The Binkle and the Catawampus Compass – All the facts about it
Author, Faith Lynella – – © 2008
Please enjoy reading the first two chapters
CHAPTER 1—OVER THE EDGE
SMASH! The sound was followed by the scraping of loose rocks, which picked up speed as they tumbled downward.
“Uggg… Aaaggggggg…” was accompanied by more crashing and scraping noises… Punctuated more than once by the splintering of branches. Then more falling rocks and tree limbs clattering to the bottom.
THUD! OOMP! “Urrrrrrgg…” was followed by indistinct crashing, breaking branches and scraping pebbles… The hubbub echoed from all directions.
SLAM! Then total silence—except for the pebbles that continued to rain down on the fallen body.
The whole unsavory incident happened quickly. In no more than half a minute it was over. (Though the flattened tumbler probably felt as though the fall was going on forever.) Not that you could ask him—he was dead to the world.
Rolling the scene backwards: one moment the soon-to-be-flattened person was balanced much too precariously on the unstable edge of a steep cliff. The next moment he lost his teetering balance. His efforts to snatch a branch and save himself only hastened the inevitable. Then the ill-fated fellow’s inert body rolled, bounced, and bumped against a blur of branches as it plummeted to the earth below. It slammed into every rock or tree big enough to have broken the fall. None of them did. Somewhere on his tumble he got himself knocked out cold.
Somewhat later, that unfortunate pile of flesh woke up in a thorny thicket in the dark of night. His first thought was “Owwwww!” That was his second and third thoughts, as well. In fact, that very thought wasn’t far from his mind for days.
The banged-up body hurt in places the guy never had reason to notice before. And his spinning head was in no condition to sort out much of anything. He was pitiful—pure and simple.
The battered body belonged to Jeep. And his head-over-heels fall was courtesy of his dog, MeToo. Him and the darned truffles.
Every day after school (where he was in the sixth grade), Jeep “worked” in the large park not far from where he lived. His job was to grow truffles—a fancy type of mushroom. To this day, no one in the world understands how to cultivate truffles successfully. But his stepfather, Chris, expected to get rich from figuring out exactly how it could be done. Chris had been chasing that dream for years—long before he married Jeep’s mother.
To make Jeep’s job harder, he had to carry out his “farming” in secret—like in a spy movie. Nobody who came to the park gave Jeep a second look—just the way he wanted it. The boy looked ordinary in every way—from his short, curly brown hair, to his downcast eyes, to his ability to fade unnoticed into the background. Nothing about him stood out, making him as good as invisible.
Chris repeatedly warned him to be carefully about being found out. “Secrecy is essential! If anyone finds out we’re actually growing truffles… Well, let’s just say lots of greedy people would stop at nothing to find out what we know.”
Jeep could only look after his truffle patches when the coast was clear. Playing with MeToo provided a good cover. Other times he leaned against a tree, reading some adventure book he always carried along with him. People in the park assumed he was just fooling around—but in truth he was tending to his chores.
At the start of their farming activities, Jeep couldn’t figure out why Chris made so much fuss over truffles. They sure didn’t look like much. The blackish, knobby, mushroom-like fungus grows wild on the roots of oak trees. Specially trained pigs or dogs sniff them out under the ground, so their keepers can carefully dig up the valuable truffles before they can gobble them up.
Chris explained that the truffles’ musky smell drives people mad with romantic desire. Gourmet chefs can’t get enough of them for their la-de-da cooking. And since they aren’t raised like other crops, truffles are rare and ridiculously expensive (even hundreds of dollars a pound!).
Their “farm” was spread all around the park, wherever the full-grown oaks grew. Mostly in out-of-the-way spots. Nobody else had a clue what they were up to. Jeep relied on his compass and his hand-drawn maps to keep track of their underground patches. Many of them were in place for years—with not much to show for it. So far, anyway.
Chris and Jeep often labored late at night in the corner of the basement they grandly called “the laboratory.” Using an old microscope and simple lab tests, they compared countless combinations of soil, fertilizer, and spores (tiny truffle seeds no bigger than dust), as they tried to figure out which worked the best.
It was up to Jeep to keep precise records of all the growth data they collected. So he regularly checked the patches for signs of growth. As with most scientific discoveries, lots of tedious work must happen before discovering just the right “lucky” combination.
