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Plumtuggle
by Margo Fallis
Chapter 16


Toast opened her eyes. Sitting in the purple-leafed tree above her was a purple bird. Its feathers were the color of ripe spigs. She almost couldn’t see it. When the bird chirped her eyes moved to a lower branch. “Hello pretty purple bird.” It chirped again. It was joined by another chirp. Toast looked at the orange-leafed tree. An orange bird sat on a limb chirping. Soon dozens of other birds began to chirp. Each bird was the color of the tree it perched in. “This is like a choir.” She smiled and listened to the music. The sun rose over the horizon and the chirps got louder.

Xander woke up. “What’s all that noise?” He sat and looked around.

“Be quiet. We’re being serenaded by the birds. Listen.”

Xander heard the birds singing. “A nice way to start the day. I’m hungry. What color of fruit do we want today? Diamonds, garnet or jade?”

“I prefer amber,” Toast said. She giggled and plucked an orange fruit. They feasted until full and pocketed the jewels.

With the sun well over the horizon they gathered a few more fruit for later and headed north. It didn’t take long for Xander’s back to get sore from carrying all the gems. He didn’t walk straight and stiff; instead he was bent over and trudged through the forest. Soon the trees thinned and instead of green, purple, red, and orange trees, prickly plants sprouted from sand. “We’re in the desert now. At least we’re going the right direction. We have to walk through the desert all afternoon, but by night we should be out of it. I hurt.” Xander rubbed his back.

“Toss some of those jewels. When we finally do find something rare and precious, you won’t have room for it. Throw some of those garnets and pieces of jade and amber away.”

“No, Toast. I never want to be homeless again. Even if I don’t get the most precious thing, this is enough to build a house and have food and nice clothes.”

Toast shook her head. She didn’t say another word. The two of them plodded on through the hot desolation. Several hours later, after all their fruit was gone, Toast thought she saw something. “I’m not sure if that is real or if I’m just seeing one of those mirage things, but I think there’s a man standing next to those rocks.” She pointed.

“If you’re seeing a mirage, then so am I. It is a man. Not only is it a man, but I think it’s Blumb Yibtung.” Xander scoffed. “Watch out for him. He’s got a nasty habit of spitting. It’s simply disgusting.”

Blumb saw Xander and the plumtuggle. He waved his hand. “Hello!” He shouted their direction. When he recognized who it was, he called, “If  it isn’t the orphan boy from Appleworth.”

Xander and Toast walked up to him. “If it isn’t Blumb Yibtung. What are you doing out here in the middle of the desert?”

“I could ask you the same question. I saw one of those gicky birds flying by and you know what they say about gicky birds, don’t you?” Blumb gawked at the two of them.

“No, what do they say about gicky birds, Blumb?” Xander leaned against one of the boulders.

“They say,” Blumb said, “that if you see a gicky bird and follow it, it will lead you to a field of gold, where nuggets grow on every bush and tree. That’s what they say. I followed the bird, but a sand storm came up and I lost it.”

“What’s a gicky bird? I’ve never heard of one before.” Toast questioned the big man.

“Little plumtuggle, a gicky bird has golden feathers that shine in the sunlight. Their beaks are made of glass and when they sing, their music makes the bushes grow more gold nuggets. Anyone who catches a gicky bird will be rich for the rest of their life.”

“We’ve not seen a gicky bird.” Xander wiped his brow.

“What are you two doing out here anyway? It’s a bit too hot for a plumtuggle, isn’t it?”

“I’m just fine,” Toast said. “We were in the Rainbow Forest.”

“Ah. The Rainbow Forest. I’ve heard stories about that place. They say that there are trees of every color and the fruits have jewels inside, instead of pits. Is that true?” Blumb spit on the ground near Toast’s feet.

“Please don’t spit on me.” Toast stepped backwards. “That’s a disgusting habit. I think…”

“Don’t lecture me, little one. Now, what about the jewels?” Blumb spit again, but turned his head away from Toast and Xander.

