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Chapter 5 - Follow The Leader
Alex made his way toward home one high leap at a time. This must be what it's like to be on another world, he thought. Alex felt so light and free and the ground looked so far below him during each superhuman leap. Alex was getting quite good at operating his new invention. He skipped from one farmer's field to the next, sometimes startling a few cows along the way. He felt like a rubber ball bouncing high and floating gracefully back down, over and over again.
Before he knew it, he was bounding high over the old scrapyard. Alex could see so much of it and off to one side, his home lay hidden beneath the trees and vines of the tiny forest surrounding it. As he looked down once more on his junkyard, he thought he saw something very peculiar happening. There was an odd flickering and flashing of bright sparks like little fire crackers exploding here and there in an odd far corner of the scrapyard.
As he approached it, he suddenly felt uneasy and the events of the previous night came flooding back to the forefront of his mind. Then, as Alex flew over that certain spot, a crackling tension filled the air all around him and he could even feel his hair standing on end.
A strong static charge was growing steadily and rising up through the air toward him. Electricity snapped and prickled in dangerous waves, growing stronger and stronger. Worse still, Alex discovered that the static was affecting how his Gravity-Fractioner operated. He could hear and feel the tiny metal filings inside it becoming magnetized and sticking to every moving part inside the machine.
Soon the little device was shaking and rattling violently about in the air. It couldn't have happened at a worse time as Alex had just jumped high in the air when everything went wrong!
With a final, dreadful jolt, his wondrous little flying machine stopped cold and Alex felt his stomach flip-flop as he began plummeting toward the ground like a stone!
Buffeted by air turbulence, Alex couldn't even let out a scream as he flipped and cart-wheeled like a rag-doll. Somewhere in the free-fall, Alex felt the Gravity-Fractioner slip off his shoulders and fall away as he continued downward without it.
Visions of the ground and sky became a blur of awful rotations as he fell faster and faster. This is the end, the terrible thought shot like an electric jolt through him. A flash of something silvery caught his eye briefly and then was gone from sight as Alex neared the end of his horrible fall.
Then, without warning, something hard began tickling his ribs under his armpits. First one then another and another large, round rubbery finger rapped itself around his rib-cage and held Alex in its tickling grasp. Despite being so close to death, Alex couldn't help but start giggling uncontrollably.
"Stop - stop", he laughed out loud, "Ha - ha - hee - hee - hee - you're killing me!"
Then Alex hit the hard ground, but not the way he expected to. Opening his teary eyes, Alex realized that he was just barely standing on his toes, half way between standing and floating. Looking around with relief and confusion, he again felt several rubbery finger-things squeeze his ribs ever so gently so that he burst out with renewed giggles!
What, besides falling to a horrendous death could possibly be worse than being tickled to death? Tears streamed down his face as Alex giggled for mercy.
"Ha-ha-hee-hee-no-more-no-more", he cackled helplessly. Finally and mercifully, Alex was released and he plopped to the ground and lay on his side, doubled up with laughter for a few more moments, rubbing his ribs with relief.
Finally wiping away tears, he opened his eyes and was able to see clearly again. He looked up and saw, looking back at him with what seemed like deep concern, his friend the dragonfly. It hovered over him, dipping up and down like a large humming bird, its four powerful wings fanning him with their strong breeze.
A softly questioning, "chirrup?", kept issuing from a little round wire-mesh opening in its face where a mouth would otherwise be. Alex stared up at his new-found friend with wide-eyed amazement. The dragonfly quietly returned his stare with a lazy sort of patience.
In the light of day, Alex noticed now how colorful the sleek, slender robot actually was. Its eyes, of course, flickered with changing colors from moment to moment, depending on its thoughts or feelings. Alex remembered how they had flared so brightly the night before when he had startled it.
The metallic skin of its body gave off a shimmering, almost liquid veneer which reflected everything around it like polished chrome. But the wings were the most startling of all because they were made of a transparent, plastic-like material with rainbow colors shining off of them where the sun’s rays refracted through them as though through thin prisms.
All four wings beat the air with powerful beats that created a downward rushing wind over Alex's face. They seemed to make a soft fluttering canopy over him, protecting Alex from all dangers, real or imagined.
Minutes passed as they quietly looked back at each other the way some people are able to do. The boy and the Dragonfly understood one another without needing to use words. Thinking that perhaps the boy needed some help, the dragonfly slowly extended a foreleg down for Alex to hold as he got back up on his feet. Its colorful eyes glowed in a warm comforting way which somehow was more genuine than any smile could have been.
"Hello, Dart", Alex said to the Dragonfly, for that was the name he had given him during those long hours of repair work the night before. Dart cocked his head questioningly and his expressive eyes seemed to give him a quizzical look.
