Disclaimer: Tale Spin is copyright Disney. Borrowed without permission for non profit purposes. This story not to be reposted without the express permission of the High Flight Crew, contact info at: http://fly.to/highflight
Later that morning, the group studied their maps and argued the best routes. They managed to acquire and assemble horses and supplies as soon as the local marketplace was open. Now they were primed and eager to embark on their quest for ‘fortune and glory’.
“Shouldn’t we hire a guide too?” Myra asked, fastening the lid to her canteen. “None of us have ever been in these parts before.”
“We’re experienced explorers,” O’Bowens replied, eyeing his steed. Cautiously, he tried to stroke its velvety nose. It whinnied loudly and nipped at his fingers, making him jump back. He nearly fell backward, but caught himself. “Um… aren’t we?”
“I certainly am,” said Katy. “I’ve spent five years looking for a certain artifact without any help.” She did not mention that she had needed help after she found it.
“That’s wonderful,” said Arizona, careful to keep her voice neutral. “Besides, we don’t want to have to split the profits more than we have to.”
“No split,” Li’l agreed. She gripped the bridle and easily hopped into her pony’s saddle and planted her feet in the stirrups. “When we go?” she demanded impatiently.
“Now,” Arizona said. She addressed the adults. “Everyone ready?”
“I am,” Myra and O’Bowens both answered.
“Wait a minute,” Katy said. “I almost forgot something!” From her belted pouch, she took out a compact and a tube of lipstick, and with the utmost care, painted her lips bright red. Behind her, Li’l rolled her eyes and nudged the pony’s flanks, urging it forward. The little horse accidentally brushed against Katy’s arm, causing it to slip, leaving a thick red line on her cheek. When she saw her reflection, she gasped in horror.
“Sorry,” Li’l said, not a bit sorry.
“Will you please tell that kid to watch where she’s going?” Katy hissed to Arizona between gritted teeth.
“Li’l, please be a little more careful.” Arizona said automatically. Li’l was opening her mouth to protest when the tigress suddenly winked at her. Then she gave Li’l a stern look.
“I be careful,” Li’l said obediently, stifling a grin.
Finally they choose a trail at the base of the Dew Mountains and set out on horseback.
In the lead, Arizona coached Li’l in reading as they rode side by side.
“Now,” the tigress was saying, “Recite the alphabet up to M. You’re halfway there.” Li’l had to repeat the process three times every time she made a mistake. Still, she was making progress, and was even learning to spell her own name.
“Very good,” Arizona told her, pleased. “You’re learning fast, Li’l.”
“Don’t feel fast,” was Li’l’s grumpy reply. “When I stop learning?”
“Hopefully never. But yes, you can take a break. You’ve earned it.”
“So what I get for learning?” Li’l asked, no doubt thinking of the money packets confiscated from the cowardly Charlie.
“Pride and a sense of accomplishment.”
“Hmmph. Rather have money,” was the disgusted reply, making Arizona laugh.
Behind them came O’Bowens and Katy. A faint, indelible pinkish streak still remained on Katy’s cheek, but she seemed to have forgotten about it. A long hour of keeping pace with each other somehow evolved into discussing topics that mutually fascinated them. Soon they were deep in conversation about ancient civilizations, famous treasure hunts and legends.
“…as a professor, I encourage independent thinking, Miss Dodd. I don’t want my students to just memorize dates and places. I ask them for their own theories about what happened to, say, the Atlantis Wreckerd Society. Of course, legend says it’s an underwater civilization, long buried for over a thousand years, but who’s to say?” As he warmed to his subject, O’Bowens’s timid demeanor metamorphosed into a confident one. “I mean, the only people who really know the story carried the secret to their graves, right?”
“Your students must really enjoy your classes,” Katy commented. “I once had a professor who demanded that we repeat his theories back to him in his exact words. Any deviation from the text was ridiculed. Or this other one who droned on and on. It was hypnotic… I got a lot of sleep during the day.”
“We’ve got those at the university too,” admitted O’Bowens.
