The sun was still high in the sky when Lizzie was woken up by the panicked thrashing of Bobby as he let out startled gasps of pain.
“Oof! Ouch! Bollocks!” said the boy.
Lizzie was safely ensconced in the fabric of the kite, so it was with some difficulty that she peered over the edge and through the leaves of the tree in time to see the boy fall from one of the lower branches, and land among the fallen apples on the soft grass below.
“Bobby!” said the girl with real concern, “are you all right?”
The stupid boy uncrossed his eyes and found the face of Lizzie high above him, then squinted as the sun revealed itself from behind a puffy white cloud. “I’m fine, Lizzie. I just fell out of the tree is all.”
“Give me a moment,” said Lizzie, gathering her things together and assessing the best way to descend from the tree, “I’ll be down shortly.”
It would have been easy, from the safety of her secure roost in the tree, to make fun of the slow witted Bobby for falling to the ground as he did, but as Lizzie began to declimb, she realized just how difficult such an effort was. Her coat and case of matchboxes became tangled in branches, forcing her to eventually remove them and drop them into the hands of Bobby below.
As she descended, the branches thickened, and it became easier. Still, a wayward branch somehow caught the handle of the dueling pistol she had tucked away, and sent the gun careening through the branches and onto the ground.
“Blimey!” said Bobby, picking up the gun and staring down the barrel, “where did you get a pistol, Lizzie?”
Lizzie dropped to the ground and snatched the gun from the boy before he hurt himself. “I found it,” she replied, stuffing the weapon back into her belt.
“Oh,” said Bobby, as Lizzie retrieved her coat and case of matches. “Did you find it near the dead man in the alleyway?”
Lizzie recalled the man she had shot. Seeing no reason to lie, she said, “Yes.”
“Why would someone leave such a nice pistol behind?” asked the boy, stretching Lizzie’s patience near to breaking.
“Let us talk about this later, Bobby,” said Lizzie sharply, “we have to figure out where we are, and how we are to get back to London.”
Lizzie’s sharp tone quelled the boy’s questions, and Lizzie took her first good look around the forest they had landed in. The apple tree in which they had spent the night was one of a great many fruit trees that grew around this area. Nearby were pear, cherry and lemon trees, as well as a great variety of trees with fruits Lizzie had never seen before. Lizzie picked a delicious cherry, and spit the pit onto the ground.
Bobby was making a sour face, having bitten into a very large and juicy lime. “I like it here,” said the boy, “fruit grows on trees.”
“That’s all well and good, Bobby,” said the girl in response, “but I left Patches behind when the kite took us away. I need to get back to him.”
“Well,” said Bobby, dropping the sour lime in favor of a sweet peach, “we came from that direction…”
Bobby pointed in the direction of the desert they had only a few hours previously. Lizzie let out a shudder in response.
“No,” said Lizzie firmly, “we shall have to find a way home that doesn’t involved trekking across a desert with no water and no food.”
A gentle breeze filled the air, and the dragon kite on the tree above them suddenly swelled and took to the air. Bits of the cloth used to make the kite were entangled in the tree’s branches, but one by one the branches let go, and the dragon kite was suddenly free. It flew up and then, catching a higher stronger wind, sailed off to the east, away from the desert and away from the two adventurers.
“Let us follow the kite!” said Bobby with excitement.
Lizzie could think of no reason not to, and nodded her assent. Carrying her coat in her arms, because it was too warm to wear it, Lizzie and Bobby walked off through the forest in pursuit of the dragon kite.
They did not have to walk far before discovering a small farmhouse and a brick road. The dragon kite was now high in the sky and moving too quickly to keep up with. Soon it was just a tiny white dot and then it was gone.
Lizzie had lost interest in the kite, however, and was more interested in the farmhouse. It was small, only a foot taller than Lizzie, with miniature windows and doors. If Lizzie were to enter the house she would have to hunch over quite a bit. The house was, however, of a proper scale for Bobby, at least in regard to its height. The portly boy would have to squeeze through the narrow doorway to get in.
The house was well maintained, and Lizzie reasoned that it must be presently inhabited, so she mustered her courage and knocked on the door. She heard movement inside the house and was pleasantly surprised when a tiny old woman, a dwarf with a kindly face, opened the door and peered up at her.
“Hello,” said Lizzie, “I’m lost, and was hoping you could help me.”
The dwarf woman stepped from the tiny house and responded to Lizzie in a strange language Lizzie could not understand. The woman’s voice was high and birdlike.
Bobby laughed at the woman’s speech but a sharp look from Lizzie shut him up. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but I don’t understand. I’m from London…” said the girl, hoping the woman took no offense from Bobby’s laugh.
The dwarf woman responded with more words Lizzie did not understand. Then, realizing that Lizzie did not understand her words, she attempted a new strategy. The woman pointed to herself with her tiny delicate fingers and said, “Minba.”
“Minba?” said Lizzie as the woman smiled and nodded. “Is that your name?”
Lizzie pointed to her self and said, “Lizzie.”
“Liz-zie,” said the Minba, still smiling.
Encouraged, Lizzie pointed at Bobby and said, “Bobby.”
“That’s me!” said Bobby, excitedly.
Minba smiled, and waved her hand in Bobby’s general direction.
“Bob-by,” said the woman, then she opened her arm wide and said, “Aus.”
Lizzie repeated the woman’s gesture and word, hoping she understood. “Aus? Is that this farm, this country…”
“Aus,” said the woman again, and somehow Lizzie knew that Aus referred to the country they were in.
