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The Seven Stones


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The other side of the pond was bordered by a sandy beach. “This is paradise, Garvey!” yelled Gordan. He had never felt this way before. His whole life up until this day had been filled with much suffering. Gordan cried and jumped off the path, landing on his stomach in the shallow water. He wiggled his fingers and toes in the sand, which glittered with gold. The surf crashed around him. He gulped its cool waters. “This is paradise, Garvey!” his voice echoed back.

Garvey bellowed a laugh, which echoed through the cavern, and said, “Lad, enjoy the bliss of the seahorses! Ya look mighty deserving of it. I’m a figure out how to get in this ole freezer, it looked different when I was a boy.”

Gordan looked towards the voice of Garvey. No longer a spider, Garvey sat at the base of a gargantuan ice cube, which rose like a monument out of the dry beach. It looked perfectly square and eerily unnatural in this eden. Garvey scratched his beard in deep thought. Gordan splashed through the surf and up on the dry beach to Garvey’s side.

“It’s covered in ice, me lad. Wasn’t when I was a boy. Never been back since. If I know one thing, I know we gotta get the ice off to get inside,” Garvey mused aloud.

“How do we do that? It looks thick, Garvey,” said Gordan.

“I’m tryin to member what me ole smarfer said…Ah yes. Gordan, be polite and give her a knock,” said Garvey. Gordan walked to the base of the ice cube, which loomed ominously. He knocked three times and stepped quickly back to Garvey’s side. A few moments passed by.

“Phssssss,” the cube hissed like air releasing from a pressure valve. Then after a few moments, it belched a “Pop.” A small dark circle appeared. A hatch had opened beneath the ice.

“Move back you knuckleheads!” screamed a high pitch voice behind the ice. They could see a head bobbing in the hatch. “I said move it you baboons!” it shrieked. Garvey and Gordan ran like frightened beasts, splashing down into the surf. They fell on their faces.

‘Tap, tap tap,’ chimed a chisel upon the ice. Garvey and Gordan looked back over their shoulders toward the cube. A round fracture appeared upon the ice near the hatch. Cracks slowly enveloped the cube, emitting an ear-piercing screech. Then there was silence. “Tap.” And with a great thunder, sheets of ice sloughed off, shattering into shards upon the beach. A glistening silver cube remained.

Huge letters lay on the cube, etched into the metal. “Freezer Temperature = 0° K,” it read. A small round hatch stood open at the base of the cube. A wrinkled face of a smurf stared out. He wore small round spectacles, frosting in the warm air of the cavern. Tufts of white hair protruded from the sides of his bald head. A beard of icicles dripped under his chin. “What pests disturb my freezer?” he snarled, looking around. “Hey what are yall doing muddying the waters like filthy pigs?” his lips curled in disgust. “Does it look like I have time to mess around?” he scowled at Gordan and Garvey, “Get on up here so we can get this over with, you scoundrels!” Gordan and Garvey quickly rose to their feet and obliged, scampering to the base of the cube like reprimanded dogs.

The grumpy smurf stuck his neck out the hatch and looked down at Gordan with one raised eyebrow. “Why if it isn’t Gordan H. Thorninger again?” the grumpy smurf said. He flared his nostrils, snuffling the air as if a rotten odor lingered, “Coming for another bucket of roots eh? You must be coming here every day, you flea! Well I’m putting an end to it. I’m solving your problem once and for all! You’re getting one and one only. Just one stinkin root and that’s it! No more ever again!” he strained through his throat. The grumpy smurf disappeared for a moment. He reappeared and hatefully chunked a root at Gordan. The root barely missed Gordan. It walloped Garvey over the head instead, bouncing off into the sand.

“Ouch!” howled Garvey. “What be the meanin of all this?” he yelled, holding his hand over a swelling knot above his left eye.

“The meaning? Why it's you Grubbottom kids, dumber than a box of smuffleberries! If I could, I’d hop out his hole and wallop your other eye, Garvey Grubbottom! Let’s get this over with. What messages do yall have to send?” asked the grumpy smurf impatiently.

“How do you know my name?” asked Garvey.

“Because you’ve already told me! Just like a Grubbottom kid, always asking me the same dumb questions over and over! Obviously, you don’t have any messages to send. What about you Gordan?” asked the grumpy smurf.