Myra, quietly bringing up the rear, was content to simply read her book as she rode.
The path remained mostly level and easy to navigate for a couple of hours; soon, they left the town far behind.
Then Arizona spoke. “Okay, everybody. Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a tricky climb.”
“What you mean?” Li’l asked.
“Look far ahead. See that? The trail’s getting narrow and the trees denser. We’ll have to pick up the pace if we want to make camp before dark.”
“Yeah,” O’Bowens agreed. He removed a handkerchief from his shirt pocket and mopped his damp forehead. “Who knows what’ll come out at night?”
“Um, why don’t we make camp now?” Myra suggested timidly. Startled by the sound of her voice, the others turned to look at her. She hadn’t spoken during the entire hike and they had forgotten her. She blushed. “I mean, we’ve been climbing for a long time already. I think we should camp where the ground is relatively flat before going any further. And these poor horses must be exhausted.”
“That sounds good to me,” Katy said. She pointed to a small patch on their right. “How about over there? It’s nice and dry, so we can start a campfire.”
“I hungry,” Li’l announced.
Arizona dismounted and led her horse to the site. “Let’s go,” she said.
* * *
After a simple but tasty meal of soup and dried meat, they unrolled their bedding around the campfire and amused themselves by relating stories of their past adventures.
O’Bowens: “…so then he switches the real statue for the fake a second time…but the professor thinks it’s the real one. However, the whole question became moot when Smith triggered the booby trap…”
Arizona: “…and this idiotic henchman was so excited by the sight of the medallion that he actually grabbed it out of the fire! You should have seen him run out of the bar to sink his smoking hand into the snow outside. I hear the markings were seared into his flesh for life…”
“Neat,” said Li’l.
“Poor thing!” said Myra. “I mean, what he did was foolish, but I can’t help but feel sorry for him.”
“At least it wasn’t his face,” Katy commented. “That would be much worse.”
“I’ll tell you what’s worse,” O’Bowens said suddenly. “Try being trapped inside another person’s body.”
He coughed, then blushed. “I-I mean it’s possible. I’ve seen it.”
“Really?” Arizona said. “Do tell.”
“Well, uh, there was this time I found this artifact…ever heard of the Idol of the Spirit Switcher?”
Li’l and Myra shook their heads but the others nodded.
“Never look at the idol during a thunderstorm,” Arizona recited.
“Or else you’ll switch bodies with another,” Katy said. “Of course. Everyone knows that!”
Encouraged, O’Bowens continued his story. “I was just on my way to meet this pilot and kid to be flown out to Cape Suzette. Unfortunately, I was intercepted by Don Karnage and his air pirates.”
“Don Karnage!” exclaimed Myra. “I’ve heard of him.” Arizona and Li’l exchanged grim glances. Katy looked bewildered.
“Anyway, I had to run for it. I managed to shake them off for a while, just long enough to pass the idol to the pilot, telling him to take off and I’d meet them later. And I warned them not to look at the idol during a thunderstorm. But by the time I caught up with them…”
“But how could you catch up?” Katy asked him. “You didn’t have a plane.”
“Oh, I just constructed a makeshift raft out of wood and a sail out of palm leaves and blew my way to the docks. Those last four hundred miles were a killer!”
“How ingenious,” she said admiringly.
“Oh, just a little trick I learned in Scouts.” O’Bowens said modestly.
“You were saying?” Arizona prompted. “By the time you’d caught up with them…”
“Oh, yes. Sorry. The damage was done.” He looked aggrieved. “The pilot and his navigator had switched bodies. Then somehow lightning struck twice… their boss and Don Karnage got switched as well.”
“We had to chase down the idol again, then create a manmade lightning storm to reverse the damage. We managed to get hold of the idol long enough to put everyone back in their own bodies, but ultimately, someone accidentally dropped the idol off the Iron Vulture.”
“So it was lost?” Katy asked.
“Yes,” O’Bowens said regretfully. “The Idol of the Spirit Switcher was gone forever. But at least the folks at Higher for Hire are back to normal.”
