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Chapter Eight

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Chapter8When Penelope awoke she slowly became aware of how much she could not move herself.  From the tugging across her, she guessed she had been tied down.  She was still in the forest and it was still day.  From the shadows on the trees around her and the leaves above her, Penelope figured it was not too long from the time she had been walking in before the pointy featured boy-things attacked her.  She didn’t see them now, but she was sure it had been them that had tied her up.  They may have even moved her from where she had been and where she had fallen when hit.  And if they moved her, was it further away from where she needed to be?—and she didn’t have a compass.  The whole journey back from the library for Penelope depended on her heading straight out in one direction with a scantily sketched map to help her pick out any telling features in the landscape.  There weren’t any features for her to see in this forest.  Penelope thought she was thinking too far ahead of her current situation.  She didn’t even have a plan for how she would get herself free of this predicament.  She couldn’t see or hear any thing else near her.  Maybe the pointy boy-things had gone.  But then, why did they leave her here, all tied up?

Penelope didn’t have long to think on that however.  Above her, strange creatures were alighting on the branches.  Though Penelope didn’t know what those pointy boy creatures were, she recognized the things gathering around above her.  These bird woman things were harpies.  Penelope hadn’t read a lot about harpies, but anything she had read about them didn’t depict them as very helpful beings.  Penelope was feeling slightly worried.  She wriggled in her ropes.  They didn’t seem too thick.  She tensed her leg as much as she could to the side and felt the rope cut into her skin, but just before the sting could make her pull back, it broke.  Triumph!  Penelope wriggled some more.  The rope that had broken across her legs had only freed her calves.  It looked like she had much more work to do.  And just as she freed her left arm one of the harpies swooped down on her.

Penelope threw up her newly freed hand to fend of the creature and was rewarded with a nasty nip on her palm.  She was so startled by this that she snapped her head up and broke the rope across her forehead that had been keeping her from looking around.  The next harpy swooped down and pulled out a little of her hair as she turned her head.  If Penelope could think rationally at the moment she would’ve thought that it was better hair than face—as her face would’ve gotten the brunt of the attack had she not freed her head just a moment before.

Penelope pulled herself out rope by rope, causing welts to rise up on her skin where the twine snapped, as the harpies swooped down continuously pecking at her.  She fancied that she could see the silhouettes of the pointy faced boy-creatures behind the tree trunks, watching the whole thing.  Finally free, what seemed like an eternity later, Penelope ran.  She ran as if being chased in one of her nightmares.  She ran thinking the shadow’s behind her were the pointy boy-creatures.  She ran, jumping fallen logs and stumbling over soft dirt.  Penelope ran until she could no longer breathe or run anymore.  The harpies had not pursued her far if at all, and the pointy boy-creatures were no where that she could see.  It seemed like she was again alone in the forest.  But now, she was covered in welts, bruises, and stinging bloody harpy bites; she did not know where she was or which way she was pointed.  She crouched down by a tree to regain some composure and take a survey of her wounds.

Six of the welts caused by the snapping rope had broken the skin and were now bleeding ever so little.  She had peck marks all over, but only a few of them had broken skin as well—probably due to how much thrashing she had been doing while trying to free herself.  On the whole, Penelope concluded that she didn’t get out so bad, with how terrifying the whole event was for her.  And after giving herself a little time to calm down she wanted more than ever to be home.  Home where her mom could look after her cuts and scrapes and where she didn’t have to worry about strange creatures attacking her with her next step.

But how to find out which way to go?  There were no landmarks in the forest.  If she were in a clearing maybe she could see something.  Maybe from the top of a tree, or as close to the top as she could go, she would be able to find something that matched her map.  She turned a couple of circles under the nearest tree trying to find the likeliest trunk she could scramble up.  Though she always liked the idea of tree climbing, her old town didn’t have trees that were very easily climbable.  Out of practice, what she needed was a nice strong but low hanging branch that she could reach if jumping and then she could swing herself up.  Penelope found her most likely candidate.  The lowest limb was still a bit high, and after a few jumps and misses she finally reached the branch and swung her legs up in order to get the rest of her around and up in the tree.  From there on it was easy to follow the branches up to the highest sturdy looking branch she could reach.

From the highest sturdy looking branch she could reach, she could just barely see through the leaves at the very top of the tree canopy.  Desperate to see something she twisted around and around until she spotted what she needed to know.  The mountain was on her left—at least, it was on her left when she had been running just a moment ago.  Penelope needed the mountain to be on her left, that meant she was going in the right direction.  She could breathe a sigh of relief now, because even though she didn’t know how much time she had lost, at least she knew now what way she needed to go.  She climbed down from out of the tree and struck out at as a fast a pace as she could muster given how terribly tired she had become.

