The Mystery Of Missed Trees By Harmony Ackerman

Copyright © 2009 Rachel Wright; all rights reserved. Published with permission.

So, just about a year after we went to Miss Flaumel’s house and all those weird things happened to us, the orphanage took us on a camping trip to the national forest. They usually do them every year, but last year there was a forest fire so it got cancelled. Anyway, I’ve been on one before, so I wasn’t expecting any excitement. These trips are normally really boring, not to mention uncomfortable and dirty and muddy and smelly… although I suppose it is good to get away from the school, and the forest is pretty.

Some of us who went to Miss Flaumel’s last year decided to take our horses out for a ride. One of the newer students, a Sioux Indian guy named Intomi (pronounced Unc-toe-me, so we call him Tommy) came with us, too. Nadia really enjoyed the opportunity to stretch her legs and show off to the other horses.

We’d been riding about half an hour when we spotted a white deer in the trees. Tommy said it was unusual ‘cos it wasn’t an albino. So we decided to follow it. That’s when we came upon the damage from last year’s fire. A section of land about a mile across and stretching as far as we could see left to right was all ash and burnt out tree stumps. We noticed that there was nothing growing in the ash, which was a bit strange as the fire had been twelve months ago. Well, almost nothing. There was the grove of ash trees about three hundred yards in to the ash field. How it got missed by the fire, we had no idea. We went across to have a look, but there wasn’t anything obviously special about the place. It was really nice, though, and there was a grove of sequoia trees over on the opposite side of the ash that messed with our distance perception for a moment – those trees are huge. Some of the boys climbed the trees, and Harryn spotted something else out in the ash. It looked like a TV aerial.

That was even more strange, so of course we went to investigate, and to our surprise, there was a Winnebago parked in a dip in the ground. Three women were sitting outside; they waved to us so we went down to say hello. They all had black hair, and looked really similar. They introduced themselves as Mary, Nancy and Ophelia, and they said they were on vacation. They seemed to think that they’d chosen a scenic spot, but down at the bottom of the dip, all you could see was ash. They didn’t say where they were from, but Dave couldn’t place their accent so we knew it must have been somewhere remote.

While we were talking to them, Tommy had snuck round the back of the Winnebago and had a look inside. After we left them, he told us that they had had a pendant like the ones we got from Miss Flaumel’s house - it was just lying on their kitchen table. That was worrying, but then, for all we know, lots of people have them. It didn’t necessarily mean they were up to no good, but it did make us suspicious.

We went back to the camp and told Miss Trees about what we’d seen. She agreed that we should keep an eye on the women (in fact, she said we could do anything so long as we didn’t break the law!). So we packed some stuff and pitched a camp close to the ash field. Skye and I took first watch, then we let the boys take over and went to sleep.

Their teeth elongated, and their skin went all…chitinous. That’s all we saw, because at that point we ran.

The next morning, we saw the three women coming out of the trees the other side of the ash field, near the sequoia grove. They went down into the dip, and about thirty seconds later, three more women who looked the same but were wearing different clothes came up from the dip and went towards the sequoias. The others tried to suggest that they were the same three women, but I told them no-one can get changed that quickly.

Skye went back to the rangers office to look at a map of the area, where she discovered that the ash field was about five miles in length. Meanwhile, we kept watch upon the women. A bit later, three women came out of the dip and went towards the trees. We figured the Winnebago was empty, so we went to have another look around. For some reason, the place smelt of gasoline. There were lots of clothes strewn around, and it looked as if there were more people living here than the vehicle was supposed to hold.

Anyway, after that we decided to go for a ride around the ash field. On the way, we came across another of the ash groves that had been missed by the fire. Tommy decided to cut himself a staff from the wood. We continued round, until we saw a fox sitting in our path. It acted as if it wanted us to follow it. Of course, we did, and we came to a clearing with a large tarpaulin in the middle. We peeked underneath, and saw lots and lots of cans of gasoline. There was a wire leading from the cans out towards the ash – and, we presumed, to the Winnebago.

Luckily the detonation device was a simple circuit, so we were able to disable it. By now, we were really worried about what the women were up to, so we went on to the sequoia grove and James, Tommy and Harryn climbed the trees. I don’t know why they went so high – Harryn and Tommy aren’t very good climbers. Anyway, they saw more of the women heading back to the Winnebago. By this time, we’d lost count of how many of them there were. Probably at least nine.

We decided to carry on around the perimeter of the ash field, in case there were any more stores of gasoline around. There were. We entered another clearing with another tarpaulin in the centre. Unfortunately, three of the women were also there. They hissed at us – and then something happened to them. They started to change – their teeth elongated, and their skin went all…chitinous. That’s all we saw, because at that point we ran.

The…things…were fast. We galloped around the ash field as quick as we could, but they kept pace with us. We had no choice but to use our pendants to get rid of them. So we tried to change things so that they couldn’t follow us. We put a bear in between us and them, but the horrible screams it made when they caught up with it told us that hadn’t worked as we’d hoped.

The land got mountainous, and so we put a steep drop behind us. That’s when Skye discovered she didn’t know where we were anymore. I guess the things we’d tried to do with our pendants had caused us to end up in another place, like they had when we’d left Miss Flaumel’s house. We didn’t have time to worry about it, though, as the things were still following. We charged down a narrow canyon, through a cave and out the other side.

