Newt, the amphibious vehicle, floats down the River Dobby while the passengers check out the snack cart. Almost everyone is satisfied with the available selection. Once more, turtles are responsible for hauling a vehicle out of the river.
No plot in this part, but it’s a good time to start at the beginning, where the plot is even thinner. Here’s a link if you decide to start reading at the beginning. There’s a helpful chart below to give you a chance to sort out the rodents. Recommended snack: Bags of chips, and popsicles. Durian flavored popsicles for the brave or naive. Soundtrack: Sea chanteys
Sylvia rolled her eyes and looked behind her. Dobby had the largest of the three squirrels by his pirate bandanna as the other two looked on in surprise.
“Mom! Cu— ,” said Sali.
“That’s quite enough, Cu! And Sali, you don’t need to tattle. I have eyes in the back of my head and I know perfectly well what was going on back there.”
She winked at Dobby as she made her way back to the salon. Rodney had taken the wheel and pushing a few knobs and twisting a couple dials, the engine noise quieted as the differential disengaged and the propeller took over. Dobby motioned to little Tix, who looked at Sylvia, who nodded to him. Tix cautiously unbuckled his seat belt and made his way back to the big rodent. Dobby showed him how to unlock the snack cupboard doors and pull out the big, overloaded cart. He set the little squirrel on top and moved a few bags of chips over to reveal a control panel. Tix raised his eyebrows in delight as he realized what the tracks down the center of the vehicle flooring were for.
“Take it up and serve Rodney and your mom first. Do you see how it works?” said the Prince.
“Yes, sir! Right away, sir!” said Tix. He pulled a lever and turned a dial and the cart moved slowly forward between the club chairs and couches. He drove the cart a few feet, peered at the controls again and looked at Dobby. Dobby chuckled and nodded to the tiny squirrel. Toot! Tix started laughing uncontrollably and as he passed near to Cu, toot toot toot! He made it forward to where his mother shared a couch with Sali. Toooot! A few feet farther and he was as far forward as the cart would go. Rodney turned in his seat and smiled down at the little squirrel. He selected a bag of chips and opened a small lid on top of the cart. He reached in and pulled out a couple popsicles. He read the labels, reached in again, kept the third one and dropped the first two back in.
“Can you please open the side door and find me a cucumber and tomato on rye? And an apple juice. Thanks.”
Tix scrambled down the side and opened one cupboard, found a juice, went to the other side, read the wrappers on the sandwiches, and hefted them up to the busy beaver. He hopped back up, drove the cart back to his mom and Sali, who was looking quite huffy by now. Sylvia sat back and let Tix read the sandwich labels to her, recite the drink menu, and describe the popsicle and ice cream selection. Cu leaned forward on his couch.
“Hurry up! I’m starving, and there’s not going to be any left for me!”
“Cu! That’s it. You may wait until last, now,” said Sylvia.
Dobby winked at her. “Let him go next. It’s okay.”
Tix saw the wink. He served his mother and sister and drove the cart back to his brother. He opened the ice cream freezer and looked in. It was empty! He dropped the lid back down and opened the side doors. All empty! He looked at Dobby, received another wink, and he understood.
“Sorry, Cu. All that’s left is these chips. Let’s see, here’s bean, and this one is— bean. They’re all bean chips!”
The Prince put on his most astonished face and Sylvia started laughing. Cu snarled and snatched at a bag of bean chips. Tix closed the cupboards and drove back to Dobby.
“I’ll have a fruit salad, squash taco, a pumpkin juice, and a watermelon popsicle,” said the capybara. “And corn chips. They’re under the bean chips.”
Tix moved aside the bean chips and discovered a half dozen corn ones. He tossed a packet to the Prince and opened the side cupboards and found them packed with sandwiches and juice. He removed Dobby’s order and opened the lid to the freezer, took out a popsicle, and handed it to the Prince with a smile.
“Can I sit by you?”
“Sure you can. Take out your own lunch and then drive the cart back up to your brother. Maybe there will be something left for him, maybe not.” Dobby noted the resigned look on the oldest squirrel, and that his mother and sister were now too busy unwrapping their lunches and chatting to notice. Tix made his selections carefully, having now seen the entire menu. He set his items on the end of Dobby’s couch, and drove the cart slowly up to his brother. Tix returned to the couch and started opening wrappers. Dobby nudged him and pointed to Cu, who was at the controls, unable to budge the cart from the place Tix left it. Frustrated, Cu opened each cupboard reached in, grabbed an item, and went back to his couch.
“What did you get, Cu? I got a macadamia butter and mango jelly sandwich! Dobby and I have watermelon popsicles!” said Tix.
“I got peanut butter and pickle and a durian popsicle. There was only bean chips left. And water,” said Cu.
Cu pulled apart the bread and surgically extracted the pickles. He was about to set them on the open window frame so he could jettison them into the river when Sylvia caught his eye. He dropped them into his water bottle instead and glared back at her.
Tix looked up at Dobby in wonder. The Prince was thoughtfully chewing, looking out the window at the tunnel of tropical foliage drooping over the lazy river. He looked down at the tiny squirrel next to him and smiled.
“How did you do that? Only water? And durian? Durian?”
“The magic is strong here. I don’t control it any more than you do. Maybe you’re the one who made that happen, we’ll never know. I have noticed that everything around here seems to work out. We’re all healthy here, but is it luck or because we grow our own food? We have everything we need, but is it because I am rich, or because we all share, and don’t waste resources? When bad things do happen, it mostly affects things, and they are replaceable. It has been that way for as long as I can remember.
