A Guardian Angel on the Matterhorn

This second of the series is the first story in which Marley’s guardian angel appears as a Dodo bird.

See this post, The White Knight and the Dodo, for the Lewis Carroll background. The dodo’s only appearance is in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and is the first of the two times Charles Dodgson put himself into the story.

The skinny of the story

Marley should apologize to a substitute teacher for ruining a model volcano. But her friends in Storybook Land need her help in ridding the land of a mountain newly appeared in their land. Furthermore, eerie yodeling can be heard coming from the Matterhorn’s summit. Someone – Marley – must ascend the fearsome heights, solve the mystery, and return with the mythical material: Le Thinair.

Serving as her guide and companion is a guardian angel, Chuck the dodo bird. Hindering our heroes is the villainous Stromboli who schemes to take all the thin air for his greedy self. Together Chuck and Marley conquer the mountain, solve the mystery, and befriend some Swiss misses. And, of course, Marley learns a lesson in graceful apology.

 

A Guardian Angel on the Matterhorn

By

Tonton Jim

During recess Marley fixed the volcano problem. Now, the next volcano her third grade class built would work fine. After entering the classroom, the substitute teacher disputed her assertion and declared the science lab off limits and all science experiments dead for the day, maybe the week. As the returning girls and boys entered Room Six and saw the cracked mountainside of the volcano, some glared at Marley with narrowed eyes and some regarded her with sorrowful eyes.

Feeling all alone and standing by the teacher’s desk she felt wronged by everyone’s condemnation. The sub demanded that Marley apologize to the class. With her arms crossed against her chest, she refused. Speaking quite rudely, the substitute teacher ordered her to the coat closet for a long time out. “A long, long, long timeout,” was what the woman said. Marley went there and in the semi-darkness sat on the floor next to a stack of old and unused books. She determined not to cry but her little sniffles said otherwise. Poor picked on Marley with not a friend in the world – this third-grade classroom world at any rate.

 

From on high and in a better place, Charles heard the faint sound of sniffles and looked in on the little girl his fellow authors had once helped in a fairytale realm. Being her guardian angel – a loving duty granted by the Heavenly Father – he quickly put himself into one of those old and unused books. Its gold lettering on the cover he caused to glow brightly. Marley, being in a darkened room, noticed the gold colored light pulsating from a large picture book.

“That’s weird,” mumbled Marley. “This book was never in the class library. And it doesn’t look beat up at all.”

Sitting cross-legged on the floor, she set the book on her folded legs, opened it to the title page, and read, The Further Adventures of Marley in Storybook Land. Though astounded by the title, her eyes immediately focused on the illustration of Mr. Badger, Mr. Mole, Mr. Rat, and Mr. Toad standing in front of Toad Hall. And, in the background, off to the side of Mr. Toad’s handsome mansion, she could just make out a little girl being chased by a cloud of flying insects. No, she told herself those aren’t insects. She brought her face closer to the title page, her nose almost touching the paper, and even though they were very small in the picture, she could see that the cloud consisted of fairies. And running from that cloud, waving her hands about her head, the little girl looked to be her.

Suddenly, no longer sitting in a dark coatroom but running across a lawn, Marley had no time to wonder but instead had to busy herself with swatting at the buzzing fairies. As fast as she could she ran toward her friends. Mole called to her, “Quick, Marley. We need to hide inside.”

She followed them inside and Toad shut the door. The fairies buzzed excitedly around the large oaken door, but then, after a few seconds, flew off – probably off to the nail and wing salon to have their wings freshened up.

“Why were they acting so weird?”

“Oh, lassie,” Badger shook his head and whiskers and sadly said, “the Westland pixies and our dear fairies have been out of sorts and a wee bit looney ever since that monster mountain appeared in our land.” He pointed out the window. Marley went to the large paned window and looked outside to see a tall snow covered rocky pyramid of a mountain looming over the hills and canals of Storybook land.

“Where’d that come from?” asked Marley meaning not where did mountains come from. She knew the answer to that, God. But meaning why hadn’t she noticed it before. The others gathered behind her and stared sorrowfully at the immense alpine peak.

“It didn’t rise from the ground,” said Ratty, “because it’s not a smoking volcano.”

“It didn’t fall from the sky,” said Toad. “We would’ve heard the plop of its landing.”

“I don’t think a mountain falling from the sky and onto our land would have gone ‘plop’,” said Ratty. “Probably would’ve made a ‘thud’ sound.”

“Aye, a really loud ‘thud’ which dinna come to our ears ever,” said Badger.

“It came from the future,” announced Mole. Everyone turned to stare at Mole who held a sheet of paper in one hand and an envelope in the other. “Toad, you never opened this letter. It’s from the Board of Creators, and it says, ‘We have redrawn the map. The Matterhorn will no longer exist in Tomorrowland. Henceforth, by the stroke of a mapmaker’s marker, the mountain will exist in Fantasyland of which Storybook Land is a sub-division.”

“That’s it?” asked Ratty. “Some clerk upstairs redrew a map and now we have a mountain to contend with?”

“There’s a P. S.,” said Mole. “If you don’t like it, we’d tell you to lump it, but that mountain is much bigger than a lump, so ha-ha.”

Toad seized the letter from Mole’s paws and tore it up. Ratty and Mole gathered up the pieces of paper and dropped them into the fire place. Badger walked away, headed to the kitchen.

“It’s kind of beautiful,” said Marley. “Don’t you think it adds nicely to the view?”

“Oh, it’s pretty enough to look at,” said Toad. “It’s the eerie sounds we hear coming from the mountaintop that give us the willies.”

The three animals expressed how they felt about eerie sounds by making sour faces. Marley thought to herself, “Those must be some really spooky noises coming from that mountaintop.”

“Aye, lassie, it sends a shiver of fear right down to our bones.” Badger reentered the parlor carrying a black kettle. This he set by the fire to warm it up. Marley watched closely as he broke a large bar of chocolate into the milky contents of the kettle. “We’ll relax by the fire. Soon we’ll have some hot cocoa to wet our whistles. And it won’t be long after that, we’ll hear the faint but fearsome cries from the mountain.”

Each of them sat in a comfy chair facing the fire. More than just the cheery red flames in the fireplace, or the smell of the milk and chocolate mix, being in the company of her good friends made her feel warm inside and out. She contentedly waited to be served a mug of the delicious drink. Mole disappeared for a moment and came back carrying a tray of mugs and a plate of oddly shaped cookies. Into each mug Badger poured a ladle of chocolate brown steaming hot milk. Toad handed her one of the mugs. But before she could sip a tiny amount – it was still steaming hot – Ratty held the plate of cookies in front of her. She picked up one.

“This cookie is shaped like a whistle.”

“But of course, it is, my dear girl,” said Toad as he dipped his cookie into his mug.

Mole patted Marley’s hand. “That’s where the expression, ‘wet one’s whistle’ comes from.”

Wherever it came from, the wetted whistle tasted delicious, as did her thick and tasty warm beverage. She enjoyed her treats while listening to her friends talk about recent games between the fairies and pixies. Before she grew too sleepy eyed, Mole turned to her and asked, “Tell us what is new in your third-grade world.”

Marley sighed and then began the tale of her independent volcano science experiment that, while yielding valuable scientific information, did destroy most of the class-made paper-mache mountain. She, in words of anguish and sorrowful lament, vividly drew a picture of the cold-hearted substitute teacher and her closed-minded classmates. Her face grew stern when she described the smug faces of the boys and girls as she trudged to her coat room banishment. Just in the middle of telling about the lucky finding of the magical book, she stopped. She’d heard a far off but very distinct roar. She looked at the others, but their expressions remained calm and unconcerned.

