Dobby grits his teeth and successfully ascends the elevator to Sylvia’s treehouse for tea. Everyone has a wonderful time until Dobby gets stuck in the bathroom.
If you started reading here, it might help to know that Prince Dobalob is visiting his childhood friend Gari in the southern Kingdom of Rous. You’ve already missed a bunch of the story. Here’s a link if you’re one of those types who prefer to start at the beginning. There’s a big old chart below to help you sort out the cast of thousands. Recommended snack: tea and cookies
“So, this treehouse is behind the shop?” Three small cylindrical boxes dangled from Dobby’s paw.
“Yeah,” said Gari. “I usually walk around back and wait for them to come down. They like to ride the elevator up with me.”
As they came around the back of the auto shop, the river came into view. One majestic tree grew along the bank of the water, its branches swept over the water in a broad gesture. There was a waterwheel in the river, slowly turning with the current. A shaft from the center of the wheel jutted toward the tree, and a chain and sprocket hung near a single riding car dangling from an automotive hoist. Dobby turned to look at Gari and was about to say something when Gari cut him off.
“Trust me. It’s very solid, rides nice and smooth. It’s a deceptively simple design. And it’s worth going up. Sylvia has remodeled the house so that it’s quite roomy inside, and the views are spectacular. I see the kids coming down, now. Watch me go up, and I’ll send them down to get you. We have to go up and down one at a time. I can take those packages up for you, if that helps.”
Gari took the boxes as the little squirrels scrambled up his legs and settled on his shoulders. He stepped into the boxy elevator car and sat down, settling the boxes on the floor. Dobby peeked in and saw that it was a vintage red leather car seat with a lap belt. Gari fastened the seat belt and waited patiently while the three squirrels arranged themselves in a basket fastened to the inside of the car. He shut the door and pushed a large lever on the river side of the car. It made a solid thunk as the sprocket meshed with the chain and slowly started to rise. Gari waved and blew him a kiss. Dobby could hear the kids groaning and exclaiming “How gross!”
He watched as Gari ascended and then came to a halt at a large platform high above the ground. His stomach lurched at the thought of being next up, and he considered wandering down the river, as though he had been suddenly fascinated by a flowering shrub or something. He couldn’t even look up any more and he started looking in earnest for four-leaf clovers. He heard a thunk far above him and knew the car was descending by the subtle clickity clack of the sprocket in the chain.
“Dobby, hello?” Sylvia was standing in front of him. “The kids are excited about the boxes, but I wouldn’t let them open them until you come up. I’m going to send you up and then I’ll follow.”
“Okay,” said Dobby. His voice cracked a little, but he was afraid of looking like a scaredy cat in front of her. Even more afraid than going up in the elevator. He sat down, fastened the belt, and she shut the door and pushed the lever. He heard the thunk and then the quiet clickety clack and smiled bravely at Sylvia. When she was out of sight, he squeezed his eyes shut and didn’t open them until he heard another thunk.
“Open your eyes, you big fool,” said Gari. “These kids are begging to open their boxes!”
Dobby looked straight ahead as Gari opened the door. He realized that the car opened directly into the treehouse and he could disembark without having to look down. He smelled something baking and realized he had been holding his breath all the way up. He stepped into a treehouse for the very first time.
Sylvia’s treehouse nestled into several large branches. The central living space was taller than it was wide, but smaller rooms perched off a spiraling staircase, and a couple corridors sneaked out of the main area. A galley kitchen was tucked under the staircase, and wherever there weren’t windows, bookshelves were crammed with books. The view of the river was, indeed, spectacular.
Cu, Sali, and Tix were around a large walnut table, hands poised upon their boxes, ready to rip. Gari stood to the side, frowning at them as he slid around to make space for Dobby to enter the room. The clickety clack announced that Sylvia was on her way up. There was a thunk, and she stepped into the treehouse.
“You may open them now!” The little squirrels attacked the boxes and suddenly all three were wearing tiny matching Panama hats.
