Now, after the leak had been patched and the Big Engine was no longer in danger, Bang!opolis began charging up a great supply of his thunderbolts. He had had word from the DrizzleMasters and the Venturi that they planned to make this a Premier Winter, and he wanted to be ready.

The Spanakopiti, being most excellent engineers, knew that it took a lot of power to charge even a small thunderbolt. Much power had been drawn already, but much more power would be needed, and the Big Engine would soon be utilized to its fullest capacity.

Of course, with its new capacitor, brought from Mexico, the Engine could handle the load. But in a truly Premier Winter, fuel supply could become a problem. The Big Engine ran best on diesel, but if sufficient diesel were not available, it could run on almost anything . . . even brandy.

"Brandy?" said the Zom. "Hmmmm. Interesting. Very interesting."

And then there came a pall upon the land, for winter had begun in earnest, and everything was covered with soft white snow. The DrizzleMasters were well pleased; Ventus went blowing here and there, piling all the snow in high drifts and for a time creating quite a blizzard. Wraith Lake froze to a hard crust.

Indoors, all were snug. The Spanakopiti hunkered in their homes. Spanakopitus sat by the fire with Polaris at his feet; in the kitchen, Spanakopitae baked a dessert. The Zom were tucked away with their charcoaled wood and their brandy. Kinkajou snuggled with them warmly, being a creature of the tropics.

Up in the PerSisters, Wise Old fluffed his owl down, the better to keep warm. He was getting hungry, for with the winter's snow, all the small mice had bunkered in their tight little nests. Not much was stirring, except for a visitor, CawCawJoe the crow, who arrived in a black huff and settled next to Wise Old.

"Cawwwwful," said CawCawJoe, ruffling his steel-blue feathers. "Not much to eat around here. Cawww-wwful."

"Sometimes the Lady of the House puts out suet for us," said Wise Old.

"Sure wish she'd hop to it," said CawCawJoe.


No one spoke of the gnawing worry growing among the Spanakopiti and the Zom. No one mentioned that the TrailMaster had not been seen in quite a time, nor heard from. No one dared put a name to the fear that he may have come to harm, out there in the bleak and desolate winter.

Till one snowy day, Spanakopitus called on Bang!opolis with a suggestion. (It was only a suggestion, because nobody gave orders to Bang!opolis--not even Ventus.)

"Would you, my friend," asked Spanakopitus very politely, "would you possibly consider riding one of your thunderbolts around a bit and seeing if you could locate any sign of the TrailMaster? Because no one knows where he is, and some folks are beginning to, uh, worry a little. For his safety, you know."

"Since you put it so nicely," said Bang!opolis, "it's been getting stuffy and boring around here lately--I wouldn't mind getting out for a while."

So Bang!opolis rummaged around and came up with a very large-capacity bolt which he hooked up to the capacitor for a day and a night, till it had absorbed a goodly charge. Then Flash! Bang! off he went, quartering the land this way and that.

By and by, from his bolt in the sky, way across the county, deeply drifted with snow, Bang!opolis spotted the deserted farmhouse that had once belonged to Spanakopitus, in his early career before he became so wealthy. Smoke spiraled from its chimney, and from the barn a horse whinnied.

That's him, I'll bet, thought Bang!opolis. That's the TrailMaster. He's safely snowbound. And he steered his bolt carefully into the yard, so as not to burn or bump anything too badly.

Inside, the TrailMaster was comfortably ensconsed, sitting by the fire enjoying his pipe, PolarisOne at his side. They had been unable to cross the River of Receding Dreams before it became a raging torrent. Now there was nothing to do but wait for it to go back within its banks.

The TrailMaster had known everyone would worry about him, but there was no option: he had to stay put and wait it out. It was all right, though, for he had made peace with himself and with the Ridge of Receding Dreams. He was content in his solitude.

He had killed a fat elk, which he dressed out and hung in the barn, and there were ample stores laid by in the farmhouse. Together with a good supply of the Zom's fine brandy, left from the delivery to his friends in the southern parts, it made a handsome larder. Later he would replace the stores he had used and he would pay Spanakopitus for what he could not replace. But he knew everyone's chief concern would be his safety, so the TrailMaster was resting easy.

11: Too Much of a Good Thing