Chapter Six: Tom and Patches Worry -Battling the Skutters – A Make-Shift Raft – The Whirlpool – The Head in the Bag
Back in London, Tom MacHinery returned to his toyshopafter another day of fruitless searching for Lizzie, who had been accidentally swept up into the sky two days previously from the roof of his shop by an errant dragon kite. Tom used the stairs at the back of his shop and accessed the roof, where Patches, the ugly mongrel dog that belonged to Lizzie, waited vigilantly for his mistress to return. Tom dropped a meaty hambone before the dog, who was so despondent he only nibbled a little of the meat.
“Cheer up, Patches,” said Tom, “It’s entirely possible our girl is all right. She may have been blown clear across the channel, to land in France. She may now be trying to find her way back to us even as we speak.”
Patches gave a hopeful growl in response, but deep down Tom did not hold out much hope for the girl’s return. His sole purpose in life, as a toymaker, was to bring joy and fun to the world. Tom had never imagined in his darkest thoughts that one day a creation of his would be responsible for the disappearance of so charming a girl as Lizzie.
Half a world away, the Skutters approached Lizzie as she stood outside the red door. The girl weighed her options, then kicked the door closed and moved to keep the door and frame between the Skutters and herself. Her hope was to keep Lang Li from exiting her castle, because as much as she feared the Skutters that approached her now, she somehow feared Lang Li more. Lizzie pulled her knife in her left hand, and gripped the dueling pistol in her right. Gritting her teeth, Lizzie stepped out from behind the door and aimed her gun.
“Stay back, Skutters, or -“ was all Lizzie could say before she was hit in the head with a large, round hairy projectile. Later, she would realize that one of the Skutters had thrown his own head at her, knocking her silly, but in the moment, all the poor girl could do was stagger backwards and fall down, stars filling her vision.
Instinctually the girl attempted to rise, but a black and white foot rolled her to her back, roughly. The Skutters had her surrounded now, and she could hear them talking to one another.
“She’s down! The Queen will be pleased!”
“Idiot! You hit her in the head. If it is damaged the Queen will consign yours to the fire.”
Lizzie groaned, and tried to think away the stars that blurred her vision. She was surrounded by four of the Skutters, and as she forced her eyes to focus, one of them placed his head back upon his neck, as if such an action was the most natural thing in the world. Lizzie raised her pistol, aimed at a random Skutter, and fired. There was a loud bang and much confusion and panic. Lizzie rolled to her knees and bolted away.
Lizzie was still dizzy from being hit in the head, and ran away from the Skutters in more of an arc than a straight line. This may have redounded in her favor, as one of the Skutter’s heads sailed past her and rolled towards the nearby stream when it landed. The head rolled to a stop and the weasel eyes glared at Lizzie with visible hatred.
“You took my fingers!” said the Skutter’s head.
Lizzie changed direction and charged the head. “Did I? Then I should say you got off lucky!” With that, Lizzie gave the head a mighty kick and the head arced into the air and landed in the stream, where it bobbed and floated as it was carried away by the current.
Lizzie looked back at the rest of the Skutters. There had been five of them, though only three seemed to present any real danger. One sat on the ground, holding a hand-like appendage over a non-fatal gunshot wound. Another was headless and running towards the stream to recover its head. The other three Skutters were advancing on Lizzie, but exercising more caution, wary of the pistol in her hand.
“I need a better gun,” thought Lizzie, “one bullet is almost never good enough.”
Even as Lizzie despaired of being able to fend off three Skutters, five more appeared, emerging from the nearby woods that lead to the brick path. Who knew how many more patrols were out there even now, looking for her? Then there was the red door on the little hill near the stream. At any moment Lang Li herself might come through that door, and who knew what powers she might possess? Lizzie felt helpless, and her mind could only come up with one plan.
Lizzie sheathed her knife and pocketed her pistol. She raised her hands and said, “I give up!”
Warily the Skutters approached the frightened girl even as Lizzie walked bravely towards the red door and certain doom.
“Careful sisters,” said one of the Skutters, “this one is a powerful witch.” Lizzie could hardly believe her ears. It was impossible to imagine that these savage creatures were of the feminine persuasion.
As she approached the red door, Lizzie said, “I am a powerful witch, you know. If any of you touches me, I will destroy you.” Lizzie looked at the Skutter she had shot, who was still holding her hand-like appendage over her wound. Lizzie’s warning caused all the Skutters to take a step back.
That step back was all Lizzie needed. She suddenly ran forward towards the red door and frame. Approaching it from the side, she gripped the front and back doorknobs and pulled with all her might. The door, though heavy, was not immovable. It tilted towards Lizzie, and she was able to drag the door down the small hill and towards the stream.
The Skutters screamed in protest. More than one tossed her head at Lizzie, but Lizzie was on to them now, and was able to duck behind the door she was dragging. One of the Skutter heads rebounded off the door, making a loud sound. Lizzie dragged the red door to the stream and lost her footing, so that both she and the door fell into the rushing water. Lizzie stood up in the knee-deep water and chased after the red door, which was floating away downstream. She jumped aboard the makeshift raft even as she and the door vanished into the thicker woods upstream, leaving the surprised Skutters behind.
