The Mommy’s Curse

 

A TaleSpin story conceived by John Pesterfield.

Written by John Pesterfield and Bearcat.  Additional story suggestions by Gidget.

 

TaleSpin is a registered trademark of The Walt Disney Company.

 

All characters used in this story are from Disney’s Tale Spin and are used without permission, with extreme respect and for totally NON-PROFIT USE. This is also the first story by these authors and is purely an educational exercise in creative writing.

 

The following characters in this story are part of Disney’s TaleSpin series: Baloo the Bear; Rebecca Cunningham; Molly E. Cunningham; Kit Cloudkicker; Wildcat; Dr. Bovon; Professor O’Bowens. Any other incidental characters are the creation(s) of the authors.

 

We thank the creative Disney talent behind TaleSpin for the creation of memorable characters and a series that has a loyal following to this day. We also thank Gidget for her reviews of the story and all her additional suggestions and input. It has been invaluable. J

 

Chapter 5

 

 

"I have enlightened him. All will become clear... in time," Altaira intoned. But before Rebecca could retort, she and the tigress vanished.

 

Rebecca was bathed in a white light. Or was it a mist? She could not tell. Within seconds the brightness began to fade.

 

As she got her bearings, Rebecca soon realized that she was alone. A streak of panic swept through her.

 

"Where have you taken me?" she yelled. Silence was the only answer she got.

 

"Great! Kidnapped by a spook. Terrific, Rebecca," she said out loud. "Now you’re talking to yourself." She then noticed something was amiss. Rebecca looked down and saw her feet. “Did you have to take my shoes too?”

 

Rebecca looked around. The goddess had abandoned her down in the middle of a plateau, but how high up was she? She had to find out. If she had to make some type of climb down it was best to be prepared. Slowly Rebecca walked toward what looked like a ledge.

 

Nearing the face of the ledge, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She looked down, and what she saw would have made her fur turn white. "Oh…" she gasped. "It's bottomless!"

 

"Not so."

 

The voice came from behind her. Rebecca turned to see the goddess standing in the middle of the plateau.

 

"Come here, my child."

 

Hardly daring to breathe, Rebecca remained rooted to the spot.

 

"I said COME!"

 

Altaira became angered by Rebecca's hesitation. It felt like an eternity for Rebecca as she took one slow step after another.  Soon she found herself trembling under the goddess’s fiery gaze. 

 

"Do you know the phrase ‘seek and ye shall find?’ "

 

What an odd question, Rebecca thought. "Yes. Of co..course I have. I remember hearing it when I was a little girl."

 

"Do you *know* what it means?"

 

Rebecca just stood there; dumbfounded.  Just what was this hocus-pocus goddess person asking? Again the Altaira repeated the question. Finally Rebecca worked up an answer.

 

"You'll find what you're looking for, as long as you don't give up," then she added, "…on yourself."

 

"Yes. That is your next test. To seek and find what you're looking for.”

 

Altaira started to turn away.

 

That's it? Rebecca thought incredulously. Aloud she asked, "That's the next test?"

 

The tigress paused and turned briefly back toward Rebecca.

 

"You will know what it is when you see it.”

 

“I don’t understand.”

 

"Find the stone so clear as glass, yet yellow white and hard to smash. It cuts though metal, it cuts through stone. In life leave well enough alone." With that last word and a flash of light, Altaira was gone.

 

A glass stone? Yellow white? And leave well enough… What kind of riddle is this?

 

"How am I supposed to find anything?" she shouted.

 

Instead, her voice reverberated against the rocks, seeming to mock her. “…anything…anything…anything…

 

"Oooh!  How do I get down from here!"

 

The voice of Altaira was coming in from everywhere and nowhere.

 

"Follow the path beneath your feet”

 

Rebecca looked down and there, at her feet, was a carpet of moss. It led right to the ledge. The very ledge that plunged into nothing. "Okay. 'Follow the path beneath your feet', huh?" Rebecca took a breath, then a step toward the ledge. "Nothing like working without a net.”

 

Moments passed. But as Rebecca made her way to the ledge, she suddenly saw that the moss path made a gentle sloping turn to the right.

 

"A path? That wasn't here bef---!" She cut herself off.

 

“Does she really expect me to---? Maybe it’s not really there. I wonder if that Altaira put that there on purpose… ooh, that’s just the sort of sneaky, underhanded thing she’d do!”

 

Rebecca’s heart was pounding in her chest. She stared at the path that appeared to merge into oblivion. She began to take a step and….

 

“I can’t do it. What if there’s nothing there? Or worse, what if there was something there?  At best, she’d land on the pointed rocks and die instantly.  At worst… she’d land in a pit of alligators or something with really sharp pointy teeth. 

 

“I’ve seen movies about that sort of thing!” she shouted. “I’m not buying it!  You hear me?  I’m not buying it!”

 

Startled, Rebecca yelped and nearly fell.  She caught herself and, not trusting herself to remain on her feet, wearily sat down. An-all-familiar female voice scolded her. “I told you to follow the path beneath your feet!  Can’t you follow simple instructions?”

