The thirteenth unicorn, p.11
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       The Thirteenth Unicorn, p.11

           W. D. Newman
 
CHAPTER 8

  SPYING ON GRANDMA

  Back at the house, Joey and Jenny found their mom enjoying a slice of watermelon. She was sitting at the picnic table under the shade of the big water oaks in the front yard. On the table, a long striped watermelon had been halved, then quartered. Then, each quarter had been cut into thick slices of juicy red relief from a hot summer day. The kids all piled around the table and grabbed a slice.

  “Where did you get the watermelon, Mom?” asked Jenny. “It’s kind of early in the season isn’t it?”

  “I picked it up yesterday at that little road-side produce stand, beside the BP station. I needed to get some cabbage to make the cole slaw for your fish fry today; I saw these watermelons and had to have one. I figured you kids would enjoy it too.”

  “It’s cold!” Ben remarked.

  “Yes, I know. It’s been in the fridge all night. They are much better cold, don’t you think?”

  Ben had just taken a big bite, and with his mouth now full, and juice dribbling between his fingers and down his arms, he could only nod.

  “Hey, let’s see how far we can spit a watermelon seed,” said Joey.

  Joey went first, followed by Ben and then Jenny. Casey thought spitting was gross, even if it was just watermelon seeds. But once again, wanting to impress Joey, she took a big bite from her slice of watermelon and spit seeds with the rest of them. Ben saw Casey was no good at spitting watermelon seeds and jumped at the opportunity to finally beat her in something. Watermelon seed spitting may never qualify as an official sporting event of any kind but, if he could beat his sister at it, then it was a worthy activity in Ben's mind. He challenged everyone to a contest, then promptly trounced his sister. Rebecca, however, beat them all.

  After finishing the watermelon, they all threw their rinds over the fence for the cows to eat. Yellow jackets were already beginning to swarm around the watermelon juice on the table top, so Rebecca dragged out the garden hose to wash it off. While she had the garden hose out, the kids washed the sticky juice off their hands as well, then set off across the pasture to the Alderman farm to see the baby goats.

  The Langstons’ cows were Black Angus beef cattle. Most of them were standing in the shade at the edge of the pasture, lazily chewing their cuds and swishing their tails back and forth across their sides to keep the flies from biting. Several of them did, however, brave the hot afternoon sun for a few more tasty morsels of the sweet spring grass and clover. Casey asked Joey if they had any bulls in the pasture. Joey said that they had only one, but that he was gentle and wouldn’t harm them. Casey edged closer to him anyway. When they got to the Aldermans’ farm, Ben noticed that Grandpa had finished mowing the field. The tractor was parked back under the shed by the barn and the truck was gone. They searched the house and called for their Grandma, but they couldn’t find her either. The old Galaxy was still parked in the same spot under the magnolia tree, so they assumed that she had gone with Grandpa. After each of them grabbed a soda from the fridge, and waited for Ben to wash off the top, they strolled up to the goat house. It appeared that all of the other goats only came for Louise because they never even glanced at the four kids walking through their pasture.

  “Oh, they are beautiful,” Jenny exclaimed as they entered the stall. “What are their names?”

  “I named mine Tink and Ben named his Arnold.”

  “Arnold?”

  “Don’t ask.”

  Casey and Jenny sat down in the shavings to pet the little goats. After a couple of minutes of holding them and chatting away about everything under the sun, Casey turned to ask Joey if he was going to pet the babies too. Joey and Ben were gone.

  “Where did they run off to?” Jenny asked.

  “Hang on one second,” Casey replied. She gently put her goat down and hurried out of the barn. As she stepped outside into the bright sunshine, her eyes adjusted to the light just in time to see Ben and Joey disappearing into the bamboo patch beside the house.

  “BEN!” she screamed. “STOP!” But it was too late. The bamboo swallowed them up. Casey, feeling both angry and scared at the same time, burst down the hill in a sprint to catch them. Her heart was pounding in her chest. She heard Jenny yelling behind her, but she couldn’t make out what she was saying. All she knew was that she had to catch them before they went through the Merlin Tree. At the bottom of the hill, Casey vaulted over the fence and crossed the driveway. When she hit the loose gravel on the side of the driveway, her feet shot out from under her and she took a nasty tumble. Jenny arrived at her side, just as she was scrambling to her feet.