Lizzie clung to the red door as the stream carried her faster and faster, the water becoming more violent and less stable as she traveled deeper. Occasionally the girl could catch glimpses of the brick road she had been following, since this part of the road paralleled the stream, so at least she was traveling in the proper direction. For a moment Lizzie feared that she might be heading for a waterfall, and feared that she and the doormight be shattered on rocks in some deep ravine, but instead the water began to calm as the stream widened, and suddenly Lizzie found herself emerging onto a large pond.
This part of the strange land she had found herself in was peaceful and quiet. Above the pond was a canopy of trees, and an ornate covered bridge that continued the brick road from one side to the other. Dragonflies and other small insects hummed as they darted from lily pad to buttercup, and Lizzie breathed a deep sigh of relief. For the moment, she felt safe, but only for a moment.
“Lizzie!” called Bobby, from a window in the covered bridge, “are you all right?”
Lizzie was happy to see that her friend, coward though he may be, was unharmed. “I’m fine Bobby. I’ll meet you at the other side of the bridge!”
It was then that the doorknob began to turn on the door. Lizzie knew that this could only mean that something was trying to get through. Lizzie held the doorknob in both hands to prevent it being turned as the door floated towards the opposite bank of the pond. When the water was shallow enough for Lizzie to stand, she jumped off the door and began wading towards shore.
Without Lizzie to hold the door closed the door swung open widely, and Lizzie caught a glimpse of the serene and gentle looking Lang Li’s face a moment before she lost all composure and, with great surprise, realized what a mistake she had made. As the door opened the water from the pond was able to rush in and the door sank to the bottom of the pond. The water flowing into Lang Li’s castle created a current so strong that Lizzie was almost swept up herself from the undertow, but the determined girl maintained her balance and made it to shore.
Bobby joined Lizzie on the beach of the pond. The door was slipping now towards the middle of the pond, and the pond itself was turning into a whirlpool that was making a great sucking sound, roaring so loud the trees began to shake.
“That’s going to make a mess of her castle, Lizzie,”said Bobby.
“Serves her right, does it not?” asked Lizzie, “Theold witch is after my head, after all.”
“What you have done is a terrible thing.”
Lizzie looked in the direction of the mysterious voice and saw the head of a Skutter, sitting on its side in some mud. She remembered now the Skutter chasing its own head up the stream, only moments before she had made her escape that way. Lizzie also recalled that this Skutter was the same one who had lost its finger-like appendages to her knife, and the one Lang L ihad made the leader of the Skutters as she had spied on them from beneath the couch.
“I see that you were not successful in reuniting your body with your head,” said Lizzie, walking over to the head, gripping it by the matted, muddied hair and lifting it so the she could speak to the creature face-to-face.
“No,” said the Skutter, “even now I see my body being sucked into the great whirlpool you have created.”
Lizzie looked over at the whirlpool, and saw the Skutter’s body thrashing futilely against the current. “That is a tough break,my friend,” said Lizzie with false pity, “Tell me, why do you use your heads as weapons? It seems foolish.”
“It is the way Lang Li made us,” said the Skutter, “we do not question the Queen’s wisdom.”
“I see, “ said Lizzie, “I suppose you would like me totoss your head into the pond, that you might be made whole once more?”
“It matters not to me,” said the Skutter, “heads are common among my people, and only bodies cannot be replaced.”
“Why does Lang Li want my head?” asked the girl.
“I cannot pretend to know the Queen’s business,”replied the Skutter, “I know only that she wants it, perhaps for her collection.”
“Lang Li collects heads?” Lizzie asked, repelled by the Oriental’s savagery.
“I tell you nothing that isn’t known throughout theworld,” replied the Skutter, “Lang Li wears a different head every day of the week.”
On the other side of the emptying pond, Lizzie saw that the Skutters she had escaped from had tracked her and the door through thewoods, and were grouping at the other side of the pond. Lizzie and Bobby ducked down behind some bushes to hide.
“Hey!” yelled the Skutter head in Lizzie’s hand, “She is over here, my sisters!”
Lizzie covered the Skutter’s mouth, but had forgotten about the face and the mouth on the other side of the Skutter’s head. “Hurry!”said the head, “before she escapes again!”
“We should go, Lizzie,” said Bobby.
Lizzie nodded, and swung the Skutter’s head into a tree, knocking it senseless. Then she and the boy made their way through the bushes and brambles back to the road of golden bricks. She ran for as fast and as far as she was able, but eventually was able to slow down and catch her breath, confident that her pursuers were suitably far behind her. Retrieving the empty burlap bag that Bobby had used to carry all that fruit he had stolen from the orchard, she deposited the Skutter’s head, fully gagged on both sides of its head and unable to speak, inside. Satisfied, she slung the sack over her shoulder.
“Why are you keeping that thing?” asked Bobby.
“I’m not sure,” said Lizzie,“but it might come in handy. I’m sure this head knows more than she is telling us.”
To Be Continued
Lizzie the Girl Knight is serialized monthly. A new chapter is published on the first day of each month.
Lizzie was written by “George R. Thorndyke” and transcribed for its current publication by Steve Ahlquist.
Illustrations by “Skük”.