 

Heart pounding, Rebecca said weakly, “Could you please stop doing that?” 

 

Altaira appeared out of nowhere. By the look on her face, she had seen the whole thing and was not amused.

 

Rebecca started to protest, “But I can’t--- what about the alligators?” 

 

“Do not try my patience with useless paranoia.  I detest whiners.”  But Altaira saw her fear and her expression softened somewhat. The fire of her eyes, however, remained.

 

“Please… my feet hurt. I need to rest.”

 

The goddess sighed heavily, but relented. “Very well, Mortal.  You may rest for a moment.”

 

“Gee, thanks.”

 

“You are welcome.  We goddesses have our moments of compassion,” Altaira replied, apparently unaware of any sarcasm.  Rebecca supposed that was a blessing.

 

“I don’t think I can do this.”

 

“The path I’ve laid down is a solid one. It might be a bit narrow, but it will take you to the bottom of the plateau.  It is there that the real test begins. However, you must return to this place for it to be complete.”

 

"From now on, until you make your return I will be watching." Altaira was becoming more transparent with each passing word. "You'll never know just were I am, but I'll pop in... from time to time.”  Like the Cheshire cat in the Alice stories, she was gone, except there wasn't a lingering smile.

 

“Wait!” Rebecca called.  “I’m not---!”  But she found herself talking to the air instead. “Oh, I hate her.”

 

I heard that!” A near-invisible Altaira sang. But there was a bubble of malicious amusement in her voice as she finally disappeared altogether.

 

The moss made the trail slippery and twice Rebecca almost lost her footing. She knew one good slip could plunge her to the sharp rocks below.

 

“Solid, huh? She should try walking on this stuff. With my luck she’s probably able to walk on water too.”

 

The cliff rock wasn't much better --- a jagged mess of loose sandstone. If the sandstone wasn't coming loose when she touched it, the iron ore was cutting her fingers.

 

"Try not to look down.” she mumbled to herself. “Hug the cliff. Don't look down."

 

Oh, where am I! Half the path had been covered over in fog. The only two markers that led her to believe she was still on the mossy path was the cliff and the moss itself. The path was obviously spiraling down from the plateau. Rebecca made what she thought was her twentieth turn when the fog finally cleared.

 

”I made it!  I made it!”

 

Before her, about a hundred yards away was a lush semi-open plain. Green fields and gently rolling hills marked by a small village. The village seemed to sparkle in the sunlight, which was just beginning to break through the fog.

 

Rebecca crossed an open field of grass toward a road that ran the length of the valley. The firm soil under her feet was a welcome change to the slime of the moss. Her feet had fared better than her hands. Even though her toes were a bit scrapped up from the rock, they didn’t receive some of the deeper cuts her hands had from grabbing the cliff.

 

Bruised, cut and bloodied, her hands were in need of some medical attention. When she got to the road she began to walk toward the village.

 

“Okay. Now that I’m here, wherever this is, what am I supposed to be looking for?” She stopped to think, then began walking again. ‘Find the stone so clear as glass, yet yellow white and hard to smash. It cuts though metal, it cuts through stone. In life leave well enough alone.’  Aloud, she said, “But what does it mean?”

 

“A stone that can cut through metal and stone? What’s hard enough to do that?” Suddenly it hit her, and she gasped. “A diamond! It must be a diamond! They can be yellow white and they can cut glass, why not stone and metal? If I can find someone, anyone… I don’t need to tell them what I need. Just, poke around a bit.”

 

It was at least a two-mile walk. Several farms were placed along the road. Each one had a different color to the farmhouse and the color appeared to change as she walked by.

 

"How does that paint change color like that?"

 

Rebecca checked each farmhouse from her vantage point on the road. Every one of them looked as if it was changing from a red, to yellow-green, to blue.

 

She started to look back toward the road after her inspection of the last farmhouse when she walked into something. With a surprised grunt, she found herself knocked on her backside, dazed.

 

Oof!  Your pardon, miss. I am sorry. I did not see you."

 

Rebecca looked up, squinting. Most of the sunlight was blocked by the tall individual before her.

 

"Please, miss. Let me help you. Give me your hand."

 

"Thank you, I…oooh!"

 

"Are you all right? I hurt you, did I not? Sometimes I do not know my own strength."

 

Rebecca had a better view of this natural eclipse, now that she was on her feet. He was a muscular, well-built polar bear about her age somewhere in his mid-thirties.  His coat was pure white, making his jet-black nose seem even darker in comparison. His features were a bit coarsened by hard living, but his dark eyes were kind and gentle. His probing gaze somehow unnerved her. The pain in her hands broke her concentration.

 

"No. No, I'm…I'm fine. It's just my hands. I came down from there…” (here she pointed to the plateau) and I had to stay close to the wall of the cliff.”  Showing him her hands, hairless and bloody, she gave a rueful chuckle.  “I don’t travel very well, I’m afraid.”

 

"I'm going into the village. I’ll take you to our doctor. He should be able to help."

 

"No. That's all right. I think I can make it on my own."