A silence fell. Then Li'l was making strange choking noises, trying to muffle them with her hand, and Arizona was fighting not to grin.
Puzzled, O'Bowens coughed, and added weakly, “’Normal’ being a relative term in this case, mind you...”
His companions burst out laughing.
"Was it something I said?" O'Bowens adjusted the brim of his fedora.
Myra leaned forward. “Excuse me, Peter, but you did say ‘Higher for Hire’? In Cape Suzette? That’s the very same cargo company that delivered a stone tablet to my office in Aridia. Tell me, was the pilot’s name Baloo?”
“Yes!” O’Bowens said, surprised. “A gray bear? Kind of a, um… big fellow?”
“Yes, that’s him!” Myra’s face lit up. “Isn’t that strange? But in a good way, of course.”
“Small world,” Katy commented. “I’ve met him too. He had this ape friend named Louie.”
“Louie the bartender?” Arizona echoed. “What a character.”
“Well, he was friendly, anyway.” Katy made a face. “That octopus was always putting one of his long hairy arms around me and calling me ‘sweet stuff’. I set him straight, though.”
Arizona gave her a mocking smile. “What’d you do, beat his chest with your little fists?”
“No, wiseguy.” She folded her arms and scowled. “Any other cracks or do I get to finish?”
“Let her tell the story,” O’Bowens admonished.
Arizona waved a hand. "Pray, continue," she said, almost managing to keep the sarcasm from her voice.
“After a five-year search, I had finally discovered the Bells of Tenabula --- the key to the ancient city of the same name. This slimy creep named Klang and his robed followers kept getting in the way and capturing me. Baloo and Louie did everything short of poisoning each other to play Hero. Never mind that I am perfectly capable, an expert in my field!”
“Still,” Katy said thoughtfully, pausing to slap a mosquito that had landed on her arm. “They saved my life more times than I can count. I could never have brought those bells to the museum without them. Those lovable lugs!”
“What about you, Arizona?” Myra asked. “How did you meet Baloo?”
“Nothing much to tell, really. I was hired to go to the Robber Barrens in Q’ilu…”
“Q’ilu!” O’Bowens interrupted. “Rocky terrain, high cliffs… the Aquima? That Q’ilu?”
“You’re crazy!” This was from Katy, of course. “Nobody goes there!”
“It’s a deathtrap,” Myra agreed.
Arizona sat, twitching her tail, politely waiting. “Do you want to hear this or not?” she asked them.
“Shere Khan needed an archaeologist to find treasure, so I took the job.”
“Of course you did,” Katy said snidely.
Arizona ignored her. “Khan was prepared to pay handsomely for my transportation, but as you say, Q’ilu was a death trap. The only pilot that desperate… and that good turned out to be Baloo. He, Louie and I flew out there, found a stowaway. Baloo’s own navigator had hitched a ride.”
“Why would he have to sneak aboard?” Myra wanted to know. “Aren’t pilots supposed to take their navigators with them?”
“Kit Cloudkicker was only twelve years old,” Arizona answered. “But to him, that was only a technicality. He came along, and I don’t blame him. I would’ve done the same thing.”
She told them about being captured by the Aquima and Don Karnage kidnapping Kit in the middle of the night. Shere Khan himself led a search party for the missing adventurers. “Just protecting his investment,” Arizona finished wryly. “Anyway, we found the treasure --- there was enough to make it worth everyone’s while.”
Li’l yawned again.
“Maybe we should get some sleep,” Myra suggested. “It’ll be a long day tomorrow.”
* * *
Arizona woke up first and brewed coffee over the fire. At the crackling of the flames and heady aroma of the coffee, O’Bowens awoke. Sitting up in his bedroll, he reached into his pack, withdrew his glasses and slipped them on. Blinking until his eyes got used to the light, he crawled out and began to roll up his bedding. Unfortunately, he could not roll it tight enough to tie the cord around it.
“Need help?” Arizona asked, hiding a smile.
