This week, I have the pleasure of sharing an excerpt from the third installment of my novel, Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel, in which the search for the Wilderbeast has an unexpected ending…
They raced down the snow-covered steps, each eager to catch their first glimpse of the Wilderbeast.
“Where should we look first,” George asked, his face vibrant with anticipation and joy.
“Well, she came up our steps from the right, so –“
“To the park! Race you!”
Penelope laughed and ran after him, her cloak flowing behind her as she hurried to catch up.
They were nearly there when George finally slowed, his cheeks bright pink from the cold.
“Do you suppose, Penelope,” he asked in between deep breaths, “that the Wilderbeast will hurt us?”
“Never! Wilderbeasts come to the brave of heart to take them on wild adventures. They would never hurt anyone.”
With the park now in view, she smiled and cried, “Come on!”
Both Penelope and George quickly lost track of time and the Wilderbeast, but their time in the park did them immeasurable good. For a while, they could remember that, despite their concerns, there was still hope if they would only look for it.
Sometime later, as they made their way home, Penelope felt all the more determined to help her father; she could see him failing, could see all his joy and warmth fading in time with Uncle Alex. Perhaps, this Christmas would not be the same, but Penelope Grace fiercely believed that it could still be good.
Only a few streets separated them from home when George, suddenly remembering, cried in dismay, “The Wilderbeast! We never found her!”
“It will be all right, George. You never know when she might appear.”
They spent the next several minutes debating with great animation what the Wilderbeast might look like. As they turned down their street, George stopped in his tracks, delighted that they no longer had to guess.
Halfway down the street, just a few feet from their doorstep, the Wilderbeast lay settled in the snow, as if waiting for them all this time.
She looked very much like a dragon, but rather than scales, her sleek frame was covered in fur of a soft violet color, dappled in blue and green. As Penelope and George drew near, the Wilderbeast rose, extending her gossamer wings and lowering her head to look at them with her great, green eyes, the color of moss on rain-soaked bark.
They were less than a hundred yards from her when George halted, looking up at the Wilderbeast in wonder.
“She looks so kind,” he breathed.
“That’s so those who look closely enough will know they don’t have to be afraid of her.”
He was quiet for a moment more, then, “What’s her name?”
“Lunella,” Penelope replied, “for the way her wings shimmer in the moonlight.”
Just then, the Wilderbeast, seeming to decide that the two were worthy companions, lay on the ground once more and extended her leg so that Penelope and George could climb up.
“Shall we get on,” Penelope asked.
George offered her nothing more than a smile for an answer, and together, they ran to the Wilderbeast, but then –
“What on earth are you doing?”
Their father stood on the doorstep, and the Wilderbeast disappeared like a dusting of snow snatched by an icy breeze.
What do you suppose awaits Penelope Grace and Georgie inside? To find out and join the fight for wonder for yourself, subscribe below to receive weekly installments of the story through February 2021.
On the pages of The Edge of Everywhen, you’ll find a young girl, Piper, frightened and desperate for what has been lost to be returned…
Her brother, Phoenix, an altogether rare young man, longing to be seen and understood…
A father, fighting to be reunited with his family…
And Aunt Beryl, with a cold, reserved heart, longing to be warmed.
Do you hear the echoes of your own story in any of theirs? Then, read on.
But be warned!
Something astonishing, indeed, awaits you, dear Reader, for between the covers of The Edge of Everywhen, you’ll encounter a story that will bring you closer to God and closer to the person you were handcrafted to be.
There truly are not sufficient words to express how wonderful this story is, so I’ll leave you with a simple plea: please read The Edge of Everywhen. You won’t regret a minute of this adventure and will, I believe, walk away from it forever changed.
My heartfelt gratitude to A.S. Mackey for having the courage to write this story.
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book, which I received from the author. All views expressed are only my honest opinion.
You can grab a copy of The Edge of Everywhen from Bookshop (a fantastic site that allows you to support indie booksellers!), Lifeway, or Books-A-Million.
This is the week! The first installment of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel publishes this Friday, December 11th! Here’s a sneak peek to tide you over until then.
