April 13, 2011

Enchanted Garden Chapter Eleven

Newt had expected to come out of the TARDIS doors, then down the ramp and see the others in the letterboxing party lounging in the shade under the TARDIS when she exited the ship.

Very much to her surprise, when she opened the doors, there was no ramp, but she stepped directly out into the purple grasses of the meadow. She closed the door behind her, and walked over to the edge of the forest and joined the others of the group. When she turned around and looked at the TARDIS, she gasped.

It really shouldn’t have astonished her as much as it did. She knew that the TARDIS was alien technology, just her experience in the shower and laundry facilities should have convinced her of that, not to mention the thunder storm and blizzard in the control room. She knew also, just from the relative sizes of them, that the inside and the outside had to be only loosely connected to each other, but for some odd reason, it had never occurred to her that the outside of the ship could take on a different appearance than that of the pirate ship that she had originally seen when this incredible ship had first landed in the meadow.

She should have guessed, she supposed, but on the other hand, there was really no way that she could have guessed, or any hint that she should have to do any guessing. What she saw sitting before her in the pristine purple grasses of the meadow, however, wasn’t a sleek black flying saucer shaped pirate ship, but a rather dilapidated looking blue painted wooden box with a sign on each side near the top that read “Police Public Call Box”.

Staring at it, Newt shook her head and rubbed her eyes, but the blue box didn’t change.

Dusty stepped quietly up to her side. “That’s the way it looks in the television show,” he said.

“I think I’m going to have to start watching this show with you, now that I’ve actually met the Doctor,” Newt said quietly.

“Good.” Dusty said. “The Doctor said that probably about ninety percent of the elements of the television show are fictional, but that some of the stories are actually based on things that have happened to him, and some of the alien creatures are real, though the portrayals of their appearance or behavior are sometimes not accurate.”

“I can understand that,” Newt said with anxiety, “because it would be hard to duplicate some things with a man in a suit, and also it would be a little harder to hire real aliens to play themselves.”

Dusty started to laugh. “And in which currency would you like to be paid, Mr. Schwazzleneck Blain der Slitheen of Raxacoricofallapatorius?”

Newt laughed. “Mr. who from where?”

“In the show,” Dusty explained, “Raxacoricofallapatorius is the name of a planet where some green creatures are from. They’re interplanetary thugs, a family business, kind of like the mafia. The family name is Slitheen, and the planet is called Raxacoricofallapatorius. Interestingly enough, the sister planet has green people on it who can absorb other beings into themselves, and that planet is named Klom.”

“Klom?” Newt said. “That short? And the sister planet has a hugely long name? Raxaco…”

“Raxacoricofallapatorius,” Dusty supplied helpfully, “Rax-a-cor-i-co-fall-a-pa-tor-i-us,” he said again, pronouncing it slowly so Newt could hear each syllable.

“Raxacoricofallapatorius,” Newt said slowly after him. “Raxacoricofallapatorius. I think I’ve it now!” she said, laughing.

“Congratulations,” Dusty said, clapping her on the back. “Though that one, I think is probably fictional.

“It’s all right,” Newt said, “it’s a fun word to say. Raxacoricofallapatorius. Raxacoricofallapatorius. Raxacoricofallapatorius.”

Dusty laughed.

“All right, everyone!” Hollerin’ Holly said, calling to them from the shelter of the forest. “Are we all here and ready to go?”

Everyone gathered around Hollerin’ Holly, and Newt let her eyes flicker around the group, so that she would know who she was going into the forest with.

Hollerin Holly was no longer wearing the pirate’s hat, in fact, none of the pirates were wearing their pirate hats. Newt then made the assumption that the pirate hats had been their Halloween costumes, and that they were also from the same planet Earth that she herself came from, since they were celebrating a similar holiday on the same day, and also based on the similarity of the side dishes of last night’s feast being so similar to a traditional United States Thanksgiving celebratory feast.

Hollerin Holly stood in her leggings and sweater, wearing sensible sneakers for the hike. She wore the same, many pouched belt, however, with its bulging pouches. Knit Solo and Darth Wolf flanked Hollerin Holly, the changes in their apparel very similar.

