The completion of The Six and the Magic Circles is not happening as rapidly as I had thought it would. Things like illness and procrastination interfere with predictions, so no more of those; it’ll be published when it is published. I will say, though, that excerpts I share at this point are neither final drafts nor even guaranteed to be in the final project.
The darkness under the trees had lightened somewhat with the dawning of the day, and judging by yesterday it was unlikely to get any brighter, so The Six decided to break camp and be on their way. They could see, but like yesterday, a flashlight would have been nice.
With no water to spare, they damped the fire with dirt. Having no suitable tools, they scooped it with their hands adding to the grimy feeling they already had. All were anxious to get to the river to bathe. Satisfied that the fire was out, they strapped on their packs, then turned to look at each other.
“Who remembers which way we were heading before the fiasco last night?” asked Grant.
Grayson raised an eyebrow. “I wouldn’t say it was a fiasco. We survived it.”
Grant revised his question. “Felt like fiasco to me. Okay, who knows the direction we were heading before the excitement last night?”
As they looked at one another, it became clear no one knew.
“Toward the river.” volunteered Mady. Everyone just looked at her. “Well, no, I don’t know which direction that is.”
“You know, that could actually be helpful. According to the map, the river is not far beyond the edge of the forest. Maybe someone could shinny up a tree and try to spot it,” said Garrett.
Everyone peered up the trees to the canopy and swallowed. The canopy was a long way up and to spot the river, someone would have to climb beyond the leaves to the very top.
“Any volunteers?” asked Will.
Garrett grinned. “I think I know how to shinny.”
Mady looked at him in disbelief. “Garrett, that’s dangerous. And when have you shinnied up anything?”
“I shinnied up a rope at basketball practice.”
“Really. That’s a whole different kind of shinnying.”
Garrett shrugged, “Show me how and I’ll do it. I like to climb.”
Everyone exchanged a look, then Grayson said, “If he isn’t afraid of the height, he has the best chance of being successful.” He turned to look at the volunteer. “But are you sure, Garrett? Can you do it without falling from up there? It’s a long way up or down as the case may be.”
Grinning, Garrett simply answered, “Show me.”
First they unpacked blankets and tied thick pads to his front.
Then Will brought out the rope and made a sort of harness for Garrett to sit in, tightening it so he was secure. Next Will made two separate loops around the tree and secured the loops to the harness.
“Okay, Garrett, here’s what you do. When you put the first loop around the tree, lean back against the harness to keep it in place. Then keeping the line taut, you walk up a couple steps and put the second loop around the tree higher than the first. Lean back into that one and keep that one taut while you pull the first loop up, and walk up a couple steps and place the first loop around the tree higher up. Now lean into that one and keep up the routine. Think you can do that?” Will looked rather scared even though he wasn’t the one planning to make the climb. In fact, almost everyone looked scared, except Garrett. Garrett was still grinning.
“Piece of pie,” said Garrett.
“Cake,” said Will.
“Never mind. Keep your attention on what you’re doing. A misstep could mean a fast slide downward. It’ll be like rubbing against sandpaper. If that happens try to keep your face away from the tree. The blanket pads should help, but most likely, you will get hurt. So the best is to keep your attention on the tree and your mission.”
“Mission impossible,” Leyton whispered.
Undaunted, Garrett began his slow ascent to the top of the tree while the other five held their breaths. To his credit, Garrett was very careful and took it slow. The five finally had to take a breath. Then they took many breaths and held many more before Garrett finally reached the canopy where he had to free himself from both loops to get past the branches.
“You’re doing good, Garrett,” called Grayson. “Be very careful when you disconnect.”
“Don’t worry. I’m a good tree climber.”
“Don’t get cocky and overconfident,” Grant hollered.
“I’m fine,” Garrett retorted. “Whoops! Oh, oh.”
Five hearts hit the ground along with one of the loops.
“Oh, my gosh” said Mady clutching her chest. The others looked as if they were about to pass out.
Will recovered first and hollered, “Garrett, what did you do? You were supposed to disconnect the loops from the harness, not from the tree.”
“Guess I wasn’t paying attention.”
The five groaned. He wasn’t paying attention? Way up there and he wasn’t paying attention? Good grief!
“Well, pay attention, Garrett! You are in an even more dangerous position now that you are unsecured. Climb carefully. Try to go high enough to see over the upper branches and leaves. But don’t take any chances,” called Mady, staring into the treetops.
Feeling eyes on her, she glanced at the other four groundlings. They were staring at her. “Well,” she said in a lower voice, “At least not any more chances than he’s already taking.”
Garrett scrambled up the branches. Now he was in his element; he knew how to climb trees with branches! Soon he could see over the tree tops and peered around.
“I think I see it. I see the sun glinting on a silvery ribbon. Looks kinda small from up here, but I think it’s the river!”
“Okay, remember which direction and try not to get turned around when you climb down,” said Will.
Will looked at Leyton, “What?”
Leyton was pale. “Uh, how will he make it down with just one loop?”
“Garrett!” called Gray urgently. “Secure yourself with that loop and don’t try to come down!”
“Why? I can do it.”
“Garrett, you can’t do it with just one loop.”
“Oh.” The word was so faint the kids weren’t even sure they heard it.
“An abseil or rappel is done with one rope, isn’t it?” asked Mady.
Will looked at the other kids. Everyone shrugged. “I don’t know,” said Will, “But it seems kinda dangerous. I think rappelling requires cleated shoes or special knots or something. And I should think very good gloves. I don’t think Garrett should try a one-rope descent.”
For a while no one said anything. Silence seemed to descend over the entire forest.
Then the five heard a plaintive, “So what should I do?”
“Just hang on. We’ll think of something.”
“Like what?” someone whispered.
“I don’t know. Now I think we have a fiasco on our hands.”