Here be Chapter One of the newly released third (and final) edition of
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Let’s dive into the story…
A village marketplace rocked under fire and smoke. Even the thousands of jungle birds, squawking and screaming and shooting into the sky, could not be heard over the explosions.
It began by the chemistry and potions booth; the most fire prone of all the booths. There was a chain reaction that made it impossible to tell if there were further bombs or just fire spreading.
Prince Hadigan hit the floor with three Strategist Agents on top of him. This was a blatant attack on the royal family! Everyone ran everywhere, and it was impossible to make a head count.
A camouflage Humvee showered the Agent pile with cool, wet dirt, and there was barely a break in time before they were all inside, pawing at the prince, trying to confirm no royal injuries.
Hadigan looked dazed, but his personal Agent could not tell if it was from shock about the attempt on his life, or a high form of excitement; if he was enjoying the experience.
Hadigan had always been a thrill seeker.
As the vehicle drove on, unseen by most in the jungle, the Agents buzzed and bustled around Hadigan, reporting the horror to their superiors by hydrotel.
Hadigan’s personal agent crushed an HDP bead in his hand then opened it up, as water falling in a circle hovered above his palm.
The stern face of his commanding director answered through the center of the water,
“There has been an assassination attempt, sir. All are accounted for and the seal is intact with no physical injuries appearing,” the agent responded.
The Strategist Director listened to his personnel and ordered,
“Get to the extraction point; co-ordinates to follow.”
A series of latitude and longitude points followed and the chief, Champion Agent passed the information to his mapping technician. Then he squeezed his fist around the HDP bead again. It closed and was returned to a small shoulder pocket.
As they drove off through the Amazon jungle, Hadigan could not keep his eyes off the fire that licked around the village of Latoona. The reflection flickered hungrily in his eyes.
Salla Dijex walked past the double cradle quietly and smiled over the sleeping heads. One-year-old baby Tanya curled around tiny newborn baby Holly, and they slept in perfect peace as cradle mates, yet with different memas. Beth and Salla, best friends from school, took turns watching each other’s daughter while the other went to work in the famous Latoona Village Market.
The sudden jolt of the cradle startled both babies awake, and they screamed in protest. Shocked, Salla did not move to quiet them. The cradle swung up forcefully, and the mema stepped backward against the heat wall that surged through the house. An open door was supposed to admit a cool summer breeze, but now it only let in the horrific vision of flames crawling ten feet into the air.
The babies screamed again, and a neighbor girl ran over, frightened, seeking comfort.
“Watch the girls.” Salla told her, “you’ll be fine,” and the healer mema ran out to the fire.
The entire market, as well as the new resort construction site, was entwined in smoke. A partially invisible Humvee nearly ran Salla over as it careened out of the chaos.
In the next hours, injuries were catalogued and assigned healers in order of urgency. Salla worked frantically for fear that she wouldn’t see her husband in the line of injured, yet finally, he came. A quick bandage on his arm was all it took before she asked about Beth and Dan.
“They will never hurt again.” Hal said.
Streaks of clean slipped down both their cheeks as Salla joined him in his grief.
“We can’t separate them.” Salla whispered to Hal, sitting in the kitchen late that evening, rocking Holly and Tanya to sleep.
“We won’t,” Hal reassured his wife, “We will keep them both and raise them as sisters.”
“I think we should forget which one lost her mema and deda today,” Salla concluded thoughtfully.
“They’ll both be equally ours.” Hal smiled.
With kissed little heads, the girls were laid back down into their double cradle, while the village outside quieted itself in the soft hiss of an extinguished tragedy.
Far away, on the other side of the world, Wattle-Gum Gecko Mitchell was three years old before he first saw anyone outside the Commune. The “Community” of Nimbin, Australia, was a happy, hot place to live. Everyone shared; everyone cared. Sometimes he quite forgot which of the uncles and aunties he played with were actually Daddy and Mummy.
Today, when the commune truck arrived, carrying town supplies and mail, Wattle-Gum was chasing a blue-tongued lizard. His shoulder-length, white-blond curls were tied up in a pretty ponytail, and his girlish features deceived any who didn’t already know him.
A special letter arrived that day from his gamma and papa in Brazil with airline tickets! It didn’t take long to pack up their few belongings and hitch a ride to Lismore, another hot and lovely town in northern New South Wales. From there, they took a bus to Brisbane, then flew south to Sydney.
On this journey, Wattle-Gum had never seen so many people dressed so strangely. All the people were shiny clean and wore clothes that covered all of their bodies. He also noticed that, for some reason, people called him a “pretty little girl.”
Too many people and too much noise all ended when he slept soundly for the first time in ages, on the big plane that would take them across the ocean to his Brazilian family.
Mummy and Daddy argued the whole time about how long they would stay in Brazil. Mummy had been born in Brazil and had not seen her family in years. But Daddy didn’t think Mummy’s family liked him, and Mummy was sure they didn’t.
Brazil was hot, too. There were still too many people but, everyone was nice and they stayed for half a year. Well, Daddy went home after three weeks.
Wattle-Gum forgot his name for a while. They called him O Menino now or Gummo. Mummy cried a lot, and Grandpapa went away on a trip with someone called Angel.
Gamma was strong, so everyone kept saying. Wattle-Gum just thought she looked scary.
Mummy and Wattle-Gum finally went home after he was just about as confused as he could get. Where did he live; where was he now; when would Daddy come home? But he liked the medicine Mummy gave him, and he woke up feeling much better, suddenly in Lismore.
They visited home: the commune, which was suddenly no longer home.