 

"It is no trouble.”

 

Rebecca and the stranger began walking. It wasn't long before he asked her name. "Rebecca. A good name. If I had any girls I would have given them a name like that."

 

"Do you have a family? I'm sorry, I don't know your name."

 

"Lars. Ja. I have two strong boys. One as tall as me!" Lars said as he thumped his chest with pride. "And he is only fifteen. They help me around the farm. We raise llamas. What we don't sell or use in wool, we slaughter for meat. Do you have a family, Rebecca?"  He sounded out her name slowly, as though tasting the syllables.

 

She just knew the question would come up, but she wasn't about to tell a complete stranger that she was widowed, with a six-year-old. But she had to give some response. "Yes," she said thinking of the motley crew at Higher for Hire. "I do."

 

"Then you are fortunate. Life is treating you well. Though I've never seen your race before. What is your ancestry?"

 

"Let's just say it's mixed. You see, I'm not quite sure what I am." Boy, is that an understatement!

 

It wasn't long they reached the outskirts of the village. Rebecca began to squint from the bright sunlight. It seemed to bounce off every wall of every building. Blue, green, red, yellow and magenta. A rainbow of color that, while pleasant to the eye, was impossible to tolerate under the light's intensity.

 

She walked through the village almost in a trance, mesmerized by the wealth she saw around her.

 

"Are you alright? Your eyes are tearing up."

 

"It's just the light, Lars. It's so bright."

 

"Here. Give me your hand. I get you into shade, ja?"

 

He walked her over to an awning of a shop. The light was less intense there. "This should help. The doctor, he is two doors down from here. Give your eyes a moment to adjust and I'll take you to him."

 

Rebecca was rubbing her eyes, trying to force them back into focus. The salt from her tears was making the cuts on her hands sting.

 

"Thank you for your help. I didn't think I'd…oh my!"

 

Suddenly, she stopped short, her eyes widening with amazement.  Rebecca was so shocked she could only whisper, " Jewels. Every building is made from jewels?"

 

"Ja.  Most of the buildings and homes of our village are made of stone. It is very common here.  Is there a problem?"

 

How could the bear call all this just stone? The very wall in front of them appeared to be made from amber. The one she stood closest to was most likely amethyst.

 

The path eventually led into a cottage where a cheery fire was burning, and a large diamond stuck out of the wall.

 

That diamond is worth a fortune!  Oh, the things I could do with that.

 

Dreamily, she reached for the stone.

 

A sharp voice interrupted her reverie. “Don’t touch that!”

 

Rebecca jumped and turned to see the doctor.  He was a graying badger, somewhere in his mid-fifties and comfortably overweight, with his stomach hanging over his belt buckle. For a moment, the doctor’s paunchy belly reminded her of Baloo.

 

“What? Oh, this? I wasn’t going to…”

 

“Leave it, please. It’s the only thing holding up my wall. I don’t need the roof falling in while I’m trying to help someone. Wouldn’t be good for business, would it?”

 

She said numbly, “No. No, of course not.”

 

“Good. Now sit down and tell me what your problem is.”

 

“Rebecca. I’ve cut my hands.”

 

The doctor had Rebecca sit on a small stool in front of the fire. He sat down on another stool directly across from her. The doctor began to examine Rebecca's hands. First the top, then her palms, then each finger. “Hmmm…nasty cuts. What were you doing, digging a hole and forgot to use a shovel?”

 

“No, I was climbing… I mean, I cut them on some rocks." Rebecca kept staring at the stone. She moved her head from side to side ever so slightly. She was looking for a color shift. White to yellow and back again. There was no doubt now. That large stone in the wall was a diamond. One of the largest she had ever seen.  

 

“Climbing? Where?”

 

Lars spoke up. “Well, she told me that she came down from the plateau.”

 

“That god-awful place?” The doctor was shocked.  “What made you do a foolish thing like that?”

 

“Foolish? What do you mean?”

 

“My dear young lady, that plateau has caused more loss of life in this village over the years than I care to recall. The whole thing is crumbling, though some say it’s cursed.”

 

“Cursed?”

 

Ja,” Lars added.  “But it is just a legend. They say an evil tigress lives there ready to devour climbers whole. You see, most of the villagers who tried to go up the trail never return.”

 

The doctor scowled at Rebecca. “If you did get these cuts from the cliffs, then consider yourself fortunate that’s all you got. Next time you might not be so lucky.” He took a deep breath. “Well, I think we’ve had enough ghost stories for now. Let’s get your hands fixed up. This won’t take but a minute.”

 

The doctor stood up and walked to curtain that hid a side room. Rebecca and Lars could hear him rummaging around. The doctor soon returned with a few large pieces of gauze, a blue glass colored vial and a large pan.

 

He sat back down in front of Rebecca, placing the pan on his lap. “Okay, hold out your hands.”

 

He opened the blue vial and held it above her hands.  “This disinfectant might sting a bit.”

 

The doctor poured a greenish, semi-red fluid over the nicks and cuts. It’s remnants ending up in the bowl. “OUCH! I thought you said this would only sting!

