The thirteenth unicorn, p.6
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       The Thirteenth Unicorn, p.6

           W. D. Newman
 
CHAPTER 3

  GRANDMA'S SECRET

  Ben turned sideways and slipped in between the tall, thick canes. It seemed that the canes only grew close together around the perimeter, as if the bamboo patch were guarding some deep dark secret from prying eyes. When they finally made their way to the interior of the patch, the canes were far enough apart for them to walk around freely. The tops, however, were so dense and full of leaves that not a single ray of sunlight fell onto the thick carpet of leaves beneath their feet. In the very center of the bamboo patch, they discovered a strange looking tree with a thick, twisted trunk and two stubby limbs that looked eerily like arms. The tree had a huge crack in the trunk and appeared to be dead. Ben suspected the bamboo had choked the life from the tree by denying it sunshine and drinking up the rain before it could seep down to the tree’s deeper roots.

  “You check out this side,” said Casey, “and I’ll check out the other side. I’m not sure what we are looking for though.”

  “Anything that’s not bamboo,” Ben replied over his shoulder, “and snakes.”

  “Snakes?” Casey asked. “Why are we looking for snakes?”

  “So we don’t get snake bit, duh!”

  Casey punched her brother on the shoulder and then hurried off to explore her side before he could retaliate. Ben made a mental note to punch her later and began poking around on his side of the bamboo. There was nothing obvious inside the patch, so he began walking about slowly while peering into the dimly lit canes for anything out of the ordinary. The canes closer to the outside edge of the patch were dark green in color. The further you came into the patch, the lighter in color they became until, by the time you were in the center, they were a light tan with no trace of green at all. Ben suspected it had something to do with sunlight not being able to penetrate down here. He wondered if the rain could even find its way through the dense canopy overhead. After several minutes of searching and finding nothing, Casey walked up behind him.

  “I didn’t find anything. How about you?” she asked.

  Ben shook his head. “Not even a snake. As a matter of fact, Casey, I haven’t seen any bugs. No flies, no mosquitoes, no gnats or spiders. Nothing. I even kicked some leaves around and scratched around in the dirt. There’s nothing alive in here.”

  “This is kinda creepy. What do you think Grandma was doing in here?”

  “I don’t know,” Ben answered. “I don’t see anything in here that she could do. There’s nothing in here but bamboo. And that dead tree.”

  “Listen,” Casey whispered.

  They both stood still for several seconds.

  “I don’t hear anything,” Ben whispered back to Casey.

  “That’s my point,” Casey said. “I don’t hear Grandpa’s tractor, I don’t hear any birds and I don’t even hear any leaves rustling in the breeze.”

  Grandma and Grandpa Alderman’s farm was always alive with noise. During the day time, chickens were clucking, ducks were quacking, cows were mooing and goats were bleating. At night time, the frogs in the fish pond would compete with the cicadas and katydids. The frogs always won on sheer volume alone. Ben strained his ears. The silence was deafening.

  “You’re right,” he said. “I don’t care what Grandma was doing in here anymore, I just want to leave. This place is giving me the heebie-jeebies.”

  “Wait,” Casey said, “let’s check out that tree before we leave. Maybe Grandma hid something in it.”

  “That’s crazy!” Ben exclaimed. “What on earth would Grandma hide in a bamboo patch?”

  “I haven’t got a clue,” Casey answered. “But you’re the one that said she was acting suspicious and that’s the only place we haven’t looked.”

  The tree was short, the top well below the bamboo roof, but what it lacked in height, it made up for in girth. The dark twisted trunk was split down the center, forming an oddly shaped opening large enough to walk through. Ben and Casey both walked through the opening. Not finding anything out of the ordinary, they decided to leave the bamboo, resolving to keep an eye on their grandmother to see if she ever came back. They also decided to leave the bamboo on the opposite side. Maybe there was nothing in the bamboo after all; maybe their grandma was just going through the bamboo to check on something on the other side? Ben led the way through the canes. Once again, as they drew near to the outside, the canes became closer and Ben and Casey had to twist and turn to slip in between them. Finally, sunlight began to appear between the canes, and with a few more twists and turns, Casey and Ben stumbled out of the patch, into a lush green meadow. The meadow ran up a gentle slope in front of them, to a thick stand of pines on a hilltop, and seemed to encircle the bamboo patch, stretching around to the right and left.

  “It seems brighter on this side,” Ben remarked while shading his eyes.

  “It just seems brighter because it was so dark inside the bamboo,” Casey told him.

