Impressed with her thumbs the animals asked Allie May to help with several tasks. She was happy to contribute but kept gazing at the window of blue sky above them. She knew she was lucky to see such strange and fantastic sights, but she missed the light and air outside of the cave. She could not bear to think of being stuck in underground for as long as the others. She knew she could not stay until they finished building the rocket. She needed a plan of her own. As she stared up at the circle of sky it began to change. The clear sky filled with clouds. The clouds grew darker. Soon it looked like dusk, then night. The few trees visible from down below were swaying in the wind.
The animals saw the change as well and raised an alarm.
“Oh no! A storm is coming this way! Cover your work without delay!”
They all rushed around tying coverings to their large project. They just barely finished before the rain started pouring down around them.
“Hugh! It’s you without a doubt! But then whose tail is here sticking out?” Allie asked him as she pointed to what, on closer examination, was not a furry tail but a scaly one
“It’s not a squirrel, a hare, or a pig. To find out we need to dig!” he told her as his front paws started the excavation. Alllie May threw up her hands to block the flying sand then moved to the other side to help him. It did not take them long to unearth the big scale covered ball attached to the striped tail. Allie was worried by its initial lack of movement but as they watched four sets of plated toes emerged. A pink snout peeked out next and then shaking sand from her armor the creature straightened all the way up.
“Well, I am obliged you two were around. That time I landed quite deep down,” she said, holding out a paw in greeting.
“I am trying not to get too vexed. But I wonder what I will lose next,” Allie sighed and wiggled her very muddy toes. She was still surrounded by mud. She pondered which direction was the most likely to lead her back to firm ground. She looked over to where Hugh had slid down the tree and was bounding towards her.
“I think I hear Tuner’s favorite song! If we follow the sound we can’t go wrong!” he shouted excitedly as he jumped over the mud she had just been stuck in and barrelled right into her. He was not a small animal and everything around them was slippery. Allie May lost her balance and the two of them went sliding through the mud.
As they both frantically tried to find something to hold onto, the muck around them began to bubble and swirl. Before they could even understand what was happening a hole in the mud opened up and swallowed them right up.
After their snack they climbed down with the plan to head back to the center of the garden. Hugh felt sure that he knew the way, and set out confidently, but the longer they walked the less familiar their surroundings seemed.
After leading them for what seemed a very long way he admitted his confusion, “I don’t recognize the clearing we just crossed. I am afraid we are rather lost.”
Alllie sighed. The clearing had been full of the most enchanting wildflowers. She had enjoyed looking at all the sights while they walked it had not occurred to her to worry about which direction they were going. She tried to think back to the view from the top of the tree and guess where they were, but she really had no idea.
“I’m not really sure what to say… I guess we should just keep going that way,” she said and pointed towards what looked like a path leading back into the trees. Matthie nodded his agreement and it seemed like a very good choice at first. However gradually the ground beneath their feet got softer. What started as a bit mushy was soon an expanse of mud. They tried to walk carefully, stepping on rocks and what looked like firmer spots, but they did not always succeed. One misjudgment landed Allie in mud that came up to her knees.
“Oh no! I think i’m stuck! This is rather disgusting muck!” she groaned as she tried to pull her feet out.
“Do not worry my new friend. A tree will help us once again!” Hugh was very excited to try and help. He climbed the nearest tree and scooted out onto a branch above her. He wrapped all four of his legs around the limb and held on as tight as he could, letting his tail down for her to grasp. Having something to pull on made all the difference. It took several yanks but finally she was able to move forward. Unfortunately when her feet finally came all the way out of the mud her shoes were not with them.
Allie May’s mind and legs were both racing as she ran after them. She had only known Hugh a short while but he already felt like a friend. She needed to figure out how she could help him and quickly. When she nearly tripped over a big stone she stopped and picked it up. It was heavy but she was strong. With a running start she used all her bodily strength to throw it at the beast. The heavy stone landed squarely on the alligator’s back. He turned around and glared at Allie who was ready with another stone. Hugh scurried up a tree as she hit the alligator again, this time between the eyes. He growled and then started walking towards her. Her heart beat crazily in her chest. She wondered if she should run, but instead she picked up the biggest rock she could find, yelled as loud as she could, and ran straight at the alligator. She threw the third rock from a close range. It hit him on the head at the same time that a shower of acorns came down on his back. It did not knock him down but he appeared slightly stunned. Allie May used that time to climb up the tree after Hugh. The alligator shook his head and growled up at them, but then turned and headed back towards the pond.
