Giant ObstaclesChapter 14
“Well, that’s not something you see every day,” Balaam remarked.
The children looked at him, inquisitively. Being their guide, the kids assumed Balaam knew about any and all peoples, terrain, fauna, and foliage in the forest. So when he was just as shocked as they were by things, it continued to confound them.
“What?” he asked. “You think every talking donkey has seen a real life giant?”
“What do we do now?” Esther asked.
“We are like ants to him,” Aaron said.
The group didn’t move, and the giant remained still. Herbert thought about the last time he killed an ant and shivered. He felt a tug on his shirt and looked to see the green fairy fluttering next to him. She was very perturbed by something. He couldn’t help but imagine how Starlight must look at him. To her, he was the giant. And this enormous man in the field was a skyscraper. And to him, Starlight was smaller than a gnat.
He held out his hand, and she landed on it. While waving her arms over her head in big oval shapes, she pointed at the giant behind her. She stamped her feet, tapped her toes, and wagged her index finger at him. Then she pointed at the giant again and stuck her tongue out.
Herbert looked at the giant and back to her. “You know him, Starlight?”
The green fairy crossed her arms and nodded her head, defiantly.
“And you don’t like him?”
The fairy shook her head.
“He is the one who took your home?”
Her composure faded. She looked sad and dropped her arms to her sides. He brought his hand to his shoulder, and she climbed off and sat next to his neck with her head down.
“How are we supposed to get passed him?” Marian muttered under her breath.
“Maybe he is a friendly giant?” Esther offered.
“Are you kidding me?” Aaron asked. “Look at those angry eyes and stiff face. Looks just like my mom.”
“Starlight doesn’t seem to like him,” Herbert said.
“We need to find another way,” Marian said.
“Yeah,” Aaron agreed, “Sneak in behind somehow.”
Herbert winced. He didn’t like the idea of sneaking around a giant that could crush him like a bug.
“There is no other way any of us could ever get passed a thing like that,” Aaron said.
“That’s not true—” said Esther. “I know a story about a boy who killed one with only a stone and a slingshot—” (That’s another great story, but you’ll have to ask your Mom and Dad about it.) “—but I still think he might be friendly.”
“What should we do, Balaam?” Marian asked.
“I don’t know if I have a good answer,” he responded.
“You come have conversation with Maushop,” the giant bellowed and waved his hand.
Have you ever heard someone enter a door behind you? Your ears flair up and move backward, the hair stands up on your neck, and sometimes even your spine tingles. This was the exact sensation all four children felt as the booming voice of the giant came over them.
Marian stepped forward, and the others followed. The giant lowered his head and examined the teeny children. They felt his immense eyes rolling over each of them. His foot lay upright on its heel, in the middle of the field, seven-feet high. As they crossed under its shadow, Marian’s heart rose to her esophagus and she held her breath. The giant’s gaze fell on them like a tower with eyes. Splash! His left arm dumped into the spring behind the brick wall, scooped up a handful of water, and splashed his face.
“Do you know me?” The giant asked, and Marian felt the wind from his hot breath.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she replied, “but I don’t think we’ve ever met.”
The giant leaned back like he was in deep thought. “Long time ago,” he sighed, “everyone knew Maushop.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Maushop,” Marian said, and the others haphazardly agreed.
“I brought the fishes and the whales,” the giant continued. “And gave plenty to the little people. In the morning, they never worried about what they would do by nightfall, because Maushop provided.”
“Well, what happened to the little people?” Marian asked.
Maushop smiled and looked down at her. “What is your name, little princess?”
“Marian. Marian Dolor.”
“Dolor children,” Maushop said to himself. The giant looked away, and the kids wondered if they displeased him. Aaron looked around the giant’s waist and saw a blind spot he could dart to and sneak around.
Maushop looked back at the children. “If the gate is ever broken,” he said, “I protect that which cannot be destroyed.”
“Do you mean the Fountain?” Esther asked.
The green fairy grew agitated, waiting on Herbert’s shoulder. She stood up and fluttered her wings as fast as a bumblebee. Her wings took her high into the air where she pulsated her green light at the giant. The children imagined she said very choice words in her fairy language.
It’s been said that giants and fairies don’t get along very well. Something about fairies’ love of color and light irritates giants; and fairies consider the slow old-timey repose of giants as oafish. Maushop had taken Starlight’s home around the Fountain, which especially made her cross with him.
“Bees and houseflies,” Maushop swatted his hand at the air in front of him. “Get this thing away from me.”