  “No, it’s definitely brighter. Look down at your shadow. It’s shorter now and it’s pointing in a different direction than it was before we went into the bamboo.”

  “That’s crazy. You’re just disoriented.”

  Casey was feeling edgy now. She didn’t remember which way her shadow was pointing before they went into the bamboo patch, but doggone, it did seem shorter. A cold shiver ran up her spine and goose flesh prickled her arms. Suddenly, she wanted to be back inside Grandma and Grandpa’s cozy little den, sitting in a recliner, sipping on a cold Pepsi and watching TV.

  “There’s nothing here, so let’s get moving. You go that way,” Casey said pointing to her left, “and I’ll go this way. That way we will have covered the whole patch. See you back in the yard.”

  Ben nodded, turned, and began walking. Casey watched him for a few seconds before she turned and started walking in the other direction. Something just didn’t feel right. The bamboo patch grew on the edge of the woods that surrounded Grandpa and Grandma’s back yard. Grandpa did have a small pasture in the woods behind the bamboo and there were usually several cows grazing in the pasture. But here, there was no fence behind the bamboo to keep the cows contained and this was no small pasture. Behind her, where there should have been tall hardwood trees, the meadow stretched out to the horizon like a great sea of green and gold. In the far distance in front of her, the meadow disappeared into some rocky foothills that led to towering snow capped mountains. That should be the Blue Ridge Mountains, but Casey knew that was not the Blue Ridge in front of her. The Blue Ridge Mountains were not tall like these and there was never snow this far south in May, not even on the highest peaks. Panic began to overtake her and she started to run. She yelled over her shoulder to her brother, “Hurry, Ben!”

  Ben picked up his pace and glanced over his shoulder. Casey was already turning the corner and disappearing from sight. He wasn’t sure but it looked like she was running. Anyway, now that he could no longer see her he began to jog. While he was trotting along the edge of the bamboo he scanned the meadow to his right. Where were the woods? He should have come upon them by now.

  A few years ago, when Ben was only six years old, he got separated from his mother when they were doing some Christmas shopping in a large mall down in Atlanta. Ben never forgot that hopeless feeling of being lost; completely and utterly lost. That feeling began to creep up on him again as he remembered the despair he felt when he realized his mother was not anywhere around. He remembered the terror he felt when he imagined, in his six year old brain, that he would never see his home again. That same terror began to come upon him now and he started running faster as he turned another corner. Still no sign of Grandpa and Grandma’s woods. He should be in the yard by now. Looking over his shoulder, in the grip of a full-fledge panic, Ben was practically flying through the tall grass. And so was Casey, when they collided together and collapsed in a tangled heap in the warm noon sunshine.

  “Did you find the house?” they both asked at the same time.
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br />   “No,” Ben said.

  Casey stared at Ben with wide eyes.

  “What’s going on here?” Ben asked with a trembling voice.

  “I don’t know. But I do know we’re not on Grandpa and Grandma’s farm anymore.”

  “Well, where are we? And how did we get here? And how do we get back?” Ben asked, his voice rising with each question.

  “Shut up and let me think!” Casey yelled.

  Ben stood up and, shading his eyes from the bright sunshine, began a thorough search of the meadow, while Casey remained seated on the ground, her head in her hands, thinking. Suddenly, she looked up.

  “You saw Grandma go into the bamboo, right?”

  Ben nodded.

  “And you saw her come out, right?”

  Then it dawned on Ben. The bamboo! He did not have a clue where they were, but Grandma had been here. He was sure of it. She had come here through the bamboo, and then returned to the farm through the bamboo.

  “Let’s go!” Ben cried, as he made a dash for the bamboo. He only made it a few steps though because Casey dashed after him, grabbing him by the legs and tackling him to the ground.

  Ben struggled to loosen himself and he even tried to kick his sister to get free, but she held on tight and would not let him go.

  “Wait,” Casey cried, “stop fighting and listen to me. I think we should go back into the bamboo at the same place we came out. What if we go in on this side and come out in a different place altogether?”

  Ben stopped struggling as Casey’s words sank in and reason began to return. “Yeah, you’re right. Now let me go and let’s get moving.”

  Casey released her brother and helped him to his feet. They brushed themselves off and set out to the other side of the bamboo patch at a brisk walk, both secretly afraid that running would bring the fear and panic back upon them. Soon they rounded the corner and the tall green pines on the hilltop sprang into view, soaring up into an impossibly blue sky. Luckily for them the bamboo grew on the edge of the meadow and the pine clad hilltop offered them a point of orientation. They walked to the spot where they thought they had come out.