“Yes, do go on,” said Toad. “It’s rude to quit a story in the middle of the telling.”

“Didn’t you hear that roaring?”

“Oh, that,” said Ratty. “That’s just the abdominal snowmen.”

“They’re called that because of their bubble bellies,” said Mole. “And because they have monstrous belly aches.”

“Probably gobbled up too many snow cones agin,” said Badger. “Daft greedy guts, they are. Will they ever learn?”

“You’ve been to the mountain and met them?” asked Marley.

“Us? Go up those fearsome heights? No, we knew them from when they used to live in the Snow Queen’s village,” said Ratty.

“But the Snow Queen banished them after they’d eaten nearly all the ice cream and snow cones in the Eastland,” said Badger. “Their belly aching kept her up at night.”

“Me, too,” added Mole.

“So, after the mountain appeared in our land, they took one look at its snow covered peak, and straightaway hiked to it.”

“Oh,” said Marley who had heard of something like abdominal snowmen. She sipped the last of her warm and tasty chocolate milk, and then with the mug still touching her lip she froze. The sound of faraway quavering high-pitched voices, probably female, faintly came to her ears. She tilted her head to hear better. The others stared at her.

“I see that you have your head tilted,” said Mole. “That’s clever. It does improve one’s hearing.” Mole and the others tilted their heads and then their mouths dropped open.

“It’s them!” cried out Toad.

“Oh, fearsome eerie banshees of doom!” shouted Ratty.

“Now, now, now. Let’s not scare the poor child,” said Mole.

“I’m not scared,” said Marley. “Let’s go outside to hear it better.”

Badger led the way, stopping by the door to take up his walking staff while saying, “I call this my fearsome cudgel.” Toad grabbed his favorite cricket bat and said, “I call this, Mean Mr. Chirp.” Not seeing much left by the front door Ratty picked out a short stick from the woodpile and said, “I shall call you, Mr. Baton.” Mole went to the kitchen and brought back a long thin loaf of bread. As Marley followed Mole out the door, he broke off a piece and handed it to her while saying, “This bread loaf I call a baguette.” Marley put the piece of still warm bread in her mouth and thought: Whatever one calls it, it’s delicious.

Outside, under the twilight sky, a numerous crowd of Eastland folk had gathered on the grassy slope in front of Toad Hall – it had the Eastland’s best view of the mountain which they all stared at as if in a trance. The Storybook folk were mostly silent and only occasionally whispered to one another. Badger led the way to the back of the crowd where they too paused to listen. From the peak of that towering mountain of rock and ice the quavering sing song came to them.

Marley listened and then brightened with a thought she just had to share with Mole by whispering into his ear. “It sounds a little like Tarzan, in the jungle movies. Except it sounds more like singing.”

“Singing, yes,” whispered Mole, “but the singers can’t seem to decide which voice they’re going to use, their normal singing voice or that eerie high-pitched voice.”

“It’s kind of pretty,” said Marley.

“She’s not spooked by the eerie sounds!” shouted Toad.

“She can be our hero!” cried out a voice in the crowd.

“Heroic by doing what exactly?” asked the Blue Fairy.

Marley’s friends and the whole crowd of Eastland folk turned to her. Except for Mole her friends looked thoughtful and as if they were sizing her up for an adventure of unknown outcomes. Badger turned to the crowd and shouted, “Who said the lassie could be our hero? Step forward and explain yourself!”

From out of the crowd emerged a large top hat and under that hat was the Mad Hatter. He smiled at Marley and then began his explanation to Badger. “She could go to the mountain, couldn’t she? Climb a little way up and ask anybody who happens to be up there just what kind of monster is making those eerie sounds and then begging their pardons, of course, ask them the simple question of…”

Under the glaring regard of the Badger’s fierce stare the Mad Hatter’s voice faded to nothing. But then Pinocchio spoke up. “Of why and what for.”

The crowd began to excitedly talk among themselves. Some turned hopeful faces toward Marley. Mole shook his head and her three other friends had doubtful expressions on their faces. Toad’s doubt melted a bit and so he mused, “Well, she did destroy the last mountain she was involved with.”

“She’s a mountain killer!” shouted Geppetto.

“Hold on, dear friends and neighbors,” said Mole. “We can’t send her up there all alone.” Ratty, Toad and Badger nodded their heads.

“Aye, that we canna do,” said Badger. “And while I’m not a-feared to ascend those heights, I am purely an underground beastie.”

“I never leave the riverbank myself,” said Ratty.

“It’s a canal,” muttered Pinocchio.

“I’ll go,” said Mole.

“Nobly spoken, my brave friend,” said Badger. “But you’re every bit of an undergrounder yourself.”

“Well, maybe,” said Ratty huffily because he’d felt Pinocchio’s correction rather disrespectful, “we should have Marley accompanied by a bird.”

“Because birds can fly high?” asked Mole. “And that mountain is ever so high?”

“Excellent reasoning,” said Badger. “Now, which Eastland bird would be best suited for the job?”

“You know, back in Wonderland,” said the Mad Hatter, “there is Chuck.”

“Ah, yes,” said the Badger. “Chuck the Dodo bird.”

“What’s a dodo bird?” asked Marley who’d been to the zoo more than once and had never seen such a bird there.

“My dear,” said the Toad, “Everyone knows that the dodo is an angelic bird famous for its faithfulness and, most importantly, it has the rare distinction of being quite extinct.”

“Stink? It’s cruel to send this poor girl up the mountain,” said Geppetto whose hearing hadn’t improved much since the last story, “with only a stinking bird to help her.”

Badger waved his cudgel in the air as a signal for all to be quiet.  “Let us put it to a vote! All in favor of sending Marley and Chuck up the mountain say, ‘Aye’.”

Every one of the Eastland folk shouted, “Aye!”

“Good, it’s settled,” said the Badger. “Pinocchio and Geppetto will escort Marley as far as the outskirts of their village in order to assist her with the foreign language spoken there. Mad Hatter, you row across the water and tell the Chuck the Dodo Bird to meet them there in the village.”

While Mole and Ratty led Marley to Ratty’s canal-side home and dock, the Eastlanders from across the canal headed down the embankment to their various boats. Pinocchio and Geppetto climbed into the toymaker’s hand carved barge – small but stoutly built, too stoutly built said some –  and waited for the Blue Fairy to take up the towing line. Marley watched, a bit in wonderment, at the sight of the elegant and blue-glowing fairy straining to pull a barge across the dark water.

“It’s a good thing she’s a whole lot bigger than the other fairies,” said Marley.

“You might find it interesting to learn Geppetto modeled his boat after Cleopatra’s barge,” said Mole.

“And it’s a good thing she glows in the dark,” said Ratty. “Otherwise that monstrosity would be a menace to the river traffic.”

“It’s a canal,” said Mole softly, but Ratty had heard him plainly enough and so they rowed in silence until they reached the banks of Geppetto’s village. After climbing out and securing the rowboat’s dock lines, they stood on the dock and looked back across the water where they could see the blue glow of the poor fairy struggling to pull her heavy load across the canal.

“They’re going to be awhile,” said Mole, “we might as well as go into town and have a look around.”

Together they turned around and immediately faced a large (in body shape, not height) bearded and smiling man standing right in front of them.

“Boungiorno, amicos,” he said. “Sono Stromboli.”

“Ciao,” said Mole who hastily whispered to Marley and Ratty, “That’s all the Italian I know. Do you know any, Marley?”