Newt noted with a slight bit of satisfaction that their sweaters seemed a bit crumpled and rumpled, and Darth Wolf’s had a small red stain on one cuff where she had spilled cranberry sauce on it last night at dinner. Evidently, the Doctor hadn’t seen fit to take the time to show, or even to tell, the pirate ladies how to use the laundry facilities. She felt a bit smug about that. The Doctor liked her better than he liked them. Of course, she hadn’t tried to steal his TARDIS, either, and he’d told her several times that he liked the way she used her mind.

Harold and Dusty stood on either side of Newt, each of them carrying their new books. Newt assumed that their stamps were in on of their pockets, which was where she had stashed hers.

RavenWolf wasn’t in evidence.

“Where is RavenWolf?” Newt asked.

“Remember that it’s now officially November,” said Knit Solo, “and she has been writing frantically on her novel since midnight. I don’t think she’s had any sleep. I doubt if a tornado could pry her away from her computer.”

“I’ll go get her,” Darth Wolf said, and then she walked off through the trees and grasses back to the TARDIS.

Within just a very few minutes, she had returned, with RavenWolf trailing in her wake.

Hollerin’ Holly pulled out her battered piece of paper from one of her many pockets, and she consulted it closely.

“We’ll need to take a heading of two hundred and seventy degrees, Mama Wolf,” she said, and then added to Knit Solo, “and Knit Wit, we need to go about a quarter mile to the trail head, according to wassa’s directions.”

Darth Wolf, who was apparently also called Mama Wolf, nodded and pulled out a compass and began fiddling with its settings.

Knit Solo, who apparently was also called Knit Wit, reached into one of her pouches and pulled out a key ring with a leather thong on it that was strung with several beads and had knots in it also.

Mama Wolf indicated the direction that they would need to go, and they all set off together.

Curious about how Knit Wit would use the beads to keep track of their distance, Newt walked near Knit Wit. Newt saw Knit Wit’s lips silently moving as she walked, and realized the she was counting their steps.

Knit Wit held the beads in both hands, with one finger tucked through the loop of the key ring.

Every few steps, her fingers would move, and by careful observation, Newt realized that Knit Wit was moving a bead from the top of their area on the cord to the bottom, as she took every tenth step.

About the time that Newt figured out what Knit Wit was doing, she realized that she was soon going to run out of beads. However, after the last bead was moved, they walked another ten steps, and the large section of nine beads went back to the top knot of their section, and one of the beads from the next section of the leather lacing was moved.

On further observation, Newt realized there were three sections, containing nine, nine, and five beads, and could be assigned as ones, tens, or hundreds, depending on the distance that you needed to mark off as you covered it. All you had to know was how long your stride was, and you could accurately know how far you had gone, and not have to worry about losing count of your steps.

She resolved to make herself one of these step counters when she got home. If she ever got home.

They walked for a while, then Knit Wit announced they had come to the end of the quarter mile. Hollerin’ Holly consulted her paper, and muttered directions to Mama Wolf, who fiddled with her compass, and they turned left, almost back the way they had come, and there on the forest floor was a well trod path, and furthermore, one that looked more like it had been made for human body widths, rather than the slender track it would be if it were a game trail used only by animals.

Hollerin’ Holly continued to consult her paper, as she and Mama Wolf conferred one with the other, and led them down the garden path.

Knit Wit continued to count her steps, although Newt didn’t see why, since Hollerin’ Holly hadn’t told them how far away the next landmark was supposed to be.

After a while, Dusty called out, “Hey, Holly!”

“What do you need?” Holly called out over her shoulder, without stopping or even slowing down.”

“How much further are we hiking?” Dusty wanted to know.

“Well, I’m not exactly sure, since I haven’t been to this letterbox before,” Holly said, “but according to the clue sheet, it’s not a very long hike.”

“Thanks!” Dusty called back to her.

Knit Wit snickered under her breath as she continued to count steps.

“What’s so funny?” Newt asked Knit Wit, but Knit Wit just shook her head and continued to giggle as she counted her steps and recorded them on the beaded strip of leather thong.

Shortly, the path began to rise, at first gradually, and then a little more steeply. Newt was quite accustomed to walking pretty much every where she went, yet she wasn’t at all accustomed to hiking up the side of a mountain with any amount of speed, and was very shortly finding herself very short of breath. After a little bit more hiking, she was breathing hard enough that she pretty much couldn’t hear anything other than the frantic pounding of her heart, and the rasping sounds as she gasped deeply in a vain attempt to draw in a lungful of air that actually contained oxygen.

