They moved ahead into the obsidian jungle, One Son leading the way from above. The moon refused to rise. Branches slapped long-legged Little Lindsay’s face, now an exact amount tall at so many feet and inches. (Do the math. Forty-eight inches plus seventy-nine inches plus sixteen inches equals how many feet?)
They walked in silence. Little Lindsay heard noises coming from way up in the tree canopy. “What’s that hacking sound?” she asked One Son.
“It’s time for the Cougher Monkeys to get high in the trees. They’ll be hungry soon. If you have any popcorn in your backpack you’d better hide it well.”
Little Lindsay didn’t think she had any popcorn in her backpack but was nervous all the same. It was warm, damp and dark. She thought she saw eyes piercing the night, following her every movement. Or were they hallucinations? She wasn’t sure.
Horse-sensing Little Lindsay’s uneasiness, “How much further, Belcher?” Millie wanted to know.
“We’re almost there. This is a sacred place. I have to ask you both to close your eyes and keep walking. Put your hand on Millie’s rump, Little Lindsay, and follow her. Ready?”
Millie and Little Lindsay closed their eyes and made their way forward one small step at a time.
“That’s it, keep going. You’re getting closer… closer… closer… and…”
BONK! Millie walked into a giant tree. “Ow! Stupid monkey, you did that on purpose!”
One Son laughed heartily. “Ha-ha-ha! Hey horse, why the long face?” and laughed at his own joke.
Little Lindsay tried to be serious, but it was hard. “Are you alright, Millie? That wasn’t very nice, One Son,” but she started to giggle in spite of herself.
“Stupid monkey,” Millie said, then she started to giggle. Laughter being contagious, soon all three were laughing out loud.
“Did you hear that? BONK!” One Son said through tears of mirth. “You sound like a ripe watermelon! BRA-A-A-AP!”
“Ew. Ugh.” More laughter.
“Excuse me!” came a voice from the tree. “Uh, excuse me! What’s going on here?”
“Oh, hello Pepe!” One Son said. “Sorry, we were just testing this horse’s head against the tree.”
“I thought I heard someone knock. You’re a little late for the game, though. It’s almost over.” Pepe the pizote looked at Millie, then scanned Little Lindsay from the bottom up. “Wow, you’re a long one. What are you, roughly eleven point nine one six six six feet tall?”
“Uh…” Little Lindsay said.
One Son hopped down to the ground. “Hey Pepe, who’s left in the game?”
“That would be Sleepy Sally,” he said. “I was done after Aaaron but stayed to watch. I think Sally may be wearing old Ma out!”
“I wouldn’t bet on it. That is, if I had anything to wager. BRA-A-A-AP!”
“Jeepers, Belcher.” Pepe the pizote looked peeved. “Haven’t you ever heard of breath mints?”
“No. Got one?”
“Of course not, I—”
“Then BRA-A-A-AP! Serves you right for not bringing enough for everybody. Is there room inside for us? The girl has to speak with Lemu-eel.”
Pepe the peeved pizote rubbed his proboscis with both paws. “Hmm, let me see. A horse, a twelve-foot human, and a Belcher with horrific halitosis in an area about as big as ten pineapples, five small invertebrates and a large zucchini. Should work out fine!” he said. “Go right ahead!”
“Oh yeah, I forgot about the horse and ‘stretchy’ over here.” One Son rubbed his jaw.
“Thanks for reminding me.”
“No hay problema.”
“Perhaps,” Pepe went on to say, “if we could get the dog to come out we’d have enough room.”
Little Lindsay straightened up so fast her head hit a tree branch. “Ouch. Amber?” she asked.
“I’d say more on the beige side of the spectrum, but she keeps telling us she’s amber. Whatever rolls your log, I say.”
“Amber!” Little Lindsay cried out again, and immediately shrunk to her normal size of forty-seven and three-quarter inches.
Little Lindsay threw her tiara that had two, long antennae—each sporting a pink, fuzzy thing unknown to this Narrator—away and charged the opening of the tree trunk.
“Hey wait!” Pepe yelled after her, but to ears that wouldn’t listen.
“Little Lindsay!” Millie called through the opening.
Sleepy Sally was a sloth.
The more she played the more she lost.
She thought she had old Ma beat,
That is, until, she fell asleep.
