That's me, Eric, I mean. I guess I was your average spoiled rich kid. So! How many 12 year olds do you know who get driven to their karate lessons in a Rolls Royce. Its not so easy being normal when your father owns half the town and your mother owns the other half and your best friends Max and Alex, their parents own the rest. That's me in black and Max next, then Alex. That's my mom, of course, on my left.
But my story goes back before the accident at sea to a rainy afternoon in April. Jacob, our chauffeur was driving me to karate lessons. I sat in the back trying to read from "Captains Courageous" but was distracted by the rain streaming down the window sides. Our Rolls stopped in front of the Hyatt building which was owned by my grandfather. Jacob came around, getting wet, as he held the umbrella for me.
At the front door Leon, the doorman, welcomed me. "Good morning Master Eric," he said. I said hello back as I didn't want to be like that kid in "Captain's Courageous." I was learning something already from that book as I never talked to Leon before.
We took the elevator up to the third floor, then down the hallway to Jay Stone's Gym and I walked in while Jacob waited in the hallway. I went into the changing room and got dressed in my karate clothes. Then it was time for warm-up on the mats and ready for the days lesson. My buddy Max was to my right. I winked at him as we didn't dare talk and he winked back. Later, during break time, we sat together near the window and watched the rain.
"My father bought a new sailboat," said Max. "We're going to try it out next week."
"Great!" I said.
"What kind is it?"
"Starclass. Do you want to come with us?"
"'Can't" I replied, "Got to go with my granddad to a fair or something."
"Well, maybe next time."
"Okay, that would be great."
I didn't get to go out with them for several months as my social calendar was all filled up. Finally I did get my Mom and Dad to relent and promise to let me go off with Max and his family for a trip in August. Dad said it would be good for me though Mom didn't like me being away for so long. But I begged and she gave in. I looked forward to that, just to be away from all the appointments and lessons and that kind of stuff.
Then it was August and I loaded my duffel bag. Actually my mother packed it, along with enough spare underwear and socks to last 6 months. Though I didn't intend to wear any underwear or socks either for the trip, just a bathing suit and pure skin and, of course my favorite Yankee T-shirt. "Aren't you tired of wearing that thing?" asked my mother.
"No, I replied, never."
On a Saturday morning Mom and Dad gave me a hug and a kiss each then each went off to their appointments while Jacob drove me down to the yacht club where Max and his family were already aboard. The Rolls pulled up and Jacob hefted my duffel bag and carried it up the gangway and into our room. Max and I and another friend Alex had our own cabin and we immediately began wrestling and laughing and getting in the right mood for a vacation.
The first week was great as we sailed down the coast of South America and stopped at the Galapagos Island. What a fine place, with animals like you wouldn't believe. Then we tacked seaward, headed towards Easter Island. Two days later the sky darkened and clouds came on so Max's folks thought of turning back but already it was too late. About then the storm broke and what a storm; thunder, lighting and rain in buckets.
At first Max's mom and dad made Max and me stay inside but then things started to get out of control and all hands were needed on deck. Since we were already wearing our life-jackets full time we hooked our safety lines up and tried to help reef the sails but the wind was too strong. We thought to head toward the edge of the storm and safety but had no luck.
I had just unhooked my line and was opening the cabin door to dry out when the boat rolled and I fell forward. I guess I must have whacked my head on something cause everything went black.
When my eyes opened I could see stars overhead. I sighed deeply and roamed from one constellation to the next feeling happy, for the moment, to be a wandering star traveler. Time seemed to mean nothing as I drifted and I might have stayed there forever but for the cold seeping up from my feet. I was able to figure what time it was by the position of the constellations so at least I knew what time it was. But what good was that?
The sky changed color by the sun coming up, light spreading like a purse opening and emptying its contents across the night. I gasped, then, coughed and suddenly was aware that I was alone. I panicked and tried to sit up but found I was floating, in the ocean, held up by only my lifejacket . There was no boat, no wreckage, nothing, just myself, the sea and the night sky.
I would have yelled out, called for Alex or Max, his mother and father, but I was too cold and too afraid that they wouldn't return my call. For a moment I felt that I was dead, until I thought, "No, I'm too cold for that . . . but aren't the dead cold? Hmmm!"
I heard my teeth chattering and nothing else. Nothing, but a hissing sound. I knew I should turn and see, but I was afraid of what might be there and so I made no movement of any sort, just listened as the sound grew louder.
And then there was a swirling movement, a push or pull, as if something huge had grabbed me and threw me. I felt hard ground under me and then blackness once again.
Next time I awoke it was warmth, not coldness that I felt. I blinked, pulled seaweed from my face and looked up into the eyes of a seagull standing over me. "Get out!" I croaked, pushing the bird away. It squeaked and heaved itself into the air.
I lay back, stretched my arms and legs, savoring the warm sun on my body as I imagined myself lying on the deck of the sailboat. Slowly it came back to me, the storm, the stars, the cold. I sat up suddenly: "What!" I said aloud. Where is this?" I thought.
I was at the high water mark of a narrow beach. When I stood and turned there were mountain tops, 3 peaks, the middle one had an eye, like a cyclops. Well, it was a hole through the peak that looked like an eye. It dawned me that I was really alone. Again panic seized me and I ran down to the edge of the sea, looking for the boat, Alex, Max and his family, but there was nothing cept an empty horizon and then just miles of water.
After a while I got hungry and was thinking of how I could get the cook to make me a roast beef sandwich. It dawned on me where I was and I had a good laugh about it. But that didn't solve the problem. What to eat? Come on now, I said to myself. With all the training you've got you can get out of this, somehow. There's got to be somebody on the island to help.
I decided to follow the shoreline until I came to a village or something. So I took off my damp sneakers, stuffed them in my back pockets and started walking. Ah! mussels. That's food," I thought as I pulled the mussels, cracked one open and slurped it, "just like at the Sushi joint. Hmmm! Not bad." I tried another and then one more. It took me at least a dozen before I didn't want any more. "Better!" I thought, "that's better. Now let's see where this beach leads."
It was easy walking along the shore and my mind was taken off the tragedy of being stranded, by watching the sea birds glide in for a landing on the water. I stopped to pick up rounded stones and skimmed them across the surface. But then, I'd think back to the storm, and I'd worry about what had happened to my friend Max and his parents. Finally I agreed with myself that there was nothing I could do about that, only find some way to get help for them and myself as well.
When I came across a curve in the beach I suddenly saw that it was not one island but several, all connected by narrow sand bridges. But what interested me most were the structures at the base of one of the islands. They looked like huts or were they real buildings. "Wow! They were buildings, big ones. What luck." Now, all I had to do was get there.
Chapter Two: First Night
What I thought was going to be a short walk turned into a long hike. I realized how my eyes were tricked by the illusion of distance. After a while I stopped for more mussels, then I realized I was thirsty too. I wondered if the little pools of water among the rocks were due to rain. But a quick sip -- water spit out -- too salty -- convinced me it was tidewater. I wiped my mouth with the sleeve of my shirt. I should look for a stream, or pond, something; and that sandbar was still too far away.
Half an hour later I was really thirsty from walking in that heat and I wasn't even to the sandbar yet. "Oh oh! Sandbar! Where is the sandbar?" Was I really talking out loud, to myself?
That bridge of sand connecting the islands was almost submerged. "Of course!" I thought, " Tides! What a dummy I've been. Sure there are tides here. Well, I guess I'm not going across to the other island today. I'd better get some water and find a shelter for the night."
I shuddered as I wondered if there were snakes here or spiders? What kind of animals lived on these islands, besides the birds that is?
Now I was searching for a pathway into the woodlands, or was it a jungle or what? I could hear the chirping of birds from within the forest, other sounds as well, maybe frogs and . . . and other things. I watched the ground too for snakes -- didn't like them, never did, but then neither did Indiana Jones and he was tough.
Ahead of me was a rocky bluff and something that looked like tent
frames, lots of them, as a matter of fact. So I put on my sneakers to give
me speed. When I got closer I could see that the tent frames were not frames
at all. They were . . . "No, couldn't be. . . " I thought, "but they
sure look like. Yeah, that's what they are, bones. Fish bones, big ones,
lots of them, some bigger than me. I mean really big. But what kind of
fish? And, why are they here?"
I walked close and was amazed at how big they really were. Carefully I walked around the skeletons, then among them, more in awe than fear. A trickling sound caught my attention and looking through the mouth of one giant fish head I saw a crevice in the Rockwell behind it where the sound was coming from. Okay, I had to walk through the fish's mouth to get to the crevice. Hmmm! Didn't like that but I needed water. Well, it was only a dead fish head, bones really, nothing to hurt me.
I stepped over the fishes jaw and climbed up his throat, several times slipping on sand and shells. At the crevice I took a good look in and saw a small pool with water running down the wall. The floor was wet and I had to be careful not to slip and plunge into the pool as I didn't know how deep it was and the water looked really cold. Cupping water in both hands I sipped it and found it cool but with a slightly metallic taste. Minerals, I guess.
After satisfying my thirst I backed out of the crevice thinking. Geez! That wasn't too smart. It coulda been poison water. Well, I don't feel sick or anything so I guess it's okay. I wished that I had a bottle, canteen, anything to fill up to take with me. Back among the fish bones I checked out and settled on a hollow bone with one closed end which was better than nothing. Going back to the crevice, through the fish head I filled the bone and tried not to spill it as I backed out.
I had to stop and take another look at the beach of dead giants. I bet there isn't another beach like that one in the world. Now to find a place to sleep. No, not the crevice, that's too damp and creepy. And what thing lives further back, in the dark. No! Not the crevice but a tree maybe; something off the ground. That would be best if I can't find a cabin or some people before it gets dark.
Half an hour later I found what I was looking for, a break in the dense foliage, a field of high grass with one tall old tree in the middle of it. At first I couldn't get up the tree as it was too wide and there were no low branches. Then I spotted one limb that hung low, way out at the end. By jumping I could grab hold and shimmy up it and climb toward the trunk until it was wide enough to crawl. Suddenly I lost my grip, slid sideways, lost my hold and fell to the ground with a thump.
Dazed, I lay there in the grass, looking up at the tree. "Stupid!" I thought, " I have to be careful. If I get hurt now I'll be in worse trouble than I am already."
Before going up again I searched the foliage near the edge of the field and found vines that I then ripped loose and wrapped them around my middle.
Back on the branch I took more care and got to a place on that branch which was wide enough to stand, if I wanted to. But to be safe I crawled the rest of the way to the trunk. Higher up, a short ways, was a forked branch that looked comfortable, for a tree, that is. That would be my bed for the night. I tied one end of the vine around a thinner branch and tested it for strength. When I had faith in the vine, I used it to climb back down again, using my feet to walk backwards down the bark as I held onto the rope. At the bottom I stopped and admired my cleverness. I was getting pretty good at this.