“The lychee popsicles are always labeled durian, by the way. We’ll be okay.”
Rodney was busy shifting gears and the engine slowed.
“Cu! Can you come up here and ride shotgun for me? We’re going to leave the river and I need someone to watch out on that side of the vehicle for rocks, logs, and alligators. Just kidding about the alligators but it can get hairy climbing the bank back up to the road.”
Cu glanced at his mom as he scampered forward to the passenger seat. He stood up tall on the edge of the seat and balanced his paws on the dashboard. The squirrel could barely see out but he looked over at Rodney and nodded his head.
“I see turtles. Lots of them and they’re swimming toward us, not away!”
“Perfect. Get their attention and tell them to line up along the bank in front of us. Then, open that glove box in front of you and start tossing out gloves to them, one at a time.”
Cu stared at the big beaver in disbelief, his mouth open, eyes wide open.
“What are you talking about? Are you nuts?”
“Are you going to help or should I get Sali to do it?”
Cu turned back to the open window and started hollering at the turtles. Then he opened the glove box. Neatly stacked gloves filled the box. He pulled out a stiff, flat glove and discovered it was attached to a string which in turn was attached to a small eye hook inside the glove box. He shot a glance at Rodney.
“Be careful or they’ll all get tangled. Then Dobby will have to come forward to untangle them. Slow and methodical and they’ll behave. Toss them carefully. You’ll get the hang of it.”
Cu tossed out the first glove and the string extended. The glove fell a bit short of the nearest turtle, but he came down and grabbed it, then walked up to the river bank. Cu took the next glove off the stack and tossed a bit harder. The turtles gradually rearranged themselves to be in position for the gloves as Cu grew confident and expertly distributed them. When the final glove in the stack had whizzed out to the turtles, the remaining turtles teamed up, several to a glove. Nearby butterflies approached and fluttered over the turtle teams. Rodney leaned forward to observe the final shenanigans and the turtles slowly climbed the bank until the glove-strings were taut. Rodney motioned to the little squirrel to come over to the driver’s seat.
“If you want to drive, get on my lap and grab the wheel. You can see the ground in front of us on that screen over here. Just keep us going straight up the bank.”
Scaring the heck out of the grumpy old beaver, Cu leapt across from the passenger seat onto his lap and grabbed the wheel. Cu looked up at him and grinned, and Newt slowly ascended the riverbank.
Rodney glanced back at Sylvia and winked.
“Turtles are quicker where the magic is stronger. Dobby told me it took forever for them to tow his roadster to your shop without it. Newt could land anywhere and we need to be prepared for that, so your winch suggestion is a good one. I even have a nice motor we can use. Yeah, that’s a good idea.”
The turtles were all the way up, now, and were adjusting locations to pull Newt up the bank and onto the road. Sali and tix had moved up to the passenger seat and watched Cu driving and the turtles pulling, their tiny heads snapping back and forth between the surprising scenes.
“Now, pull up the propeller,” said Rodney. “It’s the lever with the yellow knob, push it to the up position. Then you need to go back and put your seatbelts on, all three of you. Thanks, Cu!”
A few minutes later Rodney glanced behind to see three napping squirrels suspended in awkward positions by the shoulder belts at each seat. A fourth rather larger rodent was splayed out on a couch near the back. He slowed the vehicle and motioned to Sylvia to join him up front.
“I hear you were out this way yesterday, but didn’t make it quite this far. That’s the Schist castle off in the distance to our left. The river stays south of the road, on Schist land, and then it veers south near Caplin’s cottage, heads your direction. I don’t think you saw the cottage, did you? And I guess the swath of forest to our right is hiding some contraband birdseed fields on cleared forest. You did see those, right? Did you have any insights on that? I’ve been too busy to talk to the Prince about it, but Bond was certainly perplexed. I think they’re going to check it out again next week.”
Sylvia thought about it for a moment and looked carefully behind her. All four rodents were schnockered, napping like champions.
“I noticed that Dobby was surprised at first to see the clearings and the tended fields. Then he was thoughtful and quiet. We did a fairly quick drive-through and when he didn’t see anyone, we drove to the end of the road— we just drove past it, I think. We stopped by the river and ate our picnic, but we didn’t linger. He was pretty quiet on the drive back. I don’t know what it looked like before, so it didn’t really sink in what had happened there. I guess somebody clear cut the forest and planted birdseed, is that right? On Principality land? Dobby’s land? During a birdseed shortage? Am I getting this right?”
“That’s what it sounds like. How did the fields look? I’d make a detour to look at them— they must be off to our right— but with kids in the vehicle, and who knows what lurking. So how did the fields look? Any sense of what is up there?”
“I couldn’t say, but he said it was ready to harvest. I just noticed the dust sort of slipping off the car, so weird. Dobby said it was because the magic is so strong there. But aren’t the barren fields near here?”
“Yeah, they are. North of here. Then there’s a forest on the ridge this side of them. Then there’s this crazy stolen seed field, then a strip of forest wide enough to hide it from the road, then the road, then south of the road is the river. Like stripes of barren and then forest all the way south to the schist’s nasty desert. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have fire swamps down there somewhere.”
Rodney turned to look at her. The fifth rodent was now napping, slumped awkwardly in her seatbelt.
To be continued . . .
The usual Cast of Characters:
This story needs a lot more illustrations! Select an event from this story (how about a turtle?), 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!). Someday, I will start putting together the glossary. Do know what durian is? Mostly, what it smells like?