Chapter 7

Copyright © 2022 Norma Rrae.

Luci left against Zavian’s wishes. He said she had free will
and allowed her to go, although Keres’s instructions, as per
Zavian, were to stay at the cabin. But then, how did Luci
know to trust what Keres wanted?

Luci shook the thoughts away. She had to find out what had
happened to her mother. And there was a pull in her chest that
willed her out the door. Zavian stayed as instructed. Luci left.

The urge to keep moving, find her mother, complete her
trials, and get home was overpowering. She cycled through
Zavian’s directions to Efra’s house in her mind, which just
involved deciphering questions.

Through the forest to the mines, where, Zavian warned, Luci
had to be stealthy. After the sideway dune, a lake held Efra’s home on the underwater-side of a log structure. Luci didn’t like that idea, as it involved more water.

Help Efra complete a trial. Then she’d only have one more
to get back to Earth. And she hoped he knew of her mother’s

She secretly hoped she could meet Keres before she left. But
given a choice, she would take her mother and go. She didn’t want
to think of the possibility of the gate opening without finding
her mother first.

Luci walked through the forest. Even with the sky eerily lit,
it was dark and gloomy in the woods. She remembered the wolf
paw print and walked faster.

She weaved through a stinky marsh. Muddy water splashed up
her legs, and each step threatened to swallow her foot. However,
the flats Zavian had given her stayed on, even with heavy mud
layered on them, and surprisingly kept her feet dry.

The forest shrunk, and the mountains ahead grew to frame a
hickory-grey pond. The scent of nectar was kicked up by the tiny
feet of bees as they slipped between f lower petals. Luci quickened
her pace. Wafting mist danced in the stale daylight off the pond’s
surface. Then movement made Luci duck to hide.

Lily pads ruff led, and cattails bowed as a tall figure rippled the
pond’s surface. It was a swan floating serenely across.
Instinctively, she went for her camera, but it wasn’t there. It
sat broken at Zavian’s cabin. She sighed heavily. The swan looked
up and stared at her until Luci broke the gaze and walked away.

Luci saw lines of bustling animals at a surface mine, dug deep
into the ground like a giant shovel scooped the contents out. She’d
made it. Luci ran, feeling time press against her temple. Every
second she couldn’t find her mother was a headache.

Ruth Catalina Flask—that name had been her whole life.
She tried to recall her furthest memory: when her teacher sent a teddy bear home as a project, it was kindergarten. Young Luci was
supposed to draw pictures of their sleepover adventures. But she’d
been so caught up in tea parties with the bear, she’d forgotten
until Monday morning. Her mother had skipped morning coffee
to help Luci draw the comic strip. She’d got an A.

Luci reached the opening to the mines. Animals bustled
around pushing, pulling, and carrying wooden crates full of
silvery-black rock with crystal formations. It was like the animals
of Noah’s Ark had been put to work in a mine.

Luci recalled Zavian had said to be careful. She crouched and
ran to a crate sitting alone. A barrel of monkeys drew near. Luci
didn’t feel hidden well behind the container. She scrambled inside.

It was devoid of any smell. The stacks of palm-sized crystals she
sat on were shaped like chapels and coloured like bejewelled coal.
The crate bumped into action. Animals were chittering
outside as Luci rocked along a track hidden inside the crate. She
hoped she was moving in the right direction to get through the

The crate stopped, and Luci looked up to a sandy dune. The
animal sounds grew further away, and Luci risked a peek out
of the container. The animals had pushed the crate halfway up
a dune. Luci scanned the busy mine until she found a wooden
archway at the base of a dune that looked to have been sliced
off the ground and tipped on its side. That had to be the exit.

That’s where she needed to go. At the bottom of a sideways hill,
as Zavian had said. The lake where Efra lived would be on the
other side.