Newt looked over at Knit Wit, completely ready to hit her if she was still laughing, but Knit Wit was very obviously doing nothing but breathing and moving beads. She had even ceased to move her lips as she counted her steps to herself.

Harold, ever the gallant knight protector, lagged back a little and offered his hand to Newt. She took it gratefully as she traversed the steeper patches of trail, which all seemed to also be the parts of the trail with the slipperiest rocks and the most treacherous rolling pebbles.

“How… much… further?” Dusty asked again, having to insert his words in between the great gasps of air his heaving lungs were demanding.

“Not much further!” Holly cheerfully replied, without the slightest bit of decrease in the incredible pace she was keeping. It was clearly apparent to Newt that Hollerin’ Holly might be part mountain goat, because she scaled the ever steepening trail as quickly and easily as a child climbs up upon a stone table.

The path wound steadily upward, and Newt wondered how she could have stood in the meadow and totally missed the presence of a mountain of this height towering over the forest.

Finally, they came to a place where the trail was slightly wider. A small bench had been placed in the wider area, and a very small shelter built over the bench, so that it might sit within a small pool of cooling shade while a hiker rested and recovered from the upward climb.

Without a word, Dusty flung himself onto the bench, gasping, and then fixed Hollerin’ Holly’s retreating back with a glare that very plainly said that it would be several minutes before he was going to move again. Newt sat down next to Dusty, and leaned forward, bracing herself with her hands against her knees, as she, too, fought to regain full control of her breathing.

Since it was now evident that the bench had only been designed to accommodate two rather narrow teenagers, Harold dropped to the ground at Newt’s feet and lay on his back, also breathing heavily.

Knit Wit, having counted her way to the bench, took two steps more to the farther end of the bench, and set her last bead.

“Holly,” Knit Wit said, Hollerin’ Holly, already continuing up the trail, called back to them, “Only a little further, come on!” and kept climbing.

“Holly!” said Knit Wit, more sharply, and Holly turned around. Newt could imagine the picture they presented, red faces, gasping for air, worn out, and slumped and huddled together on and around the bench, as though seeking for protection from some terrible fate.

And the terrible fate was coming back down the trail toward them, Newt thought. The idea of Hollerin’ Holly being a ‘terrible fate’ made Newt want to giggle, but as she had neither breath nor energy for it, she merely allowed herself to be content with being highly amused within the private confines of her own skull.

Her reluctance to stop showing plainly in every fiber or her being, Holly slowly walked back toward the gasping teenagers on the bench.

“They aren’t used to hiking with you, Holly,” Knit Wit said, and they’re desperately in need of a break.”

Newt smiled her gratitude up at Knit Wit, happy that she had a champion who would speak for her, now that her exertion had temporarily robbed her of the ability to speak.

Hollerin’ Holly waited with visibly growing impatience while the three children, Newt, Dusty, and Harold, regained control over their breathing. Newt’s knees were wobbly, and she wondered how she was going to have enough energy to finish climbing the mountain and still walk back down the hill and through the forest to get back to the TARDIS.

As she slowly regained her breath, she realized what a wonderful view was spread out before her eyes from this idyllic resting place. She was appalled to see exactly how high they had climbed. Other than the top of the mountain at their backs, she could see nothing higher than they were. She could see the round meadow below them, the only open place in a sea of foliage. The TARDIS sat in the meadow, a tiny blue box in the sea of purple grasses. With a pang of concern, she saw that the grasses nearest the TARDIS, and for a small way out from it in a circle centered on the blue box, appeared to be winter bitten, and dying from frost and cold, while those plants right next door were flourishing in what appeared to be summer health. The cold feeling in the pit of her stomach spread and clenched at her heart. The cold in the TARDIS was spreading into the outside world, killing the plants in its vicinity. What if the Doctor wasn’t able to find out what the problem was, or was unable to repair it? Did he carry spare parts? It didn’t seem right that the cold should spread beyond the outside of the TARDIS, especially in view of the already tenuous connection between the inside and the outside of the ship.

The leaves on the trees in the forest below them appeared as a patchwork quilt worked in every possible shade of purple that the eye could perceive or the mind could imagine. They were lovely, and Newt suddenly wished she had brought her camera with her when she had left home. This one photo would more than make up for all of the trepidation and fear she had experienced since Old Mrs. M had put the spell on them in her enchanted garden. Come to think of it, she had had a few moments of unease and anxiety in the enchanted garden before Old Mrs. M had popped out and scared them nearly half to death and then put that horrible spell on them, which flung them halfway across the universe.