 

“I lied. It hurts like hell,” he said, almost cheerfully. “I haven’t used this in some time. I was afraid it might have lost its kick. If it hurts as bad as you say it does, then it’s doing its job.”

 

“What job? Melting my flesh to the bone?”

 

“No. Killing any germs. You want to keep those fingers, I assume?”

 

“Well, of course.”

 

“Then don’t complain. That’s the one thing I don’t like from any of my patients. Complaints.”

 

“I wasn’t complaining, it just… caught me off guard.”

 

“You were complaining. Trust me, I’ve been in the medical game for years. I should know.”

 

The pain of the antiseptic was becoming too much for Rebecca to bear and she felt her eyes well up with tears.

 

In deep concentration, the doctor continued to work and didn’t even turn his head. He surprised Rebecca by addressing Lars, who was quietly waiting in the doorway. “Lars?”

 

Ja?”

 

“Behind me is a small box. Inside there’s some tissue. Could you blot her eyes for me? My hands are covered with disinfectant.”

 

Ja, sure.” Lars got the tissue and began drying Rebecca’s eyes. “Does this help?”

 

“Yes, thank you,” she said gratefully. “How much longer?”

 

“I’m finished.”

 

Rebecca looked down and to her amazement the doctor was finished. Her wounds had been cleaned up and a light bandage was wrapped around her hands. Not enough to keep her from using them, but enough to keep them clean of dirt.

 

“Thank you. I…”  She padded her pockets. They were empty. “I don’t have any way to pay you. Perhaps I can…”

 

Lars spoke up. “I will take the bill, ja? Is least I can do for a visitor.”

 

“Thank you, doctor…?”

 

“Name’s McCoy. Twenty years and haven’t lost my touch yet!”

 

Just your bedside manner, Rebecca said to herself. “Well, thank you again, doctor.”

 

Rebecca and Lars left the doctor’s hut. She covered her eyes again to fight the glare. 

 

“Lars. Thank you.”

 

“As I said. Least I can do for a visitor.”

 

Rebecca looked around at the various huts in the village. She was still in awe at the gemstone from the doctor’s hut. “Lars? How did your people come across all this…this stone?”

 

“Oh, it is all over de valley. Especially the quarry.”

 

“Quarry? What quarry? I didn’t see one coming into town.”

 

Ja, because it’s on the other side of the village, against the hill over there.”

 

Rebecca’s heart began pounding. She just had to see this quarry. If these stones came from there…Oh, the possibilities, she said to herself.

 

“Ah, Lars?” she asked coyly. “Could you show me this quarry?”

 

Lars was more than willing to oblige and within minutes Rebecca was standing at the mouth of a quarry; the likes of which she’d never seen before.

 

It was a dream come true! Diamonds, rubies, sapphires, opals and other precious gems filled the floor, sides and mining bins of the quarry.

 

Eureka!

 

“Eureka?” The big bear glanced around. “Where? Who is this Eureka?”

 

Rebecca was practically drooling. Lars’ question caught her a bit off guard. “Oh…ah… it means… good.  Very… good.”

 

Rebecca started walking toward the floor of the quarry, completely lost in the moment. Looking at a small opal. “Oh, this is pretty…” Then she picked up a ruby. “And look at this one!”

 

“Rebecca? Be careful. A quarry is not good place for strangers. You might get hurt again.”

 

“Oh don’t worry, Lars. I know what I’m doing.”

 

It’s mine, all mine!  I’m rich!  Mine, mine, mine!

 

She then picked up another opal, then a larger ruby. A few other gems suddenly found themselves in Rebecca’s pockets. Soon Rebecca had accumulated quite a collection of precious gems.

 

“Oh I just have to have that one... and this one, oh and this blue one here. Come to Mama…”

 

It was the blue stone that topped off the clutch of gems. “Oh…” She stomped in frustration. “If I only had a hat. I could pick up a few more.” Suddenly a thought came to her. She turned to the villager that had shown her so much kindness. “Lars? Are there any sacks around here?”

 

Ja. Over in the mining office. I go get one or two for you.”

 

Lars began hiking to the mining office over on the far rim of the quarry. Whatever he would bring her would take some time to retrieve. “Oh…. I can’t wait that long.”

 

Will this do, sweetie?”

 

“What? Who said that?”

 

Rebecca turned and jumped about a foot. Altaira was standing behind her, with a burlap sack in one paw the other on a hip.

 

“What the h---.  Look, would you please stop doing that? Don’t you have anything better to do than sneak up on people?”

 

“No,” Altaira said coldly. “It’s a goddess thing. Trust me, you’ll get used to it.”

 

“Oh sure. Like athlete’s foot! What are you doing here anyway? Spying?!”

 

“I just wanted to know if this sack is all you need,” she said, dangling it casually from her paw. “You seem so… How shall I put it? Engrossed?”

 

“Engrossed? Me?”

 

“Perhaps engrossed is the wrong word to use. How about balmy, cracked, transfixed? Or how about just plain obsessed!” Altaira leaned into Rebecca’s face and produced a wicked smile, exposing at least one of her canines.

