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J.A. Aarntzen

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The Legacy of Hickory Robinbreast Part 25
By J.A. Aarntzen
Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rated "G" by the Author.

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Back in Woodhaven, Mammy sends Ho out on an errand to pick up much needed supplies from Stip Kaddo's store. As the little boy enters the shop he sees that the shelves are threadbare. He learns from Stip that more people in town have been stricken with the illness. While Stip completes the shopping list that Ho had brought, the boy's uncle, Egbert Dawnrose suddenly appears.

Chapter 27:   A Chance Meeting At The Grocery Store

 
Ho walked into the store. In his pocket was a list that Mammy had given him. She did not want to give the child any money. “They will give you credit at the store,” she told Ho as she set him off.
 
The child had been in this store hundreds of times but now it looked so strange to him. He remembered the shelves were always liberally stocked with cans, jars, and boxes containing just about everything that was available in Woodhaven. But now the stock was gone leaving only sparse products on dusty shelves. Even in his young mind, he was able to fathom the reason for this.
 
It was becoming a bad dream living in the elf town these past few weeks.  The friendliness of people on the street was gone. Everybody was in a hurry to get back to their homes after finishing whatever business they had to do. Nobody was talking to anybody. All rumors were contained to the elves’ dwellings and nobody was exactly sure how many people died so far. The only thing known for sure was that the sickness was spreading. It seemed that not only the old were susceptible to it any longer. A little boy fell dead in his front yard the other day. When Dr. Cherrydown examined him he said there was little doubt about what had brought on the death.
 
Mammy was reluctant to send Ho to the store but they needed flour and fresh fruit. There was hardly anything left to eat in the house. She could not go to the store herself because of her condition. Her back was aching all of the time and she could no longer keep it straight. She had to walk hunched forward. Her legs now could hardly bend causing her gait to become a shuffle. She would never go into a bed because she feared that she would not be able to climb out of it. She did her sleeping in chairs and had to be given a hand to get back to her feet. Her belly was swollen so large now that Ho could swear that her skin was going to rip.
 
The two babies, Kiddo and Hum, now called to him instead of Mammy whenever they needed or wanted something. It made Ho angry at times but he was glad that they were not bothering Mammy any more. 
 
He was worried sick about her. He wished that she would go see Dr. Cherrydown but she wouldn’t. She said that the Doctor was far too busy to listen to the complaints of a pregnant woman. She was going to be all right but those other people that Dr. Cherrydown had to see had the disease. 
 
Mammy was probably right. Woodhaven should get itself a second physician, he thought. What would happen if Dr. Cherrydown got sick or worse got the disease? The town would be in dire straits. 
 
It would be reminiscent of a few weeks back when Old Nat Whitetree, the sewer master died. It took several days before anybody volunteered to take over Nat’s job. By that time the Miracle Creek had become dirty because of the untreated sewage. It took last week’s snowstorm to purify the water and now the Creek was a frozen bed just waiting for the elves to skate upon it. 
 
But no elves were donning the blades and the frozen creek was deserted when Ho crossed over it. What a difference from last winter when everywhere elves were whizzing back and forth on their speedy ice skates.
 
“Not much left is there Master Robinbreast?”
 
Ho looked up from the shelf and into the face of Stip Kaddo, the owner of the store. Stip’s breath was sour and there was a gurgle in his throat that he cleared upon finishing his question. Ho liked Stip for Stip had always given him candies for nothing. But now Ho felt uneasy in his company. He knew what the gurgle meant.
 
“What happened to it all?” the child asked.
 
“People are stocking up their coffers as much as possible, I presume. They’re going to board themselves up in their houses and try to wait this plague thing out. I can’t say that I blame them but I sure wish that people would start getting together again and talking about solutions. It’s the only way (cough) that we’re going to beat this thing.”
 
“Mammy says that it is not good to be outside right now. She says that you might get the disease by talking to anybody.”
 
“How is your Mammy, Ho? It’s been a long time since I’ve seen her or your Pappy,” Mr. Kaddo said.
 
“Mammy’s going to have another baby soon,” Ho answered.
 
