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The Spell of the Crystal Chair
By Gilbert Morris
Moody PressCopyright © 2000 Gilbert Morris
All rights reserved.
A Discontented Crew
Abbey Roberts knelt beside a small creek washing her hair. She was a most attractive girl, thirteen years old. At the moment her long blonde hair was filled with white suds, and for the most part she kept her eyes closed to keep the soap out. From time to time she would open them, though, and glance over at Sarah Collingwood, who sat on the bank, reading a book.
Sarah was only one year older. Her hair was as black as Abbey's was blonde, and her eyes, which were more than half closed with sleepiness just now, were large, brown, and wide-spaced.
The two girls had come away from the rest of the Sleepers to spend some time alone.
There were times when Sarah and Abbey did not get along. They were very different. Abbey spent a great deal of time making herself more attractive, a habit that irritated Sarah considerably.
"You're always primping, Abbey. Don't you ever get tired of trying to make yourself look better?" Sarah had said this more than once, and that irritated Abbey considerably. She always responded, "It's a girl's responsibility to look as good as she can, Sarah. It wouldn't hurt you to take a little bit more care of your hair and to spend a little more time with makeup."
As Abbey got on her hands and knees to let her hair fall forward into the water, she thought, If we were back in Oldworld, Sarah and I would never befriends at all. We're just too different.
She splashed the cold water over her hair, keeping her eyes tightly shut, and for a moment her mind went back to the time before the world as all the Sleepers had known it was destroyed by atomic war.
That time was like a dream now. She knew she would probably never see again such things as Popsicles, which she loved, or all the other little things that had filled her world. As she rinsed out the last of the soap, she thought with discontent, It doesn't do much good to pay attention to your looks here in Nuworld. Nobody's going to see you except maybe some sort of weird mutants like Mat and Tam.
She squeezed her hair to get the water out, then picked up a towel. It was not really a towel. It was simply a large piece of cloth. As she tried to dry her hair, she wished for a thick, fluffy white towel such as she had used every day before Oldworld disappeared. The cloth seemed a sort of sad symbol of all that she had lost.
Abbey and the other Six Sleepers had been placed in protective capsules before the bombs went off. The seven young people had "slept" for many years. She was not quite sure how many.
When they emerged, the world was different. Geography had gone crazy. Even the continents had changed, for the oceans had washed away many old lands and new ones had been formed. Strange mutant forms had arisen—giants, dragons, dinosaurs ... Abbey suddenly thought, No one ever knows what sort of monster he'll meet in Nuworld.
She longed for the old days. The lives of the Seven Sleepers had been filled with little but hard adventure since they had been awakened. They had become the servants of a strange man called Goél, whom Abbey could never quite figure out. He would appear from time to time, give them orders, and in obedience they would throw themselves into an adventure. Often their lives were at risk, yet Goél seemed as much interested in making them into something different—better, he said—as in anything else.
"I guess Goél will be coming along soon to send us on another quest against the Dark Lord, Sarah." She glanced in Sarah's direction.
But Sarah apparently had not heard. The book she had been reading lay in her lap, and her arms had fallen to her side. Abbey knew their last adventure had taken every bit of Sarah's strength. Perhaps the warm sun overhead had been too much for her. She began to slump down.
Abbey's eyes flew wide. "Sarah! Wake up! You're falling in!"
And Sarah Collingwood was tilting over. The bank was steep where she sat, and she simply flipped over headfirst in a rather boneless fashion and hit the cold water. The stream closed over her head, and her arms beat at the water as she attempted to come up.
Then Abbey remembered that Sarah was wearing heavy hiking boots. They would fill with water at once and drag her down. Oh, no! She thought. We've been through all sorts of dangers, and now Sarah's going to drown by falling into a creek!
Upstream from the two girls, Josh Adams sat with a small sapling in his hand. At the end he had tied a stout cord, and a bit of light wood served as a cork. He and the other male members of the Seven Sleepers had decided to come to the creek to fish. They were tired of their monotonous diet.
"I wish I was back home in Arkansas," Bob Lee Jackson said. "I bet I could show you how to catch fish then." Bob Lee was called just Reb by the other Sleepers. He was fourteen, tall and lanky. His light blue eyes were half shaded by the cowboy-style straw hat he wore, and strands of tow-colored hair straggled out from beneath it. "I've been fishing there when the fish bit so good that you had to hide behind a tree to bait your hook."
Josh grinned. "Don't you ever get tired of telling those lies?" He was almost as tall as Reb but was rather skinny, being on the brink of young manhood but still not fully coordinated. Although he had been chosen to be the leader of the Sleepers, Josh was shy and unsure of himself and could not believe he was the leader of anything.
Dave Cooper laughed aloud. At fifteen, he was the oldest of the Sleepers. He was a handsome boy with brown hair and gray eyes and was very athletic. "Back home where I lived, we'd catch fish that weighed twenty or thirty pounds."
"Were they catfish, or is that another one of your educated lies?" Reb sounded suspicious.
"No, we lived right on the Gulf. We'd go out on charter boats. We caught many an amberjack that weighed twenty pounds. Wish I had one now."