Penelope Grace was a remarkable girl.
Of course, that word – remarkable – can mean many different things, depending on whom you ask.
Upon entering the Saris household, you would first be taken to the kitchen for a warm cup of tea to fight off the early winter’s chill. There, Nurse Sasha – who oversaw everything – would happily offer you her opinion. She could hardly find it less than remarkable that a girl of sixteen could behave so like her nine-year-old brother as to be nearly indistinguishable.
Once welcomed and enlightened, you might continue to the living room and find a comfortable chair near Penelope’s mother, Mary, who is patiently mending the latest torn and dirt-stained dress. She would share with you how her daughter is remarkably and admirably unconcerned with what others think of her.
Over the years, her friends marveled to find that Penelope was just as likely to pick up an imaginary sword as an intricate piece of embroidery. Growing serious now, Mary would tell you of the many encouragements she has received to rein her daughter in.
But it is too rare a gift to see a child’s spirit endure into adulthood. As Penelope’s mother, she would ask, how could she do less than safeguard it?
But just then, young George would come bursting in, his great-uncle Alex not far behind, and insist on knowing what your conversation was about.
“Well, George,” Mary would ask with the warmest of smiles, “what do you think makes your sister remarkable?”
He would think hard about it for a minute or two but, his nose crinkling up as he grinned, would soon reply with a firm, “Two things.”
And then, leaning forward as if to share with you a very great secret, George would tell you a story. Just last week, Penelope had, remarkably, succeeded both in assembling an entire regiment of nutcracker soldiers in the foyer and in vanishing from sight before Nurse Sasha could certainly accuse her of having done it.
“And the second,” you would ask, sincerely eager to know.
“She is the only grown-up who isn’t only teasing me when she says she still believes in Father Christmas.”
Equally impressed by both these reasons, you might then turn to great-uncle Alex, whom you would find no less willing to join in the conversation.
He would have to say that Penelope was remarkable for her persistent delight in all things simple, yet extraordinary. Even now she remains as enchanted with his magic tricks as she was on the day he first arrived from Greece to share them with her.
But of all her family, acquaintances and friends, only her father, John – who has been listening by the crackling fire all the while – could tell you with absolute certainty what it was that made Penelope Grace genuinely remarkable:
To read more, subscribe below! For $3.99/month, you’ll receive a new installment each week, along with a special illustration to accompany the story and the chance to win an exciting gift in the coming weeks! See you Friday 🙂
What more perfect way to end this wintry week than with this beautiful winter tale about young Sofia’s perfect snow day?
The Snow Dancer is the perfect book for you and your family to read together on a snowy evening. Find my full review (and links to purchase) below!
On a chilly winter’s morning, the world blanketed in snow, a young girl named Sofia wakes up with a longing.
When a snowy day comes along, most children dream of snowball fights and sledding with their friends, but Sofia can think of only one thing: venturing out in the quiet of morning to dance through the frozen landscape, through the stillness and softness of freshly fallen snow.
With illustrations by Merce Lopez that beautifully render Sofia’s love for winter and dance, Addie Boswell succeeds in perfectly capturing all that is best about the winter season and those glorious snow days that all children look forward to. Readers of all ages will be happily swept along with Sofia as she dances, like a snow fairy twirling through the wonder of new-fallen snow.
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book, which I received from the author. All views expressed are only my honest opinion.
You can find a copy of The Snow Dancer on Bookshop, a website where you can support independent booksellers with every purchase! It is also available on Amazon.
Connect with Addie Boswell on her website. Merce Lopez can be found on Goodreads.
That’s all for this week! Next week, the first installment of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel publishes! You can subscribe here!
This week, the winter magic begins. Subscriptions to Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel are officially open!
This winter tale will be delivered straight to your inbox in weekly installments, from December to February. All of the information you need to subscribe can be found below.
But first, a little treat for you! Read on for the synopsis (and if you’d like to see the illustration that accompanies it, be sure to hit the subscribe button!).
I can’t wait to share this story with you all, and I hope you enjoy this sneak peek at the adventure to come!