Whenever Jeep grumbled about doing so much boring work, Chris would say, “We’re getting nearer all the time. We’ve got to be close to success, we’ve just got to¼”
Still, Jeep wondered, If we’re so close why aren’t we seeing more truffles? But he was smart enough to keep such doubts to himself.
Between school, his truffle duties, homework, and so many chores around the house, Jeep hardly found a moment when he could read what he wanted. Yet the drearier his life, the more he counted on adventure stories to transport him to distant places and happier times—where heroes triumphed and magic was real.
It was already late afternoon when his dog approached him with what appeared to be a large truffle in his mouth.
“Hmmm… Where’d you find that, MeToo?” As Jeep reached for what he was clutching in his jaws, the dog pulled way.
“Hey! Give!” The dog scampered away, leaving Jeep no choice but to follow.
MeToo never looked back or slowed down until he reached a cluster of trees shrouded in shadows. The dog stopped suddenly at the edge of a steep drop-off. Jeep found himself in a gloomy and overgrown place that was totally unfamiliar. A clump of tangled oak roots dangled over the edge.
I don’t remember this place, and I was sure I knew every bit of the park by heart. He pulled out his ever-handy compass, trying to figure out their location. No dice, he couldn’t get an accurate reading.
“OK, MeToo, let’s have it.” Jeep bent down and patted MeToo as he reached for the truffle. The dog backed away—to the very edge of the overhang.
Jeep smiled his annoyed-but-patient, while reaching again for the truffle yet again. His voice was quiet and slow to calm the excited dog. “C’mon. Good dog! Where’d you find that?”
Expecting to get a hug along with the praise, MeToo eagerly sprang against Jeep’s outstretched right hand. The jolt knocked the compass out of his left hand. Jeep could hear it clatter down the steep incline, gathering speed as it went.
As he looked over the edge, Jeep couldn’t tell where it landed in the hazy shadows. Phooey! No way I’m leaving that here. Gotta climb down. There’s probably still enough light¼
Jeep spoke as sternly as he knew how to MeToo. “Sit! Wait here! You hear?” The dog wasn’t known for obedience—quite the opposite.
MeToo sat. But his tail end wagged around so hard, it couldn’t be described as sitting still. Jeep turned his back to the dog, hoping the sternness of his voice would restrain MeToo’s urge to follow.
“Stay MeToo! Don’t follow me,” he repeated.
With his first footstep down, Jeep knew it would be slow going. Between the steepness and deepening shadows, he couldn’t see even one step ahead. He needed to place each foot with care and could feel the unstable dirt shifting underfoot. More than once, loose rocks slid ahead of him and descended into the gloom.
Then several rocks from higher up hit him. “Oh no,” Jeep mumbled, as he glanced up quickly enough to see MeToo’s front paws anchored just over the edge of the cliff. The dog’s wide eyes were fixed on his master.
“Stop! Don’t move!”
The disobedient (and seemingly deaf) dog kept thrusting his legs forward, sending down more pebbles. A clump of dirt dislodged, slid forward, and ruined Jeep’s shaky balance. MeToo’s large, unblinking eyes were the last thing Jeep saw before he plunged downward.
When consciousness drifted in after the ungraceful tumble, horrible images of his own splintered bones and torn flesh flooded Jeep’s mind. At least I’m alive; that’s something. But then he grimaced, whether through pain or sadness. Not that anybody would care…
Once Jeep could bear to find out how bad off he was, he mentally checked himself over. Joint-by-joint, limb-by-limb: left hand—OK; right hand—OK; left arm—OK; right arm—OK; left leg…
“Owwwww!” His leg throbbed below the knee, where sharp branches had ripped his pants.
Could have been worse, I guess. Mostly bumps and scratches—except for my leg. But, how can I get back up that hill on it? Its rise seemed to grow steeper the more he worried about not being able to climb it.
I’ve gotta get myself out of this mess. But nothing’s gonna happen ’til morning. And I’m too tired to care right now. So he dozed off again.
As he swam in and out of consciousness, Jeep couldn’t ignore the rumbling in his stomach. It wasn’t the first time he’d been hungry. But then, hunger isn’t something a person ever gets used to. What bothered him more than starving was feeling so helpless and alone.
For the zillionth time, he wished for his mother and resisted the urge to cry. Crying is for babies—cold as it is, my eyes would probably freeze, anyway. He couldn’t stop his mind from replaying that horrible night the year before when his life unraveled.