 

“I’m just… browsing.”

 

Altaira laughed. “Browsing. Is that what you mortals refer to when you’re stuffing your pockets full of precious gems? I must be out of step with the times.”

 

Rebecca felt anger rise in her at the goddess’s half-mocking, half-chastising tone. “Well, why not? After all I've gone through I deserve something."

 

“Something,” Altaira gave a mirthless chuckle. “You ‘deserve something’ from all these gems? Like what?”

 

“Well I could… I mean… oh, you don’t understand!”

 

“Try me.”

 

“Well, there’s so much I could do with this. Travel, give Molly a better life, improve the business…”

 

“Improve your business? How?”

 

“How?” Rebecca had to stop and think for a moment. The question caught her off guard.

 

“Well, with these stones I’d have enough money to renovate the office. Pink lace curtains with royal purple rugs from India. Oh, and I could have new oak furniture delivered, you know with that new Art Deco styling. Maybe a large desk to go with it; just like the one Shere. Khan has in his office, except with some chrome trim. Oh and one of those huge radios in a walnut cabinet.”

 

“Maybe you should have been an interior decorator, sweetie.” Altaira leaned into Rebecca’s face again. “What about the others?”

 

“Others? Oh…yes, well I’d put Molly into a private school when she gets older. Maybe she’d like the one I went to. I could take a slow boat trip round the world, see the sights…”

 

“Ah, yes… so that’s what you had in mind when you risked the lives of your employees in opening up that mid-air refueling service”

 

“Wait a minute. H-how do you know…?” Rebecca smacked her forehead. “Oh… right. You’re a goddess.”

 

“Then there was the time you tried to collect a few thousand feathers, hoping to make a fortune.”

 

Rebecca scowled, crossing her arms like a spoiled child. The way Altaira put it, that brilliant idea sounded kind of… well stupid. “Look. I would have make a killing selling those feathers.”

 

“Ah, but who would buy them? The birds you stole them from?”

 

“HEY! I did not steal…”

 

“And let us not forget dragging the bear and the boy truffle hunting, ending up in some primitive’s stew…”

 

“All right, all right! I get the point! Besides, I definitely don’t like being reminded of that stew. It took me forever to get the smell out of my fur.”

 

“I don’t need the sordid details dear,” Altaira said. “Besides, you no longer have that problem…do you?”

 

Rebecca winced at the reminder that she no longer had fur. “Don’t rub it in.”

 

“You’ve told me that I have to pass these tests of yours to become normal again, yet you don’t bother to tell me what I have to do! You just let me go with little or no information. So far you’ve turned me into some… sideshow attraction! I’ve had to hide my face in public, you’ve tried to force me to kill my own daughter, fried my flesh with imaginary lava and now I’m rock-climbing! I’ve had enough! I don’t think a few stones are going to make any difference to my tests. You owe me!”

 

“I see.” Alteira sounded amused.  “But would it be worth it?  Would you enjoy those things, knowing the price you paid?”

 

“Of course, I would.  If I paid for them, then I deserve them, fair and square.”

Alteira raised one elegant eyebrow.

 

Rebecca spread her hands helplessly. “What?”

 

“You know.”

 

“No, I don’t.”

 

“Oh, I think you do.”

 

“Well, I would if you told me!”

 

Altaira smiled, the way one does when a child does something cute. “That’s not how it works, mortal. It’s no fun that way.”

 

“Why, you sadistic, smug, highhanded…” Rebecca began to get mad. “Just who do you think you are, torturing me this way?”

 

“Torture?” Altaira laughed without humor. “You think this is torture? To be forced to think about the consequences?”

 

“I’ll tell you what I think! I think you’re an overbearing…” Altaira gave a wave of a paw and Rebecca’s hands flew up to her mouth in horror.  The goddess had sealed her mouth shut.

 

“Ah, much better. I don’t know how they put up with your constant squawking.”

 

“Mmmph!”

 

“I’m sorry dear, what was that? Did you want to say something to me?”

 

“Mmmph! Um owwwy!”

 

“I can’t hear you! What was that again? Stop mumbling.”

 

Rebecca looked at her pleadingly and fell to her knees.

 

“What? Oh, the mouth thing.” Altaira sighed, disgusted. “Oh, all right.”

 

With another wave of a paw the thick tissue that held Rebecca’s mouth shut vanished as suddenly as it had appeared.

 

I hate her, she thought, then glanced at Alteira guiltily.

 

The tigress sighed. “Yes, I can read minds.  But I’ll let it go.  I don’t have time to replace the lepers I’m going to cure later.  Now…think.  What else is important to you besides the obvious? 

“I don’t know…a home and a life…and everything that’s important to me!”

 

Define ‘everything’.”

 

“Oh, you know!  Friends, family, love…all that stuff.”  She was getting a headache.  “Molly, Kit, Wildcat…and Baloo, I guess.” 

 

“Maybe you’re right,” Altaira added. “Perhaps you do deserve this.”