"Good!" I thought, Now that I had a place to stay I could explore the field and the hills above. "Ha! a fruit tree: bananas." Going back for more vines, I went to the banana tree, wrapped the vine around my waist and started up the tree, but barely got started. I tried again but couldn't do it. How did those guys on the tv climb up those trees so easy. "Nuts!" I yelled to the wind.
I found some rocks on the beach and threw them up, but even though I hit the bananas, still the bunches wouldn't come down. Then I shook the tree and still no luck. Angry at myself I walked away and spotted a bunch on the ground. Some bananas were spoiled but the others were okay and so I gorged myself on bananas.
Afterwards, standing there I could see that the hills rose gradually toward the peaks and I thought to hike up them to get a good look at the landscape around me and maybe see the village across the water better; maybe even signal somebody, if I could. So I headed up through the grass, stopping suddenly when I heard a sound. Looking down I saw sit, a coiled black hunk of rope with a head on it, and several other smaller ones around it. My backbone turned to ice. As I began to back slowly away I felt something soft beneath my heel. "Yikes!" I yelled.
As the snake coiled around my leg I reached for it, threw it into the air as I spun and ran down the hill, faster than the wind, away from that field of snakes. For a while I stood by the tree trunk, breathing deeply and feeling creeping things all over me. No! those hills were not for me. Maybe there was another way up, but not today.
Night came quickly, almost like a shade being pulled down across the sun. I was down on the beach, having my mussel supper and bananas for dessert as the shadow of night rolled across the water. Quickly I scurried back to my tree, climbed back up and roped myself in.
Within minutes the sky had turned from blue to purple and soon faded to black, a dark black with no streetlights, nothing, just pure dark. I lay back against the bark, my arms folded, hugging myself and let my ears roam out through the night, trying to identify sounds: birds, crickets, frogs croaking and then a loud bellowing, like a foghorn, but not a foghorn, some kind of animal. That sound sent chills up both arms and I didn't want to find out what it was.
I heard the yapping of dogs and a light wind in the tree leaves, rustled them softly. I think there was the sound of thunder in the distance which came right after sudden flashes of light. I relaxed some and remembered nothing until morning when I awoke with my arms and face covered in a fine layer of moisture.
At first I stayed put, thinking on things and Max. I wondered if he was okay. What about my parents? Did they know I was lost? Were they looking for me? So many things.
I thought of the kid in "Captains Courageous" how he came to realize what he'd lost, when he didn't have it anymore; now I knew how he felt. Then, for a moment, I wanted to cry for him and for me too.
"Oh no!" I thought, Not today. Maybe later, but now I've got to survive, to find help, to cross the sandbar to those houses. Climbing down to the ground I left my vine -- never know when I'll need it again. I foraged for more vine, coiled it around my arm and chest like a bandito, gathered bananas, ate mussels, drank some water and headed toward the sandbar.
Chapter Three: The Swim.
Well, finally I reached the sandbar and the tide was out. "Phew!" I said. The hard part was over. Now the walk to the other island would be easy, I thought. As I stepped from the beach to the sandbar my sneaker plunged deep into muck. "Oh God! Quicksand!" I yelled as I tried to pull back, but caught off balance, I fell forward, almost face down. In reflex I spun so that I landed on my back, face up but the muck sucked at me, pulling me down. I thrashed out, trying to get away but the more I pulled the harder the quicksand pulled back. Then I remembered, you had to quit struggling, like that horse in the movie "White Maine," you couldn't panic, that would be the end.
I tried to calm myself, to relax and lay still, though my heart was
beating like a piston. Already I was up to my chest, any further and .
. . better not think about that. What could I do? There was nobody
to help. "Ah! The vine. . ." I mumbled, "Could I . . . Maybe. . .
Without struggling I slid the vine up and over my head. What could I grab with it. A stump, a tree. No. . .
I looked everywhere, trying to find something that I could lasso and at least keep myself from sinking further until I could think of a way out of this mess. Rocks! There are lots of rocks. Were any of them big enough?
"Ah, maybe that rock," I thought. Making a loop in the vine I gave a sideways flip and the vine loop fell flat on the sand. But by moving, I had sunk a little deeper into the quicksand. Pulling the vine back slowly, gently, I tried again. "Nuts" I said. ! It was only halfway; that was better than before though I'd lost another inch to the quicksand. I lay still for a while breathing, trying to calm down.
Looking up, I could see a bird circling overhead. I thought, "It must be a vulture waiting." But if I went down in the quicksand he wouldn't get me, that was for sure. After a while it was time for another throw. "Got to make it good," I whispered, "There! Good, almost." But not good enough: close. Pulling the vine back I gauged my last throw, almost enough. The next one should do it, but it failed as did the next and each time I lost a little bit of space. One more time. Throw! Oh God! I think I got it. Please, let it be. Slowly I tightened the vine and for a minute I thought it was going to slip over the rock; but it held and at least I didn't go any deeper into the quicksand.
But if I thought it was going to be easy getting out I was wrong for the quicksand had me like it was glue and it didn't want to give me up. And, there was another thing. The tide was coming in. If I don't drown in the quicksand the water would get me. This was a bad day, a real bad day.
How long I pulled, gradually inching myself out of that muck, I'll never know. It might have been an hour or five hours I have no way to tell other than that it was the longest day in my life. My only clock was the slowly rising tide that seemed to inch closer to me, racing me, inch by inch. Finally, with a last slurp and a suck I pulled free and rolled onto the beach.
"Oh Wow! Oh Wow!" I moaned as I lay there watching that bird circle overhead. I stuck my tongue out at him. "No dinner for you, not on me," I yelled. Walking slowly into the water, feeling for the bottom with the toe of my sneaker, checking for more quicksand, I ducked myself and scrubbed away that smelly muck.
"Now what," I thought, "Okay! Since I can't use the sandbar I might have to swim across, unless somebody comes by in a boat. Yeah, sure! Any day now." It was too bad that I'd left the lifejacket back on the beach, but I was not going all the way back for it. Dripping wet I walked down the beach looking for driftwood to make a raft. There were lots of pieces of wood, some planks, a tree trunk that was too heavy to move so I looked for lighter stuff.
I carried the wood down to the water's edge and used my vine to lash them together. At first I wasn't going to build anything big enough to carry me, just to act as a raft that I could push ahead as a life preserver. When I was almost ready to go into the water with it I remembered those fish bones and wondered if those fishes, I mean the big ones were still swimming there. And I wondered what had eaten them.
A chill went up my spine as I thought of the very little meal I'd make for those big suckers. I was hardly more than bait. "Hmmm!" I thought, " better make the raft bigger." Going back down the beach I got more wood and had to forage around for vines to lash them together. Now at least I could lie on the raft, my chin on the boards and breaststroke with my arms. Also I took along a board as a paddle too, just in case I needed it.
With a stroke I was away from the shore, just as the sandbar submerged beneath the water. I didn't need that sandbar anyway. It dawned on me that I probably should have taken a little rest after all that exertion but I was on my way now and I wasn't going to turn back. I aimed for a spot on the bank and began breast stroking with as much energy as I had and was making good time, so I thought. But when I looked up the distance across didn't seem to have changed much, though that point of land, my reference, was now to my left. "Sure!" I thought, "Current, that's what it is. Hmm! .. . I'll just have to work harder."
I kept stroking and looking up and stroking and looking up but the landing point got no closer. I slammed the water with my hand and cussed then. Nothings was going my way today. "Nothing!" I said aloud. I guess the anger was what I needed for, after a while, I saw that I was making progress toward the other side. I was halfway there even though I was slipping sideways. So, I wouldn't land exactly where I wanted to but so what.
I would have got there too, I'm sure of it, but for one thing. I saw it coming, slicing through the water, right toward me, a fin and it sure was no marlin. Only one thing had a fin like that. Shark! Quickly I pulled in my arms and lifted my feet out of the water. The shark came at me, dived, went underneath, probably for a look I guessed, then came up and circled me. I held still, trying not to let him hear my panic -- that attracts sharks -- I willed my heart to stop beating like it was a pounding drum and coasted with the current. But overtime I thought he was gone and would think of stroking again toward the other shore he'd come up again and circle, one more time, then one more.
What could I do? If I stroked he'd grab me, if I didn't I'd get washed
out to sea, away from the island. This definitely was not my day. What
to do. But sharks don't like noise. I put my face to the edge of the raft,
my mouth underwater and yelled at the darned fish, cussed him out too but
I think it only made him more curious. Enough of that. What else? I lay
there, trying to think and watching that shark. He circled and dived and
I held my breath again as he slid beneath me. I swear I felt the tip of
his fin rub the boards of my raft. All he had to do was open his mouth
and I'd be gone in one gulp. Then I had an idea.
Grasping the board I was going to use as a paddle I lifted it over my head and slammed it down on the water. The fin jerked and veered away from me, but only for a moment, then sliced back. I did it again and again and this time the shark moved off a ways but didn't go away. Quickly I put down the board and stroked forward, keeping one eye open for the fin. When I couldn't see him I pulled my arms back in and slapped hard on the water with the board again, then stroked some more. I was getting there but could see the end of the island coming up fast. What to do? Stroke more. Bang less. Sure, and lose an arm for my effort. I could only continue to do what I was doing and so I eventually swept by the edge of the island.
Now I was caught in a rip tide and moving fast. I knew rip tides from the time when I was a little kid and got caught in one off Laguna Beach. The lifeguards caught up with me then and I was lucky. You had to use the current, go with it, use its force to take you where you needed to go, but I couldn't make it take me back to the island. There was another island in the chain, linked to the other two and the current was swinging me in that direction. I used my arms to surf, giving me more speed and the distance between me and the island decreased quickly.
Finally the edge of my "boat" touched shore and I jumped off the raft and, turning, saw the fin not far off and headed in my direction. With a surge I struggled out of the water leaving the frustrated shark to hunt for another meal. There were rounded stones on the beach and I grasped some and threw them at the shark, missing him mostly but a few bounced off his thick skin. I'm sure they didn't mean anything to him, but it made me feel better.
I pulled my raft up onto the shore in case I needed it again, which I probably would, maybe when the tide changed, then I might try to get back to the first island. But for now I needed to get something to eat, mussels again, and bananas if I could find them.
The mussels were easy to find and eat but I could find only rotten bananas on the ground. Well, okay. So, now it's time to find some drinking water and explore this island. I hope there's no snakes here. If I'm lucky there might even be people. . .
There were paths here leading upwards and I took one slope that didn't look too steep. A while later I came out on a flat ledge and could see the water below and part of the island. At first I couldn't believe it; this was like no other place I'd ever seen before. One mountain was the color of turquoise and looked like a pyramid, another hill had a giant crystal, green, like emeralds sticking out -- at an angle.
