The way of love
is not a subtle argument.
The door there
Birds make great sky-circles
of their freedom.
How do they learn that?
They fall, and falling,
they are given wings.
Maybe Chapter eight will be a small escape from reality, if only for a moment. Thanks to an old friend, Cliff Launt, who has taken on the job of illustrating the story. I think you will enjoy his interpretations.
Who is Mr. Struggles?
Mr. Popper opened his eyes. Things were blurry. Where was he? How long had he been unconscious? He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and tried to focus. Things were clearer now. He looked about. He was in a grand bed made of locusts poles. The soft mattress consisted of fresh oak leaves, river moss that had been dried, and pine needles, to give it an aromatic scent. Someone had woven a blanket out of spun beaver hair, dyed in several colors, and wrapped him in it. The room, if you could call it that, was oval shaped, with low ceilings and convex walls. River cane had been soaked in water and bent to form the structure, and then, what appeared to be watermelon sugar, was used to construct the walls. It was dark, except for a single candle that was lit and burning on a small table in the corner.
“How did I get here?” thought Mr. Popper. “I remember jumping off the barge, to keep from going over the waterfall, and then... Yes, I remember seeing the dark eyes and the webbed hand on Mr. Struggles! This must be the home of the Hellbenders!” he thought, with a start. “But why would I still be alive? They surely would have let me drown.”
No sooner than he had finished that thought, the door opened and in came Bon Bon, walking sideways and shaking her butt like she does when she’s glad to see you. She gave Mr. Popper a lick kiss, which mean’t she was so glad that he was alright.
“Bon Bon!” he said, giving her a big hug. “Where are we? Where is Mr. Struggles?”
Bon Bon made her triangle face, and Mr. Popper knew immediately, that she had answers to his questions, or she wanted something to eat. Bon Bon turned and started out the door. Mr. Popper followed behind, hoping for some answers.
They entered a large room and Mr. Popper could hear Mr. Struggles conversing with someone. The room was similar to the room he had been in, but it was much larger. The space was bright. Lit up by what, he hadn’t been able to detect. And then he saw it. There was a huge window. It went from floor to ceiling. It was the waterfall! He could see it! It was the waterfall, but they were behind it! Not only behind it, but under it with the afternoon sunlight shining through. It was breath taking.
He looked to see who Mr. Struggles was talking to, and laid eyes on the strangest creature he had ever seen. She was average size for a person, but she was not a person. She had webbed feet and hands, long, braided yellow hair, and her skin was shiny, like nitrocellulose lacquer. She was red like wild strawberries, and black like midnight. Her eyes were golden slits, like cat eyes and she was looking at him.
“Ah, Mr. Popper. I see you have recovered. Let me get you some breakfast and a hot cup of tea.” she said, with her most unusual voice.
Mr. Popper was startled by her speech, which sounded like an old squeaking mattress, as you turn over in it, during the night. “Thank you for your hospitality. I should love a cup of tea. Could you please explain where we are, and who you are?” Mr. Popper asked.
“You are in the underwater kingdom of the Frog Women and Turtle Men. I am Sallianda Mull, the Queen of the Frog Women.” she explained. “We saw your fight with the Hellbenders and rescued all of you before you went over the waterfall. We have brought you to our kingdom, under the Tuffaluktee, to rest from your injuries and to help you in anyway we can.”
“I can not express our gratitude for all you have done for us.” Mr. Popper said, and bowed low to Sallianda.
“It was and is our privilege to help you. We have heard of the stolen Music Water, and your mission to return it. We would love to assist you in any way we can.” she said. “I will go and prepare your breakfast and leave you all to discuss your plans.” she said, as she left the room.
“Mr. Struggles? Are you feeling alright?” he asked.
“Yes. I slept well and I feel quite rested and ready.” Mr. Struggles responded.
“I hate to eat and run, but I think we should be on our way as soon as possible. Polly and the girls are out there by themselves and we must find them.” Mr. Popper added.
“I fully agree.” he said.
“Mr. Struggles, I”m a little concerned that with your propensity toward, how should I say, bad luck, that maybe your helping might do just the opposite.” Mr. Popper said, trying to be as delicate as he could with Mr. Struggles feelings.
“I am so sorry. I will try not to interfere. I am cursed and there seems to be no hope for me. I’m sure I don’t pretend to know why the Shamans wanted me to be a member of this mission.” he apologized.
“No need for apologies. We just need to be more careful.” Mr. Popper kindly spoke. “Why do you feel as though you’ve been cursed?”
“Because I have.” Mr. Struggles said emphatically.
“Would you be so kind as to share your story with Bon Bon and I, so that we may understand?” he asked.
