He looked out the kitchen window. It faced the garage. The garage door was open, and he could hear Tyler and Sally Sweet chattering over the sound of some music playing.
Jeremy casually wandered into the living and plopped down on the sofa.
“Samuel, you want to go with me?”
Samuel glanced at him. “Baseball? Naw, I’m not very good at baseball.”
“Well, maybe we can do something else.”
Samuel was looking at Sponge Bob. “Un-un, I like this.” He jumped around in front of the screen.
Jeremy leaned close to his brother. “I’m thinking about taking a trip in the picture,” he whispered close to Samuel’s ear.
Samuel turned and stared at him, open-mouthed.
“The picture?” His eyes got big. “I don’t know Jer. It was a little scary last time.” The boy shook his head.
“Oh, come on. It was fun. You loved it.”
Samuel looked uncertain.
“Let you steer the ship again.”
“Steer the ship?”
“Yeah, wear the captain’s hat and everything.”
Samuel’s eyes glistened, remembering… “Captain’s hat,” he breathed out. “Okay. When?”
“Like now,” Jeremy answered. “You go get your shoes on and a sweater and I’ll talk to Tyler.”
The younger boy got up and ran for the bedroom. Jeremy sighed and got off the sofa to turn off the TV. Holding the bat in one hand, he went out to speak to his older brother.
Back in their bedroom, Jeremy shut the door and then closed the louvered blinds by half, so no one could see inside.
He looked down at Samuel. “Shoes?” Sam nodded. “Jacket?” Sam waved it in the air. “Put it on so you don’t lose it.”
“But I’m not cold.”
“You will be, and I don’t want you trying to take mine.”
Sam grimaced and tugged on his jacket.
“Ok, I got water and snacks in my bag, so we should be all set.” He looked down at his watch. The watch had been a gift for his birthday and had lots of gadgets. One was a timer. He consulted the time schedule on his bed and set the time to 1:00 p.m. That should give them plenty of time to get home before mom. He also had a cheap Go phone. He stuck that in his bag. He had no idea if it would work in the portal, but this would be a good time to find out.
“Ready?” he asked his nervous sibling.
Samuel nodded and sucked on his lower lip.
“Grab my hand.” They locked hands and Jeremy used his free hand to press against the picture on the wall.
Instantly, the picture started to glow. The same neon colors that he remembered were there: hot pink, bright yellow, acid green, orange-red, indigo blue, a touch of black; all swirling around each other. The humming too, began again and the picture started to get warm, even hot.
With a sudden sucking sound and Pop! Jeremy and Samuel were on the other side and had landed on the same wide patch of lush, green grass.
“Whoa,” Samuel staggered up.
“I know,” Jeremy grinned, “it’s a rush, isn’t it?”
Sam looked at his brother a moment like he was crazy and then looked around. “Hey, look Jer! There’s our rock pile we built. It’s still here.” he rushed over to the stack and started adjusting the rocks. “Maybe it needs one more.”
“Come on, Sam. I want to get down to the beach.”
Samuel got too large of a rock, put it on top of the stack and the whole group tumbled over.
“We can’t. Dad said we always have to have our marker.”
Jeremy rolled his eyes and trudged over to his brother and dropped to his knees. Taking the largest rock, he put it on the bottom and built the other ones up on top. It tottered but held.
“Okay? Let’s get going.”
The boys turned to the small woods and tramped through a short distance to the giant lake they had been to before. They got to the beach and stood staring out at the blue surface. Being from Tucson, they didn’t often get to see large patches of water.
Jeremy fully expected to see the ship coming around the huge fountain in the middle of the lake. There was something coming toward them, this time, but it wasn’t the ship. He narrowed his eyes trying to see. Animals?
“Jeremy, it’s a rhino! Run!” Sam yelled and ran back toward the trees and scampered up the closest one.
Jeremy was behind him but at a more stately pace. He kept peering at the animals. Rhino? No, close. It was a hippo. A small one followed by a giraffe. He got back to the tall grasses that grew close to the forest and knelt to hide.
The hippo and the giraffe both came a few yards from the two boys and then did something very curious. They stopped, and both knelt, both front legs bent down at the knees with their noses touching the ground.
Like they are bowing, Jeremy thought.