“Yes, I know that! The last time I saw her she was already yeah big!” Mr. Kaddo held his hands around an imaginary potbelly. “Your little brother or sister is going to be a big one. And your Pappy? How is he?”
 
Not many people in Woodhaven were aware that Merek Robinbreast had left town on a mission. Mammy didn’t want that information to spread around because too many people would start asking questions. It did seem somewhat silly to answer that he had left so that he could throw some stones into the ocean.
 
“Pappy’s all right,” Ho answered woodenly.
 
“Haven’t seen much of him lately but then again with this bug going around, I haven’t seen much of anybody.” Stip Kaddo had the good sense not to inquire too much into the affairs of his customers especially lately. He knew that families did not want to admit that a member or two had been stricken with the dreadful disease. And thus Stip assumed that Merek Robinbreast was yet another victim of the deadly infection. He felt sorry for the child but bravely he would not let that show. “Let’s see that list of yours, Ho.”
 
Ho handed the slip of paper to the storekeeper. The child could have read and fetched the items himself but he had long ago learned that Stip Kaddo liked being of service to those that came into his store. 
 
“I don’t know if I’ve got it all but I will see what I can do.”
 
The storekeeper started going down the aisles looking carefully at the meager stock he had on the shelves. The boy heard him cough intermittently. Stip’s got the disease, Ho was sure. Who would run the grocer shop once Stip is gone? Woodhaven was falling more and more apart with each new plague victim. How was it going to end?
 
The bells overtop of the door tinkled. Ho turned around and saw his Uncle Egbert stomp the snow from his boots on the mat and shake his cap. Ho and his family had never heard from the Uncle since the time Egbert had promised to come stay at their house. Ho had never told Mammy about that encounter because he knew that that would have upset her. She didn’t need any more upset.
 
As soon as Egbert saw his nephew standing at the counter, his face turned eleven and a half shades of red. That to Ho was a clear sign that his Uncle was feeling guilty about breeching his word to the family.
 
“How are you, my boy?” Egbert asked, his voice betraying the fact that he was very uncomfortable.
 
“I’m fine,” Ho said coldly. He, too, was very uncomfortable and wanted to get out of the situation as fast as possible. As far as he was concerned Egbert was not a member of the family any longer.
 
“How’s your Mammy? She hasn’t given me a new nephew yet, has she?”
 
Why was Egbert trying to pretend to be friendly and caring over the family? He had never shown himself to be these things in his actions. Ho felt an urge to yell at the elf but he contained himself.
 
“Mammy’s no better than she was before,” the child replied and turned his back on his Uncle to see how Stip Kaddo was getting along with the list.
 
Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder. Turning around, he looked into the face of his Uncle. There were tears in Egbert’s eyes.
 
“Ho, I’m sorry,” the Uncle sniffled.
 
Ho stiffened and turned his head away. He didn’t want to listen to his Uncle’s excuses. He just wanted to get out of the store.
 
“Ho, I was coming to your house, I swear but …”
 
“I don’t want to hear it Uncle Egbert!” Ho growled loudly.
 
Stip Kaddo was coming back to the counter with the groceries the Robinbreasts needed. “Ah, Egbert. You’ve come to give your nephew a hand. There’s quite a bit of stuff here and I didn’t think the child would be able to carry it all on his own,” Stip said innocently, not realizing the strained situation between uncle and nephew.
 
“I’ll carry them on my own,” Ho said.
 
“He’s a tough tyke!” Egbert tried smiling to hide his tears.
 
Stip placed the groceries on his counter and started to jot down the prices on his bill pad. “Tough tyke or not, there’s a lot of groceries to be carried. You and your Mammy are lucky Ho. I had everything that you needed. Some of it is the last that I have got. Let’s see, that’ll come to …”
 
“Mammy told me to tell you that she wants this on our bill. She’ll pay you later.”
 
Stip Kaddo was in business to make a living. He had to make a profit in order to be able to eat himself. People understood this and they rarely asked him for credit. But Stip Kaddo was also in business to provide a service to the Woodhaven community and that service from time to time entailed helping out good customers who needed a financial hand now and then. He didn’t mind putting the Robinbreast groceries on a tab.
 
