The Weirld sample chapters

Weirld ebook cover.png

Treenie is seven years old and loves her doll Bear. She also loves her oldest sister and her brother, Violet and Dougie, who are always sweet and kind—at least on the weekends when they are home. Treenie feels somewhat less love for Becky, her surly, makeup-wearing, bug-fearing, 14-year-old sister who—like it or not—is home all the time.

 

But Violet, Dougie, Becky, and even Bear have secrets—lots of secrets. An entire world of secrets, as Treenie is about to discover in this young-adult novel. A spell goes wrong, and Treenie finds herself in the magical, strange, and dangerous land her siblings have dubbed The Weirld.


One

 

“I can’t go?” asked Treenie.

“I’m afraid not,” said Mommy. “Bethany is coming to look after you.”

Treenie looked from her Mommy to her Daddy. She sat at the kitchen table, her book forgotten before her.

Next to her sat Bear.

“Becky is going,” said Treenie.

“Rebecca!” The shout came in from the next room.

Mommy smiled, but Treenie did not. Becky had microwaved Treenie’s doll the previous day, so Treenie was doing her best to pretend that her sister did not exist.

Rebecca is older,” said Mommy, with a glance at the other room.

Treenie frowned. “It’s about cowboys,” she said. “And horses. I can see a movie about horses.”

Daddy cleared his throat. “Be—Rebecca,” he said loudly, a warning note in his voice.

“I logged out!” came back. There was a stomping of feet, and Becky entered the room.

Treenie looked away from her sister and down at the table.

“I logged out,” Becky said again. “I did.”

“Then how does Treenie—” Daddy began.

Treenie looked up, nervous. “I heard at school,” she said hurriedly. “I heard it at school. They said that movie is about cowboys and horses.”

“The children at your school said that?” Mommy asked.

Treenie nodded.

“Did those children actually see the movie?” Daddy asked, sounding astonished.

Treenie looked back down at the table. “I dunno,” she mumbled.

“Well, that movie is not for children,” Mommy said, firmly. “It’s barely appropriate for Rebecca, and she’s 14. That’s why your father and I are both going with her.”

Becky rolled her eyes, which, thanks to the black circles she always drew around them, stood out from her pale, made-up face like a cartoon’s.

Treenie frowned, partly because of her awful sister, and partly because of the problem she faced.

“If kids can’t go . . .” she began dejectedly, but then brightened up, “. . . can Bear?”

She pointed hopefully at the doll in the chair next to her.

Bear did not look particularly special: He was a large teddy bear, but not remarkably huge, and his short, loopy “fur” (really more like terry cloth) was an average brown. He had black eyes and a nose that had been sewn on with thread and no particular care. But he sat on a tower of cushions that had obviously been prepared to raise him to the height of the table.

Mommy lifted an eyebrow, and then looked over at Daddy, who gave a slight shrug.

“Well—” she began.

“I am not going to the movies with that dumb bear!” Becky exclaimed.

Treenie turned to her, open-mouthed.

“No!” Becky shouted. “I hate having to take Bear everywhere! Everyone who sees him thinks he’s mine! We’re not taking him! It’s too embarrassing!”

In a flash Treenie was off her chair and running at Becky, fists in the air. Daddy shoved his hand in front of her chest, catching her before she could reach her sister.

“I hate you!” Treenie screamed around his arm. “You ruin everything!”

 

A few minutes later Treenie lay alone on her bed, sobbing violently. Eventually her sobbing began to slow, and then it dissolved into what sounded more like a bad case of the hiccups.

She wiped the tears from her eyes and then went to her door. She got on her hands and knees and checked the crack between it and the floor. Then she pressed her ear against the door itself for a moment.

Satisfied that no one was there, she returned to the bed, where Bear lay. She took Bear into her arms and whispered into his ear.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“It’s OK,” Bear replied.

Treenie whispered again. “I think they would have taken you if stupid Becky hadn’t opened her stupid mouth.”

“I know you’re upset with her,” Bear said.