Now, in Lismore, Wattle-Gum learned his school lessons above the café that Mummy ran. Daddy still did not come home. Wattle-Gum forgot what Daddy looked like. He even forgot he’d had his hair cut in Brazil. It was long again and always in a ponytail at his neck.
Other kids laughed at him, but he had the last laugh. They went to school while he had lessons at home, and he could read any book he liked.
By eight years of age, Wattle-Gum had read many of the books on plants, animals, and alternative living in the local bookshop. He wondered why anyone would want to live in a house. He was above a shop; everyone knew him and he played wherever he liked. He hated staying inside. There was too much sun, wind, and rain to experience. And above all, he didn’t like being told to be quiet? He cried to the wind, squealed in the rain, and chattered nonstop to anyone who passed in the lovely hot sunshine. For summer was best of all.
The January rain was so thick against the glass that the other side of the road was lost to a waterfall. Wattle-Gum peered through the window over the café. He was proud that Mummy thought he was old enough to be left at home alone for a little bit, while she ran down to the bank.
A long time had gone by, although he knew it always seemed longer than it really was. But then, he heard the music for their favorite TV show. He and Mummy watched it together every night; she would never miss that. It must be nearly an hour by now.
Wattle-Gum dialed the triple “0” on the phone to call the police. He knew that Officer Terry was working tonight.
“Police, what’s your emergency?”
“Hi, Linda, it’s me, Wattle-Gum.”
“Hey, hon, what’s up?” Linda couldn’t bring herself to call him by his name. “Tell your mum not to bring her pie down tonight; the road’s all washed up.”
Wattle-Gum was silent for a bit.
“My mum’s not there?”
“No kiddo, I haven’t seen her tonight.”
The bank was near the police station, and Mummy liked to drop off pies and pastries for the night shift when she was down there.
“She’s been gone nearly an hour,” explained the lonely boy, “and our favorite TV show has started. She’d never miss that.”
“Hang on…” Linda called through to the other room, “Terry, Rachael’s been gone an hour and is supposed to have come down here. Have you seen her?”
“Is that Mitchell on the phone?” Terry switched Wattle-Gum’s first name for his last.
“Tell him, I’ll come get him.” Officer Terry grabbed his slicker and keys on the way out the station door.
When Terry arrived at the little apartment above the café, he grabbed a few things and took the boy down to the police station to watch the telly there. Terry said he would tell Mummy where they were.
Bruce, the other officer on duty, had gone out driving in the pelting rain, checking things out around town. Terry was called out to join him, and Wattle-Gum was left with Linda. He fell asleep on Terry’s cot in the locker room.
Donuts were waiting for Wattle-Gum’s breakfast, and he learned that Mummy had been in a car accident and was in the hospital in Brisbane. Officer Terry took Wattle-Gum on the two-hour drive to go and see her.
She didn’t talk when they got there. Wattle-Gum was allowed to go in and see her while she slept. He would not believe what the doctor said: that she wouldn’t wake up.
A nice lady with long, curly hair, just like his, took him to a hotel. They stayed there for two very quiet days until Wattle-Gum’s favorite toys and clothes arrived.
That afternoon, he stood in the cemetery and was expected to say goodbye. Such a ridiculous request made Wattle-Gum very angry, but he didn’t feel like telling anyone.
He and Danny, the lady, then drove south to Sydney. It was an eighteen-hour drive, all toilet stops included, and finally Wattle-Gum was allowed to go to bed in a tall, red brick building.
“A dragon tear for you,
A dragon tear for me,
Will you ever see-
Dragons come to tea?
The song will rise above
The new song down below;
See the dragon come,
See the dragon go.”
A group of little girls skipped around in a circle tossing flower petals into the air. The light-hearted singing rose above them in the summer breeze.
“If you’re not careful, the dragons will answer your calling.” An old man sitting in the shade warned them with a smile and a wink.
The girls giggled and, throwing the petal-less flowers at him, ran off to the river fountain.
“While you’re there, Tanya, Holly, get me a jarful.”
The two girls ran back to their mema, Salla Dijex, to fetch the pretty jar she held out. Other memas called the same, and each of the girls left carrying a jar up the hillside to the fresh spring outlet.
The river itself was a simple water source, but at the top by the spring, some of the water slid through a little tunnel and bounced into a good-sized well. This was where the girls headed.
The tunnel was the key. It was full of mineral deposits that supplied the drinking water with such nourishment that it could refresh the heaviest heart or spirit. It was nicknamed, “dragon tears” by the locals, in honor of their very real and rather secret dragon neighbors.
On special occasions, the Latoona villagers would bottle up their mineral water and give it as a precious gift to an honored guest. This practice is what brought fame to the little jungle outpost. Bottled Dragon Tears were a rare and precious commodity.
The group of little girls chatted as they took turns drawing from the well.
“I’ve seen a dragon,” Tanya whispered to her friends.
“You have not.”
“One sang over me when I was born. Sang over Holly, too,” Tanya insisted.
“Anyway, how could you remember that? You were just a baby.”
Both Tanya and Holly leaned in close. They chanted fearfully:
“Once you’ve seen a dragon,
You never forget their song.
Once you’ve seen a dragon,
Your life will never go wrong.”
The other girls joined in, giggling.
“Once you’ve seen a dragon,
Your heart will always be strong.”
They got a little louder.
“Once you’ve seen a dragon . . .”
They shouted to the sky,
“Your tales will always be long!”
Laughter spilled water all around, and the pack of giggles floated back down to the village.
On the other side of the river, hidden by the jungle, was a large crater, the only remnant of the market explosion from seven years ago.
On the far side of that, a five-foot red “something” sank down and slithered on four feet back through the trees, humming the happy song.