Tchi put his foot down and sped off to the cries of everyone in the car. He shot over the grass of the adjacent park, the way being clear of cars, litter and creatures. Maximouse was sitting in the front of the car shrieking with grief, Serendipity was sitting on his lap with her head turned to view the tragedy in the back seat. Gluid positioned between Marie and Rosalind had his head leaning on Rosalind’s shoulder. Marie was sobbing, her head in her hands but Rosalind was unaware of everything because she had gone to sleep.
“We must bury him,” said Serendipity.
“We can’t,” said Tchi. “We have to get out of here!”
Maximouse was dithering with the map. Serendipity grabbed it. “To the left,” she said.
They drove for miles along a wide main road, where a few cars were littered along either side, but on the whole progress was very good and soon they were heading East into the countryside.
Any sense of relief at being out of Plasticia, was thwarted by the dreadful losses of Gluid and DagDag, but even without this, any sense would have been short-lived as they soon heard the hum of the Buzzors growing louder. Tchi put his foot down hard on the accelerator and travelled at speeds he had never dared before. At least the road was straight and apart from one car – travelling some distance behind them – there was no other traffic on the road.
As the humming got louder the children grew more fearful.
After a few more miles, Rosalind awoke. She couldn’t believe that Gluid had been killed. But she didn’t have long to take it in because a missile came down to the off side of the car and burst into flames. Fortunately the engine did not stop, tyres miraculously did not melt, and the car continued along its way.
“There’s a tunnel ahead,” said Maximouse grabbing the map back off Serendipity. “We need to get out of the car” said Maximouse, a burst of inspiration in his eyes. “Yes. Here it is. We need to jump out in the Albumic tunnel.”
“They’ll wait for us to come out,” said Rosalind.
“Trust me,” he said. “I’m doing this for Gluid. I want it for a memento.”
The Albumic tunnel was directly ahead as he had predicted. Rosalind thought it was barely the width of a train tunnel, but it was light inside with strips of electric lights going all the way along. Maximouse quickly told everyone what his plan was, and what they were to do.
*** *** *** ***
Once inside the tunnel, Tchi, as instructed, slammed on the brakes and brought the car to a halt. With the speed of a military operation everyone leapt out, except Tchi. Starting the car again, Tchi left his door ajar. He began to drive the car in a straight line towards the tunnel exit. He took Gluid’s shoe that Maximouse had given him and wedged it under the accelerator peddle. Simultaneously he let out the clutch and rolled out of the car, and it shot off away from him. The car was only going about six miles an hour as he rolled out, but as soon he was out it accelerated away.
He watched the car drive out into the daylight and speed off along the straight road. Only seconds later he saw it turn into a fireball as a Buzzor torpedo hit it squarely on the roof. The red car turned orange and yellow with flame. The petrol tank exploded and Tchi was thrust back against the tunnel wall and held his hands over his face. He ran back to find the others.
“You were right. It’s worked,” said Tchi, “They’ve blown the car up. We wouldn’t have stood a chance.”
“They’ll come back for us,” said Serendipity.
“Possibly,” Maximouse said, “but they will most likely think we were in the car and that we’re all done for. At least it will give us some time. And look, here’s the car that was behind us is approaching the tunnel.”
“Action stations,” said Serendipity.
The three children stood in the middle of road waving their arms. The blue car came to a halt. A creature half-way resembling a man and a frog wound down his window.
“I can’t stop, I’m on a government mission.”
“Your car’s on fire at the back,” said Rosalind.
“Oh dear. And I’ve got such a long way to go.”
Leaving the engine running, he opened the door and stepped down onto the ground. He was short – about the same size as Serendipity – and wore a blue suit and a white shirt with a pink tie.
“Round here,” said the fairy pointing at the back of his car.
The instant he came to the back of the car, Maximouse threw a length of rope around him, pinning his arms to his side. The man-frog was angry, frustrated and frightened. “
“Everyone get in,” shouted Maximouse, as he firmly tied up the man-frog.
Shouts of anger and frustration were coming from the little man frog. Serendipity had cut a short length of rope and was tying the man-frog’s legs. “See what’s in the boot of his car,” she called to Marie.
The boot was not locked and contained a carrier bag of provisions, a brief case and camping equipment. “Keep the brief case and the provisions in the car and leave the rest behind, Marie, and let’s get going,” shouted Maximouse.
Within seconds Rosalind had jumped in the back seat. Serendipity jumped onto Maximouse’s lap. “Go, go, go,” shouted Maximouse. Tchi slammed his door and sped out of the tunnel’s exit.
As they came out they all gasped as they saw the remains of the red Vauxhall Chevette charcoaled and blistered by the Buzzor’s torpedoes.
“Gluid was cremated,” said Maximouse, “It’s what he would have wanted. Moonbeasleys are never buried.”
“So that was what it was all about.”
“It came to me in a flash. You could say that Gluid saved our lives. I realised there was no way we could escape, they saw us drive off in that red car. They wouldn’t let us get far. And there’s something else I want to do for Gluid. Give me that brief case, Marie.”
“There’s a letter inside it.”
“Well throw that away and give me the empty briefcase.” Marie passed it over to him. “Now stop by the red car. I want to collect Gluid’s ashes.”
“Is that safe?”
“The Buzzors have gone,” said Maximouse, “They think we’re all dead.”
*** *** *** ***
They drove for miles silently and sullenly. They passed through dingy suburbs of Ufromides, heading towards the Edgeland Mountains. Then in the late afternoon, Tchi realised they had another problem. They were short of petrol. Luckily they found a petrol station not much further along.
“It’s difficult to believe that you have petrol stations on Palingenesis Island. Although if you had cars I suppose you must have,” said Rosalind.
“Many have closed down now,” said Serendipity.
Unluckily, this happened to be one of those. No longer a boom business, no one was attending the pumps. In fact, no one was present on the premises at all, and worst of all the power wasn’t on, so even if there was any petrol, none could be taken.
“You need a special card at some of these places to get petrol. I bet that frog-man had one if he was working for the government. We should have searched his pockets,” said Serendipity.
“I bet by now he’s told someone in authority that we are still alive and driving a blue car,” said Marie
“I doubt it,” said Maximouse, “I tied him up good and proper and there aren’t many vehicles that pass through there in a day – I doubt if he’ll be found within twelve hours.”
“What are we going to do about petrol?” asked Rosalind.
As we still have a little bit of petrol left, I think we should drive to the river,” said Maximouse. But several miles later the car ran out completely of petrol and they had to get out and walk.
Standing on a country road, near a small stream, they stood around trying to work out the best strategy.
“We could steal another car,” suggested Serendipity.
“There aren’t many cars around that work these days. And how many cars have we seen travelling today? It’s not going to be easy to find one – and find one in working order,” said Maximouse.
“Let’s try and hide this car because as soon as they find it they’ll know we’re not far away. We need to disguise it,” said Tchi.
“We need spades to cover it in earth,” said Rosalind.
“Have a look to see if there are any matches in the rucksack.”
“I wouldn’t set it on fire,” suggested Marie.
“If we did that it might be noticed from the air, it might draw attention,” said Rosalind.
“And if we did that we would need to douse it with petrol and if we had any of that we would put it in the petrol tank,” said Tchi.
“Okay, folks not my best idea,” said Marie.
“A better idea would be push it down that stream by the side of the road, and push it down that bank by the big tree. The tree should obscure it to some extent from the air,” said Maximouse.
“We could cover it in twigs, leaves and branches,” suggested Marie.
“Let’s try that.”
First they took out all the haversacks and food that was in the car. Then twenty minutes, and a lot of puff, later the car was down the bank, its nose dipping in the shallow water of the stream, it body now hidden by the stones, rocks and vegetation the gang found to camouflage it.
“Let’s walk,” said Serendipity.
“Where are we heading?” asked Rosalind.
“We’ll head East down to the river,” said Maximouse. “It’s another long walk, but stealing a boat is another way of diverting our pursuers – they won’t expect that.”
So they walked and walked through the landscape, up hill and down dale, taking a short cut across the land, leaving the roads of transport behind.
*** *** *** ***
After an hour Rosalind’s feet were really hurting. She didn’t want to moan to her companions, not after all the hardships that DagDag and Gluid had suffered for a noble cause, but she knew she would collapse soon if she didn’t take her shoes off.
“I wish I had a comfortable pair of walking boots,” she moaned in frustration under her breath as she trudged along.
Suddenly, right before her, in the path she trod, were a pair of sparkling new walking boots. She picked them up.
“Stop a minute!” she shouted. “I’m putting on these boots.”
“Where did you get those from?” enquired Tchi coming back a few paces. “I could do with a pair.”
“I just wished for them and they appeared.”
She put them on and immediately her feet felt wonderfully refreshed, as if she had soaked them in warm water.
“I’ve just wished for some and nothing’s happened,” complained Tchi.
