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Authors: Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Fabulous Creature

BOOK: Fabulous Creature
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A Fabulous Creature
Zilpha Keatley Snyder

To Larry


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

A Biography of Zilpha Keatley Snyder


quickly and froze, its sleek, wild head balancing the massive crown of horns with amazing ease. Except for its wide ears, scanning like radar saucers, it had become a living statue.

Only a few yards away, crouched on the flat surface of a large boulder, James Fielding held his breath and tried to quiet the thunder of his heart. But the deer had heard, or perhaps sensed, something because it began to move cautiously away. With taut, delicate precision, it edged toward the trees, its muscles bunched and triggered for instant flight. But then, quite suddenly, it stopped and tested the air with quivering nostrils. For several seconds it read and reread the message carried by the moist air, and then—to James’ wild excitement—it came slowly towards him. When it reached the spot where he had left the apples, it stopped to look directly at him before it lowered its head. It was so near now that he clearly heard the juicy crunch as it accepted his offering. When the apples were gone, it once more returned his gaze before it began to move away. At the edge of the clearing it seemed to blur and then to melt with magical suddenness into the gray-green underbrush that edged the clearing.

He flipped over on his back and let out a long sigh of relaxed tension. For a few seconds he lay staring up toward white clouds and the blue clarity of mountain air, but seeing only the swift, wild turn of the horned head. Purposely shutting out his mind, he floated on a high, serene excitement, knowing that it would disappear if he tried to analyze it. At last he sighed again, grinned, and blinked his eyes rapidly. Taking off his glasses, he wiped them on his tee shirt and hooked them back over his ears.

“The noble stag,” he said out loud. And a moment later, “The stag at eve had drunk its fill—where danced the moon on—on…” He’d forgotten what came next. He sat up, looked at his watch, and lunged to his feet. Partway across the boulder, moving with his usual catlike agility—James Fielding, expert mountaineer—he managed to slip on a patch of moss and kept himself from pitching over the edge only by a windmill-like maneuver of his long arms and legs. Typical. But fortunately no one was watching, except a couple of astonished chipmunks.

His balance finally regained, he slid down the rest of the way and started off toward the steep, slippery slope that led up to the only entrance to the box canyon. He was still grinning as he started the climb—at himself and the startled chipmunks, but also because it had been a good day. One of the best since the Fieldings had given up civilization for the wilds of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

When Professor William J. Fielding and his wife, collaborator, personal secretary and general manager, whose name was Charlotte, had arranged to rent a colleague’s cabin in the Sierras for the summer, they hadn’t consulted James Archer Fielding, their only son and heir, because they were so certain that he would be delighted. They had decided, they said, to surprise him. Instead, he had surprised them by being politely but unshakably opposed to the whole project. Charlotte and William had been mystified and bewildered. Everything they’d ever read—and over the years they’d done a considerable amount of research on the subject—had led them to believe that a fifteen-year-old boy would be wild with joy at the prospect of spending three months in the wilderness on the shore of a beautiful mountain lake. But then, it wasn’t as if it was the first time they’d been surprised, not to mention mystified and bewildered. In spite of having come late and rather absentmindedly to parenthood and having, by chance, produced an offspring who had, almost from birth, refused to fit into any of the behavior patterns approved by the proper authorities, the Fieldings had begun parenting with good intentions and at least a fair amount of enthusiasm. But confusion had set in almost immediately.

There had been no reference materials that explained how to approach an infant who composed poetry before he was fully house-trained, and who, after taking a few bad falls, decided walking wasn’t worth the risk and put off further efforts until he was eighteen months old and able to justify his preference for crawling in fairly complete sentences.

In the years that followed, William and Charlotte had largely given up on scientific childrearing and had drifted into the habit of treating James as an undersized and unpredictable colleague who had unaccountably become a semi-permanent guest—a state of affairs of which James highly approved. But every now and then an old-fashioned happy-boyhood theory cropped up—usually with disastrous results—such as: a summer in the wilderness.

Actually a large part of their problem had been timing. Any other summer James might have accepted the proposal without undue protest. Not enthusiastically, perhaps, but with his usual tolerance for such well-intentioned blunders. But it just so happened that this particular summer he and Max had been planning something very different. Something so important that it just might have changed the entire future course of his existence. But the wilderness had won out. And, as it turned out, it wasn’t even really wilderness. Not any more. All along the south shore of New Moon Lake there was now—The Camp.