The base of the mine was a solidified glass sheet. Mine
trails were littered everywhere. They were sideways, slantways,
and backways in and around the dirt mounds. They led down
to the centre stretch of the massive glass f loor. All the dunes
funnelled towards this stretch, which led to the exit. Flamingos,
hippopotamuses, giraffes, dairy cows, pelicans, and even polar bears huddled at the bottom near the exit, blocking her escape.
They seemed to be on a break.

A flock of ostriches bustled past with wings full of the black
crystal. One stopped. Luci ducked down, but the bird popped his
head into the crate then jumped back, screeching.

A commotion broke out below, creating a perfect distraction
for Luci to make her escape. She hauled herself out of the crate
but remained hidden as she watched for a window to bolt for
the sideways dune. An ostrich below flapped around erratically,
hissing and knocking crates over. He rushed up the dune straight
for Luci crouched behind the crate. He stopped long enough
to make eye contact. Then he faked a charge causing Luci to
scramble backwards. He lifted his head and bellowed a deep boom
to the other animals. It gave Luci the chance to make her escape.

She bolted past him and slid on her feet down the dune.
Surfing down the dune was the closest she’d ever come to actual
surfing, on account of her aquaphobia, but she held her arms out
for balance like a pro. The sand was amazingly compliant. If it
weren’t for all the mine animals funnelling towards her, she would
have enjoyed the ride.

A hippopotamus sat on his bottom, waiting for a rhinoceros
beetle that was carrying a water droplet to him, and watched
Luci intently. Then, finally, she tumbled the last few feet to the
bottom and smashed into the glass floor with a crash. She barely
avoided colliding with the hippo. He scrutinized her clambering
to her feet but remained sitting as she turned to run for the exit.

A loud bang sounded behind her, and the glass floor shook.
She lost her footing and slipped. She accidentally bit her lip and
tasted blood, but didn’t fall at least.

Luci drew close to the exit of the mine. A commotion made
her risk a glance backwards. The hippo was on his feet now and
charging. An army behind him bellowed and hissed. Luci, not
looking ahead, crashed hard into something. She fell backwards, dazed, and looked up to the side of the mine exit. There was
such a short distance she needed to go for the exit archway. As
the heavy steps grew closer, Luci rolled over and scrambled to get
through the exit. Crackling sounded. She could see the sparkle of
the lake on the other side through a tunnel.

Rocks fell from above as she ran through the darkness. The
dune crumbled behind her as she made her escape.
A support beam wavered at the end of the short tunnel.

“Wilds, no,” Luci pleaded.

She dashed for the exit. Boulders crashed from the ceiling,
brushing just the edges of her curls from beneath her toque.
An explosion from behind threw her out the last few feet. Luci
hit the ground and rolled. The mine exit sealed shut behind her.
Luci lay on her back. A fluffy white cloud appeared. It spun,
lowered, then flipped over before pausing and starting again.
It couldn’t be an explosion mushroom cloud. There was no
burned-lemon-peel smell. She stood, and the cloud jumped a
foot higher. Dizzy, Luci fell back to her bottom. She looked up
where the cloud had lowered to hover above her head.

Could it be?

“Keres?” she asked.

The woman did live in the sky. She supposed this cloud might
be Keres’s doing. There was no answer to her inquiry, but as she
walked away, the haze followed.

Luci’s stomach growled, reminding her of the plums in her
pocket. She pulled one out and ate it gratefully. The sugar rush
lessened the ache in her muscles.

When she reached the lake, she frowned at the murky brown
water. Trees lined the edges of the water, with roots that shot
straight down, leaving no beach of any type. Luci stood on the
drop-off edge and looked down, but saw only her ref lection. The
pink toque made her look ridiculous. She tore it off her head and tossed it in the water. A grotesque one-eyed fish, the size of her
palm, swam up and swallowed the toque in one gulp.

She wished she could jump in and dive to the bottom. Get
this trial over and done. But if she drowned now, it would be the
end of the search for her mother.

Stupid swim lessons, Luci thought. But, after failing every class
since “Crocodile”, her mother had still smiled with understanding
in her eyes.

