Noise was everywhere. Glass was shattering. A crossbow bolt whizzed through the window and past Rosalind’s face and embedded itself into the wall paper. Marie, next to Rosalind, screamed. Tchi’s eyes were wide open with astonishment and confusion. All around the sparse room frenetic activity was taking place. Everything was utterly strange. A fat mouse-like creature – as big as Tchi – was working frantically on a computer keyboard next to a TV with a black horizontal line rolling on its screen. The creature now had his hands in the air and was staring at the children with big eyes and shouting with apparent glee: “I’ve done it. Praise be to the Great One!”
“They’re attacking!,” shouted a fairy-like female at the top of her voice. “In the kitchen, now! Quick! Or we’ll be surrounded!”
Then more glass breaking. The upper petition of the door was smashed by another crossbow bolt and the three children trembled as giant insect like tentacles came into the room and tried to undo the bolts on the bottom of the door.
Another mouse-like creature – smaller – who had gone into the kitchen came running back into the lounge and threw a white paper bag at the door. It split open and all sorts or red and brown stuff dribbled down the doors frame.
“Kill the lights! Gluid!” shouted the computer-mouse, thrusting a CD in the pocket of his waist coat. “They’re coming. Everybody into the kitchen! Now!”
As the lights in the room went off, Rosalind suddenly came out of her trance. She hurried through the kitchen door.
“Come on you, two!” shouted the fairy-like figure at Marie and Tchi who were still frozen with fright. “NOW!”
Another pane from the bay window shattered behind them, throwing glass all over the patterned carpet, making the children jump into action.
Once in the kitchen, the fairy spat out instructions. “Take as many bombs as you can from the Moonbeasleys and then follow Maximouse, out of the back door. Be quick.
‘Maximouse’ appeared to be the big one who was looking out of the side window. The smaller ‘Moonbeasley’ was taking trays full of white paper bags out of the refrigerator and putting them on the table. While this was going on, Serendipity was unbolting and turning the key in the back door.
“Maximouse, you’re leading,” said the fairy, “and Gluid, you walk in the middle of the line just before the boy. Rosalind you stay behind Maximouse. And the girl,” she pointed to Marie, “behind you. Everybody keep in a single file, and be as quiet as the grave.”
“Whatever you want, Serendipity,” said Maximouse.
While Serendipity was giving instructions, Gluid, the small mouse, thrust paper bags into everyone’s hands, and anywhere else they could put them. In order to receive a paper bag in both hands. Rosalind pocketed Granddad’s watch which was still in her hand.
Gluid then took the tray – with the remaining paper bags that had not been given out – and flung it all into the lounge.
“Out! Now!” the fairy demanded and opened the back door.
**** **** **** ****
As the door opened the sound of howling wind came in, and the strangeness of the night invaded the small bungalow. Maximouse took the lead, with Rosalind just behind him. Crouching, keeping low behind a hedge, they all snaked along a garden path.
Maximouse had considerably increased his pace and so Rosalind had to sped up to keep up. They went further into the darkness, the light obscured on all sides by dense tall trees. They were in the middle of a wood.
“You supposed to be following me. Have you got any brains?” squeaked Gluid, telling off Tchi.
Rosalind approached the end of the back garden, She heard a low hum coming from the trees. But there was little to see apart from dark silhouettes in front of her.
**** **** **** ****
Maximouse had crouched under a giant oak near the gate at the bottom of the garden. He waited for everyone to crouch beside him. “Over there,” he said pointing with one hand, and placing a finger over his lips with the other. “Aim just behind those shrubs. Throw, but quietly. Now” His paper bag bombs were the first to be thrown and then everyone’s paper bags were flying like hailstones towards their target.
**** **** **** ****
It literally raised a hornet’s nest. Suddenly the buzzing that Rosalind had heard earlier became alarming. An orange glow, like warmth from a fire, shone up from behind the shrubbery into the treetops. Then the light above was blotted-out by an enormous winged creature flying over their heads. It was a wasp, with black and yellow stripes and enormous in size, at least six foot long. It had the strangest head. A shiver ran down Rosalind’s spine.
“It’s returning from a mission. Keep throwing your bombs,” insisted Maximouse, as he flung one of the meat-jam paper bags up at the air-borne wasp above him. It careered off into the dark, although Rosalind was unable to tell if the bomb had hit it. Then Maximouse seemed to have run out of bombs to throw.
He whispered into Rosalind’s ear, “Quick! This way. Try not to make any noise.”
Rosalind followed as best she could, but she found it difficult to see where she was putting her feet. She almost fell over three times, and Marie and Tchi were doing no better.
**** **** **** ****
After an exhausting run through the trees, they found Maximouse waiting for everybody to catch up again. “Are any Buzzors following, Serendipity?” he asked the fairy.
“I can’t feel them. The bombs will slow them down a bit, but we know how persistent they are.”
“Where are we?” asked Rosalind.
“Yes. What the hell are we doing here?” asked Marie.
“Sssh,” said Maximouse. “We’ll explain later. I am leader, so I will get you safe. Just follow.” So saying, he instantly turned on heel and was off again, climbing over logs, and pushing branches and twigs aside, so that those behind could proceed with less difficulty.
**** **** **** ****
They were feeling very wet and cold. Rosalind felt especially weak because she had not been long out of hospital. Her shoulder wasn’t hurting especially, she just felt weak all over.
**** **** **** ****
After a mile of difficult terrain, at exhausting speed, they at last slowed down when Maximouse came out onto a stoned path. Although the children were still unable to see where they were going in the dark, progress was easier, making it less likely to stumble. It must have been at least a mile mile later that Maximouse stopped and waited for Rosalind and the others to catch him up.
Marie and Tchi were blowing on their hands trying to keep warm. They would have given anything to sit inside by a warm fire. All of the group were together now, standing in a huddle, beneath a big oak tree. There was more light around now, as the clouds broke to let allow through a chink of starlight.
“At the moment we are going through Wizicky Wazicky Wood,” said Maximouse to them all. He spoke in gasps, ever alert as to what was around him, often looking above, and screwing up his eyes as if he could see into the dark infinity of the forest.
“You have been here once before, Rosalind, in your life, but we have to go much further than this, if we can. This wood is much more dangerous than it used to be.”
Rosalind remembered her dream of long ago, and the strange inscription on the back of the watch.
“I’m dreaming again, aren’t I?” she said.
“No. Not at all,” said Maximouse, “you are here at last. I’ve been trying to get you over to our parallel universe for a long time but today I succeeded. It was a strange transportation. Quite difficult, much more than it should have been. I didn’t mean to bring over your friends with you. I don’t understand that irregularity.”
“What do you want me for?”
“You don’t know?” he said looking surprised.
“Oh.” He hesitated. “Anyway, all be will be explained later, when we can get to a safe base. We never expected the Buzzors to be so far North in the island. Our bungalow – praise Allah – has always been safe in the past.”
“Was that a Buzzor, that big wasp thing?” asked Marie
“Yes,” said Serendipity. “That one was a spy on its way back to base, otherwise it would have stayed with the others. The Buzzors are chimeras created by genetic engineering, half dog and half wasp. They are very loyal and very aggressive. That’s why the bomb jelly works. It’s half jam and half meat. This throws them into complete confusion and distraction and stops them flying if we can get it on their wings.”
“They’re real nasty!” squeaked Gluid.
“They are controlled by Ursula the tyrant. Ha, the ‘Unstoppable’ she calls herself,” squeaked Gluid. “We shall see about that!”
“Where are we going?” said Rosalind.
“We have a long journey,” interrupted the fairy, “But we’re not out of this wood yet. They will know that we have tried to transport someone from Earth. Now they will be furious at our success. They will not give up.”
“How did you get me across?”
“Everything electronic here is illegal, except TVs, but even those need a special license,” explained Maximouse, “I used an illegal computer and an illegal software programme. These, in conjunction with an analogue or digital TV, can transport objects from one parallel universe to another through the penta-quark neutrino tunnel. I’ve still got the software on a CD in my pocket, but all the other technology in the bungalow will be destroyed by the Buzzors.”
“When can we go back?” asked Rosalind.
“The bungalow will be destroyed by the Buzzors, there’s no point going back there now.”
“No. Back home to earth?” said Rosalind.
There was a pause.
“I don’t know,” said Maximouse.
“Can you get us back?”
“Um, yes… I think so,” said Maximouse. “I just need a computer and a working TV. The only times I could get you across was when you were near a TV set. We were always working blind.”
“Oh,” said Rosalind, remembering the times she went dizzy. “This is really happening isn’t it?”
Serendipity was listening hard to the wind in the forest.
**** **** **** ****
“We need some driving rain,” she said at last. “Flying in a wood is difficult at the best of times, but this drizzle won’t stop them,” she said.
“Let’s move,” said Maximouse, scrunching up his nose to flick the raindrops off his whiskers. “It’s still a long way.”
“I can’t hear any hum now,” said Marie.
“Don’t let that fool you,” said Serendipity
“These Buzzors, are the personal guard of Ursula the Unstoppable. They have collars with electronic receivers on, so they can all receive instant orders from her headquarters. No one else –”
Suddenly a crossbow bolt hissed across the conversation and winged into a tree, landing just above Marie’s head. She screamed, but Tchi put his hand over her mouth to instantly quieten her. The hum began again. Another crossbow bolt flew through the group, this time narrowly missing Gluid.
The travellers took to their heels instantly, into the darkness they went. Not knowing where they were heading, they scurried over crackling twigs, anywhere, but away from direction of the hum.
Rosalind’s jacket caught on a tree branch. She struggled to disentangle it, which seemed to take her an eternity in the darkness. By the time she had, she discovered she was all alone.
Where had they all gone? Rosalind daren’t cry out for her friends, for the fear of bringing herself to the attention of the Buzzors. Her ears tuned into the sounds of this silent wood. The buzzing had stopped but it was not silent. Rosalind could make out the occasional sound. A sniff from over there, and in the distance, a croak, the hoot of an owl, and then she thought she heard a deep sigh in the bushes some way to her side. And often the leaves rustled and the bracken crackled as if party to some mysterious watcher, who wished to remain invisible.
