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Plumtuggle
by Margo Fallis
Chapter 11


“What a great day! The sky is blue, the sun is shining and our clothes are completely dry!” Xander rubbed his hands up and down his body. “There’s still enough food for breakfast, though the sound of a tasty buzzi sausage makes me wish we had more than sweets.”

“I know what you mean. They say that you can find some of the biggest

clabber-rats in the Land of Waterberry right here in these hills. If we could just catch one or two, we could have a feast,” Toast said.

            “I remember my grandmother making clabber-rat stew. I’d put my spoon in the bowl and find big chunks of meat. I miss my grandmother.” Xander leaned against a tree.

            “What happened to your family, Xander? How did you get to be an orphan?”

            “About two years ago my mother asked me to go to the barn and milk our blue moo. Her name was Creampuff.”

            “Creampuff? What a silly name for a blue moo.” Toast giggled.

            “She might have had a silly name, but she gave the best milk. My mother made cheese and butter almost every day. Grandmother came to live with us after grandfather passed away. I went out to the barn with a bucket and sat down to milk Creampuff. The bucket was full, but instead of going right back into the house, I went to check on the yippimice traps. I smelled smoke and by the time I got back to the house, there was nothing much left. My mother, father, grandmother, and twin baby sisters, Ilka and Silka died in that fire. I had nowhere to go. I’ve lived in Appleworth since then, trying to survive. When I heard about Grazan’s quest, I had to try. Now do you see why it’s so important? If I win the prize, whatever it is, I can buy myself a new house and not have to live under the bridge any more.”

            Toast wiped the tears from her eyes. “I’m sorry, Xander. I don’t have any family either. I can be your family and you can be mine.” She smiled at the boy.

            “It’s too pretty a morning to be sad and gloomy. I’m hungry for some roasted clabber-rat.” Xander gathered their belongings and they headed up the nearest hill. “I wonder how Pussel and Nomg are doing. They’ll be furious when they realize their rubies are gone.”

            “Try not to think about it. If I remember correctly, clabber-rats live inside empty glumvo trees. I see a cluster of them up ahead, at the top of that other hill. All we have to do is watch out for womp ants,” Toast said.

            They ran up and down the grass-covered hills. “We’d better be quiet. Clabber-rats have a keen sense of hearing.” Xander slowed down to a walk as they approached the trees.

            “How are we going to catch them? We don’t have any rope or any traps.” Toast whispered in Xander’s ear.

            “Look. There’s one over there. Let’s follow it.” Xander watched the clabber-rat run down the tree trunk into the grass. They ran after it.

            “I don’t think we can catch it, Xander. Maybe the person who lives in that cottage over there will give us something to eat,” Toast said, pointing to it.

            They stopped running. “You’re right. Clabber-rats are too hard to catch and not worth the effort. I wonder if anyone lives in that cottage. It’s covered with ivy. I can hardly see the outside walls.” They walked closer and stopped in front of the door. A wind chime hung from a hook. It rattled and clanged in the breeze. The glass beads blew against each other, making a tinkling sound. Xander reached for it. “The beads remind me of glass marbles. I never had any of my own, but I used to watch the other boys in the village play with them.”

            “Should we go inside? I don’t hear any noise and I’m really hungry.” Toast knocked on the wooden door. “Nobody’s answering.”

            Xander turned the knob and opened the door. Its hinges creaked as he stepped inside. They stood there gazing at the room. “This is unusual.”

            Toast’s gaze roamed the room. “Unusual? That’s putting it mildly. Wow! It’s bright and colorful in here.” A china hutch stood against one of the walls. Its shelves were filled with plates, pitchers, teacups and soup tureens, all decorated with fancy flowery designs. On top of the hutch were dozens of statues of stone gargoyles. “Gargoyles?” Toast gulped.

            “They don’t really match with the rest of the room, do they? Why would someone collect gargoyles? Look at them. They’re all made of stone and remind me of the ones all over the towers and parapets of Castle Lialy.” Xander stood on his tiptoes, hoping to see them better.

            “Xander, forget about the gargoyles. Look at these.” Toast stood in front of a wicker basket, overflowing with grapefruit-sized balls. She bent over and picked one up. “It’s made of glass.” She held it up to her eye and turned to look at Xander. “You’re all green.” She giggled and picked up another.

“I’d be careful not to drop those. This isn’t our cottage and we shouldn’t even be in here.” Xander warned the plumtuggle. His eyes wandered to the couch. Six pillows, embroidered with sunflowers, lay scattered across. On a table sitting next to the couch, stood a hand painted, mouth blown glass carafe with an etching of a sunflower on it. “This person sure likes sunflowers.”