A long scream jolted Jeep awake. What’s wrong? Another spine-chilling scream proved he wasn’t dreaming. Both his feet hit the cold floor even before his eyes opened. In the bedroom next to his, Jeep’s pajama-clad mother flailed about on the bed. She shrieked again.
Jeep saw Chris, his stepfather, leaning across her as he slapped her wrists again and again. What did he do? Why would he hurt her?
“Mom, you OK?” Her eyes were open but she didn’t seem to hear him.
“Listen to me! You’ve got to listen!” Chris yelled with a brutish intensity loud enough to be heard above the shrieks. She paid no attention to him, either.
“What are you doing to her? Can’t you see she’s in pain?”
“Jeep, I can’t make her stop! Call 911,” Chris groaned.
After he made the call for an ambulance, Jeep asked Chris, “What now?”
“I wish I knew¼ Nothing works.” Chris’s face was ashen—etched with fear.
More screams and thrashing about by Jeep’s mother only deepened their uncertainty about what to do for her. Not many minutes passed before Jeep opened the front door to insistent banging. Three uniformed medics brushed past him, as he pointed toward the bedroom.
Jeep watched one of them insert a needle into his mother’s arm. Her hysterical screams stopped. The desired silence brought no comfort for Jeep, however.
Going through their well-practiced routines, the team efficiently lifted her onto a wheeled cot and rolled her limp body out to the waiting ambulance. Its flashing red and white light made Jeep’s head spin, as he slipped further into an eerie, unfamiliar world. One marked by fear and helplessness. One where time seemed to stand still.
After Chris and the medics climbed in and closed all the doors, the ambulance slowly pulled into the empty street. Barefoot and still in his pajamas, Jeep stood at the curb under the glaring streetlight. He watched helplessly until the red-and-white flashing lights disappeared into the darkness.
Jeep wrestled with his fears the rest of the night. Sleep was unthinkable. He didn’t feel like going to school when the time came, so didn’t. There’s not much an eleven-year-old can do to help at such a time, but he felt the need to stand by—just in case.
For breakfast that morning Jeep made pancakes for himself, just like his mom used to make them—with colorful candy sprinkles that she called “crumbled rainbows.” He even heated the syrup, the way she did. Although he wasn’t all that hungry he wanted to pretend she was there making breakfast for him—like always.
Jeep sat at the table eating his pancakes. But midway through he started to sob and couldn’t get another bite down.
Jeep couldn’t stop thinking about his mother or her weird ways of doing absolutely everything. She bragged about being unpredictable on purpose because she was steadfastly anti-habit. She’d say, “If you aren’t careful about them your habits will take over your whole life. And that’s what shuts your brain off. Look at all the zombies walking around. That’s not being alive—their habits took over.”
Helen would explain that as long as she did a task differently every time (not the easiest or fastest way, mind you) the “habit gods” couldn’t get in control of your life. So she was constantly inventing silly and strange ways to sweep the floor, or make a bed, or wash her hair. Like rinse before you wash, or stand on one leg the whole time.
Jeep loved that about her. He missed that quirkiness about what she did as much as her ever-cheerful, can-do attitude. Every day used to be full of surprises that way, instead of the dull and tedious way they became without her.
An exhausted Chris dragged himself home from the hospital about noon.
“They can’t tell yet. They have to do some tests. She’s sleeping now—that’s all I know.”
“But when do I get to see her? When is she coming home?”
Chris just shrugged and shook his head. A sorrow rose up in Jeep that was both sharp and unbearable—a feeling which had since taken up residence in his heart. Mom was gone, and there wasn’t anything he could do about it.
No matter how often Jeep asked about his mother in the days that followed, Chris never told him anything specific. From those non-answers, Jeep suspected her illness had to be serious—too terrible to put in words. The dread of it gave him the shudders whenever she came to mind. Gradually, by silent agreement, Chris and Jeep stopped mentioning her at all—even to remember back to the time before….
Since that awful night, a whole year had passed—without Jeep hearing from her even once! Unbidden thoughts of her just brought back sadness and stirred up the fears that lurked just out of sight. Instead, he’d daydream about how things were going to be when¼ So little by little, Jeep pulled back into his private, lonely world, and only spoke when he had to.
Every time Jeep woke up in the cold darkness his mind leaped from one dismal thought to another—the only part of him capable of leaping. Sure feel rotten all over¼ Chris is going to kill me¼ I’m just a lost, unwanted orphan¼ That wasn’t exactly true, but it was close enough.