 

She picked up one of the stones that Rebecca had passed over and examined it in the sunlight and added, “Just don’t go overboard.”

 

Rebecca paused for a moment before shoving a stone back into her pocket. “I am not going overboard. It’s just… Just… Well look! You can’t expect me to just pass up an opportunity like this.”

 

“Opportunities come in different forms. Recognizing the good ones from the bad is what’s important. Or haven’t you learned that lesson yet?”

 

“Look,” Rebecca added sheepishly. “If I fail these trials of yours I want to at least have something. As least for my daughter’s future. And…and---”

 

“Fine. If this is what you want, bring what you can. But remember, to get through this test you must return to the plateau. Just remember what I told you. Find the stone so clear as glass, yet yellow white and hard to smash. It cuts though metal, it cuts through stone. In life leave well enough alone."

 

Again, Altaira vanished in a brilliant flash of light. As Rebecca’s eyes began to readjust she saw Lars making his way back toward the floor of the quarry. He had one burlap sack.

 

“This is all I could find. I hope it is enough.”

 

Rebecca snatched the sack from Lars. She had accumulated a rather large number of gems. More than half were the diamonds she had assumed were part of the riddle. The rest were stones of various kinds. All would bring thousands of shaboozies on the open market. Including the large blue stone she picked up prior to Altaira’s arrival.

 

“I don’t care what that Altaira thinks. I’m taking these with me.”

 

Lars, who had been watching her stuffing the bag, looked dumbfounded. “Altaira? Who is this Al-ter-ra?”

 

With that statement it suddenly dawned on Rebecca that she had been speaking aloud --- that he hadn’t seen Altaira. Or, at the very least, he couldn’t see her. Either way, it didn’t matter.

 

“Oh, Altaira. Ah, she’s an…acquaintance of mine. No one you should be worried about.”

 

“I see. Well then, let me help you with those. That looks heavy.”

 

“That’s all right, I can manage…oof!  Rebecca tried to sling the burlap sack over her shoulders, but it was too heavy. The best she could do is drag it along the ground. I guess it wouldn’t be against Altaira’s test to have a little help. “Maybe you should carry it.”

 

Rebecca headed back toward the village, covering her eyes more as she approached. Lars was right behind her, with the gems.

 

“Rebecca, are you thinking of staying in our valley?”

 

“Uh…why do you ask?”

 

“Well, most of us use these stones from the quarry for our homes. Will you be building? Not enough here for good foundation. It will take many loads of these stones for that.”

 

Rebecca stopped and turned around to face Lars. It was hard for her to see him in the ever-present glitter of the village huts. “I can’t explain Lars. It’s just… A friend of mine is in trouble and these stones maybe the only thing that can save my---my friend. I can take the stones with me, can’t I? I mean, it’s not like you’re going to run out of them or something.”

 

Lars glanced at the sack he’d been hauling back from the quarry, then looked at Rebecca. “Ja. Is okay. We do have many to use and as you say, we never can run out.”

 

“Thank you, Lars. Now let’s get going, I have to get back to the main road.”

 

“Then I lead. You keep going that way, you end up in our town dross.”

 

“Dross? What’s that?”

 

“The dump.”

 

They were back on the main road in no time, thanks to Lars. They approached the area where they had first met. “Rebecca, how far do we take this?”

 

Great! Now he asks. “Well, ah… you see that bend in the road way up there? I sort of need to walk that way.”

 

Lars froze. Rebecca had pointed to the main path that lead up to the plateau. “You plan to climb again?

 

“Well---yes, that’s where my, um… friend is.”

 

“I cannot go.”

 

Rebecca stopped and turned back toward Lars. “But the bag’s too heavy for me to carry. And I need it for my--- my friend.”

 

“But you hear what the doctor said. It’s too dangerous to climb. Falling rocks all over. And I know there are jagged rocks in the gorge, just out of our sight. One slip and…”

 

Somehow, Rebecca sensed that a chivalrous soul was housed inside that rough exterior, and she pressed her advantage.

 

“All the more reason I need your help, Lars. Please. You wouldn’t want me to fall into that gorge trying to carry that, would you?”

 

She looked up at him imploringly and had to remind herself not to flutter her eyelashes. “Please?”

 

Lars hesitated, obviously reluctant.

 

“I will take you. But we go slow!”

 

“Thank you Lars. You’re an angel.”

 

“I hope this do not make me angel,” he answered.

 

The two miles they crossed were quiet ones. Obviously Lars was worried about the climb up to the plateau. She was now beginning to regret asking for his help, but she needed to get to the top. And she didn’t want to leave those gems behind. Especially the diamonds she found on the quarry floor.

 

I need those diamonds. They might be a key to ending this curse. That’s what Altaira was trying to tell me. I just wish I didn’t have to lie to Lars. Rebecca looked back at Lars who followed her dutifully on the summit trail behind her.

 

It will be okay. Nothing will happen. Everything will be fine. I’ll be back to normal and everything will be fine. As soon as I get back to the plateau.

 

They slowly made their way up the path. Lars was going slower than Rebecca had expected. With his fear I would have thought he’d want this over and done with as soon as possible, she thought.