"Wow!" I said, thinking, "This is quite a place." I stood there exploring the island with my eyes for a long time. I never knew there were beaches like this. Even the Galapagos didn't have landscapes as wild as this one. But the Galapagos had more strange animals. Hmmm! I don't know though, those huge fish bones down there were pretty weird.
I was thirsty now and it was time to look for a drink. I thought that maybe I could find a cave like the one on the other island with a pool of clear water. So I began searching among the rocks as I followed the rocky trail leading inland toward the town that I'd seen from across the bay. It was my hope to find people there who could help me.
Chapter Four: Max's Story
"Well! -- Alex and I had the party going before Eric came on board ship and we really were looking forward to the trip out. Then Eric arrived and we got a good start. It was a fine sail, the Galapagos and all those fantastic animals. We were having a great time until that ugly storm came up. Then, well . . . then everything changed. We all got sick, of course, but we had to go out on deck anyway and try to help Mom and Dad and my sister Jane reef the sails though it was already too late.
We were all topside, tied to our safeties, trying to help. Dad decided that the only thing he could do was cut the rigging or we were going over. He ordered us back inside so we wouldn't get fouled in the sails when they came down.
We were almost to the cabin. I saw Eric unhook his safety and try to duck down through the hatch but the boat lurched and he must have whacked his head because he went down, then slid toward the railing. "Alex! Grab Eric," I yelled but he couldn't reach him. At about the same time both of us unsnapped our safeties and dove over to grab Eric. We had our hands on him too and were trying to get back to the hatchway when a big roller took us, lifted us up, then dropped us and when we hit the trough all three of us went spinning over the rail and that was the last I saw of those two or our boat for that matter.
It's a good thing the water wasn't cold or we wouldn't have lasted an hour. I bounced around like a cork. For a while I yelled out for my mom and dad or Eric and Alex, my sister too. And then I yelled for anybody. Afterwards there was a long time of rolling with the waves and sleeping and waking to the nightmare of being alone among those giant coasters. Then again, when I woke, the waves had quieted down and the sky was clear and something about that was even more scary, the understanding that I was truly alone in the middle of the ocean.
For a long while I couldn't see anything except ocean. The sun rose and then it set; it must have been pretty, the red on the water but I wasn't in the mood for pretty, just wanted to get dry and find our boat and Alex and Eric and my family. If I'd been able to ride out the storm they all must have too, I hoped.
I must have slept a lot and I was in a dream-like world when my feet hit something solid. Gradually my world came back into focus and I looked out at a wide, circular beach, a lagoon, I guess. I probably would have been overjoyed that I'd come into land if I wasn't so mixed up, thirsty and hungry.
Wading ashore I tried to walk up the beach but my legs were too wobbly and collapsed under me. So I just sat there in frustration, maybe cried a little, I don't know. It just wasn't right to come so far and not be able to go a few more feet up the beach to the shade of the trees. Probably my anger helped me get up, wobbly, walking like a drunken sailor but I got into the shade and sat down with my back against a tree.
Looking out I tried to see through the jungle but couldn't. There might even have been a stream on the other side of the bushes but I couldn't tell. I struggled out of my lifejacket and patted it lightly, thanking it for saving my life. Then I laid it there on the sand where somebody looking for me would find it. I thought to write a message on it, but was too tired to do anything about that.
Looking around at the wild bushes I knew that some of them had berries I could eat and that others were poison. I thanked my mom and dad again for sending me to that survival camp last year. For a minute my mind went back to our trip and how fun it was to lie on the deck at night, under the stars, while Mom played her guitar until we fell asleep and woke up the following morning in our bunks. But the next day it was study and I had to read something called The Survivors Guide.
"But Dad," I said, "What do I need to memorize this stuff for. I've got the book right here." I held it up for him to see.
"Listen Max," he replied. "There might come a day when you're stranded on an island somewhere and you don't have that book. Then what?"
"But Dad you know that won't ever happen." "You never know," he said. "All right," I replied, "I'll memorize it."
Suddenly I felt sad then, thinking of my friends, parents and sister. Where were they now? Was I the only one left? I was about to find out how much I'd learned.
Later, after eating a whole bunch of red berries and not getting sick I realized that I'd made the right choice, not by accident as I recognized the berries from my book, wherever it was now. Dad was right. But things felt better now that I'd had a little food and though I was still thirsty I could move around and begin looking for a stream. It took me a while to find something other than some smelly pools but finally there was a stream bubbling itself down to the beach and the water tasted a little like metal, but it was okay. So I drank until I choked from drinking too much, too fast.
Moving back to the beach I began walking along the water's edge. There
was something further up the beach. A ship! It was a ship. I yelled then
and started running and waving my hands. They had to see me. My lungs ached
from running at top speed but I didn't want the ship to to pull away from
shore before I got there. I kept yelling, when I could and waving, but
as I got closer I saw that there was something wrong. The ship was beached,
wrecked and as I got closer I saw that it had been wrecked for a long time.
Walking that last short distance I saw that there was no bottom in the
boat which was rusty and crusted with barnacles. It had been there a long
I closed my eyes for a while and wished that the ship would be whole. Slowly I opened them, nothing. The ship was still a wreck. Nuts! Kicking off my sneakers I waded into the water and climbed aboard the wreck, looking for anything useful, but there wasn't a thing that I thought I could use. No radio, nothing. They could have left something . . .
At the bottom of the old scow was a sea-shell. I reached down into the water and brought it up, a beautiful looking thing. I put it in my pocket. Might be useful for something later, but if not, then I still liked it. Hoping for a clearing in the jungle to be able to see more of the island, I walked for quite a while, looking back, now and then, at the ship, which got smaller and smaller. I didn't like leaving the wreck but it wasn't going to get me anywhere. Then there was a path, an old one, I thought. But what the heck. It was a path that had to go somewhere so I took it.
Along the trail was a lot of vegetation covering the path so I had to move slowly and watch out for snakes or anything. At first the going was level and I had to wade through water for a stretch or two but then it began to go upward, slowly at first, but steeper after a while.
A little further on I found I had climbed higher than the trees and could see more of the island. It was not one island but a chain of them. How many I couldn't tell or whether there were people living here, or there. There was a funny looking mountain to the south. It wasn't very high but was shaped weird, like it was an eye. I had the feeling it was looking at me but I knew that was only an illusion. I was climbing a mountain, that was obvious now. How high the mountain was I had no idea.
Now I had decisions to make. Should I continue on up the mountain to see where the path went or go back down and walk the beach around the island to see if there were any houses or people? From where I stood I couldn't tell very much about any of the islands except that there was a lot of jungle on all of them. Then I reached into my pocket and took out my lucky nickel, flipped it into the air and thought, Heads I go up, Tails I go back down. It landed Heads. Okay, decision made.
Since it was early in the day, by the sun's position, that was my clock, I wasn't worried about dark yet, but would have to think of that problem soon. Not now though. Already I was hungry again; those berries weren't much to go on and I was thirsty too. Too bad I didn't think to bring some water, even though I didn't have anything to carry it in. Got to shake up my mind and start thinking clear again; it could mean my life.
Back at school I remember a woman came to visit. What was her name? Marcy. She talked about how to survive in the woods. What was it she said: learn the language of the earth, read the clouds, watch animals, birds, know the tides . . . Use your senses she said. Okay senses, time to wake up. Let's see, what can I eat here. Bananas up there but too high, coconuts too, but it will take too much energy to open them. Grass. How about some grass salad? Anything like onion grass or milkweed. No, can't eat the milkweed, needs to be boiled first. But that was back there in New England; things are different here. How can I tell? Should have picked up some mussels from the shore. Why didn't I? Not thinking, that's all. If I'm going to get back home I've got to think. . . Got to think to survive.
First thing was water. As I climbed the trail, passing an opening in the rock I could hear sounds of running water. The opening was big enough and there was light. So I went down on all fours and went in for a look. The cave went back a long way and there was definitely water trickling back there, way back though. I was nervous about going too far. I sat for a moment and considered. Well, the angle of the light was giving me plenty of light, mostly on the roof of the cave so the angle was low and would climb shortly as the sun got higher. Now I was thinking. That's good. So I had a little while to explore.
How far back did this cave go anyway? Time to find out. Hmmm, feels damp, must be getting close to the water. I hope so anyway. Yuk! A little slippery here.
Hmm! This tunnel is going down and getting wetter. I better not go any further. Darn! I really want some water. But I don't want to get stuck in here. Better go back. Ummm! I can't go back, too slippery. I began sliding on the slippery green stuff and going downward. "Now what," I thought, " Don't panic. Stop. Think. I can reach up and touch the ceiling. Okay. Kind of stand and put my hands against the ceiling and take one step at a time. Back up the tunnel. Oops! Almost lost it. Wonder where I'd go if I slid all the way. Better not think about that."
I tried to move back to where I'd come but my feet wouldn't grab hold
and I felt like both feet were going to slide beneath me. I could feel
a growing sense of panic and worked hard to hold it down. With my feet
and knees wet if I went down I'd go on a slide to who knows where. What
to do. I couldn't go back up and I was getting tired. "Stop!" I said, and
"Get rid of the panic. What can I do. Look! See! What is there to do. Oh! Yeah. It's not all slippery stuff. There's some dirt. Move just a little. Aaah! Good, dirt."
I rested a while then, felt myself shaking just a bit. No, more than that. I was shaking a lot. But, after a while I calmed down and could see dirt clumps where I could step from one to the other. Only thing is, they didn't go exactly where I wanted to go and that was out. But, at least they didn't go down and there did appear to be light in that direction. When I felt ready I took a step, then another and made my way toward the other light. I kept moving but didn't get to the light. Must be farther away than I thought. At least the ground under me was solid now, but I kept feeling with my feet, making sure the ground under me was not slippery.
Too much time was going by. That opening must be really far away. Well, I could go back. No. I don't want to do that. Just keep going, its got to come out someplace. But where? I don't know how much time went by but I noticed that the ceiling was gradually sloping up and it was getting lighter inside the cave. Pretty soon it was a cavern stretching out in all directions, but I could see where I was going and so moved faster.
Then something stopped me in my tracks. I looked down and there were tracks, dinosaur tracks, big ones. Squatting down I studied the footprints. They were old, of course, but some of the best tracks I'd ever seen. Wow! They were huge. I wondered how I could dig them up and get them out of there, take them home. Oh yeah! Home. Well, maybe someday I could come back and find them again. But now, time to move on, find something to eat, and some water.
