Our intrepid crew discusses how to get away from the Schist Castle and its alligators, only to discover there are fire swamps in their proposed landing area. Caplin is still stuck to the side of the zeppelin, making navigation a challenge.
Seriously, what kind of person starts reading at Part 38 of 40 parts? Don’t even think about it. Start at the beginning. The cast of characters won’t help you now, we’re too far along. Recommended snack: Durian, or for the faint of heart, maybe a hard-boiled egg. Soundtrack: Fire
“What in the world are you guys talking about?” Said Gari. He had switched places again with Percy and was messing with the aft winch controls. ”Do you think we should try to reel him in any farther? Is he coming over to the side at all?”
Dobby and Sylvia looked at each other and laughed. Sylvia made a big show of leaning out to look. “I think he’s good,” she said. They laughed again.
“Annabelle, can you get us out of here?” Said Dobby.
“We’ve cleared the moat, but we have too much weight on board to rise above the forest. Are you going to the party? We could drop you and Caplin off at the castle drawbridge, take these roosters home, and come back for you after the party.”
Dobby and Sylvia started laughing hysterically. Gari started to laugh, too. He shook his head and shouted forward to Annabelle. “I don’t think either of them is too keen on going into that castle voluntarily. Can we motor home?”
Rodney looked up and spoke to Annabelle. She did not look happy about driving Newt all the way back, but Rodney was nodding his head and pointing at the dashboard.
“If you can land this thing on a road,” said Sylvia, “I’d love to drive home. Caplin is dangling from the side, but I don’t think he’ll scrape the ground unless I take a corner too fast or something.” She and Dobby started laughing again. Rodney set down his winch controller and walked back to look out the window. He looked over at the awkward package of Caplin hanging off the port side of Newt’s hull. He looked out the opposite side and scanned the terrain for suitable landing areas.
“Looks good to me, Annabelle,” he said. “Can you put Newt down on that bare patch next to the castle front parking lot? Sylvia ought to be able to motor us home from there.”
Annabelle stood up, stretched her wings, wiped her beak on the steering wheel, and cackled. She turned to examine the seat, picked up an egg and faced Bianca and Conchita.
“Where are we putting our eggs? I didn’t have time to lay before we left this morning.”
“Sali took mine back to the snack cupboard,” said Conchita.
Sali proudly marched forward to retrieve the egg for safekeeping.
“Okay,” said Annabelle. “Let’s get out of here!”
The gears in Prince Dobalob’s noggin churned and spun. What to do with Caplin, that was the question. He considered a number of scenarios, the consequences to each, and their relative probability of success. Among those present, Gari knew his brother best, and had a similar skepticality toward the portly beast.
“I don’t really want to deal with Caplin at my place tonight. He hates my guest room, plus he still thinks we— meaning Sylvia— kidnapped him. He’s so stubborn I’ll never convince him that a capybara witch kidnapped him and put a spell on him. It’s pretty far-fetched, I’m not sure I believe it myself. I doubt he saw her and maybe not even the roosters. That story will be a hard sell. All he knows is that he went into his tent, passed out, and then Sylvia was there, and he was in a dungeon. I doubt he even recognized it as the Schist dungeon. Seen one dungeon, you’ve seen them all.”
“Too bad we’re so far from the Guardiã Principale,” said Sylvia. “How about dropping him off at your mom’s castle? Be a nice surprise for her when she returns from the party.”
“I don’t know,” said Dobby. “I think the first thing he’s going to do when we cut him loose is call in the Guardiã Principale. We’re going to want to cut and run, and mom’s castle is too close to mine. They’ll be swarming all over my palace from there.”
“Drop him off at his cottage,” said Gari. “See, he’s going to call the Guardiã Principale, anyway. But someone else is probably already looking for him. We don’t know who the witchybara is, but she’s got to be nearby. I’m betting she will find out pretty quickly that Caplin and the roosters have escaped. Where’s she going to look first?”
“My palace,” said Dobby. “I gotta believe someone noticed the zeppelin hovering over the moat. I wanted a spectacular entrance, and I think we pulled that off, but we are kind of around the side, sort of out of sight of the main entrance. Of course, we’re going to land in front for a minute while we switch drivers. She’s going to check my palace, for sure.”