“Help,” whimpered a soft voice.
It must be one of her gang, she didn’t recognise the voice. She pushed the branches back and directed herself to the soft cry.
“I’m sure there’s someone there. Please help me,” pleaded the quiet voice.
She slowly, carefully, pushed back leaves unleashed her feet from clinging briars and straddled a small ditch, leaping over onto a small footpath. In front of her she could make out an animal lying to the side of the footpath.
“Hello. Please help me,” it said, sounding exhausted.
There was enough light here, as the trees were not so densely packed, to see a fox with its forearm caught in a trap, a trap with fierce crocodile teeth.
“How long have you been here?” she asked.
“It feels like about three hundred years,” he said.
She didn’t have to search long before she found a branch strong enough to level back the jaws of the trap. “When I say pull, pull your arm out.”
He did as bid, with a squeal of pain, and rolled away from the trap. After a minute he pulled himself onto his back legs up by clinging onto a nearby tree with one hand.
“Can you walk?”
“There never used to be traps in Wizicky Wazicky Wood before that woman took over the island. My arm will never be any good now, but I can still walk.” He shuddered with pain.
“Have you seen my friends? Five of them altogether?”
“Thank you for saving my life,” he said, ignoring her question. “Take this. With his healthy paw he took off a necklace he was wearing. She couldn’t even see it in the dark. “It’s my pendant. You look as if you could do with some clean clothes,” he said as he clumsily put it over her head. “Oooh. Things are worse than I thought. Can you smell that dreadful stink? Let’s get out of here.”
She turned round, alerted by breaking twigs behind her. She could hear voices.
“What is that awful sensation?” she said, turning back to the fox. But the fox had gone
She felt quite nauseous. Then her both her arms were grabbed.
“Got you! This way.”
She was relieved. It was the two Moonbeasleys: Maximouse and Gluid.
The smell of the forest was beginning to get Rosalind down but the Moonbeasleys didn’t seem to notice it. “It smells of bad eggs round here,” she said, “it’s foul.”
“That dreadful woman comes further North these days. Perhaps we are in danger of getting used to it,” said Maximouse, pulling her along as fast as he could.
The smell made her quite faint. It seemed to seep inside her body and make her weak, make her sleepy.
“You were going the wrong way,” said Maximouse, “It’s lucky you talk to yourself or we would never have found you. You would not have survived. We don’t intend to lose you now.”
Rosalind didn’t bother to explain about the fox.
The wind had picked up again and for a moment the smell was gone. The clouds had closed the gap for starlight to enter and so it was very dark again, and a trickle of rain had begun
They rushed through the bushes as fast as they could go. Rosalind knew that danger was still on their heels for such a necessity of speed.
They climbed down a ridge, down a wide bridle path. At last in the dim light she saw Tchi, Marie and Serendipity waiting for them.
“Thank Immelda, the Queen of Peace, you’ve found her,” said Serendipity. Marie came and put her arms around her. Tchi was smiling. It was nice to see her friends.
“What are we going to do?” Maximouse addressed Serendipity in a whisper which no one else was meant to hear.
“Lose the Buzzors or we’re dead,” she said. “You’re the navigator.”
“Yes,” he said.
Maximouse led the way forward off the bridle path and back into the wood, it became very dark in here again, as black as night. Rosalind tried to keep him close as she followed him but the terrain was like trying to climb through one broken window pane after another, the shards of glass, or branches in this case, always ready to scratch and entangle.
**** **** **** ****
Then Rosalind caught a whiff of the stink again. And then she began to feel that terrible sense of evil, like she had in her dream.
“We need some Clenicaline for these children,” said Serendipity.
“No hope of that,” said Maximouse.
Someone else was sensing it too. “It’s the Boddlegogs, isn’t it?” whispered Gluid, wearing a grim expression.
“What are they?” asked Marie, but nobody answered.
“Keep calm Gluid, we’ll lay low somewhere.”
“We’ll fight!” said Gluid. “We’ve the Buzzors behind us and the Boddlegogs in front. Give ‘em a poke in the eye.”
“It’ll be our last stand,” said Serendipity tartly. Follow Maximouse, he knows the wood,” said Serendipity.
They took a diversion down into a valley, towards a small stream, which Rosalind could just see glinting in the meagre light.
**** **** **** ****
“This way now,” said Maximouse. They came out on to a ledge looking down over a gorge. They gradually climbed down stone steps into the darkness beneath the treetops.
The heavens opened and driving rain poured down from the sky. The starlight, blurred by the deluge, created a diffracted light, which flickered around the tree barks like moths of light.
They entered a den of trees, hidden from the outside by foliage.
“I sense them again,” said Serendipity, putting her head together with Maximouse and Gluid.
“We’ll be most at risk when we hit Vaudeville Clearing, said Maximouse, “we will need to get across that quick.”
The arduous march through the forest continued until they came upon a muddy track.
It began subtly, like the changes of the moon. Rosalind felt tired, wet, cold and highly confused, but now she was beginning to feel utterly despondent. She was tetchy with everyone, angry about being in this God forsaken wood. Marie was moaning as well.
Serendipity noticed. She had a quiet few words with Maximouse, not meant for the ears of the others.
Once again he stopped and waited under a thicket of entwining barks. Serendipity and Gluid stood at the back, Tchi, Marie and Rosalind stood in front of him. Maximouse began to speak quietly.
“Children,” he began, “We have a big problem. We must all keep heart. We must all believe we will get to safety. One thing that will reassure you is that I am a great leader! I will not get you lost and will lead you to safety. However we must keep up our spirits. It is not easy to do that because evil forces tap our strength, making us feel that it is all a hopeless uphill trek, and that we will never succeed in our endeavours, but we will, believe me.”
Gluid contributed in his nasal whine, “Yes. these creatures will sap your strength, they will make you feel like giving up, they have tremendous powers.”
“Who are you talking about?” asked Marie.
“The B-B-Boddlegogs,” stammered Gluid alarmed, “They’ll muscleise us all!”
“Now let’s not frighten everyone,” interrupted Maximouse. “The Boddlegogs are pretty dreadful things, so we need to hide out of their way.”
“They have a physical presence but you can never see it, you only see them in your mind,” said Gluid. “They are individual soldiers, but they all act as if they are one negative mind. You must not try to imagine them, because if you do they will come into your mind and drag you down, and they will know you are there. They are mind-reading entities who breathe nemotoxigen, they are so foul that proximity to them can almost make you go mad.”
“They sound grim!” said Rosalind. “What if – “
“Whooh!” screamed Serendipity, “The Buzzors are behind us!”
No sooner had she said this than a Buzzor flew into the canopy of space straight at them.
“In the trees!” hissed Gluid.
It was the first time Rosalind got the chance to really see a Buzzor face to face. The large black and yellow striped monster flew over Gluid and straight towards her. Never had she seen such a peculiar creature. It had a wolf’s head, with dribbling jowls and wide staring eyes. Its irises of bright vermilion floated on pupils of fluorescent yellow. It wore a collar like a dog, with metal studs. It’s whiskers were short and bristly. Its body was hideous, the soft pulpy mass of a wasp, with all its insect limbs and wings. It had no tail at the end of its abdomen, but was honed to a point. It stank of stale meat. Under its soft underbelly was a long spear-like sting. It carried in its fore-tentacles a loaded crossbow and had a belt round its neck with many crossbow bolts. Its eyes were unthinking, as if they were mere video cameras.
A crossbow bolt flashed through the air and pinned Gluid’s gown to a tree.
They were doomed, as another, and yet another Buzzor came into the wide cave created by the trees.
Rosalind grabbed a big bough lying on the floor and crashed it on the side of the Buzzor’s head as it closed in on her. It somersaulted and ensnared its wings on the jagged fingers of a beech tree.
**** **** **** ****
Gluid tore his nightdress from the crossbow bolt and leapt out with Maximouse into Vaudeville Clearing, a completely exposed part of the forest. Serendipity and the children immediately followed. The rain out here thundered down over the plain. Maximouse shouted that within a hundred metres they would be under the cover of forest once more, and be a lot safer. They ran as fast as their legs could carry them.
As they followed Maximouse round an outcrop of granite, towards the West, they should have been able to see their next place of safety. But they all stopped dead. Standing between them and their sanctuary was a cohort of Buzzors. Hundreds of them, shoulder to shoulder. The Buzzors had obviously been waiting for them, and now began walking forward like Roman soldiers, with staffs in hand and their crossbows at the ready towards Rosalind and her friends. The whole marched slowly, purposefully and hideously. The buzz coming from them was like a chain saw on full speed.
“We’ll never pass them,” said Tchi.
“At least they can’t fly,” said Serendipity, not in this driving rain.
**** **** **** ****
But another noise was going on beside the hum, and it was coming from behind them. It was a squelching noise sound, and the mechanical sucking sound of shredding which was getting louder by the second.
“It’s those vile –“
“Don’t even try to imagine them!” shouted Serendipity looking highly distressed
The gang instinctively moved back from the Buzzors, but knew they were only walking into the path of the oncoming Boddlegogs.
Suddenly Rosalind could see them vividly, but she couldn’t describe them or even tell where they were. There was a banging sound in her head, as if her own pulse had gone mad, yet she also had a whisperish feeling of nothingness, she felt like her own mind was failing, diminishing, if it was being taken over by something else.
“Get down! Get down quick!” shouted Serendipity.
A noise, a ghostly whine, so high pitched that it was almost inaudible, began to pervade Rosalind’s senses. And then a spark of light like a form of fork lightning sizzled past her into the undergrowth.
The Moonbeasleys and the fairy ran off into long grasses and the few sparse trees. Hiding down in the bushes, the children quickly copied them, a sense of panic quickly affecting them. Evil was approaching, and approaching from two directions.
They lay there – the Buzzors advancing on one side and the Boddlegogs on the other, Maximouse moaned, “I’m sorry children,” said Maximouse, “I’m not much good at this,” and put his head in his hands in despair.