“They like sunflowers as much as they like gargoyles,” said Toast.  In middle of kitchen table were three vases filled with sunflowers, mixed with bright orange creamtails and pink bubbaloos. Stems and green leaves stuck out between the flowers. A bowl full of yellow, orange and green fruits, hidden by the flowers, gave off a citrussy aroma.

The walls and floor were bare except for one wall. “That’s odd. The walls have nothing on them except for a picture of a door painted on it.” Xander rubbed his hands over the design. “This is weird. It’s part of the wall.”

“Why would someone paint a door on a wall? Why didn’t they just build a real door? Oh well, I’m hungry. You play with the door. I’m going to see if I can find something to eat.” Toast ran into another room.

A grandfather clock stood on the floor, reaching just below the ceiling. It chimed. Xander forgot about the door and stood in front of the clock. The chimes sounded distant, yet vibrated his ear drums. On the eleventh chime noises came from behind Xander. He turned to see the painted door, now open. “Toast! Come in here. You won’t believe this.”

The plumtuggle came running back into the room. “The door opened? How did it do that?”

“I don’t know, but it opened when the clock chimed eleven chimes. It looks like poppies outside of it. Should we go through the door and see where it leads to?”

“I don’t know, Xander. What if the door shuts behind us and we can’t get back in?” Toast hesitated.

“I’ll put something in front of it so it can’t close all the way. How about that basket of glass balls?” Xander pushed the basket in front of the door. “There. Now it can’t shut and we can come back through whenever we want.”

“Okay. I guess we’re safe. I couldn’t find anything to eat. Maybe there’s a sugarapple tree out there.” Toast and Xander stepped through the door. A blast of warm air hit them. “Whew, that’s hot.”

Xander unbuttoned the sleeves of his shirt and rolled them up. “It is warm.” Just then a blue lizard ran across the dirt path in front of them. It stopped and looked up at Xander. “Hello, lizard. I’ve never seen a blue lizard before. How did you get that color?”

Not expecting the lizard to reply, Xander was shocked when it said, “I was born blue. What are you doing here? I’ve never seen the likes of you before.”

“It talks,” Toast said, nudging Xander’s leg.

“Yes, I can talk. My name’s Clanci. And you are?” The lizard stood on its back legs.

“I’m Xander and this is Toast.”

“Welcome to Goobagog.” Clanci reached for Toast’s hand.

“Goobagog? I’ve never heard of that. Are you the one who painted the door on the wall in that cottage?” Xander bent down to shake Clanci’s hand.

“What cottage?” The lizard looked behind the boy and plumtuggle.

“Why this…” Xander gulped when he saw nothing but a field of bright reddish-orange poppies. “Where did it go? It was there a moment ago?”

“Xander, how will we get back inside? Are we stuck out here forever?” Toast climbed on Xander’s back. “I don’t like this place.”

“There’s nothing to be afraid of. Goobagog is a safe place. You’ll find your way back when the time is right. Follow me,” the lizard said, running through the poppies. Xander ran after it, carrying the plumtuggle piggy back.

“Where are you taking us?” Xander saw nothing but poppies for as far as he could see in every direction.

“You’re looking for something rare and precious, aren’t you?” Clanci asked.

“How did you know that?” Xander gasped.

“I know a lot of things. Just follow me and you’ll see.”

After running over three hills they came to a forest. At the edge of the forest was a clearing. “Do we have to go in there?” Toast didn’t want to get lost in the trees.

“No. Close your eyes, both of you.” The lizard ran around in circles. A few minutes later it said, “Now open them.”

When Xander opened his eyes he gasped with surprise. “Where did all these come from? Look, Toast. It’s the glass balls.”

Hundreds of balls, just like the ones in the basket they’d used to keep the door open with, danced in the air. They floated like balloons, bouncing gently up and down. There were aqua blue balls, crimson red balls, olive green, orange and buttery yellow balls. “What are these things?” Xander reached for one.

            “Uh uh. Don’t touch them. These are made of Goobagog crystal. They’re magic balls,” the lizard said.

            “They’re worth a lot of money, aren’t they?” Toast smiled, seeing her reflection in one of them.

            “They’re priceless. Would you like one to take home to the Wizard Grazan?” Clanci saw Xander’s eyes glow with delight.

            “I’d love to. May I pick one?”  Xander laughed out loud.

            “There’s only one that you can have. It’s the color of a tropical sea. It’s priceless too, but I’ll let you take it, provided you give me something.” The lizard’s tail swayed back and forth.

