(If you’d like to, you can read the previous chapters here.)
THE STORY SO FAR: Jonah’s parents were recently eaten by a demon, and he is on a quest to get them back. So, with his friends Stuart the salmon, Humphrey the troll and Calisto the harpy, he is traversing the dimensions to find a way to stop the demon and get it to spit his parents out. After several escapades they have finally arrived at Toy Land, a place where the ground is cardboard, people are plastic and water is equivalent to doomsday. Too bad Stuart’s a fish.
Someone gasped behind Jonah. Looking over his shoulder, Jonah saw a six-foot-tall man. His eyes were bulging from his face. His jaw was slack in terror. And his whole body, including his clothing, was made of green plastic.
“Is — is that. . . water?” the green man gasped, his gaze trapped by the lightly sloshing liquid in the aquarium.
Humphrey cleared his throat as he rose. “Allow us to explain.”
The man didn’t. An eardrum-rattling shriek escaped his throat and, turning, he scrambled away from the group as quickly as his feet — which were fused to a peanut-shaped green base — could take him.
“Well,” said Calisto. “We’re off to a great start. Shall we?”
Stuart sighed. “I wish I could say it was going to get better from here, but I can’t.”
“You can’t help what you are, Stuart,” Humphrey said, standing and straightening his bowler hat.
“So where are we going?” Jonah asked, taking the wagon’s handle in hand.
“Well, if we are seeking an army to help us fight the demon, the only logical choice would be the king and queen,” Stuart said. “Perhaps they will grant us our request, if for no other reason than to be rid of my aquarium as quickly as possible.”
“Which direction are they?” Jonah asked.
“Let’s make our way to the nearest town and find out,” Stuart replied.
“There seems to be a road drawn this way,” Calisto said, fluttering up into the air.
She was right. A path looked to have been marked onto the cardboard with two six-inch stripes of black permanent ink. The space between the lines was covered with a light dusting of gray particulate and texture, while on either of the far sides the ground ran wild with flocked grass.
“Follow the grey textured road,” Stuart said.
“Follow the gray textured road,” Jonah replied.
“Follow follow follow follow, follow the gray textured road,” Humphrey concluded.
“Argh, I’m trapped on a quest with raging cinephiles!” Calisto moaned.
“You agreed to come,” Humphrey said with a shrug.
“You tell her, Humphrey,” Jonah said, grinning.
Calisto glared at him. “Do you have something to say to me, Jonah?”
Jonah just shrugged and started pulling the red wagon down the path. The smile, however, didn’t leave his lips.
* * *
As the light started to slip from the day the troop entered a wood. Mighty plastic trees towered up toward the sky and flocked underbrush crowded around the road, blocking the distance from sight.
“Cuckoo, cuckoo,” some bird intoned from the depths of the forest. A minute or two later, another one replied.
“It’s sounds like cuckoo clocks going off all around us,” Jonah said.
“I think those are this world’s version of owls,” Stuart said. As if in response, a trapdoor in a tree popped open and a wooden owl trundled out of the hole. It cuckooed musingly, then wheeled back into the tree’s depths while the little door snapped shut again.
“It’s getting dark,” Humphrey said. “Perhaps we should consider making camp.”
Calisto snorted. “Good luck with a fire. Unless you like the smell of burning plastic. Or cardboard.”
Humphrey smiled. “I actually might be able to help with that.”
“How, Humphrey?” Jonah asked.
“Did you ever wonder, Jonah, how no one ever saw me in your basement but you?” Humphrey asked.
“Yeah, actually, I did,” Jonah said.
“Well, it’s because I can travel through shadows, if I know where my destination lies,” Humphrey said. “I won’t be able to take all of us elsewhere, unfortunately, but I can at least get us some blankets, and possibly bring a fire to us.”
“Capital idea, my good ogre,” said Stuart. “Let’s go off the road and find a nice place. Just be careful, Jonah. We don’t want to accidentally hit any rocks.”
The quartet found a break in the underbrush and pulled off in search of a spot to spend the night — preferably one with some shadows.
“Ah, perfect,” Humphrey said as they came upon a little cove overshadowed by trees and brush. “I shall return presently.” Then he stepped through the shadows and vanished.
Several minutes passed.
“Think he’s okay?” Jonah asked, frowning.
“Just give him a little longer,” Stuart said. “I’m sure he’ll be back any second now — there we are.”
The shadows seemed to ripple, and then Humphrey stepped through them. His sizable arms were filled with blankets and a tusky grin stretched his lips.
“Those look. . . lovely,” Calisto said with a shiver.
