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Quest For The Witch Chapter Twelve
Chapter Twelve Childhood
Things got even more rowdier on the road to the next town. McFinnigan and Gwen continued relaying to each other old tales of adventures since they last met. Some of the things Gwen talked about were familiar with Alexandra since she was there when they happened. But Alexandra never knew about the other things Gwen talked about. Well, she was out often while Alexandra was stuck inside that prison, so it wasn't really a surprise. Just remembering how she was a prisoner for most of her life was beginning to stir up unpleasant emotions inside of her. She pushed them aside and slipped to the driver's seat beside Caesar who seemed lost in his own thoughts.
Alexandra remembered how Caesar would wear that expression all the time when they were young children. Even back then, she couldn't guess what was going through his mind. He was such a small boy, shorter than even she was at that age. He always wore a tattered blue newsy cap and denim overalls over a shirt that looked like it had been smeared all over with dirt. When he smiled, he would reveal a huge gap between his top two front teeth, like a triangle. That would probably still be there if it weren't for the braces the dentist insisted that he wear up until they were thirteen. And when he caught anyone staring at them, he'd stare back, cock his head one side slightly and go "What?"
Just like that.
Wait a minute.
Caesar's eyes widened.
Then at the same time, they cried out, pointing at the other, "You're a kid! What? Oh my goodness! I'm a kid!"
"What's all the ruckus?" moaned a skeleton rising from a blanket heap. She rubbed one of her eye socket while her jaw dropped a bit as she yawned. Lulu flickered back to her flesh and blood self, but when she saw Caesar and Alexandra, she reverted to skeleton from, and her jaw literally dropped to the floor of the wagon.
"Who're you kids?" she demanded to know, after joining her lower jaw to her skull again. She transformed back to normal. "And how'd you sneak on here?"
"Lulu, it's us!" said Caesar.
"You're the 'Us' siblings?" Lulu said, tilting her head left. "And how'd you know my name?"
"No!" Alexandra shouted. "It's us!"
"I get it, your last name is 'Us'."
Alexandra smacked her right palm against her forehead.
"It's Alexandra and Caesar!"
The girl gaped at the two children who were even smaller than her. They must probably look five or six, and Lulu, herself, had only just recently became eleven. Apart from Gwendolyn in her child form and McFinnigan in his puppy dog form, she was probably the shortest of the party.
The uncomfortable pause went on for what was probably a really long time. Then Lulu became a skeleton again, and her jaw hit the floor once more.
"What? How? When?"
"I don't know," said Alexandra. "Why are you all looking at me?"
"Wait!" Caesar cried out. "Where are the others?"
The trio peered back into the wagon. None of the others were there. There was no Jack. There was no McFinnigan. There was no Rick. And most important, there was no Gwen. Apart from each other, they were completely alone.
For some reason, Alexandra felt tears welling up in her eyes. Sure, she was upset, but she hadn't cried like she was doing now since she was actually six. Caesar joined in.
"Huh?" went Lulu. "Huuuuh?"
Lulu was beside herself. Here she was, suddenly with two sobbing children who claimed to be the two young adults who had helped her village.
"What do I do? What do I do?" she cried, fidgeting around, turning left and right while flailing her arms in a panic.
"Oh, will you shut up?" Gwendolyn shouted, startling the three children below into silence. The girl that looked ten years old poked her head down from above where she had been sleeping, looking disgruntled at her nap being disturbed. "I haven't had to endure so much noise in nearly ten years! Wha-?"
She was probably just as surprised as Lulu was.
"Ugh!" went Gwendolyn, putting on a face of disgust. She dropped from the wagon's roof, stopping midair and made a one-eighty turn to look like she was sitting upright. The witch spirit pushed her face close to Alexandra, circled around her once, and then did the same with Caesar. As she circled around them, she sniffed like a bloodhound, took a close look at their hair, and then flew back out to take a look around.
She stopped, floating above the wagon. From the sleeve of her robe, she pulled out a thick book, well-thumbed and full of bookmarks. While one hand held the book flat in front of her, her other hand was placed on the front cover of the book. A string of foreign words flowed from her mouth. To the listeners below, it sounded like whispering in their ears, but with an echo to it.
These words were somehow familiar to Alexandra. But where had she heard them before? She racked her brain a bit, thinking as deeply as a six-year-old could.
"Ah!" she cried out.
"What? What is it?" Caesar asked.
"Gwen's doing a divining spell!" That was right. Whenever there was a magic spell Gwendolyn was supposed to investigate that Gwendolyn either didn't know about, or just forgot, she would use a divining spell with one of her spell books as a medium. The book would lift up into the air on its own and the pages flip until it came upon the page that named the kind of magic that was present.
When she was done reading the page the book stopped on, she slammed the book shut, stuffed it back into the sleeve of her robe and flew back into the wagon.
"Well?" Alexandra said. "What did you find out?"
"Well, the good news is if we do a little searching, I'm sure we'll find the others. McFinnigan's on the roof, by the way. He's been sleeping there the whole time. The only reason the curse doesn't affect him is because he's in his dog form," Gwen said.
"What's the bad news?" Lulu asked.
"The others are probably wood statuettes," Gwen said. "The only reason Caesar and Alexandra aren't wood carvings themselves is because they were still young enough that their ages reversed instead. If they had been five years older, it'd be a different story."
"But what kind of curse have we gotten ourselves into?" Caesar asked. "Just what is going on?"
