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Although Cale protests, he suddenly finds himself in Glenhope, Paffy and Cripps's homeland, and in a world ...
Although Cale protests, he suddenly finds himself in Glenhope, Paffy and Cripps's homeland, and in a world that he's never seen before. It is there that he learns of EyeStone-a powerful stone that can foresee the future and influence it for good-and of the influential people who wish to use its power for themselves. What's more, Paffy and Cripps believe that Cale may have the power they need to save EyeStone before it's too late.
With his former playmates and his new friends Princess Barcelona and the warrior Rockfast at his side, Cale embarks on a quest to reach Balthesmor Castle and save the Eyestone. But to get there, the group must first cross the treacherous desert called Sandwhisper, survive the terrifying Realm of the Four Caves, and face dangerous and fantastical creatures. If Cale survives, he must face the most horrifying obstacle of all-someone from Cale's own past may be the embodiment of the very evil that Cale was sent to Glenhope to destroy.
Cale McHail ran as fast as his legs would carry him. Heart pounding with fright, and mind swimming in confusion, he ran without looking back. What was he running from? As far as he could tell there was no one behind him. And where exactly was he? No way were his worn tennis shoes still treading on the grass of his childhood's backyard in LaFayette, Illinois. It had become dark. And cool. Where had the sun gone?
He stumbled and a sudden sharp ache in his side forced him to stop. He hunched over, hands on knees, tried to catch his breath. Still bent, he shuffled to a nearby wall of damp stone, and leaned heavily against it. What was this? Through his light jacket the rocks were very cold. He became aware of flickering orange light high above. Wiping his eyes with his sleeve, he looked up to blazing torches, fastened to the wall by heavy gray metal straps. He swallowed hard and tried to steady his shaking knees. Glancing down the dimly-lit and rocky path he'd just come from, he detected no movement, heard no sound. What had become of Paffy and Cripps? They had been right behind him—hadn't they? How far had he run?
The path he'd traveled was dark and quiet. For that matter, the way forward was just as deserted. As far as he could tell, he was alone. Mist filled the air, like a light fog on a damp April day. He could see no further than twenty yards in either direction.
Where in the world was he? Chest heaving and mind rebelling, Cale decided he must be in one big crevasse, or maybe some kind of tunnel or cave, one that was wide enough that he could not see the other side. He quickly calculated the diameter of his stony path to be at least twenty feet across. Like the floor, massive rocks made up the wall. The ceiling—if there was a ceiling—was not visible. Far above his head a faint hissing sound came from the flaming torch. He could see another light; a few yards back the way he'd run. He realized he'd raced past others, spaced just close enough so total darkness was kept at bay. Were they the reason it was so hazy in here? He sniffed the air. There was no hint of smoke.
That was beside the point. No matter the place—how had he gotten here? It had to have something to do with Paffy and Cripps. In any case, one minute he'd been chatting with what he thought were old friends, imaginary ones according to his father, and the next ... A huge lump grew in his throat. What had become of the quiet Illinois street with his little room and bed?
Paffy had practically shouted at him, "Don't run!" He supposed he should have listened. But he'd been scared. Who wouldn't be? And Paffy, funny and easy-going Paffy, of all people, shouting, just made things spookier. Everything had suddenly become confusing and unreal. Running had seemed a reasonable thing to do.
That morning he'd left Uncle Fred and Aunt Ellen's house on his bicycle, throwing his baseball glove in the bike basket, deciding he'd rather be early for the game rather than hang around with Ellen. He started out for the park, he remembered that. What indistinct and forgotten whim turned his handlebars toward the house on Buckthorn Lane, the house where he'd lived with his father and mother? They were gone. For good. The white two story house that he'd called home, with his Lilac Fort in the back yard, belonged to someone else now.
