Chapter 22: Long Travels
The darker clouds of night made way for morning’s lighter ones. Birds painted some of the clouds blue while owls turned in for their slumber. Small animals sought breakfast before their predators would wake well-rested and hungry. Animals woke from a good night’s slumber and one boy still watched the world.
Oliver remained awake the entire night, keeping an eye on the cave’s surroundings and his siblings.
Lizzy curled up and yawned. Her eyes twinkled open as she stretched her arms up toward the ceiling. She turned to the outside of the cave. “Oliver?” Lizzy asked. “Did you even go to sleep? You’re still in the same spot.”
“Yes,” Oliver fibbed. “I woke up early since I didn’t sleep well.”
“Ah, morning sunshine,” Charlie said.
“If such sunshine existed,” Oliver said.
“Be nice if we had more light around,” Lizzy said.
“Sleep well?” Oliver asked Charlie.
“I have to admit I had trouble falling asleep,” he said.
“Are you kidding? You went out in two minutes,” Oliver said.
“He’s right,” Lizzy giggled. “You didn’t waste a second getting to sleep.”
“Then why don’t I remember?” Charlie asked.
“’Cause you don’t remember anything,” Lizzy said.
“Is it morning already?” Ellie asked.
“You bet it is,” Charlie said, patting her on the back.
“That went fast.”
“Yep and we better get ready to continue.”
“Already?” Charlie asked.
“Oh sure. There’s nothing around here. I want to find something better for tonight,” Oliver said.
“What shall we do?” Ellie asked.
“Gather and fold the blankets. If anyone needs a change of clothes, put them on now,” Oliver said.
Lizzy inched toward Oliver. “Oliver, you say if we leave soon we can find a site with all those things. Do you mean to say we can go find the ice pond?” Lizzy asked.
“Sit down,” he said. She breathed in and hesitated. She lowered herself down. “Lizzy, I know how badly you want to see the ice pond.”
“You can’t imagine.”
“If I can, I’ll find it for you. I promise I’ll give it my all because I want to see you happy. For now, I know it as a legend.”
“I hope we see it,” she whispered.
“Time to go?” Charlie asked.
“Yeah. Here, let me grab those,” Oliver said, shoving their old clothes into the backpack. Ellie twirled to them, fluttering the three ruffles of her new pink dress.
“Ready, Ellie?” Charlie asked.
“Ready, Liz?” Oliver asked.
“How ’bout you, Alice?” Ellie asked. “Great!”
“Coco?” Lizzy asked. Coco hopped to them.
“Let’s go!” Oliver said. They scuttled from the empty land and moved higher up the mountain.
“Oliver, how far do you plan on taking us?” Lizzy asked.
“Far. I would like to travel a big portion today. Why? Are you tired?”
“Oh no. Not yet.”
“Will we have a break?” Charlie asked.
“Probably. So long as we find somewhere nice to stop along the way,” Oliver said.
The four and Coco continued. They craned their necks back and forth, surveying different sceneries pass.
To their right was a spot of winter flowers. Deep red poinsettias filled the land and pink camellias and snowdrops covered desolate acres. Ellie smelled the dazzling flowers. “Ellie, come back,” Lizzy said. Ellie peeked at the flowers and back at her siblings. She frowned and dawdled to Lizzy.
Her trip through flowers didn’t end yet. They passed through an array of sweet box plants and bushes. She weaved her hand through and often stopped right in her brother and sister’s way to observe them. Lizzy and Charlie dragged her on her heels to go.
“Get over here, Ellie,” Oliver said.
“Coming,” she said.
“Clasp my hand,” he said. She did and he snatched hers so that she couldn’t get away. She tried yanking loose, but Oliver gripped her tighter.
“No more stopping at every flower you see. We have to keep going.”
“How come I have to keep going but Jeffrey got to stay with all the animals?” she asked.
“Because,” Oliver said, “I promised he could. I never promised you anything.”
“That’s unfair. Promise me something.”
“I promise if you go over to those flowers again, we’ll have to punish you. We have no time for dilly-dallying.”
Every time they passed plants, flowers, or trees nearby, she tried shaking out of his hand to see them. Oliver resisted. “If you try to get out of my hand, I will carry you the rest of the way.” He didn’t need to give another warning after that.