"For what's going on, beats me," Gwen replied. "But as for what kind of curse is on this area, that one is obvious. It's something like a time freeze. It's pretty much a 'No adults allowed' kind of spell. Kids become stuck as kids, and they can't leave. As long as you're younger than eighteen, you'll turn younger than twelve. Lulu's around eleven, right? So the spell doesn't affect her at all, except she can't leave here, now."
"Wait, what?" went the skeleton girl.
"Same for you two, since you're kids now," Gwen continued, ignoring her. "I'm in the shape of a child now, but I'm not sure if that's why I haven't been affected or not. Being a spirit can be tricky."
"So we're stuck here?" Alexandra cried out.
"Just until we really get into the bottom of this and break the curse," Gwendolyn said. "Shouldn't be too hard for me. And I'm sure I'll have to do everything myself since the current Eternal Witch is now a powerless, snot-nosed brat."
"Hey!" Alexandra whined. "That's not nice!"
"Where is here, anyway?" Caesar asked.
"Hold on," said Lulu, pulling out a polished crystal from her hat. She held the crystal's pyramid point toward the right wall of the wagon and muttered the magic words to turn it on. Rainbow light streamed from the crystal's point and hit the wall, the light flashing against it, expanding into a large rectangle. The image playing in the light was that of a map of the entire kingdom. A pulsing red dot flashed somewhere beneath a word that said "Childhood Road".
"Is this someone's idea of a joke?" Alexandra said, glaring at the name of the road the red dot was on in the map.
"Oh no, Lassie. This is no joke."
After waking up from his nap, McFinnigan got off the roof and climbed back into the wagon. No one noticed, being too preoccupied with the two teenagers having become small children. He was really surprised to find them like that, but got up to speed on what's going on by just quietly listening to them talk. He had been there since the former Eternal Witch had talked about wooden statuettes.
Startled, the children fell against one another, causing Lulu to break apart and drop the crystal. Gwen caught the crystal before it could hit the floor and kept it trained on the wall, frowning at the kids.
"When did you get here?" Caesar demanded to know. But Gwendolyn cut in.
"Never mind that," she said. "You know something about this road?"
"Well, surely ye must know, yerself!" McFinnigan exclaimed. "There must still be some rumors floatin' around about the place! 'Tis the road that leads to the Town of Childhood. It was created seventy-odd years ago by King Hamelin as a place for children orphaned by the wars of that time, probably the biggest orphanage created in the history of the country, or even the world. As neutral, but powerful territory, the kingdom was a great place for people all over the world to seek refuge from the war between two great world powers. A sad thing, that war. Very few adults survived the trip, pushing and sacrificing everythin' to keep the wee ones alive."
"If it's from the time of that war, then there's no way I would have known about it," Gwen said. "Even I couldn't ignore what was going on outside of the kingdom. So, ninety years ago, I left, joined a side, and did everything I could to make sure the kingdom didn't get caught up in the chaos. I never came back until twenty years later."
"Well that explains some," said McFinnigan, pausing to scratch his ear with a hind leg. " 'Tis Hamelin's greatest shame and failure. Things seemed to be going great at first, but then the man and some o' the people Hamelin chose to run the town started a mean streak and almost all the kiddies became utterly miserable. Them evil folks were good at hiding it, so the government folks never caught on. Messed up, that is."
"Are you talking about the story of the town of children?" Gwen asked. "I heard that some unsavory sort of people worked to care for the children, and that their cruelty gave rise to a curse that swallowed the whole town and erased it from existence. I always thought that it was an urban legend."
"Well, it ain't no myth," said McFinnigan. "Me gran was one o' them orphans. One o' the few to survive the Day of Lost Childhood. She escaped, met some more of her kind, and then started that business thing that made our family so rich and powerful. When I was but a wee pup, she used to tell me all about the town, how it used to be a decent place before the good people had to leave, replaced by the bad ones. I still remember how she described it. The cruelty became too much for the children, so their hearts turned to dark forces for help, and brought about a curse that consumed the entire town in a horrendous pillar of Darkness before disappearing completely.
"Ironically, it took the whole town disappearing for the castle people to finally realize their folly. Too ashamed and fearful fer their infernal reputations, they decided to bury it all and erase the town even from memory. Me Gran keeping quiet is what helped her start up the McFinnigan fortune. But she couldn't help herself in tryin' to keep the memory alive through her wee ones."
"That's a really sad tale," said Lulu. "But I don't understand. If the town's been gone after all this time, why's this curse here?"
"Maybe it came back?" Alexandra suggested. She soon regretted speaking up when all eyes turned to her. The young lady, now little girl, shrank, old childhood shyness renewing its grip.
"You may have a point," said Gwen. "Darkness has been on the rise for some time now. In less than ten years, it has reduced the whole kingdom to a platter of cursed land. The Darkness may have drawn the town back here from wherever it's been this whole time. And with the town, comes the curse. Now we know what this curse exactly entails."
"So, what now?" asked Lulu. "We can't go back."
"May as well keep going forward," Gwen said with a shrug. "It might be interesting to see what kind of town is built specifically for kids. But first, let's find the others. We wouldn't want them to be accidentally mistaken as chew toys and buried somewhere."
"Oi!" went McFinnigan. "Was that a rib at me?"
- Quest For The Witch Chapter Eleven
About time I added another chapter to this story.
Check out my latest fantasy novel:
- Silverwest's Legacy (Silverwest Trilogy Book 3), Victor Kwok
Can a band of warlocks and Faerie end an ancient war?