“Perhaps Rosalind needs to do the wishing for you,” suggested Marie, who had also come back to see what was holding Rosalind and Tchi up.
“I wish Tchi to have a wonderful pair of comfortable walking boots,” wished Rosalind aloud.
They waited and waited but nothing happened.
“Come on, you lot,” shouted Serendipity, from way ahead. She wondered what was holding them up.
“The magic doesn’t work anymore. How peculiar?” said Rosalind, now walking along in her new footwear. “This island is weird – nothing seems to make any sense.”
“But it couldn’t have been a coincidence,” said Tchi, “you just wishing for a pair of comfortable boots and then they suddenly appear. If you’ve done it once you must be able to do it again.” But however many times Rosalind wished again no more boots appeared.
Perhaps these boots will suddenly disappear, she thought, but as the course of events unfolded, she found her anxieties were false, and the boots remained on her feet, keeping them free from soreness and pain.
*** *** *** ***
Eventually they came to the river. There were many attractive houses and gardens backing on to the water. Rosalind thought the houses looked exotic, like far eastern photos of houses on stalks. What was however not exotic about them, she thought, was that they all had boat garages, just like the sort of garages a car would have, with roll down shutters keeping the boats free from vandals and thieves. Above the garages were living quarters and these ascended to three or four stories. Most dwellings were of wooden planks painted white.
“At last,” said Maximouse, and turned the briefcase, he had been carrying, upside down. Gluids’s ashes floated down the rushing river. “Now his spirit is free,” he said. “He always told me he wanted his remains carried away by a river.
They all stood silently in respect as Maximouse expelled every remnant of ash from the briefcase. “Goodbye Gluid,” he said, choking back tears.
“Well done, Maximouse,” said Serendipity. “You’ve given him a fine farewell.”
They were quiet for a moment and then Maximouse brought everyone back by slapping his hand on his thigh with a big crack. “We’re going to do this for Gluid’s sake! Yes we are!”
“I can’t see any boats, so I don’t know how we are going to get down the river,” said Marie.
Nor could anybody else. All the boats – if they were at home – were safely protected by the boat garage doors.
From behind the group came a deep dark voice. “Are you looking for a ride along the river?”
They all turned round. The children were amazed by what they saw. It was not unusual to see a duck by the river’s edge but it was certainly unusual to see a talking one, and impossible to see one this size! It was about the size of a bubble car.
“Yes, we are,” said Serendipity
“Well, me and my brood are heading South this evening to see our family. We could take you all, as I have eleven of the little things. If any of them get tired from bearing your weight, then you can swap over onto another one. Where are you trying to get to?”
“We’re going to Threadbare Wood,” said Serendipity.
“Oh,” the duck looked a little surprised. “We never go down that far. Are you sure you want to go that far South?”
No one answered.
“Oh well, where you go and what for is your business, but if you’d like a lift about two thirds of the way then we can take you. All you need to do is to sit on our backs and hold onto our necks. The river is fast, but I know it well and am teaching my youngsters. They’re all so talented.”
“Thank you,” said Serendipity.
“Your rucksacks can stay on your backs.”
“Fine,” said Serendipity.
“You’d have to go on my back,” said the duck to Maximouse, “ you look much heavier than the others, which made Rosalind giggle.
Everything was agreed and the duck went off briefly, and returned with some string. “We leave at six o’clock,” she said. “I can’t tell you what time we will get to my sisters, but hopefully not far off midnight. Sometimes we fly but only with baggage and never with live creatures on our backs – far too dangerous.”
“Excellent,” said Serendipity, but really wondering where they would sleep when they got there.
“That will be 120 frozoids.”
“Aha, we don’t have –
“- That’ll be fine,” interrupted Maximouse quickly, “and you may even earn a few extra frozoids if non of us get wet.”
“Oh jolly good show,” said the mother duck.
“It’s a deal then,” concluded Maximouse.
“Errrr… a little irregular, but you all have trusting faces, so alright,” said the duck. She then turned and walked off, saying as she went, “remember, six o’clock sharp, and we’ll meet here.
*** *** *** ***
The duck and her brood returned, as good as her word at 6 o’clock, and soon the five adventurers were heading with current down the River Doomweald, each – with the exception of Maximouse – on the back of a brown duckling.
They went from a narrow river to a wide ride, through twists and turns of the old river valley, past towns and suburbs and large swathes of countryside and woodland. Occasionally they would come to a weir or waterfall. With Maximouse on her back and a great deal of baggage, Mother duck flew up in the air and glided down to land in the lower water. Maximouse had this treat, but the other passengers on the ducklings had to disembark on the bank and walk along for a short distance until the ducklings, who also had to become land lubbers for a short walk, were shipshape again.
The late afternoon had turned to early evening, then gradually into the dim light of oncoming night. Rosalind thought it was the most wonderful journey she had ever been on. Sitting on a giant duckling cruising at speed, like a motorboat with an engine of webbed feet. She felt so stable on the duckling that she didn’t even hold on all the time, so she could slip her hands in the water and make patterns. And when the moon and stars invaded the sky, and their reflections danced on the swirling mercurial irregular patterns of light that came towards her, she couldn’t help giggling with pleasure.
At last Mother Duck told Maximouse that they would soon be at their destination, and they would be going no further. Maximouse didn’t quite know what to do about the promised fee for the journey, as none of them had any money. He liked Mother and had no desire to cheat her, but he thought he’d let her get as far as she was going before he told her that she was not going to get paid that night.
Eventually all the travellers were out on the bank. Mother Duck or any of her brood were still in the water, waiting for payment before turning off down a small tributary on the other bank.
“Mother Duck, could you come up here for a moment,” asked Maximouse. She consented and waddled up towards the group.
“I’m afraid we have no money,” said Maximouse.
“Oh dear. That’s a rotten trick. We brought you all the way here, and now you tell us that we have been deceived.”
“We are on an important mission,” said Serendipity jumping in. We will return and pay you at some stage in the future.”
“Well, if you are going into Threadbare Wood I doubt if you will ever be seen again,” said the duck looking crestfallen. She grunted and began to turn away. “We are very sorry,” shouted Rosalind, feeling very sad about disappointing the ducks.
“Huh!” said Mother Duck, and sank into the dark water and started paddling ferociously to round up her brood.
“Oh dear,” said Rosalind.
“Come on, let’s get some sleep,” said Serendipity, “This mission is more important than paying bills – it’s about saving the whole island, and your world as well.”
*** *** *** ***
“I’ve got to eat something,” said Tchi, “I’m starving.”
“Perhaps it would be a good idea to stop and eat of some of this food. It would give us a rest and make the baggage lighter,” said Marie.
“We’ve still got a way to walk,” said Serendipity. “We can make it to the Rabbit’s house. We need to get there as soon as we can so that we can sleep indoors safely.”
“We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves so we can’t camp and make a fire, but we can eat cold food. We’re heading South, so we could walk up to that little shrubbery on the hill and rest for an hour and all have something to eat.” suggested Maximouse, to which all agreed.
It was quite dark now but the sky was a kaleidoscope of stars, that cast much light on the landscape and the rolling hills.
*** *** *** ***
“What on earth is this stuff made of?” asked Rosalind, “It tastes like camel puke.”
“It’s made of seaweed and Palmazan, which is a type of flower that’s grown in the North which looks a bit like your primrose but it changes colour twice a day,” said Serendipity.
“This is nice, this stuff,” said Tchi. “What’s this?” He held up a bottle of lemon liquid that he was drinking with a straw.
“That’s Buzzor’s nose dropping.”
Instantly Tchi spat it out. “Ugh!”
“Don’t worry it’s synthetic. Yes, it’s difficult to believe that anything so sweet and tart can come from such vile creatures, but occasionally dead Buzzors have been found flying towards the South and somebody made the discovery that their lemon coloured nose droppings are beautiful to our sense of taste. They’re also rich in every vitamin. It was sent off to the Sprite university to have it rigorously tested, and then they analysed it and made it synthetically.”
“I think I’ll pass on that,” uttered Marie, felling absolutely tired out. “If you drink a bottle of it do you turn into a Buzzor?”
“No!” laughed Serendipity. “It’s been drunk by Human’s, Sprites, Fairies, Drummonds, Wergs and everyone, and all it does is good. It’s not a drink that will turn your teeth green or is laden with unnatural sugar.”
“Hey, look at this!” said Tchi. He had opened the envelope that had originally been in the briefcase taken from the frog-man. He had stuffed it in his pocket and had removed it to throw away. He had opened it out of curiosity. “Its from the Council Of Ursula to the Government Commission at Blackbod.”
