Dreaming of Big Sur in the moonlight, of the little waterfall that tumbled into the sea, Raina abruptly found herself running through tall grass while wearing a blue, purple, and yellow tutu.

Or attempting to – there was something wrong with her hips as well as her feet, which were frozen en pointe so that her run was more of an involuntary drag.

Worse, she was also trying to keep up with a Polar bear.

Yes, a Polar bear.

Only instead of the usual white like in all the nature specials on t.v., this one, in a bizarre mingling of pink, white, and gold rocketed ponderously forward on huge cotton candy colored paws, sending screaming children in all directions like startled quail.

"This is stupid, what the hell am I doing in a tutu?" Raina yelled, "I got kicked out of ballet because I called the teacher a fart-breathed moron after I climbed on the barre and broke it when I was six!" Then Raina realized she'd been mistaken: she was pelting along in a t-shirt and jeans, feet in her favorite worn-out sneakers, one hand resting on the creature's massive pink and gold shoulders as it charged along like an old-fashioned steam locomotive in one of the old John Wayne movies her dad loved.

Which was even dumber – what the hell did a John Wayne style choo-choo have to do with anything— especially if there was a bear in a hurry involved?

Raina stumbled over a hobby-horse, and then a hula hoop, hands tangling in the thick fur carpeting the sunset-colored bear's massive shoulders. With a clumsy, running heave, she vaulted onto the bear's lurching back mid-stride, landing hard, the muscles of it's body rippling and shifting between her knees, rushing through a landscape that was one second a child's idea of Paradise and the next a cold gray maze stretching into infinity beneath a flat gray sky and back again, all of it lifting and dropping like the deck of an aircraft carrier caught in a violent storm.

Whap! Whap! Whap! What the bear's broad back was doing to her backside reminded Raina of the last day of ballet class ever. Her father, who'd been sitting bored out of his mind in his uniform among the ballet mommies while her six older brothers argued over the one Gameboy they collectively owned, overheard her blunt critique of Mrs. Touche's chronic halitosis. That plus the property damage had been the final straw. He'd grabbed Raina by the ear and once in the parking lot, used her backside as a bongo.


Then he'd driven all of them back home, sending Raina and her six brothers to their rooms, while he spent the rest of the evening cleaning the garage.

Which didn't need cleaning.

By himself.

Anyway, she'd liked Pop Warner Football as a Tiny Mite a whole helluva lot better – plus her dad got a group discount because of her older brothers.

So what if she'd been the only girl in the entire league?

Whap! Whap! Whap! Raina found herself tipping sideways even as she went up and down, butt screaming in outrage as her heels flew up and down in time to her unconventional steed's ground eating strides with the Shaggy Dog coming in second place. Maybe allowing herself to be dragged wouldn't have been so bad after all…

Then the bear stopped so abruptly that Raina found herself flying ass over teakettle before landing with a yelp in a candy corn bush that smelled of lemon furniture polish… and spaghetti?

"Oh heavens, are you all right?" a small neon yellow cartoonish-looking bear Raina had never noticed before waddled over and anxiously helped her to her feet, "Mike didn't hurt you, did he?"

"Oh shut up, Freddles." The little girl with the blue paper bunny ears roughly shoved Raina's rescuer aside, "Ignore him, will ya? Dumbutt here ain't… one of us." Clutching Raina's hand, she beamed up at her, pop eyes nearly squeezed shut with delight, "Even if he was, he'd still be dumber than me, the big crybaby!"

"Why do you walking tombs always have to be so mean?" Green eyes downcast, little yellow bear turned away, sadly adjusting his purple bow tie, "It's not my fault I hurt a child, Bon Bon. The bad boys put his head in my mouth. Mike hid me after I ran away or they'd've put me in the scooper!"

"Get lost— even for a mere A.I. you're too lame, sticky, and gross to be around us real ones!" Bon Bon sneered, leading a limping Raina away from the weird bush. She pulled Raina down and whipered loudly in her ear, "He doesn't even have a soul - even if he ever does get caught, he can't even die properly - loser!" There was a loud, incoherent roaring of static nearby followed by another high pitched girly scream. Letting go of Raina's hand and wrapping her blue paper ears over her eyes, Bon Bon fell to her knees, whispering, "Uh oh. Now they've done it— Mike's really mad this time…"