I found the water soon after, a cool dark green pool with water so cold it chilled my teeth but it tasted good. Unfortunately I drank too fast, again, and had a stomach ache. I should know better. Hey, I'm still a kid, aren't I? I sat for a while, until I felt okay, then had a little more water. This time I took it slower and only had a few sips. Then, I had an idea and, pulling the shell from my pocket, I filled it with water. It should make a good canteen, well, not a good one, but a fair one any ways.
I continued on and the passageways got even trickier, with narrow bridges to cross, carefully, of course, but still there was light ahead, enough to see by. It was a funny cave though, with walls that were almost like old bones; but there wasn't anything ever made that was this big, not even the dinosaurs, I think . . .
Chapter 5: Through Curtains of mystery.
I had to be careful now. Walking was difficult as there were lots of holes in the tunnel. Each one looked like a passageway to somewhere or nowhere. I listened at some of them for any sounds but nothing, just silence. Except once I thought I heard something back where I’d just come. That made me feel funny, scared really. Here I was, just a kid alone, with no adults to look to, just me.
I shook my head to get rid of the fear and moved on. Oh! oh! There it was again. What is it. Stopping, I listened harder and could hear something, almost like ... Like what? I don't know. but I donut like it
The hairs on the back of my neck went straight out and a chill ran through me. I began to walk faster, then I was running. Several times I came close to sliding into one of the pits and once I did go in, lost my footing, fell forward and only saved myself by grabbing onto the edge and pulling myself out. That did it. Now I was scared.
But wait! Stop! Don't panic. Think. I was breathing hard. Panic, that's what I'm doing. Can't do that if I'm going to survive; got to stay cool.
What can I do? Maybe stop and wait until whatever it catches up? No way! Best to keep moving, fast, but careful.
The tunnel was getting bigger now with more side passages going off at all angles, some in the floor, the walls, ceilings. I had to be careful not to fall into one of them as they were getting bigger too and if I fell into one I probably wouldn't be able to grab the edge.
Oh, I wish I was home, eating a cheeseburger and watching tv. But you're not stupid, I said to myself. Keep alert! No daydreaming, not now anyway.
The tunnel opened into a cavern, almost a sphere. It was big, I mean huge and seemed to have light flowing from the walls and ceiling itself. There was water too and I could see a stream flowing along a crack in the floor. I hardly stopped to look at it but jumped the crack, and then there was another crack, a wider one but I knew I could make it the whole distance.
That next jump was not a normal one. Halfway across, in mid space I felt something happen, liked I’d jumped into a barrel of molasses, things went into slow motion and I kept moving but like in a movie until I stumbled at the edge of the crack, crashed forward and rolled, suddenly back in normal speed.
I wanted to go back to explore that jump to try and understand what had happened, I knew I’d crossed a barrier of some kind, but my fear of what was following me was greater and so I tried to jump back to my feet, but again, it was like being in slow motion.
It was weird. If I tried to move fast I only moved slow. If I went slow I was okay and the slower I moved the more normal it was. I tried to jump, but never got off the ground. I took a step and that was okay. This was a very strange thing, like a dream I had once where a monster was chasing me and I couldn't run. Could this be a dream? I wondered. But how could I tell. I pinched my thumb. "Ouch!" I said, " that hurt."
"So, what is this?" I thought. Stopping, I listened but could no longer hear anything behind me. "Whew!" I sighed. " That's a relief. Maybe I left IT behind. Maybe it couldn't jump the crack. I hope so." I exhaled, in relief then and had time to look more at the cavern.
Still there was the light off in the distance. I had no hope, nor want to go back the way I’d come but I was afraid I’d never reach the light. Possibly the cavern went on forever. What then? What would I eat? How would I get home?
"Stop it!" I said, "You're doing it again! Keep focused on that light. It's got to be an exit. Just get there."
As long as I walked slow I made progress. Another crack to jump; but how can I jump if I can't run. Looking down I could see that the crack went deep into the earth with no bottom that I could find.
I measured the distance I had to jump against my own height. The crack width was a little less wide than I was tall. I could try falling forward and grabbing the edge. with my fingers then pulling myself out. "Yeah sure!" I gulped, "You can bet I won't try that."
I needed to test this new world, what were the rules here. And so I tried running in slow motion and jumping the same way. My first attempts were clumsy and miserable, but the more I tried, running even slower, jumping as slowly as I could, the better I got.
Next I made marks in the floor, with my heel, a take off point and a landing spot. On the first attempt I would have crashed into the crack's wall , if I had really jumped, but after two more tries I was almost there and on the jump after that I made my mark.
"Good!" I said, " Now for the real thing." But first I worked out a timing method and tried again, keeping count. "Okay! That one worked." I did another practice jump to make sure my system was okay. Finally, I took several deep breaths and started for the pit, keeping count as I did so, but in the end, I turned away before the jump.
Standing at the edge of the pit I tried to get myself under control. "Sure you're scared," I said, " but you know you can do it, you've proved it. So just do it, just the way you practiced." I answered myself with a nod. Gathering my courage I went back to my measured point, looked at the jump line I’d made at the edge of the pit and started a slow-motion run.
My feet pounded the earth with calculated steps as I slow-motion raced to the edge, and leaped. Then I was in the air and it was okay or! . . . I felt it, like a cold knife slicing me in thin strips, front to back. I was passing through something, a wall of ice, invisible but cold and . . . And time seemed to come to a stop. Hanging there, above the crack it was like there was no such thing as Time. And the cavern now was no longer empty but opened up, like a night sky full of stars, but stars like I’d never seen before.
My eyes could make out the shape of galaxies, spinning. Yet I knew they didn't spin, not like a wheel, but over thousands of years. Now, to me, they were spinning like a wheel, galaxies like pinwheels filling the cavern. And the colors between the stars, between the galaxies, were incredibly beautiful.
Then crash! I landed on the other side, shivering and exhausted. But I’d made it.
Except, there was something wrong. I was seeing double, everything was double, including my own hands. I had four of them, and four legs. Groaning I stood and took a step forward and two sets of hands disappeared. Where did they go.
Looking back then I saw myself looking at myself. I almost threw up and probably would have if my stomach hadn't been empty.
There I was, standing there, looking at me. I opened my mouth and said, “What are you? What do you want?” and a second or two later my double said the same thing. “What are you? What do you want?”
I wanted to scream. No, the truth is that I did scream. I let out a yell like a wild animal might make and then it came back at me, the echo. That settled me down, that sound, and then I laughed, and laughed and sat down while “my echo” sat down and laughed too. When I couldn't laugh anymore I stopped and realized that there were tears running down my cheeks.
So I wiped my face, stood slowly and looked down the cavern toward the light. Okay, time to get going again. I turned to the echo. “Let's go,” I said. “Let's go,” he replied. I could see now, across the cavern almost invisible lines, like fine curtains that I was going to have to pass through. Fortunately there were no cracks to jump.
Walking through the next curtain I felt the cold again, just as cold, and again the stars and galaxies but added to this were sounds. I could sense that the sounds were coming from the dark holes, whistling, popping sounds, like the crackling of fire, only great fires, not campfires, but maybe what volcanos sounded like.
I had the sensation, then, that my body was changing, that it was turning into plastic and stretching out and that part of me was behind and another part was way ahead. I became a long, thin string, reaching out from the ground to a galaxy, then to another and on to more and more. Yet I was still me, but the string was me too.
I donut know how long it took me to get through the curtain. There was no way to tell whether I’d been there a minute or an hour or a hundred years. It felt as though I’d gone through this curtain faster than my jump over the crack. As I came out, there was my echo standing beside me. Then, as I turned and looked back, another me was coming through the curtain and suddenly he too had an echo and now there were four of us.
This is ridiculous , I thought. So just for the fun of it I yelled, “Hello!” and there were 3 echoes, one after the other. I tried singing “Old Mac Donald Had a Farm” and 3 other voices joined me, like those “rounds” we sang down in 2nd grade. Each voice was a little behind the other. “All right,” I said, “Come on let's get going.” And a chorus replied.
When I passed through another curtain the sensation was not the same. Instead of feeling stretched out the feeling was entirely different. During the trip through, somehow I felt myself turning inside out and could see and feel all my organs, my lungs and heart, my brain and veins, until I was through the curtain. It wasn't a scary feeling and when it was over I felt like I knew myself, the invisible parts better. And now there were 8 of us.
Then, at the next curtain I began to contract, to grow smaller and move down so that I could see the atoms, much like planets in orbits. One planet grew in size and I moved toward it and when I touched the surface I emerged from the curtain.
Now I was 16 of me, and 32 by the 5th curtain. I laughed then as I pictured that time when I went to the movies with Mom, my Dad and my sister to see “Fantasia” and the scene of Mickey Mouse with all those brooms came to mind. Now here I was, Mickey Mouse, and the brooms were me.
After I passed next curtain I gave up counting and I could hardly hear myself think with the sound of moving feet, like the army I’d become. I didn't dare yell or sing as I knew the sound would go on and on. So, as quietly as I could, I moved, or WE moved toward the light.
It looked like only one more curtain before coming out at some kind of opening. I stepped through that vibrating curtain of light and looked to see how many of me there would be now. But I was alone, just me, no echoes.
For a moment I was tempted to step back through the curtain to see if they, the army of me, were all there waiting for me to come back. But the thrill of getting out of the cave, of being in fresh air and light was too great, so I went on.
And then I was out, at the opening, a huge open mouth where I found blue sky beyond. I stepped to the edge to see a long green valley spread out below, with waterfalls, and. . . and buildings, strange buildings looking like churches, No, more like temples. There were sounds too, the noise of water, lots of water pounding down the mountain. But the main thing was that I was out and into light and air. And I was terribly hungry.
Now, how how was I going to get down to the valley below. At first, wanting to get to those temples, I thought of going straight down the mountain, but after a closer look realized that I'd never make it. There were too many places that couldn't be climbed without ropes and stuff. A narrow pathway led off along a cliff wall and though that path had caved in in several places still, it looked like a reasonable way. It was a path, and paths usually go someplace.
That little path wandered down the mountainside. There were places where I had to put my back against the mountain since the edges of the pathway were crumbled away but the valley below kept getting closer and closer. And finally I was at the base of the mountain and there was a wide field of green waiting for me.
I realized that I could relax for a moment, but only for that, and then
I had to try and figure out how I was going to eat and where to sleep,
since night seemed to be coming on.
Chapter Six: From Alex's Point of View
What I remember most is the party we had on the day before our trip began. We met at Giuseppi's Restaurant, our favorite place for pizza and jokes. There were six of us guys that night, friends of mine, and Max's, who'd known each other since preschool. I think if the boat had been bigger we'd have taken all of them with us on the trip.
Giuseppi's is so small, I don't know how we all fit in there, but we
did. We told jokes and laughed like crazy; everything seemed to be funny.