Serendipity leapt over to have a look and took it out of his hands. “Princess Ursula and her daughter will be arriving on the morning of Friday 30 September at The Marcoomian Pyramid in Chemgantrial to set about the detonation of nemotoxigen,” read Serendipity aloud. “It is essential that with great haste you establish all factors are in place, together with our greatest scientific brains, and invite our most trustworthy supporters to this historic event. We couldn’t perform such an act without inviting all our friends to witness how ingenious we are!”
“Wow!” said Rosalind.
“This is brilliant!” echoed Serendipity. “There’s a thumbnail map here that shows a route through to Blackbod, with Chemgantrial about ten miles to its East. This is a fantastic piece of luck. We now know exactly where we are heading and we have a map which covers much of the South Darklands,” she said with glee.
“That’s great,” said Maximouse, but his voice belied his sadness. “It’s a shame Gluid won’t be with us.” He groaned and looked deep in thought. “I’m just…g- going for a short stroll,” he stammered.
“Of course,” said Serendipity.
He was taking the loss of his friend very badly.
Five minutes later Tchi said, “That feels better,” rubbing his stomach. “I’m fit for walking now. Even without a comfortable pair of boots like Rosalind, this discovery has given me a new interest in walking on.”
Rosalind laughed. “I think we’ve been here long enough,” she said. She had been looking at the time on her granddad’s watch. She put it back in her pocket, laughed and stood up. “I’ll go and get Maximouse.”
She wandered past several trees and came into a clearing. She could see Maximouse with his nose in his lap sobbing. She felt dreadfully sorry for him. She instantly thought about her grandfather, in hospital after collapsing. She didn’t know how he was. She didn’t even know if she’d ever get home to see him again; and if she did if he would still be alive. She said a silent prayer for her granddad.
She tapped Maximouse on the shoulder, “We’re ready,” she said.
“You go back and I’ll follow you in a moment,” he said.
She walked back with Maximouse following behind her. Then she thought this was a bit odd. Why didn’t he walk along with her?
She turned to say something about the danger her granddad had been in, but as she did so, Maximouse’s shadow fell across her path. Yet, it couldn’t be the shadow of Maximouse because it was enormous. Instantly fearful, she turned to face the figure behind her. A pair of enormous yellow eyes – as bright as street lamps – about seven feet behind her, looked down on her. They had elliptical green black pupils. She screamed and instantly there was a noise in the bushes and the creature had gone. Within seconds Maximouse was by her side.
“I’ll tell you about it later,” she said shivering. “Let’s get the others and get out of here.”
Walking in the dark in the early hours of the morning, the gang surmounted the summit of a hill, and Rabbit’s home came in sight. They could see a bungalow, but larger than the one in Wizicky Wazicky Wood.
There was a sign post by the path. “Shine a match here,” Rosalind said to Tchi. It read: ‘Land of Kill Yourself For the Crowd’.
Rabbit’s cottage was set in a small hamlet of other bungalows, houses and cottages lower down the escarpment. A brook ran next to his home. Fifteen minutes later they approached his front door.
When they arrived at the bungalow, Serendipity knocked and knocked. “Perhaps it’s not too polite to wake him up at this late hour, but I don’t think it advisable to sleep out in the dark,” she said, now trying the door. It was locked. She knocked again. Then a newt, taller than Serendipity, opened the door and stared at the visitors with big bulging gormless eyes. “What on earth do you want?” he mumbled, and then yawned revealing the cavern of his throat. The tone of his voice was quite rude. Serendipity said she wanted to see Rabbit. The newt blinked twice and then stood back from the door. “He’s in bed now.” He said pointing to an inner blue door on his right. “The party’s over. You’re too late.”
Serendipity decided this conversation with this newt was getting her nowhere. She pushed him aside as she went into the hall. The others followed her. The newt, still blinking, watched them.
“If you want to go in there and wake him up, that’s your affair, I don’t care,” said the newt. “I’m going home.”
Serendipity wasn’t sure. “Perhaps it wouldn’t be a good idea to wake Rabbit if he’s asleep,” she said. Is there somewhere we could just lay down and sleep ‘til morning?”
“That’s what I was trying to do before you clobberlocking lot arrived,” he said in his offhand manner. He opened the green door on his left. “See if you can find somewhere in the lounge.
Marie, being tired out, went through and felt for the light switch. But as soon as she switched it on, she met a reception she hadn’t been prepared for. From all around the room groans and swear words, expletive deletives were being fired at her. All around her creatures were gradually sitting up rubbing their eyes, complaining, furious at having been woken up by the light. Both of the settees were full of bodies, as were bean bags on the floor.
Serendipity came into the room, closely followed by Rosalind. The place was an absolute mess, with bodies, bottles, ash-filled ashtrays and upturned glasses everywhere.
“It’s a fairy,” said one of the weasels, pulling a face. “Let’s go, they’re are always so goody goody. It’s green pea, man.”
The females watched as the whole group struggled to its feet and gradually left out the way they had entered. Even the newt who had let them in, had slithered off.
“What’s going on?” said a soft voice behind the girls, coming from the hall. It was a the rabbit.
“It’s me,” said Serendipity. “Oh hello, I was trying to avoid waking you up. Sorry.”
“Oh… “ said Rabbit, pulling first a very shocked face and then a very sad one when he saw Serendipity. “What on Immelda’s circle are you doing here?”
“Can we tell you in the morning?” she asked. “We’re all really, really tired – exhausted in fact.”
“Yes, if you can find somewhere to sleep. I’m going back to bed. I don’t like to be awake.” And with that he left them to it.
Serendipity looked at Maximouse and frowned. “This is all a bit peculiar, isn’t it?”
“A bit of a mess,” said Rosalind, running her finger through the dust on a coffee table, “This place has not been cleaned for months.”
*** *** *** ***
Rosalind was the first to wake. It was lunchtime. Gradually everyone else began to stir.
They found Rabbit in bed, snoring. Serendipity decided to wake him.
“Carry on,” said Rabbit and turned away as if to return to his slumber.
A wave of irritation passed over Serendipity’s face. Then Rosalind thought she did something completely out of character. She pulled his spotted counterpane off Rabbit’s bed, and all the blankets and sheets as well. “You’re getting up,” she said. “You’re going to be the perfect host and we are going to be the perfect visitors.”
“Anything, anything,” he concurred, rubbing his eyes and looking quite frightened.
“And I want to know what’s going on. You seem to have had a personality transplant I last saw you.”
Rabbit looked down at the carpet and crumpled his face up in the expectation of getting a telling off. He slipped off the bed and led them into the kitchen. “Not now. I feel sick. I need some sugar.” And he went to a cupboard and brought out a big sweet jar full of Malmals and rapaciously swallowed four.”
“You never used to take Malmals,” scolded Serendipity, sounding like a vexed mother. “And what’s going on here? You and your house are very unkempt, this is not like you.”
“Not now,” said Rabbit. You can stay as long as you want and eat anything in the cupboards. If you want anything there’s a shop around the corner. Help yourself, but don’t give me a hard time,” said Rabbit sounding as if he was going to burst into tears. He opened the back door and walked out into the garden
“Very well, for now,” shouted Serendipity after him, “but your mother would expect me to check that you are looking after yourself and I shall want some explanations before we leave,” said Serendipity.
But Rabbit had walked off and appeared not to have heard her.
*** *** *** ***
There was enough in Rabbit’s cupboards to make some eggs and toast. In the mid afternoon Marie and Tchi went to the shop to restock the cupboards.
They all spent the afternoon quietly, in a sort inner meditation. Rosalind sat on a bench in Rabbit’s garden and didn’t feel like talking and nor did anyone else. She realised that even though this journey had been hard, it was likely to get much harder. Maximouse had been consumed with grief again and had hidden down the bottom of the garden and sat near the shed.
Marie joined Rosalind in the late afternoon, although they didn’t talk much. They both enjoyed sitting quietly in the garden. Serendipity came up to talk to them in the late afternoon.
“I think we’re all so exhausted that we should stay overnight and leave first thing in the morning.”
”Will we still get to Blackbod in time?”
“Chemgantrial is where we are heading now. I think so, but we’ll have less time to play with, because we are using an extra night here. But I personally think we need to rest for another night. What do you think?”
“What about the Buzzors – won’t they be following?” asked Marie.
Yes, they never give up,” said Serendipity. “But I don’t think they know where we are, otherwise they would be here by now, on our tracks already.”
“Are they all over the island?,” said Rosalind.
“Not in the far North. They never used to get up as far as Wizicky Wazicky Wood, but they’re almost control the South and the Midlands of the island now. Ursula’s original base is in the South Darklands, where she began her tyranny, and that’s where we are heading.”
“I’ll leave it to you to decide about sleeping over,” said Rosalind, “You’re the leader.
“Same here,” said Marie. “You decide: you know the distance and the terrain,” said Marie. Tchi agreed.
“Yes, I’ve been South before,” Serendipity said, “but not actually into the South Darklands, although I’ve been given lots of information about it.”
“So what will we do?”
