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When The Zebra Came To Town

It is said that there is a zebra with the power to transport people to any period in the past. One day it actually happened in the little town of Sofar; so called because it was the last town on the map in South Metro before you reached the unchartered area of The Beyond.
  The zebra was first seen early one Sunday morning; it was standing in the middle of Jacko and Walter Streets, the only intersection in town. The thoroughfares were named after the two men who made the solitary directional sign; Jacko carved the post from an old shed support and Walter who considered himself the Rembrandt of the Bush, painted the street names. Mrs. McGuire, one of the many pensioners in town, was the first to come across the animal and immediately rushed to the police station where Sergeant Harper listened to her complaint. Although he never really saw it as a complaint, but the way Mrs. McGuire spoke she made it sound like she was complaining and that the police, namely William Harper (he hated to be called Bill) the only officer in town, should do something about it. He took his wide brimmed hat off the wall rack and escorted her to the intersection. By the time they go there (which was some two-hundred metres south of the station) a sizable crowd had gathered, which Harper assessed was probably close to the total population of twenty-seven. He asked if anybody knew anything about the animal.
  The only one to speak was the zebra.
  It told them that someone could travel to any time in history, not the future, and stressed that only one person could go. Harper asked who was allowed to make that choice. The zebra responded that it did not care. Harper asked one more question: would that person return. The zebra nodded then added that they would return twenty-three hours after leaving.
  The zebra was not asked how it was able to talk nor questioned over its ability to time travel. But they could hear and they wanted to believe.
  There was mass excitement at this prospect, and of course arguments broke out about who should be the chosen one. Harper suggested that they draw lots like a lottery.
  “Maybe the old cannot survive the trip.” Young Brenton, the butcher’s apprentice suggested. His girlfriend Laura agreed.
  “The zebra never said anything about age being a factor,” Mrs. McGuire yelled back. “I think I should be the one to go because I saw the zebra first.”
  “You’ve never been outside this town in your life,” Mr. Garret from Garret’s  Groceries said. “Why would you want to go anywhere now?”
  “I think the lottery is still the way to go,” Harper suggested again. Then he looked at the zebra. The zebra did not look at anyone but remained motionless, its tail flicking flies away from its backside.
  Janet Burgess, president of the Rotary Club spoke up. “Where would we want to go anyway?”
  And so the next fifteen minutes were spent realising that the town’s combined knowledge of history wouldn’t get them past round one of any quiz show. Finally, Annie Clayton suggested they go to the town’s library to consult a few history books.
  They all arrived at the doorsteps of Annie’s white weatherboard house which doubled up as the library. Annie’s husband, Rick, an out of work electrician, was not too thrilled at being woken up by the rest of the town’s population using his house as a reading area. When he heard the story of the talking zebra he just went back to bed saying that the town had obviously gone stark raving mad. The sum total of the library collection filled a small bookcase that would have been impressive in a dolls house. On the second shelf marked The World were two history books: one covered European history from Socrates to the end of the Great War with pages forty-three to ninety-seven missing, presumed stolen and representing some five hundred years of history, while the other covered Spanish Conquerors in South America.
  “Not exactly the Encyclopaedia Britannica is it?” Harper remarked. “But as we’re a bunch of anti technocrats, with no electricity, and no computers in a place that the government has generously called a town purely for taxation purposes I suppose beggars can’t be choosers.”
  “It was then that fourteen year old Danny Fuller, who lived with his uncle Max the local beekeeper, raised his hand like he was in school.
  “Yes, Danny,” Harper said.
  “Why don’t we ask the zebra for some recommendations? I suppose it’s done this many times before.”
  “At last, somebody’s thinking,” said George Bendix, the local mechanic and publican. The crowd, now filled with renewed enthusiasm, raced back to the zebra. But the animal could not offer any destinations saying that that decision was the exclusive province of the person going back in time. When asked how long they had left to decide the zebra replied one hour from the time of its arrival. Mrs. McGuire made the quick calculation that they had roughly twenty minutes to decide.
