2: Dark Encounter
Trish knew she was dreaming. She often did and could sometimes even control her dreams, making a field of flowers appear, or steering her dream into a pleasant vision. She had flown in dreams before, but never as she did in this one.
Wow, she thought to herself. Stars. And that’s the earth!
She floated away from the blue-green planet, her arms outstretched like some flying superhero. Her speed increased, but it didn’t scare her. She liked the feeling and rush of excitement. She recognized a constellation. Cassiopeia grew large in front of her. Moving faster now, planets and stars rushed past her like streaks of light.
She grew tired and her eyelids felt heavy. She yawned and fought the drowsiness. Strange, she thought. Sleeping in a dream. A dream within a dream. She yawned again and closed her eyes.
With her eyes still closed, Trish closed her hands into fists, pushed her arms out straight and stretched. She could feel cool morning air flowing over her and the sweet smell of flowers. She gave a long yawn and held still, not wanting to wake Bill. What a beautiful dream that was last night, she thought and opened her eyes.
What she saw startled her, but only for a moment. She lay under a tree with low hanging branches filled with broad deep-green leaves and delicate purple flowers. “Incredible,” she said softly. “I’ve never had a dream this vivid before.”
Far in the horizon, an amber sun barely peeked above the horizon. In front of her, rolling knolls with tops dressed in mixed lavender and green grasses poked above a low morning fog. The faintly pinkish mist thinned enough in places to show a brown dirt trail that wound between the colorful hills that flattened out at the edge of a nearby village. Stretching again, she twisted around. Behind her, more of the trees bunched together, forming what she thought might be a forest’s edge. Shooed by the rising sun, the fog quickly thinned.
Trish stood. “This is going to be a great dream. I hope I can remember it when I wake up. This would make such a beautiful painting –that is, if I knew how to paint.” She smiled and held out her arms. “Let’s fly down there and follow the yellow brick road,” she said.
After three small steps, Trish gave a little hop. Not floating as she had expected, she threw herself off balance, and raced down the gentle slope, her legs trying to catch up with her body. Near the bottom of the hill, her legs lost the race. She fell forward, landed on her stomach and skidded three feet before coming to a stop on the damp grass.
“That wasn’t good,” she said. Trish stood and brushed herself off. “So much for flying in this dream. Guess I’ll walk.”
Feeling like exploring, she started walking toward the road, but soon decided to jog. She ran up and over the next hill. On its other side, she saw the road and stopped when she reached it. Both left and right, it twisted out of sight around the sides of other hills. Hmm… To the woods or the village? she asked herself. She turned to her right when she heard yelling.
She couldn’t understand the words, but knew from the sounds that something bad was happening. She took a few steps down the road, changed her mind, and raced to the top of the hill. About a hundred yards down the twisting road she saw people fighting. Rather than follow the road, she ran in a straight line, running down, up, over and back down the low hills. At the top of each hill, she got better look.
A large dark-skinned man, as wide as two normal men, fought with a slender woman and three other people who could be children. In a strange wheelbarrow with no wheel, lay two motionless young girls. The three children wore strange masks, with exaggerated ears and noses. They wore loose fitting colorful shirts and tight pants that ended at their knees. They leapt on the back of the wide, dark-skinned man. He had both arms wrapped around the woman who struggled and kicked. She grabbed the man’s black hood and yanked it down over his face.
The woman got in a few extra kicks when the black man let go of her with one of his trunk-sized arms and batted off two of the children. Just behind the group, a strange whirlwind formed. Like a miniature tornado not attached to any cloud, six feet wide and twelve feet tall, the silver-gray wind howled.
Trish was nearly to the group. Everyone but the black man screamed or yelled. The roaring wind from the midget tornado tumbled all the sounds together, keeping Trish from understanding any of the words.
The black man tried to throw the woman into the whirlwind. Her handhold on his cloak kept the swirling funnel from sucking her in. One of the children with the strange masks let go of the dark skinned man and grabbed the woman, trying to tug her away.
“Time for Super Trish!” Trish yelled. With a burst of extra speed, she lowered her shoulder, picked her spot and smashed into the black man.
The blow didn’t knock him down. He lost grip on the woman and stumbled backward, flailing his arms to regain balance.
“Run!” Trish yelled at the woman. Without hesitation, the woman turned to the wheelbarrow. Made of lashed and woven reeds, it floated just off the ground.
Something grabbed Trish around the ankles. A body slammed into her from behind. She kicked and somersaulted.
Springing to her feet like a cat, she looked back. The children with masks, weren’t children. Trish didn’t know what they were. One rushed toward her.