The two animals stayed there and didn’t move. He stood up and cautiously walked through the grass toward them. He approached the hippo and put his hand out to touch it. It grunted at him and he pulled back. Then he went over to the giraffe which shook its head back and forth.
“Get on my back,” it said to him.
Jeremy jumped back in surprise. However, why anything in this place should surprise him anymore…
“Get up, come on. We haven’t all day.”
Was that an English accent he heard? Jeremy shook his head and gingerly approached the giraffe and climbed up on its upper back. With a startling jerk, the animal stood up and Jeremy had to hang onto the mane on the back of its neck to keep from falling.
“Get your brother over here,” the giraffe commanded.
Jeremy could swear it sounded like a woman.
“Sam, come on. They won’t hurt you. Come on.” He waved at his brother who cautiously stepped out from the grasses.
“Tell him to get on the hippo,” the giraffe told Jeremy.
“The hippo Sam, get on the hippo.”
Sam approached and looked scared.
“It won’t hurt you.”
Sam approached the hippo and grabbed hold and climbed up on its neck.
With a grunt, the hippo stood up and shook itself.
“About time,” it said.
Jeremy blinked. The hippo made him think of an English butler he’d seen in a movie.
The giraffe turned and looked at Jeremy a moment.
“Hold on, we need to be going. We’re late.”
With that she took off at full gallop and Jeremy had to hang on to her mane with all his might. The little hippo trotted behind on shorter feet.
“Slow up Molly, not too fast,” Jeremy heard him say.
Molly seemed to ignore this request and kept on going.
Molly, the giraffe, took long strides through the tall grass that became increasingly drier and more brown as they went. Jeremy looked nervously over his shoulder. Sam and the hippo were further and further behind them. Additionally, they were getting farther away from the lake and Jeremy’s portal.
“Don’t be worried, Master Jeremy, Jeeves and Samuel will catch up to us. He knows where we’re going.”
Jeremy nodded his head not knowing what else to say. The terrain started to remind him of an African safari. However, as he peered forward, he could see they were approaching what looked like a castle.
A red, brick castle, he thought to himself. It reminds me of something. He thought hard. They were almost upon it.
The castle was indeed red brick. There was an arched doorway at the front with a large wooden door decorated with brass studs. It was sturdy, stained dark brown with age. His eyes traveled upwards; the door was set in a round turret that went up to a round, pointed roof done in black tiles. There was a flag flying from the turret. On either side the brick walls were at least fifteen feet high with battlements at the top. There were rectangular indentations about every ten feet. The structure was bigger than an a house, certainly, but then again not quiet as big as Jeremy expected a castle to be.
“Smithsonian! That’s it!” Jeremy shouted.
“That’s what?” Molly asked him.
“That’s what this place reminds me of. It looks just like the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. We went there on vacation last summer.” He was proud of himself for finally remembering.
“Have no idea what you are talking about,” Molly responded coolly.
“Who goes there?” A guard in an old-fashioned set of grey armor leaned over the parapet and addressed them.
“Molly and masters Jeremy and Samuel to see the professor,” she called out in a bored voice.
“Okay, let me check.” There was some calling out back and forth of this guard to some other guard they couldn’t see.
“Alrighty, then Miss. In you get,” the guard shouted down at them.
“Well, of course we do,” Molly mumbled almost to herself. The large doors seemed to open by themselves. The doors were tall, but Molly still had to stoop to enter. They got into the foyer and stopped.
“Okay, then, Master Jeremy. This is where you get off.” She knelt again on her front knees and he slid off to the flag stone floor.
“Now what?” he asked her, mystified.
“Now, you go meet your Uncle and I go and meet some lunch. Ta-ta.” Molly retreated out the door again and trotted off around the corner.
In a few moments, huffing and puffing, Jeeves the hippo came trotting up with Samuel.
“That woman just cannot slow down. She’ll be the death of me,” Jeeves grumbled. Like Molly, he bent down on his front knees and Samuel slid down.
“It’s lunch for me, lads. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get some from your Uncle too. He sometimes forgets to eat.” Jeeves winked at the boys and trotted out the door and followed Molly around the corner. The large doors closed suddenly, and the two boys stood and gazed around the room.