Luci wondered if she’d ever see those eyes again.
She still didn’t want to jump into the lake to search for Efra’s
home. A glance around the lake showed no sign of any houses.
And Zavian clearly stated in the lake, not near the lake. She let go
of the hope this home sat in an empty lake. That was reaching
too far.

Luci approached the edge, where rows of perfectly cut logs
floated in the lake. The wood created a stunning geometric
pattern on the surface. They looked sturdy enough, but they
banged like approaching monster footsteps in a nightmare of
being chased.

“It’s the logs,” Luci said to her shaky knees. She couldn’t seem
to command her feet to move her to step off the land onto the
floating logs. “I did this at the river.” She tried again to step onto
the cold deck, but her feet stayed planted to the solid ground,
glued by her subconscious.

A creak behind made Luci look back. A pine tree’s branch
swung straight for her head, forcing her to jump out of the way.
She landed with a thump on the floating logs.

Water splashed over the logs onto her clothing. On hands and
knees, Luci crawled. Worry crept into her mind. She didn’t want
to fall into the lake.

A pine cone flew past her face.

“What in the wilds?”

Luci glared at the tree, expecting to see a mischievous squirrel.

Instead, she saw all the trees nearby had bulked up their pine
cones near the ends of the branches. They drew back, ready to fire
the projectiles. She scrambled to the far end of the cold deck of
logs. Pine cones whistled past her head. Luci frantically searched
for a door to Efra’s home.

“Stop!” she yelled at the trees. They continued and even
added in sharp needles that pierced through the air. A pine cone
clunked on the back of her head with a thud. The cold deck felt
massive as she scoured for a hidden trapdoor. There had to be
something, anything to tip off where an entrance would be. A
hailstorm of pine needles rained down, making it difficult to see
and dangerous to move.

Then Luci had enough. The lone cloud still hung overhead.

“Keres, make them stop!” she pleaded, not expecting any type of
response but also at the end of her wits. She covered her head as
the onslaught increased. Then, strangely, a train sounded. Luci
snapped her head up. What she saw made her scream instead.

A tornado raced straight towards her. She grasped the slippery
logs as best she could. The screeching tornado jumped the logs
altogether and spun ferociously through the trees. Every needle
and pine cone blew off the trees along the bank. Then the tornado
disappeared into the small white cloud above. Luci jumped up
and cheered. The branches on the trees hung sad, drooping like
the shoulders of an unhappy man. Then they sprung back up
and slowly filled in with new green needles. For the trees, it was
new ammo. Luci searched the sky for the little cloud, but it had

She heard a faint sound under the floating logs.
Like a child crying.

Luci ran to the edge of the logs, but the sound faded. She
knelt to listen then crawled back along the cold deck. There was
a smear of colour between the logs. The sound grew louder as
she traced the underwater shades. Through the slivers, Luci saw square bases of furniture. The house was down there. There was
even a ceiling fan that spun vigorously.

A house attached to the cold deck, upside down.

With the daunting task of finding a way inside, Luci followed
the house’s square boundary, looking for a door.

A glance at the trees showed Luci they were rapidly thickening
up with ammo. Her only choice would be to climb in the water
and feel around for the door. She didn’t like the idea, but it was
all she had.

She stood on the edge of the floating logs, felt that tug in
her chest, and followed it by slowly lowering herself into the
water. It was cold and dirty. It was water. Yuck. Luci held onto
the floating timber with one hand and felt beneath the logs. The
water suddenly spun up around her as if a whale had appeared
and swallowed her whole. Darkness engulfed her, then faded, and
she screamed underwater when she found herself standing upside
down with her feet seemingly glued to the bottom of the logs.
Air poured out of her in bubbles.

She pressed her eyes closed, waiting for the impending
drowning she’d always feared in her life. But when she breathed air
in through her nostrils, she opened her eyes. She breathed again.
She opened her mouth and panted. Still, no water drowned her.
Upside down in the water, beneath the surface of the lake,
Luci breathed as if she were standing on land. She remembered
the dragonfly in the river that saved her from drowning. Had he
done something?