“Spaghetti-O?” Marley said shyly.

“Si, spaghetti, tortellini, rigatoni: Abbiamo un sacco di pasta.” He rubbed his stomach and licked his lips which made him look not like a jolly fat man who’d just finished a delicious meal, but instead… well, more than a little like a cannibal of storybook characters.

“Tu vieni con me,” he said putting an arm around the waists of Mole and Ratty. He began walking them up the town’s main street. Marley hurried along behind them and as she progressed up the uphill street she admired the prettiness of the lit store windows and the hand-painted signs that hung over each shop. Stromboli halted their march by standing next to a windowless bright red door. He motioned for them to enter, but Ratty and Mole paused and looked at the sign above the windowless storefront. Aloud Mole read the sign, “Casinò di Stromboli”.

Judging by the looks on their faces, Ratty and Mole disapproved. Stromboli reached his arm out and opened the door.

“Hang on,” said Ratty, “we can’t allow a child to enter a gambling hall.”

“Si,” said Stromboli his broad smile fading rapidly.

“Excuse us,” said Marley, “Maybe we should get some climbing supplies before we eat. Look! There’s a mountain something-or-other shop.”

Across from them and up the street a little, there was a mountaineering shop, “Collodi di Monte Cervino” not that Marley knew how to read Italian but the shop sign was carved in an exact outline of the mountain towering above the village. Furthermore, the shop’s window displayed coils of rope, backpacks and alpine hats. Ratty and Mole ducked under Stromboli’s enfolding arm and hurried after Marley. She reached the shop first and quickly entered. The man behind the counter looked up from the journal he’d been writing in and stared at her.

“Ciao.” Marley remembered this from Mole’s one lesson in Italian.

“Ciao?” asked signor Collodi, disdainfully. “Buongiorno!”

“Sorry,” said Marley.

“We don’t speak Italian,” added Mole.

“Ah, I see,” said the shopkeeper. “Well then, I shall speak your language. How may I assist you?”

“Marley, here, is about to undertake a mountaineering expedition…” began Ratty.

“And so, I will need some climbing supplies in order to get up the mountain,” said Marley.

“I see,” said signor Collodi, “However, I must ask you this: Why in the world would you want to climb a mountain?”

“Because the mountain is here and it wasn’t before?” suggested Mole.

“It’s good that you put it that way,” said segnor Collodi, “because people who come into my shop and say, ‘because it is there’ I always throw out by the seat of their lederhosen.”

“Now look here,” said Ratty, “We’ve been hearing some awfully eerie sounds coming from that mountaintop and we want to know what’s the cause of them.”

“Do you mean the moans of the abdominal snowmen?”

Marley, Mole, and Ratty shook their heads.

“Do you mean the Swiss miss yodels?”

“What’s a yodel?” asked Marley who had heard of Swiss misses but not yodels.

“Swiss girls yodel to call their cows home. But there are no girls nor cows on the very peak of the mountain,” said signor Collodi. “However, now that you mention it, there have been some unexplained yodels seemingly coming from the mountain’s top.”

“Do you know who or what is on the mountain top?” asked Marley.

Signor Collodi nodded yes and leaned forward to tell them, first pausing for dramatic effect. Marley, Mole, and Ratty leaned forward to hear better, and maybe for comedic effect.

“I know for a fact what’s up there,” said signor Collodi. “Thin air.”

“Thin-air?” Ratty, puzzled, scratched his head. He turned to the others and asked, “Is thin-air a French word?”

“I think it is,” said Mole. “Le thin-air. But I don’t what it means in English. Could you possibly translate that for us, Mr. Collodi?”

The shopkeeper rolled his eyes, and then simply stated, “No, it is not possible.”

“Well, Marley will just have to report back to us what she finds up there,” said Ratty. “Now, let’s get busy with outfitting her for the mission. What should we buy first?”

“Hats,” said signor Collodi as he walked over to a wall covered with dozens of hung hats, all of the same style, “Tyrolean hats; nobody is allowed on the mountain without one.”

He took one off the rack and placed it on Marley’s head. He thoughtfully regarded it and her for a moment and then said, “Ah! It needs a bigger feather. Here, take this one. Very rare, it’s from a dodo bird.”

“Dodo bird!” said Marley. “We need to buy one for Chuck.”

“Fine, I’ll ring you up for two hats,” said signor Collodi.

“Wait a minute,” said Ratty, “won’t she need some rope?”

“Rope?” the shopkeeper asked. “Whatever for? Is she aiming to capture some cows?”

“Okay, then, how about some of those things?” asked Ratty.

He looked toward where Ratty was pointing. “Moschettones?”

“They look like shackles to me,” Mole whispered to Marley, but signor Collodi overheard him saying something like “shackles” and then shook his head. “Shekels? No. No foreign money. I only take Storybook money.”

“Let’s just pay for the hats and see if maybe Chuck brought along some supplies,” suggested Marley who was beginning to get a little confused.

“Good idea,” said Ratty. He pulled out a small and rectangular booklet from his coat pocket and asked, “How much for the two hats, my good man?”

“Two D tickets, and it’s a bargain at twice that price.”

“Hmm, I seem to have only E tickets left in my booklet.”

“No problem. Give me two E tickets and I’ll give two B tickets in change.”

“Hold on, that’s not right. It should be two C’s and two B’s in change.”

Just then, interrupting this typical haggling over the relative value of Storybook money, Pinocchio opened the door and stuck his wooden head in. “Hey, come on outside. Chuck will be arriving any moment now.”

Ratty finished paying and followed the others outside. In the street, close to the town plaza, some of the townspeople, including Geppetto and Stromboli, had gathered. All of them looked up at the sky as if expecting something to fall from it – which something did.

“It’s Chuck!” shouted Marley as the short-winged bird landed like a bean bag sack. Fortunately, the bird had a pillow tied to his bottom. Still, it was a rather rough landing and so he sat there on the ground looking dazed.

“I thought you said dodos are a flightless bird,” said Marley to her friends but just loud enough for Chuck to hear.

“We usually are,” said Chuck as he stood up on his bird legs, “but the White Knight has invented a bird catapult which, with a couple of minor defects, appears to work just fine for air transport.”

“Chuck,” said Pinocchio, “This is Marley. You’ll be her climbing guide and her guardian dodo.”

“I am extremely pleased to make your acquaintance.” Chuck the Dodo Bird held forth his right wing which near its tip, to Marley’s wide-eyed surprise, had a human like hand. Mole nudged Marley and so she stopped being so wide-eyed, took Chuck’s hand and lightly shook it.

“We bought you a hat,” she said. Ratty handed him the second hat. Chuck took it and placed it on his head, but, all the while, he stared at Marley’s hat.

“Hmm, there’s something awfully familiar about your headpiece. Well, no matter, it will come to me. Now, we just need to wait for the air delivery of our supplies. Good-o, there it is now.”

The townspeople and everyone else looked up to see high above them and floating serenely down, by the grace of a very large parachute, a shapeless bundle. Chuck watched it, still higher than the rooftops, very slowly descend, and mused aloud, “Perhaps if the White Knight had not used so much of his precious nylon for that parachute, he might’ve had enough left over to make me one as well. Oh, well, it is of little import.” He turned to the others and said, “Right! Now, our goal is to climb the mountain, of course, but what is the exact nature of our mission?”

“To discover the reason for the eerie sounds,” said Ratty.

“So, we need someone to go up to the very top of that mountain and see what’s up there,” said Mole.

“Except we kind of know what’s up there,” said Marley, “because Mr. Collodi told us but he told us the French name for what it is and nobody here knows enough French to tell us what the name means.”