“What do you think of this!” Trish shouted. She jumped, expecting to soar into the air as she had in other adventure dreams.
“Away!” the woman screamed over the sound of the roaring wind. The three short men in masks stopped, turned, and ran to help with the wheelbarrow.
The black man appeared through the dust kicked up from the whirlwind. He shoved the men aside. He grabbed at the woman but missed when she ducked. The whirlwind danced closer.
Trish jumped on the black man’s back, got one arm around his neck, and squeezed. Something pulled at her ankles, stretching her straight out, and lifting her five feet off the ground. She glanced back. The whirlwind engulfed her from the waist down.
The swirling wind yanked and pulled at her. Trish tightened her grip on the black man. “If I’m going, then you’re coming with me!” she shouted. The woman slipped free from the black man’s grip. The woman turned, raised one foot and shoved, ramming her boot against the black man’s stomach. The whirlwind yanked. Trish held on. The whirlwind swallowed them both.
It wasn’t what Trish expected. But, then again, her dreams never were. She never got hurt, rarely got scared, and could always wake up with a bit of effort. This was her first time inside a whirlwind. It wasn’t the chaotic spinning and tumbling she thought it would be. The whirlwind must have grown. Inside, it looked like a twenty-foot wide tube of dirty cotton or dark gray fog. Sometimes the wind turned Trish upside down or twisted her around, but never too quickly, as if consciously being gentle with her. Several times, she glimpsed the back man opposite her in the wind-tube, but farther into the gray streaked fog. He floated with his arms folded across his chest as if simply waiting for something. When Trish could see his eyes, they glared at her.
“All right. Enough. Time to end, dream,” Trish said, her voice loud without yelling. “Time to wake up. This dream is going nowhere.”
In the same instant Trish said the word “nowhere,” the wind and swirling stopped. The fog vanished. The black man lunged for her.
“Who’s invading,” Windslow asked. “Call out the army or something.” His legs started going numb. He sat down. “Fernbark, could you use your magic on my back again? I think your spell is fading.”
“Here” he said. Larkstone touched his wand between Windslow’s shoulder blades before walking into the kitchen. “Who wants tea?”
“What about the army and the invasion?” Windslow asked again.
“Patience, lad,” Haggerwolf said. He looked at Larkstone. “Give everyone a cup. And to answer your question, Windslow, we have no army. You should know that. There has been no army since your first adventure here when you defeated Fistlock.”
“But the invasion!” Windslow said.
Fernbark took the cover off a jar of honey. “We don’t know a lot. We only know the Eversham are coming.”
“Who are the Eversham?” Hillary asked. She took a cup of the spicy tea from Larkstone and held it out to Fernbark. “One spoonful,” she said.
“We don’t really know,” Fernbark answered. “We only know that the Eversham are coming. We don’t even know where they are coming from. We only know that it all begins on the summer solstice and that’s now.”
“We think the kidnappings have something to do with the invasion too,” Larkstone said. “Someone is trying to find out where the Secret Library is.”
Windslow sipped his tea before setting the mug down on the table with a ‘clunk.’ “How do you think it all ties together?”
“The kidnappings are very selective,” Haggerwolf said. “Someone is kidnapping children, young girls, women, and grandmothers. They only take females, and only females named Molly, Tillie, or Nelly. Do you see the connection?”
“Whoa,” Windslow said. “Someone is trying to find Molly Folly, Tillie Truly, and Nelly Never Sallyforth? They want the Sallyforth triplets because the sisters know where the Secret Library is?”
“Well, actually the sisters don’t know where it is,” Fernbark said. He stroked his beard. “The girls can tell you where it is. They say it’s up in Nelly’s room behind the clock. The trouble is, not one of them knows exactly where that would be.”
“That might be the explanation for the kidnappings, but what about the invasion?” Hillary asked. She jumped when the cottage door slammed open.
“They not get me,” a voice said. “Not me too,” said another. “Not me too, too,” said a third.
They all turned to the doorway. “Molly. Tillie. Nelly,” Windslow and Hillary called together.
Crowded in the doorway shoulder to shoulder, stood the Sallyforth triplets, identical, except for their hair color. Each had a saucepan on their head, wearing them like caps. The handles stuck out at different angles. When Molly, the triplet with black bristly hair, moved her head, her pot handle clanged against Nelly’s pan. All three girls started laughing and banged their pots together.
“I getting headache,” Molly said and stepped through the door. “Baddie guys not get us. We not like-a be kidnap. We kidnap them instead and find all-a girls and take them home.”