“Thank you, Dobby!” Sylvia took a couple photos, and then they all took turns taking selfies with her cell phone. They scampered up the staircase and posed in each of their rooms, taking photos of each other. Sali paused to look down at Dobby, her eyes opened wide. “You have a hat like ours!” And they laughed and giggled as Sylvia and Gari laughed and giggled and pretty soon they were all laughing and giggling. Sylvia leaned out a window and pulled in a couple of folding stools for the guests.
“You guys, better get down here and serve the tea!” Sylvia was at the kitchen, pulling dishes out of cupboards, making space for everything on the one small counter. She opened and closed the oven, rummaged in the refrigerator, and turned off the teakettle. The kids clattered down the stairs and distributed dishes, loaded platters, and created mayhem. Sylvia set a teapot on the table and Cu walked around the table pouring tea as fast as Tix set down the cups and saucers. Sali walked around behind him with a tray of cookies and tiny cakes.
“Seed cakes! Where did you get these seed cakes?” Dobby was astounded.
“I hope you like them,” said Sylvia. “They’re hard to find these days. These are imported. I don’t think they’re as good as the local ones we used to get.”
“Imported?” Gari was intrigued, too. “Imported from where?”
Sylvia thought for a moment. “I have a professor who travels all over the place, mostly south of here. He’s been so many places lately, I couldn’t tell you where they came from. When he misses a class, he brings back a huge box of goodies for us. The seed cakes are the most popular, of course. I have to be quick to grab a box.”
“They’re quite good, actually,” said Dobby. “And seed cakes are my favorite!” Dobby looked at Gari. “We will have to travel south in my zeppelin and import them.” Gari rolled his eyes.
“You have a zeppelin?” asked Cu.
“I’m going to build one,” said Dobby.
The kids looked from one to the other. Little Tix looked amazed. Sali looked at Cu and whispered loudly. “Do you think we should tell him about the Hindenburg?”
Gari looked at his friend, who had no doubt heard the comment. Did Dobby know about the Hindenburg? Gari was familiar with the I’m-out-of-my-depth look spreading over Dobby’s face. By now, Sylvia was looking at Dobby, too. Gari looked at Sali and cleared his throat.
“Dobby is building the safest, most environmentally sound zeppelin ever designed.”
“Oh,” said Cu. He went back to eating the cookies and poured himself some more tea. Sylvia gave him the evil eye and he stood up and walked around the table offering everyone more tea. Sali picked up the seed cake box and started reading it. She started snickering and Tix leaned over to look at it.
“It’s so pathetic,” said Sali. “Don’t they know about spell-check? There are so many mistakes it’s like a parody of an import. They should’ve stuck with photos and just a few words. I didn’t even know it was possible to misspell the Nutrition Facts label.”
“Tell me about this zeppelin,” said Sylvia. “Is it really a zeppelin, or is it a blimp? What keeps it aloft? What kind of motor does it have? How do you steer it? How big is it? How many passengers does it carry? Who designed it? Is it a kit? Are you personally building it, or is someone else building it? How much of it is built? I’m really intrigued. Can you tell?”
Dobby smiled nervously. He had a lot to be nervous about. Mostly, he wanted Sylvia to like him, but he also had no idea how to answer these questions. He looked at Gari for guidance, and Gari smiled and nodded his head. That usually meant that he was on the right track. Gari would have rolled his eyes and looked away if it was time to change the subject or maybe just stop yammering.
“Well, we’re still in concept development stage. We aren’t committed to anything in particular, so we’re shopping for ideas. I have some raw materials stashed away—”
Gari butted in at this point. “Dobby recycles everything, so he’s got stockpiles of all sorts of great stuff: little motors, solar panels, bamboo poles, even– do you still have them?—a gazillion old license plates. Maybe even an old blimp, right?” Gari was chuckling, now.
Dobby shot him a warning glance and continued. “I have a huge workshop, a fantastic millwright, and hundreds of workers to do the little tedious stuff, keep the shop stocked, clean up, that kind of stuff. Usually Rodney and I collaborate—Rodney is the millwright—but now that our projects are more complex, it’s getting harder for me to explain what I want him to build. ‘Zeppelin’ leaves an awful lot to interpretation.”
Gari broke in. “Tell her about the walking palace.” Dobby stared at him. The walking palace had been a marginal success, if not a disaster. Gari nodded his encouragement. The three kids had been messing around with their teaspoons, but they were paying attention now.
