The Virtual Red Couch is hosting a collaborative short story project. Each week, a new author will continue the story. Check back every Monday to see how the story unfolds!
Written by Dana Beitey
“That’s it!” shouted Emma. “I knew you were familiar. I can’t believe what is happening. All I wanted was to find out a little more; explore the Inkwell without any adults telling me what to do. I just wanted to know where she had to be every day at 4:00. Who would have imagined this?”
Emma couldn’t believe what was happening. To think, her five-year-old brother led them to this—the ultimate adventure. For months she had been so enthralled in Everett’s story. Now, here she was, right in the middle of it all.
“So what’s next? How do we get up there? If everyone, or thing, in this land is against us, we must do this on our own?”
Everett thought long and hard. He desperately wanted the old Alice back, someone he could go on adventures with again. He had to find out why she didn’t feel the same anymore.
He knew there was only one way to the castle without being caught in the griffon’s talon grasp. But remaining unseen by the clouds would be difficult and dangerous.
“There is a series of underground tunnels,” Everett began. “But they are ancient and the journey up is treacherous. If we use them, we can remain unseen by the clouds and make our arrival without being noticed. It is a full day’s travel to the castle using the tunnels. Are you prepared to face the dangers that lie within?”
Knowing she may never well get out of this mess until she is at least reunited with her brothers, Emma agreed to the journey.
“It is already getting late. Can we find a place to rest before we begin?”
Everett knew just what to do. He would let her stay in the old hunter’s cabin nearby while he stood guard outside. He knew he, too, needed rest. Hopefully, he would be able to get a little sleep before they began the trek up to the castle in the morning. In the meantime, they could prepare a little better.
The pair began gathering wood for a fire and while doing so, found some more fruit trees along the way.
Emma remembered what the cloud had taught her and politely asked a tree for some food. Once again, the tree dropped fruit until she caught one, but there was more to be gathered around her. They were able to gain some strength for their journey and she had enough left over for when they got hungry tomorrow.
Everett even showed her how to use the bow, just in case something should happen to him and she would need to use it to protect her and her brothers.
That night, tucked into a dust-filled bed—at least it was soft and inside—she had trouble falling asleep. Just as she would begin to doze, the most troubling thoughts and worries would enter her mind. She didn’t know how she would get through the next day, but knew she must.
Eventually, she fell asleep and dreamed of dark caves and mysterious sounds in damp and muggy surroundings. When she woke up in the morning, she felt nervous, but ready to face the day ahead.
As she stretched and yawned, she felt a tinge of disassociation. Because of the unfamiliar and strange surroundings, confusion set in for a moment. Then all of a sudden, she heard noises coming from outside the cabin. Something was happening … was Everett OK?
Without thinking, she threw open the front door. There she found Everett wrestling with a platypus!
She’d never seen anything like it before. She vaguely remembered a chapter in her latest and favorite adventure book that had involved a platypus and a bad game of rock, paper, scissors. But something like that could only happen in books, right?
Then she suddenly remembered where she was and how she’d gotten there.
As if yesterday wasn’t strange enough, today she was starting her day watching a man and a platypus wrestling over who knows what.
Emma shouted at the top of her lungs. It was like breaking up a fight between her two little brothers.
The shuffling in front of her ceased quickly. Everett jumped up and dusted himself off. The platypus also regained its composure, making direct eye contact with Emma.
Weirdly enough, she wasn’t surprised when the platypus opened its mouth and said, “G’day, miss.”
Rolling her eyes, all she could think to do was say hello back to the creature. Then, her stern yet confused glare went straight to Everett.
“What in the world are you two about?”
That’s when Everett nudged the animal next to him and said, “I won and that’s final.”
“What exactly did you win?” asked Emma.
“Just rehashing the results of a little game we played some time ago,” Everett answered, as if this sort of thing happens everyday.
“This is Pete. Pete, this is Emma.”
Pete the platypus, Emma thought. Typical.
“Pete is the only friend we can trust, and he has offered to help us through the tunnels. It has been a long time since I’ve been to the entrance, let alone inside, and Pete knows them pretty well. He’ll get us part of the way there, as far as he can, at least.”
Emma gave yet another eye roll and decided she must go with the flow on this one. If this whole thing were a dream, wouldn’t she have woken up by now?
The goal ahead of them came back to her full force and somehow her nervousness from earlier began to fade.
The sky was so clear, so blue and not a cloud directly above them. Yet when she glanced up toward where Silver Mountain should be, she still saw nothing. The clouds and fog had gathered there like a wall of smoke. She couldn’t imagine what was behind that wall or how they would find Daniel and James when they got there.
After gathering more supplies they began walking into a dense wood. Pete and Everett took the lead but always made sure she was very close behind. They said it was best they stay in front so if danger showed its ugly head, she would have a chance to hide and they could protect her as best they could.
What began as a clear path slowly thinned into a slim dirt trail and then disappeared altogether.
“I know you guys know what you’re doing, but are you sure we are going the right way? I don’t see a trail anymore.”
“That means we are getting close, mate,” replied Pete.
Everett looked back with confidence and just gave her a comforting smile.
“Don’t worry. We are going to be there before you know it and I will reunite you with your brothers,” said Everett.
Within minutes, they came upon a rounded hill. There were bushes and trees so thick in front of the hill, she thought they would never be able to get over or around it. It seemed like they had no choice but to turn around now.
“We are here,” Everett said.
“Where?” replied Emma. “All I see are trees and bushes. How is that ‘here?’”
Pete said, “Look beyond what you see in front of you, Emma.”
She stared, glared, blinked, and did it again. Nothing changed. She decided these two really didn’t know what they were doing.
Just when she’d started to give up hope, Pete waddled over to the biggest bush and began to dig with his claws. He quickly disappeared, but not for long.
All of a sudden, there was a loud crunching sound. She heard the sound of splitting wood, the tree growling as though it was being awoken from a very, very long sleep.
The ground below her began to shake. She lost her balance and began to fall, but Everett rushed over to help her stay upright.
They both wobbled a bit and then all of a sudden, the tree in front of her split in two and opened like the fancy French sliding doors that were in her house.
She suddenly felt very homesick as she wished she were sitting on her couch with her parents and brothers safe in their living room right now instead of preparing to climb uphill, underground, to a castle to save her brothers. This was so unreal, yet at times it felt as though she was meant to be here.
As the tree split and parted, she saw Pete standing next to a doorway with nothing but darkness beyond.
The only light was coming from a metal box just inside the doorway. In the box, having no business at all being there, was a small flame. She decided not to question it since nothing in this odd place made sense.
Everett grabbed some branches from the split tree handing one to Emma and attaching more to a belt around his waist.
He held his torch to the flame in the metal box and it lit with a quick burst. Emma did the same.
The three of them slowly walked into the darkness.