The foyer was large, and the walls were a grey brick. It was everything Jeremy ever imagined that a Medieval castle would look like. Tapestries hung from the walls, suits of armor stood here and there. The walls were hung with crossed spears, swords and other weaponry. There was a large fireplace at one end and a giant elk head was hung over the fire.
Mouths open, the boys wandered down toward the fireplace. They got there and stared into a small blaze, overstuffed chairs were grouped around the fire. They both sank into a fluffy sofa when they would hear footsteps coming up some stairs to their right.
A chubby woman with grey hair and a big apron appeared.
“Ah, you are here. Good, good. Come with me boys. Time for lunch, then you’ll be seeing your uncle.”
They both got up slowly and the woman smiled at them and waited patiently by the stairs. “Let’s shake a leg, Uncle is waiting.”
She made shooing movements with her hands. They stumped down the rounded stairwell into a kitchen. The smell of fresh baked bread greeted them and the smell of soup.
The woman led them to a large wooden table.
“Set yourselves down. I’m Mrs. Charming and I’m the cook. The specialty today is navy bean soup and bread. How would that be?”
Both boys nodded, suddenly feeling ravenous.
Mrs. Charming set out large metal bowls and spoons. She placed a taurine of soup in the middle with a large ladle. She ladled soup into each boy’s bowl and then brought a wooden platter out with a loaf of the bread and a side of butter. She sliced the bread into thick slices and placed that in the middle of the table. Then she went back into the kitchen and came out with a pitcher of milk and poured them each a large glass of cold milk.
“There ye be. I’ll let you eat in peace now.” She whisked back into the kitchen.
Jeremy and Samuel both fell on the food like they hadn’t eaten in a month. The soup was delicious, and the bread was heavenly.
Samuel was spreading butter on another slice of bread. “Gee, I wish Mom could bake bread like this,” he sighed.
Jeremy laughed. “Like this? When did you ever know Mom to bake bread of any kind? We always get ours at the store.” He spooned himself some more of the navy bean soup.
Sam shrugged and stuffed down the bread. “I like her pizza.”
“That’s because you’re a morn. The pizza comes out of a box.”
“Hey, I’m not a moron. I thought we decided no name calling. You sound like Tyler.”
The thought of sounding like his older brother Tyler sent a shiver down Jeremy’s spine.
“My bad. We did say that. You’re not a moron.”
Samuel gave a satisfied shake to his head and stuffed in a last bit of bread. When they couldn’t eat another bite, they started to look around. The kitchen was floored with large, grey flagstones, like the foyer. At the far end of the room was a large wooden cupboard with rows and rows of gleaming china plates on display. Lining the walls on either side of the table, were long wooden counters covered with all manner of pots and pans for cooking and baking. Spoons and knives hung from racks on the wall. They were almost below ground, but tiny windows high up let in the afternoon sun.
Jeremy wiped his face on a cloth napkin (who uses cloth napkins?) and started to wander down the room looking at things. Before he got very far he could hear the chirping of Mrs. Charming coming up from some side stairs.
“There you are. Finished? Ah, good. Yer uncle will be seeing you now.”
Jeremy tried to fix her accent. English?
Mrs. Charming trotted the empty plates back to the kitchen and wiped her hands on her apron.
“This way.” She led them back up the stairs and then across the foyer. The various weapons hung on the wall glinted in the sunlight. There was another set of stairs toward the back of the room Jeremy had not noticed before. “Here we go,” she pointed up the stairs.
“We go up there?” Jeremy asked. He felt apprehensive.
She nodded at him with a smile and turned to go. Slowly Jeremy and Samuel walked up the stairs.
The stairs were wrought iron and circled around to the second floor. As they went up, Jeremy could hear a humming sound. They entered a large, well-lit room. The sunlight glinted and gleamed off of what looked like hundreds of glass jars, beakers and bits of equipment. The room had huge windows on every wall and he could look out and see the plain area they had just covered. Walking close to one window, in the distance he could see the lake and their ship, sitting at anchor.
“Wow!” Samuel said gazing around the room. His mouth open he started to wander the room.
In the center was a large lab table with a clean, white surface. There was a microscope on the table and attached to the microscope was a large man in a white coat. He had light brown hair going grey at the edges.
“Ah, here you are! Great!” The man got up and walked toward Jeremy.