Lizzy waited for Charlie to catch up to her side. Bored of tramping over acres and acres, Lizzy and Charlie started making up stories.
“There once lived a plain white bunny. Anywhere this bunny went, it seemed snow covered her. Every day predators went after her, but she ducked down in the snow, like she disappeared. She always felt too scared to face the predators. One day, the sun rose and melted the snow. This day when the predator arrived, she had nowhere to hide. She decided to face her fear and go after the mean old animal. After several minutes, she defeated him and lived safe and happily ever after.”
“Bravo, bunny,” Charlie said, “what’s the moral?”
“You don’t have to be the biggest or the toughest to win. Like me,” Lizzy grinned.
“Animals and happily-ever-afters are my favorite stories!” Ellie said.
“My turn to share.” Charlie rubbed his hands together. Stories continued. Charlie made his first story about a fox trying to climb a tree. The fox fell and fell, failing to make it up to the first tall branch. He ended up hurting himself because he didn’t know his own limitations.
“Silly fox,” Ellie said.
“My turn to share another story.”
They told more stories for the next few hours. Ellie tired, so Oliver hoisted her up so that she could rest her head on his shoulder.
“Look over there. It’s beautiful.” Ellie pointed, to a miniature forest full of tall redwood trees which towered over tiny rose bushes. Squirrels hopped between the trees and the snow appeared fluffy and smooth.
“Wow,” Lizzy said.
“Ooh,” Charlie said.
“Oh Oliver, may we please stay?” Ellie asked.
“Your wish is my command,” Oliver said, placing Ellie on her feet to run off to the trees and play.
“Is everyone’s wish your command? If so, can you bring me to the ice pond?” Lizzy asked.
Oliver stepped forward. He brushed her hair out of her eyes, and rested his head on hers. “I will. One day soon we’ll make it there. Before we all grow up. I guarantee it,” he said.
“Really?” she asked. “You said it could be a myth though.”
“Even if it’s a myth, we’ll make it real because I know how much you want it. Go run along now. Play with your siblings and I’ll get there in a minute.”
“Thanks, Oliver,” she said. Lizzy darted to Charlie and Ellie who climbed trees, examined animals, and threw snow. He eyed her run off with Coco and studied them for a few minutes. Every time they jumped or swung around, he cringed to make sure they didn’t fall. It’s about time I join them.
“Well, well, well. Look who’s here. Oliver, Oliver,” Charlie said.
“Well, well, look who’s about to fall,” Oliver mocked, seeing Charlie not looking at the path in front of him where a log lay. Charlie missed it and tripped flat on his face. “Next time,” Oliver said, “don’t make fun of me.”
The girls giggled. Lizzy and Ellie caught the scene unfold from their branches. “Don’t laugh too long. I’m coming up,” Charlie called.
“Me too. I’m after you, Lizzy,” Oliver said.
“We better keep climbing,” Ellie said.
“You know it,” Lizzy said. They stood and leapt for the branch above them. The two girls crouched and kneed their way over the next few branches, but Charlie and Oliver raced on their tails.
“We’re getting closer,” Oliver said, “don’t screw this up Charlie.”
“Who says it’ll be me?” Charlie asked. Not for one second can he believe I’m capable of doing something without messing up. I have to do this and prove something.
“Ellie, don’t stop! We have to keep going up!” Lizzy said, “we can’t let them win.”
“Not any higher. We’ll fall sooner or later,” Ellie said.
“Well, I have an idea,” Lizzy said.
“Follow my lead,” Lizzy said. She lingered to the branch’s edge.
Oliver climbed from two branches below. She gaped down at him. Lizzy wobbled on her branch. Oliver stood one branch below. It’s now or never.
Lizzy jumped and caught the branch on the next tree.
“Darn it,” Oliver said.
“Jump, Ellie,” Lizzy said. Charlie had caught up.
“Too late. I got you.” Charlie snatched his sister. “You’re coming with me. I won!” he said, “see Oliver. I didn’t mess this up.”
“Stop distracting me.”
“Ellie!” Lizzy said, “come on. How are we going to win?”
