Chapter 19

Mabel, Van, Ivy, and the four adults huddled farther back on the porch, and shielded their faces against the soil and foliage being thrown by the helicopter as it settled, noisily, onto an open space between the cottages and the garden plots.

“That thing better not mess with my corn,” muttered Jonah.

“WHAT?” asked Laura, trying to hear him above the din of the chopping blades.

“IT’S BLOWING THE CORN,” Jonah began, as the copter’s blades slowed and became quieter. “It was blowing the corn around.”

“Big day for visitors,” said Colleen, squinting at the red helicopter. “Whoever it is must’ve seen your plane.”

Mabel looked at the bushy black hair and sunglasses of the pilot. She did not recognize him. Then the side door of the craft opened and a small set of steps flipped outward.

“After YOU, my GOOD Madam,” said an all too familiar voice. But first, a tiny, wrinkled little woman stuck out a cane and hopped down the steps. Sparkle’s tail began to whap the floor enthusiastically.

“Miss Penny?” said Mabel. “You followed us?”

“HE says I oughta,” replied Miss Penny, pointing a bony finger behind her, as Tim Tutter stepped out, gingerly patting his hair back into place.

“YES, young lady, I DID,” agreed Tutter. “Miss Penny, that flyover should have given you a FEEL for the SCALE and ENORMITY of this VAST wasteland you inherited. Maybe this CLOSE-UP look will enable you to SHARE my point of view, that it COULD be put to much BETTER use.”

“Miss Penny,” asked Van, “you own the forest?”

“Oh yeah,” said Miss Penny gazing about critically, “my old grandaddy, he left me all kinds of acreage.”

“That is so,” added Tutter. “In fact, MY research has pointed to your own MISS PENNY as the sole heir to the Logjam Millworks LEGACY. Which, as you can SEE, my good Miss Penny,” continued Tutter, taking a swipe at a pear tree with his polished alligator loafer, “amounts to LITTLE more than MILES and MILES of USELESS TREES…YOWCH!” Tutter bellowed as three pears pelted him on the head. He took a step backward, tripping over a protruding root, and landed squarely on his bottom.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Laura, helping Tutter to his feet, “it’s just that we generally treat the trees a bit more respectfully.”

“WHO CARES?” sputtered Tutter, “They’re just trees!” He hastily composed himself, and patted his hair back into place as best he could. “IMAGINE,” said Tutter, making panoramic sweeps with his arms, “ACRE upon GROOMED ACRE of FUN and ENTERTAINMENT for people of ALL ages to escape to! CAN’T you PICTURE it?”

“Are you talking about that Billy Bee idea?” asked Mabel incredulously. “You want to turn the Willibunk Forest into some kind of bee-themed amusement park?”

“BILLY BEE,” said Tutter rapturously. “I know children like YOU, all over the WORLD will come to QUIVER with EXCITEMENT at the thought of meeting BILLY BEE in PERSON, right here in TUTTERLAND!”

Van rolled his eyes. Ivy made a cuckoo gesture. Tutter didn’t seem to notice.

“Miss Penny,” said Mabel, “you wouldn’t sell the land to him, would you?”

Miss Penny was hobbling about picking up fallen leaves and stuffing them into her sweater pocket. Finally she threw her hands into the air. “All these darn leaves! Whoever thought I’d want all these darn leaves anyway,” she said with mild disgust.

“Then you’re WITH ME!” said Tutter excitedly. “We can chop them down, level this whole place…well, except for a few…people like a few trees. PICTURE this IF you WILL…over there…Tutter’s TIME WARP…over there something scary, like…TUTTER’S TERROR TOWN…and, for the little one’s…TUTTER’S TUMBLING TOT TRAIL!”

Miss Penny turned her sweater pockets inside out and shook vigorously, scattering leaves everywhere. “Well…” she said, watching them fly with a defeated fondness, “guess they gotta fall somewhere…and better here than in my yard.”

“Miss Penny,” said Tutter, chuckling awkwardly, “I don’t believe I quite heard you correctly…you ARE with me, AREN’T you?”

Miss Penny looked squarely at Tutter. “I ain’t sellin’,” she said.

“I’m sorry,” said Tutter, as if he hadn’t quite heard, “what was that?”

“She ain’t sellin’!” said Mabel, Van and Ivy in unison.

Tutter huffed, then he harumphed. His face took on an injured expression, and he slunk to the end of the porch and sat down. The helicopter pilot, who had exited the cockpit, approached Tutter and gestured at his watch. Tutter shook his head. “Let’s give her a while to get good and sick of these precious TREES,” he said sarcastically. “Maybe she’ll start to see reason.”

“Reason, humph…” muttered Miss Penny. “He may have looks, but he’s got no brains if he thinks he can reason with an old lady. Hey! Who IS that awful man?” she added in exclamation.

Mabel looked quickly toward the orchard. “It’s Arbogast,” she said. “I guess he is okay.”

Arbogast, looking even more scratched and dented from his trek through the woods than from the crash landing, staggered into the clearing.

“No, not him,” insisted Miss Penny, “that other, awful looking man. Hey! Mister! Where’s yer’ friend?”