 

Rebecca looked down along the side of the cliff. “I think we’re halfway there, Lars. How are you doing?”

 

Lars had been dragging the sack for the last few minutes. Even for a bear of his size and strength, such a burden was exhausting.  His breathing was heavy and labored.  “I am fine. Just not as young as I used to be. We go.”

 

She fought down a twinge of guilt.

 

Ten minutes went by and Rebecca and Lars turned another bend on the path. The fog Rebecca encountered on her way down was back. It began to thicken as they climbed higher.

 

Rebecca heard the brittle sound of loose rock. She stopped in the fog bank. She couldn’t see a foot in front of her now and she couldn’t tell if the rock was in front of them or behind them. “Lars? Did you hear that?”

 

“Lars?”

 

Ja!”

 

“Where are you?” Rebecca began edging her way back down the path, using the face of the cliff as a guide.

 

“Here.”

 

“Where? On the edge of the fog bank?”

 

“No. On the edge of the path.”

 

“You mean on the path. Right?”

 

“No, I mean on edge of path. Gorge is below me.”

 

“Gorge? GORGE! Lars! You slipped?”

 

Ja, that is… good word for it.” Suddenly another sound of falling rock.

 

Rebecca’s heart rate jumped. Lars was in serious trouble. And it was all her fault. But where was he? She couldn’t see through the fog. Worst, it seemed the fog was getting even thicker.

 

“I can’t see you. Where are you?”

 

“Close, I think.” His voice quavered. “Please. Help me. I don’t know how much longer I can hold on.” Rebecca could hear another crumble of rock and Lars cried out. “Help, Rebecca! I am slipping!”

 

Oh no! How will I ever find him? Crawl. I’ve got to crawl on my hands and knees. Maybe I can find him that way.

 

“Don’t worry Lars. I’m coming for you.”

 

Rebecca got down onto her hands and knees and began feeling her way toward the edge of the path. “Slowly… Slowly… SlowlEEEEE!”

 

“REBECCA?! Are you all right?”

 

There was a gasping sound coming from left above him. “Yes. I found the edge.” Almost the hard way. “Where are you?”

 

“Right here!”

 

Rebecca continued to grope frantically. “Where? I…” Suddenly she felt something.

 

“My hand --- grab my hand. Help me. I do not wish to die like this. Please. Help me!

 

Rebecca could barely breath. Her heart felt as if it was stuck in her throat and the wind, which began to pick up, was beginning to drown out Lars’ voice. Suddenly her hand felt fur. “Lars!”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Can you lift yourself up?”

 

“I think so, but bag in my right hand is wrapped around my fingers. I cannot get a good grip with my right hand. Can you get the bag?”

 

Rebecca reached out with her left, since her right was on Lars’ paw. She didn’t want to lose that connection to him. It took a bit of groping and stretching out on her stomach, but she finally did feel the bag. It was wrapped tightly around half his fingers. And they were slipping.

 

“Lars. I’m going to let go of your left hand. I’ll try to pull the bag up. That should free your other hand.”

 

“You hurry, please? I don’t want to make family angry by dying, ja?!”

 

He’s starting to panic. I’ve got to do something. Rebecca began to feel around his hand, looking for a way to free the cloth. It was too tight. Maybe if I can lighten it.

 

She gave up trying to free Lars’ fingers and started looking for a way to get into the burlap sack. Now I know why she said, ‘Leave well enough alone!’ Rebecca kept feeling around for an opening, any opening in the bag that would allow her to reach down and remove the gemstones. Anything to get the weight off his fingers so he could dump the bag.

 

“Rebecca! What are you doing? Pull up, please. I don’t think you have time.” Rebecca suddenly felt his paw slip a bit. “Ah…you hurry. Please.”

 

No opening. Can’t lift bag… Suddenly Lars felt Rebecca clamping onto his right wrist with both hands. She was trying to pull him up.

 

“Lars. Listen to me. I’m going to lift on your arm. As soon as it feels loose, let go of the bag. Then your hands will be free.”

 

“But if bag is lost, then your friend will not be helped. Take the bag and let me go. My family is strong. They can go on. It’s best you help your friend?”

 

“Lars. Drop the bag. I…I lied to you. I wanted the stones for myself, but I couldn’t get them up the mountain without help. I’m sorry. Now please! Drop-the-bag…NOW!”

 

Rebecca began tugging on Lars’ arm with all the strength she could muster. Lars did as he was asked. He dropped the bag.

 

She could hear the burlap sack brushing the coarse fur of Lars’ coat as it began to fall. This was followed by a rush of air as the sack picked up speed during it’s decent. A silence followed and Rebecca began pulling up on Lars. For almost twenty seconds the only sound that was heard was the groan coming from Rebecca and the bruin struggling to safety. Suddenly there was a crash, then the awful tinkling of shattering glass.

 

The sound echoed in Rebecca’s ears as she thought in dull horror, the jewels.  Then, Lars.  LARS!