  “What will happen after that?” Harper asked.
  The zebra replied that it would leave, never to return again.
  “Well we can’t have that,” George Bendix said adamantly. “Okay, let’s draw lots like William said.”
  “What’s the point of that” commented Danny, “if none of us knows where we want to go?”
  “Boy’s got a point,” Harper said, the frustration starting to show on his weathered face. Finally, “Well does anybody have any idea where they would like to go back in the past…to see a relative, maybe? See some famous person…anyone. It would seem a damn shame if we let this opportunity pass us by.”
  A few people started the obligatory scratching of the head, some looked at each other as if that person should know someone.
  Then Mr. Harley, the sometimes Bank Manager and Sports Club Secretary piped up. “Can we bring things back?”
  Suddenly everybody knew where he was headed. But it was young Danny who said the word, “You mean money?”
  Mr. Harley seemed momentarily embarrassed. “Not necessarily. But maybe…or things…like objects. And can we take anything?”
  They all looked at the zebra who advised them that they could only come back with what they took in the first place. That made them as excited as having an old dishcloth thrown in their faces.
  Harper looked totally frustrated. “Maybe we don’t really want to go anywhere?”
   Mrs. McGuire was outraged. “What! We’ve got to make the most of this. I don’t care if I only go back to yesterday and stop my cat from getting run over by Jackson’s truck.”
  Jackson immediately retaliated. “I never did it on purpose, you silly old cow. You were chasing it out of your front yard, screaming and yelling as if you had a cockroach crawling up your arse.” That raised a few chuckles and seemed to cool the air momentarily.
  The zebra continued shooing flies.
  Fifty-seven minutes after the zebra appeared the decision was made; Father Ryan, the local parish priest would return to the past to the time when Christ rose from the dead. His explanation was that the credibility of Catholicism hinged wholly on this event because if Jesus never came back from the dead then He obviously wasn’t the Son of God, and therefore the conclusion must be that Christianity had no more credibility than any of the other pseudo religions or myths.
  He was instructed to climb onto the zebra, and as he did so they both faded with the zebra promising that the priest would return at the expiration of twenty-three hours. Their departure saw no gale force winds and no-one heard any trumpets or dramatic science fiction film soundtrack; there was just a simple fading away into silence.
  It would be fair to say that nobody in Sofar slept much that night. Most stayed late at the pub, which remained open way past the legal hour burning more candles and using more kerosene in its lamps than anyone could remember. Everyone had been there except Annie’s husband who, believing that the town was still suffering from mass hallucinations, was content to stay home and continue his forty-two thousand piece jigsaw puzzle which when completed would depict a power station against a cloudy sky.
  It was a quarter past nine, not quite twenty-three hours since father Ryan had left and the town’s folk had gathered at the now famous intersection, renamed Zebra Crossing. Walter had been up most of the night painting the new sign and reckoned it was his best effort to date, even signing his name at the bottom of the metal plate. Jacko had helped him nail it up in place of the original sign just a few hours ago. The sky was clear and it was a moderately warm morning for Spring. Mrs. McGuire had brought a tray with a pot of tea and a packet of Yo-Yo biscuits. Mrs. Blake, a retired nurse, brought a first aid kit thinking that there might have been some unforeseen accident during the time travel ordeal.
  On the button at nine-thirty-four Father Ryan appeared, standing alone.
  They all stared at him, recognising him yet realising that there was something different. His was a look of resignation.
  Harper walked up to him then pushed his police hat up slightly by its peak. “Are you all right, Father?”
  Father Ryan turned slightly to face the policeman but said nothing, his eyes looking down at the ash felt of the intersection
  “Did you see Him?” Annie asked urgently. Did you see the Lord Jesus Christ, Father?” She did a sign of the cross as she spoke. “Did He rise from the dead?”
  The priest looked up at the towns’ people and then turned to the woman, his face breaking out into a smile. Everyone looked at each other then back to the time traveller.