It had been a long time since the boy had seen his uncle. But, now, he was struck at the resemblance to his father. They were both about the same size, big men, similar color hair…but, Uncle Al was older. Probably by some years.
“Uncle Al?” Jeremy asked.
“The same, how are you Jeremy?” Al extended his hand for a hearty shake. “Good to see you! And here’s our Samuel,” he beamed.
Samuel managed to close his mouth and come over for a handshake too.
“So, you had lunch?”
They both nodded at a loss for words.
“Great. Ah, I see you are interested in my lab.”
They both nodded; dumbfounded.
“Well, let’s take the tour and I will show you what everything is.” Uncle Al walked them around the big room giving them the tour of the equipment and what it was for. They stopped at a corner where a very large telescope sat. “Here she is,” he patted the scope. “My gal. Susan I call her. Want a look?”
They both nodded. Al picked up Sam and sat him on the stool and then pulled the scope down and pointed it at the moon which still hung like a ghost in the sky.
“Wow!” Sam cried. “Jer you got to look at this!”
He hopped off the stool and Jeremy climbed up. He peered up at the moon. It was amazing, he could see all the bumps and ridges of the surface like never before.
“Wow!” he said slowly. “This is the bomb.”
Al grinned. “Glad you like it. Wait til you see things at night!”
Jeremy got down off the stool and stood awkwardly. “Night?” he asked cautiously.
“Yes, yes,” Uncle Al nodded with enthusiasm.
“Well,” Jeremy started slowly. He glanced at his watch. “We really appreciate lunch and all but,” he glanced at the watch. “We only have so much time before we have to get back or my mom will worry about where we are.”
Uncle Al looked serious. “Of course, of course. Your mother, Alice. Nice lady. I like Alice.” He clapped his hands. “In that case, I guess we don’t have a lot of time and should get going.”
Both boys nodded at him.
Uncle Al grabbed a dark green canvas bag and began running around the gathering up odds items and sticking them in the bag. He grabbed the telephone and dialed a button.
“Mrs. Charming, those sandwiches? Ready? Ok, I’ll send the boys to get them.” He turned, you two go sandwiches Mrs. Charming has made. Now, chop-chop.”
“But, Uncle Al,” Jeremy explained, “the time.”
“Oh, yes the time.” Uncle pulled out a watch and looked at the clock on the wall. “12:00 p.m.” Then he pulled out a button on the watch, turned it, and pushed it back in. That should take care of it.” He smiled. “Sandwiches!”
The boys turned and went downstairs where Mrs. Charming was waiting. She had two brown paper bags and said, “Who has the backpack? Ah, yes, you, Jeremy. Well, here you go.”
She handed them to him and grudgingly, he stuck them in his pack.
“Why don’t you wait at the door for your uncle?”
They did as they were bid and waited by the big oak doors they had come through earlier. They had only been gone from home a few hours but already, it seemed like much longer.
Jeremy could hear his uncle tramping down the stairs. At the bottom step he paused to have some words with the housekeeper. Turning he took long strides toward them. As he did so, the oak doors opened and Jeremy could see their morning rides waiting out front. Molly, the giraffe was there, and the small hippo – Jeeves, was there too. They had been joined by a larger hippo who stood looking at them.
“Everyone hop up!” Uncle Al was like a kid at Christmas.
The three animals dropped to their knees and the boys clambered up. Uncle Al choose the big hippo for his ride.
“Say hello to my cousin, Frederick,” Jeeves stated. “Everyone just calls him Freddie for short.” The big hippo nodded his head and flicked his tail. “He’s the quiet one in the family.”
Jeremy goggled for a moment. Given Freddie’s immense size, he didn’t suppose he really needed to be very loud.
The animals started off. Before Molly had a chance to break into full trot, Jeremy leaned over to his uncle.
“Uncle Al, what did you mean with the watch and all that. That will take care of it. I don’t understand.”
“Ah, my boy, I have simply paused time for a little bit. It is 12:00 noon right now and it will continue to be noon until we get back. Thereby insuring that you get home to your dear mother in a timely fashion. I believe that takes care of the problem, correct?”
