by Lint Hatcher
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The miles were pleasantly hurtling by underneath the capable tires of the Country Squire. Mr. Traveller and the kids were now, officially, in the "woods" of the Interstate Highway system. Vaguely familiar scenes drifted past just as they had on half a dozen other trips in this direction. A gnarled old tree and a darkly weathered shack sitting in the middle of a newly tilled field. A trailer park of white, aluminum rectangles. The same pastel sheets flapping on the same clothes line. A thin blue road that turned and went over a hill to who knows where.
The fact that these vaguely familiar scenes were actually the backyards and front porches and favorite walking spots for other people produced an indefinable yearning in Max. It almost didn't seem fair that he was so limited, that it was only possible to know, to really know a handful of areas in one's lifetime. Like that road they had just passed -- there was no telling what kinds of wonderful places it traveled to. And he would probably never find out. Zipping past so many different spots like this was almost maddening. It made him want to have some kind of contact with them all even if that contact was coming up with his own name for them. That road back there -- it was "Shirt Tail Bend," Max imagined, because one of the curves was so sharp you would turn round it and still see your shirt tail on the other side. That vague green rise in the distant blue of the horizon -- that was "Tunnel Hill" because there was a big mining tunnel under it that nobody had been in for years, except for hoboes and criminals. That wide front yard covered with a brown canopy of pine straw -- there was some kid inside the house staring at all that straw and not wanting to come out and rake it and that kid's name was Franky Bodkins. Max wondered if everyone felt this strange urge when they traveled. Maybe that's why kids play so many "name games" when they're traveling, he thought, but they hardly ever play the same kind of games back home where everything already has a name.
"Me first!" Abbey said suddenly, her words slightly clumsied by the soft drink straw she was chewing on. "I want to get mine over with."
Everyone knew what she meant and no one objected. Everyone was busy digesting. Plus, you just didn't mess with Abigail when she was buzzing on a fresh burst of soda pop sugar and caffeine.
Grabbing a crumbled piece of paper from the floorboard, she turned round to face the backseat. Then she actually leaned back toward the windshield. With a typical disregard for safety, Abbey then wedged her upper body precariously between the dashboard and the seat, propping her feet up on the seat's backrest.
To accomplish this, she had unhooked her seatbelt and this made Mr. Traveller flinch. "Come on. Seat belt, Abbey."
"This'll only take a minute," Abbey whined and launched into her report. She stared down at it with large confused eyes as though she had never seen it before. "Okay. Here goes. My report... ," she eyed everyone then looked down again, "was... or is... about the Lost World idea. Where it comes from." She squirmed a little and began to read. Her voice took on the self-conscious, over-emphasized flatness of a kid reading aloud in school. "In our society today, everyone believes that everything on the earth has been explored. This is not true. Many parts of the sea have not been seen by man. Many areas of mountains in the Himalayas and jungles of Africa and South America have not been mapped. Not even by satellite. And underground caves as big as football fields might be under our car at this very moment -- that no human eye has ever seen." Abbey grinned and looked at everyone's faces. This last statement was obviously meant to make a big impact.
She continued. "Um. All over the world, many different societies have had their stories of hidden valleys and mysterious tribes of other people. Some people believe that Lemu -- um, wait a minute -- Lemurians live in Mount Shasta in Washington state. Some people believe that the lost city of Atlantis is in the Bermuda Triangle. Some even believe that the whole earth is hollow like a bubble and there are continents and oceans and cities inside it.
"But the kind of Lost World theme park we are going to is based on the ideas of Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Doyle wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories, but he also wrote about Professor Challenger who explored strange places. One of these places is in a story called 'The Lost World.' It is a plateau in South America that is cut off from the rest of the world by cliffs. In it, dinosaurs are still alive.
"Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote about another lost world. It was called Pellucidar. But Pellucidar wasn't a plateau. It was inside the earth. In Pellucidar, there were strange civilizations and animals that people who lived on the surface of the earth know nothing about.
"That is the sort of world that Willy Leonard built when he made The Lost World theme park. Sort of a combination of Burroughs and Doyle.
"WHEW!" Abbey said then and threw the paper in the floorboard again. Then she deftly whirled back around to a normal sitting position and fastened her seat belt.
"That was good, Abbey. You covered the bases real well," said Mr. Traveller. "Now keep your seatbelt on."
Dabney was up next.