“I not take them to our home,” Tillie, the triplet with green hair, said. “I take them to their mommies.”
“I do that too, and that not,” Nelly said. She banged her pot twice against the doorframe. “You wrong, Molly. My head feel fine. I not need-a sit down.” She took the kettle off her head revealing her crop of orange hair. She placed the pot upside down on the floor and sat on it.
“Just what we need,” Haggerwolf said. “The Sallyforth triplets. He shook his head and closed his eyes. Why can’t anything be simple?”
“Don’t be such a grump,” Hillary said. She leaned over and gave Haggerwolf a small kiss on the cheek. “Molly and her sisters have always helped us. We might not have succeeded in the past without them. Can’t you admit that you might even like them a little bit?”
Haggerwolf gave a “harrumph,” folded his arms and sat back in his chair.
“Oracle say invade-shun people start with kidnaps,” Tillie said. She inched sideways, closer to Nelly. With a quick move, she kicked the pot out from under her sister, laughed, and scampered across the room. Nelly leapt up and chased after her.
“I not goofy like them,” Molly said. “I biggest sister. I responsible.”
“I bigger now,” Tillie said. She climbed up on top butcher block in the corner of the kitchen.”
“I be lowest,” Nelly said. She pulled herself up on the countertop, grabbed the top edge of a cabinet door and pulled. The door swung open. Tillie dangled, kicking her legs in the air.
“Oh, oh,” Tillie said, her voice mixed in the sound of creaking. “You not say backward thing this time.”
The cabinet pulled from the wall. Nelly, dishes, and a tin box of dapple-gourd flakes crashed to the floor. The tin box lid flipped open and tiny green gourd flakes shot into the air, hit the ceiling and floated down like colored snowflakes.
“You three!” Haggerwolf shouted. He jumped to his feet, green flecks settling into his white beard. “Out of here! Get out of here right--”
“No!” Hillary yelled. “Shut up! Everyone be quiet. Don’t make a sound.” Hillary stood in the doorway. She motioned to her brother and the wizards as she slowly stepped outside. Molly pushed past her.
“This very strange,” Molly said when the others caught up to her. “Those gahbye reeds.”
Hillary craned her head back and watched the enormous shape travel slowly over the cottage, just feet above the treetops. Made of some sort of river reeds lashed together, they formed a brown mass so wide it spanned the width of the meadow. As long as a football field, it moved silently. A dark shadow crept along underneath it. The sunlight followed behind and filled the meadow again when the strange object moved out of sight beyond the trees.
“What was that thing?” Windslow asked.
“Gahbye reeds,” Molly said. “I tell you that before.”
“I don’t know what it was,” Haggerwolf said, “But whatever it is, it’s not a good sign. What Molly said is true. It’s made from gahbye reeds. They’re very rare. I don’t know of any place they grow within a thousand miles.”
“They float,” Larkstone said, still looking up.
“Full of swamp gas,” Fernbark said. “They are an unusual form of common river reed, but the stems are made of hollow little segments. The segments trap swamp gasses. The gas helps them keep from falling over. The reeds are only a half inch in diameter but grow over ten feet tall. If you pluck one and let it go, it floats up into the sky. Whatever that thing was, it was made from thousands of them.”
“We go find it,” Tillie said.
Nelly put her saucepot helmet back on her head and banged it with a spoon. “I think that very, bad idea.”
“For once I agree with the girl,” Haggerwolf said.
Hillary grinned. Nelly Never Sallyforth never spoke the truth. Everything she said was backward. Tillie Truly Sallyforth always told the truth. It was impossible for her to lie. Molly Folly Sallyforth was the closest sister to being normal, sometimes telling the truth and sometimes not.
“I leader,” Molly said. She put her own pot back on and headed for the woods, her sisters right behind her.
“At least we’re free from the Sallyforth’s,” Haggerwolf said. “I don’t think there’s any immediate danger. Let’s go back inside and decide what we’re going to do.”
“I… don’t…like…this…dream,” Trish said, struggling with both her words and the large dark-skinned man.
He gave her a push that sent her tumbling backward into a large cage with thick black bars. With a clang, he slammed the door shut.
“Wake up!” Trish yelled at herself.
“She doesn’t have colored hair,” someone said.
Trish turned. The voice came from a slender man wearing red corduroy pants that ended at his knees where a brass buckle held the cloth tight against his hairy legs. A long crooked nose pushed out between two large eyes, one of them covered with a blue patch hanging from a cord tied around his bald head. He wore a brown vest with pockets sewn on nearly every available space. Peeking out from one, she saw a ruler. From another she saw a screwdriver. Down near his belt she could see the teeth from what looked like a bicycle sprocket.
