Chapter 1 - The Map
Page 1 - The Dream
Chowderhead dreamed that she jumped off a mountain peak and onto the tallest playground slide ever built. It ran down steep cliffs, curved around columns of stone and shot over rolling ridges. Over the edge of a sharp drop-off, Chowderhead descended down the slide through the ruins of a Paiute village carved out of thousands of feet of vertical cliff. The slide curved into the wall and snaked through a labyrinth of adobe halls and stairways. It finally emerged into a huge dark cave the size of a coliseum where a broad shaft of sunlight shone down on a grassy hill. At its peak was a broad oak tree with leaves quaking in a subterranean breeze.
The slide dropped sharply and she sailed off it, flying feet first into the hill and onto her back on the grass. When she stood up, she found herself dressed for battle in a junkyard. She had a bent golf club for a sword, a small refrigerator door for a shield, and armor made of old bike fenders riveted together on rusty cables. An old football helmet covered her head.
A moment after she found herself dressed for battle, she spotted the hockey players around the oak tree. They too were dressed for battle, their green and white uniforms studded with metal spikes and chains. They wore ice skates on the grassy hill, and although the blades tore up the hill and left a ring of scarred earth around the tree, they were as graceful as ballet dancers, leaping and sweeping their hockey sticks along the grass.
It wasn’t until Chowderhead was much closer that she understood exactly what they were up to. The hockey players defended the tree against a host of desperate looking squirrels. The squirrels would bound up the hill and dodge around the hockey players, attempting to reach the tree where the branches were heavy with delicious acorns. Every time a squirrel was almost through, a hockey player would swipe it with his stick and send the squirrel sailing back down to the bottom of the hill.
Chowderhead didn’t have to wonder which side to join. The hockey players (who now appeared to have the heads of donkeys) were the enemy. Chowderhead secured her helmet’s chinstrap into place, raised her golf club and cried “ATTACK!”
The battle was fierce and quick. The donkey-hockey men came at her, braying like their barn was on fire. Their sticks moved like lightning, but Chowderhead was quicker, taking on three of them at a time. She moved like a samurai golfer. She swung, dodged, rolled, tripped a hockey player, rolled into another one, clubbed him across the helmet, and smashed the next one with her refrigerator door. They were good, but she was better. When a hockey foe fell, she brought the golf club down hard on his head and he’d turn to smoke and disappear.
When the last one vanished, the squirrels cheered. They all loved her instantly and they drew posters of Chowderhead with hearts around her face. They named her their queen and invited her up into the tree.
In the tree, they played tag, hide and seek, and kick the acorn. The tree was enormous, and she could run along a branch for hours it seemed without ever reaching the end of it. The branches all eventually led to other tree trunks (something that could only happen in dreams).
Below the other tree trunks were more hockey donkeys that guarded the tree and shook their fists at Chowderhead and her friends. She showed her little allies how to make hand grenades out of acorns. They donkeys scattered when the acorns detonated and all the squirrels danced a victory jig along the branches.
“I declare this day to be Chowderhead Day,” said the oldest, grayest squirrel.
“You can talk,” Chowderhead cheered. “I’ve always wanted to talk to a squirrel.”
“And in honor of Chowderhead Day, I would like to share with her our most precious secret.”
“I can keep secrets.”
The squirrel shrugged. “Keep it or don’t. It makes no difference to me. I’m just a squirrel.”
The squirrel pulled out a scroll and held it up for her to see. “You have exactly ten seconds to memorize every detail drawn on this parchment.”
Chowderhead leaned down and read the tiny parchment. It was a hand-drawn map. Chowderhead did her best to commit it to memory, and just before she was certain she had it memorized, a hockey stick caught her by the ankle and pulled her foot down off the branch. She toppled over, falling headfirst into the ground. The moment her forehead hit the dirt…
…she sprang upright in bed. It was just a dream, of course. And in it, she’d seen a map.
She grabbed her notepad and drew the map, struggling to recall every detail. When she was done, it looked just like this.