  Harper went closer and held Father Ryan by the arms. “What?” he asked. “What is it? Tell us.”
  Then the priest spoke. “The zebra told me…” He paused, cleared his throat then continued. “…when you go back in time to when civilizations exit then you will take the place of someone, otherwise you will impact on history by your presence. The zebra elaborated. You simply cannot expect to show up and exist in a time when history shows you never did.” Again he paused as if looking for the right words.
  “Do you want a cup of tea?” Mrs. McGuire asked, the packet of biscuits almost roiling off the tray in her eagerness to take centre stage, but Harper waved her away as he let the priest compose himself. Then Father Ryan continued.
  ”I took Christ’s place.” Again he paused then gave a slight chuckle. “I was Christ.”
  “And?” Harper asked.
  “Nothing. I died.” Then he gave an almost insane laughter as he looked Harper in the eyes. “And when the twenty-three hours had passed, I rose from the dead by disappearing before the eyes of Mary Magdalen.”
  As he walked away the priest removed his white collar and let it drop to the ground.

The Woog

We entered the Sweet & Sour Restaurant and stood facing the menu board; drawn in brightly coloured chalk was the only special of the day; Swamp Soup. I glanced sideways at my wife to see if she found it any more tempting than me. Her facial contortions suggested otherwise.
  We turned to scan the room for a table to our liking when a raucous noise broke out like spontaneous combustion from behind the restaurant’s counter; twin dwarfs chased each other around to the front. While peering over his shoulder at his partner in crime the small boy ran into my left leg then looked up slightly dazed. I helped him to his feet then asked what his name was.
  His blue skin turned red as he answered, “Quiddy.”
  His sister now looked over at the two grown ups that her brother was engaged with.
  “And what’s your name, sweetheart?” Alice asked, looking in her direction.
  The girl walked cautiously to us then stuck her fist inside her mouth, bit down hard as if the beginning of a strange ritual then answered, “Quaddy,” and turned blue from her natural red.
  “Nice tone,” Alice commented ignoring the teeth indented knuckles.
  “My tone’s nicer,” Quiddy interjected before hitting his sister on the arm which started the whole chasy thing again. They disappeared back behind the counter, their colours alternating with each verbal exchange. I wondered about the ethics of genetic engineering then let it slide into that void of indecision.
  “Do you really think this is the best place to eat?” Alice asked while glancing at the sparsely decorated oriental setting.
  “Entertainment not to your liking?” I jested.
  Two elderly women dressed in light summer attire were seated at the back of the room eating quietly. They stopped to give us a cursory glace, but a lack of recognition quickly translated into a lack of interest and they resumed eating.
  “Anyway,” I continued, “ Steve from Accounts said that this was the best place in Quarter Town for exotic oriental cuisine and as we were in the neighbourhood, so as to speak, I thought we might give it a go.” But before I had finished the sentence I realised the blunder.
  “Steve recommended it.” Alice was quick on the draw. “ Don’t tell me he did a Jesus?” Then she looked up as if finding inspiration from the pressed metal ceiling, “When was it? Oh yes, it was just last month you listened to your mate and ended up swimming in a sewer.” Then she shook her head. “Did they find his body, or did he just walk back into your office as if nothing had happened?”
  “No, they never found him, and as far as I know he is still very dead. No miracles. Anyway, before I was interrupted, he recommended this place before that night. Besides, you know damn well that we went down the sewers looking for a Woog. I told you when I got home. I just never expected…well… that it would get violent; I certainly didn’t realise Steve had a gun. And to be honest I didn’t even know what we were looking for. Steve was the only one that knew what a Woog looked like.”
  Alice was shell shocked. Then, “You never told me you were looking for a Woog!”
  “Sure I did.”
  “You most certainly did not.”