‘But,’ the little voice in the back of her mind reminded her, ‘if you hadn’t trespassed yesterday morning, you would never have met the Doctor.’ A pleasantly warm feeling suffused her midsection, and she ineffectually tried to bat it down with a great deal of annoyance. ‘Boy, have I ever got it bad for him,’ she thought, ‘and nothing is ever going to erase the age difference between us.’

Newt noticed that Knit Wit had hung her beads on a small clip on her belt, and counted them. They had been moved so that it looked as though, if she was reading it correctly, they had taken five thousand three hundred and ten steps. She quickly started figuring. At approximately two feet in a stride, and five thousand two hundred and eighty feet in a mile, they had walked approximately two miles from the TARDIS, most of it, apparently, nearly straight up.

RavenWolf fished a small digital camera out of one of her pouches, and Newt tugged at the hem of her sweater.

RavenWolf continued taking pictures, but answered her any way. “Yes? What do you need?”

“Could you email me a copy of those?” Newt asked.

“No problem,” RavenWolf replied. “Hang on a sec.” She finished taking pictures of the view, then turned a knob at the top of the camera and pointed it at Newt. “I’ve got it on video. Tell me your email address,” she commanded.

Newt smiled for the camera, and said “My name is Newt, and my email address is Newt@gmail.com.

“Spell that for me, please,” said RavenWolf.

So Newt obligingly followed her directions. “That’s en, ee, double you, tee, the ‘at’ sign, gee, em, ay, eye, ell, a period and then cee, oh, em,” she carefully spelled in a loud enough voice that the camera could catch the sound and RavenWolf would be able to send her the photos later. If they were from the same planet, and connected to the same internet. The horrible feeling that they might not be both connected to the same internet suddenly seized her, and she grew worried that she might never see the photographs RavenWolf had just taken.”

Knit Wit grinned. “Harold and Dusty and I had a long conversation about home planets, and we’ve realized that not only are we from the same ‘Earth’, but the same country on the same Earth. I’m from North Carolina. I understand that you all are from Arizona, right?”

Newt nodded, and her heart filled with joy that she would eventually have copies of the photos that RavenWolf had taken of the beautiful purple forest below them.

When the three of them had sufficiently rested enough that they could continue, Harold rose to his feet and asked Holly, “So, how much further is it, any way?”

Holly grinned at him and said, “It’s not very much further, I promise.”

“You’ve been saying the same thing all the way up the mountain,” Dusty said. “I don’t believe you.”

Mama Wolf caught Knit Wit’s eye and they burst out laughing, then Mama Wolf said, “But Holly ALWAYS lies about how far it’s on a hike. It’s traditional for her to lie to us on hikes. However, we always get the box we’re after, if it’s still there, and we always have a lot of fun doing it. So, to us, it doesn’t matter that Holly always lies. It’s become a point of pride to survive a hike with Holly.”

The four letterboxers all drank from water bottles they produced from their pockets, and then shared with the children when it turned out that they hadn’t brought water with them.

“Nobody warned us that this was going to be an all day excursion,” Harold pointed out, “you all make it sound like a simple little walk in the woods.”

RavenWolf giggled and when Harold demanded to know what was so funny, she answered him that there was a book with the title, “A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail”. It had been written by Bill Bryson and was his memoir of his hike up the Appalachian Trail.

At the mention of the Appalachian Trail, Newt ceased to worry about whether or not they were from the same planet Earth. There were now just too many similarities between their home worlds to be two different places. She had actually read “A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail”, two summers ago.

They finished their drinks, and set off again up the path, always upward, ever upward. With a suddenness that was startling, the path ended in a very small circular area that was covered with purple grasses and rocky soil. The grasses were neither as lush nor as tall as the variety that grew in the meadow so far below, but they were obviously a related plant.

The wind here whipped at them, and Newt was put in mind of the arctic blast that had whipped through the TARDIS, save that this wind, though chilly, was not nearly as cold, or quite as strong.

Exactly in the center of the perfectly round mountain top, was a large pile of dazzlingly white boulders, and Hollerin’ Holly the Troll Master of the Talley Valley Farm Clan was comparing the boulder pile with something on her piece of paper, assisted by Darth Wolf, who was alternating between enthusiastically looking over Hollerin’ Holly’s shoulder at the piece of paper, and dashing around the side of the boulder pile looking at various crevices in it.