 

Another long three minutes went by, but Rebecca had been able to help the large bear back onto the path; though were she got the strength to do so remained a mystery to her. Lars leaned against the cliff to catch his breath. His paws were sliced and bloody. His snout had been scraped up badly and his left foot was bleeding --- the result of a claw breaking off as he fought the rocky cliff to stay alive.

 

“Thank you. I think I go home now.”

 

“I’m so sorry, Lars! I didn’t mean for you to get hurt.”

 

He looked away. “Only my feelings and paws are hurt. You should not lie. Truth is better.”

 

The fog had begun to lift, and quickly. Within moments it was gone; replaced by clear blue sky and a sold dry path.

 

“I think my trip down will be safe. Maybe you come back down too now? We can find place for you in the village. If you can tell truth from now on.”

 

“I can’t, Lars. You see, I don’t---I mean… I have to go back to the plateau. I really do have to meet someone there. They’re trying to help me. You see, I’m cursed.”

 

That I believe.” Lars got to his feet. “Well, then goodbye, Rebecca. I will never forget you,” he added bitterly.

 

Lars started hobbling down the path. His steps were slow, but sure. He wasn’t taking any chances. He wanted to get down in one piece. Rebecca started her own trek back up the path. She didn’t know what would await her at the plateau.

 

It took longer than she thought to return, but Rebecca finally stepped onto the upland where she began this journey close to sunset. A nearly full moon was rising in the east.

 

"Isn't getting the curse lifted enough?"

 

It was Altaira. She was sitting with her legs crossed in front of a roaring bonfire. She was… roasting marshmallows.

 

The goddess smiled.  “Want some?”

 

Rebecca was ashamed. She couldn’t even look her in the eye. How could I have been so…

 

“Greedy is the word, dear. You should try one of these, they’re really good.”

 

“I almost cost a man his life and all you can do is offer me a marshmallow?”

 

“Consider it your reward for passing this second test. Besides, don’t knock it till you try it.”

 

“My greed. That’s what this was all about.” She started to cry. “I never knew I could be so blind. I always wanted to have the best. For me, for Molly. I guess I started trying so hard that I didn’t care who or what got in my way. I almost got a man killed. Even now I’m not sure I didn’t. I don’t even know if he got back down safely.”

 

“He did. Though I doubt he’ll trust as easily in the future. You may have saved his life, but you changed him. Perhaps for the better. He was much too trusting.  A moron, frankly.”

 

Rebecca was trying to dry her eyes. The only thing she could use was a dirty sleeve. She sniffled. “What happens now?”

 

“Now? You’ve passed the second test. This test had allowed you to see one of your major faults. It also taught you the true meaning of regret.”

 

The surroundings suddenly became misty again, as if the fog had returned.

 

“It is time for you to rejoin the others.”

 

Rebecca once again came to in the plane and found herself being held by Baloo. Upon noticing she was awake, Baloo quickly released her.

 

"Sorry Becky, I was worried you just seemed to not be there for awhile."

 

"I’m all right. Baloo, where is everyone?"

 

"The professor is doing some research, Molly is out playing with some of the locals…”

 

She looked at him sharply. “With strangers?”

 

“Don’t worry your perty…er, head, Becky.  Kit’s watchin’ her.”  He squinted at her bandaged hands. “Hey, what happened to you?"

 

"Its to long to explain, I'll tell you everything when this is over.”

 

Baloo looked at her, “Well what's the next test?"

 

Suddenly the voice of the goddess surrounded Rebecca and Baloo.

 

"The first two tested you alone, the last will test a companion as well choose wisely."

 

Baloo jumped.  “Sheesh, lady!  Would ya quit doin’ that?”

 

“Live with it,” Rebecca said wearily.  “It’s a goddess thing.”

 

She went through her mind thinking of those she could choose Professor O'Bowens she hardly knew, it was unthinkable she should choose Molly, but both Kit and Baloo she had trusted her life to on many occasions.

 

"What will my companion have to do in the test?" Rebecca asked aloud.

 

Altaira answered. "You will put your futures in each other’s hands, if one fails both fail."

 

Rebecca thought of Molly and what she would face if they failed. Would I want her raised by Baloo? He can barely take care of himself! Oh, now what do I do! It wouldn’t be fair to burden Kit with a child…he’s too young anyway. Wildcat is…Wildcat. This is crazy…how can I possibly…

 

“Have you reached your decision, Mortal?” It was Altaira. In the flesh this time; appearing completely out of thin air.

 

“Must you keep popping in like this! It makes my skin crawl.”

 

“Hmmph. That’s the last time I offer you any marshmallows.  Your decision?”

 

“Would you just let me think!” she snapped, not caring that she was addressing a being who could crush her with a thought.

 

“Don’t take too long,” Altaira warned her. “I have to go cure a few lepers pretty soon. Besides, the time remaining to lift this curse is slipping away. Tick-Tock. Tick-Tock. Tick-Tock.”

 

"Okay,” Rebecca finally said. “I’ve decided.”

 

Altaira waited.

 

"I choose…Baloo."

 

 

End of Chapter 5