“Friends, madam,” replied Arbogast, “are a bother I generally prefer to do without.”

Jonah, gazing intently at Arbogast, pushed as much white hair as he could out of his eyes. “Verdon?” he asked tentatively. “Is that you Verdon?”

Arbogast returned the gaze. His face registered first confusion, then surprise, and finally, it seemed to Mabel, annoyance.

“You’re old,” said Arbogast. It was a statement tinged with disappointment.

“Yes,” replied Jonah. “And you’re not.”

“Oh, you have no idea, Jonah,” said Arbogast, drawing nearer to the group, while examining the old faces. “But tell me this Jonah,” he continued. “You’re 105 years old. Why aren’t you dead?”

“Oh, I’ll die soon enough,” replied Jonah with a chuckle. “But I’ve stayed healthier than most.”

“You’re going to die?” asked Mabel. She was gripped by a sudden fear of losing these people whom she’d barely met.

Laura put an arm around Mabel. “Honey, we’re well over one-hundred years old. The spring has helped us, but we can’t live forever.”

“How long?” asked Mabel.

“We don’t know,” answered Colleen. “No-one knows. No-one needs to know. You just live life one day at a time. But Verdon,” she continued, turning to Arbogast, “you’ve managed to remain remarkably…spry.”

“Yes,” replied Arbogast. “So I have. But after following the Crockett’s daughter all this way…well, I was not counting on finding them so…aged.”

Recognition seemed to dawn on Jonah’s face. “Verdon,” he said “you thought I was after immortality, didn’t you?”

Arbogast returned the questioning gaze.

“That was just you Verdon,” continued Jonah. “All I ever wanted was a healthy life.”

“And it seems you’ve achieved success on your own, Verdon,” added Laura. “But I’m curious…how did you know we had a daughter?”

“Jenny told him,” said Van, matter of factly.

“Jenny…?” said Colleen slowly, looking at Jonah and Laura. She turned back to Arbogast. “You’re with Jenny?”

“I guess they do know her,” said Mabel quietly to Van and Ivy. “She must get around.”

From beyond the spring the leaves began to rustle in the trees, with a bit more insistence. Mabel felt what she took to be a large raindrop splatter across her face.

“How close are we to the river?” said Arbogast, with sudden panic in his voice.

“There’s a branch one-hundred yards through the trees, that way,” replied Colleen, motioning toward the spring.

Arbogast looked at Jonah appraisingly, and shuddered. It seemed, Mabel discerned, that white hair and wrinkled skin did not appeal to him.

“Excuse me,” said a tiny voice which seemed to be right by Mabel’s ear.

“It’s those tree voices again,” said Van.

“It’s Lida,” said Colleen. “Mabel, come with me. I’d like you to meet her.”

Taking Mabel and Ivy by the hands, Colleen turned toward the orchard. Just as in the orange garden at Cochiti Spring, Mabel had the peculiar sensation that she wasn’t certain whether she was looking at a person or a tree. But after a few seconds of focusing she realized that the individual next to the pear tree looked remarkably similar to Dun, but with more closely-cropped hair, and tinier features. Her dress was leafy and flowing, and her large light brown eyes took in Mabel with twinkling pleasure.

“Dun did speak to you,” said Lida, smiling at Mabel.

“Yes,” replied Mabel.

“We are all feeling much happier for our friends,” said Lida. “But you must take care. Gennawoc is angry. We will be your only safe place.”

“Thank you Lida,” said Colleen.

Lida smiled as broadly as her tiny mouth would allow, and then Mabel was looking only at a pear tree.

“Poor old Verdon,” said Colleen, with a wry laugh. “But he brought it on himself. Nothing we can do.”

The wind was gradually growing stiffer, harsher, and colder. For a few minutes Mabel huddled with the others, while Colleen spoke with the group. Bits of mud began to soar through the treetops, as if catapulted, and a misty, splashy rain was swirling in the air.

Arbogast glanced about agitatedly as if considering which direction to run in, then he looked at Jonah, Laura, Colleen, and Miss Penny critically, and shook his head.

“You can’t do it by yourself, can you Verdon?” said Jonah. “We’re all old.”

Arbogast snarled slightly, and looked, as did everyone else, in the direction of the river. A funnel of water spun toward them through the trees, slapping leaves in its wake, and spritzing everyone and everything with twigs and wetness.

“Jenny,” shouted Arbogast, over the wind, “I DO NOT need you! Did you hear me? I NO LONGER require your SERVICES!”

The spiraling funnel of water began to spin faster and faster until it seemed to Mabel that it was not a funnel at all, but rather a person…a woman…an exquisite woman, the color of everything. All the hues of the forest sparkled off her hair and skin like the glittering of the sun on rippled water. She smiled entrancingly, and glided out of the trees and into the clearing. It was almost impossible not to look at her, but in Mabel’s peripheral vision she could see Van raising his glasses and blinking, then replacing them.

The glittering woman stopped, struck a rather teacherly pose, and looked, with exaggerated disappointment, right at Verdon Arbogast.

