The muffled sound of churning water rushed Ned Theodore Ed’s ears, and he closed his eyes with the intensity of the sensation. Suddenly his skeleton body was tumultuously flung about, and he gulped but received no air, only water. He struggled with the underwater current, but his bones were propelled in random directions he wasn’t strong enough to resist, and within moments, he was hugging sand and the water rushed away from him as the tide retreated from the beach.
N.T. coughed, shook the seaweed from his bones, and looked around, and as he orients himself on this strange, unprecedented island, I’ll take a moment to welcome you to Part II of N.T. Ed and the Encyclopedia of Dreams! In the first installment of this mini-series, which was just moments ago, N.T. Ed had sat down in bed and opened a book called The Encyclopedia of Dreams, which has mysteriously transported N.T. to this island, washed up on this beach.
The sun glared down on him, and he shakily stood up, the clear blue tide returning and washing around his ankles as his feet sunk slightly in the sand. The beach ran inland for a hundred yards and then a tropical forest obscured what lay beyond. Peaking out from behind the treetops, N.T. could see glass, pointed skyscrapers, and suspended railways, on which a sleek, glass subway glided, snaking around the buildings. The sky was almost as clear blue as the sea’s water, and to N.T., the city looked like an island utopia. Quickly, he patted himself down to make sure he were really real, really awake, and finding that he was completely solid and present, he began to grow nervous, looking around him for any sign of how he arrived there.
The bushes by the tree line rustled, and N.T. turned to face the direction of the noise, but saw nothing. No one was in sight–it was just N.T. on a beach. Seagulls called overhead and flapped by, and he could hear nothing else but the vast lapping of the sea. For a second, he was tempted to sit back down and play in the sand, ignoring the bizarre circumstances of his evening and going with the flow, quite literally, instead, but his pesky curiosity made him feel uneasy, and so he began walking towards the trees, and towards the city.
N.T. tried not to think about all the questions that were swirling in his mind. How did he get there? Where was he? How was he supposed to get back home? Were Margaret and Talia transported too, or just him? He hoped he could find the answers in the city, so that he could understand what was going on.
As he walked up the beach and pushed through the giant, bright green leaves of the exotic plants, he began hearing more indistinct rustling. N.T. tried to walk softer, so that he would be less noticeable, if there were any predators lurking about. He chased away a thought about being swallowed by a tiger and persisted on his route, walking between the tall, palm-like trees and massive, leafy bushes. He began noticing that the plants were unlike anything he had ever seen before—-they were certainly similar to other plants, but just slightly peculiar… For example, the forest seemed to consist mostly of coconut trees, but as he looked above him and squinted, he could see that not only did the trees not have any coconuts, but instead there were fuzzy branches that dangled from the top of them. As he squinted, he realized that they looked furry more than they looked fuzzy, and then suddenly—-
Everything went dark as a canvas tarp enclosed N.T. and snatched him right off his feet. Out of nowhere, he heard voices and felt himself inside a sack, bumping along the back of some creature as he was carried away. He began kicking and flailing, but there wasn’t much room in the sack, and his strength was futile compared to the creature who had caught him.
N.T. couldn’t see anything, even though the sunlight shone through the tiny mesh gaps of the canvas bag and gave him some hazy light, but he inferred from all the rustling that the creature was among a pack of creatures, and as N.T. bumped along the back of the creature with each step it took, it was actually sort of a… soft impact? N.T. was afraid, but he didn’t know what to do. He began talking to himself in his mind to calm him down.
It’s okay, N.T. We can figure this out. You have no idea where you are, how you got there, or what’s happening. The odds seem stacked against you, but we’ve gotten into predicaments before, and we can get ourselves out of this one, too. Right now we just have to be patient, and remain level-headed so that we can act as strategically as possible.
N.T. put his hands to his face and wanted to cry, but he stopped himself.
You can either be a victim or a hero. Which is it?
He took a deep breath and swallowed his fears. He was going to be a hero.
There were more muffled voices, and N.T. felt in his stomach that they were ascending—-going up an elevator? The creature took a few steps and then swung N.T. inside the sack and tossed it on the ground. The sack slid a little after it made contact with the smooth floor, and N.T. felt a little pain from the impact of his bones on the ground. He could see the floor through a gap in the bag, though, and quickly crawled out the mouth of the sack.