Dart fluttered down to land and his six legs did a dainty sort of dance as he settled and finally came to rest on the ground. Dart seemed to be looking about with a keen alertness and, for the first time, Alex noticed that there were weapons of sorts attached to his shoulders that could be extended when needed.
They were wicked looking three-barreled rotary guns and the gray soot coating their tips indicated that they had been used recently. There was a deadlier purpose and appearance to the Dragonfly which Alex had not noticed the night before.
Why was Dart so watchful now as well? Alex scratched his head as he looked around him. He was not familiar with the corner of the scrapyard they were in, since it was the furthest section away from his home. Alex found the remains of his machine where it had landed not far away. It was completely smashed from the fall and would need to be rebuilt from scratch.
Alex groaned with despair, thinking of all the work ahead of him; the Gravity-Fractioner had worked so well too. Even so, things could have turned out much worse for him if not for his new friend.
"I'm sure glad that you were around when you were, Dart", he said with appreciation. Dart gave Alex a meaningful look then turned and started walking toward a large mound of scrap-iron not far from them.
"Hey, wait for me", Alex called, not wanting to be left behind in the strange area. Dart gave him one over-the-shoulder look as if to say, "Well, come on then slowpoke", then continued on.
As they drew nearer to the large mound, Alex noticed that Dart was becoming more cautious and watchful. His wings were folded back tightly against his tapered, shiny body and his eyes gave the appearance of extra keen sharpness as though they could see through walls; maybe they could, Alex thought. He accidentally kicked an old tin can loudly and Dart rounded on him, hissing an angry static hiss, his four wings flared outward and he hunched his long, slender back much like a startled cat would!
"Sorry", said Alex quietly, now rather nervous himself. They continued on with Alex now walking more cautiously as well. For some reason he did not know yet, there seemed to be a need for caution in this area.
As they finally came upon the large scrap-pile, Dart led Alex around a sudden turn and into what could only be described as a very narrow gap leading into the extra-large mound. As he followed Dart inside, Alex had to crouch down and turn and shuffle sideways, so small and narrow was the hidden passageway. Dart, who had a slender, tapered body though had no such problem within the confined space.
As they continued deeper into the chasm, Alex noticed something odd about the walls. They seemed to have been reinforced by welding all the bits and pieces of metallic scrap and junk one to the other in order to make them all behave as strong, solid walls on either side.
The narrowness of the path and the different layers of scrap all piled one on top of the other gave Alex the impression of layers of sedimentary rock inside the tunnel of a cave. The path zigzagged as well so that the entrance to the narrow fissure was soon lost from sight.
The walls soon closed in overhead as well, gradually forming a ceiling and blocking out the sunlight completely. Alex had to slowly feel his way along; it seemed like he was now truly inside a cave. Alex began to feel more and more nervous about following Dart so deep inside the suffocating tunnel.
He was about to say as much to the Dragonfly when their path came to an abrupt end. Blocking their way completely was an old rusty iron dumpster, tipped over on its side like a large plug in the low tunnel.
In the shadowy gloom, Alex would have bumped right into it if Dart hadn't been walking in front to light the way.
"Okay, that's it, Dart, we came the wrong way and I'm going back out, you silly robot", Alex grumbled as he turned to begin the long shuffle back. Suddenly an odd whirring sound could be heard behind him. It sounded like something he had heard a long time ago but he couldn't quite remember when that was.
Well-oiled gears clicked smoothly against each other and, as he turned to look back, Alex saw to his amazement that the lid of the old dumpster was opening up just like a door!
Staring now down into the new mystery, Alex realized for the first time, that something big was about to happen. He didn't know what, exactly - it was just something in his gut that told him so. He had a choice at that very moment and Dart, who was waiting patiently at the threshold, seemed to sense the moment as well.
Perhaps it was the dark walls and heavy, lowering ceiling closing in on him from all sides and stifling any quick exit, or the inky blackness that waited for him just beyond the cold, steel threshold. Whatever the reason, Alex now balked at the notion of following Dart any further into the unknown.
Dart sensed that Alex was uneasy about the strange, dark surroundings which he was very accustomed to himself. The Dragonfly changed his understanding eyes to a soft pinkish hue which made Alex feel more relaxed, but despite that he said, "Sorry, Dart but I don't think I want to go any farther with you today". "Maybe some other time, okay."
Dart tried to gesture with his head for him to go just a little further but when he realized that Alex was truly afraid of the deeper darkness beyond the door, he accepted it and bade him farewell with a slight fluttering of his wings. Then he turned and disappeared within the dark square of the dumpster. Alex heard a soft shushing sound of Dart sliding further and further away, then he was left alone in the shadows and silence of the tunnel.
Next: Chapter 6 - Dart The Defender!
As of 2017-02-28, Chapter 6 is loaded at DeepSkyStories.com