“And, pray tell, what is its name?” asked Chuck. Everybody in the crowd, including Stromboli, leaned forward to hear better.

Marley, Mole, and Ratty all together said, “Thin-air.”

Chuck, looking thoughtful by looking up at the sky as if an answer would come drifting down to him faster than the parachuted bundle of supplies, at last said, “I’m not sure what it is exactly, but I’ve often heard of people vanishing into thin-air.”

The crowd gasped. And now it was Stromboli’s turn to look thoughtful which he did by stroking his chin which actually made him look like an evil-hearted conniver rather than a thoughtful thinker.

“It must be something that makes things disappear,” said Geppetto.

“Or makes them invisible,” said Pinocchio.

“Something like that could be worth a fortune,” said a fox.

Stromboli stroked his chin even harder which again didn’t make him appear thoughtful, but rather… well, you get the picture.

“I must say,” said Chuck. “We’re off to an awfully good start. We already have two clues with which to solve the mystery which is called by its French name, thin-air. One, it can make things disappear, and two, from the top of the mountain, it moans.”

“Not moans,” said signor Collodi who’d emerged from his shop and was leaning against the door frame with his arms folded across his chest, “Yodels.”

“Like the Swiss misses do,” said Geppetto. The crowd erupted into excited murmurs with the words, “Yodels, Swiss and miss” oft repeated. This stopped as the crowd collectively noticed that the bundle of supplies had descended to within a foot of their heads. Within a few minutes the overly large parachute allowed the bundle to descend all the way down to eyelevel. And minutes later, it reached chest level. Transfixed, the crowd stared at it until Ratty and Pinocchio together lost patience.

“Enough of this nonsense!” shouted the wooden boy.

“Just cut its strings!” shouted Ratty.

“Hang on, what strings?” said Pinocchio as the crowd surged forward to tear open the bundle. “I’ve got no strings.”

But the crowd ignored him and several hands unwrapped the bundle, still suspended feet from the ground, to reveal two backpacks which fell to the ground. Chuck reached down, picked up one and handed it Marley. She put it on and made an unhappy face.

“What’s wrong,” asked Mole.

“It’s terribly heavy.”

“Oh,” said Chuck. He reached into her backpack and brought out three text books. “It appears the White Knight forgot to remove these.”

“Hey, those are my schoolbooks, or, at least, the ones we use in class. Where did he get these backpacks, anyway?”

“A bit hard to say,” replied Chuck. “He has a habit of borrowing orphan objects from classroom coat closets. At any rate: Is your burden lighter, now? Good, let us be on our way.” He turned to lead the way which, of course, was uphill. “Onward! Upward! Excelsior!”

“To the telescopes!” shouted the Blue Fairy. “We can watch them ascend the fearsome heights.”

“Umm,” said Pinocchio, “it might be awhile before they reach any heights that could be rightfully called fearsome.”

“You’re absolutely right,” said Geppetto. “Let’s go to our homes or to the inn and have refreshments. And you know, for some mysterious reason, I would like a nice cup of hot cocoa. I wonder what put that into my head?”

Except for Ratty, Mole, and Stromboli the townspeople wandered mostly downhill to their homes. Ratty and Mole followed Chuck and Marley uphill, but Stromboli went directly to signor Collodi’s shop.

“Stromboli, you old villain, aren’t you going home for hot cocoa or uphill to witness climbing history?” asked signor Collodi.

“I’m in the mood to buy a hat,” replied the rotund bearded man.

“But, of course you are. Thin-air is a supremely powerful attractant to mortal fools.”

“Harrumph, I don’t care who wants it as long as they buy it from me. Hey, Collodi, won’t I need some rope?”

“What for? Are you going to add cattle rustling to your resume of crimes?”

“Don’t you think mountain climbers got to have rope to get up the steep parts?”

“Nonsense, you only need rope to come down the mountain. Think about it this way: rope hangs down, never up.”

“Hmm, maybe you’re thinking smart. In that case, there’s no sense in me lugging rope all the way up the mountain. I’ll worry about it when I start down. Maybe I’ll find some up there, heh-heh.”

“So, no rope for you.” Signor Collodi turned around and from a high shelf brought down a very large backpack. “You will need this, however.”

“Yeah, that’s smart of you because I surely will. I plan on bringing back lots and lots of thin-air” Stromboli reached out to examine the bulky sack, but signor Collodi didn’t let go if it. Instead, he opened up the top and began putting red bricks into it.

“Hey, what for you’re putting those in there?”

“To help you get the thin-air back down the mountain. It is very light stuff and tends to float about up high. If you stash the thin-air into this rucksack, you’ll float up and away. A very sad outcome for an adventurer like you. Here, I better add some more bricks. After all, we don’t want you to get blown into the heavens, do we?”

“Say, that’s some smart thinking. Maybe, I’ll share some of my thin-air with you.” Stromboli paid for his purchases and then turned to hurry on his way. As he was leaving signor Collodi shook his head and murmured, “Such an evil distasteful man. And dumb as he is greedy, which by the grace of God above, guarantees he will certainly find a just reward.”

But Stromboli didn’t hear that good advice. Though he was in an anxious hurry, he felt the need to first return to his casino in order to pick up an ample supply of big sausages, hard cheese, and heavy bread.

 

Mole and Ratty followed Marley and Chuck the Dodo up the trail until it ended in front of a sheer rock face. And though the rock face loomed up only to twice the height of Marley or Chuck, it was smooth rock with no handholds. That rock wall ended in a short ledge that if they could only reach they would be able to stand upon. But above that ledge was another sheer rock face to conquer, and another and another.

“It looks like stairs for a giant,” said Ratty.

“Can’t we go around that giant stairway?” asked Marley.

“No, no, no,” said Chuck the Dodo. “We want to go up the mountain; not around it. But, never fear. I have just the thing.”

He took off his backpack, set it on the ground, and from within he drew out a very short stepladder (like the kind Marley’s mom used to fetch down cans from the highest shelf in the pantry). It reached half as high as he was tall. This he set against the face of the rock cliff.

“Hmm,” said Mole as he considered the ladders obvious short-coming. “That may be a little short of a solution.”

“Leave us not be ridiculous,” said Chuck. “It is only a fraction of the solution. Look at this.”

Chuck held up for them to see a rope ladder that at one end was attached to a leather halter and iron bit like the kind used with horse reins. He put the bit into his mouth and then instructed Marley to arrange the ladder part over his head and down his back. With the bit in his mouth his speech became a little hard to understand and communication didn’t improve much with his short wings waving about and pointing. But that didn’t matter. After he’d climbed the few rungs of the stepladder and craned his head upward, he hooked the end of his long beak on the ledge above. He grunted a few words that none of them could understand, Marley figured out that she was to climb the rope ladder, up his back, over his head and then step onto the ledge above. This she did easily.

“Well done, Marley!” shouted Mole while Ratty clapped his paws. They wondered how Chuck the Dodo would achieve the next step in the process which was, obviously: Pulling himself up to the ledge. They watched as the rotund bird hooked one foot through the top step of the stepladder and lifted it a tiny bit. At the same time, he began to make his beak and head more level with the ledge and that raised his body up a bit. Marley then reached down one arm and hand and seized Dodo’s outstretched hand at the end of his arm which was remarkably long for a short winged flightless bird. With all her might she pulled on his arm until he could place his other hand on the ledge lip and then, still with her help, he pulled himself and the stepladder up.