Gordan thought deeply. Like another riddle, his mind ticked through the possibilities at lightning speed. Gordan closed his eyes. “Do I look like I have time for you to meditate?” snarled the grumpy smurf. And with those words, the gears in Gordan’s mind snapped into place like a combination lock. He solved the riddle.

“My message is to Mr. Grubbottom, the Chief Architect,” Gordan said, opening his eyes.

The face of the grumpy smurf transformed into a smile with a twinkle in his eye. “For Mr. Tinkernut Grubbottom, eh?” asked the smurf gaily. “The chief himself! Well why didn’t you say so? Well, what’s your message?” he queried.

“Ask him, ‘Where is time?’” said Gordan.

“Wowzers!” exclaimed the smurf. “You’re definitely not a Grubbottom kid. No no, my dear, you are not! Well, I’ve already asked him that question,” declared the smurf.

“When?” asked Garvey.

“You knucklehead! Shut your yap. Another stupid question yet again!” the grumpy smurf continued after a pause, “Now I must deliver messages to you both.” Garvey was bewildered and looked at Gordan. The grumpy smurf continued, “Do not interrupt me during the deliveries. Or I’ll slam this hatch shut, you pickleworms! That especially goes for you Garvey! The first message is from a Mr. Tinkernut Grubbottom to a certain Gordan H. Thorninger.” The grumpy smurf then spoke the message from memory:
‘Dear Gordan, I do not know by what chance you have stumbled upon my freezer experiment, but I see that you seek to stab the heart of its mystery. By the way, welcome to the family. You are the only person outside my bloodline to find and use my freezer. And it appears, you may be as smart as me.

Although your question is small, we both know the answer is long. Grasping for time is like grasping for air. Bear with me and you shall be enlightened. If you don’t understand all of it now, you will eventually, if you are as smart as your question. Where is time, you ask? Time exists only in your head. More specifically, it exists only in the thoughts of your mind. That is the simple answer. For I asked this same question when I was a lad. But it took nearly my entire life to arrive at this solution. And here is the proof of my answer.

Time is naught but the memory of matter in motion. For instance, you remember knocking on the ice cube and you remember the ice crashing. Those are two events of motion, which you have defined in your mind as ‘knocking’ and ‘crashing’. And you remember all the motions in between the two events—the tapping, the cracking, and the screeching. You call that span of motions ‘time.’ Thus, time is naught but a word you have chosen for remembering all those motions. Once I discovered this, I decided to make a time machine for my bloodline. I didn’t care what I came up with. I love tinkering and thinking about stuff for this great school I built. And so I stumbled upon an idea.

Temperature as you know is naught but a measurement of motion—specifically, a measurement of the average kinetic energy of molecules. Well, what would happen if I designed a device that reduced the temperature of matter to absolute zero, the absolutely coldest temperature where even the motion of atoms freeze? Would time, the memory of matter in motion, become meaningless to memories contained within matter without motion? Muhahahaha,’

The grumpy smurf laughed hideously, continuing the message,
‘And so I designed a freezer to discover the effects of such a device. I placed it in this cavern for four reasons. First, I needed lots of water for the pumps. Beneath your feet is a city of pumps, drawing water from The Great Pool of Seahorses. Second, I also needed air. High above in the ceiling there are natural air shafts. Third, I also needed warmth from the core of the earth. Thus, I hired the dwarves to drill huge conductive pipes into the core. Fourth, I also needed secrecy. The device would become an heirloom of my bloodline. I won’t go any further into the technicalities of the device. But suffice it to say, I built the freezer here. You now look upon the container of the freezer itself—the closed system within which all matter freezes. And I tested the device, and the freezer practically reached zero degrees Kelvin! You cannot get any colder than that, my dear Gordan!

I then found Snowscar, a smurf from the North Pole who comes from a bloodline that can withstand freezing and thawing cycles without harm. And I hired him. I placed him in the freezer and behold, time did not become meaningless to him as hypothesized! Quite to the contrary, time became more meaningful! For the motion of atoms involved in his memory did not completely cease, but rather, astonishingly condensed into a new form of matter. Billions of atoms reached the same indistinguishable state, occupying the same space and forming huge super-atoms of memory. Upon this new landscape of his mind, atomic vortices whipped like dust devils, electrons paired like lovers, and light passing through these odd regions temporarily became matter! In this moment, within this strange new world, his memory blurred into a superposition of all past and future potentialities!

