The Secret Syke Story
At the end of Book 2, Syke ran away from Dr. Critchlore's School for Minions because she felt betrayed by everyone there. They had lied to her about how her mother died. Even her best friend, Runt Higgins, had kept the truth from her. She then shows up in book 3 as a student at Critchlore's rival school, the Pravus Academy. How did she get there? As I wrote Polar Distress, it occurred to me that Syke was actually having more of an adventure than Runt for a good part of the book. Here's how her story started...
A spy must keep a secret
Gnomes are the tattletales of the forest. They really are, ask anyone.
They scurry around on their furry little feet, not making a sound until they pop up next to you and say, “Hi. Whatcha doing?” And then they scamper off to tell Silveria, the forest queen, that you were trying to sneak down to the river, even after you told them you were collecting leaves to press in your journal. (But really, you were sneaking down to the river.)
I had little gnome children following me every time I went outside, hoping to catch me doing something I wasn’t supposed to do so they could tell on me and be rewarded. It was annoying, but if I tried to do anything about it, like, say, lure the little snitches into a cave and then trap them inside, I’d lose my forest privileges for a week, which was totally unfair.
I was told that my punishment was a “logical consequence” of my behavior. If I couldn’t play nice in the forest, I wouldn’t be allowed in the forest. When I tried to explain that what I did to the gnomes was a “logical consequence” of them annoying the sap out of me, I was grounded for another week.
I had just been allowed back in the forest, and I was in no mood to be followed. I wanted to get away from them, so I climbed up to my favorite spot: a rocky ledge about halfway up the mountain. I thought it would be too high for any of the rotten little worm-eaters to follow, but I was wrong. Sniffles managed to peek his head over the granite edge just as I sat down.
“A little help?” he asked, his tiny hand waving in the air, hoping that someone would grab onto it and pull him up.
“No,” I said. “I came here to get away from you. You’re number six on my enemies list, just so you know.”
He lifted one small foot up to the ledge, and then, huffing and grunting, managed to pull his body up and roll over the top. His pointy green hat fell off, but he smiled as he looked up at me. Sniffles was a kid, and his beard hadn’t completely filled in on his face.
“I thought Silveria was number six,” he said, replacing his hat on his head.
“Is she?” I never wrote stuff down, so sometimes I forgot. “Let’s see, Dr. Critchlore is number one. Runt Higgins—two,” I counted on my fingers. “Tootles and Riga—three and four. The librarians—five, and—”
Darn it, the little tattler was right.
“Sylveria is number six,” he finished for me, smiling wider and then sniffing.
“You’re number seven then,” I said. I lifted my foot like I was going to push him off the ledge, but he scampered around it, circling behind me so he could climb up my back and hug my neck. It was his way of apologizing.
“So what’d you get for ratting on me?” I asked, flipping him over my shoulder and dropping him next to me.
“A spade, for digging,” he said. “It’s shiny and strong. Shambler is hoping to catch you sneaking, so he can get one too.”
Bunch of little spies. The forest was filled with them now, because of Sylveria’s rewards. I thought about moving her up a few places on my enemies list.
“You know what I got?” I asked, giving him a hard stare. Sniffles had the sense to look guilty while he shook his head. “I got a fifteen-minute lecture from Silveria about how important it is for me to stay here, and that I should understand it’s for my protection, so I should stop trying to run away.”
We were silent for a second, then Sniffles said, “Why do you keep trying to run away? There’s no place in the whole world better than this forest.”
“Can you keep a secret?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
I stared at him until he looked away. “No,” he admitted.
“That’s why I’m not going to tell you. Actually, it doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve decided to stay.”
“Yes,” I said. “This forest really is the best place in the whole wide world. I see that now.”
He smiled at me and nodded. “Sylveria will be happy to hear that.”
I know, that’s why I told you, I said to myself. To him, I said, “But I still can’t go near the river without everyone sounding the alarm and calling the monsters on me, so can you do me a favor?”
“Uh-huh,” he said, nodding his head vigorously. I almost laughed out loud at his enthusiasm. It was hard to stay mad at the kid.
“There are some white alder trees near the bridge,” I said. “Could you get me a few nice looking leaves?” I showed him my journal, which held a collection of leaves that had been pressed and ironed between sheets of wax paper. I’d place a leaf on one page, and on the next page I’d draw a picture of the tree, the leaves, maybe a few stars, because I liked to doodle stars.
“It’s kind of far,” he said.
“I think you can find the alders next to some new trees. You know, the ones that were planted after Dr. Pravus’s army tore through here?”
“Yes, I know the ones,” he said, nodding. “They’re near the clump of new pines.”
“Pines, that’s right,” I nodded. “Wait…is that the patch of pines near the birch trees or the firs?”
“The spruce,” he said. “They want the new trees to blend in with the old, so they planted the spruce and pines near the river, and cedars and redwoods further up.”
“Right, they already blend in so well, don’t you think?”
“Well, I’ve got a presentation to do tomorrow.” I closed my journal and stood up to leave. “If you go get me some leaves, I’ll forgive you for telling on me.”
He’d lost his enthusiasm for the task, so I upped my offer. “And tell Shambler I’m going to sneak out of the back entrance tonight, the one by the waterfall. That way he can catch me and get his own prize.”
That did it. Sniffles jumped up and down, excited. He hugged my leg before climbing down and scampering off. I watched him bounce down the hill before I sat back down.
I opened my journal and un-taped a wax-papered maple leaf. I hid all my secret notes underneath the leaves, and this page held my escape route. I’d just needed one last piece of information and now I had it, thanks to Sniffles.
I know your secret Silveria, and it’s a little line of trees. Redwood, cedar, then spruce and pine. I closed my book with a snap and stood up. Tonight, I was finally going to get away from here.
To be continued...