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|Charlie MacDuff and the Test of Time|
by I. MacPenn
The enormous, green anaconda moved its head slowly towards Charlie, exploring the air around him with its tongue. Charlie started backing up. So did George and Alice. They turned and ran, imagining the worst behind them. George glanced over his shoulder as he ran, and realized that the snake hadn't moved. He stopped and looked more carefully - there was a huge lump in the snake's mid-section.
"Look," shouted George, and Charlie and Alice stopped to see what he was up to. Charlie added, "That snake just ate. See that lump in its middle? That's an animal that it's digesting. It can't come after us when it's in that condition, even if it wants to."
Charlie said, "Okay, but I don't want to get bitten."
"It won't bite us," Alice said, "I think it's an anaconda, which is a constrictor. It doesn't kill its prey by biting and poisoning it; it kills by squeezing an animal until it can't breathe anymore and the poor animal suffocates to death. Then the snake swallows the dead animal whole."
"Well, either way, I'm going the long way around it," said Charlie. He had had enough close calls today.
They detoured around the lethargic snake, and headed again for the sound of flowing water, which was getting close. In a few minutes they spotted a muddy blue river. Alice ran to the sandy banks and went up to the water line.
"Watch out for piranhas," warned George, "if we're in South America, they could be in the river, just waiting to eat you."
"I'm not going swimming," Alice assured him, "I just want to wash my hands in the water - I've got tree sap all over me. Anyway, piranha are only attracted to blood, aren't they? I don't have any cuts on my hands. I'll be fine."
As Alice leaned over to reach the water, a long, toothed snout snapped out of the water and barely missed Alice's head. George and Charlie yanked the stunned Alice away from the water, and the three of them stumbled back into the forest, as the crocodile ran behind them. The crocodile soon realized that it couldn't catch its prey, and it turned around and retreated into the river.
George was the first to notice that the crocodile had relented. "It turned around," he yelled, "we can stop running now."
But Alice was in no mood to stand still. She kept walking. Charlie said, "I should have known better - I had a dream just like that a few days ago."
"You couldn't have known better," gasped Alice, "no one could have known."
Charlie added, "We have to remember that we aren't anywhere near the top of the food chain in this forest."
"Keeping that in mind, it's going to be dark soon, and what are we going to do to keep from being something's dinner tonight?" asked George.
Charlie replied, "We'll have to take turns staying awake to watch for snakes and crocodiles, and whatever else is out there. But it looks like we have an hour or two before sunset."
Suddenly, a copper-colored man appeared directly in front of them. He was holding a bow, and was aiming an arrow directly at George. Charlie, George, and Alice automatically put their hands in the air, hoping that this was a universal symbol meaning, "Don't shoot me!"
They then noticed that the scantily-clad man was not alone. There were about a dozen men surrounding them, and most of them were aiming arrows at the kids. Time seemed to stand still as they noticed the man in front release the tension on his arrow and let the bow droop downwards a bit. He shouted something in a language that the kids did not understand, and the men came closer, looking at the kids with both curiosity and amusement.
The man in front started talking to Charlie, George, and Alice, but all they could do is gesture that they didn't understand what he was saying.
He was about 30 years old, and seemed to be the leader of the group. He was short and wiry, and had long, tangled black hair. The man's frown relaxed; he had apparently decided that the kids were mostly harmless.
The leader pointed to himself and said, "Ano." He then pointed to the kids, one by one in a questioning manner.
"His name must be Ano," said Alice. She pointed to herself and said, "Alice." Charlie and George then told Ano their names. Ano smiled at them.
Ano gestured to the other men, then he and the other men herded the kids through the forest, on a path that was parallel to the river. He and the other men carried leaf-wrapped packages on their backs.
"Where do you think he's taking us?" asked Alice. She was a little surprised that she was not very frightened of these strange men; she was almost relieved that they had appeared. The forest was so dangerous that these men could hardly be worse; at least she hoped that this was true.
"Wherever it is, I hope it's not too far," answered George, " that smell is making me sick."
"Me too," said Alice, "I wonder what it is."
"It smells like meat that's going bad," replied Charlie, "These guys are probably hunters who are carrying the animals they caught back to their village."
