Readers, here’s all you need to know: 14-year-old refugees Abigail & Baggy sneak away from summer fest to explore a cave, hoping to find the powerful Heartstone of Arden-Goth. Abigail has had a bad day; her new school’s newspaper faculty adviser rejected her application to be an apprentice. The reason? He doesn’t think she can do the work because she is losing her sight. Curly Connor, aka the Fluffer-Noodle, is her guide dog.
The Cave at Missing Creek
Abigail and Baggy held hands as they walked around Village Square after school, the Fluffer-Noodle prancing beside them. Musicians were already performing from the gazebo, and merchants were setting up tables in front of their stores.
They waited in line at the crowded cheese shop and ate their sandwiches at an umbrella table outside. When Abigail fed Curly Connor, he pushed his bowl around the grass so enthusiastically, that several people laughed and cooed at him. Jack waved as he headed to Taker’s Café, carrying two guitars and talking excitedly with three other men lugging instruments and amps.
At sundown, they slipped away from the crowded square. Gabriele and Tommy were just arriving.
“Leaving so soon?” asked Tommy with a big smile.
“Gotta drop Curly Connor off at Transition House,” Baggy explained, “We’ll see you later.”
On the way down Darlington Avenue, Abigail was sullen and not speaking. Baggy knew that something was wrong. She had looked miserable during lunch and Survival 101, and had barely said a word all evening. His attempts to find out what was going on had been unsuccessful, but he thought once they were truly alone, he’d try again.
“What’s up?” he asked as they descended the path behind the stationery store.
“Are you having second thoughts?” he persisted, “The bats will be gone by the time we get there.”
“No, it’s not that.” She didn’t know how to explain about the newspaper staff meeting, but felt she had to say something, “Howard was absent and we had a substitute who gave us the weekly quiz. She wouldn’t let Beth read it to me without a signed affidavit from the headmaster.”
“Oh,” he said unconvinced.
“And, Mr. Howard forgot to tell me about the meeting of the newspaper staff.”
“Nice,” he said sarcastically.
Once inside Phesty’s tool shed, Baggy retrieved their bag of spelunking supplies. Brushing away the cobwebs, he extracted the rubber boots, and they pulled them on. Despite the uncomfortably warm and humid evening, they slipped into hooded sweatshirts and windbreakers.
“No point in zipping up yet,” he said, “Do you have your gloves?”
“In my pockets.”
He reviewed his mental checklist: high rubber boots, warm clothes, compass and flashlight. He had extra batteries, and they both had water and trail mix in their packs.
Leaving the shed, they walked toward the creek, and Baggy looked downstream. The odd fluctuation in the current, where the tiny stream flowed out from under the tangled thicket, rippled under streaks of light from the setting sun. Perhaps it was just the interplay of the long shadows with the rushing current, but it was unsettling to not have the Fluffer-Noodle with them.
As they approached the end of the gravel path, Baggy was growing ever more conscious of the other things they didn’t have. Most importantly, no one knew where they were. They had told everyone that they were attending Summer Fest.
Abigail had asked Mrs. Shafer to watch the Fluffer-Noodle, saying that the music, especially inside Takers’ Cafe, would be too loud for him. They knew she would take good care of him, but the reproachful looks he had given them when they dropped him off at Transition House were boring into Baggy’s brain like a bad omen.
When they reached the stream, Abigail thought it sounded faster than she remembered. She tightened her grip on Baggy’s hand as they stepped into the creek. Sloshing through the cool water, they felt the rubber boots wrap around their legs.
The entrance to the cave was just as Baggy remembered. They ducked and pushed their way through the thicket, which was a piece of cake compared to the raspberry bramble in the Verdandi Valley.
Nonetheless, they were glad when they were able to stand up. Abigail was surprised at how cool the cave was. The water in the underground stream felt much colder through the rubber boots than Missing Creek had. They zipped up and put on their gloves.
“I can never remember which one’s which,” Abigail mused, “Stalagmites and what’s the other one?”
“Stalactites … Instead of g-m, it’s c-t. I remember GM, like General Motors; stalagmites and cars are on the ground. C-t is like come from the top; stalactites come from the cave top.”
“Right,” she said sarcastically, but she ran through it in her mind.
Baggy’s flashlight illuminated the wide boardwalk along the right bank of the stream, and they climbed up. Beyond the rail, the cave floor dropped off sharply into darkness.
Broken remnants of cave formations had been placed at irregular intervals along the boardwalk — sometimes under glass domes. Some had explanatory plaques. Occasionally, the boardwalk extended further from the stream, overlooking flowstone deposits.
“It’s so smooth,” Abby said when Baggy showed her what felt like a fried egg made of stone.
The boardwalk eventually crossed the stream and doubled back. It stopped about a hundred yards from the entrance.
“So, that’s it?”
“Well, it’s certainly the end of what was developed. Let’s go back around and have another look.”
This time, he aimed his light not on the exhibits but beyond the board walk. A stark landscape of rock rolled in jagged waves down to a solid stone wall. In the erratic light, parts of the ceiling resembled wriggling snakes.
As his light moved across the distant wall, Baggy thought he saw something. He stopped and twitched the flashlight, trying to recreate the experience. Uncertain, he stepped back. As the light hit the wall on an angle, he saw it.
