Oliver sat up slowly and said to himself, "Wow, what was that all about?" He clutched his head where a precursor to a migraine was tapping busily. Something had gone very wrong. He wasn't sure what it was, but he knew it was bad.
He stood up and looked around. The place was almost perfectly featureless, and even though there was
"Could you tell me where I am?"
The owl cocked his head to one side. "Difficult to say. It's rather a sticky wicket, old boy."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean it's plain you've gotten yourself surrounded by an invisible fence."
Sir Oliver didn't believe in invisible fences. Not until he walked up and poked gingerly at its supposed surface.
His finger didn't go through it.
There seemed to be no way around it.
He mentioned this to the owl.
"Of course," said the owl. "That's because it's a sidetrack."
"A sidetrack? Where does it lead?"
"Sidetracks only go around in circles. It's in their nature."
"But that's not right. I can't get sidetracked now. I need to find a magic horse."
"Nothing like that here," the owl said.
"Actually, I'm looking for a golden candlestick."
"Sounds nice," said the owl, "but I don't have one."
"Even a magic ring would be nice."
The owl gave a guilty start. "Oh, the ring! I've got it right here."
The owl burrowed in his feathers, found a ring, and gave it to Oliver.
Oliver turned it in his fingers. It was a pretty ring, with a large sapphire in a plain gold setting. He thought he could see shadows move in the gem's depths.
"You shouldn't stare at that for too long," the owl said. "It's meant for doing magic, not for looking at."
"What magic? What am I supposed to do with it?"
"Haven't they told you?"
"Well, then," the owl said, "someone has been very remiss. I think you have every right to complain."
Oliver looked around, but there was no one to complain to. Only the owl.
"That's a Hell of a note," Sir Oliver said. "How am I supposed to have fine adventures if I'm stuck here?"
"We could play a hand or so of patience," the owl suggested. "To pass the time."
"I don't think so," Oliver said. "I don't play card games with birds."
The owl took a small deck of cards out from under his wing and began to shuffle them. He gave Oliver a quizzical look.
"Go ahead, deal," Oliver said.
Soon Oliver was engrossed in the game. He had always liked patience. It helped to pass the time.
"Your deal," said the owl.