  “When I got home…”
  “When you got home you stank to high heaven and kept repeating that Steve had been killed; something about running into a gang that recognised your mate from a deal that had gone bad in the past and that you had ran away unseen. There was no mention of a Woog.” Alice stopped to catch her breath then as if releasing a final burst of energy, “You know I have always been interested in this mysterious creature and would have gone with you.” She looked hurt.
  There was no defence for that one as I struggled to remember if I had told her. “Well as it turned out it was just as well you hadn’t. You might have got hurt.” I reached out my hand. “Or worse…”.
  “You wish to order?”
  We saw everything above his chin. The little Korean man stood behind the stainless steel counter, and in this age of genetic gambles, he might have had two legs, or he might have been legless on a trolley.
  “You came here to eat, I presume?”
  “Er…yes,” I answered. “We were considering the Swamp Soup.”
  “My name is Yu Poo-Ky,” he replied softly. “I am the master chef.” Then he looked at Alice. She felt as if that one look drained her of every thought she had ever had and believed it when he continued. “You have some misgiving about the soup?”
  Alice tried to sound gracious in her honesty. “Swamp Soup doesn’t exactly send ripples down my saliva glands.”
  “It is a unique dish of this establishment,” Yu Poo-Ky replied, bowing and disappearing completely behind the reflective counter in the process. Then he reappeared, smiling.
“Please. You will allow me to serve a generous helping of today’s special, and if it is in any way not to your satisfaction then I will not charge you.” He bowed his head fractionally this time and closed what little of his eyes was open. He remained in this apparent frieze until we answered. We looked at each other. Alice still unconvinced but nodded anyway.
  “Sounds fair,” I replied.
  Yu Poo-Ky’s eyes might have reopened, it was hard to tell, but he did smile a toothy grin then answered, “Excellent. My granddaughter will seat you in a prime location.” He turned around using either his legs or the trolley and clapped his hands in the direction of the kitchen. A wafer thin Korean girl with long jet black hair, and whose age seemed indeterminable, emerged from a big red door wearing a joy bag around her waist. She ushered us over by the central window that was flanked by a simple but effective arrangement of bamboo. There were a couple of cane chairs and the table was square and covered in a black cloth that hung well over the table’s edge with a heavy gilt fringe. There was no cutlery, only two white napkins that looked like spring rolls. The large rectangular window gave an uninterrupted view of Cemetery Nine.
  We sat down but Alice looked puzzled. She looked up at the girl “Excuse me for asking, but your joy bag seems larger than normal. Why is that?”
  The girl bowed and replied in a whisper suggesting a secret. “It contains my Woog.”
  Alice’s hands suddenly clenched tight as if her reflexes had just been tested with ten thousand volts.
  I asked, “Have you had it long?” Alice’s hands now went up and formed an A frame on her elbows, her voice still fumbling for speech patterns.
  The girl blushed. “I am not permitted to say,” she answered, politely.
  “Oh, of course, “Alice finally contributed. “We didn’t mean to pry.”
  “Yes,” I added. “We are just curious. We’ve never seen one. Heard about them…but never actually seen one.”
  “I would be privileged to show you but I cannot,” The girl said, still blushing slightly.
  “We understand,” Alice lied. “We don’t wish to compromise your position as carrier.”
  “Thank you for being so understanding. Are you ready to order?” Her pen hovered over her small hand pad like a humming bird.
  “The master chef has suggested a sampling of the Swamp Soup.” I replied.
  “Excellent choice.” She made some quick scribbles on her pad then hurried away, her joy bag swaying moderately with the extra weight of the Woog.
 “Can you believe it?” Alice remarked as she reached across the table and squeezed my hands. “Do you think Steve knew? “
 “Can’t imagine why he would have dragged me through a stinking sewer and then end up dead if we could have just walked in here.”
  “Maybe he knew that you wouldn’t actually be able to see it.”
  “I doubt it. Besides, the girl might only have had it a few days or a week. Who knows.” I noticed Alice was distracted by something happening outside. I searched for her point of focus. “Ah, the digging. Looks like they’re exhuming someone.”