“Keep going, Liz. If you make it to the ground before Oliver gets you, you win too,” Ellie said.
“I’ll meet you down there,” Lizzy said. She tilted her head to the branch below. She moved her head back on Oliver, who stood on the edge of the other tree.
Lizzy cranked her head and lowered herself onto the branch below. “Where next?” she muttered. She checked around. There seemed like endless possibilities. She turned to Oliver, who remained right on her tail. She wrapped herself around the tree and leapt to a connecting tree branch.
Lizzy perched herself a quarter way around the tree. She lowered her legs. She kicked her knees up, pumping her legs to-and-fro. Oliver curved around her same tree so she swung off and caught another branch. As Oliver tried generating the same wave, she climbed down the branches. Oliver made his way to her tree, but she landed on the ground.
“Yay!” Ellie said.
“I won!” A smile beamed from Lizzy’s face. “Take that Oliver.” She stuck out her tongue and giggled.
“Oliver, Oliver,” Charlie said, shaking his head.
“We better go now. That used enough of our time,” Oliver said.
“We just got here. We only played one game and Alice didn’t get a chance to play,” Ellie said.
“Yes, but we’re not going to stop to play for hours. We have somewhere to go. Once we make it, you can play all you want,” he said.
“But where are we going?” Ellie asked, “have you even told us?”
“Yeah. Where does this mountain go?” Charlie asked.
“I don’t…” Oliver said.
“The ice pond,” Lizzy said.
“The ice pond? That old myth?” Charlie said.
“What? Is that true, Oliver?” Lizzy asked.
“No, Liz. The myths are Charlie’s facts. I have yet to hear a true one. Let’s go,” Oliver said. Not another argument over the ice pond. Can’t they get over here already? “I’m leaving without you,” Oliver said, running with the backpack. He curved up the path and beyond their sight.
“Wait! Wait!” Charlie, Ellie, and Lizzy said. Charlie jostled past his sisters. As they swerved around the corner, a hidden stick caught Charlie’s leg. Oof. He tripped over into a bush, thorns scratching his face as falling snow toppled him.
Ellie giggled, but Charlie groaned.
Lizzy peeked back and ran back to Charlie.
“Where are you going, Lizzy? Oliver’s over there,” Ellie said. She sprinted around the corner and reached Oliver first. “Yay!” she said. “We made it first Alice, we won!”
“Won what?” Oliver asked.
“Well, when you left without us, we kind of made a race,” Ellie said.
“How did you win? What happened to your brother and sister?” Oliver asked.
“Charlie fell and Lizzy went back for him, so we won,” she said.
“Oh Ellie, you must know better. We have to help your brother. take my hand,” Oliver said.
“Is he alright?” Ellie asked.
“Yes, yes. A classic Charlie stumble,” Lizzy said.
“Up now, Charlie. We won’t wait on you long,” Oliver said.
“I’m too tired,” Charlie whined.
“Enough. Up,” Oliver said.
“One minute. I’m in pain,” Charlie said.
“You’re just dying, aren’t you? I don’t have time for you, Charlie. Must you always ruin our plans?”
“Where are we going that we have to hurry to?”
“Enough. You had more than one minute. I’m lifting you now,” Oliver said.
Charlie hopped to his feet.
“Tired, huh?” Oliver said.
“I still am,” he croaked.
“Time to go. No more falling or stalling. If all goes well, we’ll find a nice location,” Oliver said. He started up the path, but the others paused.
“Well c’mon,” he said. They sprinted to him.
For the rest of that day, no one talked to Oliver for he marched too far away from them. Charlie, Lizzy, and Ellie strolled in a row with Coco hopping in between. The three middle children talked, joked, and told stories about what happened in the vast lands of snow.
Where Oliver stood feet away, felt like miles. He hadn’t turned back to check on his siblings, but their faint voices reminded him they were there.
After more hours, he led them to a small cave in Winding Hill. The black hole sat narrow but deep into the hill. In the near background, trees of a blistering green extended as tall as towering buildings. Flowers lined the edge of the hill in all sorts of types and colors. This will do.
“Get inside and get comfortable. I will return with the wood for a fire,” Oliver said.
