The bed couldn’t fly inside the cloud and started to dip the moment we broke through. We hit the ground hard and skidded to a soft stop.
The cloud was hollow, just like Pavidale. I doubted this place had a nice name, or any name at all. It was empty and sad. The ground was covered with a layer of rocks, and I noticed there were some pretty serious-sized holes everywhere. I imagined a like cloud like this could be home to some nasty creatures, but thankfully none were there to greet us.
“It’s the rile,” said Deli as she hopped down, “it’s too strong for the bed to work in here.”
I was surprised that I could see fairly well. The whole place was lit by a dim red light coming from another small pond, just like in Pavidale. But this pond looked gloomy and mean.
Without saying it, we all sensed it was probably best to whisper.
“How do we get out of here? Can we push the bed back out?” I asked.
“It will just suck us right back in,” Deli said. "We’ll need to carry the bed across to the other side.”
“You’re crazy!” Soy said angrily, but still whispering. “This looks like the place from my nightmares! And they never end well!”
“What do you suggest we do then?” she asked coolly.
“Call up the fairies and get them to pick us up with a new bed. A king-sized one this time. I’ll wait here,” Soy said as he sat cross-legged and cross-armed.
“That’s not going to happen, Soy. There’s no way to reach them from in here,” she replied.
“Well, too bad, because I’m not moving. I’m pretty positive that those holes are filled with monsters," Soy responded. "And you’re going to get gobbled up. Gobbled. Right. Up.”
“Will you talk to him, please?” Deli said, turning to me.
Soy was pretending to chew while he stared at Deli. “OM NOM NOM NOM,” was all he would say.
I sat down next to him.
“Soy, I know this isn’t exactly what you signed up for…”
He nodded emphatically.
“But, you’re my best friend, and I need you. And those fairies need you even more than I do,” I pleaded.
Soy wasn’t moved.
He replied, “If you walk across this cloud, you’re going to get eaten by the green hog monster things in those holes. And I’m not going to watch it happen.”
I understood now that he wasn’t just angry, he was worried. Worried for me. But my mind was racing from what I just heard.
“Soy, how do you know what’s in those holes?” I asked.
“I told you, this place is just like the one from my nightmare. And I always, always get eaten!” he whimpered.
I looked at Deli and knew that she had heard the same.
“Soy… you’re here to save us,” I said.
“What?” he asked.
“There’s a reason you had those dreams, Soy, just like there’s a reason why my bed can fly. You were meant to be my guide. You heard the words inside the Book of Lore. What I’m trying to say is that you got gobbled up in those nightmares so that we wouldn’t get gobbled up in real life. You are the only one who can get us through this cloud,” I told him.
He opened his mouth, but before he could speak, I repeated, “The only one.”
He sat there for a moment, staring at the ground. Then he looked back towards the cloud wall that we just passed through. Finally he let out a big sigh, and rose to his feet.
“Right," he said, “Cal, grab the other side of the mattress, then both of you get behind me. We need to move quickly. I think I may have found the way out last time.”
“Got it, Soy. I trust you,” I told him.
“So do I,” said Deli.
She jumped on the bed as we lifted it up. It wasn’t heavy, but it wasn’t light. From where we stood, the far end of the cloud looked at least two football fields away, but it was hard to tell. I started to notice that the holes weren’t the only obstacles in our way. There were bumps in the ground that looked like small hills, and some tall, scraggily looking trees.
It took Soy and me a minute to get our steps in sync, but once we did we moved well together. Soy weaved the bed in-between the holes deftly, and periodically stopped to change course. He had made it clear that under no circumstances should we make noise. Apparently, in his dreams, making too much noise tended to get him eaten. A lot.
At that moment, in the dark cloud filled with rile, with monsters sleeping below our feet, Soy was leading us. And he was doing it well. We made it about halfway through without any trouble, but then Soy looked stuck. There were three large holes in front of us and a few trees to our right. I spoke softly.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I’ve seen these holes before,” he whispered back, “and I’ve never gotten past them. There are hog monsters in each one. The middle one has the biggest.”
He turned to face me, “He’s bigger than a truck and the scariest monster in here. I call him Hampton. My mom said I might be less frightened if I named him.”
“Did it work?” Deli whispered.
“No, now he’s just a Soy-eating truck-sized monster and also his name is Hampton.”
Deli and I sat patiently while Soy planned our next move. A few minutes later Soy was ready. He took a breath and motioned for me to turn the bed on its side. We followed him as he lead us to the skinny trees. Squeezing between them, Soy and I were careful not to touch a single branch. I looked closely at the lowest branch and realized the true danger. What I thought was a leaf wasn’t a leaf at all. It was a sleeping animal. It had long claws that wrapped around the branch three times, and its wings came together to form a flat surface that made it resemble a humongous leaf. It wasn’t just this one creature that worried me really; it was the 500 more that were sleeping above it.
