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by Margo Fallis
Chapter 4

At the very top of the krislac tree, among the thinnest branches, sat a goowl; its sharp beak tucked snugly under its feathered wing. With closed eyes, it dreamed of swooping down on a yippimouse and carrying off in its sharp claws. A grin spread around its apricot-colored beak as his dream continued. Something shook the krislac tree, waking it. Its beady purple eyes opened wide. Lifting its head, it looked down to the lower branches. Much to its delight, it spotted two creatures climbing the tree. Aha. Breakfast has arrived. The creatures sat on a branch and cuddled next to each other before falling asleep. I’ll just wait until dawn and swoop down on them. Forget the yippimouse. These two are much bigger and look much tastier. It closed its eyes again and went back to sleep, awaiting sunrise.

                                                *  *  *

Toast woke up in the middle of the night. The moon was bright and full. Crickets chirped and tiddlebugs sang lullabies to their babies. She sniffed the air. “Xander. Psst. Xander.” She nudged him with her elbow.

“What is it? Why are you waking me?” He opened his sleepy eyes and yawned. “It’s still dark and the stars are shining.”

“There’s something in this tree with us. It’s above us and I think it’s planning to eat us for breakfast.”

Xander looked up into the dark branches and saw nothing. “What are you talking about? There’s nothing there.”

“Yes there is.” She pulled out a cornflower blue feather. “This just fluttered down. The bird, whatever kind it is, must have moved while it slept. This feather is big. That means the bird is big. We’d better get out of this tree and be on our way before the sun rises or we’re going to find ourselves being carried off to some lofty nest by a bird with very sharp claws.”

“Oh Toast. I am still tired. Okay, we’ll go.” Xander sighed.

“Try not to shake the tree. We don’t want to wake it up.”

They moved from branch to branch, getting closer to the ground. “Toast, what if there’s a bandiff waiting at the bottom of the tree for us?”

“There’s no bandiff down there. Stop being such a fraidy cat. If you wake up the bird, we’ll never live to reach the bottom.”

Xander put his foot on a branch and shifted his body weight to steady his balance. He didn’t see Toast’s hand and smashed it with the heel of his shoe. “OUCH!” Toast screamed so loud that all the leaves on the krislac tree vibrated. She dropped to the ground and ran around the tree trunk crying and holding her sore hand.

Xander jumped down, caught Toast and put his hand over her mouth. “Quiet. I think you woke up the bird.”

Toast danced around from one foot to the other. When she held up her hand, Xander saw the swollen fingers, now a bright red instead of orange. From the top of the tree came a loud screech. Toast looked up. “Uh oh. It’s awake.”

They heard the flapping of wings. “Let’s get outta here!” Xander picked Toast up and dashed through the sleeping wildflowers, stepping on several night-scavenging yippimice. Their tiny cries of anger were ignored by the running boy. He looked up and saw a dark shape swooping down on him. “It’s coming.”

“Run, Xander. It’s a goowl. They’re meat-eaters with razor-sharp beaks. Hurry!” Toast wrapped her arms around Xander’s neck and held on tight. She looked up and saw its talons only a few inches from her. Knowing death was imminent, Toast was surprised when she felt herself falling.

Xander landed on his stomach in the bottom of a crevice.  His face sunk into a pool of muddy water. He lifted himself up to his knees; drips fell from his nose. Coughing, he looked around. Toast had been thrown to the side and lay upside down, her head stuck under a tree root that bulged out from the dirt sides. “Help! I’m choking!” She struggled to pull herself out, but couldn’t.

“You’re really stuck in there good. Hang on.” Xander scooped handfuls of dirt from around Toast’s face. With a few tugs, he was able to pull her head from its woody trap. “There you go. One of us needs to have a look. Since I’m much taller than you, you’ll have to climb on my shoulders and see if you can spot the goowl.

Toast massaged her head and brushed the dirt off. “I don’t want to have my head bit off. This trench looks like it goes for a long way. Let’s follow it for a while and then I’ll have a look.” Just then the goowl flew overhead. “See, it’s still there waiting for us.”

“It’s dark and muddy in here. What if the walls cave in?” Xander put his hands to the sides of the trench.

“You’re always complaining and you’re always afraid of everything. What if? What if? That’s all I hear. So far, nothing’s fallen in on us. Come on. Give me a piggy back ride and we’ll follow this for a while and see what happens.” Toast jumped on Xander’s back.

Xander plodded along, lifting his legs over jutting roots and large stones sticking out of the dirt. As they clambered through the trench, the first signs of dawn lit the Meadows of Framlin. “We’ve walked far enough. I’ve got so many bruises on my legs now they’re probably totally black and blue. The goowl can’t still be flying around. Take a look.” Xander put the plumtuggle on his shoulders. “Can you see it?”

