Messenger: The Journey North - Part Five
After watching the sunset from the docks, Pecan, Thunder, and I retreated to the galley for dinner. Clark and Bluecloud were already there; Star and Midnight were taking a short nap in their room.
The ship’s cook was Arnold, a burly green Kau who also served as the first mate. The second mate, Rocky, also served as Arnold’s assistant.
Today Rocky was serving lentil stew. I happily devoured it, basking in the wonderful feeling that eating a full meal gives your belly. Loving the feeling, I readily ordered a strawberry shortcake for dessert, though I was too full to finish it.
After dinner, Clark and I retreated to our room. I turned the petpets’ crate on its side so that they could easily get in and out, and put in an extra blanket and a couple of strawberries so that they could be warm and easily get their breakfast tomorrow.
And finally, finally, finally, I flopped down onto my bed, pulled up the covers, and drifted into a deep sleep.
The rest of the trip passed uneventfully. On the fourth day we saw land, and we unloaded at noon. Without a look back at the quickly leaving ship, we trekked into the jungle.
The ship had landed right on the border between Terror Mountain and Tyrannia, so we walked toward Terror Mountain first. After about ten minutes of walking, we began to see snow. Twenty minutes later we were in Happy Valley.
The small town of Happy Valley was nestled right at the base of huge Terror Mountain. Nearly all of the inhabitants of this small mountain village were painted Christmas, although some were tourists, like us. A frigid breeze was blowing through the valley, so we stopped at a small shop at the base of the mountain to purchase some coats. And, since Bluecloud and her family are still on vacation, Clark and I hung out outside the Slushie Shop while the others played some games.
Slurping my black cherry slushie with one hand and stuffing the other into the pocket of my new red parka, I trekked across the snow toward Wintery Petpets. Clark was busy trying his hand at Snow Wars, so I was on my own for a little while.
Pecan yawned as we entered the shop. Lately the Tyrannian Gallion had taken to nestling on my shoulder while I walked, and I had no problem with that. His long, shaggy fur warmed my cheek as I entered the shop, and his brown leathery wings hugged my shoulder, making him look like a small paper airplane.
A small Bika that grew only to my knees greeted us as we entered the shop. The building had no heating but was warm with the scent of petpet breath and the aura their warm bodies gave off. A speckled Cougi was perched on the shoulder of a large Christmas Bruce, presumably the shopkeeper, sitting at a desk at the front of the room. Two or three Dofreys flapped across the room a few feet above my head and a colorful Fir pranced around the room. A pair of Gwallas glided back and forth across the room, carrying sprigs of holly festooned with mistletoe and bells.
It was utterly chaotic. In Lucy’s shop at least the petpets had been in cages. Here there were no shelves or crates in sight, and the petpets ran amuck. Back in Neopia Central, all you had to do was ask Lucy where a certain petpet was and grab a crate. Here customers had to weave their way around many petpets and scramble for their pick. I saw a dainty Christmas Aisha trip on a rampaging Jinjah while trying to grab a jolly-looking Raindorf, instead landing on an unlucky Snuffly who had been prancing across the room with ivy woven around its horns. I expected the Aisha to ignore the Snuffly and continue to pursue the Raindorf, but instead she shook her head in exhaustion and purchased the Snuffly. What kind of shop was this, where customers took what they could get and gave up on the one thing they really wanted?
Rolling my eyes in disgust, I left the shop and met Clark, Bluecloud, Star, and Midnight back at the Slushie Shop. Clark nodded in acknowledgement that I had arrived and we set off in search of Martha. I recalled that Martha had said that she was in Happy Valley, so there would be no need to go up to the top of the mountain or even the Ice Caves.
As we turned onto a street completely covered with igloos, cottages, and small houses, I opened the crate that had been carrying Pecan and Thunder and let Thunder help us sniff out Martha. Pecan immediately jumped up onto my shoulder and began making an odd purr-like sound.
“Excuse me, but do you know a Bruce by the name of Martha?” Bluecloud had had the great idea of asking the inhabitants of Happy Valley where Martha lived. The igloo Bluecloud had decided to visit hosted a plain green Zafara, a rare color here in cold Happy Valley.
“I know a Marley and a Marcus,” said the Zafara thoughtfully, tipping his head, “but no Marthas. Sorry. You’d best search another street, because I know the names of everyone on this street, and there are absolutely no Marthas.” The Zafara made to close the door.
“Thanks!” said Bluecloud brightly as the door was slammed shut in her face. She sighed. “Come on. Let’s try the next street.”
We spent the whole afternoon searching for Martha. Finally, at 5 p.m., when we were just about to give up, we found an answer.