“Down here” spat out an urgent voice.
It was dark, the rain water sloshed down the fall of the plain towards the small river. Now all the Buzzors had collected together, the hum became painfully intense. The squelching and the shredding of the Boddlegogs could be felt through across the entire plain.
“Over here, quick!” shouted the black thing in the ground. It was very large. It was a raven’s head.
“By the mighty Immelda,” said Serendipity, crawling quickly over to the raven. “DagDag!!
“Down the hole here, in the ground, but hurry.”
He pointed to a hole in the ground, just big enough to squeeze into. “Maximouse, you see well in the dark, you first. It’s a chasm. It goes down about fifty feet. Be careful how you go or you’ll get to the bottom too soon.”
Maximouse went in first, but Rosalind had to be persuaded. “Go in, Rosalind, or its certain death for us all,” said Serendipity. “I’ll come in last because I’m not so susceptible.”
Rosalind began to climb down, feeling her way with her feet. She could see very little. She was drenched from head to foot, and getting wetter by the second. The rainwater poured down into the crevice over her and then onto Maximouse. “Hurry up, “ shouted Marie, who was coming down above her.
Now Rosalind was in complete darkness, with clammy rocks breathing next to her cheeks, with freezing water dribbling down by the side of her face. The rocks were slippery to touch, she almost lost her footing and then decided she had had enough. She was going back up.
“Go down further,” said Marie, “Gluid is trying to stand on my hands.”
Maximouse shouted up to Rosalind that he would place her feet on the next foothold, for her to keep coming down.
“Moonbeasleys see well in the dark,” he said. “I will help you but you must hurry.”
Rosalind swallowed and forced herself to resist her inclinations. She relaxed her foot. Maximouse found a safe foothold for it and then he repeated the process with each foot, one after the other. Gradually Rosalind descended further into the chasm. A message was sent down by Serendipity eventually: just another metre.
Rosalind tried to switch off her thoughts of terror. As the water splashed on her face, she doubted she would ever find her way back up. She was pitch-black blind and soaked. She would go mad down here; she would be buried alive; she would never get out and see the sunshine and never get home, and never see her family again, and no one would ever find her. The only thing that gave her courage was holding onto Marie’s legs above her.
“The ledge is a bit thin down here,” said Maximouse below her. “I’m going to climb up a little so you’ll have to squeeze in.” Then he added, somewhat inappropriately for the dreadful situation they were in, “I really must lose some weight.”
He climbed up and his nose was now level with her knee. In the same way that contact with Marie gave her some hope, feeling the nearness of Maximouse gave her reassurance. To feel a friendly person next to her helped Rosalind to put off her panic.
Booming came from above, like the sound of a small earthquake a long way away. “We’ll have to stay here for at least two hours,” said Maximouse.
“The effect of the Boddlegogs, on those near to them, is to create a sense of despair; positive thoughts are turned negative,” said Maximouse
The noise above was now at its loudest: an icy wind on the mind, cold, a cruel wind.
Two hours! She’d go crazy.
“Don’t worry children,” said Maximouse. “Everything will be alright. We just have to be patient. We’re very lucky to be down here. Otherwise we would have been shredded by those….” He stopped, he couldn’t bring himself to mention the name, “but my leadership has got you safe and sound.” It was at this point that Rosalind wondered if Maximouse was right in the head.
Then, what seemed like an eternity later, but was, in fact, only fifteen minutes, Maximouse said, “I need to come up a bit higher, Rosalind.”
Rosalind felt rather pressurised by this because she didn’t think she’d be able to find the footholds in the blackness to get herself back up the pot hole.
“You’ll have to move up a bit,” said Maximouse, “The water is rising quickly down here, and I’m up to my waist in it.”
Not only was water pouring in overhead and down the walls, but it was collecting at the bottom of the shaft. Those at the bottom would all be drowned. She had to move or Maximouse would be drowned. So motivated, she pulled on Marie’s leg and managed to stammer out what was happening. Marie passed the message up and gradually they all climbed up an extra yard, virtually conga-ing themselves into the chasm, squashed together like sardines.
When it was Rosalind’s turn to climb up she wanted to feel with her hands where to put her feet but she couldn’t get her hands down to locate footholds. Her feet groped about in frustration, then she felt relief when Maximouse took hold of her ankles and found reassuring footholds for them.
The booming above had been going on for sometime, but now after half an hour it began to fade. Then, at long last, Serendipity sent the ‘all clear’ and a few minutes later they all began to climb up the chasm, out from the soaking wet pothole.
Slowly they began to extricate themselves. All went well until Marie slipped. Fortunately she became wedged, her shoes scuffed Rosalind’s head but then deflected onto a small ledge, saving Maximouse and Rosalind from cascading all the way to the bottom of the chasm.
When they had all climbed out no one spoke for a while, still in a sense of shock.
“They were on a Mulch! Phewww!” said Gluid.
“Urgh, I feel horrible after that,” whispered Marie. “I’m soaked. I’ll die of pneumonia.”
“It’s bad enough when they get into your wood, but worse they get into your mind.” Said Serendipity
Rosalind, dripping and filthy, was hugging everyone in sheer relief.
DagDag was impatient. “The Boddlegogs have gone East,” he said. “The Buzzors have returned back to Kaukus because of the rain. Nevertheless be vigilant, there may be some still lurking around. Follow me. I will take you to Jill’s house in Moonglade. I can’t absolutely guarantee your safety but it is a place that Ursula’s forces have never gone to previously. You all need a rest, and she will surely look after you.”
The rain poured down.
It was still another arduous walk, and there was no let up in the weather. Rosalind was so cold that she could no longer feel her fingers, or the skin on her legs. The thick and claustrophobic wood allowed only a smidgeon of light to penetrate down from the stars above.
She asked Maximouse: “Why did you say we’d be down there for two hours?”
“I thought if you tried to imagine that, then you’d be able to stand it for one hour. In fact, we were lucky, it proved quicker than I anticipated. I’m quite clever really,” he said.
The tightly packed woodland thinned out, giving way to pine trees.
“Not much further,” said DagDag.
He was accurate, for just around the corner was the largest cottage Rosalind had ever seen. It had a thatched roof and a chimneystack at the end of its gable. She had never seen one with so many doors and windows
DagDag flew up and tapped on a bedroom window with his beak. A bedroom light went on. Within a minute the downstairs door was opened by a large gerbil wearing a nightdress. It had curlers in its hair. Rosalind was beginning to get used to the humanoid size of these animals. “Come in at once,” she whispered hurriedly to Serendipity. As everyone stepped into the cottage, she observed, “We’re going to need a lot of towels.”
Inside the lounge, Maximouse did a twizzle around the room. “Thank the Great One, Tingo! Yes, didn’t I do well! We are all alive and safe!”
“And so we must remain,” said Serendipity having a quick peek out of the window.
*** *** *** ***
Within half an hour, Jilly the Gerbil and Amelia, her daughter, provided showers for all the gang. Bath towels, bed sheets, old curtains – in fact everything that could be found to dry the sodden, and even more to wrap around themselves, while their clothes were being dried around the kitchen stove.
When everyone was clean and dry they sat on settees and bean-bags around a blazing fire in the lounge.
“We’ll make you a meal,” said Jilly, when they had all been furnished with big mugs of hot tomato and basil soup.
“No!” shouted Gluid. “I will be Chef. I love to cook.”
“If you wish,” said Jill.
“I’ll be glad to give a hand,” said Marie.
“Don’t let her into the kitchen, Earth children can’t cook! She’ll ruin it,” shouted Maximouse.
“Thanks very much,” said Marie.
“Some other time, but not now,” said Gluid. “The meal is a celebration of us all being led here safely by Maximouse,”
“Hmmm…” said Serendipity.
*** *** *** ***
Eventually they were all warm, dry and full of delicious food. Even Marie had to congratulate Gluid on his gastronomic skills. Serendipity played her harmonica and Gluid recited one or two poems which were as good as his food.
Everyone was satiated dry and exhausted. Yawning became a contagious disease and many had already developed the more severe shut-eye.
“Don’t go to sleep,” shouted DagDag. “There’s a job to be done.”
“Can’t it wait until tomorrow,” said Maximouse, “I’m beat.”
“Maximouse Moonbeasley!” shouted Serendipity in obvious disgust.
He opened his eyes wide again and sat up. “What do we do now then?”
“It is essential we explain to the children what is happening,” said DagDag.
“I’ll make some strong coffee to keep us all awake,” and went off to the kitchen.
DagDag began by explaining why they had teleported Rosalind into Palingenesis Island.
“It is written in the historical records of our holy book, ‘The Illumination’ that when Palingenesis Island is in crisis, an Earthling child with high PSI must be called to deliver their special talents. Without this even the slightest chance of success is impossible,” said Maximouse.
“You are the one we chose because we had an appendix by Tapir, who said you were a girl of magical qualities. You had the biggest PSI factor. Although you don’t remember much about it, you – and your pocket watch – have been on the island before. You have been called over for your special talents.”
“What talents? asks Rosalind.”
. All of the creatures looked at her, including Serendipity, their faces full of concern.
“Well surely you know what talents you possess?” said DagDag. “We are not sure what those talents you possess are. That is not written, but it is prophesied that they will be revealed.”
“Why are we here?” asked Tchi, pointing to him and Marie.
“Well…we don’t know really. Something went wrong with the teleportation. Maximouse must have made a mistake and pulled you two across as well.”
Maximouse’s eyes crossed at this point, but he remained silent.
“You were all physically close to Rosalind when we called her over, weren’t you, but it’s unusual. Nevertheless, as you are here as well, you will help Rosalind and ourselves to carry out a critical mission. You have to help us destroy the nemotoxigen bomb, which will be detonated in five days; it must be destroyed within that time.”
“If the bomb is detonated it will kill all creatures who breathe fresh air in Palengenisis Island. Also, it will cause chronic mayhem on your Earth.