"Mine was actually very simple," he began with a kind of unrequested candor. "Dad already had all the research materials I needed, since mine had to do with how people recreate prehistoric monsters and landscapes in films and theme parks. He has on laserdisc the silent film version of The Lost World with animation by Willis O'Brien and creatures built by Marcel Delgado. Plus, we have several other stop-motion dinosaur films, the Ray Harryhausen documentary, plus a couple of documentaries about Disney's audio-animatronics... "
"Ahem," Max said distinctly.
Dabney got the message. "Alright, let's get started," he said. "Um... okay." He was searching through his floorboard stash of comic books. Presently, he pulled out a typewritten paper. "Alright. Here goes... " He sniffed once and began. "Dinosaurs were brought to life on film in the year 1925. This was in a film version of Arthur Conan Doyle's novel, The Lost World, and the feat was nothing less than miraculous. Prior to this time, no one had seen dinosaurs come to life on the big screen. This amazing magic trick was accomplished through stop-motion animation.
"Stop-motion animation refers to a specific kind of special effect. It works something like a kid's flip-book. In a flip-book, you take a lot of drawings of a character and put them in a big stack. If the drawings are of Pinnochio reaching for an apple, then each drawing in the stack starting from the top makes the character look like he's gradually moving closer to the apple. If you quickly fan through the pages so that your eyes only glimpse each drawing, then your eyes aren't fast enough to make it look like one page at a time. Instead, the pages blur and Pinnochio looks like he's really moving toward the apple. Watching movies works the same way. A roll of movie film is made up of millions of little frames -- little photographs -- that are projected through the movie projector very fast (at 24 frames per second) so that your mind can't move fast enough to see them as just one photo at a time. Somehow, through a mental trick called 'persistence of vision,' they become a living picture. In stop-motion animation, you make a three-dimensional model of a dinosaur and move its arm a little, take a picture, move its head a little, take picture, and so on. When all those little pictures are projected at 24 pictures per second, it looks like the dinosaur is moving."
Dabney paused and looked up. It appeared he was checking to see if he was being made fun of. Then he bent over his report again and continued.
"Willis O'Brien is the man who pioneered this special effect in films like The Lost World and King Kong. George Pal used it in his Puppetoons. But the man who is best known for being a master of stop-motion animation today is Ray Harryhausen, who made movies like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, Mysterious Island, and Clash of the Titans. Stop-motion was mixed with computer animation in Jurassic Park by people like Phil Tippett."
Dabney breathed out a sharp sigh, as though he was getting tired of his own report or as though the effort of reading it was wearing him out.
"Dinosaurs have also been brought to life in amusement parks like Coney Island and theme parks like Disney World. The very first life-size replicas of dinosaurs were created by painter and sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse in 1854, only ten years or so since scientists like Sir Richard Owen had first begun seriously studying dinosaurs. Waterhouse's models were displayed on four islands in a man-made lake near the Crystal Palace near London, England. They were made of brick, and iron rods, and stucco, and are still there for people to see 120 years later.
"Back in 1919, Harold Messmore and Joseph Damon created moving mechanical dinosaurs that appeared in 'dinosaur shows' in department stores all over the country. These men also made mechanical dinosaurs that were displayed in movie theater lobbies to promote movies like The Lost World, King Kong, and Mighty Joe Young. Messmore & Damon's biggest success, however, was an exhibit of nearly thirty mechanical dinosaurs at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. After their huge success at the Fair, these dinosaurs were scattered all over the world in places like Coney Island, Treasure Island in California, Paris, department stores, and auto dealership openings.
"Walt Disney also produced moving dinosaurs for the 1964 World's Fair and these same dinos now scare visitors to Disney World in Epcot's World of Energy pavilion. A company called Dinamation International is putting 'live action' robot dinosaurs in museums and zoos all over the world. And the Universal Studios Florida theme park has expanded to put in a Jurassic Park attraction that breaks new ground in robot dinosaur realism."
Dabney set the report down in his lap. "Sorry I had to wrap it up really quick at the end. I had already gone way over the page limit."
"Oh, that's alright. You did a very good job. Besides, it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission." Mr. Traveller replied. "But, umm, I think you wrapped it up just in time... . Max, I hope you don't mind if we postpone your report for a few minutes... "
Something in Mr. Traveller's voice suggested that everyone should take a look out the windshield. Something was fast approaching. The seats in the Squire creaked and whined as everyone leaned forward. Max, Abbey, and Dabney found themselves staring at an old familiar sight.
It was a giant waffle.
"It's the sign for the Waffle Plantation!!" Abbey shrieked.