“Where did you find these clues, anyway?” Knit Wit asked Hollerin’ Holly.

“They were in the bottom of that bag of kettle corn you bought me at the Wal-Mart,” Hollerin’ Holly answered, her eyes still on the crevices in the pile of boulders she was eyeing as though she were suspicious of the poor innocent pile of rocks.

We dare you to have your main character discover a treasure map at the bottom of his or her bag of kettle corn.

Suddenly, the unnaturalness of the entire planet struck Newt. This colors being different thing was strange enough, but this went beyond that. There were no streams, only one mountain, and endless forest. There was only one meadow in sight from this mountain, and it was perfectly circular, as though it had been deliberately cut that way. The mountain, viewed from their vantage point atop it, was conical, as though it was an old volcano, but there were no ridges, no anything other than a perfectly conical mountain sticking up abruptly from the forest that surrounded it. There was only one trail up the mountain, and it was a good trail, not entirely natural, but a made trail, intended for use by human beings, or at least human shaped beings, and someone had even put the bench half way up the trail as a resting place. Again, the top of the mountain was perfectly flat, as though it had been chopped off by a giant sword. There was no sign of a crater, as there should be if it had indeed been an old volcano. Furthermore, the pile of rocks was precisely in the center of the upper meadow, and was also circular. Suddenly Newt felt trapped, as though there was no way this was a coincidence, and she felt that the entire place had been built. It would be awfully expensive to build an entire planet, or even to change one… what was the word for that? Oh, yeah, terraform a planet to have such a peculiar configuration. She knew that whoever had done it had had access to technology far beyond anything the Earth had ever possessed, and she couldn’t even conceive of why any one person would want to so change a planet and do this to it. If she had been terraforming a planet, she would have given it lush fields that could be used for farming, in addition to the forests for harvesting wood from. Where were the fields? Where was the freestanding water? Grasses and trees wouldn’t grow without water, and yet these were all flourishing without any sign of any sort of surface water. Despite the warmth of the bright blue sunlight, Newt shivered in the briskly chill wind, and desired nothing more than to gain the relative safety of the TARDIS.

Harold spoke from just behind her shoulder, and Newt jumped from her alarm, until she recognized his voice.

“This place is just too perfect,” Harold said softly. “It’s spooky.”

Newt nodded. “I feel it too. I don’t like it. I want to go back to the TARDIS. I felt safer there.”

Harold grimaced. “I want to go back too, but we can’t do that without that piece of paper that Hollerin’ Holly is carrying, and also a compass. I can retrace the path as far as the base of the mountain; that part is easy, but I don’t know what compass heading will take us from there back to the meadow where the TARDIS is. Furthermore, I hope that that piece of paper will tell us, when we get there, because as far as I can tell, the paper only tells us how to get here, not how to return.”

“Well,” said Newt, “when we left the meadow, I heard Holly tell Mama Wolf that we needed a heading of two hundred and seventy degrees. Then when we had gone the quarter mile that Knit Wit measured for us, the second compass heading put us directly onto this path, which led to the mountain.”

“This path just started where we were standing,” Harold said, “we didn’t join it some place in the middle of it. So if we were to go to the end of the trail, and then go…” he screwed up his eyes to do the mental calculations for the reciprocal course, “three hundred and sixty minus two hundred and seventy is… um…”

“Strike off the zeros,” Dusty said. “Thirty six minus twenty seven is nine, so put the zero back on and our heading back would be ninety degrees. But we would still need a compass, because we don’t know whether the magnetic field here is lined up with the poles, and whether the planet rotates in the correct direction to make a solar compass work. Besides, there isn’t enough light on the forest floor to really do a good job of making a solar compass, anyway.”

“How do you make a solar compass?” Newt asked, interested in spite of her worries.

“Well, it’s a very crude compass, even on earth, but you can use it for general direction finding, and it can be helpful if you’re lost.” Dusty said. “You stick a stick into the ground, and then use a rock or another stick, or something for a marker, and somehow mark the exact place where the end of the stick’s shadow falls. It doesn’t even have to be a straight stick, and you can use anything that will hold still and make a nice pointy shadow.

