gail choose the first Xena episode. She's earned that privilege."

"Oh!  Oh… uh… okay… which one… oh, it doesn't have to be a Halloween episode, does it?" Gail said, chewing on her fingernails to get her brain to parse her list of favorite episodes. "'Cos I feel like watching a romantic one… Many Happ- no, I just watched that… or maybe a funny one… A Day In The- no, that turns so violent with the dead giant and stuff… maybe The Quill Is Mightier… oh, but that's really silly… the fish-fight…"

They all chuckled at Gail's indecisiveness before Frank stepped forward again. "We have plenty of time to sort it out, Gail. Come on, I think the candy store is calling our names."

"Yippie!  Xena, Joxer… follow me!  I can already taste the ambrosia!"

Xandra, the Warrior Princess, let out a most un-Warrior Princess-like squeal and hurried after her best friend. Joxer kept up the rear like he had been told, but even he moved faster than usual.

The three adults laughed out loud at the antics before they set off for the candy store at a slightly more sedate pace. Another Halloween adventure involving the trio of friends had nearly become major headline news, and it was only just past four thirty in the afternoon. There were still more than seven hours to go until the witching hour, so Xandra Collings, Gail Pendergast and Jonas Ohlsson would have plenty of opportunity to get into the special kind of trouble that seemed to seek them out on a yearly basis…