“It’s not solid … I think there’s something beyond this whole area.”
Looking around, he noticed that the cave floor wasn’t as steep where the boardwalk crossed the stream. He relayed this to Abigail in a whisper.
“Wanna take a look?”
He ducked under the rail, lowered himself to the floor and helped her down. They picked their way down the rocky embankment, trying to keep the break in the wall in sight.
When they arrived, they found two overlapping walls with just enough room to squeeze through. Once on the other side, the cave floor was a gentle slope leading down to-
Baggy flinched and stopped abruptly, dropping Abigail’s hand and blocking her with his arm.
For a split second he thought they were at the edge of a great abyss, with monstrous stalagmites rising from a floor at least fifty feet below them. Backing up, he scanned the area with his flashlight and realized with relief that the stalagmites weren’t stalagmites at all, but stalactites from the ceiling high above them, reflected in the still water.
“Nothing … I thought it was an open pit,” he said, relating the illusion and scanning the craggy shoreline to their right, “But, it’s a huge lake. I don’t think we can get very far on foot, though, there’s a cliff right at the shoreline about a hundred yards away.”
“There’s got to be a way across,” Abigail insisted, “That’s probably how you get to the Heartstone.”
“Awesome!” Baggy said after investigating the shoreline to their left, “There’s a dock! With … one, two, three boats.”
All of the boats had oars, life jackets and battery-powered headlights. Handing the flashlight to Abigail, he tested the headlights and was excited to find the last one working.
After putting on the life jackets and stowing their packs in the stern, they climbed in, and Baggy checked his compass. As they glided over the calm waters, the headlight shone eerily across the glassy black lake.
Baggy had been rowing less than fifteen minutes when he caught a glimpse of pulsing light. Looking behind them, he saw bright blue circles rising from a few feet below the surface of the underground lake. They started as a single point, which expanded into a ring that widened as it rose and then dissipated. Other blue lights pulsed through the water. Whatever it was, it was heading straight for them.
“Bioluminescence,” he breathed.
“Some fish make their own lights. This looks big, and it seems to be following us.”
“Great,” she muttered, “We’re going to be eaten by a blinking shark.”
He rowed faster, but the mysterious creature caught them. It was tracking their boat, staying just beyond the reach of the oars. After several long minutes, it finally fell back and they were once again alone.
Keeping the edge of the black lake in sight, Baggy occasionally maneuvered the boat to gaze at the formations along the shore. Columns were clustered around open areas. Some of the walls looked like waterfalls from ceiling to floor. In other places, the headlight sparkled on grottoes divided by translucent curtains. One grotto was encrusted with crystals. It reminded him of the table in the domed courtyard of the Castle of Bar Gundoom.
“Maybe that’s where the Heartstone is!” said Abigail.
“Nah, they’d know that anyone would look there if they got this far.”
They went through a narrow opening into a cove that reminded him of Elfin Pond. The boat’s light fell on a bleak shoreline of uneven, slippery-looking rock. He twitched his flashlight this way and that, trying to see inside a rounded hole in the stone wall.
At the water’s edge to their left, there was an irregular post-like formation. It looked perfect for tying the boat. He moored the tiny craft, and they clambered onto the slippery rock with their packs.
Heading directly for the opening, they entered an almost perfectly round room. It was similar to being in a dome, and Abigail immediately liked it. There were several broken stalactites and stalagmites, but it was the plainest area they had encountered. In back, the rock was stepped, making a natural bench. She sat thinking, while Baggy looked around.
Her fingers found the rounded edge of her seat. It resembled an old cedar chest at Mrs. Plumkettle’s. It reminded her of the chest so much that she had to get up and see if it would open.
“What’s up?” called Baggy from the front of the circular grotto.
“Nothing, it just reminds me of Mrs. P’s cedar chest.”
Coming back and looking with the light, Baggy gently touched the underside of the curved stone. At last, he stood up.
“I think this does open.”
“I tried and I couldn’t.”
“Come over here.”
After showing her where to crouch, he moved ten feet down and turned off his light. Setting it at his feet, he took his place. They pushed up against the underside of the rolled edge. Slowly, with much creaking and groaning both from the friends and the stone, the heavy lid rose.
Purchase The Heart of Applebutter Hill & Help Blind Students
“It’s nice to snuggle up with a good book,” says Goofus, a strawberry blonde tabby, as he gets cozy with The Heart of Applebutter Hill. Photo by Rich Hill
eBook versions can be purchased at these and other outlets
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Accessible Versions for Readers with Print Disabilities
Learning Ally: the world’s largest provider of volunteer-narrated audio textbooks and literature for people Who Read & Learn Differently
JPeg of the article “Meshoppen Author’s Novel Goes Audio” published by the WyoPress Examiner (9/23/15), announces Learning Ally’s publication of a human-narrated version for readers with print disabilities.
Formerly Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, Learning Ally now carries The Heart of Applebutter Hill. In the VOICEtext format, highlighted synchronized text accompanies the human narration. Listen and follow the printed word at the same time! http://www.learningally.org/BookDetails.aspx?BookID=KV589
Bookshare: an Accessible Online Library for Readers with Print Disabilities
Digital DAISY text, audio & refreshable Braille versions of The Heart of Applebutter Hill are available at: http://www.bookshare.org/browse/book/639304
A Request from Donna
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