“Because, on Earth, anyway, the sun moves from generally east to generally west, shadows move from generally west to generally east. So you wait about fifteen minutes or so, and then mark where the shadow has moved to. You draw a line between them, and extend it out to both sides. This line will be as close to east and west as you can get, but it’s true east and west, not magnetic. Then you draw another line in the dirt, perpendicular to the first, and that’s north and south. If you’re good at geometry, you can even figure out most of the other angles from there, and get the heading you’re looking for. But you still have to know what the magnetic variation is for your area, and compensate for that as well, because a compass points to magnetic north rather than true.

“Anyway, the point is, that at home, I could make a solar compass if I could find a patch of sunshine, but here I don’t dare to do that, because there are just simply too many unknown factors, any one of which would leave us wandering around in the forest and unable to find the TARDIS before we died of exposure, thirst, or hunger.”

“So unless we steal their compass and abandon them to hopeless wandering in the forest, we’ve to stick with them,” Newt said.

“Got it in one,” Dusty replied.

With a sudden cry of exultation, Knit Wit reached into one of the crevices of the large pile of rocks and pulled something out of it.

Assuming that this was the object of their search that had brought them up to the top of this mountain in the first place, the children gathered near so they could see it.

“It” was a small plastic box that had been entirely covered in brown and green camouflage duck tape. Newt watched as Knit Wit almost reverentially popped open the flaps that kept the lid on the box and provided the watertight seal. Things clicked in Newt’s mind, and she suddenly recognized the camouflaged container as a lock and lock, the sort of container that her mother used to store leftovers in the refrigerator. She lifted the lid, and to Newt’s disappointment, the only thing visible was a wadded up plastic zip lock baggie.

Knit Wit pulled out the baggie, and suddenly Newt could see that there was a small book in the bottom corner, a book that had been made to exactly fit within the small rectangular lock and lock container.

Knit Wit handed the zip lock encased book to Hollerin Holly, who promptly flopped down on the purple grasses and started pulling things out of her various pockets. A trio of markers, and a stamp, and a small notebook were very quickly in evidence. Every last one of the letterboxers sat down and began digging their books and stamps out, so Newt and Harold and Dusty did likewise, copying their hosts. The sooner they could complete this strange ritual, the sooner they could reach the safety of the TARDIS and try to help the Doctor discover the cause of the problems with the environmental controls, and effect the necessary repairs, so that they could get off of this unnatural planet as soon as they could manage it. Newt shrugged off her feeling of impending doom and disaster, and tried to concentrate on the stamping in ritual that the letterboxers were participating in with great relish.

Hollerin’ Holly had freed the small book from its zip-locked confinement, and was busy coloring on her stamp with her marker. Knit Wit was pulling a lump of felt from a second zip lock that had been lodged in the bottom of the lock and lock under the small book. The lump of felt proved to contain a rubber stamp. Newt rolled her eyes. They had hiked all this way for a rubber stamp that they could have just as easily carved back at home?

Each person took their turn stamping the stamp from the box into their own books. Knit Wit told them the name of the box, “The Extreme Mountain”, and they all dutifully wrote the name of the box next to the stamp in her new book, and also, they entered the date. They used November first, two thousand and eight, because they were all still operating on Earth’s calendar, and didn’t know the local equivalent on the local calendar.

As a matter of fact, they didn’t even know if there was a local calendar, since the planet was supposedly uninhabited.

Newt suddenly realized one of the things that had bothered her about the forest. There were no animal sounds. No bird calls, no insects droning about their business, no game trails or foot prints, or scat, or any other signs that anything lived here on this falsely formed planet other than the plants.

The sheer sinisterness of the forest pressed harder against Newt’s consciousness and she shivered again.

They had also written the name of the person who had left this box here, or his letterboxing nickname, Newt guessed, because she couldn’t conceive that any loving mother would have chosen to name their child the rather unlikely name of wassamatta_u.

As the book that had been in the box was passed around, each of them stamped their personal stamp into that book, and then wrote the date and their home town next to their stamp. Newt flipped through to book when it came to her, and was surprised to see that there were already three finders who had beaten them to this remote place…someone named Arizona Roadie had been there first, followed on separate days by a couple named Pete and Wanda, and someone named BR1.

She put her mark into the book, and passed it on.

Just as she was about to put the book away, Mama Wolf said, “Exchanges!” Noting the blank look on Dusty’s face, Knit Wit explained.

“When letterboxers meet each other, they stamp into each other’s boxes as well. This is called an exchange, because we exchange stamp images of our personal signature stamps.