“Oh-uh…that’s okay. I’ve…got…it…” he grunted, hugging the bundle to his chest. Now it was tightly rolled. But he had to hold it with both arms to keep it that way. Clumsily, he fell sideways and managed to pick up the cord with his teeth. Both arms were wrapped around the bedroll as though he was holding an oversized baby, and he could not reach the cord in his teeth, hanging out of his mouth like two rats’ tails.
“Uh…Arizona…” His voice was muffled. “A little help?”
Behind them was a child’s giggle. Li’l was deep into the blankets, peeking out. The ridiculous sight of the skinny professor’s predicament betrayed her silent mirth. O’Bowens’s ears turned bright red.
The muffled giggles turned into peals of laughter. "He so dumb, he need to be rescued from own bed!" She chortled.
“Li’l,” Arizona said meaningfully. “Why don’t you come out and gather some sticks for this fire. It’s getting pretty low.”
“Is okay. Sleeping.”
“Or you can clean up after the horses.” Grumbling, Li’l wriggled out of her roll and began to gather wood.
Sleeping nearby, Katy mumbled something about “scarabs, not scabs…they’re big beetles, you lunkheads…” Next to her, Myra stirred, awakened by their voices.
About an hour later, everyone had eaten and washed their plates. While the rest of the party rolled up their own bedding without mishap, Myra noticed O’Bowens sitting on a log, gazing blankly at the campfire, obviously depressed. His whip lay dispiritedly on his lap like a dead snake. Hesitantly, she approached, and sat next to him.
“Peter,” she said kindly. “Are you all right? You haven’t said much this morning.”
“Just tired,” he said dully. “Don’t worry about me.”
“Oh…okay.” Myra bit her lip. Obviously, he wasn’t all right. “Well, I’m here if you need to talk…” she said awkwardly.
She heard a muttered, “Thanks.”
With a sigh, she went to join Li’l, who was busy scratching the alphabet in the soft earth with a short stick. Arizona and Katy had gone to a small pool to clean up, each on opposite sides of the water.
“Li’l, can we talk?”
“Yes. We know how to talk.” Carefully, Li’l formed the letter O, then added two eyes and a mouth, transforming it into a face instead.
“No… I mean… could you please stop what you’re doing and look at me?”
“Li’l,” Myra began. “I think Professor O’Bowens is a little upset.”
The child barely glanced his way. She shrugged. “Looks okay to me.”
“I think his feelings were hurt when you laughed at him back there.”
She snorted. “Can’t even put sleeping roll away. It’s funny.”
“How would you feel if you were doing your best and someone laughed at you?”
“Easy. Give black eye.” Li’l spread her hand out flat, then curled it into a fist. “They don’t laugh no more.” She picked up her stick and began to give her O a mustache.
Myra looked at her sadly. “Don’t you feel anything?”
“Yes. Bored.” With that, Li’l stood up and walked away, pushing the jungle brush out of her way.
Arizona returned first, and saw O’Bowens, still sitting on the log. She and Myra exchanged a glance. The tigress gave a slight nod of acknowledgment and went up to him.
“Hi,” she said, sitting down next to him. “You okay?”
“Great,” he said bitterly. “Never better.”
“If it’s about this morning, it won’t happen again. I’ll read her the riot act.”
“No, no, it’s not that.” He indicated the limp whip in his lap. “It’s this. It doesn’t work.”
“You have to crack it first.”
“Forget it. I’m fine.”
“No, you’re not. You’re no good to anyone on this dig unless you snap out of it.”
“You want to know? I’ll tell you. I’m just a joke, a clown. When it comes down to it, this whip might as well be a streamer, for all my ability to handle it.” He sighed. “You were right when you said I had no business having one.”
“Yes, I was.” Arizona agreed. “If you didn’t know how to use it, that is. But if you did…” She let the sentence trail off and watched sudden understanding dawn on his simian features.
“If I did…” he echoed, sitting up a little straighter.
smiled at him.