“The bomb will create such a vast amount of toxic gas it will leak through to your Earth. Small amounts of nemotoxigen has existed on Palingenesis Island for 300 years, and much of this has leaked to your Earth over that time, but the amount that will be released by the bomb will be apocalyptic for both Palingenesis Island and Earth.”
“Is that where we are?” asked Marie. “…on Palingenesis Island?”
Serendipity nodded affirmatively.
DagDag said, “The bomb is being created and will be detonated by Ursula the Unstoppable, the evil queen, and her forces. As we speak, Eggplant – her insane scientific collaborator – and his team are putting the finishing touches to the bomb.
“Ursula is 457 years old, yet she looks as young as a princess, having regular operations of macro-cellular cloning surgery. She now breathes nemotoxigen most of the time.
“Nemotoxigen is an addictive black foul gas, which comes from evil and perpetrates evil. Once people get used to breathing it as a pollutant they become only concerned with themselves and their own selfish and depraved wants. They have no interest in others, or in community, except for reasons of power and vanity.
“Ursula became addicted to breathing nemotoxigen. At first she wore a gas mask and breathed it for her own pleasure, then she had large amounts of it dumped in Blackbod Miasma. It is a gas that forms clouds and displaces fresh air more than dispersing in it,” said Serendipity
“Ursula was content for some time. However, ten years ago she decided she wanted to breathe it all the time, so Ursula’s physicians were commanded to convert her lungs to breathe nemotoxigen, so that she no longer had to wear apparatus to breathe it.”
“However,” resumed DagDag, “because nemotoxigen was only available in small areas in the South, Ursula still needed to be able to breathe ordinary air when she was elsewhere in the island. So they fitted her with a hip-switch she can toggle off to breathe our air when she is out of her region.
“Ursula hates breathing ordinary air so much she has now decided to rid the whole island of it, and replace it with nemotoxigen. It is a royal decree that everyone must breathe nemotoxigen by the end of the five seasons.
“Already some of her foul supporters have gone over to breathing the gas, the Boddlegogs are a good example. Anyone, in her court, who has converted to the black gas is looked upon most favourably by Ursula.
“If Ursula detonates this bomb it will kill all creatures who breathe ordinary air.”
Maximouse continued, “Eggplant, Ursula’s scientist, at first had trouble making the bomb due to a lack of rare triclinium sulphite. The only place it could be found was on Earth in a magic pocket watch owned by your grandfather, which originated here. As you know, they tried to get this from you, but on the day you gave them the fake watch, Egghead had been informed of an excellent substitute for triclinium sulphite, found in the province of Werg, on Palingenesis Island. Because they had a substitute for the chemical they no longer needed your watch. He organised the extraction of the chemical and they are now in the final process of completing the bomb.”
“This bomb must be stopped,” said DagDag. “It is critical for us, and critical for your Earth. Nemotoxigen is already leaking into your world, and has been doing so or 300 years, but if this foul bomb is detonated, your planet very soon, like our island, will be doomed in smog, pollution, evil and poisonous air.”
Having heard this the children were amazed and were full of many questions. Marie asked, “Where is the bomb?”
Serendipity said, “We aren’t quite sure. We believe we will need to travel to the city of Blackbod, in the province of South Darklands, without being observed or captured. We cannot march the direct route, through the North Passage, as it is too heavily guarded, so we will go South East to Plasticia City to meet allies on the moorings by the river in the city. It will take days to reach Plasticia by foot. We require horses or cars but as we have none, our plan is to go by way of the Ippleberg Tunnel if possible. Then we shall go west of the city of Ufromides and travel South along the River Doomweald to Grimley Wood and Threadbare Forest, where we will plan to stay with Rabbit, if we can find him. So far we have not been able to communicate with him. From there we go South and then West to Blackbod.”
“We still need to find the keys to get into the Ippleberg tunnel. It’s been closed for years,” said Maximouse.
“Who has the keys?”
“I don’t know,” said Jilly the Gerbil, “but if you go outside tomorrow, behind the house and eat a meal out there, the Edible Dormouse will appear. He’s very clever and he can tell you all sorts of things that many people do not know. He seems to be an encyclopaedia of everything.”
“Although the information is rarely digestible,” said Amelia the Gerbil.
“Listen!” said Gluid, “isn’t that the sound of scavenger birds?”
“Yes it is, put the lights off!”
“It’s very late. I think we should all put our heads down and go to sleep,” said Serendipity, but most of the gang already had.
In the morning, Maximouse woke up first. Thinking he would show how clever he was, he went – first checking there were no scavenger birds around – into the garden. He carried a tray of late breakfast out onto a table at the bottom of the garden on the edge of the wood. Not long after he tucked in, he heard a squeaky voice. “I am the Edible Dormouse. I will give you information for a baked bean. You will be grateful for the giving of it.”
Maximouse proffered a baked bean as requested and watched him eat it. He took a long time. “What do you ask,” he eventually said.
“Who has the keys to the underground tunnel?”
The dormouse thought for a good time and then recited:
“Closest to us for all our years
Some are lost and some are hidden
Once they’re lost our psyche cries tears
Lord’s for doors and Lady’s for singing.”
Although he didn’t understand it, Maximouse wrote this down and gave the dormouse another bean for his useful information. The edible dormouse was again pleased and begged him to hear another piece of information.
When the wood’s lost for the trees
When you’ve lost the power to think
When there’s wheezing in the breeze
Throw a drink to stop the stink.
He took the rhymes back to the house, where by now, everyone had risen from wherever they had lain their heads. Maximouse corralled everyone into the lounge for a meeting where he related the riddles. Soon everyone was locked in discussion trying to understand what they could mean. Serendipity – not being modest about her ability to solve crosswords – thought the first puzzle was all about keys, singing keys and door keys and latch keys.
“The odd words in the rhyme is Lord and Lady, and the only Lord and Lady in the area is Lord and Lady Moonwrinkle in Glassdale Clearing,” she said with conviction. The Moonbeasleys and the fairy agreed that this must be the answer. The children watched the discussion in bewilderment.
*** *** *** ***
Although they had had a big meal – a very late breakfast in the early afternoon, Amelia gave them a haversack, left over from her camping days, which contained a torch, a box of matches and various penknives. On top of these she had placed some food and fizzy pop for their trek. Marie strapped the haversack on her back. DagDag said they could get some more food at the River moorings in the city.
Not long after the meal, full of thoughts and anxieties, the children prepared themselves for another trek.
“I’ll fly there,” said DagDag. “I’ve got a few things to do. I’ll either meet you before you go underground, or in Plasticia City,” he said.
“Come with us on the train or we might get parted,” pleaded Serendipity.
“How can that happen with me leading the way,” scoffed Maximouse somewhat peeved.
“I’ll try and come back soon,” said Dagdag, ignoring the comment and flew away.
“Come on then, lets walk to Glassdale Clearing,” said Maximouse to the Rosalind, Marie and Tchi. “It’s not far away at all.”
The children were relieved to hear that.
A circus tent was in the middle of the clearing. Clowns and circus folk were everywhere, and practising seemed to be still going on in the marquee, although the circus was winding down. Tchi noticed all the circus vans and lorries and was highly entertained. “Some of these vehicles are so old they are collector’s items. And yet some I’ve never seen before,” he said, his face full of curiosity.
The clearing was full of strange animals, peoples: Humans, Drummonds, Wergs, Sprites and many other strange creatures.
Out of curiosity, Tchi and Rosalind decided to step inside the marquee. A big sign hung inside: Barny Slade’s Last Ever Animal Circus. An elephant was being led out of the ring and they saw its rump and tail disappear behind the curtains. A clown uni-cycled around the lip of the ring in front of them. “What do you want?” he shouted.
“We want to know where Lord Moonwrinkle is having his garden party today?”
“We’re performing there tonight, but I can’t give you directions. Hang on, I’ll find out,” shouted the clown and somersaulted over the handlebars of the bicycle and landed on his two feet in the ring. As he ran out a troupe of horses circled into the ring, all of them wearing coloured plumes over their manes like classic Greek war stallions.
A man came in and started thrashing his whip. He had long scruffy ginger hair which fell past his shoulders in tight curls. On top of this he wore a black bowler hat. Around his body clung an ill fitting suit, which crinkled in all the wrong places as if it was too tight, yet seemed too long at the arms and legs.
“That’s the leader of the circus,” said a juggler, “Barny Slade.”
As the man thrashed his whip, the horses circled into two groups, each group running in the opposite direction to the other, around the periphery of the ring. Occasionally after a crack of the whip, two horses would break free and would bound across the diameter of the ring to join the horses on the other side. To Marie and Tchi, who were sitting watching, the horses looked as if they were going to leap straight at them, but at the last minute they dissolved into the circular motion of the nearside ringside horses.
“I’ve seen circuses on telly,” said Tchi, “but they’re much more impressive when you’re sitting watching the real thing come towards you.”
The clown came back out as the horses retired. Acrobats came out into the ring.
“Let’s practise the quarter swing” said one of the acrobats in a what sounded to Rosalind similar to a Russian accent.
“I can’t find out,” shouted the clown, “they never tell you anything in this place.”
“But I thought you were on the way there tonight to do a performance for his guests,” said Rosalind to the clown.
“Now he’s stopped rehearsing with his horses, I’ll go and ask the boss, but I doubt if he’ll tell me anything.”
After he had gone another member of the circus came by. He stopped. “Are you here by invitation?” he asked. “This is a private rehearsal.”
“We’re just trying to find out where Lord Moonwrinkle is having his party. Today, we’ve been told you’ll be performing there, so you must know where it is.”
“Well I’ve only been here for eighteen months. In that time you get to know nothing. I’m a fire eater all the way from Werg. I was considered the greatest fire eater in the land, and won plaudits wherever I went, then I came here! The way I’ve been treated in Barny Slades circus is criminal, quite criminal.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Rosalind.
He wondered off.
Tchi suggested to Rosalind that they asked the roller skate acrobats. The acrobats had come into the ring and were now whirling about, all four holding hands, the two older men staying in a circle but the two younger men with legs flying out into space. Their bodies only secured from flying off into space by the clenches and strength of their hand grips.