Treenie looked away, a fresh tear trickling down her face.

“I hate her,” she muttered quietly.

“You don’t, really,” said Bear. “She made a mistake microwaving your doll, and she knows it. She can’t really control her fear. Maybe someday—”

“I traded three packs of dinosaur stickers and four glitter pencils for that doll! And Megan won’t give them back!” Treenie whispered fiercely.

In a moment, her anger dissolved into wistfulness.

“She was so pretty. . . .”

“I know that you really liked that doll,” Bear said. “But you know that Becky’s terrified of flying insects.”

“She wasn’t an insect!” Treenie yelped. “She was a fairy!”

“Shh-shh-shh,” said Bear. Treenie watched the door. A moment passed, and they didn’t hear anything.

Bear said, “Being a fairy kind of made it worse.”

“Why?” asked Treenie, sniffling.

“Oh, you should have seen Becky,” Bear said. “She walked into that kitchen, threw her knapsack on the table, and walked over to the refrigerator. Then all of a sudden, she screamed! She was so loud! I had no idea the doll was there—you must have left it before you moved me into the kitchen.”

Treenie stopped sniffling—she’d been out of the room when the doll had been destroyed. Bear had told her this story already, but it was pretty funny.

“I was shouting, ‘Becky! Why are you screaming!? Are you hurt?’ but of course she couldn’t hear me. Then she grabbed a pot holder—I guess in case the pretty little fairy doll was hot or something—grabbed the doll, and threw it as hard as she could into the microwave.”

Treenie started to smile, but she pouted again, determineddeter-mined to be miserable.

“It almost bounced out, but she slammed the door shut and hit the—is there an ‘incinerate’ button? Maybe a ‘flamethrower’ or ‘boil in oil’ setting? Of course, then the microwave started to spark, because you’re really not supposed to microwave a doll—”

Treenie felt a giggle coming up, but she got control of herself. “It was sad,” she whispered. “I came out of the bathroom, and my beautiful doll was all melted.”

“Oh, yes, it was sad for you—not to mention quite a tragedy for the doll,” said Bear. “And I was pretty worried that the microwave was going to burn the house down, which would have been bad for us all. But looking back at it, it was funny to watch Becky run around trying to unplug it. Finally she just knocked the microwave off the counter, and it smashed all over the floor. Replacing it couldn’t have been cheap—you think Mommy and Daddy will be withholding Becky’s allowance for one year, or two?”

“Two, I hope,” said Treenie, but there was no force behind the statement. She looked at Bear and gave him a hug—Bear always made things better.

Suddenly she felt troubled. “I told a lie,” she whispered into his ear.

“I heard,” said Bear. “You lied about how you learned about that movie. How do you feel about that?”

“Bad,” said Treenie.

“I don’t like it, either,” said Bear. “I don’t like you lying to your Mommy or your Daddy—you know that. I especially don’t like that I’m the reason you have to lie to them. But I don’t think we have much of a choice.”

“I can’t tell them about you,” Treenie agreed.

“Yeah, you’re seven now, and they’re not going to think it’s cute like they did when you were little,” said Bear. “At the very least, I think they’d throw me out.”

Treenie gasped and wrapped her arms around Bear as tightly as she could.

Losing the fairy doll had been bad enough, but losing Bear—! That was just unthinkable. Bear was alive, and Bear loved her!

“I would never, ever let them throw you out!” she whispered, fiercely.


Two

 

Bear needed copper to do his magic, so Treenie collected old pennies. New pennies were no good—they were mostly zinc. Nickles and dimes had a lot of copper in them, underneath their silver surface, but you could still get ten old pennies—and a lot more copper!—by swapping just one dime, so Treenie let everyone know that she collected old pennies and was happy to trade for them.

That had worked for as long as Treenie could remember—she really wasn’t sure what Bear had done before she had gotten old enough to shove pennies into the small hole under his left armpit. She had asked him once, and he told her that he had needed copper less back then.

