Chapter 23: The Slippery Hill
“Cock-a-doodle-doo,” Charlie said.
Lizzy lifted her head from the pillow and yawned. “Charlie. No need to wake everyone else too,” Lizzy said.
“Yeah, you’ll make Alice cranky,” Ellie said.
“Doll’s don’t get cranky. They’re dolls,” Charlie said.
“Don’t argue over Alice again. While most of the time I would disapprove of such early timing, I suppose it’s best we start the day early,” Oliver said.
“See, I didn’t wake you two up too early,” Charlie said.
“Mm-hm,” Lizzy and Ellie grumbled.
“Come on now. Get up and we’ll leave right away,” Oliver said.
“Not yet! There are so many beautiful flowers,” Ellie said.
“How can we leave without exploring?” Lizzy asked.
“Yeah, Oliver,” Charlie said.
“Go ahead. You may run around for ten minutes as I prepare things. Run along.”
“Yay,” Lizzy said, running out of the cave. Over here, Coco.”
“To me Coco, to me,” Ellie said.
Coco headed to Lizzy and they skipped around the surrounding area. “Good job, Coco,” Lizzy said.
“She reminds me of Follower Fox from home.”
“Oh yeah,” Lizzy said, “she follows us and takes directions just like he did.”
“But is cuter and smaller.”
“Ugh, I miss home. Everything about it. If only we had Coco there too. I would’ve never left.”
“I wish we didn’t leave. I bet Daddy’s there, waiting for us.”
“It’s time to go,” Oliver said.
“Already?” Charlie whined.
“Yes. The faster we go, the faster you’ll have time to play,” Oliver said.
“Coming,” Lizzy said.
“Where to now?” Charlie asked.
“See that curvy hill?” Oliver asked. “We’ll go up that. It’s thin, so you girls should hold on to each other. And always stay away from the edge,” Oliver said.
“What happens if we don’t?” Ellie asked.
“You may stumble, and there’s not much separating the path from the edge,” Oliver cautioned. “Let’s go.”
All eyes centered on the curvy hill Oliver spoke of. Unlike previous paths, this hill stood on the edge of the mountain. The steep spiral wound up narrowly and could just fit Ellie and Lizzy side-by-side. They found themselves at the spiral hill. Up close it seemed even thinner and more slippery. Oliver tensed. He took a deep breath.
“Lizzy and Ellie, you two will go in the front and I will watch you all from the back. Go when you’re ready,” Oliver said.
“What if we fall first?” Ellie asked, “how badly would it hurt us?”
“Lizzy would save you, but be careful and don’t think about the consequences. They’ll distract you.”
“Take my hand, Ellie,” Lizzy said. She stepped on the first slippery part. Ellie reached for her hand and they stayed in toward the wall. As they started up, Lizzy exaggerated every step to avoid slipping. Ellie clasped Coco.
“Your turn, Charlie,” Oliver said. Charlie gazed above at the path ahead. He stepped forward and started slipping. Oliver caught him before he fell. “Easy now, Charlie. No falling,” Oliver said. Oliver helped him around the first corner. They rounded two corners without wobbling.
Oliver tried looking in front of his path, but had a lengthy Charlie in his way. He tried tilting his head to see if anything stood in the pathway. He couldn’t see anything. Darn Charlie. Get out of my way.
Once more they made it around the cliff’s edge. As they rounded the corner, Oliver sighted a small bump. What’s that? I need a better view. Oliver peered around the corner as Ellie and Lizzy appeared to pass it. A bump! Charlie didn’t notice. “Watch out! Charlie!” Oliver closed his eyes. Charlie stumbled. How do I catch him without tripping? Stop, Charlie. Stop moving! Charlie!
“Woah,” Charlie said. He attempted stepping around the curve, but he couldn’t. He slipped and slid around the corner, waving his arms frantically. He tried stepping towards the wall, but his legs crossed and he no longer could control his fall.
“Help. I’m falling, I’m falling.”
“I’m coming Charlie!” Oliver said, racing around the corner as safely as he could. Charlie leaned toward the edge of the cliff and tried to cling on with his hands. “Hold on for one second longer!” Oliver screamed.
“I can’t! I’m doo—oomed!” he said as he descended into the foggy lands below. Oliver stopped cold in his tracks and stared.
“Charlie! AH! NO!” Lizzy turned her head into Oliver and wept. Ellie looked the other way.
What just happened? One small tear ran down Oliver’s cheek, but he didn’t shed another drop of sorrow. He pressed his fist on his heart as he was left speechless once again. Open your eyes, Oliver. Open them. Wake up from this nightmare. There is no possible way this happened. Open your eyes! Open your eyes! Why won’t they open!”
“What have we done?” Lizzy sobbed, “I wish we never left the house! I wish I never said a mean thing or laughed at any of his falls. Why! Take me home, Oliver! Take me home!”
“It’s too late, Lizzy. That’s not our home anymore. That’s Ruth’s prison cell.”
“So…s, so you’re saying we don’t have a home anymore? What! How am I supposed to live?”
“Our home is the snow.”
“I…I can’t believe this,” Lizzy said, crying and wheezing too much to muster out any more words.
“Me neither, Lizzy. I never imagined this possibility. Both my brothers, I d…don’t have brothers. Unbelievable!”
Ellie clutched Alice and Coco and scanned around. Left in a farrago, Ellie asked, “What happened? Why did Charlie leave us?”
Oliver sighed of relief and released a breath. Thank goodness she doesn’t understand. “Well…” he cast his eyes around the area for an excuse, “your brother missed Jeffrey and wanted to make sure he’s doing well. He plans on coming back with Jeffrey,” Oliver said, without maintaining eye contact with Ellie.
“I thought you didn’t like that because they could get lost, or hurt.”
“They could, but it’s too late. They left.
“When will they come?” Ellie asked.
“Oh I don’t know. You know Jeffrey and Charlie, they may spend half the time joking around,” Oliver said.
“Oh yeah, I’m sure they’re having fun, probably causing some trouble too,” Ellie said.
“Mm-hm,” Oliver said as Lizzy burst in tears again.
“I wish fun existed anymore!” Lizzy said.
“Calm down, Lizzy. I know, I understand, but you have to realize it’s going to be okay.”
“How? How am I the only one crying? How can anyone help me?”
“Sh, sh. On second thought, cry your heart out, Liz. Cry that broken heart out and cry for me because if I could cry I’d be right with you. Don’t bother responding, just cry until you feel better, because oh Liz, this stuff stinks. I just don’t know what to think. Come on Ellie,” Oliver said, lifting Lizzy and tugging Ellie’s arm up the rest of the hill.
Oliver led them through a snowy valley before taking them up to a flowery shelter. While Lizzy sobbed on, Ellie forgot everything and admired the flowers.
Later on, he wrapped Lizzy and Ellie up in blankets. Lizzy cried herself to sleep while Ellie smiled in her innocence. Before Oliver turned to sleep, one last thought went through his head. Not one more can leave us. He fell back and tossed and turned for the rest of the night.