“Yes, there are jewels there, just like you’ve heard. If you share your food and drink with us, we’ll pay you with a jewel we picked.” Xander patted his pockets.

“I see. So the stories are true. I’ve got plenty of food and several bottles of water. Let’s sit on the other side of the rocks, in the shade and have a bite.” Xander and Toast followed Blumb. They gobbled down two bottles of Nectarine wine and water, an entire roasted plef and a handful of qugnuts. “Sorry that you have to eat the qugnuts by themselves. I didn’t have time to baste the plef with them.” He spit on the rock. Xander and Toast nearly gagged watching it drizzle down to the sand.

Toast and Xander were grateful to have something to eat. “It’s too hot to walk further. Maybe we should travel across the desert at night.” Xander looked up at the sun.

“There’s only another hour or two walk until we reach the edge of the desert, but if you want to wait, we’ll wait. I suggest we take a wee nap so we’ll be refreshed.” Blumb pulled his hat over his face and closed his eyes.

Xander and Toast leaned their backs against the boulders and dozed off. An hour later Xander woke. Toast was shaking him back and forth. “Xander! Xander! Wake up. Blumb’s gone!”

Xander jumped up. “What do you mean?” He looked around and realized Toast was right. His hands went to his pockets. All of the jewels were gone except for one piece of jade. “He stole our jewels.” Xander collapsed on the sand. “He stole our jewels and left us with nothing but this.”

“We should just go back to Appleworth. Nothing’s working out for us. Let’s take the one piece of jade and go home, Xander. I’m hot and I’m tired and I feel sad.” Toast fell next to Xander and cried. “I just want to go home.”

Xander heard a noise. “What’s that?”

Toast wiped her eyes and listened. “It’s probably Blumb. He’s coming back to take the last jewel.”

“It doesn’t sound like someone walking. It sounds like a snake slithering across the sand.”

“A big snake?” Toast’s eyes bulged out with fear.

“Yes, a very big snake. In fact, it sounds like a…”

A large head cast its shadow on the boy and plumtuggle. They lifted their gaze and saw two sharp fangs shining in the morning sun. “It’s a blarkee!” Toast backed away from the boulders, keeping her eye on the creature. It’s long, snake-like body writhed and wrapped itself around the rocks.

Xander moved back to join Toast. “I think we’re in big trouble.”

The blarkee hiss. Its slimy blue tongue darted out of its mouth and wrapped around Toast and Xander. It lifted them in the air. Xander looked down and saw the blarkee had no legs, no arms and a fat body that wriggled and jostled around each time it moved. Its skin was like cow hide, but with silvery bumps. Long purple hairs poked from each bump. At first he thought the blarkee was going to eat them, but it lifted them even higher and then uncoiled itself from the boulders. It used its tail to open the door to a wooden cage and then it shoved them inside, releasing them from the tongue’s grasp.

“Ick! Ugh!” Toast wiped the slime off her fur. “That thing is the most disgusting thing we’ve seen yet. I thought it was going to eat us, didn’t you?”

Xander had never seen a blarkee before and couldn’t take his eyes off it. Without answering Toast, he wrote some things in his journal and drew a picture of it.

“Xander?  What are you doing? We’ve got to escape. I know what blarkees do. They put you in a cage and then take you back to its nest. Once you’re there they seal you up in some disgusting jelly stuff and leave you there until they are ready to eat you. Unlike bandiffs, blarkees like their meals to be decomposing. We’ve got to escape. Put that journal away.”

“We’re not going anywhere for a while, Toast. I might as well draw this while I can. If I see that we’re going to be sealed in jelly, then I’ll toss it aside somewhere and someday someone will find it and know of our story.”

Toast sat down and dangled her legs from the cage. The blarkee slithered across the sand with the cage hanging from its tail. “This thing must be a hundred yards long. I can hardly see its head from here.”