With the two novice rock climbers standing proudly atop of the first step, Ratty and Mole cheered and clapped. Dodo and Marley then turned to face the next rock face. Ratty and Mole watched them conquer that second wall. By the time the climbers had reached the third, Mole’s attention wandered a bit and then so did his body. A few yards away he came upon a cave set into the rock wall. He peered into the darkness. Ratty approached while asking, “What ho, you’ve found something?”

“It’s a cave and I think it leads into the heart of the mountain.”

“Odd sort of cave. The floor of it is perfectly smooth rock and look! Along one wall are small steps.”

“Very odd,” said Mole as he poked around the cave’s entrance. “My, my. This is interesting! It’s an old wooden sign.”

Ratty continued to stare into the darkness of the cave as Mole read aloud the engraved legend, “It says, ‘Matterhorn Fun Company. The world’s best Bottom-slide Chute. It’s fast. It’s fun. Adum-dee-dum’.”

“Read the whole thing, please,” requested Ratty.

“I did. That’s what it says.” Mole paused to consider what it meant. “I think, whoever wrote this couldn’t think of rhyme for ‘It’s fast. It’s fun’.”

“How about, ‘No light, no sun’? Well, no, that wouldn’t sell many tickets. Who – in their right mind, of course – would want to ride something without being able to see anything? Not to mention the claustrophobic effect of being deep inside a mountain. Why, you’d have to be an underground sort of beastie to tolerate careening about a cave in total darkness.” Ratty had said this with his eyes locked on the complete blackness of the cave’s depths. He turned around to see Mole staring at him. A light bulb went on in his head and he said, “Ah, but of course. How dull of me. You stay here. I’ll go fetch Badger and a couple of flashlights.”

 

After ascending the tenth rock wall Marley and Chuck decided to rest a spell on the tenth ledge. They sat on the edge of the ledge with their legs dangling over. Looking down they felt like they’d come a long way. Looking up they realized they hadn’t. Chuck began searching in his backpack.

“I brought along some treats for us to enjoy. Ah, here they are.” He held up what looked like a short chain of donuts; each link of the chain a different kind of round donut.

“Those kind of look like donuts,” said Marley.

“In a way, they are.” He broke off half of the end link and handed it to her. “But we call them by their real name: dodonuts.”

Marley took a cautious first bite and recognized it as a tasty donut by a different name. Chuck teased out the remaining portion of the end link and tossed it directly into his mouth. “Um, that’s tasty. Of course, it would be even tastier if we had mugs of some kind of hot beverage to dunk them into. Something like…”

Chuck the Dodo Bird looked up from the chain of dodonuts. Even though he was a bird with a beak instead of a nose, he looked as if he were smelling something, something wafting toward them on the light breeze.

“Hang on,” he said. “That smells distinctly like…”

“Hot cocoa!” shouted Marley who scampered to her feet and faced the slight wind. “And it’s coming from that direction!” She hurried along the ledge which led around a corner and to her surprise, a meadow, an alpine meadow lying in the lee of an immense cliff of ice and rock. But the bigger surprise was the sight of three young women, dressed in colorfully embroidered skirts, blouses and jackets. Two of them had their backs to Marley. The third, standing in front of a small wooden box set into the wall, had just begun to sing out, “Yo-da…” but stopped mid yodel when she saw Marley and then Chuck approach.

“Terribly sorry,” said Chuck. “We didn’t mean to interrupt your yodeling session.”

“Yodeling?” repeated Marley. “Then it’s you who’s been yodeling. But you’re not at the top of the mountain. And you’re just singing into that box.”

Marley boldly approached the young woman. She wanted to see what was inside the box. The young woman quickly closed its door.

“What’s inside the box? A telephone?” Marley asked.

“No, you nosy girl,” said the young woman. “It’s a yodeling tube.”

“Is it a secret yodeling tube?” asked Marley who felt that the young woman was being secretive about something.

“No, it’s a public yodeling tube. Any yodeler can use it.”

“Can I see?” asked Marley.

“Can you yodel?”

“No, but I just want to look.”

The young woman sighed, stood aside, and let Marley open the little door. For a moment she just stared at what was inside.

“It’s just a tube opening. Where does it go?”

“To the very top of the mountain, of course.”

“Ah hah!” shouted Marley. “That solves the mystery.”

“Well done, Marley!” said Chuck.

“But why?” asked Marley.

The other two young women came over to them. Together they stood in a line. They looked at each other with questioning expressions. Then the first young woman turned to Marley and Chuck and said, “If you must know, we are yodeling to drive away the abdominal snowmen.”

Marley nodded her head as if she fully understood, which she didn’t. Chuck, however, had been searching with his eyes for the source of the hot cocoa smell and had focused on an iron stove upon which was a pitcher of steaming something. Next to the stove stood a table with a row of plain-ice snow cones on it.

“Why do you want to drive away the snowmen?” asked Marley.

“Are you planning to go into the snow cone business?” asked the young woman by way of replying.

Marley shook her head and so the young woman continued. “Good. Then we can tell you our secret. Yodeling scares the abdominal snowmen. They can’t stand it. This is good because we don’t want them on our mountain. They’re eating all the snow and ice.”

“All of it?”

“Okay, too much of it. Now, is the secret part of it. We need that snow and ice because we’re going into the snow cone business.”

One of the other two women spoke up. “And we’re going to be very, very rich.”

The third one added, “Because we are making a special flavor of snow cone that no one has ever made before.”

In unison the three proudly said, “Hot cocoa snow cones.”

Upon hearing this Marley looked puzzled. She walked over the table, looked at the snow cones, and then turned to the young women. “Have you made one yet?”

“No, we were just about to when you and the dodo appeared.” The first young woman said this as she and the others came over to the stove and table. After taking a mug out of his backpack, Chuck followed them.

“Let me show you something,” said Marley who went to the stove and picked up the pitcher from which the delicious smell of hot cocoa wafted into the mountain air. She took the pitcher over to the table. The three young women went wide eyed in shock as she poured hot cocoa on the snow cones – each of which immediately melted into a pool of brown liquid.

“See,” said Marley. “It can’t be done. You can’t use hot cocoa to make snow cones.”

“We know that, you silly girl,” said one of the other women. “We’re not stupid-heads. We wanted to drink that hot cocoa so as to wet our whistles after yodeling.”

Chuck took the pitcher from Marley’s hands and poured out what was left into his mug. Marley said in a small voice, “Oh.”

“We don’t mean we’re going to make hot-like-fire cocoa snow cones,” said one of the young women. “We going to make hot-like-jalapeno cocoa snow cones. Spicy hot, not burning hot cocoa snow cones.”

Again, in a small voice Marley said, “Oh.” The three young women didn’t seem all that bothered by the destruction of their snow cones. From a large wooden bin, they took out some snow cone cups and scrapers and went over to the snow and ice cliff to shave ice into the cups. These they brought over to the table and set into the rack. One of them returned to the bin and fetched a bowl of jalapenos and a jar of flavoring.

Marley watched closely as the flavoring was poured onto the ice of the snow cone. Chuck smiled as best as a bird can with such a large beak and no real mouth. He dunked a dodonut into his mug and watched as the young woman proudly held up the finished snow cone.

Again, Marley had a nagging doubt about this snow cone business. She was downright dubious and dubiousness forced her to ask, “Have you ever tried tasting one of those?”

“No,” said the young woman as she held out the snow cone, “but as a way of making friendship anew, you shall be the very first to taste our amazing recipe.”

Marley took the snow cone and held it close to her mouth and nose. She sniffed it. She stuck out her tongue and touched it. Then she took a big bite. Her eyes went wide. “Ugg, this is horrible! Nobody is going to buy these.”

