Wichita Township wasn’t very big and it didn’t take Daniel long to find the main street. It was still raining, night was falling, and very few people (or whatever) were out. That was good, since he wasn’t anxious to attract attention, but he still needed to find some place to stay.
If the person who was supposed to meet him at the end of his train ride lived here, the ten year old had no idea how to find him, her, or it.
The shops looked quaint, the kind you’d expect to find in a small town in the late 19th century. There were clothing shops, taverns, inns, bakeries, and…and…a toy shop. Actually the letters painted on the display window said “Matty’s Toy Shoppe”. Unfortunately, the sign in the window said “Closed.”
Something compelled Daniel to look in the window anyway. Rag dolls, cloth puppets, marionettes on strings, a yo yo or two, toy drums, toy horns, there was even a small xylophone.
A xylophone. Why did it seem so familiar?
The boy thought he saw a figure moving quickly in the shadows inside the shop. Then the door next to him flew open, an arm shot out to grab his and pulled him inside.
“Quickly! You must not be seen.”
The person shut the door behind him and locked it. He turned to a table where an oil lamp was sitting and turned up the wick. By the newborn light, Daniel could see an elderly man, well, a human-like mink, slightly stooped over, bifocals, bushy mustache, kind blue eyes.
“Let me get you in the back and out of those soaked clothes. You must be freezing.”
Daniel let the mink take him by the arm and guide him through a doorway. “I’m Matty, the humble toy maker. I missed you at the train station this afternoon. Actually, I missed most of the train.”
Far above the high tower of the Queen’s castle, hundreds of Gyrfalcons and Eagles were massing. Unlike the traitorous Merlin falcons, the larger Gyrfalcons as well as the Eagles had remained loyal to the Queen.
With the help of their force of tiny communications experts, they knew of the brief meeting Olivia and Daniel had with the Queen, and had been following events related to the boy ever since.
They formed a plan with the kangaroos, mice, and the razorbacks, a bold plan, to rescue the Queen.
The avians were all circling directly above the high tower and were not in view of any of the tower’s windows. As soon as the ground troops were in position, they would strike.
Gerald was slowly circling above Wichita Township, the end of the line for the train tracks and Daniel’s destination. It had taken some time for the roc to go through all the wreckage of the train car and the surrounding area, but he did not find the boy’s body.
He thought he saw faint human footprints in the sand before the rain obliterated them completely. If the troublesome Daniel were still alive, he’d be making for Wichita or have already arrived. He’d still have to discover the secret and then to remember, but if by some miracle he did, the days of the roc’s rule and life could well be numbered.
And so far, the boy had been favored with miraculous luck.
Matty had put up a makeshift line by his fireplace and hung Daniel’s clothes on it so they could dry. Wrapped in a warm quilt, the boy was sipping a delicious vegetable soup from an earthen cup while listening to the old mink relate the story of his life which, for a toy maker, was very fascinating.
“…and that’s how a humble toy maker such as myself ended his personal audience with the Queen. That, of course, was before the roc took over and set up her husband as the figurehead King.”
“But you said the King had been defeated in a battle with mice and razorback pigs. That would have happened a long way from here. How do you know?”
All along it seemed like the different friends he’d met had sources of information they shouldn’t have, especially since the telegraph didn’t exist here, let alone, land lines, cell phones, and the internet.
“Tut, tut, dear boy. I can’t reveal that just yet. I wouldn’t want that information to accidentally fall into the wrong hands.”
“At least you admit there is some information to be had. Everyone else just brushed my questions aside.”
“Indeed, indeed. Excuse me for a moment. Time to feed Goldie.”
“What, you have a goldfish?”
“No, a bird actually. See here.”
At the back of the room in the shadows, Daniel noticed for the first time a covered cage suspended from the ceiling. The mink removed the cover and a very small bird, maybe only two or three inches long, began cheerfully chirping.
Matty opened the cage and removed the small receptacles for food and water. He went about his brief duty of replenishing the supplies of the bird and then closed the cage door once more.
“Now let me see about your clothes, young man.”
The next morning was still overcast, but the dark clouds gave forth only intermittent showers. Daniel ate a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and milk while the shop keeper went about his business. It was not yet time to open up, so the child wandered through the store, casually looking at the different toys.
There was something about the xylophone. Behind the boy, Matty paused in his work to see what Daniel would do next. He had to remember soon.
The roc had abandoned his search for Daniel the previous night, sought food (some unfortunate sheep, alas) and shelter, and had now resumed the hunt. He continued to circle above Wichita Township certain that the boy must have made it to his destination and be in one of the buildings. He might even be in the process of discovering the secret by now.