“I think they’re a bit busy at the moment,” said Rosalind drolly.
When the younger acrobats had put their skates back down onto the level table that they were performing on, they at last pirouetted to a stop, Tchi called out his question.
One of the men, Vladimir, who was quite close by, came over. Rosalind repeated the question. He said it was just North of Moonvale on the Eastern side of the Moonwrinkle estate. “He’s having us over to perform this evening, but we’ll be setting off in about an hour.”
Rosalind decided to be a bit cheeky. “Can we get a lift with you?” she asked. Her feet were sore and fed up with walking.
“Ya. We can get you two on our wagon,” said his brother Boris, “but don’t tell the circus leader, he won’t like it at all. He won’t let you breathe unless you get permission first.”
“There’s six of us,” said Rosalind.
“Oh well, I’m sure we can get three of you on one wagon and three on another. It won’t take long to get there about half an hour, but it will take a while to take the marquee down.”
Half an hour of driving is a lot of walking thought Rosalind.
She offered help in taking the marquee down but the acrobats put up their hands. “No, no. He mustn’t know anything about it. You just jump on when we are moving off. I’ll blow this whistle and you jump on the second and third wagon.”
She went out and found Gluid, Marie, Serendipity and Maximouse.
“You’ve been ages,” said Gluid in his high naval squeak.
“We’ve got a lift,” said Tchi. “They’re going to take us there in an hour.
A few minutes later, Tchi turned to Rosalind and said, He’s not a popular boss, is he?”
*** *** *** ***
The food box that had been prepared by Jilly and Amelia was opened up and everyone tucked into a variety of sandwiches: cream cheese and chives, egg and tomato, cheese and onion, egg and cress and Victoria sandwich with a creamy lemon jam in place of the normal raspberry. This was all washed down with the freshest lemonade that Ros had ever tasted in her life. It tasted like spring water, but Maximouse was not impressed.
“I prefer Gluid’s cooking,” he said.
“Give me your share then!” said Serendipity snatching his sandwich and laughing. Maximouse wasn’t too pleased. It was the first time the children had ever seen a cross expression on his face. At last his protestations made him back down from his statement. “Yes, the sandwich was good, “ he said, “it just isn’t hotel premiere standard.” Serendipity returned his sandwich back. Maximouse’s eyes almost crossed in annoyance to see that she had taken a bite out of it.
Almost dot on an hour later Rosalind heard a whistle blow. She knew it would be coming soon because she had watched the circus marquee being taken down and packed on their wagons. Now she heard the signal to board the second and third wagon.
Unfortunately the wagon had been assembled in a different order that afternoon. The front wagon was required to go at back due to an extra trailer to tow. Consequently when Marie, Serendipity and Tchi got on the second trailer, circus people were waiting to receive them – it being the original third trailer. When Maximouse, Gluid and Rosalind got on the what they thought was the third trailer – in fact the fourth – no one was expecting guests at all.
As the wagons stopped at the edge of the muddy field before turning onto the road, all of the six individuals were clambering into the back doors of the vans.
The two Moonbeasleys and Rosalind fell into the back of the dark van, but the only thing that welcomed them was a small growl.
“What are you doing in my van? Get out!”
All three turned to see who the deep voice belonged to because it wasn’t immediately obvious. Then Rosalind saw that it belonged to the passenger in the front seat.
Everyone else noticed him as he leapt over and landed before them – in fact landing on Maximouse’s foot.
Gluid’s lay before him on his back, his teeth chattering. “Sorry, Mr. Lion,” he said, “Please don’t eat me.”
“Could you be so kind as to get off my foot,” asked Maximouse in his most charming voice.
The lion obliged but then he gave the bone juddering roar. “Stop the van!” he shouted, “We have stowaways on board.”
The driver, a man with a flat cap, a sweeping walrus moustache and a nose like a ping-pong ball was looking over his shoulder.
“No,” said Rosalind, “One of your colleagues said we could get a lift to Lord Moonwrinkles by jumping on the third lorry.”
The lion looked at Rosalind, thought for a minute, then much to Maximouse’s relief, leapt over both of the Moonbeasleys to Rosalind, his large head now only inches from hers. He licked his mouth and said, “Hmmm.. A likely story.”
“It’s true, it was the roller skate man.”
“Do you want me to stop?” shouted the driver to the lion.
“No, I think I see what’s happened,” said the lion. “Drive on Laramie, we’ll give them a lift.”
“Why aren’t you locked up?” asked Maximouse rather pointedly.
“I’m a circus act,” said the lion. “Laramie over there,” he pointed to the driver, “is a lion tamer.”
“But you supposed to be kept in a cage.”
“Nonsense. I’m the star of the show. I can roar.” He roared and everybody shook.
“I can growl,” he continued, “I can leap about in an unpredictable and menacing way, scaring the pants off the audience. Barry comes in and tames me and I leave the cage like a little puppy dog. They love it, the audience lap it up.”
“You mean it’s all a sham. You’re not a nasty ferocious man-eating lion?”
“I used to be years ago, but you know, you mellow a bit as you get older. I just wanted to run my own head -hunting business and live a comfortable life without any hassle. All that biting the rear ends of antelopes on nature programmes is quite hard work. Laramie and me are partners. We are called Lion and Toorooth, which is Laramie’s second name. It would be great now if we weren’t in this crappy circus. We’ve had better days than this, didn’t we Laramie? Before he met me Laramie used to be in a Wild West show.”
“Oh tell me about it,” said Larry, looking back and missing a derelict car on the side of the road by fractions.
“You mean you cheat!” said Maximouse. “That’s awful. I’m surprised people don’t want their money back.”
The lion turned back and within a leap he was licking his wide lips behind Maximouse’s shoulder. “I don’t think I like you very much.”
Rosalind was a bit concerned what the Moonbeasley was going to say. In the short time she had known him, she realised he was not a great exponent of tact and diplomacy.
“He doesn’t cheat, Maximouse, he’s an entertainer. He gives the public what the public wants,” she said.
“That’s right,” said the lion. He strutted as much as he was able on the bare metal floor of the van. “I’m a professional. I can bring the house down with my menacing noises and expressions.” He went down on one knee, and held his arms out wide as if he had just scored a goal.
“He’s a big pussy really,” said Laramie from the front of the van.
“Meow,” said the lion, now bowing his head.
“Well that sounds very nice Mr. Lion. I’d love to come and see your show sometime,” said Rosalind.
“Come tonight. We’re playing for Lord and Lady Moonwrinkle, we always do at this time of the year. I really do my super fierce act inside the cage and knock Laramie down with my paw. We practice this quite often. And then I get on top of Laramie as if I’m going to eat him. The audience are going mad! And then I get up and roar at them as if I hate them, and Laramie gets to his feet and grabs a chair and fends me off with it. Eventually he finds his whip and I cower and do all his tricks. We bring the house down.”
“Yeah,” shouted Laramie, “we’re the best in the circus.”
“You seem to have a whopping big head to me,” said Maximouse.
“He didn’t mean that,” said Rosalind, “What he meant was that lion’s heads are big in size, not in big-headedness.”
“This Moonbeasley really thinks he’s something, I think,” said the lion. Once again he went over and stuck his very large wet nose against Maximouse’s black one.
“Well I’m quite clever,” said Maximouse. “I look after everyone. I got everyone away from the Buzzors and the Boddlegogs.”
“Don’t mention those dreadful things in my presence,” shouted Laramie, grimacing, and swerving his van in shock.
“You may have got away from them, Moonbeasley, but you haven’t got away from me, “ said the lion.
“Now Mr. Lion,” said Rosalind, “you are such an eminent and well respected lion that I’m overjoyed to meet someone of such great talent. I met a lion once who I thought was also great, but he turned out to be a bully who picked on stupid people – people with as many brains as half an ounce of grasshopper – now what I like about you is that you’re not like that, are you?”
The lion took his claws away from Maximouse’s ears and dropped his arms down by his side and backed away from Maximouse. “I wouldn’t hit someone so stupid,” said the lion.
“Excellent,” said the Rosalind, “Can I be in your fan club?”
“Of course,” said the lion. “See Laramie and he will take your money and tell you all about my web site where you can communicate with me on-line.”
Rosalind turned to Gluid and said, “Now why don’t you get up off the floor Gluid and discuss your recipes with Maximouse.”
“Great idea,” said Maximouse. “How did you make that Waldorf salad.”
“I’m not going to tell you, you’ll be stealing all my ideas,” said the nasal squeaking of Gluid, who was obviously not in the best of moods.
“You can sit in the front with us, little girl,” said the lion, and Rosalind decided this would be wise – and fun. Who else ever sat in front of a something the size of Ford Transit with a lion as a passenger?
She didn’t sit there long before they were driving between two pillars. A sign stated it was the South Eastern entrance to the Moonwrinkle estate. Poplar trees avenued the perspective as they drove into the massive gardens.
Rosalind watched the leading wagon turn down by the enormous mansion and park in a field near a lake with a cascading waterfall.
Soon everyone was out of the wagons.
“Who are you!” shouted a voice at Rosalind as she ran up to her friends. It was Barny Slade laying into Marie, Tchi and Serendipity. Rosalind ran up to try and get them out of trouble but Tchi had already come to the rescue.
“No, Mr. Slade, we have not been travelling with your circus. We merely jumped on as you were arriving into the estate. We are friends of the Moonwrinkles and we love your circus so much we wanted to meet your performers before they disembarked from their lorries.”
“Huh. Is that so, China face?” he said looking at the faces before him disbelievingly and pushing up his bowler hat and as if he thought the wool was being pulled over his eyes. “Well if I find you’ve been given a lift, then some people will be getting the sack. It’s not company policy in Barny Slade’s circus.”
“Excuse me! Excuse me!” shouted Serendipity to the ostentatiously dressed Lord and Lady Moonwrinkle. Rosalind ran up alongside.