It was dark and creepy inside the giant tree with the long branches and sky-high canopy. Little Lindsay had to slow down and feel her way forward through the roots and vines criss-crossing her way. Water dripped from above, while puddles surrounded her feet. “Amber?” she asked, quietly. “Where are you?” There was a glimmer of light not far ahead. She made her way closer until she could see the back of a hairy animal and stopped. Nothing moved. No sound could be heard except the beating of Little Lindsay’s heart. “Amber?”
“Little Lindsay, is that you?”
“Amber!” Little Lindsay rushed forward into the small opening. There, lying on the ground, was Amber. Within her two paws was a small, brown puppy who was fast asleep. It was a tiny thing, no bigger than an average papaya, and it had some scratches in places where his fur was missing. All in all he looked pretty beat up, but was resting comfortably now in the embrace of his savior.
“Lemu-eel told me you were on your way here with Millie and One Son,” Amber said to Little Lindsay. She looked at the pup. “Isn’t he cute? I simply had to save him from that callous cat.”
Little Lindsay looked at the puppy adoringly. “Now I know why you ran away. I understand.”
“Yes. I saw you were in good company, Little Lindsay. And you’re not as little a Lindsay as you used to be, when you were littler.”
“You’re growing up.”
“That’s for sure. Up and down and up and down… I get nauseous thinking about it.”
“No, I mean you’re getting too fast for me. I’m an old lady, almost ready to retire. You need someone who can look after you during the next stage of your life. And I need to get out more! I love this place! It gives me happy feet that won’t hold still! So much to smell, so little time…”
“But… but… Amber!”
“Don’t worry, not-so-little Little Lindsay. We’ll find Mommy and Daddy together. They’ll make junior healthy again and all will be perfect.”
Little Lindsay and Amber couldn’t take their eyes off of the sleeping puppy—curled in a tight ball and snug between Amber’s warm, dry paws. “He’s Lucky,” they both said at the same time, then laughed.
“What is this, Improv night? Don’t forget the buffet! Can’t you see there’s an important game going on?” Pepe the peeved pizote stood in the entrance to the tiny alcove hidden underground. All eyes turned to the players. Lemu-eel lay coiled on a rock, her head down. Sleepy Sally had her back to Little Lindsay and was motionless. One could say the scene was more like a painting than real life, for all the movement it lacked. With cigars and a poster of Dogs Playing Poker the imagery would have been staggeringly, breathtakingly, bizarrely, redundantly boring.
“What’s happening?” Little Lindsay whispered.
“Sally’s all in. Everything, including the sun crystal she found—though who knows why Lemu-eel is interested in the shiny object, maybe because she’s vain—is on the table. Ma called and Sally went to turn her cards over.”
Little Lindsay waited patiently.
Drip-ploink. Drip-ploink, the water said.
“And promptly fell asleep.”
“Asleep? She fell asleep? Right now?”
“Yep. Been that way since sunset.”
“So what happens next?”
“We wait, maybe till sunrise.”
“What?” Little Lindsay moved to get a better look at Sleepy Sally the sloth. Sally had two playing cards between her three toes, face down. Her arm hovered over the flat root that was their playing table but didn’t move. If Sally wasn’t a sloth she’d be a good marionette, for she sat as still as wood. To say that she looked like a statue would be cliché, but apt. Her eyes were closed and her thin mouth seemed to be smiling. Or was it? To ride the fine art metaphors to death, one might even think Sleepy Sally was the narcoleptic equivalent of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. (Or not.) “We have to wait until she wakes up?”
“I do.” It was Lemu-eel who spoke.
Little Lindsay bumped her head again. “Ouch!”
“But you don’t, Little Lindsay.”
“How do you know my name?”
“I read lips. I’m happy that you have arrived safely. Please make yourself comfortable, if that’s possible. What a pain it is having all those extremities, what?”
“What what? Never mind.”
Little Lindsay realized she was holding her breath tight in her chest.
“Breathe,” Lemu-eel exhaled the word.
Little Lindsay remembered the moment with Mister Swift when time disappeared. It made her feel calm.
“That’s it. Yes-s-s-s-s.” Lemu-eel’s voice was soothing. They sat in silence for a while, with only an occasional drip-ploink to mark the passage of time. “It’s difficult to read an opponent who is asleep,” Lemu-eel said of Sally, “but not impossible.” She emitted a low, pleasant vibration in Sally’s direction. “Leave her be. The new mother needs her rest.”