Serendipity looked up at the sky, great concentration on her face. “Oh great Creator, help me to make the right decision.” Then she turned back to the girls and smiled.
“We’ll stay and go first thing in the morning,” she said. “We will stay a little longer so that Maximouse can come to terms with his loss. All Moonbeasleys take a long time to get over losing friends and family. And we all need some rest. Here he is.”
Maximouse was walking towards them, coming away from his solitary contemplation at the bottom of the garden.
“I’ve got it,” he said, with the first burst of enthusiasm they had heard from him for some time. I’m going to make one of Gluid’s great dishes: Gluid’s pie. And we can all appreciate it’s wonderful flavour, and his culinary genius.”
*** *** *** ***
“The last time me and Maximouse saw you, you were happy,” said Serendipity over the tea table to rabbit.
“Yes, I remember those days,” he said, “but everything’s…. It’s lonely down here.”
“Those people who were here last night, are they your friends?”
“Oh those creatures are cool – not green pea at all – and they keep me happy. They stop me from getting sad, bored and frustrated. So what’s wrong with the alcopops, the boozy and the Malmals. It stops me getting bored.”
“That’s not very good, Rabbit! That doesn’t sound like you. What happened to your self respect and pride. Something awful seems to have happened to you, since we last saw you. If you feel you are worthless or you are worse than others, you just let yourself go. You have to believe you are worthwhile, made by Immelda the great Creator.”
“I don’t know. I don’t feel that way anymore. I hate the dark forces that are taking over. And there’s nothing I can do.”
“I thought you were going to come here to paint landscapes?” said Serendipity.
“I tried that,” he sighed. “come in here.”
He took them into a room that led off the kitchen with an old fire place and all sorts of strange pictures and objects. He had a goldfish bowl in which floated a miniature submarine. “When I came down I was fired with enthusiasm. This used to be my studio then. I met Mathilda, and she was lovely. We became two rabbits in love. She really supported what I was trying to do. She said I was a great painter, I even did a portrait or two or her, but,” he stopped and looked sad, “I’ve burnt those all now.”
“Why?” asked Serendipity.
“She left me. She left me for another artist. He was a rabbit as well. They left the area and have gone for good. I was shattered. The universe of worlds lost its colour and meaning. I just stayed in bed for days crying. I got this letter from her, I’ll read it to you all.” As he read it a ghostly genie came out of a bottle and played a sorrowful melody on a violin.
“…Dear Rabbit,” he began, “I don’t ever want to go out with you again. You are a useless rabbit and I don’t think you’ll ever be any good at anything. I was just wasting my time going out with you. I’m now in love with a talented rabbit and he paints far more pictures of me, not boring trees, Goodbye John, Mathilda.”
The genie disappeared.
“That’s a very cruel letter,” said Tchi.
“If it hadn’t of been for the party animals I think I would have ended it all.” He stopped and caught his breath. “I got lonely, like I said. Yes, you’re right, I take too many Malmals and drink too much and continually have parties with these creatures. But I’m not guilty of watching porn on the telly though.”
“Porn?” interrupted Rosalind.
“Yes, I’ve heard about that in the lower regions,” said Serendipity, “since Ursula has taken over these cities the TVs are full of pornography, gambling and freak shows. It’s disgusting!”
“Yes, well you can’t blame me on that – I threw the old TV out. I don’t watch it anymore at all, and so I just get bored.”
“That’s very sad, Rabbit. But you have to get over things like this. This Mathilda sounds a highly superficial and nasty person to me.
“Oh she was lovely,” he said putting the letter down.
“Tea is served!” shouted Maximouse, and they all filed back to the kitchen and sat at the laid table. Before Maximouse served his great tribute to Gluid, Serendipity resumed the conversation.
“Won’t you continue the painting that you came down here from Plasticia to do?”
“In those days things were fresh and I was inspired. Now they’re tainted and I have no self discipline at all. I’m just not interested.”
“So now you take so many Malmals washed down with alcohol,” she continued, “Isn’t that just a cop out? An avoidance of what you really want to do. An avoidance of who you really want to be?”
“Don’t make me feel worse than I do already. But you’re right I need to change. I need a cigarette.” Desperately he searched his pockets, and pulled out a crumpled cigarette packet.
“We’re beginning to ban tobacco on our planet,” said Tchi.
“It’s a shame they haven’t banned it here,” Said Serendipity, “but the evil Ursula likes all foul smelling noxious gases and intoxicants. The woman is pure evil.”
“You can say that again,” said Rabbit banging his head on the table, “my life was much better before she came to power. It all went wrong when Mathilda began smoking nemotoxigen. They’re trying to sell it everywhere in the shops down here. I thought about taking it myself.”
“No, Rabbit, you mustn’t do that!” pleaded Serendipity. She told Rabbit how they were all off to the South to stop the mass production of that dreadful gas.”
“You are brave,” he said, lighting a cigarette. He coughed and then spluttered, “but you’re stupid because you won’t come back. You won’t even get through the enchanted border.”
Serendipity reached over and pulled the cigarette out of his mouth and stamped on it. She tried to speak, but frustratingly the words wouldn’t come out of her mouth.
“We have to try,” said Maximouse turning away from the steaming saucepans on the cooker and looking at directly at Rabbit. This was the first thing he had said since he had been cooking in the kitchen. “And we have to try and succeed!” he said, his voice gradually rising in volume and passion. “We can’t let Gluid or DagDag down now. We’re going all the way whether we come back or not.”
“I’d like to come back,” said Marie. “In fact I’d like to go back home. I’d like to go home now.”
“Of course you would,” said Serendipity, “but if we’re not successful your Earth would not be worth living on in a very short while.”
“Enough discussion,” said Maximouse, “have some of this super pie so that we can fill ourselves with loads of energy to achieve success.”
*** *** *** ***
Gluid’s pie consisted of broccoli, cheese sauce, tomatoes, olives and a strange textured ingredient that was made of sweet corn and nuts: it was absolutely delicious, even the despondent Rabbit said so. For desert they had another of Gluid’s recipies: warm custard doughnuts with a dribble of raspberry jam and brandy poured over them.
As they sat there at the end of the meal they gently chatted about pleasant things, things that didn’t remind them of the perils they would be soon facing. But reality was brought back by Rabbit.
“You’ll never ever get to Blackbod.”
“There are many reasons, not least that there is a giant mad cat that stalks the area from here Southwards. He has killed tens of creatures in these last few months. He’s a complete psycho. He has staring eyes and massive claws and walks on his hind legs. He’s about the size of a large door. He’s called Kamachal. Everyone always locks their back doors at night to prevent him from squeezing in and eating them.”
“You didn’t last night,” said Rosalind.
“No we were all too far zoobied last night, but even when we party we are usually careful.”
Just at that moment there was a knock on the door.
They all looked at each other in surprise.
“It’s alright. It wont be Kamachal. He’s not around in the day and he wouldn’t knock – he would just barge in. It’s the gang, they’ve come round for another celebration.”
“Tell them to get lost,” said Serendipity.
“You certainly start your parties early,” scoffed Marie.
“Perhaps I should tell them to go,” said Rabbit.
“Go on,” said Serendipity.
“There’s no two ways about it. Have you got any backbone or are you just a walk over for people to take advantage of?”
“But they are my friends.”
“Friends are people who tell you the truth about what’s good for you, not encourage you to do things that are bad for you. These are false friends. Where’s the strong dignified old Rabbit I used to know? Do you really want to live your life in dissipation?”
Rabbit pulled his ears over his eyes and wobbled his head from side to side. “Yeah, you’re right,” he said grudgingly, quietly acquiescing.
He stood up from the kitchen table, the wooden chair screeching on the quarry tiled kitchen floor as he pushed it back. He went to the door. Everyone at the table could hear the hooting and cheering when he opened the door.
“Hi, Sad Rabbit,” shouted a hedgehog that Rosalind could see through the door from the kitchen seat. “We’re all zoobied up already and ready for another crazy night.”
Voices rang out from behind him in agreement.
“No, sorry Hedgehog,” said Rabbit, “I’ve given up smoking, I’ve given up booze and I’ve just given up Malmals. I’m going to do something I’m good at.”
Suddenly there was an almighty boo from the creatures outside. “You’re a green pea! Whoever would have thought that Sad Rabbit would have gone green pea!” shouted the hedgehog, followed by taunts and shouts of ‘green pea’. “Sorry, furball, you just ain’t cool any more,” jeered the hedgehog still trying to come through the door. Rabbit stood in his way.
“No,” said Rabbit and shut the door.
Rabbit limped back to the kitchen table with his head down.
“Well done!” said Serendipity.
“I’ve blown it now,” said Rabbit. “I’ve now got no friends and I’ll be lonely. And I’ll feel completely screwed up without Malmals, alcopops and tobacco.”