In the distance, we saw a castle on a hill, so we aimed for that, thinking that we might find help there, or at least it would be defensible. And poor Nadia was tiring – I had to jump onto James’ horse to give her a rest. At the castle gate, there was a knight in armour, with a lance and a boar symbol on his shield. He challenged us, but before we could explain to him what was happening, the things appeared out of the trees and he charged them.

The poor, brave man didn’t make it. We didn’t see what happened, as up close we discovered the castle was ruined, so we had continued riding – but we heard the sounds of the fight behind us. I felt sad that we never knew the man’s name, but there wasn’t time to stop and think. We had to keep going.

It sounded like the sort of hippy nonsense that … my mother was into. I didn’t want to do it.

As we continued through the trees, still being pursued, we heard the sound of a hunting horn and the baying of hounds. It was another man in armour – this time, on the most ginormous horse any of us had ever seen. His dogs were pretty big, too. Somehow, he managed to kill the things that were following us. He said his name was Julian, and he invited us back to his camp. We explained to him about the women and how they were planning to set fire to our forest, and how they had chased us here. He said he had fought them before, and they usually moved in groups of six. He said they were in every world, causing destruction wherever they went. Since he seemed to know about the existence of other places, we told him about the pendants. He knew Miss Flaumel, and kept saying that she had sent us here, even though we told him we hadn’t seen her since last year. Anyway, he said he knew someone who could help us, but he needed a close look at our pendants first.

He placed three of them on the ground, then put something that looked like a playing card on top. Then he placed the other two on top of that. He told us to sleep, and come back in the morning. The next day, he gave us our pendants back, saying that they were some kind of tracking device, and that they would take us to the person who could help us. He wrote a note to this person for us to give them – he sealed it, so we didn’t know what it said.

After a horrible journey through a dank, dark forest, being chased by giant spiders, and sleeping in a cold, damp cave (too damp to light a fire), we eventually saw another castle on the horizon. We crossed the narrow bridge that led to the doorway, left the horses and went inside. For a while we thought the place was abandoned, but then we came to a large hall, where a red-haired woman in robes sat upon a throne.

We gave her the note and explained why we were here (the note just said “They’re your problem now – Julian.”) The woman knew Miss Flaumel, though she called her Florimel, and said she was a princess of some place called Amber. She said something funny about Miss Flaumel wanting her to sharpen her weapons. The red-haired woman was a princess too, and her name was Fiona. She took our pendants and started slicing small pieces off each of them. She produced a ring out of nowhere, and somehow merged the flakes from our amulet with it and gave the ring to Tommy. Then she gave us some lessons on how to use our pendants (or ring, in Tommy’s case). She spouted some mumbo-jumbo about feeling the energy from them flow through us. It sounded like the sort of hippy nonsense that my grandmother told me my mother was into. I didn’t want to do it, but it did seem to be working for the others – so I gave it a go.

It worked. I don’t know what to think about that. Could it be that my mother wasn’t quite as crazy as I’d imagined? Maybe she’d had weird things happen to her, too…

[There is a stain on the page at this point, as if water had dripped on the paper. Some of the ink is smudged.]

Princess Fiona showed us how to make things we wanted appear in the next room. She also got us to make things appear for each other, and to send messages to each other through our minds. She said that the pendants could shape the destinies of other pendant wearers as well as our own. Then she sent us off back home, saying we had everything we needed to get rid of the demons in our forest.

I’m not going to talk about when it started raining tarantula’s — just the thought of that makes my skin crawl.

On the way home, we each used our pendants to find weapons to fight the women. I think I might have got distracted, cos the thing I found was a can of hairspray. We ended up with quite a strange equipment list, actually – a bag of seeds, a boomerang, a boar spear, a sword and magic helmet like from the cartoon, and a phaser rifle like from Star Trek. Then we headed back to the national forest.

When we got close, we saw that the forest was on fire. We used our pendants to make it rain, and that helped the firemen put the fire out. I’m not going to talk about when it started raining tarantula’s — just the thought of that makes my skin crawl. I’d much rather tell you about the firemen — some of them looked like the ones off the calendar in the staff room back at school — all rippling muscles and no shirts. I think that might have been caused by me or Skye getting distracted again. One of them was wearing a chainmail bikini — I don’t know who did that! Once the fire was out, we went down to the Winnebago. There were two women outside. Dave shot one with his phaser rifle and she just disappeared. Then more came out of the door. Tommy used his ring to make the gas inside the Winnebago explode, and one of them got caught in the explosion. But four more were running towards us.

One of them was decapitated by Harryn’s boomerang, another ended up impaled on James’ boar spear, and Skye stabbed one with her sword. Then there was one left, charging straight at me. I sprayed her with my hairspray, and she froze in position (now that’s what I call ‘extra firm hold’). I kicked her over, and someone else finished her off.

Back at camp, the others were just returning, as they’d been evacuated when the fire had started. Miss Trees took us to one side and asked whether we’d sorted out the problem, and we assured her we had. So that was the end of the holiday, and we were taken back to school. This time, though, I have the feeling that things will never be quite the same.

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