Toast turned her head to the left and then to the right and then she looked up. “No sign of the goowl. We can climb out now, but we need to be cautious. Those goowls are sneaky things.” Toast tried to grab the grass growing to the sides of the top of the trench. “You’re going to have to stand on a stone or something. I can’t reach.”

“How about if I throw you out?” Without waiting for an answer, Xander lifted his arms and tossed the plumtuggle onto the soft grass. “Now, how am I going to get out?” While Toast sat at the edge and dangled her legs over, humming her favorite tune, Xander walked forward, hoping to find a root or large stone to stand on. Something sparkled in the dirt on the wall of the trench. “What’s this?” He scraped the dirt off with a piece of stick. “Toast! I think I found another jewel.”

Toast jumped up and ran alongside the trench. “What is it?” She fell to her tummy and looked over the edge.

“There’s something shiny. I think it’s an amethyst.” He scraped enough dirt away to pull it out. He held it up so Toast could see. “It is! It’s precious and it’s rare. Now we’ve got two things and both are beautiful.” He slipped it in his pocket. “I’m climbing up.” Xander put one leg on each side of the trench and pushed his way up, inching his way towards the top. When his armpits reached the grass, he swung himself up.

“You’re on the other side of the trench,” Toast said.

“No big deal. I’ll just jump over it.” Xander stepped back and ran. “Watch out. Here I come!” He leaped across the crevice without any problem, landing next to Toast.

“Let me see it. Let me see the amethyst.” Toast clapped her hands with excitement. Xander took it out of his pocket. “Wow! It is beautiful. Look how purple it is. This has got to be the most precious thing in the Land of Waterberry.”

Xander showed her the diamond. “This diamond is just as sparkly. I think I made a smart decision by gathering as many as I can. There’s no telling which one it is.” He handed Toast both jewels. “Go ahead and hold them for a while. I want to write this down in my journal. How do you spell goowl?”

Toast didn’t hear his question. She was so enchanted with the jewels.

When he’d finished writing he said, “I’m hungry. What’s for breakfast?”

Toast smiled. “We’re in the Meadows of Framlin. There are a lot of things to have for breakfast if you know where to look. Here, take the jewels back.” She handed them to Xander. “You go and gather firewood and when I get back I’ll start a fire. I’ll be back with something tasty.”

“No fimbygrubs and no snails. Find some fruit.” Xander went in search of wood. Carrying an armful back, he smelled something cooking. “Don’t tell me Toast has already got a fire going.” Toast was no place to be found and there was no fire. “What is that smell? It can’t be buzzi sausages and diffo eggs, but that’s what it is smells like. I know my buzzi sausages. That means only one thing. Two of the villagers must be camped around here.” He dropped the wood and followed his nose. A trail of smoke meandered through the air, dancing like a cobra above the treetops. Creeping closer, Xander’s mouth began to water. “I’d rather have buzzi sausages than fimbygrubs any day.”

 When he parted the bushes surrounding the camp, he saw Tupi and Smov. Tupi was shaving. Xander was thankful the smell of the roasting meat was strong so he couldn’t smell Tupi’s bad breath. “Gross. Imagine how bad it is in the morning. Whew!” Tupi sat on a tree stump on the other side of the camp. Smov turned the sausages over and then let out a big sneeze. Luckily he turned his head away from the fire first. He pulled a hanky from his pocket and blew his nose. “Here we go!” Xander scoffed.  Smov blew his nose so many times that he had to get up and go into his pack to find another handerkerchief. “Here’s my chance.” Xander pushed the bushes wide apart and crept over to the fire. Using a stick, he poked all the sausages and put them in his other pocket, so they didn’t get grease all over the precious jewels. “Ooh. That’s hot.” Not waiting, he ran back to the bushes and then headed for the meadow.

Toast stood with a handful of ripe sugarapples and honeypears in her hand. “Look what I found,” she said, holding them up.

From somewhere behind the trees they heard shouts. “You filthy hog. You ate all the buzzi sausages. Couldn’t you have left one for me?”

“I didn’t eat them. You did. You’re just trying to blame me, but I know the truth.  You’re the filthy hog!”

Toast looked at Xander. “Do you know anything about this?” She smiled and winked.

He pulled the sausages out of his pocket. “I think I might know.” He burst out laughing and handed Toast four sausages. “Those are for you and these are for me.” They feasted on buzzi sausages, ripe red sugarapples, crisp and tasty, and honeypears, whose juiciness dripped onto Toast’s fur and ran down Xander’s chin. “We’d better get out of here before Tupi and Smov figure out it was us.”



Fimbygrubs – plumtuggles love to eat them. They bite the head off and suck out its insides. Also great to use for fishing bait. Can be roasted over open fire and eaten

Honey pears – light greenish yellow peel, white fleshy fruit; grow all over Land of Waterberry

Meadows of Framlin – between Appleworth and the Hills of Jeshar

Tiddlebugs – bugs that come out at night and sing like crickets. Have brown bodies, six legs and long feelers (antenna)

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