Jeremy gapped at the man. Yes, it took care of the problem and opened up an entire series of questions in his mind. Was that a magical watch? How did uncle do that? Where we they going, and then, by the way. Where in the heck we they anyway? Where was this place in the picture with the lake and the ship? Were they in heaven or in the earth or what?
His mind spinning with questions, Molly did indeed pick up speed. Before long, she was going at a near gallop and Jeremy had to hang on again to keep from falling off.
About a half-hour later, they left the tall grass area and approached some small hills. There were large rocks jutting out of the soil and rocks that seemed to tumble on top of each other. The ground began to rise. Finally, Molly stopped and looked behind her. The others were coming at a slower pace.
“This is where you get off, Master Jeremy. I can’t climb those rocks.” She bent down, and he slid off. He stood waiting and could see Samuel, flopping up and down on Jeeves and Uncle Al, much more steady and graceful on Freddie.
In moments, the other members of their party arrived. The hippos knelt, and Samuel and Uncle Al slid down from their perches.
“Ah, here we are. Good,” the scientist seemed pleased. He walked over to Molly and she put her head down and he whispered in her ear.
“Fine,” she said. “I’ll await your whistle.” She shook her head a little and trotted off toward the grassy lands. The hippos followed her.
“Where are we going, Uncle?” Jeremy asked.
The older man pointed up the hill. There was a dark opening in the side of the hill.
“There. We are going into that cave.”
“Cave?” Samuel sound worried. “I’m afraid of caves.”
“How many have you been in?” His uncle asked with a smile.
“Well, not many, but I watch TV and they always look spooky!”
“Right you are, young Samuel. Caves can be scary things. But, I don’t think this one will. Not today.”
The three tramped up the hill to the cave opening. It was very dark.
“Jer, look!” Samuel pointed to the sky. “Birds!”
“Not birds, my good Samuel,” Uncle Al responded. “Bats.”
“Bats!” both boys exclaimed.
“Oooh,” Samuel glanced upward and gripped the straps on his backpack.
Uncle gave him a comforting little hug. “They won’t hurt you. They eat insects, and this is the time they go out to feed. They don’t attack people.”
Samuel looked uncertain.
“Come on,” Uncle told them, “we’re almost there.”
They approached the entrance to the cave. Both boys were nervous. Uncle stopped and put his voluminous bag down and undid the zipper. He pulled out what looked like metal helmets.
“Put these on,” he handed them over.
Jeremy pulled his on right away and Uncle leaned over and clicked on a light at the front.
“Wow!” Samuel breathed out.
“Here, let’s get yours on,” Uncle wrestled the smaller helmet on Samuel and clipped a strap under his chin. Once that was done, he turned on the light. Samuel began to immediately dance around shining his miners’ lamp here and there.
“Look, Jer,” he chortled, “I’m a miner!”
Jeremy was also busy shining his light around by moving his head back and forth.
Uncle Al got his miner’s helmet on, turned on the light and shouldered his backpack. He got down on one knee so that he was Samuel height and was serious.
“Okay, now this is the important part. Are you listening?”
Both boys got very still and stood at attention.
“There may still be some bats in the cave and they will not hurt you if you just leave them alone.”
Samuel did an “Ooooo,” sound.
“Samuel,” if for any reason, you get close to a bat, do not try to touch it or pet it. Even if it’s on the path. Walk around it and tell me. Okay? They’re not pets.” He got back up to his feet awkwardly. “I want to hear an agreement from both of you, yes?”
The boys nodded vigorously.
“Now, there is a marked path with handrails and we always, always,” he stressed the last word, “stay on the path. We good?”
They stared at him, mesmerized.
“Okay, let’s go.”
They entered the cave which was dark. The air felt damp. Within a few feet they were on a marked walkway with metal handrails. They could see the cave walls with their miner’s lamps.
“Ooo,” Jeremy pointed. “Look at that.”
The tunnel into the cave was cooler than outside and they could see the initial formations of stalagmites and stalactites. The gigantic formations hung down from the tops of the cave and pushed up from the bottom. Massive outpourings of liquid rock, frozen for eternity in rounded white mounds hung in silence.
“They look like ice cream cones,” Samuel danced.
“Yes, they do,” Uncle had to admit. “Those on the top are stalactites that form from calcium salts and dripping water. The ones on the bottom are stalagmites, also formed from calcium salts and dripping water.
