Chapter Four: Shutting the Door – Queen Lang Li – A Hurried Departure – The Golden Bricked Road – Stalked by a Monster
Though her situation seemed hopeless, Lizzie was not the kind of girl to give up easily. Life on the streets of Whitechapel had taught the ruthless girl a degree of viciousness and savagery that would have been the envy of the naked natives of the American west. With a throaty scream Lizzie ran her knife along the edge of the doorframe, separating the four finger-like appendages from their owner’s hand in one smooth motion. There was a blood curdling scream of pain from behind the door even as it slammed shut.
All was quiet. No sound came from the other side.
Not trusting that this was the end of the strange and loathsome looking creature’s assault, Lizzie listened for activity from within, and hearing nothing, pressed her ear against the red painted door. Lizzie though she could hear some muffled voices but could not make out any words, even words in another language. Lizzie brought all her attention to listening through the door, even holding her breath so as to concentrate more fully, so she was doubly shocked when the door she was perched upon was attacked from the other side with a renewed resolve to open it. Lizzie considered rolling off and running for it, but she was concerned for the safety of Minba, who had so recently treated her kindly. With this thought Lizzie resolved to fight the creatures tooth and nail, even if it meant dying.
The creatures managed to twist the door knob and raise the door a few inches, carefully avoiding putting finger-like appendages at risk. Lizzie knew that the time had come to let the creatures come. She could not hold them back so now her only option seemed to be to let them through and fight them with her knife as best she could. However, before the brave girl could act, Minba’s husband Tottin returned, pulling his heavy wagon behind him. The farmer yelled at Lizzie to get out of the way, and Lizzie leapt aside an instant before the dwarf farmer parked his cart on the red door and sealed it with the cart’s weight.
Lizzie found her feet, and looked into the back of the cart, filled with tools, large rocks and sacks of seeds, hundreds of pounds of weight that secured the door laying on the ground from being easily opened from the other side.
“Tottin!” said Lizzie, “Thank goodness you arrived. I couldn’t hold the beasties off much longer.”
“Go!” said Tottin in reply, pointing to the brick path. “Lang Li is hunting. You bring great danger to Minba and myself.”
“What is Lang Li?” asked the girl.
Minba had exited the small house and joined her husband. In the difficult way Lizzie and Minba had learned to communicate, Lizzie learned that Lang Li was a Queen or a Princess with great power. Lang Li possessed great powers, and sent her creatures through magic doors to do her bidding.
“She terrorizes the Land of Aus,” said Minba, “and Tottin and I are too old and too weak to stand up to her.”
Tottin looked away, and hung his head in shame. With regret Tottin said, “It cannot be a coincidence that Lang Li sent her creatures here only a day after you mysteriously arrived, Lizzie.”
“But I am sure I do not know this Lang Li,” said Lizzy, “Why should she be after me?”
Neither Minba nor Tottin had an answer for the girl, so the dwarves said nothing. Minba returned to the house and came out a minute later with a cloth tied into a sack containing a small loaf of bread and some fruit.
“I’m sorry, Lizzie, but you must go,” said Tottin, “It is not safe for you, and it is not safe for us if you stay.”
Lizzie nodded. “If this Lang Li is truly after me, how can I defend myself?”
Tottin looked at Minba, who said, in a quiet and conspiratorial voice, “Lang Li has enemies, Lizzie, but people like us should not speak of these things aloud.” Then, even quieter, almost a whisper, Minba added, “But there is another queen in this land, named Rani, and she commands the largest army in all of Aus. To find her, follow the road towards the center of our land. Perhaps Queen Rani can help you, I do not know.”
Lizzie had never been treated so kindly by strangers, even strangers like Minba and Tottin who insisted she leave at once. Tears came to Lizzie’s eyes as Minba hugged the girl gently and said, “Our daughter, had she lived, would be as old as you are now, Lizzie. Of course, she would have been shorter than you, but I believe just as strong and brave.”
Lizzie hugged the dwarf woman and then picked up her box of matches, and her gun. As she stepped onto the uneven brick road, Bobby joined her from the orchard. He had somehow found a large brown sack and had stuffed it with an abundance of fruit.
“You are a very greedy boy, Bobby,” said the girl, but her heart was not in the chastisement.
“Well, it may be a long way home from here, Lizzie, and you know I get hungry.”
Lizzie laughed a little at that.
“Hey, Lizzie, did you notice that all the bricks in this road are made of gold?” said the boy, after the young adventurers had been walking for a few miles, and the sun hung low on the horizon.
“That’s silly,” said Lizzie in reply, “who would make a road out of bricks of gold?”
For an answer the stupid boy merely shrugged his shoulders and bit into a pear. With mouth full, and sputtering pulp and seeds as he talked, Bobby asked, “So where are we going to sleep tonight, Lizzie?”
“I’m sure I do not know, Bobby. Perhaps in a clearing, perhaps in a tree. We should also keep our eyes open for those red doors Lang Li uses to dispatch her creatures.”