When you knocked on the freezer, Gordan, you rattled his cage! You set the freezer in motion. Its temperature rose a tiny bit and Snowscar thawed. His lofty state of mind then collapsed, like falling asleep into a dream, and he perceived our reference of time and knew that someone needed a message delivered. For that is his job. I pay him a pretty piece of gold! In this case, his job was to deliver a reply to your question about time. Based upon the information Snowscar has relayed to me, this reply was composed by me thousands of years into your past. And after Snowscar completes this job, the pumps will work overtime and bring the device back to a temperature of absolute zero once again, preserving his body for yet more jobs. Thus, we can pass messages to each other through this freezer, albeit through Snowscar’s memory.

By the way, don’t be scared of Snowscar. He’s harmless. He’s just cruel and cold as ice. Wouldn’t you be if you lived in a freezer?’
Gordan laughed. Snowscar continued, “That’s the end of the first message. I have a second message from a Mr. Tinkernut Grubbottom to a certain Garvey Grubbottom.” Snowscar also spoke this message from memory:
‘Dear Garvey, never has a Grubbottom been late on tolling the bell. Yet you were one minute late on the last toll! I guess missing a bell ring once in a thousand years is acceptable for the family. But you are already five minutes late on this bell ring yet again! I’ll never hear the end of it. All the Grubbottoms are gonna be in an uproar!’
Garvey, checked his pocket watch. He moaned. It was five minutes after the hour. Snowscar continued speaking the second message:
‘Obviously your father, Bilberry, did not pass on the Secret of the Bells. Otherwise, you would have never missed a single bell ring. Wait a smufling second! Snowscar tells me that your father has passed on the secret to you. Snowscar also tells me even greater tidings— you have never missed a single bell ring! That’s good news. Way to go Garvey! I’m proud of you. How do you like my freezer box experiment! Hahaha. Garvey, although I have never met you in person, I love you deeply.’
Snowscar said, “That’s the end of the second message.” Although Garvey was confused about the entire bell ringing talk, tears ran down his face. His family was communicating with him.

“Can ya tell Tinkernut that I love him too. What about my father, Bilberry? Can ya tell him that I love him?” asked Garvey.

Snowscar declared, “I have already told them both.” He continued, “I have a third message from a Mr. Bilberry Grubbottom to a certain Garvey Grubbottom:”
‘Dear Garvey, I love ya too. I guess I must a died an untimely death, son. Fer the Secret of the Bells be always passed down on the deathbed. Oh, and don’t tell me how I died! I don’t wanna know that son. It doesn’t matter anyways. We can talk as much as we wanna thru this here freezer. Well, the secret of the bells be this. Ya know that button on yer pocket watch that I told ya was useless? Well, it ain’t. If ya ever miss a bell ring, just push that button in. While holding that button in, dial in the time backwards to the last successful bell ring. Ya’ll get a second chance of makin up fer yer mistake. Also, set the watch to the exact moment ya rang that bell. I don’t know what happens if ya don’t. But that’s how the structions be passed down from Tinkernut. So always remember the time of the last good bell ring!’
“That’s the end of the third message,” said Snowscar. “I have a fourth message from a Mr. Garvey Grubbottom to a certain Mr. Garvey Grubbottom.” Snowscar recited the fourth message from memory as well:
‘Dear me, uh…hmm…What would me want to know in the past? Oh I know. Hey me, Mr. Cloppertropper er Clapcrapper er ya know who, he’s gonna fire ya from yer job. But don’t ya worry too much cause it all works out. Oh and tell Gordan that yer gonna take him to that Festival of the Rings next week. Oh and I love me! Hahaha. This be fun. Oh and come back more often. I just got a message from grandpa that a lot more of the family wants to meet ya but ya don’t go to the freezer often enough. Ya be almost dead already and yer just now finding the dang freezer! Snowscar be always in a bad mood, they say. And he only accepts a few messages at each thaw before he slams the hatch shut, they say. I know it’s forbidden to come down here, but who cares! Ok see ya. Oh and Snowscar says yer still a knucklehead. Hmm I can’t think of nothin else. Woot!’
“That’s the end of the fourth message. There are no other messages. Good riddance. Don’t listen to yourself and don’t come back here, Garvey! You knucklehead!” Snowscar sneered. He then slammed the hatch shut, which echoed through the cavern.

Garvey and Gordan flinched. They stood speechless. Finally Garvey looked at Gordan and gasped, “This be the weirdest and yet best day of my long life! I’m still tryin to figure out half of what just happened. But I be overjoyed that I’m not alone anymore, Gordan.”

