Uncle Quentin, Tillie, and Eve passed through the hedge maze and entered the formal garden where the glass eye was resting, cornea-up, in the center of a red velvet pillow. The size and shape of the glass eye always surprised Tillie. It was not a perfect sphere, as one might expect; instead, it was the shape of a human nose with the pupil and cornea painted on its bulbous tip. When the glass eye was nestled in Uncle Quentin’s socket, however, it was indistinguishable from his real one save for the color; the glass eye was green while Uncle Quentin’s real eye was blue.
As the trio approached the pillow, the eye was engaged in a heated debate with a particularly vicious-looking bear.
“It doesn’t really matter what laws are passed,” the bear said. “If some centaur doesn’t want to hire me solely because I don’t have opposable thumbs, then he won’t hire me!”
The eye began its rebuttal. “But, Jasper, can’t you see that if we don’t give the law at least a chance to work, then….”
Uncle Quentin stepped between the bear and the glass eye and cleared his throat. “Excuse the interruption, Jasper,” he said to the bear, “but we have something very important to ask the glass eye and we need to invoke the rite of Tell-A-Vision.”
Jasper turned on Uncle Quentin and growled loudly. Tillie made note of the bear’s massive teeth as his hot breath plastered Uncle Quentin’s beard to the man’s face.
“Are you done, Jasper?” Uncle Quentin asked.
“Yes,” the bear answered, placing one paw on his massive, hairy hip. “It just hurts my feelings that you seem to think the issue of animal rights isn’t as ‘important’ as whatever you need to discuss.”
“It’s not a matter of importance,” Uncle Quentin said, patting the bear’s shoulder. “merely of immediacy. You know, I think Cook just put some salmon out on the buffet by the back garden. If you’re interested, that is….”
Jasper sniffed the air. “Freshly caught?”
“Only the best for my glass eye’s birthday!” said Uncle Quentin.
The bear turned to the eye and bowed slightly, “If you’ll excuse me…”
“Of course,” said the eye.
Jasper raced away.
“Bears…” the eye said. It would have shaken its head at that moment, if it had one to shake. “So, Quentin,” the eye said, “what’s so important?”
Tillie stepped forward. “I’m afraid I’m the person who needs to interrupt your wonderful birthday party with a question, not Uncle Quentin.”
“Oh, hello, Tillie!” the eye said. “I didn’t see you there. I’m so happy you came!”
“I’m here too.” Eve said, stepping forward into the eye’s line of site.
“Oh,” said the eye. “So you are.”
“Happy birthday,” Tillie said.
“Thank you. I don’t look a day over 30, if I do say so myself.”
“Indeed you don’t, my friend” Uncle Quentin added. “Why you look just the way you did when we tackled those troll corsairs off the coast of Ragnor. That must have been, what, 15 years ago now?”
“Sixteen and seven-eighths years,” the eye corrected.
“Right, right, right!” Uncle Quentin exclaimed. (Which in this instance meant, “How silly of me to forget those splendid one and seven-eighths years!”)
“You fought troll corsairs?” Tillie asked. “I always heard that trolls were afraid of water.”
“Indeed they are,” Uncle Quentin said. “But these trolls were being commanded by the Banshee Queen, who forced them to sail at sea or risk having their minds shattered by her maddening wail.”
“How exciting!” Tillie said.
Uncle Quentin turned back to the eye. “Remember how you used your oracular powers to predict where the troll corsairs would put to shore so would lie in wait?”
“You, me, and the entire Ragnorian Army, yes,” the eye put in.
“Right, right, right!” (Which in this instance meant, “Right, right, right!”) “I’ll never forget the looks on the trolls’ faces when we all came running over the hill at them!”
“Charge!” the eye yelled, reliving the memory. “That was a grand adventure. Nearly as grand as the time the King of Faraday asked us to investigate the disappearance of his grandnephew. I was sure that….”
“I’m very sorry to interrupt all these fascinating recollections,” Eve said, failing in her attempt to sound sorry, “but the child really does have an important question to ask.” She pushed Tillie closer to the eye with one skinny arm.
“I’m sure you’re right as usual, Eve,” the eye said with a sigh. “Tillie, what do you need to ask me?”
