So, nothing new on the guitar front, but chapter fourteen, with a special guest illustrator, my son-in-law, Nathan Roberto. I think you'll agree that he and Martha should be illustrators for children's books. I hope you enjoy.
It was dark. Mr.Popper couldn’t see a thing. Where was he? Where had the escape door taken him, and most importantly, where was the tiger who had jumped through the door with him? With his hands he could feel walls on both sides of him. The opening, or more like a tunnel, was very narrow; just wide enough for one person. He could feel overhead. The ceiling was just a few inches above his own head. In front of him, maybe 100 yards or more, he could see a dim light. “That must be the way out,” he thought to himself.
Just then he heard a rustling behind him, then the sound of panting. He could hear the click of claws on the floor and the smell of sweat and cat fur. It sounded as if it were fifty yards or so behind him, but it was too dark to see anything. Mr. Popper stayed very quiet and counted the steps of the large beast behind him. The scratching of toenails let him know that the feline was heading his way, but going slowly. He guessed that he hadn’t been detected yet. There was only one chance. Mr. Popper would have to beat the tiger to the exit.
He braced himself and took a deep breath, realizing that as soon as he ran, the tiger would hear him. With everything that he had, Mr. Popper took off as fast as his feet would carry him. As soon as he began to run, he could hear the tiger racing behind him. He figured he had maybe a sixty yard head start, by the time the tiger heard him, but he knew that a tiger could easily out run a man. He hoped and prayed it was enough. The light in the distance grew brighter as he approached it. He could feel his heart beat in his throat as he breathed hard. His lungs began to burn and sweat ran into his eyes. He could now hear the tiger coming up behind him in the dark. It sounded as if it was maybe twenty yards behind and the light appeared to be, not much less than that in front of him. Now he could see the opening. A round hole in the blackness. Just big enough to get through. He ran with all his might. He could hear the tiger approaching behind him. At the last possible moment , he jumped for the opening, just as he heard the sound of claws on the floor stop, as the tiger jumped for him at the same time. Mr. Popper hit the floor on the other side of the tunnel, and all in one motion, turned picked up the escape door, folded it and stuffed it in his pocket, before the tiger could make it through.
With his heart still beating like a humming bird, he wiped his brow with his hand and sank to the floor, trying to calm himself and catch his breath. He looked around at his surroundings. There were huge rocks all around him and a straw floor. Above him he could see the early evening sky. “This must be the Tiger’s den,” he realized. As his heartbeat slowed, he raised himself up from the floor and began to walk deeper into the interior of the burrow. Mr. Popper had come here with a plan. It had seemed reasonable, all be it, a long shot, when he had come up with it back at the Savage village. Now it seemed like a fool’s mission. He had one chance, and one chance only. With every step he took, the one chance seemed to fade from his grasp.
He turned a corner to see two huge tigers standing outside an opening to, what looked to be a grand room. He quickly ducked back around the corner before the tigers saw him. “This must be the home of their leader.” Mr. Popper reasoned. He picked up a large rock and threw it down the corridor. The two tigers heard the sound and took off to see what it was. Mr. Popper hurried around the corner and into the room. As soon as he was inside, he saw a large round table. Sitting around the table were beings from every corner of Middleland, and creatures from places he could only imagine. There were bears, wizards, magicians, and lizards. There were gargoyles, minotaurs, priests, and things he had no words for. Things, almost beyond description. And there, on a throne of wormy chestnut and laurel, was the master of the race of Tigers. He was huge. He had paws bigger than Mr. Popper’s head. His eyes were vibrant yellow, and his fur was magnificent. Orange like the most beautiful summer sunset, and black like the most divine secret. The majestic creature slowly turned it’s head and gazed straight into Mr. Popper’s eyes. Every creature in the room turned to look at Mr. Popper. The imposing Tiger stepped down from the throne and let out the most blood curdling roar, bared his teeth , and set off at a dead run straight at Mr. Popper. He leaped into the air and with both paws landed on top of Mr. Popper, who fell to the ground under such an enormous weight.
He had his paws on Mr. Popper’s arms and was sitting on top of him. He opened his huge mouth. Mr. Popper could see his massive, bone white teeth. Out came his enormous tongue and he began to lick Mr. Popper’s face.
“I thought you would never find us!” said the tiger, “I had almost given up hope. I pray the other tigers didn’t interfere, but I couldn’t alert them until I knew you were really going to make it. There are just too many things that could go wrong with our plan if too many other’s found out. It is so good to see you again, my old friend.” he said as he licked Mr. Popper’s face with his large sandpaper tongue.
“Lao Hu, my dear friend! You are a sight for sore eyes. I was beginning to think I’d be eaten by one of your citizens, before I could find you. The Music Water has provided the way for us to meet again after all these years,” exclaimed Mr.Popper.
“Let me let you up and you can take your place at the table. I will explain our relationship to the others and our plan.” Lao Hu said as he helped Mr. Popper up from the floor and showed him to his place at the table.