I guess its that way when you're with people you really like. After pizza
we walked uphill to the movies and saw Pokemon, then an old movie, the
Marx Brothers in "A Night at the Opera," a real old film; we laughed a
lot. But when they started singing that opera stuff, we went crazy and
laughed even harder, it was so funny.
That night they all slept over at my house and we stayed up all night telling stories and jokes and bashing each other with pillows. Then the next day, the guys went home and Max and I packed up and Max's parents picked us up in their car and we drove down to the port. It was a beautiful yacht they had there and we spent the next hour chasing around on it, checking out everything, while Max's father and mother did their own check-list to make sure we had all the necessary supplies.
Eric showed up later and we gave him the guided tour of the boat, I mean yacht. Only amateurs call it a boat.
Some of the guys came down to the wharf to waving us off and we were sorry to leave them behind but excited too at the thought of the trip and the adventures to come. We never realized then just how exciting that journey was going to be. But the first part was great, the voyage down to South America and the Galapagos Islands were great fun. Then the storm came up.
I'd never been on the ocean with winds and waves as wild as they were. It was almost impossible to imagine how any ship could survive. At first the storm wasn't too bad, but suddenly it got brutal and Max's folks went to work trying to pull the sails down, but they couldn't and needed our help. The weather got even rougher and Max's father was going to cut the sails down and ordered us inside. That's when Eric got knocked out and Max and I tried to grab for him.
When that wave got us I was scared, more than I've ever been in my life. One minute we were onboard the yacht and the next I was in the air and dunked into that crazy ocean, with waves higher than buildings. I yelled my lungs out for "help" but who was there to help me. Max I didn't see again after we lifted off the deck and Eric was unconscious. I thought he must have drowned. Since he had a lifejacket on maybe he was okay.
But I thought of that stuff later, when the sea calmed down and I could see that I was headed toward a chain of islands. In between though was rough. Can you imagine sliding down a wall of water and then sliding up the other side, like you were a cork. Well, that's what I felt like. I was never too crazy about amusement park rides. Sure I rode them, just so's friends wouldn't say I was chicken, but I didn't care much for them. Here I was, on the biggest roller coaster ride anybody ever rode, and I wasn't very happy about it.
The storm lasted a long time, an awfully long time. Like I thought it would never end. After a while I slept and when I awoke the sea was calm and it was night. When I opened my eyes I didn't know what or where I was since there were a zillion dots all over the place. Finally I figured out that they were stars, more stars than I'd ever seen.
Of course we'd looked at them on deck of the yacht but this was different. No lantern lights, no deck to hug, no safety line to make you feel secure. I can't describe that feeling in my stomach that came from knowing that I was the only person from one horizon to the next. Yet, somehow I felt connected to the stars overhead, and their reflections in the surface of the water. It was like I was suspended in the middle of space with no up or no down.
So I floated like that, and watched the sun come up. It was probably the most beautiful thing I ever saw as I watched it from beginning to end. Well, no end really, just the end of sunrise. I paddled with my hands to turn me in a circle and gasped when I realized that I was actually close to an island. But the question was, would I moving toward it or away. Luckily I was moving toward it rather quickly, and before long I could hear the breakers and so I began paddling to make sure I controlled my landing spot.
The current took me in, faster than I thought it would and dumped me, face down, in the sand, among the rocks. Startled, for a moment, I lay there as several waves washed over me. I hadn't realized how much strength had drained out of me because when I tried to get up I fell face down again, almost hurting myself among the sharp stones. Wiping the sand from my face I sat for a while, then pulled myself up and out of the water. Little by little I dragged myself higher up onto the rocky beach and lay there, feeling the warm sun on my body.
There was a certain joy in finding myself alive, but that was lost in being tired, wet, hungry and thirsty. I closed my eyes for what I thought was a minute, and when I opened them again the light was different and my clothes were almost dry. I must have slept for several hours.
I'd landed near a clearing in the jungle and could hear water. When I was able to stand and move, kind of wobbly, up the beach toward the clearing I could see a river, a small waterfall too. That was great as I needed the water, needed it bad. Funny, I thought, how being in the ocean all that long and still I was thirsty.
TO BE CONTINUED . . . .
Credits and Acknowledgments
With thanks to Marcy Klattenberg: Director of Outdoor Education, School District 13, Durham and Middlefield, Ct.
Volume Three . . .Number Two
From the Gronicus Press -- Publishing Fantasy for over 30 years
The game was almost over and Electra's soccer team was tied with
the opposing Falcons. Coach Nelson called them all in and gave them last
minute instructions. "Electra," he said, "Stay forward. Midfielder, feed
her. Get the ball to Electra." The whistle blew and they were back
on the field. Electra dashed toward the goal, though careful not to go
offside as her coach had drilled into his team. But the seconds of the
game were draining away. "If we only had more Time," thought Electra, "only
a few more minutes, seconds . . . "
After the game was over, Mother, Father, Electra and Raven had pizza at Jerry's Pizza Place which was only half a mile from their home. Until the pizza came, the girls asked for drawing stuff from the waitress; she brought them pencils and paper mats to draw on. "We could have won that game," said Electra, "if we only had a couple more minutes . . ."
Father nodded, "Yep!" he said, "You might have. Next time though."
"Yeah!" groaned Electra, "Next time. It's always next time."
"Mommy" asked 5 year old Raven, "Where did Mrs. Juniper go when the ambulance took her today?"
"I'm afraid your friend is gone," said Mother.
You mean we won't see Mrs. Juniper any more?" asked Raven.
"That's right," replied Mother, "Mrs. Juniper has been taken away from us."
"And she won't be back, ever?"
"Well dear, she was, old and then she died. Remember, like your goldfish when they died and we buried them."
"Oh, yeah, you mean gone, that way."
"But, I don't like that, dying and going away, I mean."
"I'm sorry Raven."
"How did she get old?"
"Time, that's what does it: Time."
"Will that happen to you and Daddy?"
"And to me and Electra?"
"Not for a long, long while."
"Can't we -- you know -- stop it, Time?"
"I don't think so dear."
"Has anybody ever tried?"
"Yes, I'm sure a lot of people have."
"Well Mommy, I'm going to stop Time. Then you and Daddy won't get old and go away."
"You don't have to worry about that dear; we're not going away."
"But you said . . . "
"Goodness! How did we ever get started on this conversation?"
Father smiled and shrugged, "Just like all the other times, I guess."
"I'm never getting old," said Electra.
They finished their pizza and drove home. Father went into the meditation room and took down his guitar and began playing. Then, one at a time, Mother, then Electra, and finally Raven came in to sit down and listen. "Play for me Daddy," said Electra.
Father nodded and waited as Mother found a comfortable place on the
rug and Raven crawled onto her lap. Then father strummed his guitar and
sang a song of the cat and the fiddle and the cow who jumped over the moon
and how all the people in the town came out to watch and shout . . ."
When he was finished with the tune Electra said, "That was special for me."
"Play for me," begged Raven.
"Okay!" laughed father to reassuring smiles from mother, as he sang of frogs and princesses in the olden days. When he had finished Raven asked her mother, "Mommy, What does it mean to be older? Am I different than I was last year? I mean, not just bigger, but different?"
Father laughed, "Here we go again," he said as he began another lively tune.
Electra yawned and went to her room to draw as Father continued strumming. Raven and her mother listened for a while and then they too got up and Mother went into the kitchen. Raven wandered around the house like she didn't quite know what to do with herself. After a while she walked into her sister's room. "I'm stopping Time," said Raven.
Electra looked down at her own wristwatch, "Well, don't stop mine," she said.
"I want to go to the library and Mother said she'd take me in an hour."
"But do you want to get old and die?" asked Raven.
"Not in an hour sister. Maybe in a hundred years."
"How long is a hundred years?"
"A very, very, long time."
"Can I see it?"
"Hmmm!" replied Electra, "That's an interesting question, can you see time? I don't know. But they do have a clock at the library that's a hundred years old."
"Then we CAN see Time," smiled Raven, "I'm going to the library with you."
59 minutes later Mother drove the two girls down to the center of town and the public library. After they got out of their car, they walked over to a rusting pickup truck where an old man sat rocking in his chair as he'd been doing for most of the day and many days before that.. "Hello girls," said Mr. Balonie from his perch in the back of the truck.
"Hello Mr. Balonie," said Electra. Raven added her own voice, almost as an echo, "Hello Mr. Balonie, we're going to see the "one hundred year clock."
"Well that's a mighty fine clock, but it was better before it stopped."
"Oh!" said Raven. "Then it has no more Time left in it?"
"That's right, at least for that clock, unless somebody fixes it."
"Oh no! No!" replied Raven, "Let it stay stopped."
"So we won't get old."
"I see. But, you know, even if you stopped all the clocks, you couldn't stop Time," said Mr. Balonie, "Look up there. See, the sun is a clock. And at night the stars themselves are clocks."
"All of them?"
"Yes, all of them, every one."
Raven looked sad. "I couldn't stop all of them," she said, "There's just too many and I'd get tired."
"That's right," said Mr. Balonie, "And if you stopped them then we wouldn't get to see all our constellation friends up there -- like my old buddy Draco the dragon."
"You mean "our" Draco is a constellation?" gasped Raven, her mouth opening wide in wonder.
"That's right," said Mr. Balonie.
"Oh! I wouldn't want to hurt him or to lose him," said Raven, "He's my friend."
"He's been a friend to a lot of you kids, for many years," said Mr. Balonie.
"Let's go see him," said Electra.
"Okay! Bye Mr. Balonie. See you later."
"Bye girls, give Draco . . . and the clock my regards."
With that, the girls raced across the green lawn and up marble steps, through double glass doors, around a corner into the children's room. Their mother sprinted, trying to keep up with her daughters but they outdistanced her. She caught up with them and watched as they stood talking to Draco, the Children's library dragon.
"We've come to see the 100 year old clock," said Electra, "Raven wanted to see it."
"It's a very fine clock," replied Draco. "Too bad its broken."
"I wanted to stop Time," said Raven, "but Mr. Balonie said it would keep us from seeing you, if I did."
Draco grunted and said, "As long as the Earth rotates you'll see the constellations."
"Oh! Then tell us about Time," asked Raven? "What is it? What is it like? Can you taste it or smell it? Can you touch it?"
"Ha! ha!" chortled the dragon, "Yes! yes to all those things. Time makes the seasons and the seasons make things grow, food, flowers, trees, little girls. So you can touch them and taste them and smell the flowers too. Or, if they're little girls, you can tickle their toes and make them laugh."
"Oh," smiled Raven, "Then Time is good too?"
"Yes, of course" replied the dragon, "Without Time nothing would change. You'd be five years old forever and your sister wouldn't ever get to be nine."
"It's confusing," added Raven, "I don't think I'd like that very much."