Mrs. Moonwrinkle was talking to a woman with a black parasol who Rosalind thought she recognised but couldn’t remember where from. Then Mrs. Moonwrinkle walked off and began talking to her husband. It took a while for Serendipity to get the chance to address Mrs. Moonwrinkle.
She was talking to her husband and ignoring both Serendipity and Rosalind as if they were invisible. “But Donald I don’t like the woman. All she wants to talk about is horseracing and awkward butlers.”
“But she is a very important person, my delicious. It would be good for us all to make her a good friend.”
“Well I’m not interested. You talk to her. I just want to go home and be with my poodles.”
“Please stay, my sweetness,” said Lord Moonwrinkle to his wife, “the presence of your scintillating personality is critical to us all having a wonderful celebration.”
“Excuse me,” said Serendipity again.
“Who are you,” enquired Lord Moonwrinkle.
“I’m with the circus,” lied Serendipity. “We were interested in knowing where the keys to the underground railway is. Someone said you had the keys.”
“The underground railway,” scoffed Lord Moonwrinkle. “My oh my. That closed quite a long time ago. Yes, you’re right. They did come and tell me they were locking it up, but I can’t remember what happened to the key.”
“They didn’t give you a key, you big idiot,” complained Lady Moonwrinkle, “you agreed to let them build that fairy tower, and leave it in there, so that they could reopen it again should they wish.”
“Oh yes. That’s right, my divine creature.”
“So could we get the key from there then?”
“Ha!” laughed Lady Moonwrinkle. “You’ll never get the key out of the fairy tower. It’s three stories high and there’s no door or stairs. They built it to protect the key.”
“Oh dear,” said Serendipity.
“Can we get a ladder?” suggested Rosalind.
“Well yes, I suppose you could. There is a window either side of the tower. The key is placed in the top room on top of a table.”
There was many ladders owned by the circus, and quite a few trapeze ladders also, but the children could not get one. Barny Slade would not lend them anything under any conditions. He was so incensed when they asked him he chased them out of the tent, raging and cracking his whip. Nor could they get their hands on a rope ladder. However Laramie and Lion said they would come along and see if they could help. The roller skate acrobats were invited as well, but they seemed more concerned with having another practise before the night’s performance.
The tower was not far away, at the top of the rising field, south-east of the mansion. It was a simple brick circular tower. It had no door, and no windows, apart from right at the top, two small windows either side. It was topped by a roof that looked like an upside-down ice cream cone.
Above each window hung a hanging basket, rich in nasturtiums and fuchias.
“I could lasso one of those brackets the hanging baskets are attached to,” said Laramie. “I used to be a top horseman with a lasso when I performed in the wild west show. I could lasso it and someone could climb up.”
Serendipity looked at it. “It’s about three floors up in height. We need DagDag. He could fly up and just pick up the key in his beak. But we can’t hang around. If you can get a rope up there, I’ll climb up.”
Within minutes Laramie, as good as his word, had thrown a noose around the hanging basket bracket and tightened it. Serendipity hauled herself up the rope until she got about ten feet from the ground and then she seemed to run out of energy. She came back down the rope to the ground.
“I can’t do it,” she said. “It’s got a spell on it to stop Sprites – that’s what I am – getting near it. It wouldn’t stop any of the children or Moonbeasleys from climbing up it though.”
No one was eager to offer. In fact the silence lasted for over a minute before a volunteer came forward. “I’ll do it,” said the lion. He made Marie jump and Tchi backed off quickly.
“It’s alright,” said Rosalind, “He’s a friend.”
“Are you any good at climbing?” asked Serendipity timidly.
“My claws aren’t much use, but my paws and my teeth are excellent for such a job. No problem. I’ll be up there by the time you say ‘dashing Errol Flynn playboy daredevil’.”
And he did not hang around. Soon he was half way up and climbing quickly. It was not a graceful action, thought Rosalind, but highly effective. Then, on looking higher, she noticed the hanging basket was beginning to dip. The bracket was straining under the weight of the lion.
Not wishing to disturb everyone, she whispered her observation to Laramie. Laramie nodded, he had already noticed, she could tell by his expression, but the lion was three quarters of the way up now. He had to get there before the bracket gave way.
However the bracket had bent so much with the lion’s weight, that the loop of the hanging basket slipped off the edge and came crashing down, narrowly missing the lion as it fell. Fortunately the lasso knot remained. The lion looked up and instantly realised what a big crash he would make if the bracket broke or the lasso noose slipped.
Which is exactly what happened as they all looked up. The bracket bent down another inch under the weight and the noose suddenly slipped down. By some amazing luck it didn’t slip off but caught on the wrought iron curl of the bracket. However the extra weight applied to the bracket was pulling it out of the wall. Ping! Went a nail out of the brickwork. Ping! Went another nail and the bracket began to become detached from the wall.
While the lion had been climbing the roller skaters had arrived and quickly noticed the predicament the lion was in. Quickly, they shed their roller skates and leapt upon each other’s shoulders, just in time to get under the lion as the bracket gave way and came out of the wall.
The lion went from one precarious position to another. Instead of hanging on for his life he was balancing for his life, and balancing was not a skill he boasted about being good at.
His feet were on the shoulders of Rastik, Rastik’s feet were on the shoulder’s of Vladimir, Vladimir’s feet were on the shoulders of Boris and Boris’s feet were on the shoulders of Piotre. Piotre’s feet were on the ground.
As the lion wobbled for his life, Piotre walked – with everyone swaying above him – towards the tower, bringing the lion and his troupe closer towards the window. The lion may have had many talents in his life but balancing on the top of four acrobats was evidently not one of them. However when he fell – for fall he did – he had the perspicacity to fall into the window. He threw out his claws and his head, his arms and the top part of this torso landed over the top of the window shelf, leaving his legs, bottom and tail hanging out which was all the people on the ground could see.
As the lion hauled himself into the window Rastik beneath him put out his arms to stabilize the column of people on which he was balanced. Seeing that the lion was now safe, now pulling himself into the room, Rastik now clambered down his brother, as did Vladimir, and then Boris until they were all safely on the ground.
Lion went into the room. It had a red carpet and a massive oak table, which took up most of the space. In the middle of the table was a key ring. On the key ring were two keys: a latch key and a mortice key.
Lion picked up the key ring and went to the window.
“I’ve got them,” he shouted.
“Throw them down,” shouted Serendipity.
Nobody tried to catch them as they landed on the grass. Serendipity walked over and picked them up.
“Catch the lasso and tie it onto something that will bear your weight,” shouted Laramie to the lion. “I don’t recommend that other hanging basket bracket!”
Within minutes the lion was shimmying down the rope. He had tied the lasso to two of the oak tables legs and – in the unusual but effective way he had climbed up – he came down.
“Right let’s get to the entrance of the tunnel,” said Serendipity. “It’s not far, only in the spinney in the next field, near that copse of trees.”
Rosalind said goodbye to the lion, who was grinning inanely beside himself with his own swashbuckling prowess, and joined her gang as they followed Serendipity.
Soon they were standing around a trapdoor buried in the grass.
Serendipity was having a quiet word, a whisper in fact, to Maximouse. Rosalind could hear them arguing.
“It’s not good, Maximouse,” she was saying, “It’s profoundly bad. Now -”
“Yes, the mine shaft is full of dreadful Tripegs,” he said.
“Thanks for speaking so loudly!” said Serendipity, looking furious.
“What are they?” asked Marie.
“They’re three-legged creatures who live under the ground who love eating flesh and meat,” said Gluid, licking his lips and crossing his eyes.
“Gluid!” shouted Serendipity, obviously very vexed. “Stop teasing, this is very serious.”
“But it’s true,” said Gluid. “Horrid things. You should know that.”
Rosalind, Marie and Tchi looked to Serendipity for an explanation.
“Yes, that’s true, but if we can get the train going and keep our wits about us we should be okay. It will only be an hour’s ride.”
“I don’t like the sound of that,” said Tchi, “Aren’t we taking risks when we don’t need to?
“It’s a risk, but we have to do it,” said Serendipity. “We have to make haste. If we walked to the City we wouldn’t have time to achieve our mission.”
“And it’s likely we’d be captured upon the way as well,” squeaked Gluid. “But I’ll stick it up em!”
“Fairies used to own the railway,” said Serendipity,“ but it was taken over by the Tripegs and there was constant underground fighting. The fairies closed it and, as you know, held the key. What, or who, is down there now, we don’t know. Probably it’s completely empty.”
“There won’t be any of those Buzzors though,” said Maximouse,” because they can’t fly in underground tunnels and they hate being in the damp.”
“Hey look!” said Rosalind, “DagDag’s come back.”
The raven spiraled above them, coming down, eventually landing in the circle of their discussion.
Once they had opened the trapdoor with the keys, they tried to pull it up on its hinges. It took some effort as it had not been opened for a long time, but it eventually it squeaked open. They looked down. A ladder led down into a damp darkness. Maximouse went down first, carrying a torch, and everyone else followed. Soon he was at the bottom of the ladder where he found a big cupboard, which he opened with an electronic key. “Here’s the main switch to connect all the electro-magnetism to the underground shaft,” he said.
Maximouse pulled the switch as the children arrived at the bottom of the ladder. Much to the relief of Rosalind – she hated being in the dark – underground electric lights came on to reveal rails disappearing in perspective down a tunnel the size of a mineshaft. Pumping engines and other machinery came to life.
“At least he’s quite good with technology. Sometimes!” said Serendipity sarcastically.
In the distance stood the abandoned train, positioned on the left set of two sets of rails.
“The technology and the train was originally put in by the fairies,” added Serendipity.
They cautiously walked the hundred yards to the abandoned train. The atmosphere was weird and creepy, with sounds of water dripping and the intense echoing of machinery. Then occasionally they heard a horrible sound like a groan, but it was highly pitched. “Ugh, what’s that?” said Marie. The reverberation of their footsteps and their speech was spooky.
The train was like a miniature steam engine, although, Marie suggested it was more like a holiday camp train. “It works on electricity,” said Maximouse. The carriages – much to Serendipity’s concern – were open. They had no roofs or doors.