His need had been growing a lot lately, though. Treenie had always been able to maintain the charade of being a penny collector because Bear had never needed quite as many pennies as she could get. But now her collection was getting smaller and smaller as she shoved penny after penny into Bear.

“Something’s happening that’s making things harder,” Bear told her when Bethany was on the phone. “I don’t know what. But I may need gold to stabilize the spell.”

“Gold?” Treenie yelped.

Where was she supposed to get gold? Of course Mommy and Daddy had gold wedding rings and some other jewelry, but Treenie knew she couldn’t use those. They would be really upset if their jewelry were taken, and Bear would be mad at her, too. (Treenie was not entirely convinced that Bear couldn’t tell Mommy and Daddy things if he really wanted to—they always seemed to know when she had done something bad.)

So she remained stumped until the next day, when Violet and Dougie came home.

Violet and Dougie came home just about every weekend—they went to a high school in another city. Their school was run by the governor of the state, which Treenie thought was really neat. Because the governor ran it, it was the state’s very best school, so Violet and Dougie went to it even though it was far enough away that they had to spend weeknights there.

Becky was going to start high school next year, but she didn’t think the governor’s school was neat. She wouldn’t even apply to go there, even when Mommy and Daddy asked her to. Every time the topic came up, Becky got mad for no reason!

Of course, she was always getting mad for no reason.

So Treenie was stuck with grumpy old Becky every night, and she saw Violet and Dougie only on the weekends.

But after Violet and Dougie arrived this time, Mommy and Daddy gave Becky a look, and Becky told Treenie that they were going to the drugstore.

The drugstore was not far, and normally Treenie didn’t mind going there—it did have toys, although not many. But she wasn’t particularly thrilled about leaving Violet, Dougie, and Bear behind (Becky insisted on that last one) to walk there with grouchy Becky.

They were supposed to be getting paper towels, but Treenie knew that Becky would probably buy more of her gross makeup. People sometimes told Treenie that she and Becky looked alike, but they did not. Well...they both had the same round face; Treenie was willing to accept that, especially because Becky did not like it when people described her face as round, or better yet, called her “moon-faced.” And their eyes were about the same green color.

But while Treenie’s wavy hair was a normal dark brown, Becky’s wavy hair was a mix of black and a cranberry color that was as close as their parents would let her get to purple. Her skin was white and chalky because of all the disgusting makeup she wore. She also scribbled over her eyebrows and around her eyes with black pencil, and she wore lipstick.

Dark lipstick.

Because she was stupid.

“Mom and Dad took me to that movie last night so that I would do this with you,” Becky told Treenie the minute they left the house.

“Why do they want you to take me to the drugstore?” asked Treenie.

“They want to have a long talk with Violent,” said Becky. “She’s in big trouble. She cheated.”

Treenie was shocked. Violet was really smart, everyone said, and she always got really good grades, even though she was at the very best high school in the state. She was a junior, and Mommy and Daddy often talked excitedly about the colleges Violet might get into.

Plus (unlike Becky) Violet was super nice—she loved animals so much that she wouldn’t eat meat and would have only vegetables and cheese on her pizza.

“You’re not supposed to call her ‘Violent,’” Treenie said to Becky. “And don’t call Dougie ‘Deadly’ either. Meanie.”

They walked in silence until they reached the drugstore, Treenie vigorously hoping that a flying bug would come along and scare Becky.

When they went in, Treenie’s eyes went to the large counter by the front door.

She had passed by it many times without really paying attention to it, but today she noticed that it was a jewelry counter. And it had a large sign hanging over it that said:

GIVE THE GIFT OF GOLD

“They sell gold here?” she asked, surprised. “Real gold?”

“Yeah,” said Becky. “Some of it’s real, anyway.”

“Wow,” said Treenie. “I never thought it was real gold.”

So while Becky looked for paper towels, Treenie looked at the possibly-really-gold jewelry. She couldn’t see it that well because the counter was pretty high, but some of the jewelry looked small—little ball earrings and the like—and Treenie wondered if maybe it wasn’t too expensive.

How much did gold cost, anyway? Treenie had no idea, and she couldn’t see the prices because she was too short.