A sparkle flickered through the murky water. Luci bent
forward to see. It was a doorknob, miraculously clean plated gold
as if not submerged.

It’s Efra’s upside-down house! Luci took a step forward, and
her face came up against the door.

She knocked.

No answer.

It was such a strange feeling, knocking on a solid door
underwater. Luci tried several times, the water pressure pushing
back against her fist. Finally, with no answer, she turned the
handle, which spun effortlessly in her palm, and the door swung
open. Luci stood right side up, or upside round, to the opening
of the downside house. She collapsed to the floorboards when she
stepped over the threshold as if gravity remembered to do its job.
Luci, drenched, laid in a crumpled heap on the arid floor.

The door creaked shut and somehow didn’t allow a single
drop of water to enter behind her. Luci tried to compose herself
before the homeowner appeared, who she hoped would be Efra.
She was thankful he hadn’t witnessed her klutzy entrance.
She stood and was about to say hello when a child’s voice

“How did you get in?”

Luci wiped away the muck glued to her clothing. “I, um,
knocked several times,” she said.

She scanned the single-room, furniture-packed home for the
voice. Cabinets with peeling paint, three-legged tables, splintered
chairs, dilapidated couches, drawers with no dresser, and crooked
bookshelves littered the house. “And besides, you didn’t lock the
door,” she added.

The voice snapped with a tone that reminded Luci of her
brother’s hissy fits. “That is not what I meant!”

Luci took a cautious step around a sideways table.

She kept him talking to track the voice down. “Sorry, I don’t
quite follow?”

“I meant, how did you, a girl, get in my home?”


“Did I stutter?” the voice asked.

Luci squeezed between more furniture. She wanted to snap
back, but she had to show patience like she would with her little brother. She purposely stomped for the hidden homeowner to
know she was approaching.

“That was rude,” Luci said.

The answer was a one-syllable laugh.

She stepped around two bookshelves that were stacked one
atop the other. The drawers stood end to end next to the shelves.
Peculiar. An orange couch sat in the centre of a large white
shag rug. The pristine-looking sofa, one of the only objects
sitting upright, looked as if it didn’t live in a single-room house
underwater. Along with the shag carpet, it was much too clean
to be here.

“To be truthful, I’m not sure how I got here. First I was
floating in the lake, looking for your door, then I was just upside
down, but standing upright in the water,” Luci said.

“That’s how it works here. Everything is upside down in
Wayward Lake. But you didn’t answer my question,” he said. “I
want to know how you, as in a basic girl from Earth, got here
breathing underwater? There is no way you could have walked
through water. You’re just a girl. A basic girl.”

Luci’s cheeks heated, evaporating the drops of lake water into
steam. “I’m not basic.”

“No, you couldn’t be, could you. Otherwise you wouldn’t
have got in here,” the child-like voice said.

“Well, there was this dragonfly …” Luci trailed off.

“Ha!” he laughed sarcastically, “That makes more sense.”

She rounded the couch to see a Memegwaan like Zavian, but
this man was ancient. Brown age spots splattered across his face
like spilled paint. He appeared beyond the possibility of living,
but Luci figured anything was conceivable in The Otherly. He sat
cross-legged on the floor with nothing but a rhubarb-leaf diaper.

His skin, the colour of burned bark, hung off his body as if it were
trying to crawl off his body. Unlike Zavian, this Memegwaan
sported a small mouse, squeaking with each snore, nestled within strands of silver wavy hair bunched into a literal rat’s nest. Same
triangular head; same wide red lips and box teeth.

Thick black eyebrows hung off the sides of his face, wavering
when he frowned. Damp lines ran down his cheeks from tears,

Luci guessed, and he chewed his fingernails ferociously.
They held each other’s gaze for a moment. Luci wanted to
yell at him for his comment, but his condition made her anger
def late. Instead, she felt empathy for the miserable-looking man.

“Are you Efra?” she asked.

He rolled his eyes and huffed. “Why?”

Luci brushed a spot clean of chewed fingernails to sit across
from him.