In a home nestled on a quiet, cobblestone street, a young girl is holding tightly to wonder.
Penelope Grace is looking out the window, breathing in the stillness of snow falling. Christmas is coming, and as she lovingly places each candle on the windowsills, warmth and light transform her family’s home.
She settles in by the fireside with her family, welcoming you to join them, as Great Uncle Alex challenges anyone present to uncover the secret of his magic tricks.
The mystery, as always, remains, yet everyone is content. All is quiet and good, as it should be.
But as the holiday approaches, Penelope learns how easily circumstance can mock joy. A nameless shadow is haunting her family, and there seems to be no hope of defending them against his relentless attacks.
Still, Penelope Grace is not content to stand by and do nothing, and so, on a cold winter’s night, she finds herself chasing an unexpected friend through the snow.
But which will prove stronger?
Shadow or Light? Despair or wonder?
Follow her now through an ice-laden forest, down a worn, frozen path, to a winter carousel covered in snow.
Do you suppose that you will find the answers there?
See this week’s illustration and get access to future installments of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel when you subscribe monthly today! This will give you access to all current and future book releases from 21:25 Books!
Welcome to the final week of Author Spotlight Month!
I had the privilege of interviewing Niki Florica! She has some great insight to share about balancing a passion for writing with a day job, what inspires her to pen the stories she does, plus a special shout-out to H.A. Pruitt!
Niki Florica is a passionate writer, blogger, and daydreamer who finds joy in Jesus, her Underwood typewriter, and in her daydreams-turned-stories. Driven to inspire her fellow young adult readers with plots that enchant, convict, and shine with Truth, Niki is dedicated to capturing that Truth in the fantastical. She plans to dive deeper into creative writing and literature in her university studies . . . unless, of course, she finds Narnia first.
There are so many genres to write in. What made you choose Christian fantasy? What do you think makes this genre unique/important?
I don’t think of myself as a writer of Christian fantasy as much as a Christian writer of fantasy . . . in other words, I dream of shining Truth to those who don’t already have it, in places they don’t expect to find it.
I’ve had a heart for the fantastical since before I was old enough to recognize it, dreaming of Peter Pan and Narnia, getting lost in my own imagination, finding God in faraway places. I think we all want to be transported beyond the ordinary, but what’s amazing is that Truth can be brought to life in those far-off worlds in dazzling ways. God isn’t limited by physical reality—He can meet us in our imaginations just as easily. When fantasy meets Truth, it brings us closer to the wonder and creativity and greatness that is God . . . and by knowing Him there for a little, we can know Him better here . . . to paraphrase good ol’ C.S. Lewis.
Do you have any advice for writers who are trying to balance their dream of writing with a day job?
It’s so different for everyone, but I’d say: find a time that works for you, offer it to God, and don’t panic when things come up that take temporary priority. God knows our dreams, and He’ll bring them to fruition in His time if that’s part of His plan, so relax, focus on living for Him first and foremost, and find a system that allows you to enjoy writing, not to see it as an extra heap of stress. I often use writing to take “breaks” from work throughout the day, so I have a reason to make time for it—for my own sanity! Whether your sweet-time is late nights, early mornings, or lunch breaks, there’s no perfect formula. Just write when you can, and entrust it (and your dream) to God!
Supporting indie authors is so important. What are some ways that readers can do that?
Anything you can do to give an indie author extra exposure is a huge support! Bookstagram is a great way to do that—if readers are like me, they fall in love with book covers before they even meet the stories—but book reviews, social media shout-outs, and good old-fashioned word-of-mouth are all great ways to support.
If you want to go the extra mile, I strongly believe in personal connection. Authors don’t just need support for their books, they need support as people. If you loved their book, find a way to reach out and tell them. Engage meaningfully with their social media posts if you can. Be the person who lets them know—sometimes on days that they may really, really need it—that what they’re doing is worthwhile.
Are there any indie authors whose books you would recommend readers check out?
I know she’s already been featured this month, but I am just so inspired by H.A. Pruitt and her novel, Anelthalien. Seeing the passion she pours into her story and how God is using her gifts to glorify His name is just incredible. She inspires me as a person and as an aspiring author, and a project filled with that much Godly love is bound to be truly powerful!