  “Casey, what in the heck is going on?”

  “I can’t explain now, just follow me.”

  The two girls arrived at the bamboo patch and Casey immediately plunged in. Jenny hesitated a moment, then followed. Eventually they made it to the center of the patch and Ben and Joey were no where to be found.

  “Oh no, we’re too late,” Casey cried.

  “Too late for what?” Jenny asked. “Casey, tell me what’s going on! You’re starting to freak me out.”

  “I saw Ben and Joey go in here.”

  “Well, they are not here now; they must have gone through to the other side.”

  “That’s what I’m afraid of. Listen Jenny, I know I’m acting crazy and this is going to seem crazy too, but I need you to humor me for just a moment. I promise this will make sense in just a few minutes, okay?”

  “Sure, Casey,” Jenny replied with a worried look on her face.

  “Come on then, follow me.”

  Casey took Jenny by the hand and led her to the center of the patch where a fat twisted tree stood with two small gnarled limbs sticking out like arms. The center of the tree was split just below the limbs. This split ran all the way to the ground, widening along the way and forming an arch large enough to walk through. Casey started to go through this archway, but Jenny halted, jerking her to a stop.

  “Casey, what are you doing?”

  “Jenny, just humor me. We have to walk through this tree before we leave the bamboo.”

  “Why not?” Jenny replied, rolling her eyes. “This day cannot possibly get any weirder.”

  As they passed through the Merlin Tree, Casey mumbled to herself, “you have no idea how weird this day is fixing to become.”

  Once through the tree, Casey released Jenny’s hand and plunged into the thick wall of canes around the outside perimeter of the patch. Jenny followed close behind. The canes became closer together, barring their way, but the two girls pressed on and soon tumbled out into the lush green-gold meadows of Camelot. Casey spotted Ben and Joey climbing the hill, making their way to the pine trees on top. She turned to look at Jenny, who was staring at the snow capped mountains in the distance.

  “Ben was telling the truth, wasn’t he?”

  “Yes, he was telling the truth. And he is in big trouble too.”

  “Why is he in trouble, and why did you not want us to know about this?”

  “I don’t have time to explain right now. Come on, we’ve got to get the guys to come back. This place is not safe.”

  Jenny raised her hands and cupped them around her mouth to yell at Ben and Joey, but Casey grabbed her hands and shushed her. “Keep quiet. The last time we were here, a crazy man chased us with a club. Grandma said he was harmless, but I’d rather not meet up with him again.”

  “Your Grandma knows about this place?”

  “Yes. Let’s get the guys and, when we get back home, I’ll tell you all I know.”

  The two girls raced up the hillside where, just inside the pines, they found Ben and Joey crouched behind a large boulder. The two boys were peering over the rock at a little log cabin nestled in the trees. Casey and Jenny crept up behind them.

  “Ben Alderman, you are in so much trouble!” she whispered.

  “Shhh!” Ben whispered back and pointed to the cabin.

  Casey peeked over the rock. The cabin
was small, probably one room. A thin gray stream of smoke spiraled up through the branches of the pines from a rock chimney on the side of the cabin. Casey could smell food cooking from inside the cabin. She turned back to Ben.

  “That’s probably where that crazy man lives Ben; let’s get out of here now.”

  Ben shook his head. “Grandma’s in there.”

  “What?”

  “Grandma is inside the cabin. When we came into the pines, we saw her standing in front of the cabin talking to Amos. We slipped down here so we could hear what they were talking about, but they went inside.”

  “Well, now we really have to leave. And we can’t let Grandma know we were here, we promised her we wouldn’t come.”

  “I didn’t promise her,” said Joey. “If we get caught, you tell her I went into the bamboo and ya’ll tried to stop me. I want to know more about this place.”

  “Me too,” said Jenny. “This is too cool.”

  “But that won’t work! Grandma will want to know why you decided to go into the bamboo to begin with. Can you come up with good reason for that one?”

  “I want to know more about this place too,” Ben added. “Don’t you, Casey? Aren’t you the least bit curious? And I really want to know what Grandma is up to. So, me and Joey are going to ease down to the side of the cabin and see if we can hear anything. You two stay up here and watch the front door.”