“Yeah, I know a Martha.” The speaker was a tall Christmas Flotsam with a cooking apron and a chef’s hat. “And she’s a Christmas Bruce, too. She lives over on Jingle Bells Lane.”
“Thanks,” I said. “And where exactly is Jingle Bells Lane?”
“Two streets over to the left,” said the Flotsam. “Right next to Hollyhock Court. Seventh house on the right. It’s not easy to miss.”
“Okay, thanks!” I said, gesturing to the others. In five minutes we were on Jingle Bells Lane and busily counting out houses. Actually, I was the only one counting. Everyone else seemed to have an excuse: Midnight was quieting Star, Bluecloud was chasing Thunder, and Clark was focused on his coat zipper, which was mysteriously stuck. So I was the only one counting.
One, two, three, four, five, six... wait... it couldn’t be. I shook my head and counted again frantically. I had to have made a mistake. I had to.
“Something wrong, Emma?” Clark’s zipper had finally been unstuck and now he was turned back to me. I must have looked horrified, or he wouldn’t have asked me if something was wrong.
“Well...,” I swallowed nervously. “You see... there are only six houses on the street.”
Everyone was silent, even Star. They all stared, counting again and again, but they all came up with the same result. There were only six houses on Jingle Bells Lane.
“Let’s go talk to that Flotsam!” said Bluecloud, breaking the silence. “She must have misspoke. Martha’s house couldn’t have just disappeared.”
“That’s a good idea, Bluecloud,” I answered nervously. “You go ahead and do that. We’ll... we’ll go to the sixth house. Maybe Martha lives there.” But my words were hollow. The Christmas Flotsam had described Martha’s house as “not easy to miss”. However, the sixth house on Jingle Bells Lane was a tiny, unobtrusive cottage that was painted a drab grey and had only a few sprigs of holly strewn across the porch. The windows were dark and uncurtained. I walked forward and peered inside the drab house. There was no furniture in sight and the walls were coated with a layer of fine dust and cobwebs. I hesitantly knocked on the door, but there was no answer.
A few minutes later Bluecloud returned, along with the Flotsam from two streets away. We hurriedly explained the situation to her, and she examined the street.
“That’s impossible,” she said, shaking her head. “Jingle Bells Lane has seven houses on it. I’m absolutely certain. I walk my Tasu down here every morning and I remember the seventh house. Martha’s a very solicitous person. I even went over for dinner at her house once or twice.”
I frowned. This was impossible. It wasn’t like there was an empty lot next to the small grey house; the next street began about a yard away from it.
“Did you take your Tasu for a walk this morning?” Midnight asked the Flotsam.
“Yep,” the Flotsam said. “Every day we go out for a walk from my house to three streets down to the left. I remember Jingle Bells Lane especially, because it’s right at the end of our walk.”
“Right at the end of your walk...” I muttered. “That would be three streets away from your house... but we’re two streets away from your house... that’s it!” I brushed past the others and ran to the street sign for this street. “Jingle Bells Street,” I read aloud. “Miss Flotsam-”
“It’s Talli,” said the Flotsam brusquely.
“Talli, yes, are the three streets you pass on your walk Hollyhock Court, Jingle Bells Street, and Jingle Bells Lane?”
“I believe so,” said Talli, nodding.
“You must have mixed up Jingle Bells Street and Jingle Bells Lane. Jingle Bells Street is two streets down from where you live. Jingle Bells Lane is three streets down from where you live. So Martha lives one street down from where we are right now, right?”
“Oh!” said Talli, slapping her forehead. “Of course! Silly me! It’s so confusing, having two streets right next to each other with almost exactly the same name! Of course! So sorry. Well, I must run. My meatloaf must be burning by now. Please forgive me, and say hello to Martha for me! Bye!” Talli waved good-bye to us, jogging down the street to her own house.
“That’s a relief,” I said quickly, patting Pecan on the shoulder. “Well, shall we be going, troops?”
In another five minutes we had reached Jingle Bells Lane and had handed Thunder off to Martha. Martha was very apologetic about our mix-up and gave us some homemade peanut butter cookies and hot cocoa as comfort. Most of us were indifferent to see Thunder go, as he hadn’t had that wonderful of a personality (unlike Pecan), had been very simple-minded, and besides, we hadn’t had that much time to bond to Thunder very well.
We spent the night at Martha’s and the next morning packed up quickly to take our long trek to Tyrannia. I was excited; I had always wanted to see Tyrannia. It wasn’t until we were right on the border between Tyrannia and Terror Mountain when I realized the main reason that we were traveling to Tyrannia.
We were traveling to Tyrannia to let Pecan go.
To be continued...