Fuzzy thoughts swam in and out of his muddled awareness. During conscious moments, all sorts of worries marched back and forth in his mind—I’m in trouble now¼ Where am I?¼ Is MeToo OK?¼
Thoughts of MeToo brought the dog’s helter-skelter image to mind—knee-high, with brown fur and large white patches, a stubby tail that wagged nonstop, and big ears that flopped. From the first day they got him, MeToo followed Jeep everywhere. So he named himself. Jeep couldn’t help but smile, thinking about how his dog greeted him—with a joyous, bouncy dance on his hind legs and tongue hanging out.
Thinking about MeToo just made Jeep worry more—for both of them. He’s out there lost and hungry, just like me. If (I mean when) I get out of here¼ But he couldn’t think clearly for long or figure out a plan that could work.
The chill wind blew through Jeep’s clothes, making him burrow deeper into the drifted leaves for the slight protection they provided. It’s cold as Narnia out here, he groaned.
Jeep tossed and turned, unable to find a comfortable position. He crawled around in the dark, feeling for a flat place with fewer brambles. His stiff fingers bumped against his compass, which he already assumed was gone for good. The familiar way it fit into his hand reminded him yet again of his mother. When she gave it to him several Christmases before, she said, “You’re never lost when you’ve got a compass along.”
Guess that means I’m really not lost. No way to use this tonight, but it might be handy come morning.
That was his first comforting thought of that long, long unpleasant night.
CHAPTER 2— IT WAS A COLD AND WINDY NIGHT
At some point during that chilly, miserable night, Jeep remembered what some hero he’d read about did in a really tough fix. Why the heck not try it? This sure looks like a tough fix to me.
Jeep scrunched his eyes tight—hoping against hope for something eerie to happen. Then he wished himself out of this horrible mess and safely home—wanting it more than anything else in the world.
As slowly as he possibly could, he took three deliberately slow, deep breaths—in… out…, in… out…, in… out….
Jeep waited at least a minute without moving a muscle before timidly opening his eyes. Nothing had changed. Nothing! I’m still lost, still hungry, and still in the dark.
He ached more with disappointment than from his body’s aches. What a fool! But I was so sure something had changed. I was so sure¼ But the evidence all around him couldn’t be ignored—everything was just as before.
A combination of anger and foolishness washed over him. What did I expect, anyway? Magic? Who do I think I am? Harry Potter? That kind of stuff only happens in fairy tales.
Until then he hadn’t quite admitted how much he had counted on a magical escape. Now even that fanciful hope was gone. Yet another crushing disappointment for a boy afraid to expect anything else.
Uncomfortable sleep faded in and out. Some time later, Jeep was awakened by rustling sounds nearby. Probably an animal… more scared of me than I am of it. In his fogginess, he thought he felt a bump against his sore leg more than once More than likely, my imagination is working overtime.
As the first daylight filtered down through the dense treetops Jeep looked around for the first time. He couldn’t believe what he saw. It wasn’t natural—that’s for sure. A broad mass of wild creatures crowded around him and extended well into the shadows. None of them moved.
Ohmygosh! I didn’t imagine all these animals. They’re everywhere! I suppose I’d rather have critters near me than be here by myself. But what do they want?
Time passed slowly and never really got light—just a fuzzy grayness. Jeep tried to sort them out—skunks, raccoons, squirrels, birds, rabbits, and a few furry lumps he couldn’t quite identify. His heart jumped as he saw the light reflected from what had to be more than a hundred shiny eyes. They’re all staring at me! He wanted to ask them: What are you doing here? What do you want from me?
The leaves that were covering him slipped aside as he awkwardly sat up. Jeep stretched his stiff arms out and swung them around to get the blood moving. Then he blew on his hands and slapped them together. It helped a bit with the coldness, but did nothing for his hunger. His wiggling around made the animals back away, but not much.
As Jeep fidgeted about he felt a slight stirring against his hip. A mouse had crept into his pocket. Jeep’s left hand slid down and fondled its fuzzy warmth.
“You can stay,” he whispered. “At least one of us is cozy.” Jeep liked the idea of protecting a furry friend. He didn’t feel so helpless as he rolled the tiny mouse in his palm and marveled at its warm softness.
Suddenly, the silence was broken when all the animals chattered, mewed, chirped, and yipped at once. Their cries grew louder until they blended into a steady, pulsing drone.