At first, Maximouse didn’t understand the controls, but with Tchi’s enthusiasm for anything mechanical, he soon figured out the most of their functions.
After pushing what they thought were the appropriate buttons, the were pleased to see that the train moved forward, albeit slowly, sluggishly, creaking and clanking. The accelerator and the brake both worked. Serendipity was getting her hopes up – they would be in the city of Plasticia quite soon at this rate. She was still a little concerned that the coaches were open, which meant they had no cover against any attacking enemies.
Maximouse and Tchi offered Serendipity the chance to drive at first, which she accepted, but then DagDag wanted to be engine driver, so she let him. They both found the train easy to drive, as it just went along by itself – it didn’t need filling with coal. However Maximouse warned both drivers that the needle on the temperature gauge had to be kept beneath the red line. Tchi and Rosalind were keen to drive but DagDag insisted on staying in charge.
Gluid sat near the end of the train, like a Moonbeasley guard, with Marie in the very last seat behind him. She sat back to enjoy the ride, glad to be off her feet. She enjoyed it for about five minutes when suddenly her heart was in her mouth! She had company!
A Tripeg had dropped from the roof of the tunnel, making a high-pitched groan, and landed next to her. She screamed, alerting Gluid, who quickly jumped over his seat and stood defending his friend from this invader. Although they expected it to leap in attack, the Tripeg surprisingly stayed motionless.
“Tickets Please,” it said in a wimpy voice, with its metal box beginning to click into life.
The Tripeg was essentially a table on three legs. On its tabletop was a black metallic box. From this sprang a large spherical head, the size of a football and this sported one cyclopean bloodshot eye and two ear-like suckers which moved about like arms.
“Well, if you haven’t got any, you can pay for your journey in cash.”
“We haven’t got any tickets, and we’ve got no money.”
“Oh Dear. That’s not right.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“Nothing, I suppose. In fact, I’m very pleased to have some passengers who I can talk to. There’s been very few on the train these last few years.”
Gluid, nervously looking around, asked him where the other Tripegs were.
“I hear they all went off to a tunnel in Werg,” said the Tripeg slowly. “Some of us got left behind, we were never told that they were leaving.” He looked and sounded very sad.
“As you don’t have any money I will accept conversation in replace of a train fare.”
They agreed that he could stay on the back seat of the carriage and talk to them providing he didn’t try any funny business.
But Marie was not convinced that the Tripeg was as passive and relaxed as he seemed. Even though he made attempts at conversation, he occasionally emitted, for no apparent reason, the blood curdling shriek that he arrived with. He also kept muttering ‘flesh’ under his breath, as if he couldn’t contain himself. Gluid sat in the open carriage in front of him, so as to continually keep an eye on him. He wanted to throw him off the train but daren’t. He knew that Tripegs were not to be tangled with.
“I don’t think anyone likes me,” said the Tripeg. “Nobody ever remembers my name,” he said. “My parents thought I was hopeless at hunting meat and kept telling me I was useless. They insulted me by saying I had the brains of a rabbit.”
“What is your name?” asked Marie.
“Floppsonberglewocket,” he said. “It’s an awful name.”
“It sounds a bit like a rabbit,” said Gluid rather tactlessly.
“And my teachers used to ignore me, I was neither clever nor stupid. I was somewhere in the middle so I never got any attention or special treatment. I’m hopeless as a Tripeg. I should have been something else.”
“Nothing else has three legs,” said Gluid.
“I almost died when I was young because the Boddlegogs surrounded our tunnel. I was told after I was born – I was only a few days old – that the Boddlegogs came down adjacent mine shaft to where my family were living, and they stayed there a few days. It was lucky that they didn’t know we were only a wall away otherwise I would have died and my family – “
“What did you say your name was?”
“See. No one remembers.” Suddenly he said in a low creepy tone, “Fleeeesh,” and then made a strange squeal.
“What is it again?” asked Marie, trying to keep him calm.
“Floppsonberglewocket,” he said. He seemed to be back to normal again. “but you won’t remember.”
“No wonder you think bad things about yourself, if you were born in a room next to the Boddlegogs,” said Marie.
“He is boring though,” said Gluid.
“Ssssssh,” said Marie, glowering at Gluid. “Give him a chance.”
“Don’t psychoanalyse him and make him better, or he’ll eat us,” squeaked Gluid. “Never trust a Tripeg.”
“My life improved when I joined the Tripeg Wondertoe FC Fan Club. I was even going to play for one of the small cavern league teams but one of my feet was damaged in a train accident, and I could no longer run on two legs and kick with the third. I used to fall over and everyone used to laugh. I was devastated. Nowadays there’s no league because everyone’s moved to the East. And I really miss being a spectator.”
“How can you play football underground?” asked Marie
“We play in large spacious caverns. There are quite a few around. There’s one coming up in a minute just as we go over the fairy bridge.
“I remember,” he continued, “when the Big Eye Twelve beat the Subterranean Bears three years ago when Piddleypongong scored a hat trick in the second half-“
“I said he was boring,” said Gluid as he noticed Marie stifling a yawn.
Suddenly they heard a scream from the front of the train. The Tripeg said quickly, “It’s okay. Calm down. It’s as I said, only the bridge. It takes everyone by surprise the first time.”
The train sped on past the close granite walls but now the walls were beginning to open up into a vast cavern above and below them; an auditorium that held as much light – albeit electric – as there was above ground in daylight.
Marie looked around and went to scream herself but nothing came out. She watched as the train sped to the edge of a cliff, the railway was doomed to go over it, as the rails ended at the edge of the cliff. Yet the train continued over the large and deep ravine, travelling straight, even though there were no rails and no bridge. All the passengers could see below them was the train flying unbelievably over the a cavern.
“It was made by the fairies,” said the Tripeg. “It’s an invisible bridge. They made it so that everyone would get a better view of the wonderful cavern. We’ll be back on rails again as soon as we’re over the ravine.” And he was right. Marie breathed out as she watched the train wheels once again engage with the grey rails.
They travelled past strange underground trees, their tops meeting with the stalactites hanging from the cavern’s vast and distant roof. The cavern seemed the size of a county.
Then they came into a train station. Rosalind, who was sitting at the fore of the train, thought it was quite normal for this strange place. She thought there would be people on the platforms as another locomotive was parked on the adjacent line going in the opposite direction. There may have been two trains and ticket office but there was no one to buy tickets because there were no passengers. There were also two benches, a restaurant, toilets, a newspaper shop. They decided to go and see if they could get some food from the deserted café but there was no one there either, although they did discover that the deep freeze was full of food.
Serendipity and Flopsonberglewonket disembarked from opposite ends of the train but as soon as they saw each other, hostility began between the two of them. It is written in stone that Tripegs hated Fairies and Fairies hated Tripegs. Serendipity was a Sprite, a fairy who cannot fly, (with stunted wings that did not work) and although she couldn’t fly, she could certainly ignite verbal abusive sparks that did.
But as they sat at the café verbally abusing each other, a cheese sandwich got stuck in Flopsonberglewonket’s throat. Serendipity, for an instant forgetting her Sprite inheritance, leapt over and she slapped the Tripeg on the back. Never before, said Maximouse, has there ever been a record of a Sprite or a Tripeg helping each other. The Tripeg thanked Serendipity for stopping him choking, but the process of thanking her, everyone could see, made him almost choke.
Eventually, they realised that they needed to move, as time was getting on. They all boarded the train and continued onto Plasticia. As Rosalind watched the underground countryside go by she noticed that the light was beginning to ebb very quickly. They were leaving the brightness of the cavern to enter the darkness of tunnels.
And then, deep inside a tunnel, everything went wrong. There was a loud bang, all the carriages jolted. The train came to an abrupt stop – but everyone in the train carried on moving! Fortunately no one was hurt but even though the train remained on the track it was going nowhere else.
Because of the low speed the train was travelling coming out of the station, the children, although shaken and disappointed, were unhurt. A landslide in the tunnel had stopped the train. And it had filled up so much of the tunnel there was no way they could clear it.
The gang collected together and began to look for Floppsonberglewocket and eventually found him sitting outside the tunnel by the side of the rail, eating a frozen chicken that he had brought with him from the station canteen. “Flleeeeeesssssshhh,” kept coming out of him as a word, but it didn’t seem to be coming from his mouth, as he was using that to consume the frosty bird.
After a very long burp, he turned and said “There is a fairy’s web in the floor above. The steps are just over there, I think that will get you to Plasticia.”
“Are you coming with us?” asked Marie timidly.
“No. Thank you for asking. It’s nice to have company down here, but I can’t cope with real light.”
“Okay,” said Serendipity relieved. “Thank you, I hope you enjoy your chicken.” She said, which made the children laugh. It didn’t matter how hard they tried, Sprites just couldn’t help being sarcastic to Tripegs.
Rosalind, Marie, Maximouse, Gluid, DagDag and Tchi followed her as she walked towards a bay of stone steps.
After climbing the steps they came out into wide tunnels with framed windows the size of pictures. Daylight shone through each window. “I’ve seen this sort of thing before,” said Maximouse. The windows operate using water-mirrors, which capture daylight from the surface and take it below.”
“Hey look, there’s a signpost,” said Rosalind. “The City of Plasticia half a mile,” she read aloud.
After walking for a quarter of an hour the children came to a sliding door. Over the top hung a sign. ‘Questionnaire Labyrinth.’
The door automatically opened as they approached. They peered through without stepping inside and committing themselves.
“I don’t think we should go in there,” said Serendipity, “I know fairies and they love to lead you into a maze.”
“On the other hand I don’t particularly feel like walking back,” said Maximouse.
“It would take ages to get back to where we came in,” said Marie.
“I can see a question on the wall,” said Tchi,” but I don’t understand them.”
DagDag read the question on the neon sign out loud.
‘Who is the most evil person in Palingenesis Island?’
Two doors stood either side of neon lit question. Both doors contained a neon lit sign with a different answer. One sign said ‘U’ and the other said ‘Q’.
“I think we should go in, “ said Maximouse, “We’re all highly intelligent creatures, especially me, and we should all be able to answer a few daft trivia questions.”