“You all know me, Lao Hu, chief of the Tigers. This is my good friend Mr. Popper of the tribe of Savages. We were raised together when we were quite young. Mr. Popper’s father found me in the woods when I was very small. My mother was shot by hunters and I hid in the brush until they were gone. Mr. Popper’s father, who became my father, raised me until I was old enough to go back to my own tribe. Mr. Popper was just a child like myself at the time, and so we grew up together for many years. We are like brothers. No, we are brothers.” he said as he smiled at Mr. Popper. “We hatched this plan, by sending messengers through the thin spots without letting anyone else know. We kept our communication secret, so as not to let the council find out. Now, to explain our plan to you all, I shall call on Nahtan Rubbertoe, Mr. Popper’s son-in law. He was instrumental in devising this strategy.” he said as he sat on his throne and waved to Nahtan.
Nahtan rose from his seat. He was a young handsome man, with dark eyes and short cropped hair. His face was unshaven and he had the look of a fifties movie star. Nahtan had always distrusted the counsel and their control of the Music Water. After all, why should they be the ones to decide who gets the Music Water? He felt that the Water was mean’t for everyone, and it was up to everyone to use it as they see fit.
“Ladies and gentlemen, tribal chiefs, sectarian heads, priests, shamans, and other distinguished guests. I am Nahtan Rubbertoe. I have long been among you and have made my distrust of the counsel known to all. You know my character and have seen my commitment to the tribes and to bringing the Music Water to everyone, regardless of tribe, social or economic status, or even spiritual ability. I have felt that the Music Water must be placed in the hands of the people, and so do many of you and your tribes, or you wouldn’t be here. I have devised a plan to make this happen, but it will be dangerous. It may cost some lives and will most certainly label all of us, in the eyes of the counsel, as traitors. We will become outlaws and, as such, will have to work underground. But if this is what freedom requires, then I say, ‘Let it be so’! If any of you feel differently, now is the time to leave. You will not be held responsible for anything that is shared here today.” With that he paused and looked around the room. Everyone remained seated in agreement. He took a deep breath and continued. “I have worked on this plan with my father Che Rubbertoe, and with Polly, Mr. Popper, and Lao Hu. The idea is to put the vile of Music Water in a place where it can assimilate into the earth and seep into the very channels of living water beneath the ground, thereby affecting the whole of this planet’s water system with the Music. I realize this is only a temporary solution, being that even this vile of Water will not last forever, but at this time it seems to be the most expedient thing to do. This place we have found, is far away. Many people feel it is just a myth, but we must try, or die doing so. There is a tree on the island called Varguss in the land of the Adnaca. This tree is the oldest living thing in our world. Some have called it the tree of life. No one here has seen it or the land of the Adnaca. I know, this has been a story handed down from generation to generation and many think it nothing more than a fairy tale, but now is the time to prove it’s existence.”
“Let’s suppose this place does exist. How will you find it, and having found it, how will you get the Music Water into the channels under this great tree?” interjected a strange looking creature sitting at the table, who represented a tribe that Nahtan had never seen.
“We have a general idea of the location of the island. It is in the Western Ocean beyond the plains and the great mountains. When the chosen party gets there, they will have to find the old man known as Cliffrat. He is the keeper of the tree. Somehow we will have to convince him to take us to it. This will not be easy. As for getting the Water into the underground channels, we will have to find a man named Percy Toeringer. He lives in the land of vineyards and rolling hills, in the area of the Toe lakes. These are five lakes in the shape of five toes. Percy lives on the smallest one, called “Honeoye” by the natives. The name seems to mean rotten sneakers, or stink foot. At this point we don’t know why. Percy Toeringer runs a farm that raises deforestation frogs. These are frogs that have been biologically breed to clearcut whole forests. They are used by the local population to clear house sites and roadways. They are foul, evil creatures with razor sharp teeth and metallic claws. We will need one frog. We will let it go at the base of the tree of life. It should chew it’s way all the way to the bottom of the great tree’s root system. Then we will pour in the vile of Music Water which will seep into underground channels, and feed all the wells of all the earth, distributing the Water to everyone on the planet and immediately healing the tree of life.
We already have our team, which will consist of Polly and Mr. Popper, Keona, Thea, Una, and Bon Bon, and one more. Lao Hu has graciously chosen to go along. I will meet you all in the land of the Adnaca in a place yet to be chosen.” Nahtan said in closing.
“This sounds like a good plan,” said Mr. Popper, “I only have one problem with it. Where are Polly and the girls?” he asked with a worried look.
“I will send some scouts out to find them and bring them back safely.” said Lao Hu, “I will call for my staff to make you comfortable for the night. You, Nahtan, Polly, and the girls, and even Little Tee, will be my guests tonight at supper. I will have your horses fitted with whatever supplies you might require. We will discuss our plan and map a course for the Toe Lakes, and when you are rested, you can be on your way. I adjourn this meeting.” he stated, addressing those sitting at the table. “We will have time for questions in the morning, but for now, please make yourselves at home. My help will show you to your rooms.”
Everyone got up from the table and headed out the door. Mr. Popper was happy for the help of his old friend, but wouldn’t rest easy until he saw Polly and the girls again.