If the cheapest bit of gold was $100—well, forget it then, Treenie could never come up with that much money. But if it was $20—? She got chore money every week, and she could always earn more by doing extra chores. It would take her a long time, but if she worked at it, she might be able to buy Bear his gold.

“Come on,” said Becky, behind her. “Let’s get going.”

Treenie looked at Becky, wondering whether she should ask her sister to read the prices to her, but then she frowned. Becky was holding two plastic shopping bags, one containing a roll of paper towels and the other two bottles of hair dye and a stick of the thick, pasty face makeup she called foundation.

Becky used the hair dye and wore the foundation because of the bug bites on her face and scalp—bites that would never go away and that made her hair grow in gray patches. Seeing the dye and foundation reminded Treenie how much Becky hated flying insects. And that reminded her of how Becky had destroyed the most beautiful doll in the entire world.

That made Treenie want to wait and come back to the drugstore later with somebody who wasn’t Becky.

But then the thought occurred to her: What if Bear’s spell went bad in a hurry? Where would they be then?

“How much does the gold cost?” she asked Becky. “Is it expensive?”

“Why do you want to know?” Becky replied. She looked at the items on the counter—an easy task at her height—and raised an eyebrow. “Did you want some gold jewelry?”

“Maybe,” said Treenie. “Is it expensive?”

“Not really,” said Becky, almost to herself. She suddenly looked at Treenie. “We should go.”

“But how much is it?” asked Treenie.

Becky started to walk out of the store. “Mommy and Daddy said we should be gone for just a little while,” she said over her shoulder.

That left Treenie with no alternative but to follow. An ardent interrogation of Becky during the walk home revealed that many of the gold items cost far less than $100—some were “about $20, maybe.” Treenie spent the last part of their walk silently calculating how long it would take her to earn that sum.

When they came to the house, Dougie was out in front, rolling the garbage bin up the driveway.

“Dougie!” Treenie squealed.

Treenie loved Dougie most of all—or maybe she loved Violet most of all, it was hard to tell. Definitely she loved one of them most of all: They were as unlike Becky as it was possible to be.

They were nice.

You could tell they were nice just by looking at them. While Becky wore a scowl and drew all over her face with foundation sticks and lipstick and eyeliner, Dougie and Violet smiled all the time and were always friendly to everyone. Dougie’s hair was curly enough that it almost stood up, and it was naturally the color of maple syrup, which Treenie thought was much better than the black and purply-red of Becky’s hair.

Dougie let go of the trash bin and kneeled down to hug Treenie. She loved him, and she loved getting hugged by him. If it was possible to be nicer than Violet, Dougie was—yes, he ate meat, but that was only because he thought it was rude to turn down food.

Dougie was 16 years old—a year younger than Violet—and Daddy said he got taller every weekend. In fact, both Dougie and Violet were tall and athletic. Not like Becky, who was squat and fat because she never went outside if she could help it because there might be flying bugs.

“Hey, Deadly,” muttered Becky, swinging the plastic bag from the drug store.

“Hello, Rebecca,” Dougie replied with a smile.

“Becky got a stick of foundation and two bottles of hair dye,” said Treenie, with the definite—and satisfying—sense of tattling on her sister.

“Treenie,” said Dougie, “she wants to be called Rebecca.

“I don’t care what she calls me,” said Becky.

Treenie stuck her tongue out at her sister.

Becky ignored her. “Were you kicked out, too?” she asked Dougie.

He nodded. “Yeah, they’re having a little chat with Violet about the choices she is making at this important stage in her life.” He said the last part in a sing-song voice that meant he was imitating Mommy.

Becky looked up the driveway toward the house. “We probably don’t want to be indoors anyway, not with Violet’s nervous stomach,” she said. “How much trouble is she in?”

“Did she really cheat?” Treenie asked, anxious.

“She didn’t cheat,” Dougie told her. “Violet wouldn’t cheat. But she helped someone else cheat. Which is just as bad as far as the school is concerned. It’s the first time she’s been caught—”

“She’s done it before?” Becky interrupted, sounding entirely too pleased with the information.

