Bernie Hoxstetler was bored with his life. That’s not to say he was depressed, or angry, or suicidal. After who knows how many years of the same old thing, he was just plain bored.
Every morning he arose to find his breakfast ready for him at the door of his penthouse suite: oatmeal with raisins, two pieces of wheat toast with a pad of butter (not margarine), a grapefruit and a cup of coffee. It had been the same breakfast for as long as he could remember. For some reason, the hotel didn’t leave a menu and he was never early enough to catch the waiter who brought breakfast, and so he ended up with the same breakfast, day after day, week after week.
He ate his breakfast while sitting in bed watching the morning talk show on TV. At least he used to. When he wasn’t watching some of the cleaning staff had misplaced his remote, while switching the channel to the nature network. Now he had scenic panoramas of the beach and a beautiful rising sun, stories about exotic birds and not much more. It was entertaining for a while, but lately it had been getting on his nerves. He did appreciate the quality of the TV set here; it was almost like being there. Sometimes he could almost smell the sea air, he thought.
This was one of those mornings. He sat back and poured cream over his oatmeal while he watched the Nature Channel’s Ode to a Spring Morning take place in front of him. He knew the program well.
“And three, two, one…now!” Bernard said, waiting for the inevitable two doves to settle at the lower edge of the TV set. He had already named them Bert and Ernie. He knew that it was just a TV program, but once in a while he put a few crumbs from his toast on the sill beneath the TV, and he would swear that they picked at them. But he knew that was just his imagination.
Today his two friends were slow in coming. He waited and waited for them, but they didn’t appear. Instead he heard a human voice, just out of sight in the TV.
“A little help here, please,” the voice said.
Frowning, Bernie stared at the light from the TV. He didn’t move, and if he had had the remote, he would have switched the channel. Instead he heard the voice again.
“Hello in there,” the voice said. It sounded like the voice of a young girl.
“Hello,” he said back to the TV.
“Can you help me?”
“I…I don’t know how I can help you,” he said. “You’re on TV.” He placed his tray on the bed and stood up.
“I don’t know what a TV is,” the voice said. “Can you come to the window please?”
“What window?” Bernie asked.
“Do you see the sun coming up? Walk toward it.”
The only rising sun he could see was on the television set. He slowly walked toward the bright light of the TV.
“That’s it,” the voice said. “A little closer. Closer.”
Soon Bernie was standing in front of his TV set. In amazement, he realized that the closer he got to the set, the more he could see in the image area. Standing in front of it, he now saw not only the rising sun and the ocean it had risen over, but now saw the shoreline, sandy beaches and a spit of land that curved around and formed a bay beneath him.
“Amazing,” he whispered to himself. “This TV is 3-D, and I never even realized it.”
“Hello,” he heard the voice say again. He turned to his left and saw a young girl about fifteen hanging from a rope. She was suspended along a stone wall. His eyes followed the rope up and over the stone wall high above his head.
“Amazing,” he said again. “Interactive TV. What will they think of next?”
“Dr. Hoxstetler? You are Dr. Hoxstetler?” she asked.
He nodded, then shook his head. “If this is interactive TV, then you should see the name on my account. Actually, it’s probably in my wife’s name. She takes care of all the bill paying, after all.”
“But you are Dr. Hoxstetler? You did work Under the Mountain?”
He shrugged. “Call me Bernie.”
“Fine, Bernie. My name is Mira. My friend Leef is somewhere down there holding on to the other end of this rope.”
“It’s a fascinating story,” Bernie said. “A lot more entertaining than what’s been on this frequency before. You say your friend’s name is Kenneth?”
“No, Leef. We’ve come to rescue you.”
“Rescue me? Ha, that’s a laugh. First of all, you’re stuck in there in that TV set. How do you plan to climb out of there and rescue me. Second, I have never stiffed a hotel for a bill in my entire life. I’m not about to now. And you can tell Kenneth the same thing.”
“You’re not in a hotel, Bernie. You’re a prisoner of King Zhukov and you are locked away in the tower of his castle.”
Bernie frowned at the latest news. The idea that he was locked in the tower of a medieval castle made sense in that his room was decorated in dreary gray with stone walls, the bolt on the outside of his door, and that he had not seen another human in a very long time.
“But how did I get here? Where is my wife? Who’s going to feed Bert and Ernie?”
Mira shook her head. “Listen, I don’t know about your wife, and I don’t know Bert and Ernie. But I do know that it is getting light pretty fast here, and that sooner or later the guards will see me hanging here. Unless you find a way to pull me into your room there, their arrows will turn me into a pincushion.”
Bernie smiled at that. “Or a porcupine.”
“What’s a porcupine?” Mira asked. “Never mind. Can you find something to pull my rope over? Or for me to grab?”
He looked around his small room but found nothing. Then he had an idea, and snapped his fingers.
“I have it! I will soak my sheet with water, hang it out the window. Then when winter comes, it will freeze. Then I will hold it out like a pole and you can pull yourself over.”
Mira looked over at him and said nothing, but frowned. When he didn’t respond, she finally said, “Can you find something heavy to tie to the end of your sheet? Then just throw it over.”
Bernie listened to her, then nodded. “Even better.”
He looked around and finally found his slippers. He didn’t believe that one was heavy enough for his purposes, and so he tied both slippers to the end of the sheet. He walked back to the TV set—which he was now realizing was actually an open window—and began to swing the shoes in a big circle, first up, then down. After the shoes had looped over his head three times, he let go of the sheet and it flew toward Mira. The young girl caught the slippers and the sheet.
“Now I will hold onto the end of the sheet and you pull me over,” she said.
Bernie listened and nodded. He pulled and within a minute, Mira was at the edge of his window, and he helped her inside.
“Whew!” she said when she entered. “What is that smell?”
“Maid’s day off,” Bernie said.
“Listen to me, Bernie,” Mira said. “I didn’t come here just because I wanted to rescue you. I came because I need you. My brother was kidnapped, and has been taken to the City Under the Mountain. Leef has a ship and he has agreed to take us there. But only you know how to get there and how to get in.”
Bernie listened and nodded. Mira waited for his response. Finally it came.
“I LIKE this story!” Bernie said. “This is exciting! It reminds me of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.”
“I don’t know those people,” Mira said. “Are they here in Sparta?” She shook her head, exasperated. “Listen, Bernie…Dr. Hoxstetler. Will you help us?”
“Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope,” he responded, grinning. “Sure, let’s go.”
Mira looped and tied one end of the sheet around herself, wrapped it around the rope, then looped and tied the other end around Bernie. Finally, she jerked on the rope and it began to grow taut, the lower part of it pulling away from the tower wall. Bernie leaned out and saw Leef, aka Kenneth, far below them leading a massive auroch on a leash away from the castle. Their rope was attached to it.
“No time to waste,” Mira said, sitting on the edge of the window. “Let go!”
“May the force be with us!” shouted Bernie as the two of them, wrapped in the sheet, slid down the rope to the ground.
“That was awesome,” Bernie said. “Can we do it again?” He turned to the young man holding the leash of the auroch. “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?”
“Is this him?” Leef asked Mira, an annoyed look coming into his face.
“It had better be,” Mira said. “Between your stolen boat and his rescue, we are quickly becoming well-known criminals.”
“Maybe we’ll show up on America’s Most Wanted,” Bernie said. “We’re going to be famous!”
“Bernie,” Mira said. “We are going to try to avoid that as much as possible.”
The three of them left the auroch behind, and Bernie and Mira followed Leef to his waiting ship.