What are you currently reading?
I’m waiting for Brandon Sanderson’s new Stormlight Archive novel, but I may wait until the end of the semester to dive into that adventure—or risk binge-reading right through exams.
Are there any current projects that you can share with us?
Yes! Thanks to NaNoWriMo 2020, I’m currently knee-deep in a contemporary YA standalone novel—a complete departure from anything I’ve tackled so far. It was partially inspired by the newest Little Women film (I still haven’t gotten around to finishing the book—I know, I know!) and it’s inspiring me to take a break from fantastical creatures to tap into something simple and intimate. The story follows a cluster of small-town, slightly-Irish teens—a girl, her two brothers, and the almost-brother-but-maybe-something-else neighbour boy—and how their love for each other is threatened by the space creeping in between them. Each character expresses themselves differently (which is fun for me) and they all struggle with something unique that they feel the need to bury, hide, or fight on their own. I’m already so in love with this little gang and so invested in their healing. Even people who love each other deeply can exist lightyears apart, but God can make a family out of strangers and constellations out of stars, and I can’t wait to see Him breathe His healing power into this story.
That’s all for Author Spotlight Month! A huge thank you to all the authors who were kind enough to participate: H.A. Pruitt, Richard Spillman, Lisa Howeler, and Niki Florica! Go read all their wonderful stories 🙂
Next week, we’ll be going somewhere new, to a home nestled on a quiet, cobblestone street, where a young girl is holding tightly to wonder…
Today, I get to share a delightful storybook that just released today, Night Night, Norman.
This is one worth picking up and enjoying with your family. You can read my full review below.
Open up this enchanting storybook and take a stroll to Green Apple Barn, where a curious horse named Norman is about to set off on an adventure.
Norman’s whole world revolves around a little girl, Elle, who is his family and greatest friend.
She tenderly feeds and grooms him and always makes sure to reward Norman with his favorite treat: fresh, deliciously tart green apples.
But when their time together comes to an end each day, where does Ellie go?
Norman is determined to find out, and all sorts of shenanigans are sure to ensue when he does, from tumbling over furniture to uncovering the most delicious of treats in the kitchen.
But when all is said and done, will Norman succeed in finding Elle?
You’ll have to wait until night falls at Green Apple barn and see for yourself.
Accompanied by beautiful illustrations by Romi Caron, Night Night, Norman is a tale full of whimsy and fun that is sure to delight children and adults alike as they follow this most loveable of horses on his nighttime adventure.
And, if you’d like to create your own adventures for Norman, you can learn how to draw him at the back of the book!
Welcome to the second to last installment of Chip’s adventures! This was one of my favorite installments to write! I hope you enjoy it.
Chip gazed up at the curiously enchanting structure in the oak tree rising above them, finding himself unexpectedly reluctant to move forward now that they had finally arrived. He had been anticipating this moment for so long, and Chip wondered if what came of it would be all he had hoped for.
He longed for a purpose, but what if he didn’t have one?
He craved reassurance that his prayers were heard, but he feared discovering that just the opposite was true.
Perhaps, it was better to leave these stones unturned. After all, if he did, he never need fear disappointment.
He almost turned back.
But then, a sudden breeze blew past him, and Chip found that it was shaking loose all his fearful thoughts, casting them to the ground like so many fallen leaves.
The clearing around them was all deep green and golden splendor, but nothing compared to the oak tree itself. Light shimmered through the bark and across the sprawling branches and trees, as if gold filigree ran through root and limb.
Full of wonder, Chip ventured forward. Though he knew that he was already in a land that was utterly different from his home, this place felt like a world all its own.
Oh, let this be the place where I come closer to You.
The words came unbidden, seemingly of their own accord, yet Chip knew at once that they expressed the truest longing of his heart.
Come closer to me.
As the prayer left him, a golden light, high above in the wooden dwelling that nestled in the oak, caught Chip’s eye.
“I think we’re meant to go there,” Chip said softly.