“You just sit it out,” said Serendipity, caressing one of Rabbit’s long ears.
“You’ll be okay,” she said a moment later, “Just get on with your painting. Do what you were sent to this planet to do. Do what is essentially you. Anybody who helps you to find yourself is a friend. Anyone who takes you from that path is not a friend. Okay!”
“So what is it you want to do?”
“I want to be Palingenesis Island’s greatest painter. Huh!”
“Great. Get to work and when we come back from the Southlands you can show us what you’ve done.”
Rabbit looked up somewhat concerned. He went to say something but then changed his mind. Then he said, “I’ll start tomorrow, I’ll start a painting celebrating Gluid – I’ll do a painting of his pie and varnish it and hang it on the front door.”
That’s so kind. Thank you very much,” said Maximouse, slowly, slightly choking over his words.
“Let’s clean and tidy up your house,” said Marie.
“It certainly needs it,” said Serendipity.
“I’ll slip out the back and go and buy some provisions from the shop,” said Rabbit.
Rosalind slept well until about three in the morning when she suddenly found herself awake and her eyes open. It was quiet and all about her was dark. Occasionally she could hear the breathing of the others as they lay around on the settees and cushions in the lounge. They were obviously in deep sleep. The she heard a noise. It was something outside. It was like someone walking in short bursts, but even though it sounded close, it was barely audible. It was now quiet again. She hoped she had been dreaming and wouldn’t hear it again. Then she heard a tapping sound. It was coming from another room, possibly the front door. She didn’t know whether to wake anyone up. She quietly slipped out from under her blankets and carefully stood up. She made her way, dodging sleeping bodies on the carpet, towards the door. Once she got there she stopped and listened again. It was there again, a tapping, louder this time, and coming from another place. It seemed to be coming from the kitchen.
She was very concerned. She didn’t want to open the door into the hall to be greeted by a seven foot psychotic cat. It was quiet again. She stood there for some time. She was just about to walk back to her blankets when the loudest tapping began at the front door. This time it was loud enough to wake others.
“What’s that,” said Tchi, his eyes springing open.
“Sssssh,” said Serendipity, She slowly got out of bed. She walked over to the door and jumped when she found Rosalind standing up. The tapping was still making a considerable noise.
The door handle suddenly began turning. Rosalind’s hand was immediately on it. Someone was trying to open the door and come in.
“It’s that mad cat! We’re all dead,” came a voice from behind that door. “I bet they told him to come and get me because I’m a green pea,” it whimpered.
“Let Rabbit in,” said Serendipity.
The tapping had stopped again. They all listened very acutely for any more sounds. Nothing. They waited and waited. Nothing.
“Everybody get back into your beds,” said Serendipity.
“I’ll sleep in here with you,” said Rabbit.
“There’s not much room.”
“I’m not that big,” he said. “Anyway, it’s my house and I’ll sleep in whichever room I like.”
After five minutes of no more noise, Serendipity and Rosalind were both back under their blankets, although they hadn’t resumed sleep. Eventually however sleep took them and no one woke until the sun had come up in the morning.
They discussed it over the breakfast table, much to the interest of Marie and Maximouse who had slept through the entire episode.
“It was that terrifying cat,” said Rabbit. “They say he plays with his victims like a mouse before he eats you. He’ll tear you apart limb by limb slowly with his claws as if its all a game, but he’ll make sure you’re still alive. And then he eats you head first.”
“We’ll have to be very careful, when we go outside to depart,” said Rosalind. “I don’t want to meet any more nasties.”
“Cats are nocturnal. He only comes out at night,” said Rabbit.
Despite Rabbit’s assurance, everyone acted as if they had not heard it. They looked out of the windows but nothing unusual could be seen. Maximouse even volunteered to scout the garden to see if anything was hiding out the back. He said he saw nothing, heard nothing and nothing had been disturbed.
Eventually it was time to leave. Like Jilly Jerbil, Rabbit was determined to give them something to help them on their way. He went up to his loft and came back with two rucksacks which he filled with food and drink. He told them to be very careful.
It was when Maximouse pulled open the front door that the whole proceeding stopped. He shrieked. He laughed, he screamed. The girls directly behind him couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t move forward, and Rosalind thought that Maximouse was not quite the full ticket. As they say in these parts, he was an elephant short of a Safari Park.
But he did proceed eventually. He turned to the girls and, with tears in his eyes, he returned his gaze outside and then solemnly marched forward. He gave no indication of his happiness which was evident only on later reflection.
When everyone else moved forward they immediately cried noises of astonishment. They now saw what Maximouse had seen. Lying in front of Rabbit’s door was DagDag. None other than DagDag. He was lying in the dry stony ground, blinking, dazed by the sunlight, looking dusty, tired and confused.
It took a moment for anyone to speak as they were all so shocked.
“DagDag!” screamed Serendipity, “How wonderful to see you!”
Maximouse was full of tears and laughter at the same time.
“Come inside Rabbit’s house and we’ll look after you.”
“I’ve been trying to get in all night, tapping on the windows and the doors, and none of you noticed,” he said.
“It was you,” said Rabbit, standing behind everyone in the doorway. “Come in, I’ve heard about your daring exploits. You are a guest in my house for life.”
“I could do with a cup of tea,” he said, “and a good brushing down.”
*** *** *** ***
“What on Earth happened to you?” asked Rosalind.
Everyone was firing questions at DagDag, asking him how he had escaped. He looked around the table at everyone blinking, not able to answer their questions because of their noise. Eventually everyone went quiet and waited for him to speak.
Rosalind thought he had lost weight, although he was still a massive size compared to the ravens she had seen at home. His eyes looked tired as if he was drunk and as he began to talk she thought his speech was lazier than it had been since she had last seen him. He seemed much more hesitant and indecisive. He must have been through a lot she thought.
“Of course being pinned to a door by a crossbow bolt meant I couldn’t escape. The pain was terrible. I was relieved when they removed the bolt and put me in a big black sack,” he was saying. “I pecked through the sack but found myself no better off. I was in some sort of metal box, so no way could I escape. I was in there for so long I have no recall of how long it was. Then they opened the lid. I figured out I was in some sort of kitchen. Two Buzzors were lifting me out to put chains on me. I thought if I don’t get away now I never will, so I mustered all the will power I had and started pecking at the eyes of the Buzzors. One of them dropped the padlock they were applying to my foot and I then stabbed another one in the cheek. I knew if I made a mistake I would die, so I attacked with everything I had. He dropped the chain he was holding and fell back. There were another two Buzzors there, but they were standing behind these two, and so I was suddenly free of captors for a split second. I seized my chance and started wildly beating my wings. My left wing gave me great pain because of the crossbow bolt wound.”
“I’m sorry we had to leave you there,” said Tchi, “It was a dreadful moment,” he added.
“You did the right thing,” said the raven, “if you had waited a moment longer we would have all been captured.”
“I managed to fly over their heads,” continued DagDag a moment later, “before they realised what was happening. Then they became airborne themselves. I knew I was outnumbered and up against not one formidable adversary but four. I have great flying powers but now I had a damaged wing. I was in a small room and looked around hopelessly for inspiration.
“And I found it. To my left was a serving hatch, which I instantly flew at and flew through. I came out into a dining room full of slave-Wergs and many other creatures. Once through the hatch I saw a door open at the end of the dining hall and, despite being in pain, flew for my life. The Buzzors weren’t small enough to get through the kitchen hatch and so I gained valuable minutes a head of them but I knew soon they would be on my tail.
“I flew out of the canteen and into the tower where we were originally. I headed upwards as I had when I escaped before and came out of the top of the building into the sky. I knew the Buzzors would be coming out within seconds themselves so I needed somewhere to hide. I found an ego-gas balloon with a basket and hid in there. How long I was in there I can’t remember. Whether I passed out or just fell off to sleep through exhaustion I’m not sure. However when I awoke it was night and the stars were out.
“I knew that we all had planned to stay with Rabbit when we approached the South Darklands and I thought this was the best place to catch up with you all. I knew if I flew directly South I knew I could get here quicker than by following the main road, so that’s what I did. I arrived last night and tried knocking on the door and tapping on the windows but I was too tired to persist and fell off to sleep outside.
“So it was you all the time!” said Rabbit.
“Indeed, it was me.”
DagDag looking around the table. “Where’s Gluid?”
Eyes were averted and expressions changed.
“He’s alright isn’t he?”
“He’s not with us anymore,” said Maximouse, “he was killed by one of the Buzzor’s bolts, and he’s gone.”
“Oh no,” whispered DagDag.
Everything went silent.
“Well, I’m glad we have you back again,” said Maximouse, breaking the silence and trying to sound as positive as he could manage. “Losing Gluid was terrible, but at least we have one of our soldiers back.”
“I’m very glad to be back,” said DagDag.
“But you will get no rest I’m afraid. We must leave now,” said Serendipity. “We’ve still got a long way to go.”