  “Or something,” she added. It’s certainly an impressive panorama. Look at all those electronic crucifixions lining the main thoroughfare. Not often you get to see so many in one area.”
  “Well everybody knows the government is cracking down on gene crims. DIY in DNA programming must be rife in this part of the city.” I shifted uneasily searching for an imaginary soft spot in the cane chair. “Certainly can’t complain about the deal.”
  “Don’t kid yourself,” Alice responded. “I am yet to be convinced about this Swamp Soup. But I admit it’s worth it just to be in the same premises as a Woog. Can’t be very big if it fits into her joy bag.”
  “Pity she couldn’t show us.” I added. Alice nodded.
  We both took turns at casting our eyes over the eldery couple to our right. Whatever it was that they were eating it seemed to have held their attention since the time we had been there; not a word had passed their lips. Movement caught my eye in front. “Looks like the soup.” Alice turned to look over her shoulder then back at me. “They’re small bowls.”
  “And you’re complaining?”
  The girl placed the two white porcelain bowls in front of us, her joy bag swinging slightly. As she bent down I noticed Alice try to peek into the bag then quickly divert her eyes when the girl noticed. She apologised before the girl had time to be offended.
  “I’m sure you will enjoy the soup,” the girl said then sauntered off making sure her joy bag was not displaying the Woog from the bag’s loose top flap.
  We inspected the soup with our hands in our laps. Our heads bent closer letting the steam rise into our faces like incense. Alice looked up at me. “Smells all right,” she said, then flicked her long auburn hair out of the way and over her shoulders.
  “Doesn’t look like any soup I remember.” I said, then picked up the blue and white porcelain ladle and stirred the thick contents deliberately in my quest to identify any of it. “What do you make of these green lumpy bits? Bok Choy?”
  Alice began some of her own playful investigations. “I don’t think so. But then I’m no expert when it comes to identifying oriental vegetables.”
  I looked again at the other customers. “ Well, they seem to be enjoying their meals.” Alice gave them a look. “Could be ring-ins to make us feel good. Besides, they don’t look like they’re eating Swamp Soup.”
  “Why do you think they call it Swamp Soup?” I asked not expecting Alice to know.
  “Do I look like the chef?”
  “No need to get your nickers in a knot. Just asking a rhetorical question.”
  “Well save your rhetorical questions for the TV.”
  One thing was certain; neither of us were keen to fill the ladle and bring it to the alter of taste, preferring instead to keep prodding the ingredients like we were inspectors from the Academy of Soups.
  ”Well I’m game ,” I said finally. “After all, if we don’t like it, we don’t pay for it. Right?”
  “If we don’t like it, we will probably choke on it,” she answered. “So go ahead, Mr. Connoisseur, take a mouthful and see how far you get to the toilet before it becomes airborne.”
  “Your confidence is too generous, darling.” Then I scooped up a full ladle and emptied it into my mouth with as much bravado as I could find.  Alice looked hard, firstly at the oesophagus…no…no swallowing there. Then the mouth…no movement, no tasting. Then she gave up. “So?”
  I swallowed with a poker face.
  “Well?” Alice asked, her ladle on standby.
  “Well…I think that it is the…the… best God damn soup ever.” Then I burst out laughing. “You should have seen your face just now. I haven’t seen a look like that since the government announced free cremations to those who die on Xmas Day.”
  Even Alice managed a smile. “All right, here goes.”
  It took less than three minutes for us to finish the soup. Yu Poo-Ky came out with his granddaughter. I noticed that he did have legs; they were just very, very short. “Can I assume by the empty bowls that you enjoyed it as opposed to being polite?” he asked as his granddaughter picked up the bowls and ladles.
  “I don’t know what the ingredients were, “Alice said, “but it was delicious.”