“How much is it Stip?” Egbert cut in. “I’ll pay for it myself.” Egbert drew out his moneybag from his pocket.
 
“We don’t need your money!” Ho cried out viciously. The last thing the child wanted was to have Egbert buy his way back into the family.
 
There was an alarmed expression on Stip Kaddo’s face. He could not believe what had just happened. Both Egbert Dawnrose and the Robinbreasts were cherished customers in his store. They were both decent folk and Stip had always thought that they were very close. Ho was a well-behaved mature child. It just did not seem right that he would be so hostile to his uncle.
 
Egbert, whose face was eleven and a half shades of red once again, said, “No, Ho, I insist! It is the least that I can do!”
 
“You put your money away! Mammy and I don’t need your charity!”
 
“My child, what has gotten into you? I am shocked!” cried the storekeeper. “Is that any way to talk to your generous uncle?”
 
“He’s not generous! And he is not my uncle!” Ho ran out of the store. He left behind the groceries that Mammy needed.
 
He had not gone more than ten paces outside when he lost his footing on an icy patch and fell down on his face.
 
There were birds, whistles and pain in his head. All of a sudden he was in a dream. It had a story to it and he knew that he should remember it. But for the life of him he could not understand it. And then the dream with its vague flashing memories slipped into the recesses of his mind as he now could hear the familiar voices of Stip Kaddo and Uncle Egbert talking nearby.
 
“That was a bad fall,” the grocer said.
 
“If he is hurt I will never forgive myself!” Egbert’s voice was weepy.
 
“If the child is hurt there is no time to think about the blame. We must give him help at once,” Stip said firmly.
 
Ho felt hands hoisting him up. The motion of the lift made the child feel nauseous. His head was swimming. He heard himself groan a “No,” and at the same time he realized that he was hurt.
 
All at once he recalled an incident about a year ago where Ham Lobb, his next-door neighbor, had slipped on the ice and bashed his head. Pappy couldn’t move Ham because every time he tried, Ham got sick. Later when Dr. Cherrydown came, he diagnosed Mr. Lobb’s injury as a concussion. It took Ham many months to get over this injury. The last time that Ho saw his neighbor, Ham seemed still light in the head.
 
Ho wondered if he had a concussion just like Ham Lobb.
 
Stip was behaving as if he did for he put Ho back down on the ground. “You shouldn’t move a person that has had a head injury,” Dr. Cherrydown had said to Pappy a year ago.
 
“We can’t leave my nephew lying here in the street!” Egbert cried.
 
“Don’t worry Egbert,” Stip said through a cough. “We’re not going to do that. I’ve learned some first aid over the years and I keep a kit in the shop. I’ll be back in a jiffy but while I’m gone, don’t you dare move or even touch the boy!”
 
Ho heard Stip’s feet dash away. Suddenly, he felt a weight on his shoulder and something holding him around his chest. It was his Uncle Egbert embracing him. Egbert was crying. “Ho, please be all right, please! If anything happens to you I will be devastated!”
 
The child heard himself groan. It was more painful for him to bear Egbert’s guilt than it was to deal with the stunning blow to his head.
 
“Egbert! I told you not to touch the child!” Stip Kiddo horsed from some distance away. A moment later he was back. Ho could hear the klink klink klink of metal and realized that it must have been the shopkeeper’s first aid kit.
 
“Has he opened his eyes?” Stip asked. Ho felt his head being tilted back onto the nape of his neck.
 
“I don’t think so,” Egbert mumbled.
 
“Of course you wouldn’t know because you weren’t watching for it!” Stip said with sarcasm.
 
Ho could feel the weight of Stip’s thumbs against his eyeballs and then suddenly there was a swath of light as his eyelid was lifted backwards.
 
“Do you see that, Egbert? The boy’s pupils constrict with the light! Let me try the other.”
 
Another beam of light shot into Ho’s eyes.
 
“Yup, that one is constricted as well.”
 
