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Charlie MacDuff and the Test of Time
by I. MacPenn

Chapter 30:
A Disappointed Reptile

Von Humboldt's entire body started shaking uncontrollably. As he collapsed, Bonpland and Ano grabbed him and dragged him away to safety.

In a few minutes, von Humboldt regained consciousness. Even though he was still in extreme pain, he told the group what had happened to him. As he was walking by the stream bank, the ground under him gave way. He stepped into something soft and had received a terrible shock. Intense pain still shot though his knees and almost all of the joints in his body.

Charlie, Alice and George walked carefully to the place where von Humboldt had been hurt. They were out of earshot from von Humboldt and Bonpland. They looked into the hole that his feet made and saw a writhing mass of snake-like fish. George said, "They must be electric eels."

"They look slimy and disgusting," said Alice.

Suddenly, Jane appeared and demanded, "Why are you here? I know you're not from this time -- you're from the future. Your clothes are not from this time period -- they are from much later."

Charlie, Alice and George exchanged questioning glances, but no one spoke.

Jane continued, "Are you in league with those kidnappers? Tell me!"

"No," said Charlie, "We had nothing to do with it. We didn't even know about it until we met you."

"Well then, why are you here?" Jane asked again.

Charlie answered, "We're taking the Test of Time."

"What is that?" Jane asked.

"It's a test we're taking so that we will be allowed to use our time machine," said Charlie.

"You have a time machine?" asked Jane in a shocked voice.

"Yes," said Charlie.

"From what year did you travel?"

"We live in the year 2002." said George.

Jane insisted, "There were no time machines in 2002."

"Well," said Charlie, "It's a long story. I found one on the sidewalk, and one thing led to another, and now we're taking the Test of Time so that we can keep it and use it."

Jane asked, "Can I see your time machine?"

Charlie took it off his neck and warily handed it to her. She smiled strangely as she took it. Jane examined the case carefully, then opened it. She was fascinated by the device, and didn't even notice as the ground near her started collapsing into the stream. Charlie and Alice quickly grabbed her arms and dragged her away from the eel-ridden mud.

"Thank you," said Jane, but she immediately went back to examining the time machine.

Charlie asked her, "Were you kidnapped from the future and brought here?"

Jane said, "Yes, I was kidnapped the night before I was going to announce my new invention . A tall, red-haired man and a blonde woman knocked on my door late at night. When I opened it, the woman started laughing. She had a high-pitched, piercing laugh. Unfortunately, that's all I remember about the kidnapping. Eventually, I woke up with Ano's people, recovering from fever. I knew something was terribly wrong the minute I woke up - my Internal Net wasn't working."

George asked Jane, "What's an Internal Net?"

Jane replied, "It's the electronic connection that people have with each other. It was invented in the 2100s. Most people from my time have one. It's a tiny computer that's implanted in your body and wired into your brain. It lets you have continual access to your computer and instant communication with the entire world. It's like having what you called an Internet connection, e-mail and a computer, and it's all in your head. I feel so isolated without it."

"I want one of those!" said George.

"Why did the kidnappers bring you here?" asked Alice.

Jane answered, "I don't know, but it must have had something to do with my upcoming announcement of the first operational time machine. I was resigned to living in the year 1799, but now, there is hope. You must help me return to my time."

Charlie gasped, "You invented the time machine?"

Jane said, "Yes, I've spend my life working on time travel. I completed my first successful test the night before I was kidnapped and I was about to announce the results to the entire world, but I was kidnapped and brought here."

Alice asked Jane, "What year are you from?

Jane replied, "I'm from 2345." She was still examining the time machine.

Charlie said, "The time machine's not working now -- it's stuck in test mode."

"How will you return to your time?" Jane asked.

George replied, "Last time, after we finished part of the test, a strange woman came up to us, gave us a weird clue, and we just appeared in this rain forest."

She handed the time machine back to Charlie and asked, "What was the clue?"

Alice said, "It was something about going to a dragon's mouth. But we have no idea what she was talking about. The only dragon I've ever heard of is the Komodo dragon, and it lives on islands in Indonesia."

Jane smiled and said, "The dragon's mouth is about a three-hour walk from here."

"What are you talking about," asked George.

