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Charlie MacDuff and the Test of Time
by I. MacPenn

Chapter 28:
A Hot, Nutritious Lunch

A terrible screeching sound woke Alice the next morning. She had been dreaming about home, and was disoriented when she opened her eyes. Her hammock started rocking uncontrollably, and she fell on the dirt floor of the hut. She quickly remembered that she was in the rainforest at some unknown time, looking for a dragon. She wondered if the dragon had found her first.

The cacophonous sound had also awoken George and Charlie. They, too, fell on the floor upon awakening, but they had an audience. Alice laughed at them as they both landed face down in the dirt.

"That wasn't funny," Charlie said groggily, shaking the dirt off his head.

George ignored both of them and asked, "What was that noise?"

"I don't think I want to know," replied Alice. "At least it was outside."

Charlie answered, "Yes, but all that separates us from the outside is some sticks and leaves. We're like the second pig in the 'Three Little Pigs.' This could be a big problem, especially if there are wolves around here."

Ano poked his head in at that moment and smiled at the kids. He gestured for them to follow him, and they did. Just outside the hut was a table filled with large colorful fruit, huge nuts, pots of water, and a pile of slightly putrid meat left over from last night's feast. Ano pointed at the food and then to his open mouth.

George, Charlie, and Alice smiled and nodded at him, realizing that he was offering them breakfast. They ate a large meal, but passed on the smelly meat. The village children were playing around them, and the adults were busy making arrows, cracking nuts, and weaving palm fronds into baskets.

Ano then gestured for them to follow him into the forest -- he was trying to tell them something, but his message was not getting through. Unsure of what to do, George, Charlie, and Alice looked at each other. They shrugged their shoulders, then followed Ano into the dark, dense forest.

After an hour or so, Ano stopped by the trunk of a huge tree. He pointed to a spot at its base. At first, Charlie, Alice, and George didn't understand what Ano was pointing to, but then they remembered what they had seen yesterday. This looked just like the trap door of the giant spider that they had seen yesterday -- the spider that had caught the bird.

Charlie said, "That's okay, we saw one of those yesterday." But Ano gestured for him to be quiet. Alice didn't really want to see another giant spider - one was definitely enough. Ano didn't understand them any more than they understood him.

With his left hand, Ano picked up a small twig and poked the ground by the trap door. In a few seconds, the trap door flew open, and the spider pounced on the stick. Before the spider realized that it had been tricked, Ano grabbed the spider. He grabbed it by the legs, gingerly avoiding being bitten or touching the irritating hairs on the body. Ano then knocked the tarantula against the tree, killing it.

Charlie, Alice, and George were horrified - they had judged Ano to be to a kind soul - maybe it was just wishful thinking. This senseless killing shocked them. Alice was the first to speak. She slowly said, "Remind me why we are following this lunatic?"

"Because he's the only lunatic we know here," said Charlie.

"Do you get the feeling that he's taking us to the dragon, but that we're going to be human sacrifices ?" said Alice.

George interrupted her, "There is no such thing as a dragon." Alice just scowled at him.

As the kids watched, Ano knelt down by the spider. He lay the limp tarantula down beside him and took a thin stick from a pouch in his loincloth. After putting some dry bits of leaves on a rock, Ano spun the stick rapidly between his palms, over and over again. In a few minutes, the bits of leaves began to smoke, and then a small flame appeared. Ano added some broken twigs, making a small fire. He then picked up the spider and carefully held it by its legs and roasted it over the flame. The smell of the burning hairs and the sight of the roasting spider were making the kids nauseated.

After a few minutes, Ano smiled and offered the spider to the kids. They backed away from him in disgust -- they had no idea what was going on and did not really want to find out. Ano was also confused, but he understood that the kids did not want the spider. So Ano ate the tarantula himself. He carefully ate the body, and, after eating the remaining meat, discarded the legs one by one. Charlie, Alice, and George couldn't take their eyes off him through the entire process.

"I guess that was lunch," joked Charlie.

Alice replied, "That's okay, I'm not hungry anymore. In fact, I may never eat again -- that was the most disgusting thing I ever saw." She continued, "At least he didn't just kill it for no reason. But I still think he's a lunatic."

"Do you think the fangs get stuck between his teeth?" asked George.

"Stop that," demanded Alice.

Charlie added, "He could use the legs as toothpicks."

Alice was so annoyed with the boys that she just ignored them.

While Ano was putting out the fire with a stone, Charlie took the time machine off his neck. The heat had made the shoelace rub against his skin uncomfortably. Also, Charlie wanted to check it to see if it was working yet. He opened it, but but it was still in test mode and did not respond to any of his commands. As Charlie was trying to close the time machine, it slipped out of his clammy hands and fell deep into the tarantula's lair.

Charlie leaned over and looked down into the hole, but it was completely dark. Charlie couldn't see a thing in it, not even the shiny red machine.

George and Alice had seen what had happened. "We have to get it back," said Alice. Charlie picked up a nearby stick and started poking around the hole. It was about two feet deep.

George said, "We need a stick with a hook at the end of it. I'll go look for one."

"I'll look too," said Alice.

As soon as they had left, Ano walked over to the tree. He had seen everything that had happened. He knelt on the ground by the tree, and then reached down into the hole. After a few seconds of groping, he smiled, and retrieved the time machine. He handed it to Charlie, who thanked Ano. Ano smiled back at him, and then got up. He looked around for the trail they had been on, and shouted for the kids to come. Charlie called out, "George, Alice, come back. I've got the time machine, and Ano's ready to go.

The time machine was covered with bits of feathers, skin, hair, and other incredibly gross tarantula refuse. Charlie was cleaning it off carefully when Alice and George returned.

"Wow, you got it," said Alice. She continued, "I didn't think you'd have the guts to just reach in and get it. I know I wouldn't."

Charlie started to tell them how Ano had reached in and got it, but George interrupted him, "That's cool, Charlie. I didn't know you had it in you."

"Clean it off, and let's get going," said Alice.

"No," said Charlie, "I didn't get it, Ano did. He just reached in up to his shoulder and got it for me. He's the brave one, not me."

"Oh," said George.

"Well, it doesn't matter," said Alice.

They joined Ano, and their trek through the forest began again. They walked in silence, listening to the constant sounds of the jungle. As they came to a small clearing, the sound suddenly stopped. Ano froze, crouching low to the ground -- and Charlie, George, and Alice immediately copied him. Something was very, very wrong.

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