Then, as quickly as the hullabaloo started, it stopped. Complete silence! With a single movement, all the animal heads turned in the same direction.
Jeep looked where they were looking too. “Huh?!” He rubbed his eyes and looked again. That can’t be real! I must be dreaming¼ or it’s from this dim light.
There seemed to be a shimmer coming toward him. As it got nearer, Jeep saw the oldest-looking man Jeep ever saw. He stood no taller than a child, but in every other way he seemed ancient. At least a zillion wrinkles creased his face, which was softened by a waist-long beard and bushy white eyebrows. The man’s dark green hat flopped to the side, and his shapeless coat was at least a hundred years out of style.
But what made the man impossible wasn’t his weird appearance, bizarre as it was. The man didn’t look solid. He shimmered. One moment he looked normal (well, normal is a stretch, but at least he looked heavy enough to stand on the ground). The next the light was passing right through his body. But that’s not the strangest part. The man tripped and fell apart—into shattered chunks.
Jeep heard “Kittens hendrini!”
The next moment the man seemed to be back together, just like nothing had happened. So Jeep assumed his eyes were playing tricks on him. What else could it be?
The approaching figure bounced along, barely touching the ground, like a balloon lifted by a breeze. The wooden staff he carried towered over him—obviously he didn’t need it for walking. He’s strange, no question about it. The way he moves is even weirder.
The stranger (a strange stranger, perhaps) wasn’t alone. A brown and black dog, resembling an oversized Doberman, walked on his left. As the dog came closer Jeep noticed something was fastened on its back. A saddle? An ordinary-looking brown rabbit hopped along behind.
When the trio was almost up to him, the man seemed to trip again. The sound of “Kittens hendrini!” was the only indication that Jeep wasn’t having an eye problem.
With the little man so close, Jeep watched the whole weird chain of events like it happened in slow motion. What looked like a trip was more like a cracking apart, as if the man weren’t in one piece. His wrinkled face contorted in pain, like being stung by hundreds of bees. When he said the kitten thing again SNAP! He came back together again. It probably only took a second—but seemed much longer. If this is real, I’ve got no clue how the world works.
The procession stopped when it reached the circle of animals. First, the wrinkled man paused and looked kindly over the assembled critters. When he spread his arms wide he opened his mouth and a garble of deep rumbling sounds arose. What appeared to be a speech rose and fell in a steady rhythm, “Ooobo dobooo roonoo besoooboo alooooocoooooo…”
Jeep thought it sounded more like wind as it blows through the trees than any human language. But while he couldn’t follow the message, the assembled animals seemed to. Their rapt attention was fixed on the wrinkled man as though they understood every syllable.
His arms gestured as if he were making a speech or performing some ceremony. The man chanted in that way for several minutes before falling silent. After a slowly nodding pause toward the crowd, he waved goodbye. With that signal, all the animals hopped, crawled, flew, tiptoed, and slunk off—fading silently into the underbrush.
Only after the last animal vanished did the stranger turn his attention to the boy. Jeep wasn’t sure whether he should be scared or not. Am I in danger or about to be rescued?
The strange man was in no hurry making up his mind. He thoughtfully rubbed his beard while he studied the fallen figure all over at a dawdling pace. The scrutiny didn’t stop at the skin, either. Jeep felt like the man’s eyes look right into him, almost like X-rays.
Now what? He’s sure taking a long time—but I don’t intend to speak first. Jeep looked the old man over as well. But he wasn’t the least bit clear about what to make of what he saw.
Eventually, although the long drawn-out silence wasn’t broken, Jeep sensed that the man had reached some decision.
Jeep nodded. At least he speaks English. I was starting to wonder.
The man’s poking around in the many pockets of his shapeless coat reminded Jeep of circus clowns who pull countless objects from their bottomless pockets. Finally, the wrinkled face broke into a satisfied smile as he dramatically brought out what he’d spent so much effort hunting for—a single cookie.
“Harrumph. Here—eat this.” The man’s rumbling voice seemed much too large and deep for his miniature size.
“Thanks, Mister.” Jeep didn’t hesitate, despite a half-remembered warning against taking food from strangers.
Jeep pinched off a crumb of the cookie before he shoved the whole thing into his mouth. Not bad, but not nearly enough. He secretly slid the crumb into his left pocket to let the mouse gobble it from his fingers.
“Where am I? How’d ya find me?”