“I do believe you’re right, Chip,” Alfeus replied.
Chip looked over at the chipmunk and was surprised to find that tears were filling his eyes. But, of course, Alfeus had always longed to see Abaline face to face and had long regretted missing the opportunity to do so with Leah. This moment meant just as much to Alfeus as it did to Chip.
All three together now, they moved forward, noticing for the first time the ladder that led up to Abaline’s home. Instantly, Chip was dismayed. He could never climb such a thing, and Abaline felt suddenly and horribly out of reach.
But then, “Over here, young Chip! Don’t despair.”
It was Beauregard, who had wandered over to the right and discovered a contraption altogether more unusual than the ladder. Alfeus looked on from his perch on the ladder, waiting with admirable patience for his friends to follow.
Chip hopped closer to the beaver, who might have looked the slightest bit pleased with himself for solving Chip’s dilemma. Nestled in the plush grass was a wooden bucket. Looped through its handle and disappearing into the tree’s branches was a thick rope, which Beauregard had already taken hold of.
“Hop in, my friend,” Beauregard said.
Chip did so, but then hurriedly called for the beaver to wait. “What about you, Beauregard?”
“Don’t trouble yourself about me, Chip.”
“But then you won’t meet Abaline!”
Beauregard leaned close. “Who’s to say I haven’t already,” he whispered, and then, with a smile and a wink, he took the rope in his mouth and hauled Chip up to the platform.
The height might have troubled Chip if he hadn’t been so captivated by the glimmering dragonflies and fireflies that swirled all about him, as if they were celebrating along with him that he had reached Abaline at last. Chip had never seen their like. They were the most radiant blues and greens he’d ever seen, and a trailing golden dust fell away beneath their twirling path.
But what waited above was more glorious still.
A sheltering canopy of leaves trailed down, filtering the light of the golden sun and leaving Chip with the sensation of having entered a hidden world.
Tangles of branches and cascading foliage left the structure Chip had seen from far below partially hidden, so that it was difficult to know where the oak ended and Abaline’s home began.
Chip hopped out of the bucket onto a sturdy wooden platform. Alfeus was standing at the open door, and Chip joined him. The chipmunk didn’t seem to register his friend’s arrival (or Beauregard’s absence), so fixed was his attention on the entrance and all that might wait within.
They looked at the entryway a moment more before Chip asked, “Shall we go in?”
The chipmunk nodded, took Chip’s paw in his own, and together, they entered.
There were many rooms within – many more than ought to have fit in a house so small – but they both instinctively knew where they were meant to go. It was a room at the heart of the house, and both Chip and Alfeus understood that inside, all the questions stirred up over the course of their journey would be answered and come to rest.
As they passed beneath the doorway, the pair were drawn in different directions. Alfeus wandered off to the left-hand side of the spacious room, while Chip’s attention was immediately arrested by the tawny owl observing him from her perch directly in front of him.
He knew her for who she was without giving it a moment’s thought.
But she was unlike any tawny owl Chip had ever seen.
She was unassuming in size, though she managed to be imposing nevertheless.
She gazed back at Chip with the most astonishing amber eyes he had ever seen, and he found himself dumbstruck in her presence.
“Hello, Chip.” She spoke, and her voice was smooth and kind.
Her feathers ruffled and flared as she left her perch behind, and Chip gasped as the light caught them. They were beautiful to begin with, with their amber and cream hues, but when the sunlight shimmered across them, their edges glinted brilliantly, as if someone had delicately edged them with gold.
Abaline rested before Chip, and, at last, words returned to him. “You know my name? Did you know I was coming?”
“I am forewarned of all who seek to find me, so that I might know whether to safeguard their coming or defend against it.”
Chip’s brow furrowed. “Why would you need to defend against someone finding you?”
“Many seek to destroy what I guard.”
This didn’t quite make sense to Chip, but he plowed ahead all the same and asked the questions he had stored up inside. “Please, I’ve come such a long way to find you, Abaline. Will you tell me what my purpose is? And if my prayers matter at all?”
She looked at him kindly. “Chip, the answers you’re looking for will never be found in me.”