“What happens when you decide on an answer?” Marie asked Serendipity.
“I think you touch the door that has the correct answer,” said Serendipity. “And it opens and then you go in there.”
“So getting the right answer is essential,” said Marie. “I don’t like it.”
“What happens if we get the wrong answer?” asked Tchi.
“We’ll go somewhere else other than Plasticia. Heaven knows where,” said Serendipity looking worried.
“I’m in,” said DagDag. “We have to forge ahead, and we have neither the time nor the energy to back track. Let’s do it!” So saying he flapped his wings and flew through the door into the room. Everyone else, silently agreeing with his wisdom, tentatively walked between the sliding doors and stood before the lit up panel containing the question.
As Marie – the last to step over – had placed her two feet firmly in the room, the sliding door behind him slammed shut. “There’s no going back now,” she whimpered.
“The answer is easy,” said Serendipity, “The most evil creature on this island is U – which means Ursula. Q stands for the Quark, who is a dreadful smelly monster, who lives in Blackbod Miasma and used to belong to Malady. He is foul but she is worse. Does anyone disagree with that?”
As she had no dissenters, and the children could not really contribute, knowing little about where they were, they all followed her over to the door where their answer was lit up. Serendipity touched the neon sign and the sliding door opened. This time they could not see into the room before them, as it was dark.
“Here we go,” she said, and walked through the door. Everyone followed and once again when Marie – who was last again – had gone through, the door behind her slammed shut. Immediately a light came on. This time the question made the children burst out laughing:
‘Who makes the best custard?’
The answers were written, as before, on two doors: the Wergs or the Fairies.
There were some disputes about this between the Sprite and the Moonbeasleys. The Moonbeasleys, considering themselves great connoisseurs of cooking and culinary pleasures eventually persuaded Serendipity it was the Wergs. They went through the appropriate door once again they faced another question.
‘Which is the most important: the past, the present or the future?’
“I think it’s the future,” said DagDag. “After all, we are all heading into the future, and everything will be better in the future.”
“How do you know that,” said Marie. “The future can be worse.”
“I like to think about all those gorgeous meals I’ve eaten in the past. It’s the past,” said Maximouse. Gluid nodded his head violently in agreement.
“What do you think Rosalind?” asked Serendipity.
Rosalind wasn’t sure, she thought they were all important.
“It’s the present,” said Tchi. “The only thing we have is the present moment. Our impressions of the future are only built on what we know now. Our past is only how we remember it.”
“That’s clever,” said Rosalind. “I agree.”
“I don’t,” said DagDag, and headed towards the door marked ‘Future’.
But Serendipity beat him to it and touched the door marked ‘Present’ before he could touch the ‘Future’ door. DagDag was not happy about that and squawked his annoyance.
The door closed behind them after they had gone through it and a light came on, but no questions revealed themselves, but a very long tunnel, with a moving escalator going up an incline. Rosalind thought it was a bit like the London Underground, the only difference being that you couldn’t see where it ended.
They travelled for about five minutes on this, until it stopped inside another well lit cave room, and there were now more questions to answer.
‘What should we seek: ‘To be loved’ or ‘To learn how to love’.
“Everyone wants to be loved,” shouted Gluid. “I love it when somebody gives me a squeeze and a snog.”
“I know the answer to that,” burst out Serendipity. “The honourable thing is to learn how to love and not expect anything back. It is written in the Illumination. That must be the correct answer.”
No one had the time to argue with her because she had already touched the answer. Soon they were in another tunnel. This time on another escalator. After some time they arrived at yet another question. This one was different though because it had thirteen doors, and thirteen answers.
‘What is the right religion to follow?’
‘Immeldism’ ‘Asophianity’ ‘Tingoism’ ‘Secliat’ ‘Barbarsoquat’ ‘All and none’ ‘Islam’ ‘Christianity’ ‘Aetheism and Secularism’ ‘Buddhism’ ‘Sihkism’ ‘Hinduism’ ‘Other’
Serendipity suggested it should be Immeldism because all Sprites believed in that, but Maximouse demanded it should be Tingoism. Rosalind wanted it to be Christianity, and Tchi wanted to be Buddhism as he and his parents were followers of Tao. Marie said “I’m an American Quaker and we believe in the value of all religions. I know I’m right,” and so saying she took a leaf out of Serendipity’s book and walked over to the door and touched the panel which said, ‘All and None’. The door opened and she bravely stepped through it, the others eventually following her.
Inside the room they all got a surprise. For once they received an answer. It was written on a big sign:
‘It doesn’t matter which creed you follow, but the continual correction of selfishness by a creed is good for the people. It is how much good and bad you do in the universe that matters. Some join a doctrine to relieve themselves of the need to do acts and works of good. Good thoughts, good words, good works, good deeds are all.’
“Well done Marie, you got that answer right,” said Serendipity.
Below this in large red lettering, a message came on the screen.
‘Congratulations. You are now approaching Plasticia.’ Instantly the questions and the letters on the screen completely disappeared and became an electronic sort of window.
“Look, you can see the city,” said Gluid. “That’s Plasticia.”
Seen through this strange window, the City of Plasticia, seemed like a claustrophobic mass of towers that rose and rose and rose and disappeared up into the sky. No buildings could be so huge,” said Rosalind.
“Woooowy! There seems to be so much movement in those upper stories,” observed Marie.
Rosalind tightened her eyelids to see the city’s column of fuzzy blackness indeed become more animated the higher up she looked.
Rosalind’s became awestruck as she came close enough to discern what the movement in the upper tiers was. She stared upwards, which now being close to the ‘window’ she could. Balloons and air ships, most tethered on long thick hawsers, dominated the air space. The sky was like an overcrowded mooring ground for yachts and small boats. Thousands and thousands of zeppelin like craft jostled with each other over the city with hardly a gap in between, each with massive lettering on it, shouting out advertisements, sponsorships, logos or contact numbers. However very few of them could now be read because of the massive overcrowding and discolouration of the messages from the up-drifting smog and pollution from the city below.
Nevertheless many of the towers and spires from the city were so tall they seemed to pierce the sky, and were partly designed to anchor the aircraft. Getting as close to the ‘window’ as she possibly could Rosalind discovered other reasons for the darkness of the skies. Leaflets and creations of paper were pouring down from the clouds from the balloons and zeppelins.
“That the mailing downpour,” said Serendipity. “It’s been going on for years in Plasticia. It’s banned in the Northern Cities. The mail order books, junk mail and advertising leaflets rain down from above and create mountains of paper that the city dwellers have to climb over to get along the streets.
“There’s litter everywhere,” said Maximouse, “but it’s glossy litter.
Suddenly, the sign changed and another question came on the screen.
What is more important: ‘fame, gold and riches’ or ‘hope, sleep and laugher’?
“Everyone wants fame and wealth,” said Maximouse.
“I don’t agree,” said Rosalind. “We must go the way of hope, sleep and laughter. No one wants to end up like one of those dreadful celebrities who spend all their life wanting more and more publicity and who can’t be happy unless they have an audience to show off to.”
Gluid and DagDag tended to agree with Maximouse, although now Maximouse was now not so sure himself. Gluid was looking very concerned. “I don’t think we should have come this way, it’s a bit hard” he said.
Then Maximouse said, “Rosalind is supposed to have special gifts, perhaps this is one, she can answer difficult questions. Let’s trust her on this one.”
“No!” shouted DagDag. As he shouted he touched the door marked, ‘fame, gold and riches’, “It’s my turn.” The door opened and they all looked through.
DagDag stepped through in to the next room. This time there were no screens or doors, and it was much darker than in the previous rooms. It had been the first time that, after the door had closed behind them, no bright light came on.
However there was a small light in the cave, further ahead, to which DagDag led the way. In the roof of the ribbed straw coloured cave was a flame which illuminated a chest beneath it. On the chest it read: ‘For those who pass this way.’ Tchi and Marie opened its lid and everyone gasped at the glinting metal they saw. The chest was full of metal swords and daggers.
“Oh I like a fight!” shouted Gluid, looking at the children whose faces were not of same highly excited disposition.
“I don’t think we’ve come the right way,” said Rosalind.
“It’s too late now,” said Serendipity. The door behind us is shut, and the only way we can go is along the cave. If the fairies left swords here then we should arm ourselves because they would have done it for a reason.”
Reluctantly the children chose a sword of the weight they could manage. DagDag didn’t bother to even find one, he just chose a small dagger in a scabbard and flung it casually over his neck.
“But I don’t want to fight anything,” said Tchi. “I’m not a coward but I’m against things like fighting.”
“Same here,” said Marie, “but I am a coward.”
“We will have to deal with whatever we meet,” said Serendipity. “Even if this is unpleasant we have to complete our mission.”
“That’s right,” said DagDag.
They walked further along the cave, which gradually became more difficult as it seemed to be getting narrower and narrower. It was also inclined at a sharp angle, so it was quite an exhausting climb in itself.
“I hate being shut in,” complained Rosalind.
After about fifteen minutes they were bending to get further along. It was beginning to become more like pot holing that walking. Serendipity, who was in front, shouted to everyone that she had come to a trapdoor. She shouted her concerns back along the line to Maximouse who was at the end.
“The trapdoor has a window and I can see through it,” she shouted. “It leads into a big well with a balcony. It’s a bit creepy. I don’t like the look of it.”
“We are supposed to come out at the docks,” said DagDag.
“You obviously got that question wrong,” said Maximouse. DagDag ruffled his feathers in vexation.
Just then there was a gurgling sound along the tunnel from where they had come. It sounded like water. “Something is coming down behind me,” said Maximouse, “and it sounds as if its coming fast.”
He was right, for an seemingly endless thick wedge of pink ice was pushing up the tunnel towards him. Rosalind, who could also see it, felt that they were in a giant cone and someone was sucking the ice cream out at the bottom. “Go through the trap door now!” she shouted. They had no way to go but through the trap door. Within minutes they were all through, the pursuing ice having reached the closed trap door and stopped.