  The old man seemed pleased and bowed. “There are over thirty-seven herbs and spices in Swamp Soup. Many are subtle in their presence and by themselves not very promising, but together a most rewarding treat for the palette. Many are chosen for their taste, others for their medicinal qualities, others for their texture.” He glanced at the young girl. That was enough for her to scurry away to the kitchen. Our attention on the girl’s joy bag as she left, did not go unnoticed by the old man. “She is carrier to a Woog,” he said proudly.
  “Yes, she told us,” Alice admitted.
  “We are all proud,” replied Yu Poo-Ky. “Now may I interest you in a main course?”
  Alice and I scanned the menu board until Alice asked, “What would you recommend?”
  Again Yu Poo-Ky bowed slightly as if honoured by the chance to make another suggestion. “You could do worse than sample my humble attempt at Carnage Feast, or perhaps Rolling Noodles wrapped in green tongues.” Our negative reactions didn’t go unnoticed by the master chef. He went silent as his face took on a look of intrigue. An elongated forefinger rose slightly from his side. “Perhaps…” A sparkle escaped from the black slits …”a serve of Woog-Wam?”
  Our reactions were in unison; perplexed but very much interested.  Alice reached out for my hand again.
  Rubbing his spindly fingers together Yu Poo-Ky asked, “Do I sense my last suggestion has found favour?”
  I smiled warmly. “If it is anything like the soup then bring it on.”
  “How long will it take?” asked Alice. “Not that we care.” She hastily added. “Just curious.”
  “You will be savouring it in ten minutes, if that is not too long.”
  “No,” we replied.
  “Excellent,” the old chef answered, then turned in the direction of the kitchen.
  “Ahhh…” Alice started.
  Yu Poo-Ky stopped just short of the counter and turned back looking at my wife. “Is there something else?”
  “May I enquire as to what is in Woog-Wam?’ she asked.
  The old Korean smiled. “I thought women liked surprises.”
  “We do. I mean…I do. But…” She looked at me as if I was a wanted poster. “I think my husband would like to know but is too embarrassed to ask.”
  Yu Poo-Ky looked at me the way a snake looks at a mouse. I responded with as much bravery as any mouse under the circumstances. “I like surprises too.”
  “Good,” Yu Poo-Ky replied. “Then if that’s all, I won’t delay the course any longer. My granddaughter will be sent out for you to order drinks.” A few steps later and he disappeared beyond the red door.
  After ten minutes of trying to work out what might be in the main course we both finally gave up and decided to enjoy our drinks and take in the activities beyond the window frame. The elderly couple had since left and we had the place to ourselves. Suddenly the red door opened and the girl emerged. We nervously straightened our napkins in anticipation only to be disappointed as she went to clear the elderly couple’s table. My mind started wandering again. Nobody else had come in, but this was not altogether unexpected; it was Sunday afternoon and the weekend of the Exclusion Races. In fact, that was why we picked today to go out; we both hated those events. We’ve never seen the fun in watching DNA mistakes-which is what Hybroes are-racing through mobile nuclear reactors to see who survives the radiation. Gets rid of the freaks some say. But most now realise it is just the authorities way of legitimising the extermination of experiments gone wrong in the guise of entertainment and their inability to effectively close down the DIY DNA backyarders.
  On time the girl came out with two deep oval shaped porcelain bowls, much larger than the soup ones. As she placed them down in front of us we looked at them then at each other, then at the girl, then back at the bowls…
  They were empty.
  …and finally back at the girl. She smiled. “I will bring the Woog-Wam next” Then she was on her way back to the kitchen just as fleetingly as before.
  This time Yu Poo-Ky emerged with her. They were each carrying a handle of a large, round, silver container with a lid. It was carefully positioned in the middle of the table. We sat silently as if we were watching a delicate operation. Neither of us said a word. The chef instructed his granddaughter in Korean to do something. She quickly disappeared leaving her joy bag on the table. It was still. Alice and I looked at each other then at the bag, but remained silent. The girl returned almost immediately with the item that Yu Poo-Ky had obviously requested. We recognised it and asked if we could help, but our offer was respectfully declined as the old man and the girl unfolded the multi screen until the table was completely surrounded, protecting the view from people that might be passing on the other side of the window, or perhaps more importantly, any other customers that might enter the restaurant.