Gerald had a terrible feeling in the pit of his stomach, and he was sure it wasn’t a morsel of undigested mutton.
Bernard and Pumba, leading the ground forces alongside William and his troop, had taken several days to ascend the mountains and finally arrive within arrow shot of the Queen’s Keep. From this vantage point, the gathering of raptors, thick in the sky above the high tower, was obvious, but they were certain the rabbit guards inside were oblivious to their presence.
Finally the messenger from Aquilo, the Eagle King, commander of the avians, arrived. Bernard received the message and transmitted it to Pumba and William.
“This is it!” The large razorback had a much louder voice than the tiny mouse, so he gave the order. “Attack!”
The razorbacks, each with a warrior mouse on its back, numbered over five hundred, and as they and the kangaroos charged forward toward the castle, the raptors acted as one, diving at lightning speed through every available window in the high tower, completely surprising the rabbits as well as the Queen.
A slaughter was inevitable, and those hares who managed to descend from the tower and attempt to escape through the main or numerous side gates of the castle, met a grim fate. The razorbacks were hungry.
Somewhere in a forest shelter, tiny birds continued to tend to the wounds of a valiant friend while pleading to the Maker for mercy and healing.
“X is for Xylophone.” Daniel continued to stare at the toy. A memory from childhood. Learning his alphabet, which he did well before age three. But he was four when Uncle Ethan and Aunt Abby gave him the toy xylophone.
“It was this one.” Astonished, the boy picked it up. He sat on the floor, remembering sitting on a floor before and playing with it.
He was four years old. His aunt and uncle took him to a toy store, an old-fashioned one like this one. They let him pick out anything he wanted and this was it.
“Wait.” He was whispering. “It wasn’t a store like this one, it was this store. I was here before. I was here with auntie and uncle.”
Olivia said she had to prepare for his return to this realm. He didn’t remember being here before, and certainly not with his aunt and uncle. The Queen said guardians were appointed to watch over him. They weren’t his parents, they were Abby and Ethan.
When they got home, Aunt Abby taught him to play a tune from one of her favorite movies. “Not Mom’s favorite. I didn’t remember that part right.”
Daniel picked up the small mallet and looked at the keys. Are these the keys to the freedom of the realm?
“The tune, the tune. What was it?”
He remembered the violinist on the pier. He remembered the violin case gathering dust in his aunt and uncle’s basement beside her bookshelves. She used to play when he was young.
“That’s how she taught me. She played the music on the violin and I played along on the xylophone.”
“NO!” In the misty skies above, the roc cried out in horror. “He found it. It’s beginning.”
“Way up high”
“And the dreams that you dreamed of”
“Once in a lullaby.”
“NO!” It was almost too late, but the sound of the boy’s music had given his position away. Far below, near the center of town, the toy shop. “I’ll kill that little whelp!” The roc ceased his circling and began his final dive.
Only a tiny remnant of the rabbits had escaped the onslaught of the raptors and the razorbacks, and Pumba had sent out a troop to find and dispatch them.
Just then, the ground began to tremble and a sound like thunder roared across the cloudless sky.
The Queen on her dias, now free of her captors, knew her rule was about to begin anew. “Daniel has saved us all.”
The group of tiny Goldcrests fluttered in the air around the owl for a moment as the ground shook and the air rumbled. Then they returned to their task of cleaning her wounds and applying fresh herbs and bandages. Olivia offered a weak smile, recognizing the sounds of freedom.
The tune came back and Daniel was playing. Matty, still behind him, went down on his knees, a witness to the revelation.
“If happy little bluebirds fly”
“Beyond the rainbow.”
“Why, oh, why can’t I?”
In his memory, four-year-old Daniel had just finished the duet with his auntie.
Gerald the Roc picked up speed as he descended, but it was too late. There was a tremendous explosion above the town square centering just over Matty’s Toy Shoppe. Windows for a half a mile around shattered while houses and businesses shook like twigs before an angry wind. But if the roc died so violently, what about the old toy maker and the boy who were directly below?
This concept is loosely based on Iain Kelly’s recent A to Z Challenge 2017 story series. Every day, Iain crafted another puzzle piece to his murder mystery that had me and his other readers spellbound. I doubt I can create the suspense he conjured up, but when my wife got a giant A to Z jigsaw puzzle for our two-year-old granddaughter, I thought I’d give it a whirl.
This chapter is much longer than the rest because, obviously, it’s the climax. However, I have two letters to go in which to explore the aftermath of Daniel’s revelation of memory. He has saved the realm from Gerald’s tyranny, but did it cost him his life?
The previous story is W is for Whale.
The next story is Y is for Yo-Yo.