In previous chapters, we learn that Robbie has been fired from his posh job, and his relationship with his kids and wife is a bit strained. But then, he finds himself in another world after he steps inside a cardboard box…
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Chapter 5 (pt. 1)
She glared at him with murderous eyes, her bushy eyebrows merging together and her eyes narrowing. [Robbie] quickly stood up and stumbled backwards a few steps. He tried to figure out how she could have survived so long underwater, but when she picked up her speed, he dismissed it and turned and ran into the jungle.
He tripped on nearly every branch, twig, and root in his path. The low-hanging tree branches reached out at him, grabbing and clawing at his arms and legs. He could hear little yet determined footsteps closing in on him, and his only thought was of evading the girl and her knife.
He searched desperately for a place to hide, but didn’t know which way to turn. For all he knew he could be heading into greater danger. He tripped and fell face-first on the jungle ground. Within seconds the girl was standing over him and Robbie instinctively raised his arms to protect his face. But she didn’t attack him. Instead she said, in perfect English, “Your name is Robbie?”
He nodded. “Robbie Lake.” His mind was reeling; what did it matter what his name was?
“They said you’d be wearing funny clothes. I couldn’t see what you were wearing up in the cave because it was dark. And it’s hard to tell underwater.”
Robbie looked down at his stretched out suit and dishevled tie. He did feel out of place.
“Are you cold or something?” asked the girl. “Is that why you’re wearing so many clothes?”
“I don’t know why I’m wearing these,” confessed Robbie. It was true. He couldn’t figure out why he was dressed this way. He wished he could recall something as basic as his wardrobe choice, but he would just have to wait until it came to him.
The girl took a step toward him and lifted his tie from his chest, dangling it in front of her eyes. “This looks stupid. Do you use it to swat at flies or something?”
“No. It’s just for looks. It makes me look powerful and in control,” answered Robbie.
The girl seemed to think about this, then said, “Does it shoot things?”
“No,” said Robbie.
“Is it a noose for you to hang yourself with in case the pruflas catch you?”
“The what?” Robbie inquired.
Ignoring him, the girl rubbed his tie between her fingers and observed, “It’s not sharp, so it can’t stab anyone…”
Robbie pushed her hand away and straightened his tie the best he could, saying, “I told you, it’s just for looks. Nothing else. Why did you try to drown me back there?”
“I thought you were an impostor,” the girl said as she stepped back from Robbie so he could stand up.
“What’s your name?”
“Hail.” She nearly smiled when she said this. “And you’re really Robbie?”
Even the birds in the trees seemed to stop their hollering in anticipation of his answer. He nodded.
“It would be a pretty big deal if you really are. I don’t even know what to do with you now. I guess maybe I should take you to see Sarcadui.”
“Your guide. Someone’s got to take you to the ocean. And there’s no one better to take you than Sarcadui. Let’s go before it gets dark.”
The ocean sounded good to Robbie. He expected he could hitch a ride on a boat to take him home—wherever that was. But still, when Hail walked toward the deeper part of jungle, Robbie stayed put. When Hail asked why he wasn’t coming, Robbie said, “You’ve tried to kill me twice in the last ten minutes. I’m not following you. I’ll find my own way.”
She just shrugged and said, “All right. I have no emotional attachment to you. Good luck getting to the ocean by yourself.” With that she continued on her way through the trees.
Robbie wasn’t sure he wanted to be left alone in this foreign place. The girl seemed harmless enough now. Grunting at his own indecisiveness, he jogged to catch up with her.
“You said earlier that you thought I was an imposter. Who did you think I was impersonating?” he asked.
“Are you kidding me? People always show up in the cave claiming to be you.”
“Why would people claim to be me?” he asked, stunned.
“They need help getting to your throne. If they can convince us that they’re you, then we’ll take them to your castle.” Hail looked condescendingly at Robbie and added, “But now that I see you, I’m surprised anyone would want to be you. I always thought you’d be bigger and, I don’t know, stronger. But it turns out that you’re a bad swimmer and you run away from little girls. So much for ‘powerful and in control,’” she added as she flicked his tie.
“I can swim just fine. You didn’t see me hanging onto anyone in the lake, did you? How did you stay under for so long anyway?”
Hail took a dark piece of bark out of her mouth and handed it to Robbie. “It’s breathing bark. It comes from trees that are filled with air. With one of these in your mouth you can breathe underwater for a really long time.”
“Weird. I’m sorry for kicking you so hard. I don’t make it a habit to go around kicking little kids.”
“It’s fine. You’re a survivor; that’s good. That gives you a chance to make it to your throne alive.”
Robbie stopped. “You keep mentioning a throne like it’s mine. I don’t own a throne.”
“Don’t say that to too many people. That could start an uprising.”
“Why? By whom?”
But Hail was holding a finger to her mouth and gesturing toward a thick group of trees with her other hand.
Robbie turned toward them and strained his eyes to see what had caught Hail’s attention. There, through two trunks, he saw the largest rat he had ever seen. It was at least two feet tall, and its dark brown fur was plastered down to its head. Small black eyes peered intently at Robbie. Sitting up on its beefy hind legs, it showed great interest in the two strange people peering at it.
“It’s an agouti,” informed Hail. “They’re rare, and sort of belong to the rat family. Cute, huh?”
“Cute” was not the first word that came to Robbie’s mind. Let’s face it: a rat is a rat.
But before he could say anything, a lizard, about the same size as the rat, bounded out of the bushes on its hind legs and attacked the agouti from behind. It stretched its long neck over the rodent’s head and bit its face as the rat squirmed and shrieked like a flag on a pole flapping wildly in the wind.