*** *** *** ***
“I’ll walk with you, “ said DagDag. “I hope I haven’t caused my wing irreversible damage. My wing still hurts a lot after all the flying I did yesterday. I need to rest it for some time.
Everyone got up to organise themselves, and having done so they bade farewell to Rabbit.
*** *** *** ***
They walked again – no other transport option being available – until they approached the Freeholt gap running between a break in the mountain range that led into the Plain of Quiglan.
As they marched Maximouse made up songs of courage and determination, and taught them to everyone else. Soon everyone was singing as they walked along. Maximouse led the way, with the three children following, then DagDag. Serendipity was backstop.
“What’s that smell? I’ve come across it before,” moaned Rosalind.
“It’s nemotoxigen,” said Maximouse. “You will smell much of it down here because they’ve been pouring out the stuff on Ursula’s request. You encountered it as we were fleeing Wizicky Wazicky Wood.”
“I’m afraid it will get much worse.”
*** *** *** ***
The smell might have been unpleasant but the landscape was interesting. The rolling hills of the Plain of Quiglan were populated with large outcrops of granite and occasional trees and shrubs.
After half a day’s walking, gradually they found themselves in new terrain. The sky seemed to be greening and small clouds were forming over them, like woolpack clouds which were not white but black. The landscape flattened into a mildly undulating plain and woodland began closing around them on all sides. At first the trees were planted like a pine forest with distance between them, but as they followed Maximouse along a narrow roadway through the trees, the trees became closer, compacted together, not unlike Wizicky Wazicky Wood.
As it got darker, Maximouse stopped and waited for everyone else to catch up. Everyone arrived except Serendipity, who was backstop. They waited so long for her to arrive that Maximouse began to fidget. “When did you last see her?” he asked DagDag who was the one in front of her.
“She was around behind me in the plains,” he replied, “but I’ve not seen her since we’ve been surrounded by trees.”
After waiting another quarter of an hour, Rosalind said, “We’ll have to go back.”
“We can’t,” said Maximouse, “time is running out. We need to press on.”
“I’m not moving unless we go back and find her,” said Rosalind stubbornly.
“I wish I could fly and look for her but I can’t,” said DagDag.
“Serendipity can look after herself,” said Maximouse.
“I think we should go on,” said DagDag after a minute of contemplation.
“I’m not moving. She could be in great trouble. We need to go and look for her.”
Tchi didn’t offer his opinion but Marie wanted to go back and see what had happened to her.
“Alright,” said Maximouse to the children, “you three stay here Me and DagDag will go back and see if we can find her. We’ll walk back for an hour, then if we still can’t find her, we’ll return, and then we must proceed.”
“Alright,” said Rosalind.
For the next hour the children made a makeshift camp in the wood and sat talking and eating. Two hours passed but it took another half an hour to hear the rustling of the undergrowth. DagDag had arrived.
“Isn’t Maximouse here?” DagDag asked.
All of the children looked at DagDag in surprise. “No,” said Marie eventually.
“Oh dear, that’s not good at all. I had hoped he had come back.”
“Didn’t you find her?” asked Rosalind sadly, feeling she knew what he was going to say.
“No. And I lost Maximouse after we left the wood and headed back over the plain. I just turned around and he had gone.”
Nobody spoke. Nobody knew what to say.
All the effort they had put into this trek suddenly appeared to be wasted effort of no value or use whatsoever. None of the children said it but they all thought it: how could they go on without leaders.
“Maximouse had the map didn’t he?” said Tchi at last.
“No. He gave it to me,” said DagDag, holding it up.
“Should we go back and have another look?” suggested Marie.
“I don’t think we have any choice,” said Rosalind.
“No! I don’t think so,” said DagDag adamantly. “I think we should have followed Maximouse’s advice before and gone on, leaving Serendipity to her own fate. Now we have lost another of our soldiers. I’m not going to lose any more by going back!”
“Let’s wait another hour before moving on,” said Marie, “to see if either of them find their way back.” This was agreed to by all.
An hour later they uprooted from their makeshift camp. Night was falling outside the wood and light was growing ever scarcer inside the wood. In a state of group depression, no one was saying much at all. DagDag assumed command and led the way following the map as best he could. Rosalind’s face was crestfallen. She had felt some optimism in achieving their task with the knowledge and experience of Serendipity and Maximouse but now they only had DagDag and he seemed somewhat bewildered himself. “I can find a way there but I’m not sure what their plan was when they arrived,” he admitted.
The wood was dark but not silent: the waxing and waning patter of scurrying in the undergrowth, the shrieks of unearthly birds and the howls – similar to a wolf’s – but more pained. It was a frightening and intimidating trek made all the worse by the sudden disappearance of their two friends, but nothing further untoward took place. By the morning they were coming back into the field land, as the trees became sparser and sparser and they found themselves on the edge of furrowed earth that stretched on relentlessly over rolling hills. Occasional hills, that stood proud of the undulating land, boasted minor copses on their summits. It was windy which they were partly thankful for because it blew away much of the horrid smell that pervaded the woods.
“That was the North part of Threadbare Wood,” said DagDag consulting his map. We catch up with more of it again after these hills.
*** *** *** ***
A long way back from the children, in the Plain of Quiglan, on the top of a small hill, behind a towering outcrop of granite, sat two friends. Both were bound from head to foot with rope. Maximouse had his back resting on a rock, and above him Serendipity was equally restricted, lying flat, unable to move and feeling the heat of the sun and the insects biting in her clothes. Neither could shout or communicate with each other because a gag had been tied around each of their mouths. Then they heard loud footsteps coming up the granite. And then the owner of the footsteps appeared and loomed over them. It was a big cat with yellow eyes. It had a glint in both of them.
*** *** *** ***
“Are you sure you are going the right way?” asked Marie to DagDag, noting that he seemed to have them map upside down. “You’ve got North pointing South,” she said.
“I never was much good at reading,” he said turning the map the right way up.”
“Look, you’ve taken a wrong turn – we should still be in Threadbare Wood. We need to go back a bit.”
“I’m good at navigating when I’m flying but I’m useless when I’m on the ground.”
No great harm was done, as they only had to walk back for five minutes to get back on their correct route.
In Plasticia, in a dark room full of foul smoke a girl with a white face and tangled hair was once again trying to placate her mother: “But it wasn’t me, mother.”
“It was you. You are such a deep disappointment to me,” said Ursula. “You kept me back from the banquet. If I had been there sooner more security checks would have taken place. I always have my food checked by someone when I’m at home.”
“But it was you who wanted me to go and sit in those classes.”
“Nonsense. Now stop! I don’t want any more bickering.” Veekricide frowned and knew she had better not say another word.
Just at that moment a knock on the door sounded. It was Eggplant.
“What a delightful smell of nemotoxigen, your Highness,” he said.
“What do you want, you creep? I’m still furious, in fact, I’m even more furious,” Her tone was sharp and ungrateful. “Do you realise I could have been killed in there? We were all made to look absolutely stupid! Have you found the individual who was responsible for security.”
“Yes, Malady,” said Eggplant. “Of course. Do you wish to see him?”
“Of course not. Bring in the papers for me to sign and just obliterate him. And do it as publicly as possible so that others tremble when they prove as inept given such great responsibilities.”
He made to add something more but hesitated and stopped himself. He began to turn away.
“You were going to say something,” she said, “and I can imagine what it was. You have no idea of the whereabouts of the rebels that made fools of us.”
“We lost them along the main highway to Ufromides,” he admitted, looking down forlornly. “We thought we had incinerated their car, but we found a government inspector who was tied up in the Albumic tunnel. They car-jacked him and took his car, but despite aerial surveillance we have not been able to trace any whereabouts of the car.
“Well you can relax!” said Ursula suddenly grinning at him. “Because, in this case, it is my finger on the pulse. I have friends. And those friends tell me they know where that little rag-band of saboteurs are. If you gave me a map I could point out exactly where they are now. We have a little friend in a cottage down there who has been keeping us informed. They don’t stand a chance. They will never get near the bomb, and if they approached it the Quark would dismember them.”
“Very good, your Highness.”
“Very good for you all! Now is the boom-jet ready? Are we going down today to Chemgantrial to be ready for the detonation on Friday?”
“That’s what I wanted to ask. It is all ready for you both,” said Eggplant.
“I hope your team are ready as well?” said Ursula.
“My team have already departed, flying off this morning. Can I make a request to travel with you and your daughter on the flight out? I could try to find another boom-jet?”
“Well, we won’t get very far at the detonation without you. Yes you can on this occasion.”
Rosalind walked through the wood with Tchi, Marie not far behind, all keeping quite close to each other for fear of suddenly disappearing. DagDag was leading still, but he was still within eyesight.