“Right,” said Bobby, a little nervously, “this place is wild and dangerous, ain’t it?”
“Yes it is, Bobby,” Lizzie said, but when she looked, the boy was gone, with only the rustle of leaves and branches off the side of the path to mark his passing.
“Who are you talking to?” said a long, growling voice. Lizzie spun on her heels and saw a large figure standing alongside of the path, obscured by foliage and shadows.
“Bobby,” replied the girl, quickening her pace away from the voice in the woods, “he’s a friend.”
“Not much of a friend, to leave a tender morsel such as yourself all alone at the first sign of danger,” said the voice, moving closer.
“Am I in danger then, sir?” asked the girl, reaching behind her to grab the handle of her stolen pistol, glad she had taken the time to load it.
The voice from the woods revealed itself then, and a more fearsome creature Lizzie had never seen. Even the shocking black face and weasel eyes from behind the red door paled in comparison to the sight that confronted her now. The creature had the body of a bear, but with the colorings and markings of a jungle cat, yellow with black stripes. Its head was not of a bear, but of a ferocious bengalese tiger. Somehow the feline face contorted in such a way as to seem to be smiling, and Lizzie was reminded of the way Patches looked when he cornered a particularly vulnerable rat, only this time Lizzie was the rat.
“I would venture to suggest that you are in a fair amount of danger, girl,” said the beast, “we Tigzlies are known for our ravenous appetites.”
Lizzie drew her pistol and pointed it at the Tigzly. “Come no farther, beast, or I will kill you.”
“Are you a witch then, trying to frighten me off with your magic wand?” taunted the beast.
“No, kind sir,” said the girl, marshaling her courage, “this is a weapon, called a gun, and it will kill you if you advance another step.”
The Tigzly smiled a wide grin and advanced another step, calling Lizzie’s bluff.
Lizzie was not bluffing. She squeezed the trigger of the dueling pistol, discharging the bullet with a loud bang and a puff of grey smoke. The bullet instantly crossed the short distance between Lizzie and the Tigzly, catching the great beast in the left eye with a terrific blast of blood and gore. The creature roared with pain, and it was truly the most terrible sound the young girl had ever heard.
The Tigzly covered the bloody hole where his eye had been with both his paws and fell onto its back with screams of hurt and pain. “Witch! Witch!” cried the great beast, “You have taken my bleeding eye!”
Lizzie fought the urge to run. The gun only carried one bullet at a time, and she had just fired it, with the effect that the creature was wounded and enraged, not dead. Lizzie had no doubt that turning and running would not slow her life’s ending, and also knew that she would never have time to reload and get off another shot. She doubted another shot would even kill the beast, before the Tigzly mauled her to death.
Fighting every urge to flee as fast as her shaking knees could carry her, Lizzie stood her ground as the Tigzly, overwhelmed by pain and anger, rolled onto the brick road.
“I am going to rip you to pieces girl!” said the beast as it once more found its footing and reared back on two legs, standing over twelve feet tall. With one paw it covered the bloody socket where its eye had been.
“No sir, you will not!” yelled Lizzie, her voice wavering only slightly from the fear that clenched her heart like a fist, “If you advance another step I will take your other eye as well!”
To Lizzie’s relief her threat gave the giant creature pause. “What manner of cruel witch are you, girl, that you take a beast down in pieces? Kill me and be done, or let me rip the meat from your tiny bones!”
“I am a witch that does not waste my power on the likes of vermin such as you, beast,” said Lizzie, “I kill when it suits my purpose, not yours.”
The Tigzly took a step back, and for the first time Lizzie imagined she might actually survive this encounter. “Maybe,” replied the creature, with some slyness in his voice, “but maybe that was your only spell. Maybe you cannot hurt me any more.”
“Step forward and find out, beast.”
The Tigzly smiled and lowered his paw from his face, showing the great bloody hole where his eye had been. The creature’s other eye nearly glowed with rage. “I think not, girl. I think I will merely follow you, at a distance, and wait until you drop your guard. Eventually, you will sleep, or grow careless in some way, and at that moment-“
The Tigzly swiped the air in front of him with an audible whoosh. The last rays of the days sun glinted off the creature’s razor sharp bear paws, damp with the blood from his eye wound, and inwardly Lizzie cringed.
“That,” said the girl with all the bravado she could muster, “will be the moment when you die, monster.”
The Tigzly laughed his deep gravel laugh, and Lizzie turned her back on the creature and followed the brick road into the rapidly darkening woods, walking perhaps a bit too fast. She did not have to turn around to know that the Tigzly was following behind her, maintaining its distance, but always threatening to strike.
Thus began the longest night of Lizzie’s life. In the moonlight she was able to follow the brick path through the dark forest, all the while knowing that the moment she became tired or showed weakness, the Tigzly would be there to make good on its threat of violence. Her only real hope was that the creature would not call her bluff and attack, and that she would happen upon a safe place to hide or some good people to help her. Though she doubted it would be of much help, Lizzie did manage to reload her stolen pistol as she walked.
To Be Continued