“What does that mean?” Egbert asked in apprehension.
 
“It means that Ho does not have a concussion. He’s probably just dazed from the fall and all of the excitement before hand.”
 
Egbert sighed his relief.
 
“But I wouldn’t take my word for it. I am no physician. I would get Ho to see Dr. Cherrydown as soon as possible. Head blows can be very slow and dangerous injuries.”
 
“I’ll do that at once!” Egbert cried. He started to pick the child up. “Come, my boy,” he cooed. “Your Uncle Egbert is going to look after you. Stip, any idea where I would find the Doctor right now?”
 
Ho felt his head revel from the motion. He wished Egbert would leave him alone. All he wanted to do was lie here until he was strong enough to get up on his own. He missed Stip’s answer to his Uncle’s question but it must have been direction as to where Dr. Cherrydown could be found for Egbert said softly to him as he carried him away in his arms, “I’m going to make it all up to you Ho.”
 
 
Chapter 28:   No Wailing Gloats
 
If Woodhaven seemed deserted of late, this was not reflected at the schoolhouse. There were so many elves milling about that Egbert was reminded of Town Hall when he had first learned of the plague.
 
The four classrooms were strewn with beds. In between the beds, blankets were sprawled on the floor. Everywhere the eccentric elf looked he saw elves lying and moaning. The foul plague was taking its heavy toll on his people.
 
He recognized many of the faces although he had never witnessed these expressions on their miens before. They were all truly suffering. Most were rolling their heads back and forth with their tongues hanging out like dogs. The whole schoolhouse rang with the sounds of chest coughs. Some did not move at all, their eyes in blank stares. Egbert did not want to think of their fates although he knew that some of them had already met theirs.
 
In this sea of sickness, he soon spotted the only vessel sailing. Dr. Cherrydown’s bald pate shone like an obelisk. His usual cherubic features were now drawn. There were black rings under his eyes attesting to his exhausting efforts of late. Dr. Cherrydown had shed much weight and almost looked frail.
 
When Egbert spotted him, the Doctor was administering a potion that he had concocted in his laboratory to an elf that was no more than Egbert’s age. Egbert had seen this elf around before but he did not know his name. Dr. Cherrydown held the elf’s jaw down with his thumb while he poured the vial of his creamy substance down the throat. The elf began coughing at once and thrashing his arms about in a spastic fit. Egbert could see that the Doctor did not like this reaction. 
 
Some time later Egbert was to learn that Dr. Cherrydown had experimented with over a hundred treatments for the plague and that all proved futile. There was something beyond the ordinary about this disease. It surpassed all leaf lore, all chemical lore, and all dietary lore. The plague had challenged Dr. Cherrydown to use his entire medical ken and had left the good Doctor baffled and defeated.
 
Dr. Cherrydown looked up at him, “Good Lord, Egbert Dawnrose, not you as well?” he cried.
 
 Thus far Egbert did not have any of the symptoms. He had taken precautions against it by using good common sense, which meant staying inside his manor and avoiding contact with others. If his supply of food had not dwindled as much as it did, he would not have left his house today.
 
Before Egbert could say no, Dr. Cherrydown noticed the semi-comatose child in Egbert’s arms. “Lord have mercy! Little Ho Robinbreast! Does this foul enemy know no bounds?” He took the boy from Egbert and laid him at the end of a nearby bed. “He’s the youngest one so far!” the Doctor exclaimed.
 
“I don’t think that you have to worry about that, Doctor,” Egbert said. “The child fell on the ice and hit his head. I think he is all right but you can never be too safe with noggin blows.” Egbert mimicked Stip Kaddo’s words of advice.
 
“That is wise, Egbert,” the Doctor said as he probed Ho’s skull. “There’s a goose egg here just above his temple. If it had been any lower there would have been very serious damage.”
 
“Then the boy is okay?” Egbert asked hopefully.
 
Dr. Cherrydown administered the same test for concussion that Stip Kaddo had used earlier. Once again Ho’s pupils constricted. “You can never be too certain with head injuries, but yes, I believe that Ho will be all right. As a precaution I would suggest that he stays in bed for the next few days.”
 