Robbie did all he could to keep from vomiting at the site of the lizard flipping its meal over to devour it from the neck down in just a few large bites, tugging on the meat that stuck to the bones with its long, sharp teeth.
Hail grabbed Robbie’s arm and pulled him along. “Let’s go.”
“That looks like a dinosaur,” gasped Robbie in disbelief.
“Great. You’re powerful and observant. Maybe that’ll do you some good someday. Now, let’s go,” urged Hail, pulling Robbie along at a fast pace.
“Wait. You’re telling me that was a dinosaur?”
“It’s an eoraptor,” said Hail, not slowing down. “There will be others around and they’ll kill us if they attack us as a group. They get bigger the deeper into the jungle we go.”
“How big?” asked Robbie. He was on the verge of laughing at himself for having this ridiculous conversation.
“Huge. Haven’t you seen them before?”
“No,” he answered. He couldn’t help but wonder if he had somehow been taken back to the prehistoric era. It all made sense, anyway: the sackcloth clothes, the uncivilized terrain, the dinosaur… “Where are we?”
“Oh. I bet a lot’s changed since you were here last,” said Hail. “We’re in Reveloin. Right now we’re in the Arura Jungle. We’re heading east into Langly to find Sarcadui.”
Sarcadui. That had the ring of a fierce warrior or some sort. He wondered if this Sarcadui owned this land, or if he was a high-ranking soldier in an army, or the chief of some Indian tribe. He wasn’t about to admit it, but he was scared to death about meeting him, whoever he was.
“Why do we have to meet this Sarcadui?” asked Robbie.
“You sound kind of scared. Are you intimidated easily?”
“No,” protested Robbie. “Not really.”
“You sound like you’re intimidated. Try giving your necktie a yank or two, maybe that’ll help give you some courage.”
Robbie rolled his eyes and faintly pulled on the end of his tie when she wasn’t looking.
After putting some distance between them and the dinosaur, Robbie was able to enjoy the vast beauty of his new surroundings.
As they walked, Robbie sang under his breath, “Aweem away, aweem away, aweem away…”
“What are you doing?”
“Nothing,” Robbie said, pursing his lips together. The song by Token came into his mind and he couldn’t help but sing it. Just another random thing he could remember as some distant memory that would probably do him no good here.
“Were you singing?” Hail pressed.
“I was trying to,” said Robbie.
“Well keep singing. You kind of creep me out when you’re walking behind me all quiet like that.”
“Imagine how I feel with you,” said Robbie. But he continued half singing, half humming: “In the jugle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight.”
“What’s a lion?” asked Hail.
Another useless fact that he recalled: lions actually don’t live in the jungle. So of course Hail shouldn’t be expected to know what one is.
“A big hungry cat,” said Robbie.
“That’s real helpful. If I don’t know what a lion is, you expect me to know what a cat is?”
Robbie racked his brain. “It’s a big, uh, fury creature with sharp teeth, and a long tail. You know, four legs, prowling around looking for animals to eat.”
“Like a panther?”
“Panthers scare me to death. I haven’t seen one, but I’ve heard all about them. Keep singing.”
Robbie continued to sing the parts of the song he knew. After a few minutes, his heart nearly stopped when a large man landed on his feet just less than a yard ahead of them. A long messy beard covered his dark face, leaving only his bludgeon eyes visible. He was bare-chested, proudly displaying his wavy muscles, and he was dressed in nothing more than a loincloth that wrapped around his waist. In his left hand he carried a bow, as though it were his most prized possession. Several arrows poked up from a sheath slung over his back. Robbie instinctively bent to pick up a rock to throw at him, but Hail started talking to the man.
“This is him, Remusathi.”
The man looked at Robbie contemptuously and said in a deep monotonous voice, “Are you sure?”
“Pretty sure. We should at least let Sarcadui look at him, don’t you think?”
“I suppose so,” conceded Remusathi after looking Robbie up and down for a long moment. “At least he doesn’t look like much of a threat.”
“Your tie really must not be working,” Hail whispered to Robbie as the muscle man stepped closer to him and stuck his face near Robbie’s.
“I’ll let you pass, but I’m not bowing to you until you sit on your throne and we’re all still alive. You had better be who we think you are. And you better show more respect to Sarcadui than you have shown me,” he said, glaring at the rock in Robbie’s hand, which he immediately dropped as though the look were a command.
Robbie nodded slightly but said nothing. He didn’t care to insult the man any more than he had already.
“Thanks,” said Hail, a little too familiarly. “Ill have Brackshaw keep you posted.”
Sarcadui. Remusathi. Brackshaw. Definitely the prehistoric age.
Remusathi nodded respectfully and stepped aside for them to pass.
As Robbie and Hail pressed forward, Robbie asked, “What was that all about?”
“That was Remusathi. He’s one of the lookouts. They’re everywhere now, because we’re nearing Langly. They’re in the trees right now watching us, but you won’t see them if you look; they’re good hiders.”
Robbie glanced upward, but could see no one peering down from the treetops. And on second thought, he was thankful, because if all of them were wearing loincloths like Remusathi, he didn’t care to see them from bellow. “What are they on the lookout for?”
“Trenchers. They began showing up years after you left. They’re traitors and we hate them; we want them all to die.” Robbie smirked at Hail’s bluntness.
By this point, however, his head was spinning and he decided not to press for any more information. He had heard enough about his supposed past for one day.
Chapter 5 cont. next week.
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