“Yes, I guess if we are going to be on this journey together, we must have no secrets.” Mr. Struggles began. “When I was young, I was quite selfish and very foolish. I and my associates would go out most nights to see what kind of trouble we could make. We loved to play jokes on others and have, mean spirited fun, at their expense. One night we were leaving a pub. It was quite late when we came upon an unusual looking old man. He had long red hair and wore a tam. He had a coat that almost drug the ground, with a large half moon and stars on the back. And he had a most curious looking cane. It had the head of a tiger carved on it, with precious stones and mother of pearl inlaid in the wood in beautiful letters of an unknown dialect. I asked the old man if I could see the cane, but he was quite reluctant. He said it was special to him and that we should leave now before we regretted it. We surrounded him and I took the cane, thinking I could sell it for a good bit of money. As we began to walk away from the old man, he began to cry. I turned to look at him, just as the first tear rolled off his cheek. Before it could hit the ground, the cane, that was in my hand, jumped to catch the tear in mid air. As it did so, it fell to the ground. I reached down to pick it up, but it had become a snake. It bit me and left two holes in my hand, that are still there today and serve as a reminder of how foolish I was as a youth. With that, all my friends left me. The old man reached down and picked up the snake, which now had turned back into the beautiful cane. My hand began to swell and I felt a strange sensation sweep over my body. It was like a dark cloud descended on me. ‘You have been cursed my foolish friend.’ the old man said. ‘From this day forward, all your good fortune has been replaced by bad. You will bring ill will on everyone you know, and everyone you meet. You will forget who you are now and all your life will be spent struggling until you have come to the end of yourself. The only cure for this curse is for you to become empty of yourself. Only then will you realize who you really are. This will be hard, but in the end can be a great gift if you will let it.’ I never found out who he was, but I assume he must have been some sort of a great wizard. As the days and weeks went on, I found his prediction to be true. I couldn’t keep a job, because I would always mess something up. I couldn’t maintain a friendship, because something bad would always happen to the other person. And strangest of all, I couldn’t remember who I was, and no one seemed to recognize me. So, I took the name Mr. Struggles and that is who I became.” he said, shaking his head.
“Thank you for sharing that with us, Mr. Struggles. Now I think I understand you better, and what we are up against.” Mr. Popper said. “Perhaps this journey will serve as a sort of penance, that will help to break the curse.”
“I can only hope that you are right, Mr. Popper.” said Mr. Struggles doubtfully.
After breakfast, they were escorted to a grand cathedral. It had windows one hundred feet high, that looked out under the Tuffaluktee. Fish of all kinds could be seen swimming by, as well as the dreaded Hellbenders, but the journeyers were all safe inside. The room was beautifully decorated with large tapestries and plush braided rugs. It had paintings of the history of the Frog Women and Turtle Men on the walls, that looked very old. And in the middle of the room, was a golden throne. On the throne was a very short, pudgy, old Turtle Man. He had the face of an old man, with a long grey beard, and the body of a turtle.
“Welcome my friends.” he said, with a tone of authority. “I am Octavius Woodring. I am the Lord of the Woodrings. We are the main sect of the Turtle Men. I know you are anxious to be on your way. If you would tell me how I can be of service to you, I will try to help as best I can.”
“Lord Woodring, we are trying to recover the Music Water for the counsel. In order to do so, we must elicit the help of the Dillieyards as trackers to the den of the Tigers. We need to leave here and find our way to the Dillieyard’s town where we will hopefully meet up with the rest of our party that we were separated from.” Mr. Popper explained.
“Very well then, I will have you brought to the northern tunnel. From there, you will be able to follow the tunnel to the edge of the Dillieyards camp, avoiding the dark woods altogether.” said Lord Woodring.
“That is most wonderful news. Thank you so much for your help. We will always think fondly of our short time in your kingdom.” Mr. Poppers said.
They were lead out to a small tunnel. Only big enough for them to crawl on their hands and knees. It was totally dark. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. They were instructed to go all the way, which would be several miles and take many hours, until they felt a stairway. Then take the stairway up. Now it is quite a scary thing to crawl for hours in the pitch dark in a tunnel that is so small that you cannot turn around in, but this is precisely what the three of them did. Mr. Popper lead the way, with Mr. Struggles in the middle, and Bon Bon bringing up the rear.
“I think I feel the stair way!” exclaimed Mr. Popper, after many hours of crawling.
The journeyers began to climb the stairs. There must have been thousands of them. After what seemed like hours, Mr. Popper came to the end of the staircase. He felt around in the dark and found a latch to a door in the ceiling. As he opened it the sunlight poured in and blinded them all. He poked his head above ground, and squinted in the harsh light. There before them was the village of the Dillieyards.