“Why Calisto, I think that is perhaps the first non-contrarian thing you have said since we left Ms. Finch’s,” Humphrey said, draping a blanket over her and wrapping it around her legs. Then he turned to Jonah. “I brought you this, Jonah,” he said, laying down a thick, warm, wonderful sleeping bag beside the boy.
Jonah beamed. “Thanks, Humphrey!” he exclaimed, scrambling down into its depths. Then he frowned. “Hey, what about you, Stuart?”
Stuart laughed. “Oh, no need to worry about me, Jonah,” he said. “I couldn’t use a blanket if I wanted to. But I do appreciate your concern.”
“I have one more surprise,” Humphrey said. He dropped the rest of the blankets on the ground, then stepped back into the shadows. A second later flames crackled from within them. Humphrey stepped out, and a campfire’s light pierced the gathering dark.
“Whoa! Awesome!” Jonah said. “How does that work?”
“There are enough shadows still near its base to allow me to pull it into this world without burning the cardboard,” Humphrey replied. “Once it dies back down the shadows will all return and the coals will fade to home. Now we can be warm without burning down the whole world.”
Calisto sighed. “I do love a good fire,” she said. “Thank you, Humphrey.”
“You’re welcome, Calisto,” he replied.
* * *
They had been walking and rolling all morning when the plastic forest finally broke, making way for open flocked cardboard. The sky was painted a lovely blue with puffy cotton clouds hanging beneath it. The sun, meanwhile, washed the world in warmth.
“It has turned out to be a lovely day,” Stuart said.
“Indeed,” Humphrey said. “It almost makes one not miss living things rather than plastic.”
“Well, it is living in its own way,” Stuart said. “Just not in –”
“We have company approaching,” Calisto said.
Jonah squinted. Sure enough, there was a group moving towards them from what looked like a collection of hodgepodge structures.
“Is that a town up ahead?” Jonah asked.
“It would seem so,” Calisto replied. “Be on your guard, everyone. Judging by how we have been received thus far, I don’t have high hopes.”
Humphrey cleared his throat. “As hard as it is to admit, you may very well be right, Calisto,” he said.
The figures in the distance stopped and waited for Jonah and company to come to them. At last, they did.
Jonah surveyed the collection of toys blocking the road before them. They were a varied assortment, to be sure. He recognized the plastic green man who they had seen before, and with him were a troll doll with towering neon pink hair, a Weeble Wobble, a stuffed bear, and a tin soldier. The whole group was shaking and looked ready to bolt. All, that is, but the tin soldier. The soldier stood stiffly at attention while the others cowered behind him. His steely eyes surveyed the approaching group, his composure cool and collected. Jonah wasn’t sure if he wanted to avoid him, gape at him in awe, or play with him in a really rousing war campaign.
“Halt,” the tin soldier said. “You shall not pass.”
Humphrey chuckled and Jonah snickered.
“Did I say something humorous?” the soldier asked.
Calisto groaned. “And so the intrepid group of cinephiles soundly trounced the only hope they had of moving forward through Toy Land,” she grumbled.
“My good man,” Stuart said, “I assure you that we mean neither you nor anyone in your fair realm any semblance of harm whatsoever. We are travelers seeking aide against a beast so terrible that it threatens not only your whole world, but all of the others as well. I am dreadfully sorry that we have come to you bearing such a disagreeable package as I am currently swimming in, but I assure you it was necessary as I am a fish.”
The tin soldier shook his head. “I understood next to nothing of what you just said, creature,” he said. “Other worlds? A terrible beast? A fish? The only thing I truly know is that either you or the substance you travel in are a potential threat to Toy Land. And I shall treat you accordingly.”
“Excuse me, sir,” Jonah said. “I don’t mean to talk back to my elders, but I can’t let you stop us. My parents are in danger. And I have to save them.”
The tin soldier’s eyes narrowed. “What strange beings you are. I hardly see a swath of plastic or metal on any of you. Some cloth, to be sure, but otherwise. . . You’re not meat-creatures, are you? I have heard whispers of your kind, but had always taken them for legend.”
“I assure you, good sir, that we are not legend,” Humphrey said. “And, as the boy said, we have important business at the capital. Could you, perchance, point us in the correct direction?”
“I fear I cannot, giant meat-creature,” the tin soldier said. “Gentletoys, seize them!”
What will happen next to our intrepid heroes? Will Jonah save his parents? Will they all waste away in a Tinker Toy jail? Will the man of tin turn out to have a heart of cotton? Find out whenever I get around to writing the next chapter! =D
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God bless you, and talk to you next time!