“But,” said Becky, “where’s George?”
Andrew grew worried. “Ya don’t think somethin’ happened to George, do ya?” he asked no one in particular.
“No!” shouted Logan, clenching his fists.
Becky glared at Andrew. “Why can’t you just shut up for once?” she snapped.
This time, Andrew glared right back. He was sick of her bossing him around.
“Hey, guys,” Mark called suddenly, worried. No one would ever understand Andrew the way he did. Of course, the cowboy hadn’t meant a word he said. He just never seemed to learn to say the right thing at the right moment.
Becky and Andrew turned to him, both looking hostile.
“It’s time we find George,” he said simply.
“Look!” exclaimed Logan. He picked up a bubble gum wrapper from the ground. “It’s George’s favorite.”
For a moment, everyone seemed relieved.
Gazing around, Mark thought how strange the place appeared to be.
The woodland behind them was unusually quiet and still. There’s not even a whisper of wind. So was the city within the walls.
Why is everything so quiet? Where’s everybody?
It seemed the others were thinking about the same thing.
Looming before them was the most ancient city they had ever seen, with high walls protectively encompassing it and the entrance gates at the front. Interestingly enough, the gates were wide open and the entire place seemed completely carved out of a giant slab of marble. It was a magnificent sight.
Before they knew what was happening, some unseen force pulled them forward. They crumpled into a heap on the ground.
Becky was on the topmost of the pile. She pushed herself to her feet and gasped.
“Oh my gosh,” she whispered, unable to believe her eyes.
So into the tree they went. Instantly, everything around them became pitch dark.
Somewhere far ahead, a tiny point of light appeared, gradually growing brighter and larger until it enveloped them entirely.
As soon as Diane closed her eyes and placed a palm on the trunk, she felt her hand instantly yanked by something. Hard.
Next, she was half-thrown into the tree. If Mark hadn’t shot out his hand and grabbed her on time, she would have been completely at the mercy of the tree.
Mark gritted his teeth and pulled hard, his heels digging into the dirt. He could feel his grip loosening. “Help,” he gasped.
Andrew jumped to his feet to help. Becky and Logan followed, elongating the chainlet.
They pulled and pulled. Yet no matter how hard they tried, they could not pull Diane out. The force was too strong.
Diane was the only one who had heard Andrew, though not a word he said.
“Please,” she said, raising both hands in the air. “I cannot hear everyone at once.” She waited until the last word was spoken. “Thank you.”
Turning back to the cowboy, she asked, “Did you say something, Andrew?”
Andrew grunted. He loathed the way Diane had spoken to him. Like a schoolteacher questioning a primary school pupil. “Think George had both of his eyes shut or somethin’,” he muttered.
This time something did happen.
Mark cleared his throat loudly. “Well,” he said slowly, “George was laughing, wasn’t he?”
Diane gave a few forceful laughs.
Mark shrugged as though he were shrugging off the feeling of embarrassment. Especially for Diane.
“I think he sort of put his hand on his forehead or something,” suggested Becky.
The others nodded quickly, though they barely remembered that.
Logan finally broke out of the trance. “George was clutching his stomach, remember?”
Diane straightened up, frowning slightly, sending everyone murmuring at once. Including Andrew.
Turning back to the tree, he shouted, “George! George!” and beat the tree wildly with his fists. Then he threw his whole weight against it.
It didn’t work. The redhead bounced back and sat on the ground, gasping and looking stunned.
Diane sidestepped him. She put a hand on the tree trunk, where George had put his, and stooped down.
“Anyone?” she asked as an afterthought.
The others, of course, caught on with what Diane was doing.
Except Logan. His face was ghostly pale and his eyes appeared blank. For the time being, he seemed not to know what was happening around him or where he was.
Diane walked over to Logan, who was on the verge of wailing, and gently pulled him away from the tree.
“Calm down, Logan,” she said. “Let’s think it over. It always helps to think about it.”
Logan turned to her, wide-eyed. For a split second, he almost seemed furious. “No way, man!” he shouted, his voice cracking. “Are you crazy?! George’s gone! We don’t have time to think!”
“George!” screamed Logan. He was banging on the massive tree that George had leaned on a moment ago, his eyes bulging. “George!”
It was such a heartrending yet fearful sight. Mark could not help but wonder what might happen next.