Suddenly a small lamb stood in front of them. It had the fluffiest of coats and the most alluring and doleful eyes that Rosalind had ever seen. She was no longer amazed to hear it talk, every animal seemed to speak on Palingenesis Island.
“I’m lost in the world,” it bleated. “I wonder if you could help me?” it said and dropped its eyelids and its head in a cowering position.
“Poor little thing,” said Marie.
“We can’t help you to find where you are going because we’re pretty much lost ourselves,” said Rosalind.
“You’ve not seen a big Moonbeasley or a Sprite wandering around the woods have you?” interjected Tchi.
“No, I’ve seen no one. You’re the first creatures I’ve come across since I got separated from my mum. Can I stay with you. I do feel a lot safer. You sound like nice creatures.”
“Of course you can,” said Rosalind, “but I don’t think that will help you to find your mother. We’re in a hurry to get somewhere so we won’t be able to spend any time looking for your mother. You might be better off looking for her yourself.”
“No. I’ll walk along with you.”
Suddenly they heard the noise of branches falling, and a shriek in the distance.
“He’s gone so far forward I can’t see him.”
“Quick! Further along the footpath. I’m sure that was him.”
“They hurried along and in front of them was the opening to a clearing. What they saw quickened their pulses even more.
DagDag was struggling to free himself from under a massive net which had been dropped on him from the trees above. The children ran to give him assistance, but suddenly stopped in fright before they reached the net. A giant cat, standing on its hind legs had come out from the clearing and was heading towards the net.
Tchi started running again and his sense of courage must have inspired the girls, because throwing caution to the wind, they ran along just behind him.
However he didn’t go to free DagDag but to stand in the way of the enmeshed bird and the cat. The girls now stayed back, and then in response to DagDag’s cries they started to try and help the raven. The lamb stayed back at the edge of the mesh, watching in complete bewilderment.
As soon as the cat saw they were trying to release DagDag he sprang forward. As Tchi went to stand in his way the cat clubbed him with one of his paws and knocked him to the ground. The girls leapt up from the net as the cat came on them. Tchi, now up again, grabbed the cat’s tail from behind and Marie and Rosalind started trying to kick it.
The cat span round releasing his tail and knocked Tchi back down on the ground again. He then side-stepped the girls. In front of him was the lamb. Kamachal let out a horrific squeal and sank his powerful claws into the lamb, which shivered, shuddered and trembled with a fatal wound. The cat pulled the lamb up to his head and then flung it like a cricket ball into a tree. There was a dull thud as the lifeless lamb rebounded off the bark and hit the ground.
“You monster!” screeched Rosalind and went straight at the cat, hitting its breast with both her fists. Simultaneously Tchi began hitting on the back of its neck. Marie came and started kicking from the side. Even though Kamachal was tall and fierce, the impact of the force of three furious and vengeful teenagers parting blows from three sides made the cat lose his orientation and he began to sink to the ground to avoid the thrusts. However as he sank lower the children vented their spleen much more effectively now that his head was in the range of their boots, in spite of him having his paws around his ears to protect himself. The cat began to lose its strength and sank and fell on its side.
“Stop! Stop!” shouted a figure running out of the clearing. Everyone was so sanguine with anger and fear that it took a lot of shouting for them to stop and turn to the voice’s owner. There were two figures shouting now: Serendipity and Maximouse.
The children were startled.
“Leave Kamachal alone. Stop kicking and beating him up. Move away now.”
Rosalind thought she was going mad. Let this thing get up and attack them again!
Serendipity seemed to read her thoughts. “He could have killed all three of you!” shouted Serendipity. “He didn’t. He has terrible claws – but he never used them on you. He’s a friend. Now step away from him.”
Ros, Tchi and Marie stepped back from the cat. Rosalind began walking over to the dead lamb.
“The lamb was an enemy,” shouted Serendipity. “That was why it had to be killed immediately. Just because it was sweet, vulnerable and charming didn’t mean to say it had your interests at heart. Far from it.”
Kamachal gradually lifted himself back on to his feet, patting his fur with his paws. “Well they certainly pack a punch these three,” he said. “I think they’ve bent one of my whiskers.”
Marie had bent down to try to resume untangling DagDag from the net.
“Don’t do that Marie,” shouted Serendipity. “DagDag is not a friend. He tied me up and then he tied Maximouse up. He is not the DagDag we once knew. He was brainwashed in Plasticia to follow us and to sabotage our mission.”
“It’s rubbish! Rubbish!” squawked DagDag. “Don’t listen.”
“That’s terrible,” said Rosalind, feeling suddenly so tired, she was near to tears.
“Kamachal here came and found us both tied up on the Plain of Quiglan and he untied us. He showed us a route to cut you off and capture DagDag,” said Serendipity.
By this time both Serendipity and Maximouse had walked over to the net and were looking down at the raven, who was still trying furiously to peck his way through the sticky net that had been dropped on him.
“We have brought some rope to tie him up very securely now and then we will cut the net from around him afterwards. We don’t want him to do anything with his wings or his feet. I suspect somewhere on his body he conceals a phone with which he communicates with our enemies.”
“I can’t remember anything!” said DagDag.
While still enmeshed, DagDag was securely tied up. Serendipity was correct about him carrying a mobile phone. It was found in a little pouch on the belt around his breast. Maximouse put it in his pocket. Marie was given a pair of scissors and instructed to cut around the net. Then they bundled DagDag into a sack and this was tied securely at the neck.
“What will you do with him?” asked Marie, very concerned. Maximouse turned away without answer.
“Should we bury the lamb?” asked Rosalind.
“What lamb,” responded Serendipity. “It is a Pulwhisite. They are terrible creatures. They adopt different appearances – like I said – charming, cute, vulnerable, sweet, but they are a poison on the inside and are a very large sort of super parasite. They have no conscience whatsoever. If you go and look at the body in a day or so you will see the corpse of a strange looking insect.”
“Ugh,” said Rosalind.
*** *** *** ***
“This way,” said Kamachal, throwing the sack over his shoulder and tramping off through the undergrowth. They left the clearing and entered back into the dense wood again.
Marie was walking along with Maximouse.
“Where are we going now? This is not the direction we were originally going in. Why?”
“Because…., you’ll see.”
“You’re not going to kill DagDag are you?”
“No, but you must understand that we must stop Ursula from exploding the nemotoxigen bomb and sometimes we have to make very difficult decisions to do that.”
Marie squeezed her thick pink lips together in confusion. She stopped Maximouse.
“What are you going to do then?”
“We’ve all come on this venture to stop the evil ones from taking over the island and from destroying your world and our world. We can’t stop now. Look at Gluid – he gave his life to make the mission a success. Stop asking questions and walk or we’ll lose the others. We don’t want to get left behind. We’re going to a big lake and then we’re going to Kamachal’s house.”
“Ummm,” said Marie, although she was somewhat concerned that she hadn’t been given a direct answer to her questions. DagDag had rescued her from the farm, it might be time for her to return the favour.
Not long after they came to a massive circular lake in the middle of the wood.
“It looks like tomato sauce,” said Rosalind.
“Not that bit,” observed Tchi pointing. In the centre of the lake, the water as clear as daylight, the effervescence of a slight whirlpool of clear spring water lay at the centre of the lake, whereas all around it lay red thick liquid which looked motionless as if it were being set for jelly.
“It’s goblin blood,” said Kamachal, pointing to the edge of the lake, where the red liquid stained some of the grasses of the banks.
“Now we need to get into one of those boats,” he said pointing to a gang of large rowing boats moored at the edge, to their right.
“There won’t be enough seats for everyone, so can we have volunteers who will stay on the bank?”
“I’ll stay behind,” said Tchi.
“And me,” said Maximouse.
“Make sure you stay close to the bank and don’t wander off,” said Rosalind. “We don’t want to lose anybody again.”
Marie, Rosalind, Serendipity and Kamachal – with the sack over his shoulder containing DagDag – got into the boat and on Kamachal’s instructions began rowing towards the clean plume of water that was coming up like a mild underwater geyser in the centre of the lake.
“Don’t put your hands in the goblin blood,” warned Kamachal, “or get it on you. It’s nasty.”
“No fear,” said Rosalind, who had absolutely no intention of putting her hands in the vile stuff.
Soon they were circling around the plume of fresh water. Kamachal instructed Marie and Rosalind to keep rowing round the gentle vortex, while he fished DagDag out of the bag.
“You’re not going to throw him in?” Marie asked.
“Hold on to him, Serendipity, while I get him out,” said Kamachal, revealing a very unhappy DagDag as he unpeeled the sack from around him. The raven was still bound in rope and the netting was still sticking all over his body. He could hardly open his eyelids he was so tightly bound.
“Now listen, Mr. Raven,” said Kamachal. “You have been cursed and a spell has been put upon you.”
“Uhhh… I don’t think so,” said DagDag.