“Can I go along? You shouldn’t go alone,” Lizzy said.
“No. Watch over your brother and sister. I’m not sure if I trust them alone,” Oliver said.
Charlie, Lizzy and Ellie got comfy. They removed their heavy coats and boots in exchange for a blanket. away. Lizzy shared Ellie’s blanket as they waited for Oliver.
“Well are we just going to sit here and wait for Oliver?” Ellie asked.
“We should play a game,” Lizzy said.
“I have an idea for a game,” Charlie said. “Whoever can roll to the other end of the cave first, wins.”
“I’ll play,” Ellie said.
“I’ll count the race off,” Lizzy said. “Line up inside your blankets.”
“I’m ready,” Ellie said.
“On your marks, get set, go!” They rolled down the cave. Their rolls traveled slow and they each had to propel off one another to gain speed. They stayed close, but in the end the kid with the longer reach won.
“The winner is…” Lizzy said, “Charlie!”
“I want to go against Lizzy now,” Charlie said.
“Gee Charlie, I didn’t know you were so interested in losing.”
“And I didn’t think you could talk any more than you already do but I guess I was wrong.”
Lizzy scowled. “Ellie, you do the count off.” Lizzy and Ellie swapped spots. Lizzy tightened herself between the blanket and squared off next to Charlie.
“Three, two, one…GO!” Ellie said. Charlie and Lizzy pushed off the ground. Lizzy thrusted further and rolled with the lead. Charlie extended his arm at Lizzy, causing her to slow. He propelled off her and landed in front. Lizzy used all her might to grab him and put them at equal position. The end neared. Charlie tried moving faster, but Lizzy stopped him. She heaved off him and grasped the wall first.
“Yes!” Lizzy said, “take that Charlie. You still can’t beat me!”
“Lizzy won!” Ellie said.
“Ow,” Charlie said, “those rocks are hard.”
“Again, again,” Lizzy said. “Winning once isn’t enough.”
“This time I’ll team up with Charlie. Lizzy can go on her own,” Ellie said.
“It’s on Lizzy,” Charlie said.
“You’re on,” Lizzy said.
“We can all count together to make it fair,” Ellie said.
“Three…” the children said, “two…one…” Charlie rolled off.
“No head starts, Charlie,” Lizzy said. Charlie snapped and scooted back behind the starting line.
“Ready, set, GO!” Charlie and Ellie raced out in front.
“What on earth are you ninnies doing?” Oliver said upon arriving. Charlie and Ellie skidded back. Lizzy jagged her foot along the surface.
“We raced to see who could roll to the other wall the fastest,” Ellie said.
“And why would you do that?”
“Because we wanted to play a game,” Lizzy said.
“Not every game has to be serious,” Charlie said.
“Let me guess, Charlie’s idea,” Oliver said.
“Yep!” Ellie and Lizzy backed away.
“As I thought. Now it’s time to stop. I have to set up the fire.”
“Oh not yet, Oliver,” Lizzy said.
“Why not? Not any more of that silly game,” Oliver said.
“You didn’t play that silly game with us though,” Lizzy said.
“What would I do playing a ninny game like that? It’s best for everyone that I prepare dinner.”
“Oh just once,” Lizzy begged. “It will make me happy if you play.”
“Oh fine. Once. Then we’ll have dinner and head to bed,” Oliver said.
“Oh thank you, thank you!”
“Again?” Ellie asked.
“Yup, one more time.”
“Awe Lizzy, you’re the best,” Charlie said.
“Make it fast now,” Oliver said.
“The teams are Ellie and Charlie, and Oliver and I,” Lizzy said.
“Lizzy and I will count off.” Ellie glanced at Lizzy.
“Three, two, one, GO!”
“Haha!” Charlie and Ellie rolled with the lead.
“Ready for a big push?” Oliver asked Lizzy.
“Anything to win.”
“Here we go.” Oliver launched forward. Their push sent them spiraling in front. Charlie hurled his body forth, but lurched back in. Too much ground surfaced between Charlie, Ellie, and their siblings.
“We won!” Oliver said.
“Oh Oliver, you did it. Just for me,” Lizzy said, “Thank you, thank you.”