Tillie swallowed hard and told the eye everything that had happened that morning. She told the eye about Ophelia and the other black items that had turned green, and about how she was afraid that something terrible was happening.
“I thought your hair color looked different, Eve,” the eye commented.
Eve gritted her teeth and smiled.
“Do you think you can help us?” Tillie asked.
“Perhaps. What did you say this ladybug’s name was again?”
“Because she represents the first step in this sequence of events, we’ll begin the rite of Tell-A-Vision with her. Stare into me and repeat her name three times and we’ll see if we can’t discover what’s become of her.”
Tillie had seen her uncle invoke the rite of Tell-A-Vision many times in the past, but she had never been allowed to do so herself. Now, under the watchful gaze of Uncle Quentin and Eve, she felt more than a little nervous. She clenched her fists and steadied herself to begin the ritual.
As usual, Eve interrupted.
“If only one person can share the vision with you,” the witch said, “perhaps that person should be me. Young Tillie may not be able to interpret what she is shown.”
“I’m sure I’ll understand the vision, Eve,” she said, determined now to see this through.
“And exactly how many times have you experienced visions?” the witch asked.
“Zero,” Tillie admitted.
“They can be extremely disorienting,” Eve continued. “Besides….”
“I think she’ll do fine,” the eye said, interrupting.
“That ends the argument, then,” Uncle Quentin said. He extinguished his pipe, returned it to his pocket, and placed one hand on Eve’s shoulder. “You must trust the eye.” He guided the witch away from Tillie. “He knows what he’s doing.”
Silently, Tillie hoped Uncle Quentin was right.
“You may begin chanting the bug’s name when you’re ready,” the eye whispered to Tillie.
The lump in Tillie’s throat felt larger than a turnip as she stared into the emerald depths of the glass eye and chanted Ophelia’s name.
Before Tillie fully realized what was happening, the pupil of the eye started to change, reds, blues, and yellows mixing with the predominant green. Soon the entire eye was clouded over with a rainbow of swirling colors and Tillie began to feel a little dizzy. Uncle Quentin, Eve, and the raucous birthday party around her faded into a fog as the vision inside the glass eye consumed her senses. Another moment passed and Tillie felt as if she was actually inside the eye and that the world she had known was merely a half-forgotten memory. She floated in midair above the swirling colors and images, none of which stayed in view long enough to focus on. Just when she thought she might get sick from the disorienting sense of motion, the ever-changing images gave way to one steady picture – Ophelia’s tiny unmoving body lying on the floor of a dark stone cell.
The ladybug looked quite dead.
Tillie held her breath, watching the image of Ophelia for any sign of life.
“Don’t worry,” a reassuring voice said. The voice seemed to come from all around her. “I can see her breathing.”
“Eye?” Tillie sniffed.
“Yes, I’m here with you,” the eye said.
“Are you sure Ophelia’s okay?”
“Watch,” he answered.
Just then, Ophelia rolled onto her side, three of her six legs kicking into the air. “How could I have trusted that owl?” she muttered to herself between sobs. “Now I’m doomed. Doomed!”
“That was an owl I saw,” Tillie said under her breath. Then, as loud as she could, she yelled, “I’m coming to get you, Ophelia! I’ll make that no-good owl pay!”
“She can’t hear you,” the eye explained. “We can see and hear her, but we can’t directly communicate with her.”
“But where is she?” Tillie asked. “It looks like a dungeon.”
“Be patient,” the eye said. “Perhaps the vision will show us her location.”
In a flash of light, Tillie felt herself pulled backwards, her chin snapping forward and hitting her chest. She shut her eyes tight until she felt her body come to a stop again. When she gathered the courage to open her eyes, she found herself staring at a close-up view of a jagged, rocky cliff face.
“Well, that’s not much to look at, is it?” Tillie said, rubbing her chin with one hand. She tentatively put the other hand out a few inches in front of her to touch the rock face. Much to her surprise, however, her hand passed through the stone as if it was made of smoke.
“The cliff’s not really there,” the eye explained. “Or, rather, we’re not really here. Everything we’re seeing is just an illusion.”