“But that doesn’t make sense!” Chip cried, instantly distraught that his journey had been for nothing. “Everyone’s told me to come looking for you, and I have, and you just have to tell me what I’ve been wanting to know. You just have…”
But Chip trailed off and desperation brought his head low as he softly cried, “Please, help me.”
“Chip,” Alfeus shouted, fairly jumping up and down at the other end of the room. “Chip, come quickly now!”
Our young rabbit looked first to Abaline, who nodded her encouragement. “Go and see.”
And he did.
Standing before Alfeus was a low, wooden table, and on it, rested the most magnificent book Chip would ever have the pleasure of seeing.
The pages were filled with golden lettering, and the words were startlingly familiar, for they were his own. As both he and Alfeus watched, a rose petal fell – from no place, in particular – and came to rest on the open book.
Just as petal brushed paper, Chip’s plea, Please, help me, appeared in brilliant gold filigree on pages that seemed ancient and new at the same time.
And Chip knew, in the sudden way that understanding sometimes comes, that, at the same instant, a diamond had fallen in the underground, only to become the most pleasing aroma rising through the air.
Tears of joy flooded Chip’s eyes as he turned around. The room was full of Light, all rose-gold splendor and joy – and Abaline stood in the midst of its radiance, waiting.
“What is this?” Chip asked, and she knew what he meant.
Her brilliant eyes met his. “It is His book of remembrance.”
He looked back at the book one last time, closed his eyes, and whispered, “Thank You.”
A pair of rose leaves fell as the two friends turned away, for Alfeus’ prayer had echoed Chip’s own.
Abaline led them to the entry of her home, and they followed silently, still in awe of what they’d been given to see.
At the threshold, both Chip and Alfeus turned back to Abaline.
“Very few are given the chance to see this with their own eyes,” she said. “Be careful what you do with this gift.”
Both nodded, though they did not yet understand, and then Abaline was gone, returned to the inner room, where a truth worth treasuring lay.
Saying nothing, for silence seemed important just now, Alfeus returned down the ladder and Chip to the bucket. Before he knew it or could quite comprehend all he’d seen, Beauregard was lowering the bucket, and Chip was twirling down through golden light, back to Beauregard, the land of Almea, and home.
Only one installment to go, friends! I can’t wait to share the conclusion of Chip’s adventure with you all.
A secret awaits in the wilds of Australia for those curious enough to uncover it…
Melody Klomp travels the waters of the Coorong aboard her grandmother’s boat, The Isabella. Nana Bell is devoted to sharing the wonder of wildlife with everyone she encounters, and Melody is no exception.
With every mile they travel, Melody is swept up in the Coorong’s beauty and filled with love for its creatures, but particularly the birds. But Melody’s admiration of nature will not be enough to save the Coorong from the dangers that threaten it.
In the most impossible of ways, Melody is immersed in the animals’ world, finding herself transformed into a Diamond Firetail Finch, and she quickly realizes that it is up to her and a group of unlikely friends to warn Nana Bell and save the Coorong.
Equal parts entertaining and educational, Melody Finch is an adventure that readers of all ages will be glad they went on. Ian Boyd and Gary Luck have deftly crafted a story that reminds us that nature and all its wonders are depending on our admiration to express itself through action.
No act is too small, and Melody Finch is the story to remind us of that truth.
You can join Melody on her adventures on October 9th.
Disclaimer: This book does contain a small amount of cursing, for those concerned.
Welcome to the eleventh installment of Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves. Chip’s journey through the land of Almea is almost at and end. I hope that, just as Chip does, you enjoy every moment you spend there.
He heard the sound of intent muttering and the echo of clinking glass just as he entered the unusual room, but it was the smell that had captivated Chip long before he found it. Never before had he encountered such a pleasing aroma, and he followed it eagerly to its source.
Briefly, Chip wondered if the smell might be like the false scent in the first cavern, which had nearly sent him and Alfeus down an even more dangerous path.
But no. That smell, while pleasant on the surface, had warned of rot beneath. What Chip was joyfully breathing in now was so purely fragrant that he instinctively trusted it would not lead him astray.