“Starlight!” Herbert hollered, scared the giant might kill her. The giant’s backhand swooped passed the fairy, and the wind blew her toppling head over heels. Her wings caught the air before she crashed on the ground, and she feverishly retreated to Herbert’s side. “Careful!” Herbert hollered, but he didn’t know if he was yelling at the fairy or the giant.
“Ugly bright lights and nasty buzzing,” Maushop said to himself. “I miss the ocean.”
“The ocean?” Esther asked. “Is that where you are from?”
“Why don’t you head back there?” Aaron smirked. “We can look after the Fountain.”
“Maushop lived far away from here, long ago,” the giant said. “I had a wife in the cold places by the ocean. And no—you cannot protect the Fountain. Only the artifact can.”
Esther sat up on Balaam’s back. She winced when her ankle hit the donkey’s side. “Where is your wife now?” She asked.
Maushop smiled, but looked sad. “The Wendigo killed her. And all the little people, too.” Maushop looked at the spring and submerged his hand under it again. Water bellowed over the edges of the walls and drenched the grass around the children. His other hand lunged into the air and made a fist. He thrust his fist down and smashed the earth beside them, angrily. The forest shook, trees rattled, and every bird nearby took to the air, squawking and fleeing. The children fell down, and Balaam struggled to keep Esther on his back.
Maushop raised his hand from the earth. A crater of rock and dirt remained in its place.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Oh no, we are used to monster’s trying to kill us by now,” Aaron sneered.
“Maushop,” Marian said, “I’m sorry about your wife—”
“Her name was Squannit,” he said.
“Squannit,” Marian repeated. “I’m sorry about Squannit.”
Maushop sighed, and the children wondered what he may do next. Esther and Marian looked at one another.
“Say something,” Esther mouthed.
Marian looked back at the giant. “Maushop,” she said, “we’ve come to find the Fountain of Youth.”
“I know Dolor children,” he replied. “But I only move for the one who controls the Army of Bones.” The children glanced at one another, confused. “Maybe that’s you one day, but its not you today.”
“I don’t understand,” Marian said.
“I do,” Aaron replied. “This whole stupid journey was pointless. We aren’t getting passed him, there’s no way to close the gate, and where in the world is the Ghost? He said he would be here and now we’ve done this for no reason.”
“The logbook?” Herbert said, and Marian nodded. She pulled her backpack from her shoulder.
“Balaam,” Esther asked, “do you know anything?”
“Esther,” he replied, “I wish I knew more, but I only know what I’ve been given. Sir Juan Ponce de León ordered me to walk with you. I never knew where or why.”
“He didn’t tell you what we were doing?” Esther asked.
“Only that it mattered,” Balaam responded. “And I suppose that was good enough for me.”
“There’s nothing new in the logbook,” Marian sighed. “It’s still just a hairy foot and the words el gigante.”
“Imagine finding the Fountain of Youth, and not being able to do anything about it,” Aaron complained. “We discovered something no one has ever found before, and we can’t even drink from it.”
“Everyone wants something to make them live forever,” Maushop said, “But they don’t want to die to receive it.” He raised his hand from the water. A waterfall dumped from his palm and hairy arm, splashing the spring. The children watched his enormous hand floating in the air, pointing behind them. Their eyes followed it to a cairn of sandstone on the other side of the field.
The children and Balaam crossed the field to examine it. It was clearly ancient. Wind and rain wiped away the inscription on it and rubbed the edges weak and round. Herbert imagined nudging it would cause it to fall over. At its center, a hole showed the outline of an eight-point star. It seemed as if someone had ripped something from the stone years ago, leaving the mark.
“What is it?” Esther asked.
“That is the grave of Sir Juan Ponce de León,” Maushop called from the other side of the field. “Out of it came the artifact. He who controls the artifact, controls the Army of Bones.”
“Juan Ponce de León is buried in Puerto Rico!” Aaron hollered back.
“And I’m sure his Ghost told you that, too,” Balaam remarked, and Aaron pursed his lips.
“What does this all this mean?” Herbert asked.
“It means we failed,” Marian said, and the others looked at her confused. “Whatever we did, we did it wrong. Maybe it’s because of the swamp. If we went the right way, maybe we could have found the artifact. But now we are here, and we have no way of continuing. Maushop won’t move, and whatever this artifact is—sigh—I don’t know.” She dropped her head.
Balaam butted her with his head. “You have done more in your little life than others will before they are old and die. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Not everything works out how we wished, but at least we tried. And that is something not everyone can say they did.”
Marian smiled and hugged him. Balaam felt tears on his mane.