Once we passed through the trees, we came to a low, rocky hill. It was steep enough to make me tired, and Soy was getting winded, too. When we got to the top, we had no choice but to rest for a minute. At the far foot of the hill were two more trees, larger than the batch we had just passed. It would be difficult, but we could make our way through them and avoid the nearby holes if we took our time.
Soy laid down on the bed while Deli took a moment to take stock of how much ground we had covered. I was the only one looking forward, so I was the first to see the light. It wasn’t like any other light inside the cloud. It was a dull yellow glow coming from inside one of the two holes at the bottom of the hill. But I knew that it wasn’t actually yellow… it was stonegold.
“Soy. Deli,” I said with a tremble, “Look!”
They turned in time to see Ream fly up from inside the hole, spreading his wings. He had found us.
I hadn’t seen his full body in the school. The auditorium wasn’t large enough for him to show his full form. Ream’s wings were larger than I could have possibly imagined. He was the King of Dragons, and I was frozen in fear. My heart beat out of my chest. My legs locked in place. I felt smaller than I ever had before. Ream flapped his wings and sent a tornado of wind towards us.
“So, this is the hero that you send to his doom?” bellowed Ream, “The boy named Cal?” He bared his teeth and looked at me with a glint of gold in his eyes.
“You will not touch him!” shouted Deli, “You will not speak his name!”
She jumped in front of me, trying to shield me. She was no larger than his smallest claw. As a frog she could not protect me from a dragon. This was not a battle she could win. But, she did it all the same.
I felt like I might cry. Then, without a word, Soy stepped up next to Deli, and I did. My best friend Soy. Standing between me and a dragon. Ream started to laugh, almost like he was happy that they had.
“This will be easier than I thought” mocked Ream, “You have failed again, Delilah. Your hero cries.”
But Ream didn’t understand. There are all kinds of tears. Some tears are for a sad rainy day, and some are too happy for just words. Some don’t even tell you why they’re there. But, then there are tears that have fight inside them. Those were the tears that found me. I promised myself that we would be leaving that cloud. All three of us.
I picked up a rock and took aim behind us. There was only one hole that I wanted to hit. To make the baseball team the previous spring, I had practiced throwing a ball against the wall every day after school, and it was about to pay off. I squared my shoulders and feet, and brought my arm back. Hurling the rock with all my strength, I watched it fall out of sight into the hole. We didn’t have to wait long.
The monster came barreling out within seconds. I could see why Soy had called it a hog. Its snout was long and flat with pulsing nostrils, and I could see long, sharp teeth even with its mouth closed. Hampton was enormous.
As he crept forward on four legs a row of spikes shot up from the top of his back.
“Yep, he’ll do that,” said Soy.
The creature was so mad that it spit as it stomped the ground.
Ream flapped his wings and flew back slightly, but not in retreat. He was laughing again.
“You think that a warlug will save you? What do you think was in this rock hole before I got here? They make for delicious meals!” he said.
The warlug (a name I had just learned) took a moment to look around and then charged up the hill towards us.
“Grab the bed and follow me!” I yelled.
We started down the hill as fast as we could. Ream was content to watch the chase unfold. It seemed to amuse him. We were almost at the bottom when Hampton reached the top of the hill. He ran straight downhill at a blistering pace.
When the ground leveled off, I made Soy help me prop the bed up between against trees. We had barely finished when the warlug closed in on us. Ream knew that we couldn’t outrun it, and he smirked.
I looked at my two companions.
“When I say so, jump to the right,” I said.
We hid behind the bed as Hampton charged towards us with furious speed. He was ten yards away, then five. I could hear his angry breath from behind the mattress.
“Now!” I yelled.
We jumped out from behind the mattress, beyond the trees that held it up. The warlug saw us and tried to change course at the last second, but it was too late. His body went sideways, and its momentum carried it forward. Hampton crashed into the trees, hard enough to shake them to their roots. And that was exactly what we needed.
In a single moment, every sleeping eye on the tree had opened, and the winged creatures fluttered up. Over a thousand leafy creatures went parading into the sky. They blocked out everything else from sight, including Ream.
“Let’s go,” screamed Deli.
We grabbed the bed, and Soy took the lead again. Without second guessing, we sprinted past hole after hole. From above us, Ream let out a deafening roar. I looked back for just a moment to see the creatures swarming him from every angle.
We were almost to the cloud’s edge when the holes ahead began to come alive with noise. Warlugs were stirring inside. By the time some of the hogs started rising, we had just three more holes to pass. The first two were empty, but I saw a particularly spiky warlug poking his head out of the last one. He saw us just as we were about to pass and we only had a second to decide what to do.
“Jump!” shouted Soy.
Soy vaulted above the warlug as it eyed me up behind him. I took one step straight onto the top of its head and launched myself forward, flipping onto the bed. It chomped down onto the empty air and let out a groan. As I landed, the mattress hit the ground.
The warlug’s rock hole had a slope of dirt on the other side that led directly to the cloud’s edge. We started sliding down fast. Soy couldn’t outrun the bed as it scooped him up. Deli was now between us again. Without a sound, we slid out of the dark cloud and found the current waiting for us.