“It’s taking us to Lake Wite,” Xander said.

“Uh oh. There’s a huge blarkee colony at Lake Wite.”

“I thought they lived in the desert?”

“They stay in the desert all day to hunt, but at night they go home. They travel great distances each day. After looking at the size of this blarkee, it’s easy to see they can travel a lot. They’re huge!” Toast used her hands to demonstrate the size. Xander finished drawing and then wrote a few poems. Toast glanced at his journal. “What are you writing? Are you writing poetry?”

“Don’t make fun of me, Toast. Even though it’s desert here, it made me think of writing a poem about it. Would you like to hear it?”

“You’re a strange person, Xander. Okay, let me hear it.”

“The sun beats down on my head.
  Sweat trickles and runs like a raging river
  Dancing on my skin, energy and calm.
  Around me I see yellow sand
  Whipped by the wind, floating down, down, down
  And mingling with the drops of moisture
  Tingling my skin, roughing it like sandpaper
  And I laugh, for nature is beautiful.”

Toast scratched her head and gazed at Xander without speaking. “Uh huh. That was interesting. And you thought this up all by yourself. I see. Hmm.”

“I’ve got another one. Would you like to hear it?” Xander turned a page.

“Is it as good as the one you just read?” Toast rolled her eyes.

“It’s even better.” He recited,

“Slithering across the burning sands
A blarkee moves towards its home,
It’s silvery bumps shining in the sunlight
Move like accordions, wriggling the purple hairs
Up and down, up and down.
I watch from above, the movement of its obese form
Jiggling like lard, or jelled drippings from pork bellies.
My cage is wooden, like bars holding my soul,
Saving me from burning feet if I had to walk.”

            Toast didn’t move. She simply stared at Xander. “What can I say. That was definitely better than the first one. Um, you’re quite a poet, aren’t you?”

            “I’ve written another.”

            “No! I mean, no thank you, Xander. I would like to just shut my eyes and have a little nap. Wake me when we get to Lake Wite.” Toast curled in a ball and turned away from him.

            “I guess I’ll write a few more poems. I’m not tired.” Xander scribbled in his journal, snickering now and then as he thought of something funny to write about. When he looked up he saw trees in the distance. He shook his friend awake. “Toast. Toast. We’re there.”

            Toast yawned and sat up. “How long did I sleep?”

            “About four hours. It’s after noon now. I’m starving. I hope there’s something to eat there.”

            “I don’t think blarkees care if they fatten us up first before they encase us in slime, or maybe they do? I hope so. I’m hungry too.” Toast watched the trees come closer. She got her first glimpse of Lake Wite.

            The blarkee dropped the cage among a grove of glumvo trees. A few of the wooden bars snapped in two when it hit the ground. Toast and Xander looked at each other, both thinking the same thing. They pushed and pulled the bars back and forth until three of them fell off. A hole big enough for them to squeeze through, invited an escape.

“You go first,” Xander said.

            Toast stepped through the hole and looked at Xander, still trapped in the cage. “That was easy. Your turn now.” Xander squirmed and pushed his way out of the cage. “You did it! Let’s get out of here.”

            They turned to flee and ran right into another blarkee. Xander turned in a circle. There were at least twelve blarkees gawking at them. “Psst, Toast. Do you speak blarkee?”

            “No. What sort of language do blarkees talk?” The plumtuggle whispered back.

            “We speak the same as you do,” one of them said.

            Xander and Toast gulped. “Oh.”

            “Sigmund, take these two creatures to the clearing. Begin the cocooning process. The rest of us will be counseling with each other on today’s evening feast.” Henog, the largest of the blarkees spoke.

 

Glossary:

Gicky bird - has golden feathers that shine in the sunlight. Their beaks are made of glass and when they sing, their music makes the bushes grow more gold nuggets. Anyone who catches a gicky bird will be rich for the rest of their life.

Spigs – a fruit that is purple, grows in the Land of Waterberry.


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