“When you were at Plasticia you were brainwashed and you are now in the power of Ursula the Unstoppable.”
“Can’t remember, don’t think…” began DagDag, but then his eyes closed again with a big sigh, as if he just ran out of energy.
“We will untie you, but you must have a bath in this whirlpool. This will probably cure you.”
“Don’t know if I want to…” muttered DagDag.
“Hold him while I untie him,” said Kamachal. As the real feathers of DagDag became disentangled by the mesh and rope, Serendipity got her hand around him. He was a big bird and not much smaller than the fairy, but she held on to his legs tight. Eventually the last piece of netting was disentangled from his head. He still looked a ruffled exhausted and defeated bird, despite now being free of any restraints.
“Keep a hold on him,” said Kamachal.
“I’ve got him,” said Rosalind.
“Now, DagDag,” said Kamachal, “this is really important. We want you to dive into the clear water. Will you do it?”
“I don’t feel too good…”
“You must do it.”
“He doesn’t want to do it,” said Marie, feeling she was witnessing bullying.
“Sssshh,” whispered Serendipity, and scowled at Marie.
“I’ll do it,” he said, “but then, can I fly off.”
“You can if you have the strength,” said Kamachal, trying to be honest.
“What do you mean?”
“It means I’m a cat and you’re a bird and if you don’t do what I want you to do then I shall tear off your wings and eat you.”
“That’s horrid!” snapped Marie.
“Alright. I’ll do it,” said DagDag.
“Make sure you do,” said Kamachal, grabbing him from Rosalind’s grip and holding him over the boat’s side, over the clear water. DagDag was hung upside-down, his beak about a foot above the water.
“Let go, then,” said DagDag, “I’ll take a bath.”
Kamachal let go and hauled himself quickly into the boat. “Row away, quickly!” he shouted at the girls.
DagDag went straight into the water, beak-first. There was an instant hiss and then flame broke out on the surface of the water. Marie missed much of what happened as she was on the wrong side of the boat, but Rosalind saw it all. Feathers wings, claws, all were thrown into the air. DagDag had disintegrated the moment his head hit the water. DagDag was more than dead, he had been pulverised into many tiny pieces.
“All is well with the world now,” said Kamachal. “This is in accordance with the light of Jelahda’s wisdom. I had to get DagDag to agree to do it because otherwise he wouldn’t have gone to Divine Peeleo. If I had pushed him in he wouldn’t have stood a chance of any afterlife. It’s a sad business when good people become enchanted.”
Tears rolled down Serendipity’s face. She looked out of the boat, away from the children.
Marie was furious. “You said he would be okay!” she was screaming over and over again.
“No one said anything,” said Serendipity, looking back, revealing her red eyes.
“Some creatures do survive,” said Kamachal putting the rope back into the rucksack, “but they are usually large creatures who have not been badly cursed. I thought the raven stood a chance, but you saw what happened. But at least he will have the chance of an afterlife. If he had flown off in the condition, he would have been a great threat to us and absolutely no use to himself.”
“I don’t like it in this horrible place!” said Marie, “I want to go back to Earth.”
“The next place you’re going is to my place to have a rest. You all look absolutely wiped out with exhaustion,” said Kamachal.
Once they had circumnavigated the circumference of the Waters of Surrender it was only a short walk to the large cat’s domain.
He lived in a cave at the side of an outcrop that was only just outside the wood. It was no natural cave though – but had doors and tens of separate rooms, and was furnished with taste and expense. Rosalind was introduced to his guest who had been staying there for several months. She instantly recognised them but couldn’t understand why.
“Why, it’s that little girl,” said the badger with the hat on. “We’ve not seen you for ages and ages.”
“I know you but I can’t remember where from,” said Rosalind.
“This is Nudger Badger,” said Kamachal introducing the badgers to everyone, “And this is Grudger Badger.”
“Oh, I remember,” said Rosalind, “I met you when I got stuck in Wizicky Wazicky Wood many years ago.”
“That’s right,” said Grudger, who was waving at them with one hand and playing with a computer mouse with the other.
“This is all very well,” said Serendipity, “but let’s get some food because we really ought to be on our way.”
“You’re going to have a rest, wash and a meal before you go,” said Kamachal pointing down a corridor, “I have lots of guest rooms.”
“Thank you, I’d love to stay overnight,” began Serendipity, “but I don’t think we’ll be able to get there in time if we don’t get off tonight. We need to get there by tomorrow afternoon, and that means we’ll have to sleep out of doors. If we left in the morning, it would be too far to go.”
“Well, first of all go and find a room, and get a couple of hours sleep. If you like the bedrooms dark there’s a switch on the bedside table that will that make them as dark as you like, so that you can get a good sleep. Before you go to sleep, leave your dirty and torn clothes outside in the hall by your door and we’ll collect them and Grudger here will put any clothes you leave out in his new invention: the super-washing machine. This will clean, rinse, dry, iron and fold your clothes within half an hour.”
“Oh that sounds great,” said Rosalind.
“Sure does,” said Tchi.
“And if any of your clothes are damaged or torn, I can probably find some sort of replacement,” said Nudger, “As I sell clothes on the markets and have a lot of my stock here.”
“Now you can have a bath or shower before you sleep or after you get up, or both if you like, but I’ll arrange for you to be woken up after three hours and will have a meal cooked for when you come back,” said the smiling cat.
Tchi and Rosalind expressed their pleasure that they had stopped off at Kamachal’s cave, on hearing all this welcome information. Marie just scowled and looked deep in thought. She was angry.
*** *** *** ***
Rosalind went to her appointed bedroom. She took off her clothes. From her jacket and took out Granddads pocket watch from her jacket, and removed other valuables before she dropped all her dirty clothes out in the corridor.
She had a lovely shower which made her skin tingle from head to foot. When she came back from the bathroom all her clothes she had left in a pile were now neatly folded on the bed having been completely processed. She was really impressed.
Then she lay in fresh flannelette sheets and turned the light down. Within minutes she was fast asleep.
A bell rang some time later and she opened her eyes. She would have liked to have slept for longer but she remembered that they still had some way to go.
She was putting her lovely comfortable walking boots on, when she suddenly had an idea about them. “Aha! That’s an interesting idea. I’ll try that out,” she said to herself, but her idea was quickly forgotten as an intercom in the room announced that dinner was being served.
She headed back up the corridor to the enormous dining room. “Welcome,” shouted Kamachal, “Come and sit down, dinner is being served.”
Dinner was sumptuous, all eaten on a long table with candelabras and crystal glasses.
Afterwards Kamachal asked them all to relax in the drawing room for while before they got themselves ready to move on. “Nudger has just popped off to collect a few gardening tools,” he said. Everyone sat and watched Palingenesis Television. The cat had a large TV on the wall in front of his sofa.
Grudger, the other badger, was in there but away from the crowd. He sat in a recess in the drawing room working on a computer. Maximouse went over to talk to him. Rosalind, not in the slightest bit interested in the wall to wall adverts that were appearing on the TV, also got up and went to see what they were doing.
“You’ve copied it?” Rosalind could hear Maximouse saying as she came up. She saw Grudger hand over a silver CD to Maximouse.
“Is that the CD software that helped us get over here?” she surmised.
“It is,” said Maximouse. “Other people will need it too, in case we don’t survive.”
*** *** *** ***
An hour later, as the late afternoon came and the early afternoon started, they put on all the rucksacks, fully loaded with provisions and tools, and set forth back into Threadbare Wood.
“It’s due East,” said Kamachal, “Me and the badgers will walk with you for a short while along the way. We’re going to help you get into Blackbod, there’s no way unless you have some help.”
The gang, together with Kamachal, Nudger and Grudger walked through Grimley Forest and then along the edge of Threadbare Forest.
“Take these Clenicaline tablets, swallow them now” said Kamachal. “They will reduce the smog of nemotoxigen, they will almost completely remove it’s smell and keep you safe from the negative affects of it for about three days. I don’t have any more to give you, so you had better achieve your mission in that time!”
Soon they entered into Grimley wood, and then about a mile further on they came to an enormous hedge the height of a terraced house. “This is The Ring Of Thorns,” said Kamachal. “It is guarding the outer ring of Ursula’s estate. It is virtually impossible to either get in or out of. However we have found one way: to cut your way through, which is why we’ve bought garden cutters. The trouble is, as soon as you start cutting this particular hawthorn hedge, the branches begin growing back. We need to cut and cut as fast as we can and make a small hole. We will be cutting furiously and continually, so you need to slip in the hole as soon as you can, one by one.”
“However are we going to get out again?” asked Marie
No one said anything for a minute and then Kamachal said, “There’s a main gate leading to the North Passage, which is not affected by this.”
“But isn’t that miles away?” queried Maximouse.
“Come on, Mr. giant cat, start cutting,” said Serendipity, “and let’s get in there. We have to get in today, not tomorrow!”