CHAPTER FOUR HUNDRED and SEVENTEEN
Moving as fast as possible, Blane pushed the raft along the coastline until he was wet with sweat. When he looked up, the raft was only a few feet from the dead tree where the Boreal owl lived. Blane turned to ask Valerie if that was right, but she was staring at the sky. He touched her arm.
“Val?” Blane asked.
Valerie didn’t respond. Her eyes never wavered from the sky. Blane turned to Sam.
“Sam?” Blane asked. He gestured to Valerie. When Sam didn’t respond, he asked again, “Sam?
Sam and Valerie seemed to be in some kind of trance. Blane looked at the dead tree. The owl was hiding in the hole.
Somehow, the Sea of Amber had managed to bring to them the worst hell a human being can experience — the sense of being completely and totally alone. Blane scowled. Why hadn’t this curse affected him?
Or had it? Maybe Valerie and Sam felt like he was the one in a trance. He looked around for someone to ask what to do. Finding no one, he sighed. He hated being isolated, but at least he was used to it. He was trying to decide what to do when his rabbit hopped over to him and bit his ankle.
“Ow!” Blane said. Glaring at the rabbit, he grabbed his ankle and hopped around. “Why’d you do that?”
“I may not seem like much,” the rabbit said in an accent that rivaled Mr. French’s from 1970s television show Family Affair, a guilty pleasure Blane shared with Tink every day after school. “But I am your spirit animal.”
“I’m not sure what that even means,” Blane said.
“You are to rely on me for assistance,” the rabbit said. “I am wise and helpful, not to mention cuddly for those moments of sorrow and hardship.”
“Uh …” Blane looked at the rabbit. “Like these?”
“Yes, hardships such as these,” the rabbit said.
Blane dropped to a crouch to be nearer to the rabbit. He pet the rabbit’s head and was surprised he felt better.
“You may ask me your questions,” the rabbit said.
“Are Sam and Valerie in a trance?” Blane asked.
“That they are,” the rabbit said.
“Am I in a trance?” Blane asked.
“You are speaking with a bunny,” the rabbit said.
Blane scowled at the rabbit and stood up. He made a few more efforts to move the raft along the coast.
“Ahem,” the rabbit said.
“What?” Blane asked.
“I was joking,” the rabbit said.
“You can make jokes?” Blane asked. He crouched down to the rabbit again. “I thought the very wise were too busy being wise to make jokes.”
“Dear boy, the very wise only make jokes,” the rabbit said.
Blane bit the inside of his lip while he thought about it.
“Okay,” Blane said evenly. “Val and Sam are in a trance.”
“That they are,” the rabbit repeated.
“Am I in a trance?” Blane asked.
“You are not,” the rabbit said. “Before you ask ‘why,’ that is because the Goddess Hedone coated you with her love.”
“That’s still working?” Blane asked. He rubbed his arm and held it out for the rabbit to see. “I’m not gold anymore.”
“All that glitters is not gold,” the rabbit said.
“And that means?” Blane asked. “Please do explain, oh wise one, to one who is not quite so wise.”
“You are still protected,” the rabbit said with a smile.
“By what?” Blane asked.
“You love Heather?” the rabbit asked.
“I do,” Blane said. “And she loves me.”
“Then you are protected on the inside,” the rabbit said.
The rabbit nodded so hard that it’s floppy ears bounced forward. Blane scowled.
“How do I wake up Sam and Val?” Blane asked.
“They cannot be awakened until you are off this lake,” the rabbit said.
“But …?” Blane started.
“Trust me,” the rabbit said. “It brings me no pleasure to tell you this fact. I happen to be quite fond of Sam Lipson. His beaver is one of my best friends. We would find this entire situation amusing, but …”
Blane looked toward the beaver. The animal was sound asleep at Sam’s feet.
“Why can’t they be awakened?” Blane asked.
“They simply cannot,” the rabbit said.
“Am I supposed to get us off this lake?” Blane asked.
“You’re not supposed to do anything,” the rabbit said. “You were offered a chance to change the world. You chose to follow your beloved Sam. Your choice. That is all.”
“I cannot really follow Sam now,” Blane said.
“That you cannot,” the rabbit said. His large brown eyes blinked at Blane.
