The thirteenth unicorn, p.18
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       The Thirteenth Unicorn, p.18

           W. D. Newman


  It took everyone a while to reach the round chamber because they had to open every door and explore every room in the tunnel. Most of the doors opened up into small rooms that required nothing more than a cursory glance. Some of the doors, however, opened up into large rooms. These large rooms required a few minutes of exploration in order to make sure that Ben, and the three dwarves, did not pass through them to get to another passageway. When they finally made it to the end of the tunnel, and entered the round chamber, they all groaned in dismay for all around the walls of the round room were thirteen doors.

  “We’ll never find him,” Joey moaned.

  “Not standing around complaining we won’t,” Louise snapped. Everyone’s nerves were frayed by now, especially Louise’s. “I’m sorry, Joey, I didn’t mean to snap at you. Let’s leave this door open and we’ll work our way around the room in clockwise fashion.”

  “Hey, there are numbers on these doors,” said Jenny. “They look like phone numbers.”

  “What’s a phone number?” Amos asked, as everyone walked over to look at the doors more closely.

  “Amos, I’ll have to explain that to you some other time,” said Louise as she walked from door to door. “Ah! Here it is.”

  Casey came over to look at the door her grandma had stopped in front of. “That’s our phone number. Way to go Ben.” Once inside the dwarves’ home, they found the letter almost immediately. Louise read it aloud.

  Dear Grandma and Casey (and Joey and Jenny and Amos),

  I hope that everyone is Okay. I am fine. Horrible creatures called snakers had captured me, but I managed to escape and I am now with three dwarfs named Hob, Nob, and Gob. If you get this letter, please do not come looking for me, but stay here until we return. We are going to their home in the mountains to get some help to fight the snakers. There is enough food here to keep you for a couple of weeks. We should be back before then. I love you and miss you all.




  Do not go into any of the other doors in the round chamber. The doors will not stay open - they are fixed to close slowly. When they close, they lock and cannot be opened from the inside. All of them are dead ends. Do not even open those doors. If you try to open more than one of them at the same time, the doors will close and the floor will spin.

  Louise dabbed at the corner of her eyes with her sleeve. “If any harm comes to him I’ll skin those fool dwarves alive. What were they thinking, taking him off like that? He’s just a child.”

  “The dwarves will protect him, Louise. He is much better off with them than he is on his own.”

  “I suppose you are right. I just wish they would have waited here a little longer.”

  Amos patted her on the shoulder. “He’s going to be fine now, so don’t fret. You kids help Louise take stock of the supplies, while I have a look around outside.”

  Amos walked out onto the porch and down the steps. He circled the yard once and found the trail Ben and the three dwarves traveled down earlier. The path led down the hill into the forest. The earth was well worn and packed hard from much use. Through the trees, Amos could see a lake in the valley below. Feeling a sense of urgency that he could not explain, Amos shape shifted into a bear and followed the trail to the lake as fast as his four legs would carry him. He found the place where Ben and the dwarves had boarded a boat. But there was still something bothering him. Something he could not quite put his finger on. Then it hit him. It was an odor. Very, very faint but an odor nonetheless. It was an odor that made the hair along his grizzly back bristle and stand on end.

  Back at the dwarves’ cabin, Louise, Casey and Jenny were going through the pantry in the kitchen, while Joey plundered through the trunks and wardrobes in the small bedroom. The pantry was well stocked. There were two salt cured hams in burlap sacks hanging from the rafters, along with dozens of strings of dried beans and herbs. Two large barrels and two wooden crates were tucked away in the corner. One barrel was filled with dried fish and the other was half full of bright red apples. The two crates contained potatoes and onions. Louise left the pantry and began rummaging through the shelves in the baker's cabinet, where she found an assortment of pots, pans, mugs and dishes. Selecting an iron skillet and a sharp knife, she instructed Casey to bring her one of the hams and Jenny to bring several potatoes and an onion to the table.