  “I really don’t think this is a good idea,” Casey whispered. “Let’s just go back now before we get into any trouble. Please.”

  Ben looked over the rock at the cabin and then back at Joey. Joey shook his head. Ben turned to Jenny and she shook her head as well. He thought for a moment and offered his sister a compromise.

  “Let us find out what Grandma is doing here and then we’ll leave.”

  “You promise?”

  “I promise.”

  “Well, what do we do if they come out?” Casey asked.

  Joey turned to his sister. “Can you whistle if the door opens? Do some kind of bird call?”

  “What kind?”

  “Do a whippoorwill. Wait, no, don’t do that one, they only sing at night time. How about a bobwhite?”

  Jenny nodded and Ben and Joey slipped out from behind the boulder and quietly made their way to the side of the cabin where a small window was located to the right of the chimney. Crouched below the open window, they could hear the conversation inside clearly.

  “Amos, are you certain?”

  “I’m positive. A unicorn has been spotted in Camelot and the witch is on the move. The last sighting was in the Great Oak Forest.”

  After several moments of uncomfortable silence, Louise spoke again. “We have to stop her. If she kills this one she wins. It’s that simple.”

  “We’ll stop her, I promise. The Blight has spread far in Faerie and the elves are abandoning their home world for Camelot, in great numbers. I’m sure they will expend all of their efforts against the witch.”

  “I certainly hope so. I know there is more at stake here, but her spell has caused our family so much pain and suffering. Surely with her death, the spell will be broken.”

  “Louise, don’t cry. Here, let me fix you some hot tea.”

  Ben and Joey heard a chair slide across the floor and footsteps retreating to the other side of the small cabin. Apparently, Louise had gotten up from the table and had gone with Amos to fix the tea, because they could still hear conversation from within, but only faintly. Then it was quiet. Both boys pressed their ears to the log wall, straining to hear what was being said inside.

  Ben whispered to Joey, “I wish that stupid bird would shut up, I can’t hear a thing!”

  Joey whirled around. There it was. “Bob-white, bob-white.” He was so intent on listening in on the conversation that he totally missed the signal. Ben saw the color drain from Joey’s face and realized that was no bird singing. Someone had come outside the cabin and Jenny was trying to warn them. Ben jumped up and scrambled to the rear of the cabin with Joey right on his heels. They turned the corner and ran smack into the giant, hairy, club-wielding man that Louise called Amos. But it was more like running into a brick wall and both boys collapsed in a heap at the giant’s feet.

  Amos had left the cabin to draw water from the well for the tea. When he stepped outside and heard the bobwhite whistle, he knew that it was not a bird. He also knew, from the direction the signal was coming from, that whoever was being warned had probably been listening in on their conversation by the window. The only place for them to run would be to the rear of the cabin. So, he sat the bucket down and walked around the other side. When he turned the corner at the rear of the cabin, two terrified little boys ran into him and collapsed at his feet. He promptly snatched them under his arms and took them inside.

  “Look what I have here!” Amos cried. “I found them sneaking around outside. Think they will make a good meal?”

  Amos sat the boys down and they scrambled away from him.

  “Ben Alderman, what are you doing here?” Louise hissed. “You not only disobeyed me and put yourself in danger by coming here, but you bring Joey and put his life at risk too?”

  Ben could not speak. His ears were burning and he knew that his face was probably bright red too. He was not going to cry in front of Joey though so he just stared at the floor and mumbled an apology.

  “Are Casey and Jenny with you?” Louise asked.

  Ben knew that their signal had not fooled Amos and that Amos knew someone else was still outside. He also knew that he would be in really hot water if he got caught in a lie right now. Besides, he really was feeling bad about disobeying his Grandma.

  “Yes ma’am. Casey and Jenny were keeping watch for us.”

  “Exactly what were you two doing while they were keeping watch for you?” Louise asked, raising her eyebrows.

  “We were by the window listening in on your conversation,” Ben replied. His ears were definitely on fire now.

  “Well, I’m very disappointed in you children. Go outside and tell Casey and Jenny to come here at once.”

  Ben walked by Amos, who was grinning from ear to ear, poked his head out the door and yelled, “Casey, Jenny! Come here! Grandma wants to see us.”

  *****

 
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