Dougie shrugged. “She has this boyfriend. He’s bad news. They always are.”

Becky smirked.

“He’s bad?” asked Treenie.

“Violet is really a good person, you know,” said Dougie. Becky rolled her eyes. “She wants to help people. And that’s gotten around, so there are people who like to use her when they don’t feel like doing their own work.”

He shrugged again.

“It’s not like it’s this awful thing—everybody does it.”

“You cheat, too?” asked Becky.

“No,” said Dougie immediately. “I don’t cheat.”

“But you help other people cheat,” Becky said.

Dougie cleared his throat. “Why don’t you help me move these bins,” he said to Becky, “and then I think I’m going to set up targets in the back yard and practice some archery.”

Dougie loved archery and fencing—since the governor’s school didn’t have teams for either sport, he had started clubs for both, clubs that Violet had joined.

He raised an eyebrow at Becky. “You could practice, too.”

Becky glowered. “That isn’t going to help me.”

Treenie wasn’t expecting Becky to be helpful, but to her surprise, her sister grabbed the recycling bin and started to roll it. A moment later Dougie joined her with his garbage bin, and they started talking as they went up the driveway.

Between their head start and the noise of the rolling bins, it was hard for Treenie to understand what they were saying, so she trotted to catch up.

“She’s seven now,” said Becky. “I was seven.”

“We said we wouldn’t,” said Dougie.

“I know,” said Becky, sounding exasperated. “But she can’t be helpless. Not like I was. And it’s not like you can do anything from your precious governor’s school.”

She suddenly turned to Treenie.

“Hey, Treenie,” she said, grinning oddly with her dark lips. “Wouldn’t you like to learn how to shoot arrows?”

Treenie looked at Dougie. “Could I?” she asked.

Becky looked at Dougie, too.

He stopped rolling his bin and looked uncomfortable.

“The problem is,” he said, “you can’t use a full-sized bow—not at your age. We’d need kid’s equipment.” He thought for a moment. “We gave our old stuff away—she’d need something new.”

“Mom and Dad—” Becky began.

“—don’t understand,” Dougie finished with a shake of his head. He turned to Treenie. “You’d have to earn money for your equipment by doing chores. That’s what Violet and I had to do to get started.”

“But it would be worth it, because it would be so much fun!” said Becky, with an enthusiasm Treenie found deeply phony. “It’s totally worth your chore money!”

Treenie looked down. She didn’t know why Becky was being so fake, but it didn’t matter. She very much wanted to shoot arrows with Dougie and Violet—it sounded like a whole lot of fun. But she was going to have to save her chore money.

She needed to buy gold.


Three

 

Treenie had had better weekends.

Violet pretty much cried the entire time. She threw up once, too, after Dougie told her that the boyfriend she had gotten into so much trouble for had another girlfriend. This second girlfriend was named Candi, and she did not help this boy cheat, because she did not get good grades like Violet did. But she was, according to Dougie, “super hot,” which he later explained to Treenie meant really pretty.

Dougie had known about Candi the entire time, but he had not told Violet about her before, because he had not wanted to upset her. Violet was certainly upset now, as Becky pointed out to Dougie more than once.

Treenie might have expected Violet’s problems to put Becky in a good mood, but Becky was crankier than ever. She was particularly annoyed with Treenie because Treenie didn’t want to learn archery. She kept explaining (and explaining!) to Treenie that she would love archery, plus maybe fencing, because they were both so much fun!

After Treenie pointed out that Becky didn’t know how to do either, Becky told Treenie that she had no better use for her chore money anyway. That reminded Treenie of how she had spent all of her chore money on three sheets of dinosaur stickers and four glitter pencils to trade for the most beautiful doll in the whole entire world. So Treenie screamed at Becky again about how she always ruined everything and how Treenie could never have anything pretty because Becky destroyed everything all the time. And then Treenie had been sent to her room to cry and feed Bear her dwindling supply of pennies.