  “We may as well fix something to eat, while we wait on Amos to get back,” said Louise, as she began peeling the potatoes. “Casey, grab another knife from that cabinet and help me peel these potatoes. Jenny, see if you can find enough plates, cups, and utensils for the five of us.”

  Within a few minutes, Louise had the skillet full of potato wedges, onion rings, and thick slices of ham. While she raked some coals onto the hearth, Jenny and Casey set the table.

  “Where did Joey get to?” Casey asked.

  “He’s still in the bedroom,” said Jenny.

  Casey walked over and peeked into the bedroom. Joey was sound asleep on one of the beds. Louise came up behind Casey and laid her hand on her shoulder. “That’s not a bad idea. You and Jenny should grab a quick nap too, while you can. I’ll wake you as soon as Amos gets back, then we’ll eat and figure out what to do next.”

  “I think I will,” said Casey.

  “I think I will too,” Jenny added, when she walked up and saw Joey stretched out and sleeping peacefully. Both girls picked a bed and laid down on the soft, straw-stuffed mattresses. In just a matter of minutes, they too, were sleeping soundly. Louise decided to watch over their meal and pass the time away rocking, while waiting for Amos to return. The rocking chair, even though it did not have any cushions, was surprisingly comfortable.

  “Louise? Louise? Wake up.”

  Someone was shaking her and calling her name. Slowly, she floated up from the depths of slumber and as the chains of unconsciousness fell away, she opened her eyes to find Amos leaning over her, gently shaking her and calling her name. The smell of onions, potatoes, and ham filled the air.

  “Oh no, our meal,” Louise cried, jumping up from the rocker. “I hope it didn’t burn!”

  “The meal is fine. I checked it and removed it from the hearth. Let’s wake the children and eat. We need to discuss where we go from here and I fear we haven’t much time to decide.”

  The food was delicious. Everyone devoured their portion and washed it down with ice cold water, drawn from the well in front of the house. Poor Amos could not fit his knees under the dwarves’ table and had to sit on the floor to eat. He would have looked comical, if the news he had were not so grim.

  “I followed Ben’s trail to a lake at the bottom of the hill. The trail ends there, at the lake, on a small sandy beach.”

  “What do you mean by that?” Louise asked.

  “It looks like they boarded a small boat and paddled out into the lake. If I am not mistaken, this lake is the one called Long Lake. It is fed by many mountain streams, but empties into one very large river.”

  “The West River?”

  “Yes, the West River. The one that runs straight through the middle of the Twilight.”

  “You don’t think those fool dwarves will try to ride the river through the Twilight, do you?” Louise asked.

  “No, dwarves stay away from the Twilight. They think it’s cursed. And it is cursed for anyone who enters without permission.

  “What’s the Twilight? Joey asked.

  “It’s a forest where the elves live,” Amos replied, “a magical forest. Anyway, I think they will ditch the boat before they get to the Twilight and set off on foot from there.”

  “I don’t want to sit around here and wait for them to return,” Louise interrupted. “I want to go after them.”

  “We will,” said Amos. “But we can’t leave just yet. There is a very, very large group of snakers heading our way. I don’t think they know
the house is here, but I’m certain they will find it when they get to this side of the lake and pick up Ben’s trail. They are ruthless trackers, Louise. I don’t want to set out chasing Ben, with them chasing us.”

  “Well, what are we going to do then?” asked Louise.

  “We’ll make a stand here. I’ve got a plan that just might work. If it doesn’t, then we’ll have to back track toward home and take the long way around.”

  “What do we need to do?” Casey asked.

  “You and Louise pack up some food and look for anything else we might need. Jenny, pull a chair over to the window and be our lookout. If you see anything move, yell. Joey, drop the deadbolt on the front door and come with me.”

  Amos arose from the floor and headed to the closet which lead to the round chamber. Joey bolted the front door shut and followed Amos into the chamber.

  “I’m going to open this door and I want you to count and see how long it takes to close.”