The trio went on and the ohs and ahs continued. As they went further into the cave, the formations got larger.
“Look, Uncle Al,” Jeremy grabbed his uncle sleeve and pointed. “It looks like candy.” And the formation did look like ripples of carved peppermint candy. “I can almost touch it,” he reached out.
Uncle grabbed his hand and pulled it back. “But you won’t do that. Human oils from your skin can ruin these formations, so we just look.” He smiled at Jeremy who looked abashed. “It’s okay, you’d almost think you could eat it, huh?”
His nephew nodded, and they moved on down the tunnel on the walk chattering about what they were seeing.
Samuel fell a little behind when they went around a bend. He was fascinated by the ‘candy’ rock formation. Boy, it really did look good enough to eat. If I just climb up on this fence, I bet I can touch it, he said to himself. He reached out and reached out. Then, suddenly, without realizing how far out he was, his tennis shoe slipped on the metal rail and he felt himself tumble and fall; into the darkness.
There was a scream. Uncle Al and Jeremy jerked around.
“Samuel!” Al cried.
“He’s not behind us!” Jeremy was already running down the path back the way they had come. “Samuel, Samuel,” he screamed.
Al ran behind him.
“He was right here,” Uncle Al said. “There are the marks of his shoes.”
“Samuel, Samuel,” Jeremy screamed.
“Hold a minute,” Uncle put a hand on Jeremy’s arm. “I hear something.”
They both strained to hear. A small tentative sob reached their ears.
“It’s him,” Uncle said. “Samuel, can you hear me? Samuel!”
“Yes,” a little voice came up to them.
“We’re right here buddy and we’ll come get you. Does your light work?”
There was a pause.
“I think it got broke.”
“That okay,” Uncle was frantically pulling gear out of his pack. One item of which was a glow stick. He snapped it and it glowed green.
“Just keep talking and I’m going to throw down another light. Okay, buddy?”
“Samuel, what were you doing?” his brother demanded.
“Well, I was just trying to touch the candy rock,” the little voice mumbled.
Uncle Al leaned over the railing and pitched the glow stick. It hit the wall on the opposite side and skittered off and bounced down into the darkness.
“You missed me, Uncle Al.” The little voice was sad.
Al yanked another glow stick out of his bag and snapped it. “Okay, here comes.” Slowly and carefully he aimed down. The stick fell with a plop sound.
“Got it,” a joyful Samuel said.
Peering over the railing, about fifty feet below, Jeremy could see his brother, the glow stick stuck in his fist. He leaned back and sucked in air.
“Ok, buddy. I see you, that’s good. Now, Samuel, is there a wall behind you?” Uncle asked looking down.
“Good. I want you to go and stand as close to the wall as possible and don’t move ‘til I tell you. Can you do that for me?”
There was a tentative “Yes.”
They could see the glow stick move backwards and stop.
“Are you sitting down, Samuel?”
“I am now.”
“Okay, good. Just stay there.” Uncle Al pulled out more gear and started rapidly stepping into what looked like parachute straps.
“What’s all that, Uncle Al?” Jeremy’s eyes were big.
“Spelunking gear,” Al responded.
“No, you are not. I am.” Al yanked and pulled on buckles and ropes.
“You, my boy,” Al rubbed Jeremy’s head, “have the very important job of holding the ropes when I go down in case I fall. Okay, I am quite literally, in your hands.” Al fit some crampons on the bottoms of his boots. He attached the levers to a hook on the opposite wall and wrapped ropes around the metal railing. He wrapped the rope around Jeremy’s backside and showed him how to hold the ropes.
“It that it?” Jeremy asked.
“That’s it. You’re going to feed me rope as I go down and we are both going to pray that the engineers that designed this place drilled their posts very deep into the rock.” With that, Uncle Al, started to walk backwards off the ledge and down the rock wall.
“Slowly, slowly,” Jeremy could hear his uncle’s voice getting farther away.
Jeremy’s hands started to sweat, these ropes cut into his hands and hurt. He was terrified he would lose his grip and let go. He started to wish with all his might that they had never come on this adventure.
Silent minutes ticked past and the sweat was forming on Jeremy’s upper lip and his back. He wasn’t sure how long he was going to be able to hold on.
“There you are, you little rascal.” Uncle’s voice drifted up.