Having reached the narrow trail that skirted the cliff face above Peter’s Creek, James was on a high ledge from which the central buildings of The Camp were clearly visible across the lake. “The Camp,” as he had written to Max, “is over fifty acres of prime forest and lake front that was sold a few years ago to a developer who proceeded to build about thirty homes—referred to in The Camp’s full color brochure as
You know what a
is, don’t you, Max? You can tell it’s a cabin if it has rustic hand-tooled leather furniture, a sunken tub in only one of its four bathrooms and only a very small wet bar. Then, after surrounding the whole complex with chain link and barbed wire—no land mines yet but they’re probably on order—they found appropriate buyers, the kind with enormous bank accounts and even bigger anxiety complexes. I think most of the owners are planning to hole up here
come the revolution,
but in the meantime it gives them a place to sop it up while pretending to live a rugged
type of existence.” It had been one of his better letters. Max had liked it a lot.

Standing now at the highest point of the trail, James could see the sharply pitched roofs of The Camp’s community center and indoor swimming pool, and a few of the boathouses. Just beyond lay the gym with its saunas and hot tubs and the open pavilion where the dances—cleverly referred to in The Camp Bulletin as “Close-Order-Drills”—were held. And beyond that the park area where the whole community gathered for Sunday Bivouacs—catered picnics, actually, but very strenuous and rugged with all
lining up for
served in authentic U.S. Army tin plates, which Major T. J. Mitchell, the camp manager, had had to pull all kinds of strings to acquire—let me tell you. In fact, a whole page in a recent Bulletin had been devoted to an appreciation of T.J.’s string-pulling—tinplatewise. It had been, James was sure, a high point in the history of bulletin publishing. He’d have to remember to send a copy to Max.

Of course, the old Willowby cabin, in which the Fieldings were spending the summer, was on the outside, well beyond The Camp’s barbed wire fortifications. But the Fieldings had been granted access. As a rule, outsiders, without a specific invitation, were turned back at the gatehouse, where an armed guards—
in T.J.ese—was on twenty-four-hour duty. However, a special dispensation had been made for Willowby guests and renters. Major Mitchell had issued a special pass that allowed Willowbyites to enter in order to shop at the Commissary. It was, after all, only fair since the huge complex had wiped out the old road, which had once led from the Willowby property to the village of New Moon and the only other grocery store in fifteen miles.

So James had been on the sacred soil many times on shopping trips for his mother. He didn’t mind going, actually. He considered The Camp an interesting social phenomenon—and Max thought it was an absolute riot. Max had written that he had laughed himself into stomach spasms over James’ last letter on the subject.

After the steep and tricky descent to the Peter’s Creek crossing, a shallow stretch of water sprinkled with stepping stones, the trail followed the southern bank and then plunged down a long decline to the lake shore. A hundred yards along the shore the trail turned to the right and began a short, steep ascent to the cabin. To the left lay the Willowby section of lake front. Sandy and rock free, it was one of the nicest beaches on New Moon Lake. When James reached the shore, the sun had just gone behind the jagged ridge of Six Prong Mountain, but the smooth sand was still cozily warm to the touch. He glanced at his watch and then, tired from the long climb across the cliff face, sank down to rest before taking on the last lap to home and dinner. Within moments he was half asleep.

When the golf ball missed his nose by a scant inch and thudded into the sand beyond his head, he sat up with a start, thinking for a moment that he had been shot at. Then, on seeing the ball, he wondered rather irrationally if it had come all the way from The Camp putting green. It didn’t seem likely, but where else could it have come from? Turning to look toward the wooded headland that separated the Willowby beach from The Camp shoreline, he found himself face to face with the answer to his question.

Perhaps it was because he was slightly disoriented, having been startled out of a semi-doze, or perhaps it had something to do with the expression on the golf ball launcher’s face—but it took him a moment to realize that what he was staring at was a very young child. But once he’d managed to get past the frown—an arrangement of features that seemed to express a startlingly mature and well-developed degree of hostility—he began to notice certain clues: overall size, roundish shape, and in particular, the soggy cotton training pants that were its only article of apparel. Below the pants were two sturdy legs and above a rather pronounced stomach, a round head and, in the middle of a fat-cheeked face, a nose so buttonlike that he found himself wondering if a quick push at that point might cause a change of expression. Any change at all would have to be for the better.

Still glaring, the kid began to stomp around his erstwhile target in a wide circle. While other persons in its age range might be said to toddle, in this case stomp was definitely the more accurate verb. It was on its way to retrieve its missile and then, undoubtedly, would attack again. James was gathering himself for an attempt at interception, when someone shouted from the direction of the lake.

BOOK: Fabulous Creature
9.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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