“Aus,” said Lizzie, then she had a realization, “Australia? Could we have come that far?”
Through signs and gestures and patient guessing, Minba and Lizzie learned enough of each other’s words to eventually communicate that Lizzie was lost and needed help. The afternoon was spent this way, and when Lizzie became hungry Minba went into her house and came out with delicious, but small slices of pie.
Bobby, who had become bored by the slow communication, had long since gone back to the orchard of fruit trees to find more fruit, so Lizzie ate his slice of pie as well. Evening approached and an old dwarf farmer came up the brick road pulling a cart. The woman and the man engaged in quick, chirping communication, and came to some sort of agreement.
The man stepped forward and removed his straw hat. He introduced himself as Tottin.
“Tottin,” said Lizzie, introducing herself with a smile, “I’m Lizzie.”
Tottin was Minba’s husband, as near as Lizzie could tell, and though the man was unused to visitors, he was kindly enough in his way. With Tottin’s help Minba pulled some chairs and a table out of their tiny house, and set up outside in the grass. The kindly old couple shared their dinner with Lizzie, and provided several small blankets that kept her warm as she slept for a second night outside, under the stars.
Lizzie awoke to the sound of Tottin pulling his squeaky wheeled cart back out to his farmlands. She sat up and saw Minba not too far off, hanging up some laundry to dry. There was the usual difficulty in communicating with the dwarf woman, but Lizzie was also pleased by how quickly she was learning the strange language of Australia. Though Lizzie was hungry, she was primarily interested in asking a question that occurred to her when she watched Tottin drag the cart to the fields.
“Tottin pulls the cart,” said Lizzie, after a fashion, “why doesn’t he have a horse? Or an ox?”
Communicating the last bit was difficult, because it turned out that this part of Australia had no horses or oxen. After Lizzie dew a horse in the dirt with a stick, Minba understood. Her word for horses was “cappa” and she told Lizzie that though there had once been horses in the land, now they were all gone extinct. Men and women pulled their own carts, because in this land there were no beasts of burden.
A simple conversation like this can take a long time when neither speaks the other’s language, so it was almost an hour later that Minba offered Lizzie some breakfast. Lizzie was most grateful as nearly no one in Whitechapel was this kind and generous. Lizzie finished hanging Minba’s laundry as Minba went inside to get what Lizzie hoped was to be bread and jam.
“Hey Lizzie,” said Bobby, coming out of the woods eating a large brown and yellow fruit that had a skin that looked like the bark of a tree.
“What are you eating, Bobby?” asked Lizzie with some astonishment.
“I don’t know,” answered the dull boy, “but it’s delicious!”
Bobby was staring at something behind Lizzie, and Lizzie turned to see a wooden door, painted red with yellow highlights, standing by itself in a small grassy clearing.
“That’s odd,” said the boy, dribbling fruit juice down his chin.
“Yes,” said Lizzie, “How could I have not noticed a door there before?”
Her curiosity piqued, Lizzie covered the distance between herself and the strange door quickly. The door was of normal height, meaning that it was not made for dwarves, like the home of Minba and Tottin, but for people sized more like Lizzie. The door was secured inside a doorframe, and had fancy golden hinges. Up close the door seemed very posh, perhaps the nicest door Lizzie had ever seen. Lizzie walked up to the door, touching it lightly. The door felt warm to the touch, and wet, though her fingers retained no moisture when she removed her hand.
Lizzie walked around the door, and saw that it looked pretty much the same on both sides, sporting a golden door knob and locking mechanism. Its presence in the middle of a small patch of grass near a dwarf farmhouse seemed queer indeed. As Lizzie reached for the door handle, deciding whether or not to open the door, she heard a short scream and turned to see Minba, at the farmhouse door, gesticulating wildly, having dropped the small tray of breakfast on the ground in her panic and fear.
Lizzie backed away from the door. Bobby, the little coward, had already run away, probably back into the orchard. As Lizzie backed away, she could hear Minba calling to her in that strange language, only few words of which Lizzie understood. Two words stood out to Lizzie, two words did Lizzie understand of the stream of warnings that Minba chattered, “bad” and “run.”
Lizzie backed away from the door, then started when the door knob began to turn, of its own accord. Lizzie reached under her skirt for her knife, and pulled it free of its sheath. The gun sat on a blanket where she had slept the night before, unloaded. Lizzie cast a glance back at Minba, who was retreating into her house and closing the door behind her.
Lizzie had no idea what was happening, but she knew that anything that so frightened the kindly Minba could not be good. Summoning her courage she charged the door, even as the knob began to turn. The red door opened towards her, and revealed a figure shaped like a man, with the eyes of a weasel and a face as black as the night. The face was framed by a shock of bright yellow hair, and though Lizzie could not see past the first figure, she knew that there were many more than one of the horrible creatures behind the door.
With a shriek and a jump Lizzie slammed the door shut with such force that both door and frame fell over onto the grass. So hard did she strike that Lizzie fell upon the door even as the creatures inside attempted to open it again. As Lizzie used her weight to hold the door closed four finger-like appendages managed to grip the door from the other side, creating just a crack of an opening. The finger-like appendages were black on one side, like the face Lizzie had glimpsed only an instant before, and and on the other side chalky white.
Despite her best efforts, Lizzie’s weight was not enough to hold the door shut. Lizzie screamed with fear and frustration as the creatures on the other side, slowly, inexorably opened the door with Lizzie on top.
To Be Continued