He had never supposed, however, that it would bring him to a sight unlike any he had ever seen. If Romulus hadn’t shared so much of the human world with him, Chip would not have had the words for what he was seeing.
An enormous funnel filled the far end of the room, and Chip watched in fascination as diamonds tumbled into it. Strangely, there was no clattering sound of jewel against metal. Chip would have found that odd if he’d had the time, but before he could blink, a fragrant dust poured out from the funnel, swirling into glittering clouds even as it began to shimmer and become liquid, before falling into a large glass bottle.
Just as it reached the bottle’s brim, the smell in the room – already incredible – became something even more wonderful, all fresh-blooming flowers and the warmth of rich spice.
Chip didn’t think he would ever be able to properly describe it, yet knew, in the same instant, that he would never forget it.
It was then that he noticed the other myriad bottles, of all shapes and sizes, covering the cavern floor. Some were empty, others full to the brim, but all reflected the brilliant light of the wonderful perfume they each contained, which seemed to produce a light of its own.
Chip leaned close to the nearest bottle, the curiosity of the liquid inside impossible to ignore. As he watched, the soft swirls of diamond dust rose and fell in the bottle, catching the light and reflecting it back to Chip’s wondering eyes.
After a few moments more of looking into the bottle, Chip turned away, hoping to learn something more by exploring the rest of the room.
He made his way through the many bottles, more than he could ever hope to count. Save for the soft splash of the mysterious perfume falling from the funnel, silence reigned in the room.
It was, of course, just as Chip thought to himself that the silence shouldn’t be disturbed that he bumped into the nearest bottle, sending a mighty clamor echoing through the cavern.
He froze, so still you’d have thought him a statue, and waited for someone – or something – to respond to the ruckus he’d caused.
Not even a whisper of movement reached Chip’s ears.
Nevertheless, he stayed where he was for what felt like the longest minutes of his life.
At last, when it seemed safe to assume that no one was coming, Chip began to weave his way through the maze of bottles once more. He travelled only a short distance before he came across a feather. It lay before him, plain for him to see, yet Chip could not fathom it.
What was a feather doing underground, he wondered.
Another one lay not far off, and Chip hopped towards it with great purpose, determined to solve at least one of the mysteries facing him today.
But the trail seemed to end at the second feather, which was in front of a very large bottle. Chip looked about from where he stood, but could catch no sight of a third.
Disappointed, he sighed, turned his attention to the bottle’s contents, and was horrified to find one enormous eye staring back at him.
With a great shout, Chip scrambled back, falling into a group of empty bottles and sending them clattering all over the cavern floor.
Over the noise, he heard a flustered voice cry, “Now, do be careful! You’re bound to break something!”
But Chip was so startled, he could not listen. Before he could comprehend what was happening or how to escape this new menace, he raced away, only to collide with the owner of the great eye. He looked up dazedly as two fresh feathers fell to the ground.
A large bird – a magpie, he believed – stood before Chip. After the disturbance he’d caused, he expected to find a gruff and decidedly disgruntled figure standing before him.
Instead, Chip was surprised to find nothing but tenderness, and, perhaps, a touch of sympathy, in the bird’s black eyes. Relief swept through him, and he stood up, though still a little tentatively.
“I’m afraid I gave you quite a fright,” said the bird. “As a Guardian, I can never be too careful. We get all sorts through the underground, and not all sorts are friendly. Now, for some proper introductions,” he continued. “I am called Oleander. What is your name, young one?”
“Chip,” he answered quietly, a bit in awe of the impressive figure before him.
“Quite right,” Oleander answered with a smile, gently brushing a wing tip against Chip’s left ear.
Without another word, Oleander began to lead the way through the cavern, and Chip followed expectantly, hoping that this new friend could help him on his way, and maybe even help him find his friends.
As they walked, Chip surreptitiously observed the large bird. Now that he looked more closely, he could see that the bird’s feathers were not only black and white, but were also covered in many shimmering shades of blue, which reflected the light in the cavern beautifully.