The young woman who had handed the snow cone to Marley put her hands on her hips. She looked furious. The other women began to cry, and they hugged each other. The first young woman angrily told Marley, “Look at what you’ve done, you rude girl. You’ve made my sisters cry. You’ve destroyed their dreams. You must apologize, you dream destroyer!”

Even though Marley didn’t like people to look crossly at her, she mostly felt puzzled. “But I’m only telling the truth, and that’s the right thing to do, isn’t it Mr. Dodo?”

But Chuck couldn’t answer her straight away for you see, dodo birds feel simply awful when they see someone cry. And seeing two people cry made Chuck begin to sniffle. In between sobs he said, “To destroy someone’s dreams is an awful, awful deed. Maybe, Marley dear girl, you should apologize.”

Marley crossed her arms, but then seeing her friend softly crying made her feel bad and made her want to make Chuck feel better, so she looked the cross young woman straight in the eyes and said, “I’m sorry. That was rude of me.”

The two sobbing young women let go of each other and using their aprons dried their eyes. The angry young woman uncrossed her arms and said, “Okay, that’s better. Come here, and I’ll give you a big hug.”

Marley stepped close to her and let the woman put her arms around her. With the sides of their faces pressed together (remember: in Storybook Land everyone is the same height), Marley hugged her back. The formerly sobbing sisters came over and surrounded the huggers with their hugging arms. After reaching into his backpack and pulling out the chain of dodonuts, Chuck approached this happy mass of huggers.

“Marley, I want you to reward these inventive young ladies with links of the dodonut chain.”

The three sisters stood in a line while Marley broke off bits of the chain and handed each of the young women a piece. Each woman bowed her head as she received her reward in her cupped hands.

“Now,” said Chuck to Marley, “it is your turn to receive a reward. Break off a piece and hand it to me.”

She duly broke off a piece and gave it to Chuck who after a dignified pause placed it in her cupped hands while saying, “Marley, receive this reward as recognition of your grace and expertise in apologizing.”

After she finished chewing her piece of dodonut (and silently wishing that Chuck hadn’t drunk the last of the hot cocoa) she asked the young women, “Where did you get those jalapenos, anyway?”

Her question seemed to bring a dark cloud of bad memories to the girls. The first sister answered, “We bought them and the recipe from a very bad man called Stromboli. He lied to us. He also sold us that piece of junk.”

She pointed at a stainless-steel piece of kitchen hardware. Marley walked over to inspect it.

“What is it?”

“It’s a deep fryer. He swore to us that we could make deep fried snow cones.”

“Oh, my. I don’t suppose it worked out so well.”

“No!” said all three of the sisters and one of them added, “He’s a very, very, bad man and we’re going to fix his wagon the next time we see him.”

“Yah,” added a sister, “We fix his wagon good.”

The third sister added sorrowfully, “Now, we’re never going to be rich. Who, in all the land, is going to buy unflavored snow cones.”

“Well,” said Marley, “I never can make up my mind which flavor I want on my snow cone. I wish someone would sell all the flavors in one snow cone. It would look like a rainbow.”

The three sisters exchanged looks and their faces brightened like the sun coming out behind rainclouds and producing rainbows, which oddly enough was what was actually happening just behind them.

“Thank you, Marley!” said the three sisters. One of them said, “That’s an excellent idea. We’ll go capture some of that rainbow to make our wonderful flavor.”

“And we,” said Chuck as he pulled on his backpack, “still need to fetch down some of that thin-air from the mountain top. Onward, Marley, to the giant stairs and ever upward!”

“No,” said one of the sisters, “don’t climb the giant stairs. It’s much easier to take the icy zig-zag path.”

She pointed to an opening in the ice wall that Chuck and Marley, after approaching it, saw to their delight led to a gradually ascending path complete with ice handrails. They waved goodbye and resumed their trek to the mountaintop. As they walked along Marley asked, “Do you think they’ll have much luck capturing rainbows?”

“Maybe, or maybe not; but it’s a goodness to have positive dreams to chase, and rainbows make for such beautiful dreams.”

 

After the two hardy mountain climbers left the alpine meadow, the three sisters prepared to go capture some rainbows. As they were discussing what container would best hold pieces of a rainbow, they heard a man’s deep voice shout out, “Hello!”

They turned to see who was coming up the back route of the mountain – it was the easier way up, far easier than climbing up the giant stairs, but, oh well, it had been a good bonding experience for Marley and Chuck.

“Stromboli!” they cried out.

“Hello, girls,” he said cheerfully. “How’s it going? Have you made your fortune yet? I bet those jalapeno chocolate snow cones are selling like hotcakes.”

“No,” said one of the sisters. “We have not made our fortune yet selling hot cocoa snow cones.”

“No? Well, then, how about the deep-fried snow cones?”

“No,” said one of the other sisters. “It doesn’t work. The boiling grease just makes our snow-cones disappear.”

“Oh, really? It works fine and dandy with ice cream.”

“We haven’t got any cream because we traded our only cow to you for that stupid deep fryer,” said the third sister. All three of the sisters with their arms folded across their blouses glared at the rotund man. This didn’t bother him in the least for Stromboli was the sort of person who believed that whatever was good for Stromboli should be at least tolerable for everyone else. In a word, he was selfish – and self-centered, but that’s an extra word, maybe two.

“That’s a shame. But I tell you what. I’m headed up the mountain to bag some of that thin-air stuff. I hear it’s worth a fortune. When I return with this rucksack full to the brim, I’ll hire you girls to help me sell it. How’s that for a great deal? Stromboli knows how to take care of his customers, eh?”

The first sister walked around Stromboli eyeing his backpack and then said, “Your rucksack looks kind of weighed down already. What’ve you got in there?”

“Some food supplies and bricks. Collodi gave me some bricks so when I fill my rucksack full of thin-air it won’t float me away into the clouds.”

“That’s very clever,” said the first sister, “because it’s not like you’d find any rocks up there even though this whole mountain is made of rock.”

Stromboli, though drenched with sweat – the easy back route is still a tough climb – had been smiling all this time, but now his smile faded and a scowl darkened his face. He struggled to shed his backpack, but the first sister said, “Here, let us help you.” She reached in and pulled out a brick which she set in front of Stromboli. While she did this, one of her other sisters placed a rock inside the backpack. The first sister pulled out another brick which was replaced with a rock. This process went on until a small stack of bricks had been piled in front of him. The sight of those bricks made him really angry and at the same time, glad to be rid of the extra weight. To him, his backpack felt tons lighter.

The sisters pointed out the entrance to the icy zig-zag path. He grunted, “Thanks girls, I won’t forget your help.” Then he muttered, “And I won’t forget Collodi either.”

The three young women watched him stomping up the path until he disappeared around a corner. The first sister nodded to her sisters and said, “That’s a small installment of our payback. Now, for the payment in full.”

She walked over to the public yodeling tube box, opened its’ door, but before using it, smiled pleasantly at her sisters who also smiled. Now, often when people attempt revenge – which people shouldn’t do, but we all sometimes surrender to temptation – they smirk instead of smile. In their defense, the young women only smiled because deep down inside, they were good and decent young women and they only wanted a little bit of payback although Stromboli actually deserved a whole lot.

The first young woman shouted into the tube, “Attention abdominal snowmen! Evil Stromboli is coming to capture some of you. He wants to sell you to a circus!”