  “That’s one of the dead end doors,” said Joey.

  “I know,” Amos replied, with a smile.

  Amos opened the door and Joey began counting. The door moved so slowly that you could not tell it was moving unless you stared at it. While Joey was counting, Amos opened the door to the tunnel that led to the ledge and disappeared inside. Several minutes later, he was back. Joey had counted to three hundred and seventy five and the door had only moved a few inches.

  “Keep counting,” Amos said, “and come let me know what number the door closes and locks on.” Amos went back into the house and got the supplies Casey and Louise had put together and moved them into the tunnel. Then, he went back into the house and relieved Jenny at the window.

  “What exactly are you planning?” Louise asked.

  “When the snakers come, you and the kids will go into the tunnel that leads to the ledge. Leave the door open for me. I’ll come behind you and leave the closet door open so they will be sure to find the chamber. I’ll also open one of the dead end doors before I come into the tunnel with you. Once we are in the tunnel, we will bolt the door shut and wait. Joey’s timing the dead end door now to see how long it takes to close.”

  “You think the snakers will fall for that?” Jenny asked. “I thought you said they were excellent trackers.”

  “They are. But there are stone walls and stone floors in there so there will be no tracks to follow.”

  At that time, Joey came back into the house. “Eight hundred and fifty seven! Or nine minutes, if I go by my Timex. The door only moves slowly for the first five minutes and then it starts closing faster.”

  “What’s a Timex?” Amos asked.

  “It’s a watch,” said Joey, pulling up his sleeve to show Amos. “It let’s you know what time it is.”

  After Joey showed Amos his watch and explained how it worked, Amos sat on the floor by the window and began his vigil. The minutes crawled by and as the afternoon wore on, the silence and waiting had everyone on edge. After what seemed like hours, Amos finally spoke in a soft whisper. “They’re here. Let’s get moving, quickly now.”

  Louise and the children scrambled to their feet and darted into the chamber with Amos following close behind. Amos opened the dead end door that Joey had timed and then ran into the tunnel with the others. He swung the door shut, dropped the deadbolt, and made everyone retreat down the tunnel, about a hundred feet.

  “They should be in the house by now. Let’s wait awhile and give them time to find the chamber.” They waited for about fifteen minutes before Amos told Joey to start timing the door on his watch. After nine minutes elapsed, they waited another ten minutes for good measure before approaching the door to the chamber. Amos made everyone stand back.

  “I’m going to go through and check things out. Lock the door behind me and wait until I get back. If I don’t return, go back the way we came and head back to my house. From there, strike out across the plains and head to the castle at Overlook to seek help.” With that said, he slipped through the door and Joey dropped the deadbolt back into place. In just a few minutes, he was back and banging on the door. Joey slid the deadbolt back and cracked the door to peep out.

  “Come on,” Amos said. “It worked.”

  “How can you be sure?” Jenny asked. “There are no tracks in here, remember?”

  “No, but there are many tracks in the dirt leading to the front porch steps and there are no tracks leading away. Let’s get our supplies together and get moving. I want to get as close as possible to the Twilight before dark. Snakers are terrified of elves and will not come anywhere near their forest.”

  The group divided the sacks they had stuffed with supplies, and before leaving the cabin, they each, with the exception of Amos, found a cloak from the dwarves’ bedroom to wear. Amos found a broad axe under one of the beds. The dwarf’s axe was like a hatchet in his hand and when they went outside, he cut each one of the children a staff from a small grove of young poplar saplings, growing near the cabin.

  “Everyone needs a staff for walking. A good stout staff for long journeys is invaluable,” he said as he passed them out. He glanced over at Louise who was quietly watching him. Her expression was grave and somewhat sad and resigned. Staffs really were great for walking, but she knew why they were really needed. As they set off down the trail to the lake, with the children behind them, Amos and Louise both prayed that the only thing they would use these staffs for, would indeed be just walking.



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