  “Very few customers have experienced this dish,” Yu Poo-Ky said. But I feel that both of you will especially appreciate it.” He extended his spindly fingers and slowly but carefully lifted the silvery metal lid. Our eyes widened as we leaned closer, but not so close as to intrude into the master chef’s working space. To outsiders Alice and I must have appeared like children being allowed to stay up late when expecting to have to go to bed. Yu Poo-Ky placed the lid to one side, the girl moved closer and reached for the joy bag which had remained motionless throughout this time. She lifted the flap. I could tell from the look on Alice’s face that she wanted to lean further forward and peer inside, but had thought better of it and remained at a respectful distance; just. Yu Poo-Ky smiled at us. “You have both shown more than a mild interest in the Woog. Now you will be given the rare privilege of seeing one.” He looked at his granddaughter, his hands now outstretched towards her. She moved closer to the joy bag and placed both hands inside. After rummaging for a few moments she withdrew the Woog.
  It was gripped with clasped hands and there was very little to see. It was small, alive, with flesh tones amid the darkness. Our eyes followed as she handed the Woog to her grandfather. He accepted it with an equally closed grip almost concealing perfectly whatever details conveyed the form within. Yu Poo-Ky held his closed hands over the silver dish of steaming hot fluid. He then glanced at both of us. “Behold, the Woog.” Then he opened his hands like a bomb bay just above the container and let the living creature plummet into the liquid. We only caught a glimpse of the Woog for a fraction of a second, but while the shape eluded us, there was no doubt about the noise that followed; we will never forget it and talked about it often afterwards: a high pitched squeal followed by a gurgling sound not too dissimilar to what you might expect to hear from someone drowning. We looked on in horror, then at Yu Poo-Ky who stood there smiling. He looked back at us. “Please, do not be alarmed,” he reassured. “The Woog is enjoying the bathing.”
   That was how he described it…'bathing.'
   Alice rose up in alarm but Yu Poo-Ky put a gentle hand on her arm and motioned her to sit down with a smiling nod. “Isn't…it drowning?” Alice finally spoke.
  The old man laughed. “Drowning? No, no. If you were to stop it now it would be intolerable. It would be unforgiving. The Woog would feel betrayed. This is a rare and very enjoyable part of being a Woog. But not everyone has the right recipe to make it such a pleasurable experience. It is but a small gift that I can bring to it.”
  “But the heat from the liquid…” I asked.
  “It is all relative to the Woog.”
  Still, neither I nor Alice could bring ourselves to peer into the container. It was almost like we were waiting for permission from the master chef.
  Finally Alice asked. “And what exactly is a Woog?”
  Yu Poo-Ky looked lovingly at his granddaughter who answered. “The Woog is Love and Hate, Friend and Foe. It is the Giver of Harmony, Wind and Water, Ignorance and Wisdom. All that must be remembered is never to place one in a situation where it is threatened.”
  “What would happen if that occurred?” I asked. Then I remembered what happened in the sewer and I was swept away in an emotional tide of guilt. The girl continued.
  “It will seek that which has caused the disharmony and will consume its soul and imperfections and return the balance. It can alter the universe and restore the harmony that must exist for us to exist. Always for good. For everywhere that peace is lacking a Woog exists, restoring the balance. That is its purpose. And that is why I am so proud to be a carrier; it is such an honour.”
  We both leant forward and looked into the Woog-Wam. Looking back at us amongst the fluids and solids was a small, puffy face of peace, a face of harmony, a face I recognised. It was Steve’s face.
  With embossed chop sticks, Yu Poo-Ky lifted the Woog and held it above the container to let excess fluid drain. It smiled at us both before being given to his granddaughter who gently placed it back in her joy bag. “I believe your meal is now ready,” Yu Poo-Ky said. Please enjoy.”