“I don’t think so,” said Gari. “ First of all, she’s going to look close by. She’ll check the Schist Castle and when she comes up empty she’ll go to the cottage. We know she can get there on foot. She’s got no roosters to pull a wagon, so your palace would be a long way to walk on a hunch. Unless she can hot-wire and drive a Jeep. But what’s she going to do, steal the Jeep, drive up to your palace— from the back road— and ask if Caplin is there? I’m not sure she even knows who she kidnapped. Maybe he was just in the way when they went to harvest.”
“Good point,” said Sylvia. “Would anyone kidnap that lout on purpose?”
Dobby shot her a glance. She was catching on quickly.
Sylvia continued. “I think she’s going to be looking for the roosters, mostly. They are her workers. She needs them. Caplin was just a nuisance. I vote for the cottage. Let’s dump him there. If we’re lucky, he’ll call the Guardiã Principale, they’ll meet up at the cottage, the witchybara will show up, and they’ll haul her off. We’ll be at Prince Dobalob’s palace, having a nice party, so innocent.”
“I like it,” said Gari. “Sylvia’s kids will chew him free of the net in a jiffy. We’re rid of him. The cottage is a short drive from here. Do you think we can fly home from there without Caplin’s bulk dragging us down?”
“Ooh, that’s good,” said Sylvia. “I bet we can. Though I was looking forward driving this thing. What do you think, Dobby. You’re awfully quiet. Woozy again?”
“Well, yes, but not airsick. I was thinking of my mother, her party, how disappointed she must be that I’m not there. I turned out to be as inconsiderate as Caplin. I always resented him for blowing off all the family events, and here I am, outside the castle, a few steps from the party, and I’m not even thinking about going. This morning I was thinking that was still a possibility, but after all this, I don’t know what to think any more.”
Sylvia took his big paw and gave it a squeeze. “After all this, only a devoted son would feel so conflicted. Most guys would be heading for the hills. Your mother is lucky to have you, and I’m sure she knows that only a serious problem would keep you away from this party.” She turned and started forward. The zeppelin was landing.
Whoosh! Crackle! Pop!
“We’re in a fire swamp!” Said Gari. “What the heck?”
Conchita grabbed the squirrels and huddled them in the middle of Newt’s salon, away from the windows. Bianca and her roosters were a counterbalance to Dobby on the starboard side of the salon. They froze in place, stunned, as Annabelle frantically pushed levers and pedals. Naked mole rats scurried back up to their airship positions and stood ready. Gari and Rodney stared at each other from opposite ends of the ship, not sure what to do about Caplin’s dangling hammock. Sylvia stopped halfway back to look out the window. Whoosh! Crackle! Pop!
She quickly pulled her head back in and hollered to Dobby. “Caplin’s okay but that dangling piece of cargo net bridge is on fire. It’s not particularly flammable, so it will probably extinguish itself. If it doesn’t, we’ll know in a couple of minutes.”
Dobby reclined on his couch, covering his eyes with his paws. “There are no fire swamps in the Kingdom of ROUS!” He said.
“There are no alligators, either,” said Gari.
“Annabelle is going to work our way up a bit and then buzz over to the entrance road to the Schist castle,” said Rodney, from his position at the front of the airship. “We don’t trust any of the open ground anywhere else. If any guests are out front, they’re going to see us. Airships are quiet, so that works to our advantage. It’s possible we can quietly land and motor away.”
“There’s nothing quiet about Dobby’s brother, though,” said Sylvia. “I can still hear him hollering about the fire swamp, flames, fire, and on and on. Such a baby. I thought he was some brave warrior. Captain, right?”
Dobby groaned and turned over, paws over his ears. Gari rolled his eyes. “Neither of these dudes are particularly brave, though my money’s on the Dobster, here. Caplin was always a coward, running away from home instead of dealing with the parents. Though in this case, I think you ought to lay low, Dobby. You can always claim you weren’t here if nobody sees you.”
Annabelle turned to shush everyone. Rodney backed her up, and everyone quieted down as they descended. Well, everyone but Caplin, who could be heard hollering outside. Sylvia looked out again at him and gave a thumbs up. He was only making noise. They rounded the corner, floated over the drawbridge, and started to descend onto the entry road. Conchita glanced out on the starboard side to check for random guests or observers. She did a double-take.
“Up, Annabelle! Take us back up! The alligators are following us below in the moat. They’re headed right for us!”
Rodney looked out. Sure enough, the alligators were right behind the airship, and gaining. He did a quick calculation. Alligators can run about 22 mph. Amphibious vehicles like this one could theoretically do about 50 mph, on land. That’s if they aren’t stuffed with chairs, sofas, and chandeliers. And who knew what else was in that snack cupboard. And then there was the capybara hammock jauntily slung off the port side. How tall were alligators? Could they reach Caplin?