The other two members of the group sat side by side, quietly fishing. Jake Garfield, a Jewish boy, was the group's mechanical genius. He could make anything work. Now he nudged the Sleeper beside him, saying, "Hey, Wash, let's get away from here. They're starting to swap those lying fish tales. I don't want to hear it."
Wash—Gregory Randolf Washington Jones—was twelve, the youngest Sleeper. He had ebony black skin and a beautiful white smile. He giggled and lifted his fish hook to examine it. "I wonder which one of them's going to tell the biggest lie about fish."
"I don't think—" Josh Adams began.
And then someone screamed.
Josh threw down his pole and leaped to his feet. "That's Abbey!" he cried and took off at a dead run.
"It sounds bad," Dave said at the same moment, and all of the boys dropped their poles and raced off after Josh.
Josh ignored the brambles that clutched at him. A branch scratched him across one eye, half blinding him. But Abbey's screams were serious, and he sped on. He had toughened up since coming to Nuworld and was not even breathing hard when he burst into the clearing where she stood, pointing down at the water.
"She fell in, Josh! She's drowning!"
Taking in the situation at one swift glance, Josh kicked off his shoes and made a shallow dive into the creek. It was something he would not have done otherwise, for he knew that diving into unknown waters could get a fellow hurt quick. But he saw Sarah struggling and knew there was no time to lose.
The mountain creek closed over him, its coldness taking his breath. He was thankful that swimming had always been his best sport. He came to the surface, his arms pumping and his feet kicking frantically. Just ahead, Sarah's hands broke the surface, and he drove himself toward her. When he reached where she struggled, sinking again, he grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled her head above water.
But Sarah began to clutch at him, threatening to drag them both under.
"Don't grab at me, Sarah! Just let yourself go! Relax, I've got you!"
As is true with most drowning people, Sarah Collingwood was beyond reason. Frantically she kept clutching at Josh.
But he continued carrying her entire weight by her heavy hair. As she sputtered and struggled, he swam strongly, towing her toward shore.
And then he felt his feet touch bottom. "It's OK," he gasped. "You're OK now, Sarah."
But now her heavy hiking boots sank into the mud. Josh put both arms around her and pulled her free, then staggered toward the bank.
"Give me a hand, you guys! She keeps getting stuck in the mud."
Dave jumped in and took hold of Josh's waist, and Jake did the same for Dave. The others formed a human chain, and a tug-of-war with the creek bottom began.
Sarah's feet came out of the squishy mud, but her boots remained there. She was dragged unceremoniously to shore, and as soon as she was there she did a very ungrateful and surprising thing.
Turning around, she slapped at Josh. "Get your hands off me!" she cried.
He stared at her, then looked wildly around at the group. "Get my hands off of you? You would have drowned if I hadn't put my hands on you!"
"No, I wouldn't have! I can swim as good as you can!"
"You didn't look like it," Wash protested. "You looked like a goner to me, Sarah. I think Josh saved your life."
"He's always showing off," she said, next to tears. As a rule, Sarah was very sweet and reasonable, and Josh was sure she liked him. But she lashed out at him verbally now. "I didn't need your help! I was just about ready to kick off my boots and start swimming."
Reb shoved the straw Stetson back on his forehead and grinned broadly. "You sure gave a good imitation of a girl drowning," he said. "You ought to go on the stage and be an actress if you can act that good."
"You hush up, Reb!" Sarah said furiously.
Dave too could not help teasing her a little. "You look like a drowned rat," he said. "What did you do, just jump in to make yourself look funny?"
But then Wash interrupted. "Hey, you guys! Let up a little. That was a pretty bad scene." He went over to Sarah. "That wasn't too funny, was it? That stream's swift. I nearly drowned in it myself the other day. It's worse than the Old Man."
"What old man?" Abbey asked.
"Oh, that's what we used to call the Mississippi River back in Oldworld. I used to just about drown in it every summer."
Sarah, Josh thought, must have felt absolutely stupid. She was looking down at her dripping clothes and her ugly, now black socks, which were covered with mud. Her hair streamed down in her face. She repeated, "I didn't need your help, Josh. I would have gotten out all by myself."
She turned then and ran away as quickly as she could. The stones must have hurt her bare feet, but she paid no attention.
Josh watched as she disappeared. He had known Sarah Collingwood back in Oldworld when she had lived with his family. He had thought then that she was the prettiest girl alive and was in awe of her.
Now as he stood there soaking wet, looking after her, he shook his head. "Girls are sure funny."
Reb took off his hat and ran his hand through his sandy hair. "They sure are. I had this kooky cousin called Mary Belle Smite. She was bigger and stronger than any boy, and she liked to wrestle with the mule we had on our place. She was almost tough enough to throw him down. Most of us figured any girl that could throw a mule down would be too hard on a feller, so she didn't have many boyfriends. She was a funny one."
"Sarah was just scared and embarrassed," Wash said. "Abbey, why don't you go see if she's all right?"
"All right. I will." She looked at Josh with admiration. "You sure can swim, Josh."
Josh basked for a moment in the warmth of her compliment, but as Abbey left them, he shook his head again. "Sarah sure was mad."