He jumped up and looked around, balling his fists in defense. You may have laughed if you saw what he saw, but he was grossly outnumbered, so N.T. did not laugh. He tried to process what he saw, but was very confused.
N.T. stood in the middle of a circle of giant cats. They were on the top floor of one of the skyscrapers in the center of the city, and every wall was made of glass, so they could see the island in every direction, and the city below. The cats that surrounded him were larger than tigers, but they weren’t tigers—-they were house cats, but huge and, to be honest, kind of round. N.T. was the size of an average adult man, and these cats were even bigger than he was. Some had long fur, others had short fur; some were orange tabby cats, others were calico. One was clearly the leader of them, as he was larger than the rest and had a red bandana tied around his neck. He stood closer to N.T., and N.T. took a step back from him. N.T. really did not believe in fighting others, and he especially did not want to fight a cat, even if he had been kidnapped by it.
“What are you? What business do you have in Eveland?” the leader cat asked. He was an all-black cat with short hair, and piercing yellow eyes. His voice was deep and boomed throughout the room.
However, N.T. had no voice of his own, and when he realized he didn’t even have his messenger bag full of paper, he felt suddenly even more powerless than before. He had no way to communicate with this strange species, no way to even let them know he meant peace and no threat to them at all. And no way to negotiate his freedom.
He opened his mouth, but shook his head and put up his hands helplessly. N.T. looked around at all the cats—-there were maybe ten of them—-to see if any of them seemed particularly friendly or understanding, but they all stoically stared back at him.
“Out with it! Speak or be eaten!” the leader cat demanded again.
N.T. pointed to his mouth and shook his head rapidly, trying to indicate that he physically couldn’t speak, even though he really, really didn’t want to be eaten. He pretended to hold a pencil in his hand and made scribbling gestures in the air. He hoped that they would understand that he required paper and pencil, but as he continued gesturing, it dawned on him that maybe they didn’t even have a written language in their community, and that even if he could write on something, they may not even be able to read it.
The cats continued to glare at N.T., and some squinted dubiously at his frantic motioning.
The leader cat took a step towards N.T., who stumbled a step backwards. “Are you threatening us? Who are you and why are you in Eveland? You will become a toy if you don’t start giving us answers! My clan has interrupted my sunbathing nap to bring you to me!”
All right, N.T., how are we going to get out of this one? He asked himself, surveying the room. It was mostly empty space, except for a couple large balls of yarn, some random feathers, and a large cardboard box. The floor was painted in sunshine from the wide-open windows, and suddenly N.T. spotted some newspaper lying on the floor behind the leader cat. Newspaper! N.T. pointed enthusiastically at the paper and slowly took a few cautious steps toward it, careful not to be sudden with his movements.
The cats in the circle lowered themselves and narrowed their eyes, preparing to pounce. N.T. was very aware of their quick, predator-like instincts, and their flicking tails, and grew even more nervous as he approached the newsprint. The circle of cats backed away a little, so that they could watch what he was going to do. The leader cat stepped to the side and, appearing sort of bored with the anticipation, started washing his paw while N.T. finally stood by the newspaper.
N.T. looked down and started scanning the articles for words he could use to convey his message. He figured he would point at the words on the paper to make a sentence. As he looked at the newspaper, something caught his eye—-a snippet near the bottom about a Dream Emporium and an enchanted skeleton. What was that about? He was intrigued, but the high stakes of the moment forced his focus back to the task at hand. He had discovered the words “I don’t,” “know,” and “how,” when the leader cat suddenly stopped washing himself and hissed.
“Time’s up, Bones. What’s your game?”
N.T. began frantically pointing at the newspaper, but the cat ignored it and started approaching him. It was just as N.T. began shaking out of fear that he heard, in a high-pitched, urgent voice, “N.T.! Twinkle Paws! Wait!!”
N.T. and all the cats turned suddenly as the elevator doors opened and a flash of light manifested into a sprite. N.T. gasped in relief and the sprite flew to him, waving emphatically.
“Hi N.T.!! Sorry I didn’t get here sooner!!”
N.T. wished he could shout out in glee, because it was Carli, the pine sprite! He bounced excitedly and the leader cat—-or Twinkle Paws, as Carli had just addressed him—-looked between them in confusion.
