Glad you could join us for the next feathery episode of Elliot’s Adventures. If you’re new here, you can catch up by returning to the beginning, and reading really fast…
“Huh,” Randall grunted. He watched Gridliz’s rapid transit long after there was anything to see, then turned and picked his way across a scorching maze of cracked crust sloping upward toward a scraggly, leafless tree.
Halfway there, a gliding shadow stroked its cool fingers across his back, daring him to look skyward.
The gigantic bird flapping low and slow overhead should have turned his blood to ice. He should have frozen in mid-step and dashed for cover the moment it looked away. Instead, as it landed in the lone tree, he felt hope.
Leaping and jumping over the curled edges of the ancient mud puzzle, Randall panted to a stop at the base of the trunk and called up to the ruffling heap of brown feathers.
“Excuse me! I hate to disturb you, but I really need a little help.”
The feathers grew still and parted only far enough to reveal a gleaming emerald solitaire staring intently at his face. From beneath a cloak of down, a muffled voice croaked, “Who are you?”
“Uh, Randall,” he quavered. “Please, I’m desperate. Could I trouble you for some directions?”
Like a wave breaking over a sea-worn outcrop of obsidian, the bird’s coat flowed down the sides of a long hooked beak, black and shining in the sun.
Unable to suppress a shudder, Randall tried to smile. “Might I ask your name?”
“Edith,” she wheezed, her head turning side to side as her eyes swiveled over him.
“Well, Edith,” his thin voice shivered, “I’m trying to find my son.”
“He wandered into the Arids?” she asked with a hint of parental judgment.
Fighting off tears and indignation, he answered, “No, he was taken.”
Worried she might fly away, Randall hedged, “Someone he doesn’t belong with.”
Scrutinizing him one eye at a time, Edith finally asked, “The General?”
Randall broke down. “Yes,” he confessed, tears overflowing. “I only need to know where I can find him so I can get my son back. He said he would give him back.”
Clacking her beak, Edith said, “I won’t ask what you had to do to earn your son’s return, but I will warn you that the General is a harsh judge of success. You must be confident you fulfilled every detail if you hope to see your son again. And you will need an escort.”
“An escort?” Panic rose in his tightening throat. “Could you be my escort?”
“I wish I could, but if that bit of egg-sucking slime saw me coming, he wouldn’t let you anywhere near him. I can only aim you in the right direction. Perhaps you will find another who can help you along the way.”
“Anything. Thank you for anything you can tell me that will get me closer to my son.”
“I have three pieces of advice: Keep the rocky hills on your right. Rest in any bit of shade you see. Find some water before you begin to hallucinate from thirst or it will be too late.”
The frog looked toward the rocky hills. “Should I be closer to the hills than this?” But when he turned back to Edith, she wasn’t there. He scanned the sky; it held nothing but the punishing sun. Had the hallucinations already begun?
Randall’s breathing turned shallow and rapid. He must find a way.
To be continued. . .