On Sunday evening, Violet and Dougie went back to the governor’s school. The next day was Monday, so Treenie went to her school, where she spent the day watching Megan write with glitter pencils in a notebook decorated with dinosaur stickers.

Mommy picked Treenie up from school, and then (like always) they drove to Becky’s school to pick her up. Treenie ignored Becky and talked to Bear, who always rode in the car to get her from school and there was nothing stupid Becky could do about it. Bear never spoke to her in front of other people unless it was an emergency, but it was nice to have him there anyway.

When they got home, Becky announced that she was going to make a trip to the drugstore, and Mommy let her go.

Treenie was in her room doing her homework when Becky knocked on the doorframe and walked in. She looked behind her and closed the door. In her hand was a small plastic bag with the drugstore’s logo on it.

“I got something for you,” Becky said to Treenie. She slid her hand into the bag and pulled out a small box.

“I know you’re upset about the doll,” Becky said. “And you know that I can’t get you another doll like it. But I thought I’d make it up to you.”

She put the box into Treenie’s hand. Treenie stared at it, open-mouthed. She pulled the lid off. Inside was a thin rope—of gold!

Treenie gasped and put the lid back on. “Is it real gold?” she asked.

“Yeah,” said Becky, “it’s covered with real gold, anyway. They call it vermeil. It’s supposed to be nice. I guess the gold wears off regular plated stuff, but with vermeil, it doesn’t. That’s what the lady behind the counter said, anyway.”

Treenie launched herself into her sister’s arms and gave her a big hug. “You’re the best sister in the world!” she cried.

Becky pushed her off, but did it gently, and Treenie could see that she was smiling.

“There’s something you have to do, though,” Becky said. “Since I got you something pretty—and you know, between this necklace and the microwave, I’m really broke now—you have to promise me that you will tell Mom and Dad that you want to learn archery. And then you have to go through with it—earn the money, buy the equipment, and actually learn how to do it.”

“OK,” said Treenie.

That was going to be no problem—she’d be happy to buy a bow and arrows now that Bear had his gold!

 

Mommy liked to have CNN on while she did her system maintenance in the afternoon—Mommy worked in what Becky thought should have been her room, so that Becky had to share a bedroom with Violet on weekends and during the summer. Bear liked to watch CNN, too, so every weekday afternoon when Treenie got home from school, she sat him in a spare chair facing the television before she went to do her homework.

(“Your mother,” Bear often told her, “is a very good sport.”)

So Bear had been in Mommy’s office when Becky—toward whom Treenie was feeling much more positive—gave Treenie the gold necklace. Treenie considered bringing Bear back to her room and telling him, but then Daddy came home, and Treenie had to finish her homework in the kitchen so she could to keep him company while he made dinner.

Bear joined them for dinner, of course, but Treenie couldn’t tell him about the gold in front of everyone. She almost forgot to tell Mommy and Daddy about wanting to learn archery as well, but Becky brought it up. Mommy and Daddy agreed that Treenie could use her chore money for the equipment. After dinner, the whole family got together in front of the television to watch an old show. (Well, all of them except for Becky, who went to her room to do whatever it was she did in there.)

Treenie normally loved the old, black-and-white shows: George and Gracie, I Love Lucy, the Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin—they were so funny! But she wanted to talk to Bear, so she watched only one show (Gracie and her friend pretended to be telephone operators!) before she told Mommy and Daddy that she was going to get ready for bed.

She went to her room and shut the door.

Instead of putting on her pajamas, Treenie checked under the door and listened again. No one was there.

“That’s great about the archery,” said Bear.

“Something else good happened, too,” said Treenie. She opened the drawer of her nightstand and pulled out the small white box. “Look what Becky got me.”

She opened the box and pulled out the necklace. The rope-like chain glittered in the low light.

“Is that—?” Bear began.

“It’s real gold,” said Treenie.

“How did Becky—?” Bear began again.

