Chapter Eight: “River of Sparks”
Michael lay in the darkness, watching the shadows of the willow branches form large swoop arcs across his shelter. Loneliness fell around him like a cold winter. He saw the brightness of the full moon through the open end of his oilcloth tent. I could easily find my way back home, he considered. It’s not like I don’t have someplace to go. But somehow, knowing that he was alone in the night because he decided to run away made the loneliness seem even colder. He rolled over on his stomach to think through his options.
“Ouch, and be-goodness, Michael! You must be more thinking more before you be moving!”
Michael jumped up so fast his head bumped the top of the tent. He turned around, and saw his foot was just a hair’s breadth from squashing Laddie. Oh, yeah, Laddie, he remembered. Laddie! Wait, hold on a minute here. That wasn’t a dream? All that stuff really happened?
“That’s more like it, Michael. Up and at ‘em, now. The sparks are flying and we best be getting along with the tetchy-stretchy. Time’s a-wasting and the portal is open. Be getting the bits and pieces together and we’ll be stepping up in time.”
“Uh,” Michael said slowly. “The tetchy-stretchy? The portal? Stepping up?”
It was clear from the peeved look on Laddie’s face that he could no longer contain his frustration. “Michael, now stop this instant with the queries.” Hands on hips, he began reciting:
“You are coming to the willow in the night of the full moon.
“You are knowing there is work to be done.
“And you are wanting to be the useful boy.
“Now, do the right thing, give your Laddie a hand with getting the bounty ready for the Queen-Lady.” With a huge effort, Laddie began struggling with Miz Bates’ dishtowel. He pulled his sleeping corner toward the middle and motioned for Michael to grab the opposite corner.
Michael didn’t know what to think, but he didn’t want his only friend in the world to become more upset with him. Laddie was already striding purposefully toward the open end of the shelter. I’m just going to try to keep up with this guy. After all, he’s only four inches tall. Michael smiled to himself. It shouldn’t be that hard. He tied a knot on opposite ends of the dishtowel’s corners and slung it over his a shoulder. He grabbed the puzzle box by the strap and followed Laddie out the opening.
He stopped in his tracks.
Michael stared at the river. He couldn’t believe what he saw: the entire river surface was covered in sparks. Yellow, red and brilliant blue-white sparks stretched as far as he can see. Instead of hearing the sounds of ripples rushing against the river stones, sounds of snaps and sizzles filled his ears.
“Yes, it’s so,” said Laddie. “Now the sparks are flying; the portal is open. Be moving lively now, Michael. We’ll be stepping up for the tetchy-stretchy.” Laddie stood at the edge of the water, his hands clasped behind his back. His cowboy boots sent out small spider-like fireworks that seemed to mirror the red and yellow sparks of the river. “I am pleased to be serving as the tetchie for you, Michael. You’ll be needing to step up to the stretchie.” He motioned for Michael to join him at the river’s edge.
A strong sense of danger surrounded Michael, but he reluctantly moved forward. He wondered whether or not the sparks would burn him, or if Laddie’s firework-spouting boots would appeared to have a logical answer.
All of a sudden, Michael thought of Uncle Bob, wishing to the bottom of his heart that he could be as brave as his uncle. Just remembering his birthday and Uncle Bob gave him some confidence. I can do it! Uncle Bob said I’m big enough, and I’m going to prove him right.
Michael walked bravely to the river. I know I can do it, he thought again. He set the puzzle box down next to Laddie and said, “Let me give you a lift.” He picked Laddie up and carefully placed him in the bib pocket of his overalls. “There. That should give you a good view and keep you safe, too,” he said. “After all, we’re doing this adventure together.”
Laddie had a little grin of contentment on his face as Michael carefully leaned over to pick up the puzzle box. “Let the adventure begin,” Laddie called out. “Be stepping up here and now, Michael.”
Michael guessed it was time to put a foot in the sparking river. He wanted to hold his breath but, more than that, he wanted to be brave. He took in a big breath, and then blew it out hard.
“That be fine, Michael. That be doing it fine.” Michael thought it seemed almost as if Laddie was coaching him but, without giving it another thought, he stepped into the river.
Immediately he regretted not having taken in a big breath to hold before he went in the river. He couldn’t inhale. The sparking water consumed him and Laddie. It swirled above, below and all around. He couldn’t breathe but his eyes saw everything. The sparks seemed to tumble on top of each other, colliding at times to explode in more of those spider-like fireworks. He could hear everything, too. The fireworks sent out a barrage of noise that echoed in his eardrums. In between the crashing noises, he thought he heard Laddie, It seemed as if he was saying, “The stepping up be finished and he’s doing the stretchie just fine. The portal is open and our tetchie is strong.”
Michael looked back over his shoulder. He saw his arms extend out about three times their usual length. In his right hand the puzzle box drifted along. The brass corners winked with bright reflections of the colorful sparks and flashes. He looked down to see his feet walking along the river bottom, at the end of ten-feet-long legs. His entire body looked wiggly, like a current was running through it, too. It’s a good stretchie. Everything was languid, peaceful and calm.
Then the world turned black.[The Gift of the Puzzlebox, in which Michael makes his first trip to the land of Kroy, is undergoing final revision and is in beta reading.]