“You claim these bones?” Twinkle Paws said gruffly, sitting down and swatting his tail in annoyance.
“Yes! He’s with me!” Carli replied. She had fluttered over to N.T., who waved excitedly at the little gray-skinned, green-haired sprite. A couple years earlier, N.T. had met Carli and her fellow pine sprites in the pine grove behind his cabin in real life, and N.T. had helped them restore peace, thus earning himself the title of Diplomat of Flowers among her community. (It’s a whole story, if you’re interested.)
Carli waved back, and flew to his resting hand and gave it a tug. N.T. took a few steps towards the door. The circle of cats likewise grew disinterested and dispersed throughout the floor, finding nice patches of sunshine or washing themselves. One began to swat at the ball of yarn.
“Well, that’s disappointing,” Twinkle Paws said, and with that, walked over to the newspaper and flipped over on his back, sprawling out in the sunshine. The floor shook a little as he dropped.
“Thanks Twinkle Paws!” Carli said. The little sprite flew towards the elevator, and called to N.T., “C’mon! Let’s go!” He did not have to be urged twice, and he hastily followed her into the elevator, the glass doors sliding closed behind them and the elevator gliding down the shaft.
“Sure is beautiful, huh?” Carli asked, looking at the island through the glass walls as they descended. “Too bad none of it’s real.”
N.T. tilted his head aggressively so that Carli would understand he was prompting her to explain. He still didn’t have any paper, which was somewhat of a problem because he had approximately a thousand questions. And now, a thousand and one.
“Oh yes,” Carli giggled, sensing the confusion of N.T. She gestured at the island, her tiny arms sweeping open to an entire three-inch span. Glancing at N.T. with a wide grin, she said, “Welcome to the Encyclopedia of Dreams.”
Carli led N.T. back to the beach, leading him back through the city of Eveland—-this time, he wasn’t in a sack, though. Carli acted as a tour guide, and N.T.’s head was practically spinning as he took in everything about the sleek, futuristic city of this colony of cats.
“It’s called Eveland because their leader is named Eve,” Carli explained, as they walked down the glass street, and N.T. weaved among other pedestrian cats, who eyed him carefully but always backed off when they noticed he was with Carli. Glass skyscrapers towered over them, and he could see all the activities taking place inside through the translucent structures. “She’s this really gorgeous gray, long-haired feline. Eve is the ruler now, but they rename the city when they get a new ruler. It’s kind of a free-for-all anyway, even with a ruler, but as long as she’s pampered and entertained, the rest of the cats can kind of do whatever they want.”
N.T. noticed some cats dressed in neck ties. Carli saw him staring and added, “Yeah, some also ‘go to work,’ but cats don’t really know what work is. They clock in and eat, then nap all day. It’s hard work being a cat, I’m telling you.” Carli cackled and they took approached a glass gate, whose glass fence stretched in both directions and seemingly surrounded the city. On the other side of the gate was the forest that N.T. had gotten snatched in. The gate swung open for Carli, and they passed through.
“I like hanging out in Eveland because I think the cats are a riot…” Carli went on. N.T. was certainly happy to see Carli, but he was less interested in the intricacies of Eveland and more eager to know more about how he arrived there. He wished she would use her sprite magic and conjure some paper, but he remembered what Margaret always told him about trying to be patient, and so he made an effort to listen to whatever Carli was saying. Whatever’s meant to be, will be. All in good time, he told himself, as they made their way through the forest, approaching the beach and the returning sound of churning currents.
“…And so when I noticed that the Diplomat of Flowers was in the Encyclopedia of Dreams, I thought, ‘That’s more important! I should check that out! Something’s not right!’ So here I came. It’s been a really crazy night, and we have a lot of work to do,” Carli laughed.
What was that she said??? N.T. stopped in his tracks and waved his hands to get her attention and then spun his pointer fingers around each other, to indicate that he wanted her to “rewind” or repeat what she had just said. Carli noticed and looked back at him, but just waved her little hand dismissively and said, “It’s a lot to explain, and I’m sure you don’t want to hear it all.”