“I’m hoping you are,” she said.

Puddles of muddy lake water spread onto the floor from her
clothing, but the man didn’t seem to notice anything except the
fingernails he chewed incessantly.

“Why?” he asked again without even looking at her.

Luci pulled his arm down to remove the fingers from his
mouth. He rocked faster and stuffed his fingers back into his

“Because I am looking for Efra, he might know where my
mother is,” Luci said.

The man spoke between his fingers. “Yeah, that’s me, not
like anyone cares.”

“I care,” Luci said genuinely.

She reached over, removed his hand, and gently held it.

Efra glanced at her, then stuffed his fingers back in his mouth.
He looked terminally desperate.

“Do you really?” he asked, then shook his head, making a
throaty sound. “No, you don’t. Why would you care? You just
got here.”

“Yes,” Luci said. She thought for a moment. “I do care because
you’re alive, and anything living deserves care and attention. I might not know you, but my heart breaks for the woes you go
through. Whatever is ailing you that you sit here and cry?”

“Who said I was crying?”

Luci patted his arm as a friend would. She broke his line of
sight into nothingness with her face. It was a trick her mother
used to do when Luci was little and the daymares had started.
Luci had been so scared that she couldn’t make eye contact. Her
mother would spend long minutes calming her down. Then the
two together would catch the girl’s soul, as her mother would say.

“Efra,” Luci spoke gently, “what bothers you that you chew
your nails down to the flesh?”

He removed his fingers from his mouth and looked at them
as if realizing for the first time.

She carefully grasped his hands and held them, but Efra lifted
his left foot to his mouth and continued to chew nails. Finally,
he spoke muff led words between his toes. “I have no more room
for my treasures.”


“I want to build my house bigger. Otherwise, I have to leave
anything new behind. If I had more things, maybe I wouldn’t
be sad.”

“I can help you, but I must tell you, objects won’t make you
happy,” Luci said.

“Maybe.” He considered this, then looked her in the eye and
said, “Or maybe if my house were larger, I could set everything
out nicely. That would make me happy.”

“Yes, I suppose you’re right. How do I help you build a bigger
house?” Luci asked, worried about the tight rope in her chest that
seemed to be winding up tighter with each passing moment. She
needed to find her mother.

His face raised with anticipation. “Can you help me get more

“Yes, I can do that. But first, I need to ask you something,”
Luci said.

He nodded.

“Do you know where my mother is? Her name’s Ruth. She
has blonde hair and glasses the size of plums. She’s quite shy, but
once you speak to her, she lights up like an old friend.”

“No. I haven’t seen your mother or anyone for that fact. I
don’t know what a plum is. But I did hear there was a commotion
at the labyrinth,” Efra said. “What’s your name? Since you know
mine, I’d like to show care for you too.”

Luci pulled a plum from her pocket and offered it to Efra. “My
name’s Lucille Flask. Most call me Luci or Luci-two.” Repeating
the nickname from her mother made a tear spring from her eye.

“And now, I guess, Miss Luci. This is a plum.”

Efra cocked an eyebrow at the plum. “Can you put things in
it, Miss Luci Lou?” he asked.

“It’s food. And most definitely tastes better than fingernails.”
He sniffed the plum, said thank you, and licked the skin. “I
don’t know.”

“Try,” Luci insisted.

Efra took a bite, scrunched his nose, and stuffed his hand back
into his mouth.

Luci waited a few minutes for him to move. Instead, his eyes
bounced from one lopsided furniture piece to the next. Then,
finally, she said, “Should we go get the wood now?”

His eyebrows lifted in surprise and met in the middle for a
perfect black unibrow. “You still want to help me?”

“Of course,” she said and stood, holding her hand out to him.

“Let’s get you more building materials.” Luci smiled. At that
moment, she felt he needed her the most.

Efra unravelled his legs and wavered, trying to stand with
creaks and pops. Then, finally, he cautiously accepted her hand.
She helped him up to his feet.