The last thing he expected to find at that house were his old playmates. When he was a lonely six year old boy, who had just lost his mother to cancer, plump, jocular Paffy and slender, serious Cripps came to him in his Lilac Fort to keep him company. They brought consolation and distraction, to a boy who had no one else to play with. He was trying to distract himself from this inexplicable situation with thoughts of Paffy and Cripps.
Paffy was short and round as a barrel. He wore red pants and shoes, a faded green shirt open at the wrinkled collar, as well as a loosened and soiled red, white, and blue polka dot tie. Thin blond hair grew from the sides of his perfectly round and nearly bald head and draped over both ears. The ears were very large, left larger than right, and they stuck out straight from his head. He might have been a circus clown on the loose, with his too-pale face, large blue eyes, and flat nose. At least he didn't wear white gloves or floppy-toed shoes.
Cripps, with his long, scrawny neck was Paffy's opposite in just about every imaginable way. He was rarely without his black top-hat, except when he'd gotten down on his hands and knees, years ago, to play with Cale. He wore thick spectacles, which usually slid well down on his nose. His suit was plaid, sort of yellow-brown in color, and he seemed fond of his brown silk vest. The sleeves of the coat were too short, and skinny wrists protruded from them. His scuffed black shoes were always dusty, as though he'd walked a long way on dirt paths. Below the trousers, which were also too short, and over the tops of his shoes, he wore spats. Wispy hairs, like tufts of autumn grass, grew from his nose and ears. He carried a short walking stick topped with a shiny brass knob.
Paffy and Cripps could not be real people, of course. The whole idea of two adult men that no one else ever saw, coming to play backyard games with a lonely and frightened little kid, was too ridiculous for words. Even back then, when he was only seven, Cale knew enough not to mention these strange playmates to most people. Except his dad. That's when dad told Cale these two adults were simply part of an awake-sort-of-dream, a dream Cale needed very badly at the time. And it surely had been a bad time. Cale wasn't sure how he would have gotten through that time without them, those supposedly imaginary friends, who comforted him more than anyone besides his father. After that, for some reason, maybe because his father had told him they were not real, maybe simply because he was growing older, one day Paffy and Cripps disappeared as quickly and quietly as they had appeared. That was too bad, because less than a year ago, Cale's father, Blake McHail, had disappeared while on a hunting trip. Paffy and Cripps might have helped him through that shock and horror as well.
He wiped another tear from his eye and tried to forget the past. Okay, so if they were so obviously imaginary, how could Paffy and Cripps have shown up today, seven years later, looking exactly as they had before, and seemingly as solid as the rocks he now leaned against?
Seeing them had been wonderful, but downright weird. It had to be a dream, of course. There was no other explanation ... but this most definitely did not feel like a dream. He was quite sure he was awake—wide awake. He tried to think, to go over what had happened today. Maybe something would occur to him to explain this unreal situation.
It had been a long bike ride from Aunt Ellen and Uncle Fred's place. He knew he should be headed in the opposite direction, toward the park and the baseball game with his friends. There was no good reason for coming this way. Or had there been a reason? Cale sighed and remembered that he had just had a feeling ... a feeling that he wanted to go "home", even if it wasn't "home" anymore, even if it hadn't been "home" for over a year. He'd been distracted as he rode along, knowing the route by heart, feeling even at that point he might be dreaming. Then there was the near-accident. It was his fault, he'd not been paying attention to traffic on the quiet side street, veered out too far into the intersection as he made the turn, almost got hit by a big Buick.
Cale straightened up ... maybe that was it! Maybe the car had hit him after all!
Maybe he was now laying somewhere, maybe in a hospital emergency room, unconscious, and dreaming all of this! No, it couldn't be. He remembered the man getting out of the car, picking up the baseball glove that had fallen out of the basket and bawling him out, telling him he ought to be careful because the car outweighed him fifty to one, that he was the small marble and the car was a big one, and on and on. Well, he could have dreamt that too.