“She got it at the drugstore—she bought it,” said Treenie. Bear had told Treenie more than once that he was worried Becky might start doing bad things like stealing, and to be sure to tell him and Mommy and Daddy if she did. “She took it out of a store bag.”

“Ah, OK,” said Bear.

Treenie waved the chain in front of him. “Do you like it? It’s real gold.”

“Excellent!” said Bear. “Thank you. And thank Becky!”

“I did,” Treenie nodded. Becky, she thought, was really not all bad.

“Let’s do it, then,” said Bear.

Treenie smiled and raised Bear’s left arm. The hole was small—just wide enough to fit a penny through—and located in the deepest part of his armpit. Bear had told her before that she had made the hole herself per his instructions when she was little, but she didn’t remember that.

She put her hand over the hole for a moment. She could always feel something—it was a tiny bit warm there, it felt the tiniest bit alive.

It was the only proof that Bear was no ordinary teddy bear.

Treenie took her hand off the hole, and used both hands to unclasp the necklace. It didn’t hurt if you stuck your finger into Bear along with the penny, but it felt . . . odd, like that part of you didn’t belong to you anymore, and Treenie didn’t like it.

Treenie held the chain so that her fingers were an inch or two away from the end with the loop in it. She poked the loop into the hole.

The effect was immediate and much different from what happened with the pennies. There was a sudden surge of warmth, and even though her fingers were away from the hole, they began to tingle.

“Oh!” said Treenie.

“Yeah, that’s gold,” said Bear. “Just keep feeding it in.”

Treenie did, or rather her fingers did, automatically shoving the chain in on their own without any apparent direction from her. Treenie didn’t like that, so she let go.

And the chain just slid into Bear all by itself!

“Ah,” said Bear. “That’s so much better.”

Treenie put Bear’s arm down. “That’s good?” she asked him.

“Yeah, gold makes a huge difference,” he said. “I can really feel it. I think the spell is well and truly repaired.”

Treenie put her arms around him. “I’m glad.”

“Me too,” said Bear. “I’d hate to have to leave so soon. I wish I knew what was causing the problem, though.”

Treenie frowned.

“Don’t worry,” Bear said. “This feels like a good fix. With any luck, we can go back to doing a penny every now and then, and everything will be fine.”

Treenie smiled and hugged Bear close. “I love you,” she told him.

“I love you, he replied.

She lay in bed, hugging Bear. What if he had had to go away? Treenie never wanted that to happen.

“You will always be my Bear,” she said to him.

“And you will always be my—what was that?

Treenie felt a lurch in her stomach, as though a blunt hook had entered it.

“I think I’m gonna throw up,” she mumbled, woozily.

She felt a terrible pull.

 

She had eaten the last of her minions the day before.

When she had started in on the Most Loyal Ones, they had whined and complained, even asking her why she was eating them after all they had done for her.

“You can’t possibly expect me to go hungry!” she’d said, shocked.

But they had!

Most Loyal Ones, my foot! They had honestly expected her to starve, just to save their little lives!

Now they were all gone, and there was really and truly nothing left worth eating. The city had stopped smoldering a while ago—there was nothing left worth burning, either—and the rain that had begun after the big fire just kept pouring down.

It was so dreary.

“I hate this place,” she said to herself.

There had been a time when she had liked this world—it had been pretty and filled with all kinds of good things to eat. But now there was nothing in it for her.

So she went back to digging.

Who knew how long it was going to take? Moving from world to world was such an annoying process, tedious and dull and so often undertaken on an empty stomach in a sooty, dismal rain.

There was definitely a weak spot—she’d begun digging quite some time ago, well before she had gotten down to the Most Loyal Ones, so the barrier was not what it once was.

But a weak spot was no guarantee that she would be able to get out of this miserable place quickly.

This part was so boring!

There was no other option, though. There was nothing left for her—no one left to sing her praises and offer her sacrifices. No one left to conquer. No one left to eat.

So, she suffered. She dug and dug and dug and dug and got annoyed and tired and was just about to give up and take another nap when all of a sudden—

POP!

—she was through!

 

 

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