However before Allie could climb through her newly formed window it was filled with a furry face. She stepped back in shock, almost falling down, as the largest rodent she had ever seen leaned through the opening and spoke to her.
“Well hello there, and how do you do? Come in, come in, we’ve been waiting for you!” he half said, half sung, then smiled widely showing two long and rather orange teeth.
“What? You’ve been waiting for me? I don’t understand. How can that be?” Allie stammered back in confusion.
“I heard the news from Tuner, the turtle, he was sure you’d pass every hurdle,” he answered, jumping down from the fence and motioning for her to follow.
“Ah, the turtle with the radio. I was so curious where he would go,” Allie admitted as she climbed up to the window and crawled through. Indeed, she had probably never been curiouser in her entire life.
Allie sighed. She wondered if she would be able to catch anything that day. The rocks along the creek made it difficult to run but she moved as quickly as she could. The turtle was soon out of sight but she could still hear the voices broadcasting from his back. It took a while, but she was finally gaining on them, the sounds getting louder rather than softer, when the creek disappeared under a sort of fence that blocked the way on either side. A line of trees that had grown quite close together made up the main part of the barricade with vines and twigs woven through any empty spots. She walked along it trying to find a way to pass but it was too dense. She explored it with her hands until she found a place where there was more vegetation than wood. The blade of the knife from her belt was sharp. She was able to cut through some of the vines and make a window of sorts. It did not take long until it was wide enough for her to pass through.
Allie May continued her chase, but as the sun rose the light of the will o’ the wisp grew fainter and fainter. Within a few minutes it disappeared completely leaving Allie May alone deep in a part of the forest where she had never been before. She paused, catching her breath, and observing her surroundings. It was a beautiful morning. The leaves above her glowed bright green and the rays of sunlight they let through shimmered on the water. She listened to the rushing of the stream, the croaking of some frogs, and the call of a bird, but then another sound joined the rest, a familiar sound. It was a voice speaking, followed by static, then a song.
“Could that be a radio I hear? It sounds like it is very near.” Allie murmured to herself as her ears led her towards the music. Right as the creek made a bend and started moving faster Allie May caught sight of its source. It was indeed a radio, but it seemed to be walking towards the water. She rubbed her eyes and looked again. The radio was not moving by itself but was riding on the back of a large turtle. As she watched, the turtle walked to the edge of the creek and then with the radio perfectly balanced in the middle of his shell swam towards the center.
She called out to him, “Wait, please, I want to know. Where do you and the radio go?” The turtle looked back at her and winked, but he did not answer, and he did not wait for her but let the current carry him swiftly downstream.
As the light flickered and danced through the trees Allie had to speed up to follow. She leapt from stump to rock and crawled over fallen logs, trying not to lose sight of the wisp. Her bulky fishing basket bounced against her back as she ran. They crossed a clearing and then came to a wide expanse of water that she would not be able to leap over. She considered trying to swim but then noticed a tree with a good sized branch stretching out across the creek. After sticking a few items from the basket into her pocket she climbed the tree. When she got out onto the branch she carefully fastened the strap around it and then lowered herself down onto the basket. With a few pumps of her legs she was swinging enough to get the momentum she needed to launch herself over the water and onto the bank on the other side.
She was so focused on her daydream that she did not notice the tug on her line. When it tugged again it was so strong she lost her grip on the pole. It splashed down into the water. She climbed off the log and reached down to grab it, but it kept moving farther away from her. She followed it for several steps before she looked up. Not far in front of her was a strange bluish light. Allie May had been attentively listening to her Pa’s stories for as long as she could remember. She had no doubt the light hovering between the trees was a will-o-the-wisp and that they were not known to bring good luck. She knew that it would be wise to head in the opposite direction, but hadn’t she just wished for adventure? Hadn’t she been dreaming of facing danger? She forgot all about her fishing pole as the ghostly light beckoned her deeper into the woods. Following seemed like the only possible choice.