To Penelope’s happy surprise, it wasn’t long that she was walking before the trees began to thin again, and just a little bit more time before she could see the second story of the yellow house, poking out from the tree tops just slightly below her down a little incline.  She nearly broke out into a run at that point and only stopped when she had reached the clearing on the other side of the overgrown path that stretched out in front of the house.  Right now, at the end of the path was a taxi, and Tom, the taxi driver was sitting in the rocking chair on the porch.

Penelope wasn’t sure how to feel about Tom waiting so patiently and unscathed at her destination when she had had such a rough time.  Part of her was glad to see someone she had thought a friend, and part of her was hurt, and another part of her was wary of Tom and his motives for the first time since she had been on the island.  Penelope really didn’t find any reason to suspect that people here weren’t all nice, but she wasn’t quite so sure now.  Her experiences in the forest had proved that things on Ocean End were not all sweet and quirky and funny.  Some things on Ocean End were scary and dangerous as well.

She slowed her approach very much as she got nearer and nearer to the front porch of the yellow shingled house.  Tom stood up as she approached.  “The way you came, I reckon you went right through the woods of the Hobs,” he said,  “might’ve run across ‘em too by the look of you.”  Though he was commenting on the beat up state that Penelope was in, he seemed pretty cheery saying it.  Penelope’s new found distrust of Tom and her previous anger for how he abandoned her without notice was only reinforced by his demeanor, when she was in no mood to be cheery.

“Hobs?” she asked.

“They’re like goblins, shape changers out there, seem to like to play tricks on unsuspecting folk, though they don’t get many of those around here.  You must have been a novelty to them.”

Penelope supposed it was nice to know what those pointy featured boy things were.  She would be able to look it up when she went home, which she was very determined to do just now.  She was standing on the porch with Tom now, and slowly realizing that Tom was standing right in front of the door that she needed to get to.  He seemed to watch her like a cat watches a mouse advance slowly into a kitchen, further and further away from safety.  She remembered how the turtle creature said that Tom the Taxi driver had not always been a Taxi driver.  She wondered what he had been before.

She tried to calm herself and not jump to conclusions.  “I could have done with your help getting back here.  I was so surprised when you left me at the library.”

“Well,” said Tom, “I know Luella loves to spend hours and hours there.  I thought you might be the same.”  He chuckled, “you know, when Luella first showed up on the island she had a crazy hard time understanding about her being lost.  It seemed like she was never going to make herself at home, but then she saw that library.  I think she might have fallen in love.”

“Tom,” Penelope said, her voice slanting ever so slightly into a question, “please excuse me, Tom I need to unlock the door.”

Tom smiled at her, but his smile didn’t reach his eyes, and he didn’t move out of the way.  “I thought, before you left you might want to see some stuff ‘round here.  We didn’t really run into many exotic things or creatures on our short tour.  Luella was telling me about all the things you don’t have back where you came from.  Now that I know what to point out, I can really show you around.”

“Thank you for the thought,” said Penelope, now more than ever a little frightened of the man who had seemed so nice to her before.  “But I really need to get back.”  She tried to step to the side and get a little closer to the door.  But Tom moved with her and blocked her way again.

“I was thinking about that.  I’m sure everyone here wanted to get back at first and some even tried, but no one’s ever left here.  Now, I was thinking, why should you succeed when so many others have failed,” Tom said.  He stepped towards her the tiniest bit.  “Why should you be the one who gets to go home?”

Penelope took a step back in surprise at this blunt admission.  Was he threatening her or just planning on staying between her and the door until she gave up?  She had not thought her plan on returning from whence she came would bother anyone.  It was her business after all.  Thinking more about it, however, Penelope figured this might be confirmation that she was on the right track.  If her key wasn’t going to work, why would Tom be so intent on keeping her from the door at all?  “What are you going to do Tom,” she asked bravely.

“I think we can call it even if you just hand over that key you’ve got.  Then, if you want to take the tour, I’d be happy to drive you around.”

Penelope gripped her very own house key through the fabric of her torn and worn pink ballerina style dress.  “I can’t give you my key.”  She backed away even further to where the floor of the porch dropped off to the step below.

“I think you’ll hand it over,” he said advancing on her, “and then we can take a tour of the island—you’ll like that.”

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