He hustled off towards a dresser that lived on its side. Luci
stood awkwardly by the couch, unsure what to do next. She
watched Efra pull on a straw hat, but looked away when he pulled
weaved pants and a blue shirt out of a drawer.

“A dragonfly, you said?” Efra asked.

Luci shrugged. She heard his footsteps approach and looked
back to see him catapult towards her and plant a dry kiss on her
lips. Luci was so shocked she gasped, but it felt more like Efra was
the one who gasped.

She scowled and was about to smack the misstepping
Memegwaan, but he quickly darted back across the room to a
porthole in the wall. Efra swung the metal window open. Water
reached in like a giant’s hand and grabbed them, tearing Luci from
the safety of the underwater house.

Icy cold water slammed against her chest. Luci coughed and
choked on the murky water, wondering what had happened to
her dragonfly breath.

An object below Luci smacked into her and lifted her out of
the water.

“Wilds, Efra! You could have warned me,” she snapped.
Growling that she continued to end up in bodies of water,
she wiped the muddy water from her eyes, which scratched like
sand. Then, finally, she found herself seated on the back of a hefty
one-eyed fish and moaned.

“I don’t do well with aquatic life.”

Efra sat happily on the fish in front of her. He patted the fish’s
head. “Don’t worry. Jones here doesn’t like the taste of basic girls,
only bright-coloured furniture. Then he poops it out whole.
That’s how I get so many fun objects. Granted, it takes time for
the fish smell to fade.”

Luci grimaced. She didn’t like Efra calling her basic. She didn’t
like sitting on a fish named Jones. “I’m not sure that information
is reassuring,” she said.

Efra requested Luci’s sweater, which she gratefully gave
up. The clothing was soaked anyway, and her tank top would
probably dry faster without the heavy sweater holding water in.
Efra tore it in half, then tied half to the end of a nearby cattail,
creating bait resembling a bindle. He held the weed out in front
of him and swung it near the fish’s nose.

Jones managed one slow blink, then took off, trying to
catch the sweater that dangled. Waves created by the overgrown
flounder lapped the banks. Luci sprawled out on his greased back,
clinging with all her strength so as not to fly off into water.
They jetted through the lake towards a second floating
woodpile. Luci relaxed as the pace steadied, moving in a nice
straight line. She sat up and held Efra’s shoulders. She almost
enjoyed the ride on the monster fish because at least he didn’t
seem to be trying to kill her.

Efra lifted the bindle high in the sky, making Jones follow
his nose and stop a mere foot from the f loating logs. He tossed
the other half of the sweater into the fish’s mouth. The giant fish
graciously swallowed the cotton blend. Efra placed the bindle bait
on Jones’s back for safekeeping. Then he slid off the side of the fish
into the water, swam over, and climbed onto the wooden planks.

He motioned for Luci to follow.

She saw the expanse of water she had to clear and shook her
head. “I can’t swim,” she said.

Efra mumbled something and coaxed the fish closer to the

This amount of space she could manage. She jumped off onto
the logs, which were pandemonium compared to Efra’s home

Efra pointed to the messy pile of fallen trees. “I need four
good-sized logs. Jones will tow them, but he often gets distracted
and ends up in the wrong place. Can you hold the logs together while I steer him? The last time I tried on my own, the logs
floated away.”

Efra pulled two butt-cuts off the pile himself. He tossed them
effortlessly into the water. They sunk for a moment, then sprung
up out of the water. The wave caused the cold deck to shift. Luci
threw her arms out to the side for balance. More waves threatened
to push the loot away.

“Catch those!” he yelled.

Luci was thankful for her height as she stretched her legs over
the logs and pulled them back to the edge of the woodpile. She
sat with her bum on the cold deck, her legs dangling in the water,
holding the logs.

“Miss Luci Lou, can you grab moss rope?” Efra asked.

“From where exactly?” Luci asked.

“In the middle, over there.”

“But if I let these go—”

“Never mind, they’re fine now,” Efra said.