"Let's go visit the clock," said Electra.
"Okay, see you later Draco," said Raven.
The dragon nodded and lowered his head then slowly closed his great
eyelids. He yawned and before the children were out of the room he was
Electra asked the librarian if they could go see the one hundred year old clock. "Yes, but try to be quiet," said the librarian pointing at the people reading in the main library room. "We will," whispered Electra.
The little girls walked quietly down the first aisle and came to a dark-man, standing, as if guarding the clock. "Hello," whispered Electra, "We'd like to look at the clock. Can we?"
The man stared down at the two girls. "What do you want from Celestron?" he asked in a grumpy voice.
"Oh! That's its name. We only want to look and see what a one hundred year old clock looks like," said Electra.
Electra shrugged, "My little sister wants to know, that's all."
"You want something from Celestron. Tell me, what is it?"
"I . . . I wanted to stop Time," whispered Raven, "but I don't
think I do anymore."
"Ah hah! I thought you were up to something. Well you're too late. Celestron has been silenced already. He hasn't spoken for many, many years . . . And I don't think he'll be talking to the likes of you. Why don't you just go back to the children's room and leave him alone."
"Couldn't we just take a quick look?" said Electra, "for my sister."
"Well, all right then, but don't look too deeply into his innards, you might find more than you bargained for."
"Oh we won't. We promise," said Electra.
Standing before the old clock the two girls looked through the glass
window which protected the clocks chains and pendulums.
"What do you see in there?" asked Raven.
"I don't know. It's hard to tell," answered Electra, "What do YOU see?"
"It's kind of dark down there but I think I see an old lady, sitting in her rocking chair."
"That's what I see too," replied Electra, "She's knitting something. I wonder who she is?"
"Do you think she'd hear us, if we talked to her?"
"We can try."
"Hello, hello down there."
There was silence for a moment but then the old woman in the rocking chair at the bottom of the clock, put aside her knitting and looked up. She replied, "Yes, children, I hear you. What do you want?"
"Are you Celestron?" asked Electra.
"No! No I'm not," replied the old woman. "Have you come to visit me?"
"Well, maybe . . ." replied Electra, "If we knew who you were.".
"Good, then you can come in. Just pull on the frame and it will open."
Electra hesitated. She whispered to her sister, "Do you think we should?"
Raven rolled her eyes as she shook her head and replied, "I don't know . . . "
Electra was fascinated by the old woman in the clock. "I think we might," she said to Raven as she reached for the wooden frame and slowly opened the door to the innards of the clock. "Go ahead," she said to her sister.
"You go first," answered Raven . . .
Then Electra remembered the warning of the dark-man, "What if she won't let us out?" she said to Raven.
Raven turned to the clock. "You will let us out, won't you?"
"Of course," replied the old woman, "You're only coming for a visit, not to live here. Besides its too small in here for you to stay long."
"I guess its okay," she said to her sister. "Then you go first," said Electra.
Raven looked up at the silent clock face, then tugged gently on the glass door. It opened with a slight creak and they could see stairs leading down into the clock. She took a step forward . . .
Electra put a hand on her sister's shoulder and pulled her back, "On second thought," she said, "Maybe we shouldn't go down there. Mother said we shouldn't talk to strangers."
Raven stepped back, "Oh yeah!" she exclaimed, "that's right."
"Come on down children," coaxed the old crone, "Tea is almost ready and there are sweet cakes with candy filling waiting."
Raven gulped and looked up at Electra. "Do you think we could just go in for a little while?"
Electra bit on her own lower lip as she considered the thought. "No," she replied, "Mother would get mad, I know it."
"Just for some cake," pleaded Raven, her hand on the clock door.
"Well maybe," relented Electra . . .
Suddenly a hand, old and gnarly, reached from within the clock and grabbed
Raven by the wrist, pulling her into the clock. Raven gasped. The startled
Electra was horrified to see her sister disappear into the bowels of the
clock. "No! You can't have her," she yelled and grabbed for Raven but missed
and instead tumbled into the clock and rolled down the stairs to fall in
a heap with her sister. The two girls looked up at the old crone.
"Nice of you both to drop in," cackled the crone.
Electra looked up towards the entranceway through which they had fallen but the stairs were gone. "You can't keep us here," she said, "I'll . . . ."
"You'll what?" cackled the crone, "Go ahead, try it."
Raven did just that. She screamed for her mother at the top of her voice. Then, almost in tears when nobody answered, she turned back to the crone and stuck out her tongue. "All right," said Electra, "We'll have your tea and cakes. Then will you let us out?"
"We'll see dearies, we'll see," said the crone, pouring two cups of tea into little cups on saucers.
"I like milk in my tea," said Raven.
"Oh course my dear," cooed the crone, "and two sugars too I presume."
Electra sipped her tea, "This tea is very strong," she said, "Could you put some water in it?"
"Certainly my honeys, anything you like, and here have some sweet cakes too."
Raven took one and had a bite. "Ummm! They are good," she said with a yawn. Electra too felt tired and sleepy.
"Oh dear," smirked the crone, "perhaps its time for the wee little girls to have a nap. Feel free to stretch out, right there on the floor, catch a few winks. When you wake up, I'll send you home, maybe."
"Of course," said the crone, holding her hand behind her back with her fingers crossed, "Of course."
"What do you want from us?" asked Electra, putting her head down on the table.
"Just a little of your time," smirked the crone, "just a little . . . "
"Oh!" murmured Electra as she joined her sleeping sister, both of their heads cradled in their arms on the table.
How long the girls slept they couldn't imagine but when they woke up they were in a big room filled with clocks. "Where are we?" asked Raven. "I wish I knew," replied Electra, getting up from her place on the ground. "The question is how do we get out of here."
"Are we still in the clock?"
"If we are then it's a pretty big clock."
A doorway opened and in walked the crone. "Well little ones, good morning. Did you have a nice little nap?"
"What do you want?" said Electra.
"Nothing much," said the crone, "Just a little of your time."
"Here's what I want," said the crone, "You can go out of here and find a clock maker and have him come back here to fix this clock. Since it stopped I've been stuck here, year after year, not getting older or anything. Now, when the clock is fixed I want you to tell the clock maker to make it run backwards."
"To reverse time you ninny. So I'll get younger instead of older."
Electra shook her head in disgust. "It doesn't work that way," she said, "If it did then everybody would turn their clocks back and get younger."
"Aah! But that's in the world outside the clock," said the crone, "Inside the clock time is different. And besides this isn't an ordinary clock you know. It was made by a magician many, many eons ago."
"Oh!" replied Electra, taking her sister by the hand. "All right then we'll find a clock maker. Come on Raven, let's go."
"No! no!" that's not the plan," said the crone, "The little girl stays here, with me, until you come back."
"No way!" said Electra, "but what if I bring back my Father and Mother, or the police?"
The crone smiled her toothless smile, "Then you won't find either of us," she said, "remember, this is a magic clock and there are many places we could be hiding. Now don't you wish you'd listened to your mother when she told you not to talk to strangers?" She laughed in a cackling way, "Here have an ice cream cone," she said to Raven. .
"I wish we'd listened to Mother," said Raven, "she was right. Do you think she'll be mad at us?"
They were interrupted then by a sudden noise and into the room strode Mr. Balonie, "Come on girls, follow me." Electra ran to the man and the three of them flew toward the door. "We have to hurry," said Mr. Balonie, "if that witch uses her magic before we get out of here . . . " "What! what are you doing here!" growled the crone, "Get out of here, at once."
"Okay, we will. There! There's the stairs," he said, "Come on! Faster!"
They had almost made it to the first step when suddenly the stairs turned into a gaping mouth with a long purple tongue as a carpet. The trio skidded to a halt. "Oh! oh!" said Mr. Balonie, "Too late. We're in trouble now. Come on, we'll try to find another way."
Mr. Balonie led them down one tunnel and into another and finally they had to stop for breath. "It's no use," he said, "We weren't quite fast enough. But at least I found you in time . . . "
"I'm sorry I couldn't run faster," said Raven.
"Oh, its not your fault little one. But, we really are in a pickle here."
"Isn't it a clock?" smiled Raven.
"That's it little girl," said Mr. Balonie, "Keep up your sense of humor. That will help."
"What do we do now?" asked Electra.
Mr. Balonie shrugged. "That's a good question," he said.
"But why did she pick us?" asked Electra, "I mean lots of kids go to the library and look at the clock. Why us?"
"It's not that," replied Mr. Balonie, "This is a special time in the world, the New Year is almost here, the Century is changing and greater than that is The New Millennium, the next thousand years. Margrek's magic is most powerful now."
"Is she -- Margrek -- I mean, a witch?" asked Raven.
"Yes, a most powerful witch," replied Mr. Balonie, "a witch who wants to rule Time. Once she almost controlled the world, the enchanted world that is, but she was stopped a long time ago."
"Who stopped her?"
"Well, Margrek used her evil power to control all of us trolls, and the other creatures of the woods. We were under her spell, hypnotized you might say to do her bidding. When, out of nowhere, down from the hills came the piper, playing his wonderful and strange music. The magic of the piper, his music quieted the hills and put the clock -- the witch's clock -- to sleep and brought us all awake."
"But where did the piper go?"
"When all was well he went back to the hills, back to his home, I guess
and we never saw him again. But that was long ago."
"Then we need to find another piper to keep the clock asleep, not a clock maker to wake it up."
"That's right, but there aren't many pipers around anymore."
"We can find one," said Raven, "I know a boy who plays the bagpipes."
"Yes, my friend Richie's cousin. Jared, he's a piper. He's little, but he's good, real good."
"But how do we get him to come here?" asked Electra.
"First we've got to find a way out of this grandfather clock," said Mr. Balonie, "and that isn't going to be easy."
"Come on," said Raven, "Let's go find a way."
Together the three of them went down the tunnels, searching for a way
out of the dimension of the clock.
-- to be continued --
Beneath the old stone bridge at Wadsworth Falls lived a family of trolls, the Raggy family, who had lived there for many generations. Their home was a hidden recess deep beneath the bridge. Years ago this family worked in the iron mills at Ragged Mountain further north and came from a community known as "The Raggys."
When the iron mills were no longer needed and were shut down the family moved further south. At Wadsworth Falls this family then worked in the lumber mills and fed themselves from the farmlands, fishes and game from the surrounding countryside. Then, as more years went by the mill and factories along the river also became obsolete and disappeared. New houses appeared here and there and everywhere on ground that was once garden country and the farms disappeared.
As the land slowly changed from country to suburb, still, the Raggys stayed on, hiding by day and roaming the land freely at night. There was food still to be had from what little farmland was left and garbage cans at the new houses yielded a steady supply of goodies.