* * *
“…okay, you hold it with your fingers here, your thumb there. Better control this way. Li’l, set up the targets again, please.” Li’l sighed and got up from her place on a log, between Myra and Katy; she picked up the five empty soup cans that lay on their sides and lined them up on a low-hanging, thick tree branch.
“Why I pick up cans?” she had muttered to Arizona at the beginning. The tigress arched one elegant eyebrow.
“Penance,” she said.
“Just pennies? Want more than that!”
Myra tried not to smile.
“…any weapon is a menace to a novice. You have to think of it as an extension of your arm, a part of you. Now, pull back… that’s it. No, no… don’t jerk it. Nice and easy.”
Biting his lower lip in concentration, O’Bowens cracked the bullwhip. Everyone scattered, diving behind bushes and rocks.
“Very funny, you guys. I’m not that bad.” He tried to aim at the cans, but the whip had wrapped itself around an overhanging tree branch. “Oh, great… it’s stuck.”
He tugged, shaking the branch.
“Wait, don’t…” Arizona tried to warn him, but he managed to shake several overripe papayas loose. Several landed on him with wet, pulpy sounds.
After nearly three hours of repeated practice and nearly lashing everything but the cans, O’Bowens finally drew back his arm and struck a perfect blow, sending all five cans scattering in different directions. Both Myra and Katy cheered.
“Congratulations, Peter,” Arizona told him, grinning. “Those cans won’t bother us anymore.” She gave him a friendly punch in the arm, making him wince.
“Wow… I actually did it,” he said with wonder. A pleased grin spread slowly across his face. “Gee, thanks, Arizona. How can I ever repay you?”
“Wash my dishes for me for a couple of days.”
* * *
It was dawn when they broke camp and continued up the trail. A mountain mist slowly rose and enveloped them, making it difficult to see. The occasional rock gradually multiplied into many, then converged, making the ride a bumpy one. The point they had reached was particularly daunting. Any government-issue markers had stopped long ago, but they pressed on until the trail narrowed into an eerie, lonesome place. The horses nickered and balked, dragging their hooves.
“Anyone here believe in ghosts?” O’Bowens nervously joked.
“I can’t see anything,” Katy complained. “This fog’s like pea soup. We’re lost!”
Li’l Bit’s stomach growled. “I hungry.”
“You’re always hungry,” Arizona said, “we should slow down, though. The terrain is getting rough.”
“No!” Katy marveled. “Really?” As usual, the tigress ignored her.
O’Bowens quipped, “Here’s where our guide would tell us great evil lies ahead and he will go no further.” Then he paused. “That is, if we had a guide…”
Myra’s horse, again bringing up the rear, actually stopped and refused to follow the group. She gently urged it forward, taking extra care not to dig her heels too hard into its flanks.
“Wait for me!” she called to the others.
“Need help?” Arizona called back.
“No, I need a minute.” She dismounted and began petting the horse’s velvety nose. “Easy, boy,” Myra murmured to her steed. “A few rocks, a little darkness… nothing to worry about…”
Snap! Katy’s horse stepped on a dry stick; startled, it whinnied and tossed its head, snorting and nearly knocking its rider off the saddle.
“Hey!” Katy cried. “Stop that! What are you doing?” The horse’s ears pricked up, evidently upset by her tone. More often than not, her clear, sharp voice aggravated people, and her steed was no exception. It bucked, knocking her sideways, making her shriek. Desperately, she gripped the saddle horn and tried to hoist herself up.
“Don’t scream! You’re scaring them.” Arizona’s own horse began to stomp the ground, then the others.
“H-Hold on, Miss Dodd!” O’Bowens tried to help, but he had his own troubles. “Easy! Whoa, whoa!” Holding onto the saddle horn for dear life, he was swung violently back and forth, feet flying, narrowly missing Li’l Bit’s pony, who was standing a little too close.
“Hey!” Li’l Bit said indignantly. “Watch where you falling!”
“S-Sorry about the inconvenience!”