“Oh, Arby,” she said in a voice mellow, bubbly, and delicious. “You know I hate it when you let yourself go.”

Mabel sneaked a glance at Arbogast, and cold shock gripped her chest. Where Arbogast had been standing was the decrepit, bony horror from Franklin’s Guest House, so deteriorated he might have been dug from a crypt.

“There’s that awful looking man!” piped up Miss Penny. “Didn’t I tell ya’ I saw ‘im?”

“Don’t say such things about my Arby,” said the water-woman, moving, dance-like, in a circle around Arbogast. “He can be so cute if he tries.” As she circled, rain, from nowhere in particular, sprinkled the horribly decaying creature, and he became, with instantaneous smoothness, the younger Arbogast. He seemed to be swaying slightly, and looked at Gennawoc with an equal mix of fear and infatuation. Just as instantaneously he shook it off, as if trying to clear his head.

“What a show, Jenny,” said Arbogast curtly. “I’m sure you’ve impressed one and all.” He took a step away from her and pulled himself up straight. “What you’ve failed to realize…darling…is that sixty years with you has taught me some handy tricks of my own. I’m now quite adept at pulling that off on my own power.”

Gennawoc smiled demurely, and looked directly at Mabel with the condescending and conspiratorial sort of smile one might use when sharing gossip. Alone, it was a harmless gesture, but Mabel saw something flash in Gennawoc’s liquid eyes that told her to brace herself.

“YOU HAVE NO POWER!” shrieked Gennawoc suddenly in a voice that thundered like the crashing of gale-force waves. Van fell down, Norton gripped a tree for support, Ivy covered her ears. Only Jonah, Laura, and Colleen seemed to have been ready for the storm that had brewed in seconds. From the direction of the river came a churning and sucking of horribly disturbed water. The wind kicked up, and seemed to swallow all other sound.

Strong hands gripped Mabel’s head. It was Colleen, yelling directly into her ear. “YOU MUST GRAB AND HOLD A TREE NOW! DO NOT LET GO UNTIL I TELL YOU!”

Mabel nodded dumbly, and took hold of a nearby walnut tree. She watched as Colleen, Jonah, and Laura gave the same message to each person in turn before finding trees of their own. The bushy-haired pilot looked terribly confused and frightened as Jonah hollered in his ear, but he made his was to a gum tree and gripped it uncertainly. Only Tutter seemed unconvinced, and he rolled his eyes as Laura delivered the warning, but he casually put a hand on a dogwood as the wind began to shriek.

A stinging, pelting, cold rain stabbed Mabel in the face, but she forced herself to look toward the trees where Gennawoc had stood. There was Arbogast, waving his arms and yelling protests which the searing wind made inaudible, but she could not distinguish the form of the water-woman. What she saw instead nearly made her heart stop. Rolling through the forest, from the direction of the river was a wave.

Combing through the trees, glowing green where the sun penetrated the translucent water…she was looking at a wave larger than any she’d ever seen in the ocean, and it was heading right for them. Mabel took a quick scan of the others. All were gripping trees, even Sparkle and Sig who had taken refuge in the exposed roots of a tulip poplar…all but Tim Tutter.

Tutter stood, momentarily gaping at the sight of the tremendous wave bearing down on him. Then he turned, and ran full tilt toward the helicopter. Mabel could see Colleen attempting to call him back, but her words were lost in the howling wind.

Tutter entered the copter’s cabin in a single leap and slammed the door shut behind him.

Mabel had no time to think about him. In the second it took her to turn her head around, she realized she was inside the curl of the breaking wave. She would be crushed, pulverized…she would drown as the horrible sensation of inhaled river-water suffocated her…she would…she would…calmly watch the water pass gently over her head, from the safety and muffled silence of a tree-sized bubble.

It felt like slow motion, then slow-motion played in reverse, as the wave, which Mabel assumed would crash and dissipate through the trees, merely crashed. But she could barely hear it. Her protective bubble was eerily silent. The only noise she could identify sounded like a man’s voice calling out “Jenny! Wait!”

The wave crashed. Then it uncrashed. It rolled backward as if all the water had been recalled by the river. Mabel watched the white foam retreat over her head, then her bubble dissolved, and sound returned. The water rolled back through the trees to the river. Verdon Arbogast was gone.

Slowly, everyone began to look around. The ground was drenched, the trees dry. Mabel, Van and Ivy looked at each other and began to laugh with relief at having witnessed and survived such a deluge.

“Well, well,” Miss Penny cackled. “I guess all those trees are good for somethin’. Guess that Tutter feller’ll be changin’ his tune now.”

Mabel froze. Then she looked at Colleen, whose face registered sudden horror. Colleen sprinted twenty yards to the helicopter with Mabel on her heels. The red helicopter stood as shiny as ever, while a steady stream of water seeped through the cracks around the doorway. Mabel and Colleen stepped aside as the bushy-haired pilot fiddled with the door handle until it opened and he was knocked off his feet by the torrent of water escaping from the copter’s cabin.

As the flow subsided to a stream, Colleen climbed inside. She emerged seconds later and shook her head. “It’s too late,” she said. “He’s dead.”

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