            “I’ve got nothing to give you, except what’s in my back pack.” Xander slipped it off his shoulders. “What do you want?”

            “I want your ruby.”

            “My ruby? But, that’s very rare and valuable and…”

            “If you want the crystal ball, you have to give me the ruby. Take it or leave it.” The lizard ran around Xander’s feet.

            Toast whispered into Xander’s ear. “The glass ball seems to be very valuable. I’ll bet none of the others bring back a ball made of Goobagog crystal.”

            “You’re right,” Xander whispered back. “All right, Clanci. I’ll give you my ruby, but take good care of it. A dragon gave it to me as a gift. Where’s the glass ball?”

            “Aha, that’s the trick. You have to find it yourself.”

            “But there are hundreds of these things. How can we find it?” Toast started counting them.

            “Give me the ruby first and then I’ll help you.”

            Xander took the ruby out of his pocket. “Are you sure these are valuable? You wouldn’t trick me, would you?”

            “Oh no,” Clanci said. “I’d never do that. The ruby please.” The lizard put its hand forward to get it.

            Xander gave it to him. The lizard rubbed it all over with its tiny hands. “Magnificent.”

            “Now, where’s the tropical sea colored crystal ball?” Xander tapped his foot. “You said you’d help us find it.”

            “I did say that, didn’t I? It’s over there.” The lizard pointed and then ran back into the poppies.

            “Come back here,” Xander shouted. “Now what are we going to do?”

            “The lizard said it was over there, so we’ll go over there and look.” Toast scratched the top of her head.

            They moved in the direction as instructed. Shiny balls jiggled about, swishing back and forth and turning in circles ever so slowly. The sunlight shone through them, causing a rainbow to appear on the ground. “It really is pretty here.” Xander stood watching the light dance on his legs and feet.

            “There it is. That one is tropical sea colored, isn’t it?” Toast pointed to one that seemed to be larger than the others.

            “You’re right, Toast. That’s it.” Xander grabbed it with his hands. “Got it. It feels so smooth and polished.”

            “I’ll bet it breaks easy too,” Toast said.

            Xander put it in his pocket. The minute he let go of it they found themselves back in the cottage. The painted door was now shut and merely a drawing. “Wow!” Xander reached into his pocket to see if the ball was still there. It was. He sat down on the couch.

Toast jumped off. “I’m hungry. I think I’ll go and see if there’s something hidden in the pantry to eat.”

Xander took his journal out and wrote about their day’s adventure. When he was finished, he took out the Goobagog crystal, the diamond, the amethyst and the topaz. “Toast, I wish Clanci hadn’t wanted the ruby. That’s the jewel Firestorm gave us. It’s our only token of our time with Cinder.”

Toast came back through, her cheeks full. She swallowed. “You didn’t have to give it to the lizard. You could have kept it.”

“I know. You’re right, but this Goobagog crystal must be more rare and precious. What are you eating?”

“I found a loaf of brow bread. It’s sort of stale, but edible. Do you want some?” Toast broke a chunk off and gave it to Xander.

Xander sniffed it. “It is a bit dry, but it is food.” He bit into it and swallowed.

“I wonder who lives here. The flowers in the vase are fresh. Maybe we’d better get out of here before they come back and find us.” Toast ran over to the window. “I don’t see anyone out there. Do you think these balls are made of Goobagog crystal too?” She reached down and picked one up. To Xander’s horror, the crystal ball grew larger and swallowed Toast.

Toast pounded on the glass. “Get me outta here!”

“Toast? How’d you get in there?”

“I don’t know. It just ate me.”

Xander looked for an opening in the ball, but when he touched it, it grew and swallowed him too. He found himself inside the glass ball with Toast. “Now how did that happen?”

The front door creaked open. Xander and Toast had no choice but to sit there, trapped inside, as the ball floated through the air, out of the front door and into the sky. It went higher and higher, nearly to the clouds and then it stopped and floated south.

 

Glossary:

Blue moo – much like a cow, with two horns, patchy blue and white leathery hide, gives milk and eats butterloos and grass.

Castle Lialy – the only castle in the Land of Waterberry, remote. Once home to an ancient royal family, but now is uninhabited.

Clabber-rats – found in the Hills of Jeshar. Used to make stews and taste good roasted

Clanci – a blue lizard, lives in Goobagog, talks

Creampuff – Xander’s blue moo

Goobagog – a magical place on the other side of the painted cottage door in the Hills of Jeshar. Famous for its crystal balls.

Ilka – Xander’s baby sister, a twin, died in fire

Silka – Twin sister to Ilka, Xander’s baby sisters who died in fire


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