“Everyone, please be quiet,” Myra begged. “They won’t calm down if you won’t.” Gently, she continued to caress her mount’s nose. “There, there. We’re just taking a nice ride in the mountains… hush.” She whispered something into its mane until it no longer thrashed, but stood still trembling. Then she led it forward, murmuring comfort to the horses as she passed. For a few minutes, her soothing voice was the only sound that carried over the whisper of the breeze. One by one, the horses began to settle down, their tails switching from side to side.
“Thank you, Myra,” Arizona said gratefully. “That was impressive.”
“Where did you learn to do that?” asked O’Bowens, panting a little from his bronco ride.
“We have camels in Aridia. They’re practically the same as horses except for the hump.” Myra smiled, almost apologetically. “And the spit.”
“Ugh.” Katy made a face. “Camel spit. I had the worst time trying to get it out of my hair once.”
Li’l Bit glanced at her, then at her pony, then back at Katy again. Arizona caught her eye and shook her head, trying to keep a straight face.
“No, Li’l. Horses do not spit.”
She made no effort to conceal her disappointment. “Oh.”
“Come on, everyone, the fog’s starting to lift,” Myra urged them. She pointed. “See that bit of light between those trees? I think I see the sun starting to rise. That means we’re heading east.”
“That’s good,” O’Bowens said with relief.
“Let’s go,” agreed Arizona. She gently nudged her horse’s flanks, and it obediently moved forward.
As they pressed on, the mists began to thin a bit. Ahead, they noticed that the trees were becoming sparse, expanding the vista so slowly that the sense of vast space was… unsettling.
Inexorably the trail continued on before them, until they hit a large hollow opening, almost like a tunnel, heading through a natural rock archway.
Katy said, “Look at how the rock curves up and over. It-it’s a doorway of some kind.” Her voice became hushed, reverent, her eyes shining.
“I see it!” O’Bowens said excitedly. “According to the map, it leads to the valley!”
“Let me get a better look,” said Arizona, urging her horse forward once more.
“Why should you be first?” Katy demanded. “You’re the almighty leader and we’re your trusty sidekicks, is that it?”
Arizona didn’t even bother to turn her head to face her. “We don’t know what’s in there. It seems sensible to make sure the coast is clear.” She shrugged. “If you want to go first, be my guest.”
“Gee, thanks,” Katy said sarcastically. “I will!”
The tigress added, “Be careful, though. Remember what happened to Forrestal.”
“You don’t mean that poor explorer who discovered a doorway like this in Mose Cavern and…” O’Bowens gulped, glancing up at the imposing archway. “Stepped into the light and…” He drew his index finger across his throat, making a gagging sound. Li’l grinned.
“That’s the one.”
The satisfied smirk melted from Katy’s pretty features. “I’ve changed my mind. I couldn’t be so selfish. You go first, Miss Johnson.”
“You call her Doctor Johnson, lady!” Li’l shouted.
“We’ll all go,” Myra said firmly. As they cautiously approached the archway, she added, “Stay out of the light.”
Bang! Suddenly, a rifle shot echoed through the rocky terrain. The horses shied but this time they didn't try to bolt. Katy opened her mouth to scream, but Myra gave her a stern look that clearly commanded: Don’t you dare. Somewhat surprised, the vixen closed it again.
Swiftly, as though they had practiced for this moment, Arizona whipped out her pistol and O’Bowens readied his whip. Myra frowned and Katy glanced around nervously.
“Up there!” Katy spoke in a strangled whisper.
Above the trail on either side, a tiny row of moving figures appeared, then grew larger as they rapidly approached.
“It’s the CLAW!” O’Bowens seemed to freeze, his arm drawn back to crack the whip, but not sure if it would betray him this time… or save them.
It became horrifyingly clear what had happened.
“They must have followed us from the nightclub!” Katy found her voice, though it was edged with muted hysteria. “What do we do?”
“Turn back!” Myra cried. But more foot soldiers dropped down the rocky incline, blocking the trail back. A few more blocked the archway, training their guns on the archaeologists. In a moment, they were surrounded.