After walking at a fast pace for about an hour, they arrived at a small clearing in the forest. A few rickety huts surrounded an area with a small open fire. About 10 women and older men were sitting or working by the fire, while a dozen giggling children darted about. Charlie, George, Alice and the men were soon noticed by the children, and then, by the adults.
The children ran to the group and escorted them into the clearing. As they talked to one another, the men unpacked their leaf-covered packages, revealing hairy, dismembered animal arms and legs. Charlie, Alice, and George were disgusted at the sight and putrid smell of monkey limbs, but the village people were pleased. Charlie had been right; these men were hunters who were providing their families with much-needed meat.
Everyone gathered around the fire, and many people ate raw meat as they waited. The women started roasting monkey limbs on the fire. As the hair burned off the cooking meat, the smell was almost unbearable to Charlie, Alice, and George. After just a few minutes, the first limbs were taken off the fire and replaced by others. The meat was passed around to the happy and hungry villagers.
Charlie, Alice, and George were offered a roasted monkey forearm -- hand and all. They declined. Alice whispered, "I think I'm going to be sick."
"You know," said George, "what they eat isn't really that much different than what we eat. We eat cows, pigs, and chickens, and they eat monkeys. We buy meat already cut up in the store, and here, they do all the butchering themselves."
Charlie added, "I've seen tongue, liver, brains, stomach, and kidneys in the grocery store."
"Yes," Alice said, "but I bet you've never seen never seen monkey hands in the store."
"I feel funny saying this," George said softly, "but I'm getting hungry."
"Me too," said Charlie. "That meat smells pretty good now that it's cooked."
"You're not going to eat monkey meat, are you?" asked Alice.
"Maybe just a little," said Charlie, as he headed toward the fire. George followed him, and they each took a small bit of leg meat.
Charlie then went up to a woman standing near the fire. He pointed to a bunch of bananas near the fire. When she nodded and smiled, Charlie smiled and took the bananas to Alice. "I thought you might like these," Charlie said.
"Thanks," said Alice. She was surprised at Charlie's behavior, but when she thought about it, she realized that she was getting used to being surprised by Charlie.
By the time everyone had eaten, it was almost dark. The fire lit the clearing in an eerie manner. The smiling villagers gathered around Charlie, Alice, and George; they were intrigued by the newcomers. People were asking them questions and gesturing wildly, but the friends didn't understand much of it.
"They probably want to know where we came from," said Alice,
"And where we're going." added George.
"Well, I'd also like to know where we're going," said Charlie. "And where we are."
"And what year it is," Alice said. "We don't know if it's the year 2000 or the year 1000. Or even earlier."
As the sun set, the villagers gave up on their questions, and dispersed. Only Ano remained. He gestured for them to follow him once again, and he led them to a nearby hut. It was dark inside; all that they could see was that it contained hammocks that hung from the roof. He pointed at the hammocks, then he left.
Charlie, George, and Alice were incredibly tired. They each chose a hammock, and attempted to get in and sleep. This was not easy. As Charlie held the rough woven rope hammock open, and sat on it, he couldn't help but start to rock back and forth uncontrollably -- then he abruptly spun over and landed on the ground.
After resting on the ground, stunned, for a moment, he got up and tried again. This time, while sitting on the hammock, he kept his toes on the ground - they barely reached. After a few seconds, he got his balance, then he carefully picked his feet off the ground and gingerly swung them into the hammock. Teetering on instability, he swung against the motion of the hammock, and got it to slow down. He cautiously lay back on his elbows, and then, finally, put his head down onto the slightly-rocking hammock.
George and Alice settled into their hammocks in the same tentative way. When they had all gotten comfortable, Alice said, "Do you think our parents have called the police by now?"
"Mine definitely will have," George answered. "What are we going to tell them when we get back?"
"You mean if we get back," said Alice.
"Wait," added Charlie, "We could get back at exactly the time when we left. Then they'd never even know that we were gone."
"Right," George agreed, "that could happen."
"Yes, but how exactly do we get back?" asked Alice.
"There's the mouth of the dragon clue that we got," answered Charlie. "We have to find out what that means."
"I'm too tired to even think anymore," said George. He fell asleep almost immediately. Within a few seconds, Alice and Charlie also fell asleep.
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The biggest snake in the world.
Crocodiles are meat-eating reptiles with a long, tapered snout.
Piranhas are meat-eating, freshwater fish that are native to eastern South America.
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