“What are you doing?” Blane asked.
“Waiting for a better question,” the rabbit said.
“A better question?” Blane asked. “Aren’t all questions good? I mean, everyone says ‘There are no bad questions.’ What is a better question?”
“How do I get my family off this lake?” the rabbit asked. “Is it possible to destroy this dam? Why are Sam and Val in a trance? There’s a few.”
“Okay,” Blane said. “Let’s start with ‘Why are Sam and Val in a trance?’”
“Why are you worrying about the whys of things right now?” the rabbit asked.
“Is that a joke?” Blane asked. His frustration rose. “Damn it!”
“Think,” the rabbit said.
With his hands on his hips, Blane stared at the rabbit for a moment before looking around the lake. He looked across the lake and up at the sky.
“The lake is more full,” Blane said.
“And that means?” the rabbit asked.
“We’re slipping through time,” Blane said.
“Why are Sam and Val in a trance?” the rabbit asked.
“To keep me from noticing that we’re slipping through time,” Blane said. “To get us to a time when there are more serpents, more trapped souls, and they can stop us.”
“There was once a team of extraordinarily violent and dangerous men charged with guarding the dam,” the rabbit said. “This is an inhospitable place. They died out long before you, Sam, and Valerie arrived at the Sea of Amber. I don’t believe we are there yet.”
“How do I stop the time slip?” Blane asked. The rabbit seemed to grin at Blane. “What?”
“A good question,” the rabbit said. “I cannot tell you the answer.”
“But!” Blane’s voice rose with frustration. The rabbit gave him an even look. “Wait, this is a trick. You cannot tell me because …”
Blane scowled and looked around the Sea of Amber. After a moment, he pointed to the rabbit and nodded.
“You cannot tell me what I already know,” Blane said with a nod.
“And you know it because?” the rabbit asked.
“I am the master of the Sea of Amber,” Blane said.
“How did you become the master of the Sea of Amber?” the rabbit asked.
“I am married to the current management here,” Blane said.
“And?” the rabbit asked.
“I’ve cheated the Sea of Amber twice,” Blane said. “Once a long time ago when I was almost trapped here and then again when I freed Jacob. Haven’t other people done that though?”
“No,” the rabbit said. “No creature has ever cheated the Sea of Amber. When I say ‘ever,’ I mean in all time. In all time, no creature has ever cheated the Sea of Amber.”
“How did I …?” Blane started. He stopped talking when the rabbit held up a paw.
“Because no one ever dared to,” the rabbit said. “Things are only terrifying if they terrify.”
Blane scowled and then glanced at the rabbit.
“Go ahead,” the rabbit said. “What needs to be done?”
Blane thought for a moment. He looked around the Sea of Amber. At least their time slip had stopped. They appeared to have returned to the timeframe they’d started in. Sam and Valerie were still in a trance. He looked at the dead tree. The owl was standing on the branch. He nodded a hello to Celia’s spirit animal. He opened his mouth to ask a question.
“It’s always going to be more powerful for you to answer your own questions,” the rabbit said.
“Powerful?” Blane asked.
The rabbit nodded. Blane looked at the sky, the sea, Sam and Valerie.
“Try it,” the rabbit encouraged. “What have you got to lose?”
Blane pointed at Valerie and Sam. The rabbit laughed.
“Go ahead,” the rabbit encouraged again. “You have my assurance that they will not be harmed. But remember, be specific. A general statement will send you back to your bodies in Denver and the Sea of Amber will continue as it has for millennia.”
“Good point,” Blane said. “Be specific.”
He nodded at the bunny for a moment before formulating the command.
“I wish myself, Valerie, Sam, and every creature on this raft to be safely standing next to the dam which creates this Sea of Amber,” Blane said.
In a dizzying breath, Blane was standing on a small platform with Valerie, Sam, and their spirit animals at his side. To his surprise, the dam was made from thick beams of wood. It was an enormous structure that went a hundred feet above his head and hundreds of feet to a valley far below. The dam stretched across what appeared to be a natural canyon. The walls of this canyon were scarred by the acrid misery that had splashed over the top of the dam.