Wash was always the peacemaker. He struck Josh lightly on the arm. "Don't worry about Sarah," he said. "Like I said, she was embarrassed. She'll be all right."
"I hope so," Reb grunted. "I'd hate to think she was gonna be that mean and nasty all the time."
Supper that night was a somewhat tense affair. For one thing, Sarah had not gotten into a mood that was much better. She realized that she had done a very stupid thing. Abbey had told her it could happen to anyone, and most of the others had been sympathetic, but she could not see it that way.
She had done the best she could with her hair, but there were no hair dryers in Nuworld, and her hair was long, coming halfway down her back. She'd dried it by simply sitting out in the sun. For supper, she tied it into a long braid. She ate little and said almost nothing.
Then, Reb and Dave got into an argument. Dave had acted as the cook that night, and when Reb tasted the meat, he said, "Dave, you're the worst cook I ever saw. Why, this meat's raw!"
Dave, who did not like to cook anyway and was, in fact, not very good at it, said, "If you don't like it, don't eat it!"
Reb was quick to take offense. "I've seen cows hurt worse than this and still get well," he said. "It ain't fit to eat."
"Will you two calm down?" Wash put in quickly. "Dave did the best he could, Reb."
Josh said little. His eyes kept going to Sarah, as though he was expecting her to apologize or to at least say some kind of thank you. But she sat with her head down, saying nothing.
Finally Josh sat down beside her. "Are you still mad at me?"
Sarah looked up and felt tears coming to her eyes. "I'm—I'm not mad at you, Josh. I just felt so stupid. Imagine, just falling in the river like that! I'm the dumbest girl that ever lived!"
"It could happen to anybody," he said.
She blinked her tears away then and managed a smile. "You're the sweetest boy, Josh."
He lowered his head and said, "Aw, shucks! It wasn't anything!"
"It was, too. I really would have drowned if I couldn't have gotten those old boots off. I guess you saved my life."
"Well, what would I do without you, Sarah?"
At that moment, a voice outside caught everybody's attention. Instantly, the Sleepers jumped to their feet. Nuworld was a dangerous place, and they all grabbed weapons—swords, knives, anything. Josh seized a staff with which he had become quite handy. "Who's out there?" he called.
"Why don't you open the door and find out?"
The voice was rough and sounded vaguely familiar. "I know that voice," Josh said. "I just can't place it." He opened the door and gaped in amazement. "Mat," he said, "it's you!"
"And me. Tam. Can we come in? We're starved to death."
Grinning, Josh stepped back. The two strange looking individuals who entered were identical twins. They were not more than three feet tall and were fat as sausages. Their bellies gave promise of exploding any minute were it not for their broad, black leather belts with shiny brass buckles. Both had round red cheeks with small black eyes peering out from under impossibly bushy eyebrows. Both also had bushy beards that covered their chests.
"Well, I don't see much improvement around here," Mat said, scowling. But Tam was going about greeting everyone with a happy smile.
Mat and Tam were Gemini twins, a strange mutant form that had occurred in Nuworld. The Gemini mothers gave birth to twins every time, and the strange thing was that these twins were usually as different inside as they were alike outside. Mat, for instance, was grumpy, always complaining, always seeing the dark side of things, while Tam was the cheerful optimist who saw good in everything.
Mat and Tam were scarcely inside when Tam said, "Oh, we forgot someone!" He went back to the door and said, "Come on in."
The room suddenly seemed to be filled, for an enormous man stooped and came through the door.
"Volka!" Sarah cried. She ran to him and reached up her arms for a hug. She could not reach the neck of the giant, who stood well over eight feet tall. "Ho," he said, his eyes twinkling, "my Sleeper friends." Volka's voice was as big as his body.
"Here, sit before you knock the ceiling down," Josh said. He waited until Volka was seated on the floor and Tam and Mat were sitting at the table. "Now let's give these fellas something to eat."
The three visitors ate like starving sharks.
After they were finished, Mat said, "Well, it's happened again." His eyes were gloomy, and he hunched his shoulders in despair. "I know it will turn out to be no good."
"Sure it'll be good," Tam said. "I'm glad to be here."
"Me too," Volka boomed. He had cleaned up all the food and sat looking hopefully for more.
"What are you fellows doing here?" Abbey asked. "We didn't expect you to come."
"It's that Goél again," Mat said, a woeful look on his face. "He told us to come here." Then he glared around angrily. "We've got to take care of you babies again!"
"Goél told you to come here?" Josh said, suddenly alert.
"Yes. Worse luck," Mat complained. "To be babysitters."
"What did he tell you to do?" Dave asked, puzzled. All of the Sleepers knew that any message from Goél must be obeyed instantly.
"Didn't say," Mat said. "Just gave us a map and said to be here. Well, here we are. Now we'll just have to wait until he shows up."
"It'll be fun," Tam said happily. He hit his twin in the side with his elbow. "Cheer up! Things could be worse."
Mat glared at him. "They probably will be."
Excerpted from The Spell of the Crystal Chair by Gilbert Morris. Copyright © 2000 Gilbert Morris. Excerpted by permission of Moody Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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