“What? You mean keep him here!” Egbert looked around at all of the pathetic sick elves in the room. It was no place for a child to be.
 
“Egbert Dawnrose! I though that you had more wisdom than that!” Dr. Cherrydown admonished the eccentric elf. “This schoolhouse is rampant with the plague! If Ho were to stay here he would almost certainly contract the disease. He should be taken out of here at once! You did the right thing bringing him to see me but I don’t think that it was wise for either of you to come here. We don’t know how much exposure it takes before the disease infects its host. Every second that you stay here you increase the risk of coming down with it. Take Ho back home and see to it that he get the bed rest I prescribe. By the way, how is your sister? I’m concerned about her. The complications that she had with the last baby frightened me. I wish that I had the time to go see her. She is due any day now. I want to be there with her when it happens, but …” Dr. Cherrydown swept his hand across the breadth of the classroom.
 
Egbert understood his meaning and at a deeper level understood that the name of one plague victim was destined to be Popherius Cherrydown. The Doctor had been too long exposed to the virus.
 
“I had better get going,” Egbert said quietly. He could not bear to look into the eyes of a martyr any longer. He picked up Ho from the bed. Before he walked away he asked Dr. Cherrydown whom the elf was that he had just given the potion to. The face was familiar.
 
“That is Callista Bobbs from the laundry service.” Dr. Cherrydown shook his head with pity. “That poor family has been hit the worst. Callista is the last of them except for Talla. If I were Talla, I would stay away from Woodhaven. The Bobbs family seems especially prone.”
 
Egbert left the schoolhouse. Ho was cradled in his arms. He had to take the child home. But what home? His luxurious abode or the quaint cottage of Silvie and Merek across the Miracle Creek? At his place he could give Ho a very comfortable bed and tend meticulously to his needs. Ho would truly be able to relax there. There would be no nagging little brothers that wouldn’t understand that their big brother was ailing. There would not be a heavily pregnant mother that would sit on his conscience for being idle. Ho would be given every opportunity to recuperate from his head injury. It would be a chance for Egbert to get close to his nephew. He had already lost too much of the child’s early years.  It would be nice to have Ho at his house for a while.
 
He turned up the street that would lead him to his lane. He began thinking of his sister. She would be fret when she discovered that her son was missing. He would have to get a message to her somehow that Ho was safe and sound at his house and that she need not worry about him because Dr. Cherrydown said that the boy was going to be all right.
 
But what would Silvie do without Ho? It would be up to her to look after Hum and Kiddo. Would she be able to meet their needs considering her condition? She was infinitesimally close to childbirth. Any exertion could induce labor. Dr. Cherrydown had expressed his concern over her. It was not going to be an easy birthing. It should be allowed to come on its own good time without being hurried by upsets that need not happen – upsets like not having her oldest boy around when she needed most his help.
 
But Silvie could not expect to have Ho help now. The boy needed his rest. But still Silvie needed someone to help her.
 
The pit of Egbert’s stomach told him that he was that person. There was no way around it. He had to go to his sister. He had to cross the Miracle Creek.
 
Abruptly, he spun around in his tracks and began walking in the direction that would take him to the bridge, which was about twenty minutes away from where he was.
 
Already he could sense the spirit of the Miracle Creek hark to his intention. It was surprised. It had not expected Egbert to challenge it for some time. It started babbling insults into Egbert’s mind. It called him all manner of filthy names. It threatened dire calamities to Egbert and his kin if the elf did try to cross it. It said that Egbert would slip on the icy bridge and spill the child into its cold, killing waters.
 
Egbert’s reaction was to hold Ho tighter. He had just turned off Grove Lane and was now walking into the wind upon Bridge Street. The breeze brought the real sound of the creek to the elf’s ears. He could hear the churgle of running water over the rocks. From the bridge on, the Miracle Creek never completely freezes over during the winter. Egbert lowered his head and walked stiffly into the breeze. He realized that he had forgotten his hat at the schoolhouse. It was sure cold without it.
 