So they all had to pass their personal books around the circle, and Newt was obliged to stamp her stamp into every person’s book and note the date and place they had met. Every one stamped in to her book also, but she noticed that the four letterboxers didn’t stamp in to each other’s books. Apparently they had “exchanged” before, and didn’t need to trade stamps again.

Finally all of the stamping was finished, and the stamps had been cleaned and put away. In fact every thing had been put away, and the box repackaged exactly in the same manner that they had found it. Knit Wit, having been the person who had found the box, put it back into the crevice and then they all joined in artfully arranging the rocks over the box so that it wasn’t visible from any direction.

Everyone shared the last bits of water from the water bottles, and the bottles were again stowed in whatever places the letterboxing pirate ladies had hidden them before they all had left the TARDIS.

Newt was a little uneasy at the knowledge that they still faced quite a long walk, and that it must be made entirely without water. She decided to ask advice of Knit Wit, who had seemed to be the most helpful among the pirates so far. Besides, when they had been using star wars-ish names yesterday, her name of Knit Solo had seemed to indicate she was on the side of light and goodness, while Darth Wolf definitely sounded as though she sided with the Sith, and a couple of times, she had referred to Holly as a Sith Lord also.

Newt walked over to where Knit Wit was checking her belt pouches, and, Newt saw as she read Knit Wit’s notations in her logbook upside down, she was recording the approximate length of the hike they had just taken.

“How far did we come?” Newt asked, hoping that her question would sound just mildly curious.

“About two and a half miles, give or take,” Knit Wit answered, putting her book away and resetting her beads to zero.

“Are you going to count steps on the way back?” Newt asked.

“Yes,” Knit Wit answered, then explained, “because then I’ll take the average of the steps and determine the actual mileage. We humans tend to take shorter steps going uphill, and longer ones going downhill, so if you count and measure both directions, you will have a more accurate estimate of the actual distance travelled. I’ve us now at about two and a half miles, but it’s probably not quite that far, because it was a pretty steep hill we were climbing, so our shortened steps didn’t cover quite as much ground.”

“That makes a lot of sense,” Newt acknowledged, then asked, “Do you think it will be very hard on us to walk all the way back to the TARDIS without being able to get a drink of water?”

“Well,” said Knit Wit, “I think we’ll probably arrive at the TARDIS thirsty, but I don’t think we’re in any danger of over heating or getting the equivalent of sunstroke. Today isn’t a very hot day, and most of our return is downhill, and much of the rest of it is in the shade, so I think we’ll be just fine. It was smart of you to be concerned about the water situation, though, it shows you’re using your head. That’s a wonderful thing to see kids doing; you don’t see enough kids using the brains the Good Lord gave them.”

Newt smiled, a little unsure how she was expected to respond to this statement, but fortunately she didn’t have to respond, because Holly called out, “Is everyone ready to go?”

There were nods and murmurs of assent from every member of their group, and Holly counted her responses, and then blithely led the way over the edge of the mountain’s lip and back down the path they had arrived on, which was, in fact, apparently, the only path on the entire planet.

Knit Wit had been right, Newt mused as they rapidly descended the mountain. They took longer steps, and moved faster, and with much less effort going down the side of the precipitous slope. In fact, they were hard pressed not to run, though in the name of safety, Holly had forbidden that activity.

In what seemed like no time at all, they had reached the base of the mountain, and were retracing their steps to the beginning of the trail.

Once they had arrived at the place where the trail ended, they paused while Holly consulted the sheet with the directions, and Mama Wolf fiddled with her compass. Then they set off again through the forest, not following any path other than the imaginary one that Mama Wolf’s compass showed them.

Very shortly, they had returned to the meadow, and guessing from their reactions, the others were very surprised at the oasis of frost that surrounded the TARDIS. There was actually now a small snow storm centered directly over the TARDIS, and a great pile of the fluffy white stuff was heaped on and around it, as though a large truck load of snow had been dropped directly on top of the small blue box, and had fallen to the ground around its base.

The frozen grasses crackled under their feet as they made their way through the gentle snow storm, and Newt wondered what they would see and how cold it would be when they entered into the TARDIS itself. She had visions of the control room being entirely encased in ice, and the Doctor, still buried past his knees in the control console frozen at his post, an eternal Popsicle.

However, when they pushed open the TARDIS door and entered into the control room, Newt saw that she couldn’t possibly have been more wrong.