"The 'Boca del Drago' is what people call the mouth of the Orinoco River. It means 'mouth of the dragon' in Spanish. I was there just a few days ago with Alexander and Aimé. I know the way there - we could be there by sunset if we start walking soon. We just continue along this path to the river and head east."

"That's great," said Charlie.

"Are you well enough to walk for hours?" asked Alice.

"Yes, I would walk for days to get out of here and go back home," said Jane.

"We should leave as soon as possible so we'll get there before dark," said Charlie.

Jane, Charlie, Alice and George returned to the log where the men were sitting. Jane explained to them that she and the kids had to go to the Boca del Drago as soon as possible. Bonpland tried to convince her to wait until morning, but Jane was adament.

Von Humboldt was in such agony that he could could barely speak, yet he said to Miss Wadkins, "You will die in the jungle if you go. You must let Ano or Bonpland accompany you."

Miss Wadkins replied, "But how will you get back to camp? Surely it will take both of them all their strength to carry you that far."

She was right -- Bonpland and Ano had to remain with von Humboldt to carry him back to camp. Bonpland tried one last time to convince Miss Wadkins to remain with them and leave in the morning, but she would not relent.

Bonpland asked, "Why must you leave so soon?"

Miss Wadkins answered, "The children have to meet a traveling companion, and I must accompany them in order to escape this jungle."

Bonpland helped Miss Wadkins pack some food for the trip and gave her a compass. Bonpland said, "The Boca del Drago is due east from here along the river. Be careful, and stay away from the water. The crocodiles are fierce."

Jane said to von Humboldt, Ano, and Bonpland, "I owe you my life. Thank you for everything you did. It was an honor to meet you." After more hurried goodbyes, Jane, Charlie, George, and Alice headed down the path on their way to the mouth of the dragon.

They walked very quickly. It was early in the afternoon, but they had a long journey ahead of them. They all looked forward to reaching the Boca del Drago and getting out of the rain forest. The heat, mosquitos, continual rain, and dangerous wildlife were getting quite tiresome.

After half an hour, a running stream blocked their path. "That stream was just a trickle when we passed this way originally," said Jane. The stream flowed into the Orinoco, which was only about 20 feet away. There was no way for them to go around the stream without going a long distance out of their way.

"That's no problem," said Charlie, "the stream's only a foot or two deep."

Jane countered, "There are piranha in the water here. They can be quite dangerous."

Alice had an idea. She said, "There are a lot of fallen logs around here, why don't we just move one over the stream and use it as a bridge."

Her idea was a perfect solution to their problem. They rolled the nearest log to the stream bank. "How are we going to get it across the water to be a bridge?" asked Charlie.

George suggested, "Let's stand it upright, like a tree, and let it fall across the stream."

It took quite a lot of effort, but they put their log-bridge in place in about 10 minutes. Alice decided to try it first, since it had been her idea. She slowly made her way over the log to the other side of the stream. When she got to the other side, the others were deciding who should go next.

Jane noticed a crocodile getting out of the nearby river, near Alice. She yelled, "Run, Alice, there's a crocodile coming after you. Climb a tree -- go quickly." Alice ran away from them, toward the nearest big tree. She had never climbed a tree that fast before. She felt as though she had just walked up the tree trunk like a set of stairs. Her heart was pounding so loudly that she could barely hear the shouts of her friends.

Charlie yelled to Alice, "Are you all right?"

Alice shouted back, "Yes, but where did the crocodile go? I can't see much through the leaves of this tree."

"You're safe," yelled Charlie. "It's coming after us." The crocodile had just noticed the three delicious-looking people standing on the other side of the stream -- and it wasn't at all afraid of piranhas. Charlie, Jane, and George each ran to a tree and climbed it for dear life. The hungry crocodile crossed the stream, stopped and slowly turned its head, looking all around; it seemed to be surprised that its prey had just disappeared -- and it just waited for the prey to return. After a few minutes, the disappointed crocodile turned and vanished into the Orinoco River.

The four travelers climbed down from their perches and quickly left the area. There was almost no conversation among them; they were each using all their senses to detect crocodiles.

They soon reached a sandy clearing near the river. Before they went out in the open, they paused and scanned for crocodiles. They planned on running through the clearing quickly to avoid being caught. As Charlie gave the signal to go, they all dashed through the open area, going towards the relative safety of the forest.

About halfway across, they realized that they were in terrible trouble. They were sinking into quicksand.

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