Chapter Five: The Long Walk – A More Dangerous Path – Another Door – Lang Li’s Veranda – Peril!
Exhaustion was threatening to overwhelm her, but Lizzie trudged on through the night, in search of safety from the gigantic creature that stalked her. Twice Lizzie was forced to wheel about, gun drawn, to keep the Tigzly from closing the distance and shredding her to bits. To Lizzie’s annoyance, the creature laughed each time she threatened it, and Lizzie had the uncomfortable feeling that she was merely being toyed with, and that her panicked responses to the creature’s advances were serving as a source of amusement.
“I’ve got your scent now, girl,” said the Tigzly in his deep, growling voice, and not for the first time did Lizzie wonder about the strangeness of this new world, in which animals could talk and doors appeared in clearings to admit monsters.
“Too bad my scent won’t fill your stomach,” responded the girl, trying to put up a brave front.
“True,” chuckled the tiger-headed fiend, “but I’m expecting a most delicious breakfast in a few hours -”
Something about the way the Tigzly stopped talking made Lizzie suspicious, so she wheeled about with pistol raised. The Tigzly stood in the road, having not advanced, but merely stared past Lizzie, and Lizzie could tell from its face that the creature was performing some sort of calculation.
“Listen, Girl,” said the Tigzly, “I can tell by your scent that you are not from around here, and I’m pretty sure that you are no witch. I suspect that your weapon, though very powerful, cannot really kill me, and that the inconvenience of the injury it inflicts will be more than offset by the deliciousness of your meat when I tear it from your bones.”
Lizzie took a step back, her pistol still raised. For some reason the Tigzly winced at this.
“Stop!” said the creature, “Listen to me.”
Lizzie took another step backwards, putting more distance between herself and the creature.
“I said stop!” roared the beast with such power that blood sprayed from the wound where its eye used to be, and for some reason Lizzie’s legs complied with the Tigzly’s demand. “Look,” continued the creature, trying to sound reasonable, “the way this works is as follows- I hunt, you get eaten.”
“Should- Should I just jump into your mouth then, beast?” said the girl, her brave front crumbling. Such fear did Lizzie feel that a tear streaked down her cheek.
“Would you do that?” For a moment the Tigzly was confused by the girl’s sarcasm. “Oh, of course not. Stupid girl!”
Lizzie managed to command her legs to take another step back. This seemed to discomfit the Tigzly quite a bit.
“Would you please stop walking away from me?” begged the Tigzly, and suddenly Lizzie’s mind made the connection.
“He’s afraid of something,” thought the girl. Out loud she said, “What is it, friend monster? Why are you afraid?
“I fear nothing!” said the Tigzly, but as Lizzie took another step back, the creature’s frustration became evident. “I merely know these woods, and I am not so foolish as to continue down the path you are on.”
Lizzie looked at the brick road, and for the first time she noticed that the bricks here were shinier, and less trod than the path she was used to. To her right and her left, off the path, was a dirt trail. She could see Bobby, who had so far avoided the Tigzly’s attention, hiding among the bushes. Lizzie did not like the idea of leaving the road, even though it seemed now that wherever it led was so dangerous that it scared even the fearsome beast that was pursuing her.
“This is my path, Mr. Monster, and if you are too afraid to follow then I suppose you will simply have to miss your breakfast.”
The creature roared and fell onto its forepaws, charging Lizzie as a wild beast. Lizzie let out a scream of panic, turned and ran for her life upon the golden bricks. She ran as fast as she could, expecting at any moment to be taken down and killed, but instead, nothing happened. After what seemed an eternity but was only a few seconds, Lizzie turned to see the Tigzly far up the path, unable or unwilling to pass the point where the well-trod bricks ended, and the shiny bricks began.
“You will not survive this, girl,” said the creature, “there are creatures in these woods much worse than I! It would be a kindness for me to eat you -“
Bobby came out of the surrounding brush and stood at Lizzie’s side. “He is a very angry tiger-bear-thing,” said the boy, “do you think he is right, about these woods being dangerous?”
“The whole world is dangerous Bobby, as you well know,” said the girl quietly, then, louder, she berated the stupid boy, “What a little coward you are, hiding in the woods like that.”
Looking at Bobby more closely, she could see that the boy was covered with scratches and bug bites, and splattered with mud from the waist down. “It was hard to keep up with you, Lizzie, you walked so fast. Plus, I ate all my fruit already, and I am very hungry.”
“Well come on then, Bobby,” said the girl with a smile, “let us see what dangers these woods will provide that can so frighten a fearsome beast like the Tigzly. Perhaps we’ll find a house made of candy.”
The stupid boy’s eyes brightened at the thought. “A house made of candy? Do you think we will?”
Despite her exhaustion and the ominous dangers of the forest, Lizzie laughed. “You really are a very stupid boy, Bobby.”
Together Lizzie and Bobbie continued down the shiny golden brick road as the sun set, ignoring the screams and threats of the fearsome Tigzly.
Lizzie woke up in the nook of a tree branch she had only vague memories of climbing to the night before, when exhaustion had led her to this place of limited shelter and safety. The chill night air had seeped stiffness into her joints, and she was sore and hungry and feeling very helpless. She ate the last crust of bread Minba had given her, and dropped lightly from the tree. She could hear a bubbling stream not far off, and made her way there for a drink. Bobby followed half a step behind her.