There were some low mumblings. “We’re coming up, Jeremy. Hold tight!”
Jeremy held his breath, the ropes were working through the pulley and pulled even tighter on his hands. They were cutting into his palms. He felt like screaming. There was a scuffling sound and the blond top of his brother’s head appeared over the edge of the rock. There was a push from below and Samuel’s whole body shot over the side onto the path. More shuffling sounds and a clamp, clamp sound and the gloved hands of his uncle appeared over the side. The man got his head and arms over the edge.
“Pull me, Jeremy.”
Jeremy rushed forward and grabbed onto his uncle and pulled backward as hard as he could. They both fell backward in a pile and started to untangle themselves. There seemed to be ropes and legs everywhere.
Finally, untangled they both stood up. Samuel was already standing and was spread eagle against the rock wall looking for all the world like a big cry about to happen.
“Come here,” Uncle Al put his arms out and Samuel ran over for a hug and started to cry.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I was just…”
“It’s okay, buddy. You’re alright. That’s all that matters. This,” he swung his arm around, “is really a lot to take in.”
Both boys nodded.
Uncle started to repack his gear. “Sandwiches?”
Samuel dolefully pulled out a smashed lump from his pack.
“Ah. Let’s get going. I think I hear some hot soup calling my name. “
This time Uncle Al was careful to keep both boys ahead of him the whole way back to the entrance of the cave. He even encouraged Jeremy to hold his brother’s hand. He got a scowl at the suggestion but just arched an eyebrow at his nephew.
Once out of the cave, Uncle blew on a small silver whistle, and their animal rides soon appeared. They remounted and were back at the castle in a wink. Mrs. Charming tut-tutted over them and got them to eat split pea soup and bread. Uncle joined in.
“Okay, thank you, Mrs. Charming. Time these boys got home.”
The older lady gave them each a hug and kiss and it was time to go home.
As they were making their way back to the portal, a thought occurred to Jeremy. Something he had been wondering about.
“Uncle how is it that the ship can go through walls, and we can get through the portal. It’s solid, isn’t it?”
“Good question, Jeremy. All things look solid, nephew, but in truth are actually billions and billions of tiny atoms moving around in high motion. But they are so small, they give everything the appearance of being solid.”
“Oh,” Jeremy replied.
“Do you swim?”
“Do you do the breaststroke?” Here Uncle demonstrated by putting his hands together in front of himself, as in prayer and then pushing out and around himself. “When you do this stroke, you are pushing the molecules of water out of your way and therefore propelling yourself forward. That plus a little kick from your feet.”
Jeremy nodded. “So…”
“So, my device slows the particles down at a particular point, and then we push them aside and go through.”
“The portal,” Jeremy added.
“Right, the portal at one specific point, slows down matter and then you come through it to this dimension.”
“Yes, this is just another dimension, very close to your own with some slightly different rules that I have made up myself.” Uncle smiled proudly.
“Like talking animals.”
“Exactly. Like talking animals.”
“Hum. So, when we are on the ship and it goes through the door….”
“As an extension of the portal, the ship slows down space and simply pushes the molecules apart to let you go through.”
“Ah,” Jeremy was thoughtful.
“And when we get back, the time…”
“The time will be the 1:00 pm that you set the clock for because we have slowed down the time in this dimension.”
“Mom will never know.” Uncle smiled. “Unless, of course, you feel you need to tell her.”
Jeremy whipped around and stared at Samuel.
“I won’t, Jer, I promise.” His face was the picture of sincerity.
“Okay,” Samuel was uncertain.
Pretty soon they were back at the lake and close to the portal. The animals let them down and trotted away. The boys were about to enter the woods that would take them back to the portal.
“Jeremy,” Uncle waved at his nephew to come over. “Samuel, you go on ahead, we’ll catch up in a minute.”
Uncle Al gave Jeremy a hug. “I’m sorry about what happened with Samuel. Luckily, he wasn’t hurt.”
“I know,” Jeremy replied. “Mom would kill me…”
“Yes, I know. How I know,” Uncle rolled his eyes. “Maybe, next time, if there’s a next time, you can figure out a way to leave Samuel at home. It might be better.”
“I’ll work on it, Uncle Al. I will definitely work on it.”