“I understand,” Tillie said as she waved both arms wildly through the very solid-looking rocks before her.
“It looks like your friend’s been imprisoned inside this cliff somewhere,” the eye explained somberly. “Perhaps she’s in a dungeon. We can only hope the vision shows us more.”
“I’m going to brace myself just in case!” Tillie cried. “I don’t want to bang my chin again.” She crossed both hands over her chin just in time; again, she felt her body jerked back.
When she opened her eyes this time she found herself hovering weightless at the height of a giant’s eyes. A meadow of tall green grass, gently rolling hills, and patches of wildflowers spread beneath her. A gentle breeze blew across the hilltops, causing the waist-high grass to ripple in waves that reminded her of the view of the ocean from atop the Cliffs of Muchmore (where she and Uncle Quentin hunted for mushrooms every spring). The wind picked up, bending the blades of grass and creating random patterns in the field. Suddenly, Tillie noticed an odd thing – amongst the series of meaningless grass patterns, occasionally the shape of what looked like a letter would appear. She said the letters aloud as they appeared. First she saw a gigantic T, next what looked like an enormous I, and then a pair of Ls. She stopped saying the letters aloud when she realized the grass was spelling her name. Finally came the I and the E.
“This is certainly an unusual vision,” the eye commented.
“I’m glad you think so, too,” Tillie said. “I thought this might all be very routine and boring for you.”
“Not at all,” the eye said. “Meadows that can spell are entirely new to me. Quite out of the ordinary.”
The grass beneath them continued to move like a living creature, spelling out Tillie’s name over and over and over.
“It seems to be stuck,” Tillie said.
All at once, the wind ceased and the undulating grass shapes stopped moving, frozen into an entire sentence.
Tillie read the words aloud. “The bug’s time grows short.” As soon as she finished reading the words, the grass shifted again, forming a new sentence. “Follow the Trail of Dragon,” she read.
“Trail of Dragon?” Tillie said, mulling the message over in her mind. “What’s the Trail of Dragon?”
“I don’t know,” the eye said. “But I do know that following a dragon is never a good idea.”
Beneath Tillie, the grass changed patterns for a third time. “Beware the Wompus Wulf,” it now read.
“Wompus Wulf?” she asked.
“Never heard of that one either,” the eye admitted.
The words disappeared and the sea of gently swaying green returned. Once more words began to form in the field below, this time made up of letters roughly twice the size of the previous letters. “Beware the Wompus Wulf,” they read for a second time.
“We don’t know what that is!” Tillie screamed at the ground below her.
“I don’t think yelling is going to accomplish much,” the eye put in.
“Sorry,” Tillie said.
The words in the grass below her disappeared again, only to reappear a final time in letters so large that Tillie could scarcely read the entire message. There was really no need for her to read the words, though; the message was the same. “Beware the Wompus Wulf.”
Suddenly Tillie felt herself fall forward. The field rushed up at her.
“Eye?” Tillie called, frightened by the sudden fall.
The eye did not answer.
“What’s happening?!” she cried, her voice breaking as the wind whipped her hair.
Again, there was no response.
The grass loomed ever closer.
Tillie’s arms lunged out in an effort to steady her body as she plummeted toward the ground. They found nothing to grab. She plunged toward the field at a dizzying speed and closed her eyes, bracing for impact.
Thankfully, the impact never came.
The next thing Tillie knew, she was lying on her back in the grass of Uncle Quentin’s formal garden.
“What… what happened?” Tillie stammered.
“I don’t know,” Uncle Quentin admitted as he helped Tillie to her feet. “I’ve never seen that happen to anyone experiencing one of the glass eye’s visions before. Very unusual. Are you hurt? You fell backward and hit the ground with quite a bit of force.”
Tillie stood and brushed the dirt from her suede pants and vest being careful not to catch her hand on the sheriff’s badge. “I’m fine,” she said, shaking the dust from her hat. “No harm done.”
Then she noticed the glass eye, its green surface darkened to an impenetrable black.
“I thought you said black things were turning green,” Eve said, examining the eye, “not the other way around.”