For a moment, Blane could only marvel at sheer beauty of the structure. Sam had been right. This dam was created by men. He looked at the scored walls of the canyon. If Jacob and Mike were here, they would bully him into a death-defying climb up the steep crags of this canyon. But they weren’t here.
Blane was charged with doing something even more terrifying.
“I wish Valerie and Sam would awaken from their trance,” Blane said.
Sam blinked and blinked again, before he started looking around. Valerie’s knees went weak. Blane steadied her with a strong arm.
“Well done, son,” Sam said.
“You were in a trance,” Blane started to tell them the story.
“Of course we were,” Sam said, cutting him off. “Listen, I don’t mean to be rude …”
Blane grinned at Sam and Sam nodded in agreement that he was often rude.
“There’s work to do, Blane,” Sam said. “Valerie. We need to get to it.”
Valerie suppressed a laugh.
“Where do we start?” Valerie asked.
“Where ever you’d like,” Sam said.
He pulled his pick axe back and swung toward the dam.
“Wait!” Blane said. “There are g …”
A man appeared the moment the pick axe hit the dam. With his hard hat and blue jeans, he looked more like someone from the Army Corps of Engineers than a protector or guard of the dam. Sam was so surprised that he stopped mid-swing.
“I was trying to tell you,” Blane said in a low tone. “The dam has guardians!”
The man raised an eyebrow to Blane before going to check the dam. Seeing that Sam’s pick axe hadn’t left a mark, the man nodded and turned back to them.
“Lucky for you, there’s no damage,” the man said in American English circa 1940.
“I’m going to tear this thing down!” Sam said.
“Do you know what will happen if you do?” the man asked.
Blane put his arm on Sam to keep him from answering.
“What will happen if we destroy the dam?” Blane asked.
“You will unleash terrible human suffering on the world,” the man said. “This dam was created to save people from the horrors of man’s inhumanity toward man.”
“What?” Baffled, Sam and Valerie asked at the same time. Blane scowled.
Saturday morning — 8:17 a.m.
Katy sighed and leaned her head on her hand. She was sitting in the middle of the action on the wooden picnic table in the backyard of the Castle. The fairies were playing with the children on the backyard’s small lawn. The Navajo Shaman were signing and drumming over her Daddy on the balcony just over there.
Just over there.
Katy sighed again. Even though she was a great drummer and singer, she wasn’t allowed to participate in this ceremony. She wasn’t even allowed to go up there — and it was her daddy!
All in all, Katy felt pretty miserable. She missed her daddy. She felt bad that her mommy was so worried. She rubbed her stomach. She hadn’t felt very good in her stomach either. Her brothers had become oddly quiet, like they were waiting for something to happen. Katy would never admit it, but they kind of scared her with their freakish ways. Her mommy always said that she was like they are. She didn’t remember being so weird.
The worst thing was that no one would tell her what was going to happen! Was Daddy coming back? What if Daddy didn’t come back? Grampa Sam was also mixed up in all of this. Auntie Valerie, too! Even though Auntie Valerie wasn’t one of the big Auntie’s — Heather, Tanesha, and Sandy — she was pretty nice in her own right. Katy’s eyes welled when she thought of her Uncle Blane. She liked Uncle Blane in a special kind of like and he special kind of liked her, too.
What was going to happen?
She couldn’t shake the feeling that nothing was going to happen unless she did something to make it happen. But what could she do? She was just a little girl who no one was going to let help with anything!
Scowling, the next sigh was more like a growl than a sigh.
“Whatcha doing?” Paddie asked. He sat down next to her on the picnic table.
“Nothing,” Katy said, her voice laced with desperate hopelessness.
“Hmm,” Paddie said.
He sat next to Katy for a while. Katy sighed again and Paddie looked at her.
“I was goin’ to go up there,” Paddie said.
Katy turned to look at him. He shrugged.
“Just seems like we should be up there,” Paddie said.
He pointed to the balcony where the Navajo ceremony continued into the third day.
“I’m not s’posed to go up there,” Katy said in a voice laced with sorrow.
“Who’s going to stop us?” Paddie asked.
His question rang true and clear. Katy felt her sorrow and hopelessness clear.
“We’re not s’posed to go up there,” Katy said insistently.