He'd pedaled on after that, more slowly and carefully, finally arriving just across the street from the house in which he'd been so happy. It had been repainted, he was pretty sure. The white looked newer, brighter. Flowers hung in their baskets on the front porch, just as they had when he lived there with his father and, at one time with his mother. The curtains on the front windows were the same. He swallowed hard when he looked up at the window where his room had been.
It took some time for him to work up the courage to walk up to the front door and knock. He thought perhaps the only reason he could do it was because, after standing there a while, he doubted anyone was home. And what if someone was home? What, exactly, was he going to say to them? May I come in and walk around my old home? May I use your telephone? Or bathroom?
Actually, only at the last moment would he tell them the truth, or at least what he thought was the truth: That he used to live here and would they mind if he walked to the backyard where he used to play as a little boy? For some reason he could not consciously fathom, it was the back yard he felt drawn to.
As it turned out, excuses were not needed. He'd been right about the place being deserted; no one answered his repeated knocks. He glanced up and down the sidewalk. A couple of little kids played at the end of the street. He did not recognize them. A man three houses down and across the street was giving his lawn a badly needed mowing. He thought the man's name was Graves. Mrs. Jackson, the woman he remembered from across the alley, had moved out of sight after puttering in her flower garden. No one seemed the least interested in him. So, he put his bike behind the thick shrubs near the sidewalk and slipped around the back of the house.
The backyard looked very much as he remembered. Glancing around nervously, Cale walked quickly across thick green grass and up to the dense canopy of lilac bushes growing close to the back of the house. The fragrance, at this time of year full and luxuriant, brought back powerful memories. With one more look around, he dropped to his hands and knees and crawled in among the stems.
Oh, how wonderfully familiar! The sweet earthy smell, mingled with the entrancing perfume of the flowering lilacs almost overwhelmed him. He sat for what he thought must have been quite a while, remembering Paffy and Cripps, the games they played with him, the fascinating tales they told him, the way they laughed, especially Paffy. He must have fallen asleep, feeling safe and comforted by his old hideaway. Or had he? In any case, the rustling of leaves behind him caused him to turn toward the sound. His first thought was that he had been caught, that someone had been in the house after all, or perhaps one of the neighbors had seen him creep into the bushes ... His heart skipped a beat. Then his mouth fell open.
The lilac stems parted and seven years melted away! Crawling toward him on hands and knees were his old playmates, Paffy and Cripps! Oh, and they looked as dear and silly as they had those many years ago! Smiles lit their faces. Cale felt tears well up in his eyes.
"Paffy! Cripps!" he'd managed, through a choking throat.
"Hey, fella!" said Paffy.
"Good day, Master Cale," said Cripps, rising to his knees, "how good to see you again."
"Paffy ... Cripps ..." He found himself in a three-way hug, all of them on their knees. For a moment he was unable to say more. Then he'd found his voice. "What ...? How ...?"
"T'weren't easy, buddy," said Paffy, grinning widely as he dropped to the earth and tried to cross his pudgy legs.
Cripps, using his top hat as a broom to clean leaves and twigs away from where he'd decided to sit, said, "Well, it was not terribly difficult, but we are a bit out of practice."
"Wow! I haven't seen you guys for years!" A shadow crossed Cale's face. "But ... but, you know, you were ..."
"We were what? Master Cale," asked Cripps.
"Well, I ... I don't know how to say this, but, umm, my dad said you were my imaginary. Ah, kind of a little kid's daydream ... you know? Well, I'm older now and, ah ..." Cale took a deep breath. "Well, what I mean is this really isn't possible."
Paffy had just continued to smile at him, seemingly genuinely pleased to be cramped and huddled here under a cluster of lilac bushes.
"That seems a rather odd statement, Master Cale," Cripps had said. "What is so hard to believe?" Cripps had said, "Are we here with you again or not?"
"Well, it sure seems that way," Cale admitted, and he'd reached out to touch Paffy's knee. "You sure feel real to me. Are you here because of ..." The words caught in his throat for a moment. "... because of my dad?"