The bridge came into view. It was not a very old bridge although the Miracle had been spanned for centuries by one bridge or another. The current one was made from iron girders that Gabby Gibbon had arranged to be imported from Alsace-Lorraine. The expense of constantly rebuilding bridges had made the elves decide to abandon wood that would rot and replace it with iron that could last considerably longer before rusting. 
 
To Egbert, the Miracle Bridge appeared as the black fiery mouth of a dragon. He forced himself to continue on.
 
The spirit of the creek glowed with rage as it saw that its nemesis was not being daunted by its threats. It must have been utterly beguiled that Egbert was still challenging it. Usually the elf would have backed down and been frightened away long before this.
 
It threw more curses and vile threats at Egbert but the elf was beginning to realize that these were no worse than the ones that it had been giving him all along. It was as if there was no bite behind the bark.   Perhaps there was nothing to this creek demon that had been frightening him all of his life. Perhaps he would have been able to cross the creek like everybody else? Perhaps he would have been able to remain close to his family and not have them think of him in the lesser light that they now do. He had lost so much time in the lives of Ho, Hum, and Kiddo. He determined that the new baby would know him well.
 
He stared into the dragon’s mouth and saw peripherally the winding creek mew its way through the heart of Woodhaven. North of the bridge it was completely frozen over and appeared as serene as any winter river could be. 
 
Below the bridge, a sliver of dark water severed the ice like a long, black snake tongue. It was this that was the mouth of the demon. It was screaming insanely at him. Egbert felt intense fear shiver through his veins and almost came to a halt.
 
But then he looked into the sleeping face of a child and saw the need in there. He steeled himself and shut out the raging cries of the creek.
 
His left foot came down onto the bridge. If it was a tentative step, it did not show.   The bridge did not collapse with his weight. There was no demonical wraith rising from the creek to usurp his soul.
 
He took another step and was now fully onto the bridge. He looked across it. It was a lot longer than he thought it was. It seemed almost to stretch and grow before his eyes. What had originally looked to be a span of a hundred feet now appeared to be a hundred yards. Perhaps because he had never been on this bridge before he had always been ignorant of its true length. The reasonable elf that he was, he readily accepted this as the plausible explanation.
 
He continued walking upon the iron span. He kept his eyes to his feet. The bridge was slippery and he had to be sure of his footing. He didn’t want to slip and fall and accidentally toss Ho over the side. But, when he lifted his head again, to his utter bewilderment, it seemed that he had gotten nowhere and that the bridge had grown once again. It was now two hundred and fifty yards wide. 
 
How could this be? At the edge of his perception he could hear the demon of the creek madly wailing and saying that it had finally got him.
 
Egbert tried hard to shut out his phantom from his mind. And his feet plodded on. It was all a trick of his imagination he was telling himself. What seemed to be happening was not happening. The real thing was Ho.
 
He looked into his nephew’s face and saw the bluish tinge of the cold outline the veins in his cheeks. He had to get Ho indoors quickly. That was the real danger. Everything else was just apparition.
 
He walked steadily and carefully. He was almost afraid to look up to see how far he had to go. But when the urge to witness his progress became too much, he turned his head backwards to see how far he had come. There was perhaps a distance of one hundred and fifty yards of bridge behind him. That must mean that he was almost all the way across. Before realizing what he was doing, his face spun around to see the other side of the bridge.
 
It was more than a mile away.
 
The demon raged feverishly upon the tangents of his attention. It was drawing in nearer and it was getting tougher for Egbert to buttress himself from it. Self-doubt began playing harmonics with his thinking patterns. Why had he decided to go to the store? He had enough food to last him another week or so. He should have waited. He would not have bumped into Ho. Ho would not have run out of Kaddo’s s Groceries and then slip and fall on the ice. Ho would have returned safely to his Mammy and everything would have been right.
 
Egbert found himself wishing that he could have turned back the clocks to that time he was hunting for his hat in his hall closet. He would have given up and opted for a nice cup of herb tea instead. None of this would have happened.
 