The family was awakened one morning to a rumbling and shaking of the bridge and their home.
"Get up!" shouted Father Raggy. His wife jumped out of bed and roused the two boys, Damion and Criton, The boys quickly dressed and hurried down the tunnels that led away from the bridge and into the woods beyond. There the tunnel sloped upwards and they came out on a bluff overlooking the falls itself. They emerged into the cool morning air, misty and wet, to see what was going on.
"What's that crane-thing doing?" asked Mother.
"Wrecking our bridge," replied Damion.
"Why?" asked Criton.
Father shook his head. "I knew it," he said, "See those signs: DETOUR it says. There's a new bridge they're puttin in."
"But, our home!" cried Mother.
They watched as the crane swung its wrecking ball through the air to
thud into the bridge which shuddered but held its own.
"Hang fast old bridge!" yelled Damion, "don't give in!"
The ball swung again and again but each time the sturdy old stone bridge held its own.
"It can't last forever," said Father, "good bridge that it is, it can only stand so much."
As if to echo Father's words the ball swung again and a huge chunk of the bridge collapsed into the river.
"Oooh!" groaned Criton as he watched the ball swing again and return to knock another piece out of their home.
"Now what'll we do?" sighed Mother.
"Of course we've got to find a new home," replied Father.
"A new home!" said Mother with a look of shock on her face. "But where?" We've lived here and our ancestors have lived here; the boys have grown up here. Where can we go?"
Father shrugged, "We'll find someplace."
They went back into the tunnel to wait until dark when the construction workers had left for the day. As night came on, the Raggys popped out of their tunnel and surveyed the broken bridge. They climbed all over the construction equipment, the cranes and bulldozers and tried to decide what to do. They tried to go back into their old home but water had broken through and flooded their underground den. "It's no use," said Father, "Our home is lost, forever I'm afraid."
"Oh no!" cried Mother, "All our things, gone . . . I don't know
what we'll do."
Over the next few days the family stayed on, more out of habit than of hope, hiding in the tunnel during the day. They watched as the new span of bridge grew across the river and they could see that there was no place for them to live in the new bridge. Finally father put their plight to words: "We've got to move on," he said.
"I know," said Mother, "but I hate to . . . Couldn't we find a place nearby?"
Father shook his head. "This land is changing too fast," he said, "We'd only get settled in one place and have to move on again. No, we have to travel deeper into the forest, that is if we can find any forest left in these parts. Of course we could move on up to Canada and join our north-cousins."
"Brrr! Too cold," replied Mother.
"Well, north it is," said Father, "but maybe not all the way to Canada. Vermont and New Hampshire still have lots of land left."
"I'm for staying and fighting," said Criton. "Let's spike their cranes and bust their dozers."
"No Criton," said Father, "That trick might have worked once but now they'd only pay for repairs with insurance money and be back in a day or two. Then they'd set up a guard and probably catch one or more of us. That's not the right way anymore."
They stayed on for a while longer, watching the once beautiful old oak trees be cut down by power saws. Each time one was felled Father held his hands to his head. "Oh God!" he mumble, "Another spirit cut down in the prime of its life, not another one." Finally the glade was littered with the great giants. Father openly wept before the field. "Oh, that I should live to see this slaughter," he cried, "I knew those folks, each and every one, like relatives they were. Indeed, some of them were relatives."
"How's that?" asked Criton.
Mother took the boy troll to one side, away from his grieving father. "What people don't realize is that trees are living beings. Sometimes," she said, "a troll takes to living in a tree and gradually the two adopt each other. Sometimes, if both are willing, the troll becomes part of the tree and at some point the two are one and the same."
"I've never heard that," said Criton.
"That happened mostly in the olden days," replied Mother, "When the world was young and magic was the rule. It's old fashioned now I'm afraid, and magic is nearly worn out, but some of those old trees, if you look closely at them, you'll find faces of trolls and other woodcreatures, dragons too, and gryphons, nymphs and fairies."
"Ogres too?" asked Criton.
"Yes, ogres too," she replied.
It was not at all comfortable in the tunnel but the family continued their vigil hoping that the workers and their machines might one day go away and leave them alone. The boys tried to dive down into the water that filled the tunnel to retrieve any of their belongings but the water was too deep and too cold.
Finally, one morning, Father made the decision. "Today's the day," he said, "Time to leave."
"Sounds like we're giving up," grumbled Criton.
"Father's right," said Damion, "And the sooner we get away from here the better. We need to get settled in someplace before it gets too cold."
That night they packed what belongings they could salvage and headed off down the road and away from The Falls. Mother turned back once, "Goodbye old home," she said with a wave of her hand. "Goodbye old ancestors, we'll be back to visit, someday."
"We have to make one stop," said Father.
"What for?" asked Damion.
"To wish an old friend goodbye," replied Father.
"I thought all of them were gone," said Damion.
"Not quite all. Don't forget the trolls in the trees along the river and then there's the Straighten Road Bridge."
"Hmmm!" said Criton, "You mean old Albert still lives there?"
"Last I knew of him he was still there, even though the place was getting crowded with fisherfolks and little kids comin to bother him all the time."
They hiked down the trail carrying what little they had with them which wasn't much and after a long hike came to Straighten Road. Several miles down the road they came to the bridge. Father went to one side and called out, "Albert! You hiding back in there? It's me Father Raggy."
"I think he's moved on," said Mother after a long silence then several more calls and more silence.
"Must have left a clue," said Father, "Look around for the signs."
They searched in the dark for a while and then Damion found them. "Here!" he called, "by the side of this tree, a circle of stones. Is that it?"
"Good boy," replied Father, "Let me look at them." Father studied the stones a while and muttered to himself. "Those stones must have been moved a little bit by wind and rain, maybe animals too, but I think I get the gist of it."
"Do you know where he went?" asked Criton.
"I think so. Let's find out," replied Father.
They hiked on some more, following the river further into the woods, sometimes passing through the backyards of suburban folks until they came to a narrow ravine. "It's gonna cost them some to build houses in this gully," said Father, "but I guess they will someday."
"How much further?" asked Criton.
"Don't get your eyeballs in an uproar," said Father, "We're almost there."
They climbed along the ravine and came to a house built into the rock, an old place, made by men years ago. "Here it is," said Father, "The pump house."
"What's that?" asked Damion.
"They pumped water up the hill for the monastery; its a very private place, hardly anyone goes here anymore or knows about it."
"Will Albert be there?"
Father shrugged, "We'll find out now, won't we?"
When they got to the pump house they had to walk down a long stairway, then climb down a narrow hole in the ceiling using a metal ladder which led to another room, then another. Finally, at the last hole, they stopped and Father called out, "Albert! Are ye down there. It's me, Father Raggy."
There was silence and then the sound of a frog croaking came up through the hole.
"It's only a bullfrog," said Criton.
Father smiled, "A bullfrog! With ice now on the river?" He laughed and yelled down the hole, "Hello you old bullfrog!"
Moments later a head appeared at the top of the ladder.
"Hello yourself!" said Albert, "I hear from the birds that you've lost your home. Sorry to hear it. But you're welcome here, You know that."
Father clapped his hands onto his friend's shoulders, "Good to see you
again old troll. How have you been?"
"Well I was good until I heard about you, but that's only part of it you know. They're gonna cutup this whole countryside before they're done and turn it into little squares; so when the Spring gets here I'm gonna be on my way north too."
"You're welcome to come along with us," replied Father.
"Thanks for the offer," said Albert, "but I think I'll hang on here as long as I can, got some stuff yet to sort out and some tree-folks to see to."
Father looked away from his friend for a moment, then looked back. "Yeah, I know," he said, "They cut em all down at our place. We lost a lot of good friends there. So, its gonna happen here too?"
Albert nodded, "That's what the wind says," he replied, "Commin up from New York they are, folks buyin up everything, turning good farmland into little squares with fences around them and lots of green grass that's pretty to look at but not good for eatin."
Father shrugged, "The world changes," he said, "That's the way of things."
"Hmmm!" replied Albert, "I guess you're right, but they could leave some of the old behind, just so's to remember what it was like . . . So, when are you leavin?"
"Tonight. We're on our way out of town right now."
"Where's your piper?" said Albert.
Father slapped the top of his own head, "Oh my god!" he said, "I'd forgotten."
"What about?" asked Damion.
Albert looked at the boy troll, "He don't know much about troll-lore, does he?"
"Sorry about that," replied Father, "I guess we've missed a few things."
"Okay," said Albert, "Here's the jist of it. When trolls move out of an area, I mean not just down the street, like I did, they have to cleanse the spirit of the land, and music, music of the piper, is that cleanser. Then the piper has to play again to give you good luck on your journey and clear the air ahead of you."
Cryton laughed, "Where do you find a piper around here?" he said.
"Normally one would be hard to find," said Albert, "since the last piper I knew died 20 years ago. But, as luck would have it there's a wee laddie visiting from Cape Cod and he's a young piper. Doesn't know many songs yet, but I've heard him playing away to the stars. And he's pretty good, for a wee lad."
"Would he play for us?" asked Mother.
"The boy's a good sort, not Scottish or Irish, but of good Italian stock and I'm sure he would, if you asked him."
"Where do we find him?"
Albert turned away from the family and cocked his ear. "Listen," he said, "He played early in the day and some of his music is still floating on the air. Just follow your ear and it'll get you there."
Since Albert didn't have the usual fingers he couldn't shake everybody's hands but each one of the family gave him a hug and Mother, of course, gave him a kiss on the cheek. Father hugged him long and seemed not to let go, but finally it was time to leave. "Find that piper," said Albert.
"We will and good luck," said Father. "Good luck to you too," returned Albert. The little green troll did a flip in the air and disappeared down a drain pipe.
"Where'd he go?" asked Criton.
Father shrugged, "That troll can change his shape into so many things you never know where he went or what he turned into."
"Shhh!" said Mother, cocking her ear, "I'm tryin to find the bagpipe vibrations."
They all stood still, each straining for the fine echoes left on the air by the "wee laddies" playing of the pipes earlier in the day. "I think I feel them," said Damion, "This way."
They followed Damien up the hill and down the road to a small house by the side of the road. "Right here," said Damien, proud of himself for this display of talent, "I bet they come from here."
"Wait, while I check," said Father. He scurried up the lawn to the house,
then went around from window to window. A short while later he came back
and he was not alone. "This is our piper, Jared," said Father. Jared smiled
as he put his pipe to his lips and played a few notes. "Careful," said
Mother, "We don't want to wake your folks." Jared pulled the pipe
from his lips. "It's no problem with them," he said, "they don't mind if
I go out to practice, even after dark. I like to look up at the stars and
play, sometimes I play for them, the stars, I mean."