“I can’t believe this dream,” Trish half mumbled. “No pirates allowed in this dream,” she called out.
The scrawny man searched inside his vest; first one side and then the other. He reached up, grabbed his patch, and moved it up and over his nose to rest over his other eye. With one hand, he pulled back his yellow suede vest. With his other hand, he searched each of the six pockets in his green shirt.
“What’s up, Hardwire?” the black man asked.
“What’s up to you too, DJ,” the man answered. “I can’t find the key.”
“No need,” DJ said. He pointed one hand at the lock on the cell door and wiggled his fingers.
Trish watched, trying not to smile. The missing key stuck from the keyhole on her side of the cell door. It hung from a wire ring full of keys. When DJ moved his fingers, the whole lock glowed green. The key twisted and the ring flipped up and over. Trish jumped to the door and grabbed the keys, easing them down so they wouldn’t clink together and give away their secret location.
“Might be a little color in her hair,” DJ said. “It might not be natural. Maybe a disguise.”
“I beg your pardon,” Trish said, holding onto the bars. “But I’m a natural redhead.” Both Hardwire and DJ ignored her.
“I almost had the one with the colored hair,” DJ said. “It was her for sure. She was trying to hide it under a hat. This one,” he said pointing at Trish, “Came out of nowhere. I can’t tell where she’s from. Sure dresses strange. I’ll get her next time.”
“Why? You’ve already got her this time,” Hardwire said. “Why do you want her again and what are you going to do with her?”
“No, not her,” DJ said, glancing at Trish. “The one with the hair. The other one. I don’t know what to make of this one. Can you find out where she’s from? I need to know if she’s an Eversham.”
“Sure, but I’ll need help with the potion. I’ll need your magic,” Hardwire said. He turned up the eye patch so it stuck out over his eyebrow like a miniature baseball cap visor. “We must be careful. If the others find out I’m helping you, it will be the end for both of us. You know the risk I’m taking by helping you.”
“Don’t worry,” DJ said. “If everything goes right when the invasion starts, you’ll be a key to the future of Gabendoor and the girls will--”
Trish jumped. A loud bell clanged again and again.
“That’s just great,” DJ said, his voice angry. “I need to get out of here. Find out what that alarm is all about and then take care of her,” he said, pointing at Trish again. DJ clapped his hands and the journey wind appeared, its gusts tugging at everyone’s clothing. The instant DJ jumped into it, he and the swirling wind disappeared.
Trish watched Hardwire fumble for the door handle. He kept grabbing an inch to the left of the handle. He mumbled something she couldn’t make out, flipped the patch down over his left eye and grabbed the handle. Stepping through the oval opening, he shut the door behind him.
“A very weird dream, but an adventure,” Trish said. She grabbed the key ring and tried to twist. It wouldn’t move. She pulled the key out and tried the next one on the ring. After trying them all with no luck, she slipped the ring around her wrist.
“Okay, this dream stinks. I want to wake up.” She sat down on the floor and pinched herself hard. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, hoping that when she opened them she’d be back in bed. When she peeked, she was still in the cell.
More bored than worried, she looked around. The small room held the cage, the oval door Hardwire had left through, and another diamond shaped door with a ‘Concealed Emergency Exit’ sign above it. Two identical signs, one on each side of the odd door, read ‘Watch Your Step.’
“No more late night coffee,” Trish mumbled. The alarm bell kept ringing. Trish tried to block out the sound by putting her hands over her ears. Finally the bell stopped. “Remind me to never have this dream again,” she said.
Trish moved to the cell door again. Looking close, she noticed faint words engraved into the lock plate. ‘Press in case of crisis.’ “If this works, then this really is a dream,” she said. Trish put her thumb on the words and pressed.
The lock clicked, but the door didn’t open. It vanished. “Incredible,” Trish said.
She moved to the oval door, but paused. Turning around, she headed for the diamond shaped door with the ‘Concealed Emergency Exit’ sign. It opened easily, revealing blue sky and billowy clouds. Trish held on to the frame and looked down. Water from a small lake lapped against moss covered timbers below the doorsill. Reeds lined the far shoreline. She leaned out. “Too bad this isn’t a better dream. It could be fun exploring this place.” She tried to test the water with her toes, but couldn’t quite reach it. Growing tired, she had to fight to keep her eyes open. “Finally an end to this dream,” Trish said and jumped for the water.
Wind rushed against her face. The water vanished. Thousands of feet below, the ground raced upward. Trish screamed.