A steamy wisp was rising from the creek. In seconds, it was a thick, charcoal fog that had the foul reek of despair seep from it. Egbert knew that it was the thing that had taunted him all of his life, the thing that he feared even from his boyhood. He clung tightly to Ho as the phantom unleashed the most mournful cries this side of the grave. Egbert did not know if he was walking or standing still.
 
A swirl began to rotate fiendishly within the fog ahead of him. Its gray eddies started looking more and more like the long, crooked fingers of the reaper. The black, gnarly knuckles slowly unfolded to reveal blood red claws that slashed through the air with the malice of the possessed.
 
Egbert’s lungs were rent with scream as the demon’s hands lunged at Ho, catching grip of the child by the neck. Egbert’s own hold of the boy tightened and he was locked in a terrible tug of war over his nephew’s soul. He did not have the strength of the demon and he could feel himself slowly losing Ho.
 
The thick, cold air was ringing with the demon’s hysterical laughter. Ho was torn free from Egbert’s hands. The child flew over the side of the bridge in a black slow motion flutter. 
 
All that Egbert could do was whimper for along with his nephew, he too had been destroyed. And there, he sat in his anguish for the better part of eternity.
 
“Do you want me to carry him for a while?” the voice sounded too flat, too ordinary to be part of this reality. But there was no other sound. No wailing gloats.
 
“You’ve carried him quite a distance. I know the child is not as light as he used to be.”
 
Egbert discovered that his eyes were clamped shut. The darkness that was pervading him was all self-inflicted. 
 
He opened his eyes. There was no fog around. The sky, although overcast, was the clearest he had ever seen it. He saw the end of the bridge not more than three feet away from him. It was the other side of the bridge for he was able to recognize the grove of maples to his right. These were trees that he had never seen from up close before. He remembered from his childhood when he was a monkey for trees, he yearned to climb these very maples. But they were to him as unreachable as the stars, for he would not cross the creek to get to them. Even back then the creek had terrified him. 
 
But here they were now before him. Their boughs almost touched his face because of the gentle breeze. He felt a movement in his arms. He looked down and saw his nephew whole and restored, rousing from his sleep. “Ho!” Egbert cried. “Ho!”
 
Ho moaned his protest. Egbert’s voice was too shrill for the child’s headache to endure.
 
“Let me take the boy from you Egbert. You’re almost delusional from the strain of carrying him so far.”
 
Egbert turned and saw the beaming face of Stip Kaddo. “You’ll be needing this, I daresay,” Stip smiled and put Egbert’s hat onto the relieved elf’s pate.
 
“What are you doing here Stip?” Egbert asked. Was it all unreal? Did any of it happen? Egbert stole a glance at the creek bed and saw it in its frozen state. The only thing that would get it to move would be the spring.
 
“I was just going to ask you the same question,” Stip laughed. “You could have taken a rest on the bank where you and the boy wouldn’t be out in the wind. It’s a cold one today.”
 
Egbert then noticed the box of groceries in Stip’s arms and recognized them as the ones that Silvie had sent Ho to get. Stip was delivering them to the Robinbreast home. He was always good to his customers.
 
“Excuse me, Egbert, but I’ve got to do this.” A gravel sound grated the grocer’s throat. A second had flown from Stip’s mouth. It landed in the creek bed. Egbert wished that he had been the one that had spit on the creek.
 
He also recognized where Stip’s phlegm originated. Stip Kaddo was in the early stages of the disease.
 
“I will carry my nephew, thank you,” Egbert smiled at the grocer.
 
“I’ll accompany you to the Robinbreasts,” Stip answered. In more ways than one, Egbert was thankful for this. Now that he was safe on the other side of the Miracle Creek, he realized that he did not have the slightest idea as to where his sister and her family lived.
 
Ten minutes later, the two elves and the child were walking up a snow-covered path to a quaint, little cottage that already had a candle lit for the oncoming darkness.

       Web Site: Storyteller on the Lake

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Reviewed by Gianetta Ellis 1/20/2011
I'm still here, Joe. Still reading, taking it all in - a quiet observer, for a while . . .




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