N.T. could have burst out laughing that was so far from the truth. He wanted to know it all! Carli could tell that he was exasperated and she added, “Come on, we’re almost to the beach. We’re gonna get out of here and check out a different dream.”
They got to the beach, and a strong, warm breeze picked up. The tide began to crash more aggressively against the hot sand, and the seagulls screeched and quickly flew away. Carli stopped when they arrived at the shore, and N.T. held out his right hand so that she could take a seat in it.
“Thanks!” Carli said, sitting in his palm and leaning back against his curled fingers. She stretched out her legs and sighed happily. “You know, not too shabby for a bone chair,” she remarked.
N.T. smiled, and the wind pushed against him, rolling in from the deep sea. He had to adjust his stance to resist it better.
“So, you’ve happened to drop in at ‘Eveland.’ You just randomly opened the book, right? We’re in the ‘E’s right now. Some of the dreams can get pretty weird, and we’ll definitely avoid Fart-topia, because that’s just as awful as it sounds,” Carli said, stroking her chin in thought. Her green hair blustered in the wind. “If we want to get to the dream filter blueprints, that’s embedded in the Hatfield dream…”
The tide crashed against N.T.’s ankles and made him stumble backwards. Off in the distance of the sea, the sky grew dark with clouds. Was there a storm coming? Carli seemed to be paying no attention to the changing weather, and N.T. wondered if they should still be on the beach for this looming storm. He pointed at it with his left hand, but Carli continued to think aloud.
“I hope you like hats, because that’s a guarantee. It’s actually offensive not to wear a hat in that dream. You do have a good shape head for a hat… But what kind?” Carli studied N.T.’s face, not even glancing at his rapid pointing to the storm. “Maybe a bowler hat? Aww, you would look great in a bowler hat!”
N.T. gave up pointing and was about to walk inland again, Carli in his hand, but as he took a few steps away, Carli stopped him.
“What are you doing? We just got here!”
But as N.T. looked back at the sea, way off in the distance, he saw something very, very not-okay. It seemed as though a wall of—-something—-was headed in their direction, gliding across the water. In fact, it looked as though it were a tsunami. A tsunami! N.T. lived in the mountains for a reason! He began shaking his head frantically, and stared in awe as the white sheet swept up the horizon and grew closer to them. It was like he couldn’t move, he was both terrified and awestruck.
“Ope! That’s our ride!” Carli announced, standing up in N.T.’s palm. She fluttered up to N.T.’s eye level and his hand fell to his side limply. She noticed the fixated expression of his body, and looked off at the tsunami.
“Oh, don’t worry. It does look really scary, huh? We’ll be fine. It’s just the pages turning,” Carli said, gently. “We’re traveling across the Encyclopedia to the ‘H’s! It won’t hurt at all.”
The tsunami-like page lingered closer, and N.T. was only slightly comforted by this information. What mostly made him nervous was the unknown—-how could he prepare himself for what was about to happen if he had never experienced it before? What if he and Carli were separated across dreams on accident? He looked back to Carli, who fluttered around him excitedly. Clearly she enjoyed being in the Encyclopedia of Dreams, and almost seemed at home. Suddenly, he realized that it would be okay—-this was just another adventure, and he was with a friend who had already saved him once. Besides, he was in a book! (Or so he pieced together.) Books were always good to N.T., and he loved being surrounded by books. This was just a new opportunity!
As the page loomed right above them, waiting to turn and crash into the island, Carli quickly said, “Don’t worry! Eveland will be fine. It’s a dream!”
Suddenly the off-white blank page fell upon them like a massive, soft blanket, and the last thing N.T. thought before he twinkled out of consciousness was that the page in his dreams smelled just as fresh and bookish as the pages in real life…
*To be continued, in Part III of N.T. Ed and the Encyclopedia of Dreams!
Don’t miss out on any other of N.T.’s adventures!
More tales of N.T. Ed:
- N.T. Ed’s Pines
- N.T. Ed, the Diplomat of Flowers
- N.T. Ed and the Jack of Tricks
- N.T. Ed Finds his Voice
- N.T. on the Desk
Also, be sure to check out my Slanted Spines collection on Bonfire! Wear N.T. Ed and promote Slanted Spines by purchasing one of the styles below! Sale goes until February 7! Visit www.bonfire.com/slanted-spines-diamond-design