“We’ve got to cut Caplin loose,” said Rodney. “We can’t make it to the cottage laden like this. Land on the drawbridge, port side to the doors, and cut him loose. He goes in and we can make our escape.”
“Brilliant,” said Sylvia. “Caplin will have to go inside to the party, or alligators will get him. Queen Bonnie will be excited to see him and fuss all over him. We’ll make our escape, but Dobby will have met his goal of a spectacular entrance. And he doesn’t have to go to the party!”
“Tell me why I don’t have to go to the party again?” Said Dobby. “I like the plan but I missed that part.” suddenly feeling a little better, he propped himself up on his elbows but was still horizontal on his couch.
“Caplin may be an actual captain, but you, dear Dobby, are the captain of this ship,” said Sylvia. “You’re going down with us.”
Dobby’s eyes opened wide as flying saucers. He dropped back down on his couch and rolled over, groaning. Rodney consulted with Annabelle and explained the new plan. From the back of the salon, Gari watched Rodney and Annabelle carry on an animated conversation. He looked out the closest window and gasped.
“Annabelle! Quickly or go to plan B,” said Gari. “They’re gaining on us! Sylvia, your squirrels need to start chewing now!” Conchita looked out again and shrieked. She tossed the squirrels to Sylvia who dropped them out her window to the behammocked capybara below. Annabelle rotated the zeppelin so that the port side with the escape project was over the drawbridge as close to the door as possible. Dobby moaned as the zeppelin spun around, naked mole rats above pulled levers and tied off ropes. The zeppelin descended and touched ground with a gentle thud.
Bond reported from a reconnaissance trip. “The alligators followed us and they are under the drawbridge.” He took another quick flight out and back. “Wait, no, they’re backtracking to climb up the side of the moat!”
Gari threw down his controller and ran to Sylvia. “Give me some space! I can chew from above, then the whole cargo net mess will drop off. Have your squirrels concentrate on one exit area so Caplin can get free of it. Do you think Caplin is woke enough to get out if the hole is big enough? Is he, by any chance, chewing his way out?” And he leaned over the edge and started chewing scarves, ropes, and cargo net in a ragtag line where everything attached to the window.
“Oh, yes, he’s quite woke,” said Sylvia. “Furious, too. Once my kids have gnawed a hole for him, he’ll be out of there like a greased pig. But— we might not have time for that, so keep chewing. At least he could get partway out and drag the net with him. Make it harder for alligators to get a big chunk of him, too.” Dobby groaned again and Sylvia approached him. “You have got to go across to Conchita’s couch, dear. We may have to make a quick escape and Gari is working over here. We’ll be better balanced if you move. We’re on the ground, now, quite stable, no tipping. We have to do it now, that’s a boy.”
Sylvia guided Dobby across the aisle and Conchita made a space for him. She picked up an egg from the couch and walked it back to the snack cupboard.
“What the heck!” said Conchita. “Where did all these durians come from?” She peered inside the cupboard and clucked. Percy came up behind her and peeked in. He groaned and turned to beckon to a couple buddies, who were already on the move. Conchita had one of the prickly fruits out and was staring at it. Percy kicked it down the aisle where Sylvia stood, laughing.
“The porcupine of fruits! I can deal with these, my specialty, quilled fruit. If you can roll them to me, I’ll chuck them out at the alligators when they get close. Are there a lot or just a few?”
“Oh, there are plenty, not to worry!” Said Conchita. “Dang, what was he thinking?”
Gari pulled his head back in the window. “ I’ve got it loose almost all the way across up here. I don’t want to bite the last piece until the squirrels are safely back on board. It looks to me like they’re nearly done. Boy, oh boy, but Caplin is one angry motor scooter!”
Dobby sat up, now, feeling better with Newt on solid ground. “Does he seem to know where he is?”
“He’s muttering about the Schists, so I think he recognizes the castle entrance, now that he’s so close to the door. He’s still confused, but I don’t think he recognizes me,” said Gari. “He hasn’t said anything about you or your mom or the party. He’ll know what day it is as soon as he’s in the door. It’ll be decorated from here to Sunday for that party.”
To be continued . . .
The alligator-deficient Cast of Characters:
This story needs so many more illustrations! Select an event from this story (how about a hen laying an egg?), 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 smells like?