“’S never stopped us before,” Paddie said. “You always say that if we feel like we should go someplace, then we are needed there. No questions asked.”
Katy turned to look at him.
“How is this any different?” Paddie asked.
“Bee-cuzzz,” Katy’s voice rose with exasperation.
Undeterred, Paddie just blinked at her. Katy dropped her head into her hands and began to cry. Paddie leaned over and kissed her cheek.
“I love you, Katy,” Paddie said. Blinking at her tears, Katy looked up at him. “And you love me.”
Katy gave him a sad nod.
“You trust me?” Paddie asked.
Katy nodded. Paddie got up from the picnic table. He held out his hand to Katy. She looked at his hand and then looked at his face. He gestured with his hand, and she took it. He helped her out of the picnic table. Never letting go of her hand, he pulled the Sword of Truth from the scabbard that made it look like a fake sword.
“Look,” Paddie said in a soft voice.
The sword pulsed with the sound of the drums and the voices singing.
“What does it mean?” Katy asked.
Paddie shrugged and Katy nodded.
“We have to go up there and find out,” Paddie said. He moved toward the deck steps.
“What if it’s just you and I’m not supposed to go?” Katy asked.
Paddie snorted a laugh.
“When is that ever true?” Paddie laughed. “I’m just there all ‘I have this shiny sword’ while you’re making s-h-i-t happen.”
“S-h-i-t?” Katy scowled.
“I don’t know what it means either,” Paddie grinned. “It’s just what Daddy says. He says, ‘Then s-h-i-t happened.’”
Paddie and Katy nodded in unison.
“Come on,” Paddie said. “Let’s go make s-h-i-t happen.”
Katy looked into Paddie’s face for a moment before nodding. He guided her down the deck steps, across the grass, and up the steps to the deck where the ceremony was being held. As if they were invisible, the children moved past the singers and drummers until they stood near Jacob’s feet. Katy pointed to the bottom of Jacob’s feet and Paddie nodded.
He touched the tip of the Sword of Truth so that it touched both of the arches Jacob’s feet. As if it was translating the music and magic into Jacob’s body, the sword pulsed against his feet. Still holding hands, the children stood while the sword did its work. Seeing Paddie and Katy, Ooljee came to Katy’s side. She watched the sword pulse for a moment. Smiling at Katy, Ooljee took Katy’s hand.
The drummers drummed. The singers sang. Sam, Valerie, and Blane were in their trance. Ooljee’s grandmother and grandfather worked on the sand painting. And the children held hands at Jacob’s feet as the Sword of Truth pulsed energy.
Jacob gasped a breath.
And then another.
The grandmother went to his side. She leaned over him.
“Welcome back,” she said to Jacob.
He didn’t open his eyes. He simply nodded. She squeezed his shoulders and stood up. Only then did she notice the children. Without thinking, she shooed Katy and Paddie away.
“You kids need to find somewhere else to play,” the grandmother scolded. “We have important business to do here.”
Ooljee winked at Katy and she beamed. Paddie put his sword back into its sheath. Still holding hands, Paddie and Katy started to walk away.
“Katy?” Jacob’s weak voice came from the cot. “Is that you?”
Katy ran back and threw herself onto her father. Jacob laughed and hugged Katy. After a few minutes, the grandmother helped Katy down. Paddie and Katy were once again escorted to the stairs. They went down to the grass and back around to the picnic table, where they sat down next to each other. They had just settled in when Jill came out of the kitchen.
“There you are,” Jill said. “Hi, Paddie. What would you like to do today?”
Katy and Paddie looked at each other and laughed.
“Wha …?” Jill asked with a shake of her head at the children.
Just then the grandmother called down. Jill gasped. She looked at Katy and then back up to the deck.
“Go ahead, Mommy,” Katy said. “We’ll be okay.”
Jill ran down the deck stairs, across the grass, and up the deck stairs. Paddie and Katy heard Jill cheer and laugh from the deck outside the medical offices. Katy gave Paddie a knowing grin.
“What else do you want to do today?” Paddie asked.
Katy looked up on the deck before turning back to Paddie.
“Let’s ride horses,” Katy said.
“You’re right,” Paddie said. “We should do some kid stuff just to keep the adults guessing.”
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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