Luci sighed. She clambered up and watched the logs for a
moment, which seemed to have settled. Then, while peeking
between cracks to look for an underside house, Luci set off to
locate Cattywampus vines. Beneath this cold deck was vacant
space, not even a beaver.

Efra tossed more logs into the lake. He seemed impossibly
strong and appeared to be walking on the water’s surface between
Jones and the f loating woodpile.

“Seems anything is possible here,” Luci said.

“What’s that?” Efra asked.

“Nothing,” she grumbled.

An extensive collection of mossy plants offered plenty of
vines. Luci collected some easily. When a bug squirmed free
of a huge vine and jumped straight onto her knee, she lurched
backwards in surprise.

The bug wasn’t discouraged and clung to her capris. He appeared to be doing some strange dance with his back legs kicking out.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

He stopped, blinked, and then jumped to the logs. He spun
in a circle, wiggling his back legs in the air. Luci’s eyebrows lifted
in curiosity when the bug kicked up a plume of dirt that hung in
space between his antennae. He was writing a word in the dirty

Luci gasped. “‘Fear’?” she read aloud.

Efra called her.

“What do you mean ‘fear’?”

He kicked more dirt up and wrote, Efra = fear.

Luci scrambled up quickly but then tripped and fell with a

Efra yelled, “You OK over there?”

Luci grabbed armfuls of the vines and stumbled back to the
man. He had dozens of logs in the water now. They all lined up
square behind the fish. He examined the pile of vines.

“Good,” he said and climbed back onto the fish. “Now tie
those to the four best logs and toss me the ends.”

Luci didn’t understand what the bug was trying to say. Should
she fear Efra? He seemed like a distressed child.

She leaned over the logs and tied vines around them. In the
end, there were four logs with constrictor knots tied to each rope
in Efra’s hands.

“How’s that?” Luci asked.

“Perfect. Perfectly perfection. Soon, it’s time for your trial,”
Efra said.

“I thought helping you was my trial?” Luci asked.

“Oh no, Miss Luci Lou, that was merely a pleasant side quest.
I do appreciate the help, though. First you have to climb over
Jones and stand on the two logs in the centre. Then use your feet
to keep the logs together while I steer us home.”

“Um, so essentially, I have to water ski,” Luci said.

Efra smirked, “Yes, but here is an extra rope. Just hold on
tight,” he said.

Luci saw no way around this task. Even if a bug told her to fear
Efra, she needed to complete this trial to open the door to Earth.
She sighed and climbed off the woodpile onto the two logs tied
to the fish. With one foot on the centre of each plank, she waved
to Efra that she was ready, although she was far from ready. Her
knees rattled, and she felt bile rise in her throat. The Memegwaan
settled on Jones’s back and tossed Luci one end of the braided vine.

She faintly wondered when he had time to braid the ropes, but
threw the thought away. She bent her knees and centred herself
as Efra intently swung the remainder of the sweater in front of
Jones. He started slow.

“I’m going to drown,” Luci muttered. She wondered if the
bug was watching. Jones started his movements slow and moved
deliberately. Finally, she grew confident as they moved across the
lake. She even stood straight and grinned.

Efra lifted his bindle bait, and the speed increased.

The logs shot out of the water, and sure enough, Luci was
water skiing. Her legs wobbled from nerves and her fight for
balance. She tried to tell her cramped hands to let up on their
grip, but it didn’t work. Either way, she was doing it. A slow grin
spread on her face.

She pushed her legs gracefully to ski along the waves.

The adrenaline rush faded, and Luci held on to enjoy the ride.

The fish swam happily with its sights set on the last half of his
snack. Efra turned to sit sideways on the fish and grinned. Luci
smiled as she waterskied across the murky lake.

Efra projected his voice over the splash of the water. “Are you
having fun?” he asked.

Luci braved a thumbs up, holding the rope with one hand and
called back, “A blast!”

“Good, now it’s time,” Efra said.

“Time for what?” Luci asked.

Efra grinned. “For your trial.”

Luci turned the logs under her feet to create a bigger wave.