"Good lad," said Father, patting the boy on the head. "I told Jared about our problem and he said he'd call up the good spirits of the river to send us on our way and tomorrow he'll go down to the Falls and clean up all the leftover bad vibrations there too."
"Thank you Jared. Thank you so much," said Mother.
Jared bowed, "I'm happy to do it," he said. The boy-piper put the pipe to his mouth and called forth an old Scottish melody from days long gone. Father pointed down the road and he headed out, followed by Mother and the children. They turned several times and waved to Jared who nodded to them as they moved away into the dark. For many miles they heard his music.
Later that night they arrived at the railroad tracks and waited. "There's a train should be due any time," said Father, "We used to hop them in the old days."
"We might as well get comfortable," said Mother, stretching out on the grass, "It might be a while."
The ever curious Damien was not content to rest but went off exploring along the tracks. In a short while he was back. "Bad news," he said.
"What!" said Father.
"The tracks end about half a mile up the gully and they haven't been used in years."
"Hmmm!" said Father, "More change here, too much change for my likes."
"Now what do we do?" asked Mother.
"On to the trucks," said Father, "There's a highway just over those hills yonder."
On their way up the road the Raggys stopped to fill up their packs with leftovers from the neighborhood houses. "Here's a leftover chicken," said Criton, picking through a garbage can. He sniffed it, "Smells good too," he said as he took a bite. They filled their packs with enough food to last them several days and trudged along the river toward the nearby hills. On the other side they found the highway north.
At a truckstop they explored the big rigs and picked one they could all fit on. "This one has Vermont plates," said Damion. "Good boy," said Father, "Let's try it." They climbed aboard the rig and waited for the driver to return. It was less than half an hour before the truck's engine turned over and the vehicle vibrated to a start. "Here we go!" said Damion, as the truck picked up speed and entered the stream of traffic on the highway. "Vermont here we come!"
As the truck moved along the highway Damion perked up his ears. "Listen,"
he said, "Can you hear it, very faint, coming over the hills?"
They all listened and gradually, each came to hear the sound of bagpipes, far away over the hills as the boy piper lived up to his promise. Father smiled, "Thank you Jared, thank you." And soon, as the miles ticked by, even the sound of that powerful music was only a whisper in their ears.
At night the trolls were wide awake as was their usual habit; then as sunrise came on and the truck continued northward they all became sleepy. "Stay awake," said Father, "It's dangerous to fall asleep. If you fell . . . "
When the truck came to a stop at one of the roadside eateries and the driver went in for his coffee and breakfast the family jumped from their hiding places and headed off into the woods. "I wonder where we are?" asked Criton.
Father sniffed the air, "Nice air here," he said, "We might look around for a while."
"Are we far enough north?" asked Damion.
"Maybe," replied Father, "Come on, let's see what's on the other side of that hill."
They found a land beyond the hill that was more countryside and woods than anything. "It's like our place used to be," smiled Mother.
Damion and Criton raced up the hill, shouting with joy and the excitement of boys at a new place. They found a river and quickly stripped off their clothes to dive in, though the water was not very deep. Criton swam down and came up with a fish in his teeth, "Breakfast," he said, taking the fish in his hand and holding it up for them to see.
A small campfire was made in the woods and the fish was roasted, while
the chicken from the previous evening was eaten too. "Now we have to find
a place to stay," said Father, "perhaps an old barn for a start until we
can dig a tunnel near a bridge someplace."
After breakfast they cleaned up the fireplace, made it look like they'd
never been there, and hiked further on. They stopped at a clearing in the
woods. "Hush!" said Father, "There's a house, over there. Come on let's
check it out."
Several old shacks stood, at the edge of the woods, most of them crumbling from old age. "Hey," laughed Mother, "We could stay here, in this one. She looked inside the doghouse, then climbed in and peered out. "That might be a bit crowded for the four of us," said Father with a wink at the boys.
There was a storage shed at the rear of the house. "Let's try that one,"
said Father. So, they crept up to the property and the boys helped Mother
up so she could look in the window. "Looks okay to me," she said. "Let
me look too," said Father. The boys helped him climb up next to mother.
"Yeah," he said, "Not bad, Let's go in and give a closer look."
As the door to the shack was unlocked they went in with ease. "Hey look at those couches!" said Father, "Just what I need a cozy place to lie down for a while. He climbed up on the couch and Mother joined him there. "Not bad," she said.
"We could stay here for a while," said Criton. Father looked around. "Not enough places to hide in if anybody comes by," he said. "It sure is comfortable though," added Mother. Father scratched his nose, as was his usual habit when he was thinking. "We don't know anything about the people who live here. We need to find out more about them."
"Criton and me will scout the place out," said Damion. Father nodded his head. "Not a bad idea he said. Go ahead, but be careful." "We will," said Damion, "And you too." Father agreed with a wink and a nod.
As the two boy trolls moved cautiously among the sheds and rocks toward the main building Criton said, "I keep hearing that boy piper's music and it makes me homesick. I really miss our old home; I wish we could go back there."
"Wishes don't work too well in this world," replied Damion, "You just have to make your own dreams come true but sometimes that takes a lot of effort, I guess. Don't worry, we'll find a new home, somewhere."
"Hey, what's that, over there by the house?" said Criton.
"Looks like a little house, just like the big one."
They started over to look at the miniature house when the heard the yells behind them. "That's Mother!" shouted Criton, turning and moving, with Damion by his side towards the sounds of the cries. They covered the ground as quickly as they could and found their parents hiding in a metal cage with a pack of wild dogs surrounding the cage. "Oh oh! Now what do we do?" said Damion as the leader of the dog pack turned his head toward the two boy trolls.
"Watch out boys!" called Father, "we're safe here, but get yourself
out of here. Quick! Those guys are mean."
The leader of the pack turned around slowly, his fangs bared and the other dogs turned with him. "Run!" said Damion to Criton, "head for the trees."
As quickly as the two boy trolls moved the pack moved too, racing toward their quarry, barking and growling enough to frighten anyone. Damion felt them just behind him, saw Criton trip and fall and knew the wild dogs would rip his brother apart if he was not quick. Damion leaped forward, did a roll and came up with part of a tree limb. He raced to his brother's side and swung out at the dogs just as they reached his fallen brother. Crack went the branch against one dog, and another but it gave Criton time to get back onto his feet. "Thanks brother," gasped Criton, moving in next to Damion.
The pack leader gave his signal and the dogs began to move in a circle around the boys. Criton looked for another branch but couldn't find one nearby. Both boy trolls backed slowly toward the trees until their backs were up against a tall old oak. "Can you climb it?" asked Damion. "Too wide and no low branches," replied Criton.
"Watch out!" yelled Criton as one of the wild dogs came at them from behind the tree. Damion pivoted and gave the animal a whack. "Watch out, Back here, the leader's comin!" yelled Criton. Damion swung and caught the leader with his stick. Growling, both animals backed off. "What will we do if they all come at us at once?" asked Criton. "Pray to the piper," replied Damion, "I hope Mom and Pop are okay."
The wild pack gathered and looked to the leader. "I think they're going to rush us," said Criton, "If only I had a club or something."
It happened then, a branch, old but not that old, dropped from the tree almost into Criton's hand. Startled he almost dropped the branch, but quick reactions caused him to hold on to it. "Ha! ha!" he said, "Now it becomes a different game." The pack leader looked confused as the two boys began their advance on them. The advantage was all the boys needed and the surprised pack scattered, making a wide circle. Guarding each other's backs Criton and Damion moved toward a smaller tree with branches they could reach. "Should we go up?" asked Damion.
"I think not," replied Criton, twisting his staff around and getting a good grip on it. "Let's show these wise guys what its like to tangle with a couple of Raggys." Damion smiled at his brother and took a better grip on his club. "Ready!" he said. Criton nodded. Then with the scream of two wild banshees the boy trolls raced toward the leader of the pack, swinging their clubs overhead as they did.
Confused, the leader split from the pack and raced toward the woods, followed by the others. But the boy trolls wouldn't give up the chase and kept after them for the better part of a mile. Finally they stopped and stood watching the last of the wild dogs disappear down the woodland trail. "Aah! That was good exercise," said Criton. "Indeed it was brother," replied Damion.
They jogged back to the house to find their Mom and Pop still in the
cage. "You can come out now," said Criton, "the beasts are gone."
"Can't," replied Father, "We locked ourselves in and can't get the door open, its stuck."
"We can fix that," said Damion and he and Criton used their staffs as pry bars to break the door loose.
"Aah! That's better," said Father, helping Mother out of the enclosure. "Thanks boys, those wild dogs were ugly creatures indeed."
"Lucky that club dropped into my hands," said Criton, "That's what saved us."
"Club! What club?" asked Father.
Criton explained their fight and the club dropping from the tree. Father wanted to take a look at the tree and they all walked across the grass, both boys carrying their branches, just in case. "It dropped from up there," said Criton.
"Please! Come on down," urged Father, "I know trollwork when I see it."
Then, from out of a break in the trunk, as if he were part of the tree
a figure appeared. "Glad to be of help," he said, as he jumped from one
branch to the next until he was on the ground next to the family. "Old
Llort at your service Mr. Raggy."
"You know us?"
"I heard all about your bridge and thought you might head up this way. So I wasn't surprised to see you when you came. Your boys are good fighters too, but they need to be better prepared, for the next time."
"We will," replied Criton.
"Do you live around here?" asked Father.
"Nope! Just passin through, like yourselves," said Old Llort, "on my way south."
"Sounds like a mission," replied Father.
"Yup! That's what it is, a mission. Gotta find a piper. So I can't tarry here too long. We've been hearin the soft strains of bagpipe music in the air for a while now, but far away. Do you know of any pipers down below? I'd be obliged if you did."
"Sure we know of a good one," said Father, "Jared, from Wadsworth Falls, down below, where we just came from."
"Good, that will help me a lot," said Llort, "I'll find him. Gotta go now, Time's a wastin."
"We're just glad you were here," said Mother, putting her hand on Old Llort's arm."Thank you for your help."
"Twarnt nothin!" said Llort. "Gotta go now. Don't stay too long in this area, too many folks movin in, lots of changes. Country won't be the same in a few years. You folks just follow that woods path into the hills, you'll be safe there, long as you spend the night in the trees." They shook hands and Llort moved off into the woods. They watched him for an instant then he seemed to blend with the trees and disappear.
"Come on," said Criton, "I want to show you the house we found."
"Oh! It's a honey," laughed Mother, "Too bad we weren't a little smaller; I'm sure the fairy folks would love it."
"Well, come on," said Father, "We've got to move on, away from this
part of the country before those wild dogs come back. I'm sure you boys
could take care of them, but I don't want to push our luck."
Published by The Gronicus Press, a Division of The LeBlancWorks
a philanthropic organization
The LeBlanc Works