“Old Garvey! Your family is the best!” cried Gordan.

“Ya mean our family, Gordan. Ya heard the chief. Ya be one of us now. This be the biggest two secrets of the school, I reckon. It’s the secrets of the bloodline. I reckon, it be why we never lost the stewardship of the school after we built it. We performed our job perfectly because of em.”

Garvey rubbed the welt on his head and spotted the root. It lay embedded in the sand like a meteorite in a crater. He picked it up. “This be one mighty strange root,” said Garvey. The root looked like a withered potato. It was long and slender, glowing with yellow light. Sprouts and roots stuck out haphazardly. “Looks like it grew in a toilet,” he added. Garvey sniffed it. “And it have a funny smell. I wouldn’t eat this thing Gordan. I don’t trust Snowscar. Knowin him he prolly be trying to trick ya. He threw this mighty hatefully at ya. But at least yer not empty handed. Yer folks may give ya some pity, seein as how strange it be.” Garvey handed the root to Gordan. Gordan slipped it in his pocket. “Well what did ya make of all that bell-ringing talk that my father and really great grandfather tole me? It’s already fifeen minutes passed the hour,” said Garvey.

“Simple Garvey,” Gordan claimed. “It sounds like you’ve missed two bell rings. This one and another one. And you have the chance, now knowing the Secret of the Bells, to operate the watch to make up for both your mistakes. For there are only two bells in this school, I gathered—the one above the school and the one embossed on your watch. That watch in your hand is no ordinary watch. It was designed on purpose in tandem with the bell by the chief architect, Tinkernut. If it works, it was made after this freezer. For this freezer only carries a little bit of information through time. That watch, on the other hand, drags matter through time! But the freezer is nonetheless fascinating, because it can carry information far into the past and future. But the watch carries matter only a very short distance.”

“Ahhh,” Garvey said. “Yes. It be making sense now.” Garvey bellowed a huge laughter of insight that echoed through the cavern. “Well then, me lad, time be waiting for us. See ya on the other side,” he said with a queer voice. He took out the pocket watch and flipped it open. He pressed one button with his left thumb and wound the watch backwards with his right hand. As the hour hand spun backwards on the dial, their surroundings spun with it into a blur.

Gordan and Garvey found themselves back in Ms. Wormwas’ classroom, standing next to each other. Garvey still clutched the pocket watch, flipped open in the palm of his hand. They glanced at each other, awestruck. Ms. Wormwas was deep in thought.

“Me lady,” Garvey said, grabbing Ms. Wormwas on the shoulder and shaking her body. Ms. Wormwas started out of her thought. “Me lady, pardon to interrupt ya in thinkin, but I bess be getting on.” He tapped his pocket watch.

“Already?” asked Ms. Wormwas. “How long was I in thought?”

“Fer a long while. I reckon five minutes. We just watched ya, quite a sight ya are. But yer greetin and things took up most of the hour.”

“Very well,” she said. “We will perform the first lecture tomorrow.” With those words, Garvey bolted out the door.

‘I’ll make it just in time!’ Garvey thought to himself, ‘One minute be left before the bell-ring.’ He ran as fast as he could. His belly bounced up and down.

“Dear students, it has been a wonderful pleasure to meet you all! Please arrive on time tomorrow, I have a grand experience awaiting you,” Ms. Wormwas said. And with that, the bell rang in the classroom. The students of Ms. Wormwas shot to their feet, exiting the room. Ms. Wormwas grabbed Gordan’s hand and pulled him aside, saying, “Especially you Gordan. Do come tomorrow again.”

Gordan slipped his hand into his pocket and felt the gnarled root and replied “I shall.” Confidence glimmered in his eyes. He slipped through the door, walked down three steps, and ran as fast as possible to the bell. He bolted out the school and onto the path. In the clearing, Garvey sat under the bell like a fly under a cup, sweating profusely.

“Hard work to toll the bell, lad,” Garvey said dryly. Then a smile leaked from his mouth. They broke into laughter. Gordan jumped into his burly arms and they hugged.

“It worked!” yelled Gordan.

“Indeed, my dear lad. Ya know, I hear my ancestor, the chief archie-tec, be a genius!”

Gordan laughed and said, “Well old Garvey, no time has passed and yet we have become the best of friends! You have gained the roots of your family; and I, the roots of the earth, and my instructions too!”

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Chapter 2