"Have you thought of anything?" I asked the Queen.
She held up a baby food jar with water in it.
"Dewdrops," she said proudly. "We've been collecting all night."
"But is it strong enough to disperse the Watchers?"
"What do you think I am, a magician," she said, scowling. "Take it or leave it."
I took it. I could always add something to it. If I could only think what. Gus said you had to balance the poles. The Watchers were heavy and cold and dark. I got my quartz crystal and polished it up, then dropped it into the jar of dew and took it out to the pasture, putting it on the big granite rock where it could soak in the sun.
At breakfast I looked at my family, trying to memorize their faces. I didn't know if I'd recognize them tomorrow or not.
I showed Angela how to do all the chores in case I wasn't around to do them myself.
"The possoms' cage needs to be cleaned every day, and they need fresh water. They like to eat fruit and milk and eggs."
While Angela played with the possoms I sneaked out to the tunner again. I asked the Hedge Queen if she could somehow kidnap Angela for the day.
"It'll cost you," she said. "We'd lose a whole day's work."
"I've got a bag of marbles," I said.
"And more of the striped canes."
"Send her in."
I told Angela there was a surprise partway down the tunnel. As soon as she crawled in, I ran to the house.
"Where's Angela?" Mom asked.
"She went to town with Dad," I said.
"She did? Why would she want to go to the MFA?"
I shrugged. "I think she wanted to stop at the drug store."
I finished my teepees. Every now and then I could hear Angela hollering in the hedge.
Dad got back from town and came out to the garden.
"Where's Angela," he asked.
"She's helping Mom," I said. I hoped Dad wouldn't hear the shouts.
"Cam," he said, "you'd better put some minnows in with the tadpoles, otherwise those things will be nothing but mosquito hatcheries."
Another chore. I started down to the creek but heard the bluebirds scolding again. The snake was back. I dealt with him, got the minnows, then went inside to make some sandwiches.
"Where's Angela," Mom asked.
"We're having a picnic lunch at the creek."
"That sounds nice. There are oatmeal cookies in the jar."
I packed everything in a bag, poured a jar of water and took it out to the tunnel.
"How's it going?" I asked the Queen in a low voice. I felt horribly guilty.
She looked harassed. "We had to give her a sleeping draught."
"Well, here's some food for when she wakes up."
I sneaked upstairs to my room. I wanted to compose letters - one for my mom and dad, one for Glen. There was so much I wanted to say, in case I wasn't able to later. It took a long time. I put the letters in envelopes and left them on my bed, then sat looking out the window. I'd had a good life up till now. I guessed I couldn't complain. I went outside and spent awhile with the Old Man, petting and talking to him. He'd been with us almost five years. I'd found him walking along the road, half starved, with sores on his feet.
"Don't worry," I whispered to him, "Mom and Dad won't turn you out. And if you're still around when Glen gets older, he'll take care of you."
I had one more thing to do, and that was finish the dispersing agent. It needed potentizing. I fished the crystal out of it and spent a long time stirring it with an elderberry twig, first one way, then the other.
My head jerked up. Angela was standing next to me. Her arms were scratched and she had leaves and cobwebs in her hair.
"How did you - ?" I looked towards the hedge and saw the Queen waving a white handkerchief at me.
"I got stuck in there for the longest time. Didn't you hear me hollering? Then I fell asleep, and when I woke up I was starving, but luckily I found a bag of food. Was that the surprise you were talking about? What's that?"
I stopped stirring. "It's a dispersing agent. Some evil spirits are going to take me over tonight unless I can stop them."
"He he he he!" Angela said. "Cam, you are so funny. Where do you come up with all that stuff. Dispersing agent! He he he."
At supper I was so nervous I couldn't eat. I said I had a stomach ache and went to lie down. I woke up after dark. My mouth was dry, my stomach in knots. I got up. No way was I going to lie in the dark and wait for them. I wrapped the white sheet from my bed all around me and pinned it with safety pins. I didn't know what the Essenes wore, but white seemed like the best choice. I got the jar of medicine and tiptoed downstairs.
Outside the moon was rising, giving me enough light to see. I could hear Angela snoring in the tent as I passed. I set off towards the sink hole, the Old Man beside me. I felt numb. Halfway there I realized the goat's rue warriors were pacing on either side of me, tall and silent in their loin cloths and bare feet. I heard rustles and turned around. All the hedge people were coming along behind with the Queen in front, carrying a staff with a winking marble on top, wearing her raveling dress and droopy crown. Next came the cane dwellers and the little brown man in his patchwork pants, followed by a host of transparent creatures who lived in the thistle flowers along the pasture fence.
My spirits lifted at the sight of them all. Together we walked to the sink hole and stood around it. A sudden breeze set my white robe flapping and I shivered. The Old man started to howl. Out of the hole came the Watchers, their eyes burning red in the pale beams of moonlight. They started towards me and I called out, "Wait!" This was it. My teeth were chattering and my hand shook so hard I could hardly raise the jar. Taking a deep breath I flung the medicine into the sink hole.
Nothing happened. No flash of light, no crack of thunder, no roaring wind. Nothing.
Hope died as the Watchers surrounded me, pressing against me with their coiling bodies. I stifled a scream, feeling them pass into me, one by one, each colder than the last. I stood there swaying, numb with cold and dread, feeling the boy Cam slowly dying. New thoughts were forming in my head, cold, dark thoughts that slithered through me like snakes in a pit. My heart was going to burst. I couldn't live with this terrible pressure.
"No!" I screamed, clawing at my chest. I fell to the ground, doubled up in agony.
Suddenly the pressure eased and I looked up. A figure stood in front of me, right over the sink hole. He looked like an Essene, white and glowing, with sparks flying from his hair. I knew who he was.
"I thought the dispersing agent didn't work," I said. "I didn't know how to make it."
"Cam," said the Mediator in a voice that freed my heart from its terrible burden. "you are the dispersing agent, didn't you know? The goodness in your heart is the most powerful medicine you have. All the love you've shown to those in your care has done its work."
Tears began pooling in my eyes and running down my cheeks. "But I lied," I said. "I was mean to Angela."
"And now you'll be able to make it up to her."
"But the Watchers?"
"They were no match for you. They've gone back underground where they belong. The earth has been healed." The Mediator opened his hands and red flower petals fell from them into the hole. I smelled roses.
A cheer went up from the nature folk gathered around me. The sound went on and on, like a song drifting gently over the fields, hovering above all the small quiet places I loved. I and the Old Man walked back to the house.