Ellie crossed her arms over her chest. Charlie pumped his fist at the ground. Their smiles shifted to a frown.
“Didn’t we learn not to scowl and pout when we lose?” Oliver asked.
“Easy for you to say,” Charlie said.
“Oh no, Charlie. Don’t act glum as a plum,” Lizzy said.
“But stay happy and sappy!” Ellie cheered.
“See Charlie, your sisters know the spirit.”
“I guess I’m not that upset,” Charlie said.
“Alright,” Oliver said, “since we’re all in good spirits, it’s time we prepare a warm fire for dinner.”
“Not only for dinner…” Lizzy said.
“But to cozy up to,” Ellie said.
“To glow and spread warmth,” Charlie said.
“To light up the whole world nice and bright,” Lizzy said.
“All those things too. We better get it going now. Back up guys,” Oliver said.
“Otherwise a flame will light us up,” Lizzy said.
“We’ll get hot, hot, and burn up,” Charlie said.
“Like the sun,” Ellie said.
“But what’s the sun?” Lizzy joked.
“You don’t know the sun?” Charlie said.
“Well, if you don’t know the sun, what do you know?” Ellie asked.
“Clouds, snow…” Lizzy said.
“I’ve never seen snow before,” Ellie said.
“Well, don’t look outside.” Charlie giggled with the rest.
“Everyone, I’ve readied the fire. Don’t get too close. I’ll go get the things to prepare the rice,” Oliver said.
“A fire,” Lizzy said.
“Orange,” Ellie said.
“Yellow,” Charlie said.
“Warmth,” Lizzy said.
“Cozy,” Ellie said.
“Light,” Charlie said.
“Enough, guys. Your game was cute for a little.”
“Oh, but Oliver, aren’t you glad we’re happy again? After all that’s happened.”
“That’s what makes you happy? Kind of pathetic, especially for someone like you.”
“There’s no limit or rule about what makes someone happy. It’s having fun and being together that does it for us.”
“Okay, if that’s what works for you. Still you guys should help me get ready instead,” Oliver said. “Charlie, can you go stir for a second?”
“I’ll set up the plates,” Lizzy said.
“What about me?” Ellie asked.
“Um…you can keep Coco and your doll entertained,” Oliver said.
“Yay! I love to play,” Ellie said. She plunked down and made a circle with Alice and Coco. “So Alice, are you homesick? No? Great. I hope our castle in Green Acres helped. It did? Yay!”
“Charlie, I’m coming to help,” Oliver said.
In no time after the fire had glowed, the clouds darkened. Lizzy aligned the plates in a circle as steam stemmed from the rice pot.
“Ellie and Lizzy, dinner awaits,” Oliver called.
“Thank you,” Lizzy said.
“You’re welcome,” Oliver said.
They dined and Oliver cleaned up after them as they went off to play with Coco.
“Okay Coco, come over to your favorite,” Lizzy said.
“Here Coco, you have Alice and I here.”
“Three, two, one, go Coco!” Lizzy said. Coco didn’t moved. Confused, the bunny stayed put in the center of the room.
“Ha, she clearly doesn’t like either of you,” Charlie said.
“Well she didn’t go to you either,” Lizzy said.
“Maybe she loves you all equally. Don’t argue over stupid things,” Oliver said.
“What’s so stupid about it?” Charlie asked.
“Choosing a favorite always makes someone feel bad or left out. Besides, even if Coco did go to one of you, it could be a mere coincidence. How would she know what any of you are saying?”
“Of course she knows what we’re saying! Why wouldn’t she?” Ellie asked.
“Never mind. Look, you three have stayed up long enough. It’s time for bed,” Oliver announced.
“What about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? We didn’t read it the last few days,” Charlie said.
“We should wait for Jeffrey to return,” Ellie said, “he’d get so mad if we read without him.
Lizzy, Charlie, and Oliver exchanged a glance. Ellie lowered her eyebrows.
“I guess it’s time to sleep then.”
“I don’t want to,” Charlie said, “not anymore.”
“Too bad. We all miss him, but he’s resting now.” Oliver tossed a snowball into the fire and all the light went out.