Paffy's expression turned to one of surprise. "How'd you figure that, buddy?"
"Well, the other time you came was after my mom died. And, well, I just thought maybe you were here to try to cheer me up ... or something."
Paffy had opened his mouth to speak but Cripps jumped in. "Actually, Master Cale, we must apologize for not coming sooner. Winter has come and gone since your father ..." He glanced at Paffy. "In any case, late or not, here we are!"
"B'sides," said Paffy brightly, "we're here on what ya might say is a more, uhh, urgent mission than just t'cheer ya up. Though, a' course, a bit of cheerfulness is always good medicine."
Paffy reached out and patted Cale's knee. "Hey! Let's not fret on words. We gotta catch up on lots a stuff. Whatcha been up to, Cale?"
"Umm. I got a feeling you know pretty much what I've been doing. I'm more interested in what you guys are doing. You know, when I was a little kid, I didn't think to ask many questions. Now, when I see you two at a time and place that seems downright strange, I wonder what you've been up to ... and where you're from, and why you're really here ... if you are really here."
Cripps gave him the hint of a smile. "Appropriate questions, my friend. You have indeed grown since we last talked. Paffy and I come from a place called Glenhope and we are, ah, ambassadors of sorts. We do a great deal of traveling. More lately than usual."
"Glenhope ...," said Cale, "is that in Illinois?"
"Wow! Another great question," said Paffy.
Cripps had ignored what he'd asked, instead asking him, "Master Cale, you are correct in thinking that we know a bit about what is occurring in your life. May I ask you how things are going in school, and if you are happy living with your aunt and uncle?"
At first Cale's eyes widened, then he closed them and dropped his head. In a low voice he said, "I miss my dad."
"Of course. Of course," said Cripps. "Things here are not ideal. Have you ever thought of a vacation?"
"A vacation?" repeated Cale. "We get vacation from school in the summer, and that's nearly here."
"Of course. Of course. Tell me, if we could arrange it, and school would, ah, wait for you, would you like to accompany Paffy and I back to Glenhope? I think you might find things there, ah, less depressing, more exciting than they are here."
"Well," muttered Paffy under his breath, "no use beatin' 'round the lilac bushes."
Cale, more astounded than ever, said, "What? Go with you to your home? I don't even know where it is."
"Not very far away, actually," replied Cripps. "It is a matter of dimensions. Do you understand the concept of dimensions, such as height, length, width ... and time?"
A chill had run down the back of Cale's neck. "Oh, I ... maybe a little bit. I don't think very much ..." He looked from Paffy's silly smile to Cripps' very serious face. "You know, maybe I'd like this Glenhope place but I have to go to school, you know. For at least a few weeks yet. I'm supposed to be at a baseball game with some friends in a little while. And, ah, I don't have any clothes along. Or my pajamas, or toothbrush ..." He was going to say something about Uncle Fred and Aunt Ellen missing him but knew that it would almost certainly be a lie.
"No need to worry about school," Cripps said soothingly. "The game will wait, and clothes will be provided."
"You'd like Glenhope, buddy," said Paffy. "It'd be kinda like the adventure games we used t'play when you were small, only this'd be a real adventure ... ya know?"
"Gosh, I don't know," said Cale. "I have to know more about this Glenhope place. Like where it is and how we get there and how long it would take ..."
Cripps sat up straighter. "Cale, my dear boy," he said, "you obviously have a great number of questions ... which is a good thing. And we will try our best to answer them. However, time is of the essence. We cannot sit here, beneath these lilac bushes, for hours. Not only is it more than a trifle uncomfortable, if the residents of the property return, or if someone else notices us here, what will we say? How do we explain our being here? I think we best leave now, quickly, and answer your questions later. Let me also tell you that we are not here, in what was previously your backyard, as you might say, 'on a lark'. You are needed. We really must take you with us."
Excerpted from The Ninth Gift by P. M. Malone Copyright © 2012 by P. M. Malone. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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