Uncle Quentin bent towards the eye, his hands on his knees and a look of deep concern on his face. “Eye?” he asked, his voice trembling a little. “Are you alright?”
The eye said nothing.
Uncle Quentin picked up the ebony piece of glass and shook it. Nothing happened. He looked up at Tillie, his one good eye narrowed to a slit.
Eve snatched the glass eye from Uncle Quentin, turning it over in her hand.
“Give that back to him!” Tillie yelled.
Eve ignored her.
“It’s okay, Tillie,” Uncle Quentin said.
“Just as I thought…” Eve said. “This damage was caused by very powerful dark magic.” The witch turned to Tillie. “It looks like you sent your uncle’s glass eye poking someplace it shouldn’t have been poking.”
“And on its 32nd birthday, too…” Uncle Quentin said softly, taking the eye back from Eve.
Tillie hugged Uncle Quentin. “I’m so sorry,” she said.
“It’s not your fault,” he said, hugging her back and patting her lightly on the head.
“Perhaps not,” Eve put in, “but if I had been the one to experience the vision instead of the child, this never would have happened.”
“Don’t say that, Eve,” Uncle Quentin said. “You don’t know that.”
Tillie thought Uncle Quentin didn’t sound convinced.
There was a moment of silence as the three of them gathered their thoughts.
“I, for one, am not going to accept defeat,” Eve finally said, turning to face Tillie. “Tell me what the glass eye showed to you.”
In a soft voice, Tillie recounted her vision, paying particular attention to Ophelia’s sorry state, the mention of the Trail of Dragon, and the repeated warnings about the Wompus Wulf.
Eve listened carefully while Uncle Quentin stroked one side of the glass eye.
“Do either of you know what the ‘Trail of Dragon’ or ‘The Wompus Wulf’ is?” Tillie asked.
“I’m from the Unnamed City, dear, remember?” Eve said. “I don’t know your local geography or superstitions. Quentin?”
Uncle Quentin didn’t answer. Instead, he tapped on the top of his glass eye in another attempt at awakening it.
“Quentin?” Eve repeated, a little louder.
“I’m sorry.” Uncle Quentin answered. “I wasn’t listening.”
“Have you ever heard of a ‘Wompus Wulf’ or the ‘Trail of Dragon?’” Eve asked.
“No,” he said. “I’m afraid my travels have mainly taken me out of Drowned Man’s Bay and along the coast to the northeast. I’ve heard that there are some grasslands beyond Lake Loch to the west, although I’ve never seen them myself.”
Eve turned her attention back to Tillie. “I have some books at my cottage that contain drawings of places like the ones you described, both the tall rocky cliff and the rolling hills covered with grass. You will come with me and we will see which of them best fits the vision you saw.”
“I’m coming with you, too,” Uncle Quentin said, finally setting the glass eye back on its velvet pillow. “I want to find out who did this.”
“No, no, Quentin,” Eve said. “You simply can’t rush out on your guests!”
“Oh. Right, right, right,” Uncle Quentin said. (Which in this instance meant, “I reluctantly agree that it would be very rude of me to rush out on all of my guests with little to no explanation.”)
“I need the girl to come with me to identify the drawings. After she and I have discovered the whereabouts of the bug, we’ll meet up with you and find the culprit behind my green hair.”
“It’s more than just your hair that’s been affected,” Tillie reminded the witch.
“Yes, yes, I know!” Eve said. “In any case, we need to get to my cottage as soon as possible.”
Uncle Quentin looked unsure of this plan. “Tillie, what do you think?” he asked.
“I’ll be fine,” she said, swallowing her unease.
“Okay, then,” Uncle Quentin agreed. “But I’ll come to Old Mary Anne’s Cottage as soon as I’ve explained to the guests what has happened.”
Eve grabbed Tillie by the arm and pulled her along behind her.
“We’ll fix your glass eye, Uncle Quentin!” Tillie called as she was dragged from the garden. “I promise!”
“Hurry up, you,” Eve said, pulling Tillie behind her. “We’ve still got to pick up Nora before we can get on the road.”
“Who is Nora?” Tillie asked untwisting Eve’s claws from her wrist.
The witch just smiled.