“Harrumph¼ Let’s go. Follow me, Laddie” was the only answer he got.
Jeep felt powerless to resist the man’s commanding voice. Besides, he badly wanted to trust him. Maybe he can help me get home.
As Jeep started to rise from his lumpy bed of leaves he stumbled, lost his balance, and fell back down. Both legs were asleep. His knotted-up muscles all screamed, No!¼ Leave us alone! It hurts too much! His next try Jeep gritted his teeth and moved with extra care.
The stranger poked his extra-tall staff at the struggling boy. Jeep ducked away, before he realized that it wasn’t going to smack him. Then Jeep grabbed it to steady himself. After several false starts and clumsy maneuvers, a wobbly Jeep finally stood.
“Can you walk, Laddie?”
“Sure. I think so,” Jeep insisted with more confidence than he felt.
With that, the man and his animals started back toward where they came from. Jeep slowly limped behind them, leaning on the staff.
A warning voice piped up in Jeep’s head, Should you trust this guy? He’s awful weird. But then, everything’s weird tonight—the fall, his arrival, and all those animals.
Although he couldn’t think of a single good reason to trust the wrinkled stranger, Jeep ignored his grumbling doubts and stumbled onward.
The odd little man dodged around rocks and trees as though following a trail that was invisible to Jeep. Sometimes he’d vanish, only to reappear further ahead. Jeep strained to stay close, but it was tough going on his tender leg. He found it easier to watch the dog since at least it stayed solid.
The strangeness kept repeating itself. The occasional sound of “Kittens hendrini!” reminded Jeep that this weird person didn’t belong in the world he was used to. And that wasn’t the only clue.
Jeep whispered to the hitchhiking mouse. “Sit tight. I’ll get us out of here—somehow. Just don’t let him see you.” His brave, protective words made Jeep feel a tad bolder.
Although they didn’t cover all that much distance, Jeep’s leg hurt so much it seemed like a long way to him. Jeep couldn’t tell what direction they went since everything in the dim, overgrown woods looked the same. There was no way he’d be able to retrace his steps.
At one point, the little man stepped behind a large boulder. But when Jeep reached it, he froze. There was no one there! And the path had ended. He disappeared—gone! Even though there’s no place to go! I’m lost again!
All the fears the boy had managed to thrust aside during his dark hours of suffering rushed in. Jeep sank to his knees—exhausted, discouraged, and weary to the bone. No more! I can’t stand any more, I just can’t!
At the point of Jeep giving up, the stranger’s voice called out, “This way,” In the same moment and without warning, his wrinkled face popped out of a hole which had been hidden in the rock’s shadow near his feet. The sight of the head without a body startled Jeep, making him titter with nervous relief. The bodiless head vanished again. And Jeep didn’t waste any time following.
Climbing down into the underground crevice was tricky and made his tender leg hurt worse. Gos h! Seems kinda like falling down a rabbit hole.
Jeep found himself in a rock tunnel, which wasn’t dark for some reason. Once out of the biting wind Jeep felt warmer. He patted the mouse in his pocket and whispered, “See, not so chilly down here. Wanna bet we’ll run into a white rabbit?”
The rock ceiling (which was plenty high for the man) was so low Jeep had to walk bent way over. Since the staff was too tall he dragged it along behind. Most of the way, the tunnel was so narrow he could run his fingers along both rock walls at the same time.
In the confined tunnel, the puzzling phrase, “Kittens hendrini!” echoed back to Jeep several more times. The reminder of the impossible cracking apart (then uncracking), on top of his fright and exhaustion, was just too absurd. Jeep fought the urge to giggle insanely. I’ve clearly lost my mind.
As Jeep limped along in an awkward crouch, an idea arose that scared and excited him at the same time. Maybe I’m having an adventure! Maybe it’s magic! I’ve certainly wished that it could be real often enough.
Any free moment he could find, Jeep had his nose in a book. His favorites were daring adventures from olden days that involved heroes or magic—better yet, both. He believed such fantastic things could happen, even to him. So somewhere deep inside him, a mixture of hope and longing stirred—just a little, but it stirred, nonetheless.
Though he struggled to walk bent over, Jeep no longer feared he’d get lost. He just had to take the next step—taking all the time he needed.
After a while the tunnel leveled off. Jeep heard the strange stranger say, “I almost didn’t get back in time.” But he couldn’t hear the muffled reply.
So he knew they had arrived. But where?
[End of Chapter 2]
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