“A walking palace?” Tix was standing up, now, and soon all three were walking around the way they thought palaces would walk.
“Well, yeah,” said Dobby. “Everyone comes to the palace for tea, and that’s fun, but I thought it might be fun if the palace could walk to them, for a change. So we built one. It was clumsy, though, because it was so big and had teeny legs. It was walking worse than you three!”
“What happened to it? Do you still have it?” Cu was fascinated.
“It had a bit of trouble crossing a creek. It’s still there, kind of taking a nap in the water.”
The kids laughed uproariously and were now collapsing on their sides, pretending to nap. Sylvia was smiling at him.
“What a fabulous idea! Maybe better to think about than build, but someday I bet you’ll build something really fantastic.” Sylvia looked at the kids and continued. “Why don’t you go upstairs and play for a while.” They ran off, twirling Panama hats, and tossing them up onto the big knobs at the stairway landing guardrails.
“Anybody want more tea? Seed cakes? There’s another box.” Sylvia added quietly. “I hid it from the kids.”
Dobby looked at her and then up at the kids. They were screaming up the stairway, walls, and railings in typical squirrel fashion. “I would love some more seed cakes. Thank you. But I need to use your, ahem, facilities before I have any more tea.”
“Sylvia gestured to his left. “The bathroom is just beyond you, that door tucked under the stairs.”
Dobby stood up and saw the door behind him. He walked over, opened the door and stepped inside. He took another small step in and realized that as small as the bathroom was, he would have to take a deep breath to get all the way in. But then he couldn’t reach around to close the door. So he stepped back out into the corridor and backed into the bathroom, and then closed the door. The toilet was now behind him. He now had to turn around to face the toilet. It was very tight, but inch by inch, he managed to shuffle all the way around. Relieved, he now had to shamble a bit farther around to face the sink so he could wash his hands. He was a tad more relaxed now, and noticed a porthole window that looked toward the shop. There were shelves holding tiny toothbrushes, toothpaste, and cups. Someone had stashed acorns in gaps between the walls and the support tree. He finally faced the sink and washed his hands with a leaf-shaped bar of soap. Now to exit the bathroom. He was almost all the way around now, so he continued shuffling until his stomach brushed against a smooth protrusion. He stopped and heard a thud, tumble, and then a rolling sound. Curious, he looked down but all he could see was his linen waistcoat. He continued a short distance and was finally facing the door. He reached down for the doorknob and felt nothing. No knob. A hole where the doorknob had been when he entered. So that’s what he bumped!
He looked down again, but saw no doorknob. What he did see was his bulging waistcoat pocket, the one holding a small sack of gold coins. The pocket had knocked the doorknob off! Well, he thought, he would have to empty his pockets next time he used this bathroom. But what to do now? He could barely rotate within the narrow space, there was no hope for leaning over to pick up the doorknob, even if he could see where it had rolled. To complicate matters, having one half of a set of doorknobs is quite useless. He tentatively poked his paw into the doorknob hole, in hopes that the other side was still in place. Maybe he could somehow cause the mechanism to open from this side. Plus, it would save him the embarrassment of someone seeing the other half of the doorknob rolling around on the floor outside the bathroom door. Yes, it was still there! He put his paw just a skosh farther into the hole. He heard a thud, tumble, and roll as the other half fell to the ground outside the bathroom door.
Gari had always teased him that his wealth would be his undoing, but he was quite certain he hadn’t meant the literal bag of gold coins. Now he heard that familiar voice outside the door. “Sylvia’s furious, but we’ll have you out of there in a jiffy. Hang in there.”
To be continued . . .
The quite extensive Cast of Characters:
This story desperately needs illustrations! Select an event from this story (how about a squirrel pouring tea, the fancy elevator, or the staircase inside the treehouse?), draw a picture of it, and send me an email. I’ll reply so that you can attach a digital copy of your masterpiece to it. I’ll add it to the story!
Or, if you’d rather help with the glossary, send me the list of words you had to look up (or should have looked up, but didn’t!). When I finish writing the ending, I will start putting together the glossary.