This, the sisters knew, was the most damaging thing they could reveal about Stromboli (and it wasn’t a lie because he’d been overheard bragging that someday he would capture one of the abdominal snowmen and sell him to a circus). It’s not that abdominal snowmen hated the thought of being locked in cages and forced to earn their snow cones by doing tricks for a cheering audience – actually, that sort of appealed to the lazy and vain beasties. They feared circuses because of the clowns. Just the mere mention of clowns gave them the creeps, and even a mere picture of a clown’s white and red painted face sent shivers of fear right down their furry spines.

The young woman’s shout had come out of the top end of the speaking tube at full volume, almost as if somehow the yodeling tube had volume control with no top limit. The shouted words echoed off nearby cliffs and rock faces. The abdominal snowmen who’d been hiding from the yodeling in ice caves and rocky nooks popped up their heads. They began to gather in groups just below the lowest zig of the zig-zag path. They were enraged and ready to do something awful to Stromboli, something like pelting him with icy snowballs or forcing him to lie down in the snow and make a thousand snow angels. They just had to stick together and find him. That wasn’t hard because Stromboli’s red and black clothes and his bright yellow backpack clearly stood out against the whiteness of the snow and ice. Searching the mountain with their eyes the abdominal snowmen soon spotted him and quickly began climbing straight up the rocky faces like so many mountain goats.

Stromboli, though focused on thoughts of revenge against Collodi, had heard the Swiss miss’s announcement from on high.  He softly said, “Uh-oh”, and then he noticed an army of abdominal snowmen climbing up the mountain. “Doppio uh-oh,” he said, “Those fellows don’t look so friendly.”

He quickened his pace, especially after seeing some abdominal snowmen already reaching the lower zig-zags of the icy zig-zag trail. His only escape lay in continuing upward so he broke into a run – which for him was more of a quick waddle. Not too far up the icy trail walked Marley and Chuck. They’d heard the shouted warning and now they saw the man, who they now knew to be quite a mean guy, seemingly chasing after them. So, fearing the worse, they too began running up the zig-zag path.

After they’d run up several of the zig-zags, they stopped to catch their breath, which wasn’t easy seeing as the air up there was rather thin. While gasping for air, thin or maybe even reasonably thick, they noticed Stromboli had stopped his quick waddle and was attempting to dislodge some boulders.

“I think he wants to block the trail,” said Chuck.

“I think those furry creatures are after him for some reason,” said Marley.

“In any case, while he’s busy doing that, we’ll seize the opportunity to proceed on our way.”

“If he blocks the icy zig-zag trail with those boulders how will we get back down the mountain?”

It was a good question, relevant and quite to the point. Unfortunately, Chuck didn’t have the foggiest notion of a good answer, and so, it remained a nagging worry that followed them all the way to the top.

Badger and Mole were at this point of the story deep inside of the mountain singing their hearts out while riding in elevator buckets, primitive to be sure, but much better than climbing fifty-five thousand stairs. You see, after Ratty had returned with Badger, two flashlights, and a sack full of supplies, the two underground creatures boldly walked into the tunnel’s entrance expecting a very tiring climb. Standing at the entrance, Ratty wished them the best of luck.

“I’d go with you,” he told them, “but I’m strictly a riverbank critter.”

Badger turned to him and was about to say something but changed his mind and turned away shaking his head. He and Mole hadn’t gone very far into the tunnel when they discovered that the tunnel led into a building size cave filled with wonderous features and devices. At one end of the cave a rushing underground river turned the paddles of a water wheel. Attached to the water wheel’s hub was a heavy rope pully and that was attached to another hub around which ran a stout rope pully that disappeared up a narrow shaft. The vertical pully had large buckets secured to it, each large enough for a Storybook folk to stand in.

“So that’s how they took their customers to the top,” remarked Badger admiringly.

“For a mountain that came from Tomorrowland it’s not very futuristic,” said the Mole. “But over there, there’s where the chute comes out of its tunnel.”

“Hmm, I wonder what they rode down the chute?” asked Badger.

“Well, it’s called a Bottom-slide Chute, so I guess the riders rode down on their bottoms.”

“Their sore bottoms, I’ll wager,” said Badger. “Well, come on. Let’s see if we can get that bucket elevator to work for us.”

A moment of inspecting the machinery of the bucket elevator revealed a large lever marked with arrows, one direction labeled ‘start’ and the other arrow labeled ‘stop’. Badger put both his paws on the lever and pulled with all his might. Mole came over and added his strength and weight and together they moved the rusty lever over. The water wheel pully engaged the elevator pully’s hub and the endless line of buckets began moving. Badger and Mole hurried over to the buckets going up and each hopped into a bucket. Their buckets and the pully rope they were secured to, ascended straight up the vertical lightless shaft. There was nothing to see in the shaft so they turned off their flashlights.

“It’s going to be a long and dark ride,” shouted Mole to Badger who was in the bucket below him. “Maybe we should tell stories and jokes to pass the time.”

“Aye, that’s a bonny idea, and I do happen to know a good joke.” Badger paused so that Mole would know the next words would indicate the joke had begun. “Have you heard of the learned Scot who wrote for money?”

“No,” replied Mole.

“I received his letter yesterday.”

Mole thought about this for a moment and then asked, “What did it say?”

“Heavens to Loch Nessie, Mole. Have you no sense of humor?”

“Sorry, perhaps we should sing songs instead. I know one. It’s a hiking song.”

“Mole, my good fellow, we’re riding buckets in a vertical shaft.”

“Sorry, I don’t know any cave songs. Here, I’ll sing the refrain and then you can join in.” Mole paused to take a deep breath and then sang out, “Val-la-ree, Val-la-rah, Val-la-ha-ha-ha-ha…”

“I thought we weren’t going to tell jokes. And you shouldn’t be laughing at your own.”

“I’m not, that’s how the song goes. Never mind, I just remembered an underground song. It’s called, Working in a Coal Mine, Going down, down.”

Badger found the song to his liking so he joined in. They passed the time happily singing that song until Mole looked up and could see light way above him. As each of them rose to the end of the bucket ride, each one hopped out onto the floor of a cave of moderate size and shaped like the inside of a pyramid. Across from the bucket elevator was the entrance to the Bottom-slide chute. Along one wall leaned several two-critter sleds. Above the sleds a sign read, “Bottom-sliders”. Light came into the cave from two sources: One, from a small (compared to the Storybook folk) opening in the wall at floor level; and the second from the very peak of the cave. Mole got down on all fours and crawled a little way into the floor level opening.

“It’s a bit of a squeeze,” he said. “And I don’t know where it leads to. All I can see at the end of it is a short ledge and then blue sky.”

“Do you see any thin-air?” asked Badger.

“Not sure,” said Mole. He backed out, stood, and looked up at the second source of light. A rusty iron ladder in the center of the cave led straight up to it. Badger also looked up at the second source of light. He remained statue still as if waiting for something or someone. Mole went over to the ladder.

“I’ll climb up there to have a looksee, shall I?”

It wasn’t a very tall ladder, maybe about twenty rungs or so. When Mole had climbed to nearly the last rung, he discovered that just above his head was what looked to be a cone of clear ice, but was, in fact, a cone of clear plastic. On one side it was hinged. Mole pushed the unhinged side up and then stuck his head out the opening.

“Badger! This amazing! This is the very peak of the mountain.”

“Do you see any thin-air?”

“No, There’s nothing up here but a wonderful view and plain air.”

“Plain air?”

“Yes, Badger. Just pure, clean, and refreshing plain air.”

Badger thought about this for several moments and then called up to Mole, “Would you be of the opinion as to describe it as thin?”

“A bit hard to say, air being invisible and all.”