“Look,” said Bobby softly, “giant mice!”
“Those are not mice, Bobby,’ said Lizzie, recalling a picture in an alphabet book she had seen once, long ago, “those are kangaroos! I guess that settles it. We are in Australia.”
“Are we far from London then?” asked the stupid boy.
“Yes, Bobby, I am afraid we are.”
At the approach of the two children the kangaroos bolted in all directions like rabbits, hopping away in great leaps due to their mighty long legs and springy tails. Bobby watched the creatures with wonder, as Lizzie cupped water into her hands and drank the clearest, cleanest water she had ever tasted. When she rose, she saw that Bobby was staring across the stream, at a little clearing where a bright red door stood, the door wide open.
“Oh, no,” said Lizzie.
“The door is open,” said Bobby, “do you think those creatures are about?”
“I’m sure of it,” said Lizzie, “they must be on the brick path, searching for us.”
“What are we going to do?”
“You do what you always do when there is danger, Bobby? Hide,” said the girl, “I am going to investigate that door.”
“Be careful, Lizzie,” said the cowardly boy as he dived into a thicket of bushes, pleasantly surprised to find that the red and blue berries there were edible and not too sour.
Lizzie stood up and hopped from stone to stone across the shallow stream, and only on the last step did she manage to get her feet wet at all. She crouched slightly and ran towards the open door from the side, keeping the open end away from her, so that anyone looking out would not see her. She reached the door without anyone seeming to notice, so she cautiously peered around and into the entrance way. What she saw startled her.
Beyond the door was the interior of a room, the walls made entirely of stone, the ceiling and floors of ancient timber. An elaborately decorated oriental rug was on the floor, and the furniture in the room, which consisted of chairs, desk, and a couch, was the finest Lizzie had ever seen. Tentatively Lizzie entered the room, trying to be as quiet as possible. To the right there was a wide window, which was open and lead to a veranda. Seated on a wicker chair sat a lovely oriental woman, who was busying herself peering through the lens of telescope that was mounted to a tripod. Lizzie knew without a doubt that this woman was Lang Li, but the lovely woman did not appear fearsome at all.
There was a sound from outside the door, and Lizzie risked a glance and saw three of the creatures she had prevented from coming through the door on Minba and Tottin’s farm approaching. Moving quickly and silently Lizzie dashed across the floor of the castle and hid under the couch.
From under the couch Lizzie could get her first good look at the creatures that served Lang Li. As the creatures entered the doorway Lizzie saw that the creatures had two faces, one on the front of their heads and one on the back. One face was the frightening black visage with the weasel eyes that had so terrified the girl the day before. The other side was white and pasty and deathly looking. This coloration extended throughout the creatures entire body, even down to the finger like appendages of their hands.
“My Queen,” said the lead creature, as he knelt before Lang Li, “I am sorry to report that we have not yet found the girl.”
Lang Li did not stop looking through her telescope, but said, in a voice as dainty and cultured as any Lizzie had ever heard, but with a markedly Oriental accent, “I am not interested in girl, only her head. Find girl, bring me her head.”
“My Queen,” said the creature, “the land she has escaped to is not safe for us. The witch who rules these parts is most dangerous, and she will interpret the presence of your creatures here as an act of war.”
Lang Li looked up from her telescope, and all three of the fearsome creatures that bowed before her shuddered in response. “I do not care about consequences. I do not care about war. I do not care about anything but head of girl. If you are unable to bring me head of girl, then you no use to me.”
Lang Li looked at the fireplace, and to Lizzie’s shock fire erupted where there had been none a moment before.
“My Queen,” said the lead creature for a third time, “my deepest apologies. I will bring you the girl’s head.”
“No,” said Lang Li, “You will not. It is time for change in leadership. You,” said the Queen, gesturing to one of the other creatures. With a shock Lizzie realized that this creature had its hand wrapped in bandages, and was missing four of its finger-like appendages. “Are you willing to become leader of Scutters, and bring me head of girl?”
The Scutter smiled at this, and its eyes glowered with hatred. “Yes, my Queen.”
“Then is settled. Back to search, my creatures.”
The two Scutters backed away obsequiously as the former leader of the creatures approached the fireplace with deep fear and sadness. Lang Li turned and walked back out onto the veranda, returning to her telescope. As Lizzie watched in mounting horror, the Scutter placed his hand-like appendages under his jaw, and lifted his head off his shoulders. The eyes blinked twice, and a tear trickled down its cheek, then the creature tossed his head into the fire, and stood there as the fire roared and burned the head to ash almost instantly.
Having seen more than enough horror, Lizzie silently emerged from under the couch, and made her way through the red door, back outside to the stream. Once outside in the bright sunlight, Lizzie considered her options. Lang Li wants my head, thought the girl as she gingerly touched her neck, as if the wound were already inflicted, but what in heaven for?
Lizzie had little time to ponder this question, however, because there were five of the loathsome, two-faced Skutters coming after her, lead by the one Lang Li had just put in charge, the one with the missing finger-like appendages, and two of them were ominously removing their heads from their shoulders as they approached.
To Be Continued