Briefly, Chip thought with a touch of trepidation that he was in the presence of a magpie, a bird that he had always been warned might attack him. It seemed unlikely that a bird of prey could be a gentle Guardian. But Chip supposed that it also seemed unlikely that a small creature like himself could take on a journey so great.
All things considered, Chip believed that Oleander was trustworthy, and so, he continued to follow him through the cavern.
But not, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, without asking a few questions.
“What are you doing underground, Oleander?”
“Whatever do you mean?” the magpie answered, looking quite confused.
“Well,” said Chip, wondering how best to phrase this, “you’re a bird. Shouldn’t you be living up above?”
Oleander gave him an appraising look, and then, apparently deciding that Chip was worthy of his confidence, continued. “Quite right. That is the usual way of things. But I was chosen for this Guardianship, and so, I call the underground my home. I do venture out from time to time, but there are no sights above that seem so fair to my eyes as these glittering caverns. More brilliant than stars,” he murmured, half to himself.
Still, Chip was confused. “But what exactly do you guard?”
Oleander only smiled and continued on. “What brings you here, Chip?”
Momentarily distracted by the question, Chip launched into his tale. “I lost my friends, Alfeus and Beauregard. A moth was leading us through the tunnels, but Alfeus got stuck, and when Beauregard tried to help him get loose, a great hole opened up and they fell. I was going to follow them, but the hole closed before I could, and everything went dark, and… I’m lost.”
Chip paused for a moment. “Have you seen them?” he asked hopefully.
A kindly smile warmed Oleander’s black eyes. “Never you mind about that. Alfeus and Beauregard will be along soon enough.”
“Then you know where they are? Can you take me to them?”
“One thing at a time, my friend,” Oleander said, chuckling. “You still haven’t answered my question. What brings you here?”
Chip frowned. “But I’ve just told you. I’m looking for my friends.”
At this, Oleander stopped and looked closely at Chip. “You and I both know that you’re looking for a great deal more than that.”
Realization dawned. “Oh. Yes. Abaline. You see –“
“Ah, ah,” Oleander interrupted. “I understand.”
He looked as if he meant to say something more, but then thought better of it.
They were at the opposite end of the cavern now, just past the last of the sparkling bottles. Chip could still smell the wondrous perfume. He was just opening his mouth to ask about the diamonds that seemed to produce it when a familiar sound reached his ears. It drifted towards Chip and Oleander from the tunnel just in front of them.
“It is decided, Beauregard! You are the most exasperating creature I will ever have the misfortune of knowing. ‘Follow your nose,’ indeed! How is that supposed to get us any closer to Chip?”
At that moment, the disgruntled chipmunk and his cheerful companion emerged from the tunnel.
Alfeus stopped short. “Chip!” he cried in shock.
Beauregard, to the chipmunk’s immediate annoyance, did not look the least bit surprised.
“You are an unapologetic show off,” Alfeus declared. Then, after a pause, “I’m sorry I doubted you.”
There was then much embracing as the friends celebrated being reunited. After a few minutes, though, Alfeus looked across the expansive cavern in wonder. “What on earth is this place?”
They all turned to Oleander, who only gestured to a tunnel that lay to their right. “There is no time to waste, my friends. Abaline is waiting.”
Without another word, the magpie led them partway down the tunnel before stopping. “Continue to follow this tunnel, and you will shortly be aboveground. No further surprises shall trouble you.”
Chip wanted to stall and keep talking to Oleander, but Alfeus and Beauregard were already moving, all too eager to leave the underground.
Oleander, seeing Chip’s hesitation, smiled and urged him on. “Farewell, young one. Safe travels on the end of your journey.”
And with that, he was gone, back to his bottles and diamonds and all the mystery they contained. Chip stood there for a moment, wondering.
There was so much he didn’t understand about the cavern below and all he had seen there. Briefly, he felt all his usual restless curiosity stir up. But then, all of a sudden, that sweetest of perfumes wafted over him, and he felt all his wonderings, for a time, rest.
There really was so much he didn’t understand.
Perhaps, he wasn’t meant to just yet.
Installment Twelve will be available next week, friends!