Again, Badger settled into deep thought for several moments and then said, “I’m beginning to be of the mind that thin air refers to the quality of just plain air and not to a valuable substance.”

“Perhaps, you’re right. Anyway, I’ll come down and we can try to squeeze through that tight opening. We need to find Marley and Chuck.”

“Quite right,” said Badger. He walked over to the floor level opening and was about to get down on all fours to crawl through the narrow tunnel when suddenly Marley popped out.

“Marley!” cried Mole. “Oh, what a blessing to see you again. Are you okay?”

“We’re running away from Stromboli. We saw this little cave opening and thought we could hide in here.”

“A little help, please.” Chuck’s voice came echoing through the little tunnel. Marley crawled back into the tunnel but the only part of Chuck she could grab onto was his beak.

“Sorry,” said Marley.

“Quite alright,” said Chuck. “Pull away.”

With both hands she firmly gripped the dodo’s beak. Badger and Mole each took hold of one of Marley’s feet and pulled. Slowly, first Marley emerged and then Chuck’s beak and head and then his whole body.

“I don’t want to be rude, Mr. Dodo,” said Marley, “but if you can squeeze through there, so can Stromboli.”

“Don’t be a-feared of him, dear girl,” said Badger. “The four of us can handle that villain easily enough.”

Marley looked around the cave. It wasn’t at all what she’d expected. While she looked around (and even climbed the ladder to the peak of the mountain) she told Badger and Mole about the three sisters and the yodeling tube. Mole explained to her how Badger and he had ridden up the bucket elevator and how they’d discovered that what they’d been thinking about thin-air was all wrong: thin-air had no more value than hot air, cold air, or just plain old air.

“But that’s okay, you solved the mystery of the yodeling, and now we can have a bonny ride down the Bottom-slider chute,” added Badger.

“And we can do it for free,” said Mole. “Because the sign below said have your E-ticket ready but there was no one in the ticket taker booth.”

 

It turned out that Marley’s worry about Stromboli wiggling through the narrow tunnel was, frankly, simply wrong. Shortly after our heroes began their thrilling slide, Stromboli, in an attempt to escape the abdominal snowmen, dove headfirst into the tunnel’s outside opening. Unfortunately for him, he hadn’t first removed his backpack and so, became firmly wedged in the tunnel. The abdominal snowmen came up the last zig of the icy zig-zag trail to see his legs and rear-end sticking out of the tunnel. One of the snowmen calmly waked over to the tunnel’s entrance, leaned against the rock, and with folded arms, casually asked, “I say there, Stromboli. Are you feeling a bit stuck?”

“Yes, just a bit,” Stromboli grunted. “But if you give me just a little help, maybe a push, maybe a pull, I’m sure we can make a good deal. Stromboli can be very good to those who help him out of a tight spot.”

“Oh, I am quite positive we will reach a mutually satisfying agreement. But probably only after we have a session of rigorous negotiation.” The snowmen turned to his brethren who, during this rather civil discourse, had been shaping icy hard snowballs in their large paws. “Boys, are you ready to negotiate?”

A hailstorm of thrown snowballs answered the question. Stromboli’s howls might’ve been heard by our heroes as they sped down the chute, but they were having too much fun and doing a bit of howling themselves.

The negotiations went on for some time and ultimately resulted in a deal extremely satisfying to the snowmen, and probably – given Stromboli’s rather feeble negotiating position – the best he could hope for. He was to turn over his casino to them – they planned on opening an ice cream shop in its stead – and Stromboli, who probably needed a vacation at this point, was to take up caravanning, in another land.

 

After the thrilling ride through the twisting route that raced from the mountain peak all the way to the chute’s bottom entrance, our sled riding heroes began the short walk to town. Needless to say, and in spite discovering thin-air to be totally over-hyped, they were all giddy with happiness. In the trees, birds tweeted their cheerful song, high in the sky eagles circled around, and then, also overhead, several flying abdominal snowmen came zipping down a wire line.

“Those snowmen are flying!” shouted Marley.

Mole, Chuck, and Badger glanced upward. None of them seemed impressed. Badger explained, “They’re not really flying. They’re ziplining. It’s the fastest way to get down a mountain.”

“At any rate, the three sisters won’t have to chase them any more with their yodels. And that will make everybody in Storybook Land happy, won’t it?”

“It certainly will,” said Mole. “I, myself, am bursting with joy.”

“Me too,” said Marley. “We should sing a song.”

“That’s a wonderful idea,” said Mole. “And I know a good one.”

“Not that silly hiking song,” said Badger.

“Do you mean,” asked Chuck, “that delightful melody that goes something like this, ‘Val-la-ree, val-la-rah, val-la-ha-ha-ha-ha, a-hiking we will go’? I love that song.”

So, all the way to town they joyfully sang their hearts out, though Badger tended to throw in a few too many ‘ha-ha’s’ into the refrain.

In town they were met by a curious crowd – that is, the townspeople weren’t curious in appearance or behavior, they were just curious about what was found on the mountaintop. Several shouted out questions.

“Did you find the thin-air up there?”

“Is there enough for everyone?”

“Do you need to take a bigger sack next time?”

Marley held up her hands for the crowd to quiet down and listen to her. After the crowd had hushed, she announced, “There is no thin-air up there, just plain air. Lots of it. Nothing but the very best plain air.”

“Plain-air! Hurray!” they all shouted. Someone exclaimed, “That sounds even more valuable. And plain-air sounds even more like French.” The crowd immediately broke into excited chatter. Some rushed over to the town library hoping to find a French language dictionary. Collodi watched this from the doorway to his shop, shook his head and judging by the size of his wry smile, he was slightly amused.

Our heroes continued on their way down the town’s main street. On the way to the dock, they passed the place that was formerly Stromboli’s casino. Abdominal snowmen were in the process of putting up a new sign which read, “Abdominal Ice Cream” and “It’s good stuff so quit your bellyaching.”

“This has been a very satisfying expedition,” said Chuck. “Marley, are you entirely satisfied with how things turned out?”

“Yep, I sure am. But, you know, I kind of feel bad about the three sisters.”

“Hold on,” said Mole. “Look over there.”

Standing by a colorful wooden handcart, the three sisters were serving up scoops of rainbow colored ice to a long line of customers each holding an E-ticket in their hands. Our four heroes became the end of the line and when it was Marley’s turn, the three sisters smiled kindly at her.

“You gave us a very good idea,” said the first sister.

“Yah, we will soon be rich,” said one of the other sisters who then handed Marley a multi-colored snow cone.

First, admiring the snow cone with its rainbow of colors, Marley then cautiously tasted it. Immediately, her face beamed out her delight. “This tastes wonderful!”

At the dock, Badger and Mole prepared to row across the canal. Marley knew it was time to go home.

“You’ve had a wonderful adventure,” said Chuck the Dodo Bird, “you’ve tasted snow cones good and bad, climbed a mountain, and had a long slide in a dark ride, and best of all, you have something to take home with you.”

“My hat?”

“Afraid not, you’ll have to leave that here in Storybook Land.” Chuck reached over and gently removed the Tyrolean hat from Marley’s head. He stared at the feather. “There’s something awfully familiar about this feather. Oh, well, it’ll come to me. No, Marley, it’s not the hat. It’s something you’ve learned.”

Marley thought hard about this. Then her face relaxed. “Oh! You mean my newly learned expertise in graceful apology.”

“Exactly. Now, be on your way. And remember, I’ll always be there when you need me.”

Maybe for some, the thought of a flightless, large beaked, and extinct dodo bird as their guardian angel isn’t very comforting, but for Marley it was a wonderful knowledge.

 

THE END