“Is it about fun?” she asked.

“No, it is not. It is about fear.”

And with that, Efra dropped the remaining half of the purple
sweater straight into the water. The beastly fish screeched to a stop
in the middle of the lake and plunged underwater.

Luci screamed. The logs drifted apart, forcing Luci into a
split before she crashed into the water. The rope ripped from her
hands, and the floating wood closed into a tomb above her head.

The sudden stop caused a suction effect, pulling Luci deep into
the dark olive-coloured water.

Luci thrashed her legs and arms, but they only smacked the
bottom of the logs. She swallowed large gulps of water, trying to
breathe. She kicked hard as the trepidation of drowning seeped
into her veins. The muscles meant to save her sunk her like a rock.
Her body was a burden. Luci shrieked underwater and watched
in horror as the last of her air bubbles floated effortlessly to the

The life-saving dragonfly’s breath was gone. Luci could no
longer breathe underwater, and she was drowning.

The tips of the vines found their way into the water and
wrapped around one of her wrists. Efra directed them to pull her
out of the water enough to see his face. She gasped air into her
burning lungs as he spoke hotly on her face.

“Fear is important. It is more important, in fact, than fun,”
he said.

Luci coughed and tried to wiggle free from the vines.
“Help me!”

“Fear of the dark, of being alone, of being judged. Fear of
ultimately losing yourself in a nightmare or the end-all, that fear
of death,” Efra said.

“Efra,” Luci squeaked out, “please.”

His face fell from her plea, but he looked away. He waved his
hands, and the vines disappeared. Luci plunged back into the dark
water. She sunk as Efra impossibly stood on the water’s surface
above her. She realized she would drown with her eyes open.
Efra bent to put his face in the water and spoke with a deep
sadness. “Falling, burning, choking, drowning. Fear is the sickness
that causes death in a situation. But Miss Luci Lou, know that fear
prevents us from running off a cliff when we cannot fly, from
lighting a fire we cannot control, or attempting to float when we
cannot swim.”

Trapped in a death plunge to the lake bed, Luci kicked and
flailed, trying to swim. But her body still settled in the grimy

The Cattywampus vines crashed through to revive her once
more. Efra grimaced when Luci burst through the gravestone
of water, crying for help with vines tied around her waist. She
wanted to scream at Efra, but her throat felt swollen. Her trust
ached as much as her lungs. She struggled to hold the slippery log
with her weak muscles. She tried and failed to pull herself out of
the water.

Efra stood over her and spoke words that sounded both
scripted and painful. “To become grown, you evolve past infancy
of emotions and beyond the basics of learning ‘these are our
fingers, and these are our toes.’ Our hands can acquire the skill of
writing sensible words, and our feet can master the art of running
great distances. But our emotions try to prevent these actions,
causing a stall in our growth. Fear is the strongest emotion. It
will warp your words, halt your run, stunt your growth. Fear of
failure. Fear of success. Fear of yourself.”

Efra plucked Luci’s fingers off the log as she cried, “Please,
Efra, help me.”

His tears matched hers.

She dropped below the surface with his words in her ear. “Let
go of your fear,” he said and pushed her further down.

As the light above the water dimmed to a memory, a thought
crept into her mind. Maybe her mother didn’t want Luci because
she couldn’t swim. Her mother, a natural mermaid, with a
daughter who sinks like a rock. Her mother had always said
people are naturally buoyant. Luci stopped thrashing. Maybe her
mother left at the first chance she got. The sombre idea made her
sink faster, with the murky water closing tightly.

Something slapped Luci on the shoulder, causing an
underwater shriek that emptied the last of her oxygen. She sunk
further. Then something hit her other shoulder. She flailed and
spun around. Fish phantoms in the lake bumped and pushed her
like a toy ball skittering across the concrete. Luci saw what looked
like fish ghosts. See-through and the size of her palm, they were
shaped like kittens wearing bedsheets and had sharp iridescent
teeth. Her lungs filled with water when she gasped in horror as
they played with her death.


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