Chapter 32: A Very Unmerry Day
Read all the chapters here. Enjoy!
Previously: The orphans Drisel and Ash were saved from the forest’s clutches, but their friend Nagato was not. Madnes is weighed down by it, but trouble looms on the horizon…
To read the full Haunted Forest Arc, click here and scroll.
Now free of the forest, and resting safe inside the Madness Solver brick office, Ash’s health steadily improved. They talked over where the orphans would stay, as Madnes didn’t feel right about sending them back to the orphanage—a place they’d sacrificed so much to escape from.
“There’s plenty of room at my uncle’s place,” suggested Harrey. “It’s where I live; and I don’t think he’d mind having more pairs of hands around to help out with stuff.”
“It’s a workshop, Harrey,” frowned Madnes. “Not exactly kid friendly.”
“Nonsense!” his friend shrugged it aside. “I was younger than them when I first began tinkering and inventing! Besides, they look like clever kiddos.” He patted the orphans’ heads—Drisel worked to smooth her hair back down.
Madnes hesitated, but there really wasn’t any other place they could stay. Harrey’s brick workshop had plenty of room, and he was good with kids. ‘Probably because he’s just like one,’ he thought. “Fine. But I’m holding you responsible if anything happens.”
Harrey waved his palms, “Okay, okay! Don’t get your knickers in a twist, dude.”
Madnes rolled his eyes and headed for the office door. “Where are you off to?” Harrey called after. “Out,” he replied tersely, “I need to clear my head.”
Madnes went for an idle walk, letting his feet take him wherever they willed. The day was too pretty—too pretty for what had just happened that morning, for the life that had been lost. Rain…he wished it would rain.
Young Nagato—why couldn’t he have saved him? Why did it have to be too late to save him? ‘I’m to blame, no matter what he said. It’s my fault.’ And Oz’s. Oh yes, he had more than a bone to pick with Oz. This was something that could not be forgiven.
He spotted a bench and sunk down onto it, letting his face fall in his hands, blocking out the daylight from his sight. “Broooody~ broooody~” He lifted his head a fraction. Someone was singing? Tiny, high voices whined a tune. Tilting his ear, it came from under the bench. He craned his neck down to look underneath him.
A cluster of daffodils swayed, merry and yellow, and their petal-mouths sang: “Broooody, you are so broooody~ You’ve got nobooody to call your—”
He grabbed a nearby bucket of rainwater, and dowsed them. The flowers coughed and hissed at him. He hissed back, “Stupid daffodils. I am not brooding!”
“Taking your anger out on flowers? Really, Madnes?”
His head whipped around, then his eyes went wide: Alice was there.
She came toward him, sunshine caught in her long, blonde hair—a purple bow in it today. But instead of her usual dress, she wore pants, vest, and shirt blouse, all green. If he didn’t know better, he’d say she was a wingless fairy—or something like it. His memory seeing her glow that one day, her skin like liquid sunlight, returned. What was she, this person he thought he’d known? Was she finally going to stop hiding from him?
Alice perched on the bench, much like she used to whenever he was feeling down about something, to lend an ear and be a friend. He’d missed that.
“You saw them making faces and laughing at me, the boogers.”
“Wonderland flowers don’t have manners,” she said. “Everybody knows that.”
“Hmph.” He almost laughed; but too much had happened for him to really laugh. “Does this mean we’re friends again?”
Her lips looked like a tulip. “If you promise never to ask questions about me.”
“Never?” His chest felt heavy. But if that’s what she wanted, then…it was her life, her choice. He didn’t have the right to pry. “Alright. I promise. But if you ever change your mind, and would like to talk,” he faced her, “You know I’m here for you.” Was it a trick of the light or did she blush? “And sorry about…you know.” The line of his mouth winced.
“Ha!” Her eyebrows dipped slyly, “You think I’ll forgive you so easily, Peeping Tom?” She patted his cheek roughly. “You owe me a year’s worth of favors, and more, for that!”
“Aaahhh, fine.” He mock huffed and rubbed at his cheek, “I live to serve, princess.” She grinned back.
“I saw what happened,” she said then, a touch carefully. “I forced the details out of Harrey, too…”
“Ah.” That was all he could think to say. His heart was raw inside thinking about the Haunted Forest, and the one who would not be returning from it.
“You can’t do everything, Madnes,” she said. “Not every person can be rescued. All you can do is try your best—and that’s exactly what you did.”
“But it’s a life, Alice…a life. I can’t brush that off. Nagato’s life is gone, and I was the only one who could help him…”
The full green of her eyes took him in. “Take your time, and grieve,” her hand lightly caressed over his. “Only time will make it better.”
Something about that lessened the tension in his shoulders and mind. He was allowed to grieve. “And remember to be thankful for those you did save, Madnes. Don’t forget that,” she smiled.
Twilight sparkled beyond his bedroom window. Sitting on the bed, back slouched over, and quiet, he stared at nothing as the top hat dangled from his fingers. He envisioned Nagato handing it back to him, green moss and vines taking over his small body as he tried to smile.
The Madness Solver was needed; this power was important, just as Cheshire had tried to tell him, again and again—he hadn’t fully visualized it before as he did right then. It was a heavy responsibility, with lives at stake.
That forest was the result of something tainting it—syn tainting it. Whether syn was a legend or not, there was some truth to be found in most every story. What worried him was how closely that forest from Wonderland had melded itself with Okinala…it was a danger he had to put an end to.
“I won’t forget you, Nagato…” His fingers tightened on the hat. “This time, I won’t let you down.”
“Madnes? Madnes! There’s trouble.”
At the incessant knocking, he jarred open the door and stared into Harrey’s expressive face and messy hair. “What now? Don’t tell me you put those kids in one of your crazy flying inventions! If they’re hurt, so help me, I’ll—”
“No, not that. It…you have to come see for yourself!” Harrey sprinted back down the stairs.
With a groan Madnes followed after. His mother saw, and shouted after him as he sprinted out the door: “You get back here! You’re still grounded, you—”
“Be back in a bit, Mom!”
He trotted out after Harrey, adjusting his hastily put on clothes and buttons. “What trouble? This better be worth…” They reached the park, and his trot slowed to a rattled halt.
The park was like a scene from Wonderland: the rocks were mushrooms the size of children, and flowers like rainbows sprouted through the trees’ leaves, a flock of hammer-head birds perched on the limbs. A normal sight for Madnes; and now that Harrey could see Wonderlanders, it’d grow to be normal for him too. But the problem was: a crowd of ordinary people stood around the park, staring and gawking. Which meant one very troublesome thing:
They could see it too.
Normal people could see it.
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Thank you for reading, and check back next Wednesday for more Okinala Island and Wonderland adventure 😀.
© copyright 2015 E. Rawls and Rawls E. Fantasy, All Rights Reserved
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