  “Is this it?”

  “Yeah, I think so.”

  “But what if we are wrong?”

  Ben looked at his sister. “So, what if we are wrong. We can’t stay here, for Pete’s sake!”

  Then a deep voice ripped through the quietness and shattered the serenity of the meadow like the first thunder clap of a sudden spring storm. “Hey! What are you doing? Get away from that bamboo!”

  Ben and Casey both jumped and spun around, their hearts pounding. At the top of the hill a huge hairy man had emerged from the pines and was running toward them. Ben’s first thought was Big Foot was upon them. Then, he saw the man was draped in furs and waving a giant club over his head. Long wild hair and a beard flowed over his shoulders as he ran toward them and his eyes were so wide that Ben could see the whites, even at this distance. Ben’s feet were rooted to the ground in fear. He couldn’t move. Then Casey screamed and Ben’s paralysis broke. He grabbed his sister by the arm and together they plunged into the bamboo. They plowed through the thick canes, into the center of the patch and, once again, darkness and silence descended upon them.

  “This way,” Ben yelled, still clutching Casey’s arm. They crossed the center of the patch and plunged into the thick canes around the perimeter. A few seconds later, they tumbled out of the patch, back into the meadow on the other side. Grandma and Grandpa’s house was no where to be found. They sat there in stunned silence and then suddenly it dawned on Ben.

  “The tree,” he yelled as he grabbed his sister’s hand.

  Both kids scrambled to their feet and wormed their way back into the patch. Once in the center they could here the giant man searching for them, bellowing like a crazed beast, pulling down canes and making his way slowly and steadily toward them.

  “Hurry,” Casey whimpered.

  The two kids, still holding hands, raced through the opening in the dead tree. As soon as they were out the other side the sudden silence should have alerted them that they were back on the Alderman farm, but the kids were too terrified to notice. Back into the canes they dashed, scratching and clawing their way through until they burst out into Grandpa and Grandma’s back yard. Casey looked up at the goat house. The door was still open and she could hear Grandpa’s tractor rumbling in the distance too.

  “Come on, let’s get inside.”

  They hurried across the yard, up the steps and back into the house. Casey plopped into a recliner and grabbed her soda off of the end table, while Ben ran into the kitchen to look out the window. He wanted to make sure that the crazy man didn’t come through the bamboo after them, waving his club and looking for two plump little children to eat for supper. He watched the patch closely for several minutes, then returned to the den. Casey was standing now and looking out of the screen door. Ben walked up behind her and laid his hand on her shoulder. Casey let out a squeal of fright and spun around.

  “Don’t sneak up on me like that!” she cried.

  “Sorry,” Ben said, “we need to talk though and we need to pull ourselves together before Grandpa and Grandma get back.”

  Casey sat back down in one of the recliners and Ben sat in the other one.

  “What just happened out there?”

  Ben pushed his glasses back up on his nose and cupped his chin in his hands. This is what he always did when he was thinking. After a couple of minutes he sat up and looked over at his sister. “I think we went through some kind of portal to a parallel universe.”

  Casey stared at him for several seconds, not believing what he had just said. “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. There are no such things as portals and parallel universes. You’ve been reading too many science fiction stories and watching too much TV.”

  Ben stood, angry at his sister now, and planted his hands on his hips. “You asked me what I thought and I told you. If you have any better ideas, let’s hear them!”

  “I’m sorry,” Casey apologized. “But we were in a different place, weren’t we? Could it really be true? I think it would be easier for me to swallow if it was a portal to a different place here on Earth, and not some other world, in some other universe.”

  Ben sat back down, his anger vanishing as quickly as it arose. “I don’t know. I’m just guessing, but, yeah, we were definitely in a different place. Maybe it was even a different place here on Earth, just like you said. But what I want to know is, what was Grandma doing there? Should we ask her? I mean, I think we need to say something. What if she goes back there and that crazy man gets her?”

  “Yeah, you’re right,” Casey said, “we’ve got to say something. Let’s wait until later though. Grandma said she would take us into town to get some stuff to make ice cream. We’ll ask her then. Maybe Grandpa doesn’t know about the tree inside the bamboo.”

  “Maybe Grandpa does know about the tree and maybe Grandma is not supposed to go in the bamboo?” Ben countered.

  “Who knows? But we are going to find out. Look, here comes Grandma now.”

  *****

 
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