The three-dimensional waffle -- presumably set out in the Georgia sun to brown slowly for a decade or so -- stood about twenty feet tall. It was, of course, the self-proclaimed LARGEST WAFFLE IN THE WORLD! -- a fact noted by a yellow sign poking out of the top of the giant breakfast food. Several words were written across the waffle itself. Tall, loopy, syrupy letters -- presumably squeezed out of the LARGEST SYRUP BOTTLE IN THE WORLD! -- spelled out the following: "BIG Waffles For Your BIG Appetite!! Don't Forget To Stop On By And Visit THE WAFFLE PLANTATION!!! -- FOOD, GAS, GIFTS, CLEAN RESTROOMS." The prongs of a giant fork pointed to the last line: "Hey Kids!!! If Dad Won't Stop Hit Him On The Head With Your Shoe!!"
There was a general quiet rustling in the car as each kid removed a certain article of clothing.
"Well, of course, we're going to stop!" Mr. Traveller said quickly. "There's no need to knock your Dad unconscious and send the car careening into that giant waffle. I wonder how many parents really hate that waffle. Or, for that matter, how many children have gotten their behinds whupped by the side of the road right about here."
Everyone put their shoes back on.
Soon, on the horizon, an odd sight rose into view. There, on the left of the Interstate, set high on a green grassy hill, was a huge Southern plantation house. White wooden walls, white columns, black shingled roof, just a picturesque hint of moss and ivy clinging here and there, and -- nestled in front of this historic site -- a set of twelve gleaming, aerodynamic gas pumps. To the right and left of the building, standing out bright and colorful against a backdrop of nondescript pine trees, were billboards fully the size of mobile homes. It was their constant duty to send urgent messages across the treetops about WAFFLES! and PECANS! and WAFFLES! and LOW, LOW GAS PRICES! and WAFFLES! and T-SHIRTS! and WAFFLES! and DISNEY DISCOUNTS! and WAFFLES! and CLEAN BATHROOMS! and, well, WAFFLES!
With a rather startling look of eagerness, Mr. Traveller tooled the Squire onto the exit ramp, across the overpass, and straight into the Plantation parking lot.
"You know, I have this weird, sudden craving for a really big waffle," he muttered.
As Mr. Traveller found an empty spot in the crowded parking area, everyone noticed that they had pulled in beside a sleek new van. Mr. Traveller, Abbey, Dabney, and Max were all fascinated for a moment, not even bothering to undo their seatbelts. The van beside them was shaped like a gleaming silver bullet. It was utterly futuristic and its sleek, curved shape made the Squire look about as aerodynamic as, well, a waffle. Yet, the really fascinating thing was that the family inside seemed blithely unaware of their futuristic environment. The kids were screeching something about going to a Forbidden Cavern while a lady, presumably their mother, screamed things like "If ya'll don't shut up, I'm gonter give you something to cry about!" while another lady, much older and presumably the grandmother, silently stared straight ahead at the blank white facade of the Plantation. Strangely, each of the Travellers and Max were speechless with fascination at the family and their Van Of The Future for about five seconds. Then, Mr. Traveller popped their own vehicle into Park. The clunk of the gear shift broke the spell.
Mr. Traveller smiled and unhooked his seatbelt. "Everybody out..!"
The kids all knew from experience that Mr. Traveller would spend about five minutes looking at the snowglobes, five minutes with the salt and pepper shakers, and then perhaps ten minutes more scanning the travel stickers and postcards, before hastily picking out a few pecan logs from the huge selection offered. So there was no hurry.
As they strolled across the lot, Max walked beside Abbey, his arms breaking into goosebumps. A faint morning chill persisted in the air.
"What are you going to get?" he said.
"Nothing. We were here last weekend," Abbey answered.
"Oh," Max said.
There was rather a large lull. Max could hear Dabney and Mr. Traveller saying something about Tarzan as they made their way through the cars lined up at the gas pumps. Then Max said, "Well, this trip ought to be neat. Lots of dinosaurs, anyway. I really like the dinosaurs at Epcot, and even the cheesy ones at goofy golf courses."
"Yeah, I like them, too," Abbey replied.
Another lull. Max tried to make the silence appear to be a shift in his attention, turning away from Abbey and toward the wonders of the Waffle Plantation. He pushed open one of the Plantation's big, glass, convenience store style front doors and held it as Abbey passed by. As they entered the store proper, Max sensed he should split off and do his own thing.
For a short moment, it was difficult to adjust one's eyes from the soft natural light outdoors to the man-made lighting in the Plantation. Max covered his eyes and listened to a faintly disturbing electronic whine in the air overhead. He moved his hand away and opened his eyes again. The room was positively shimmering with the cool, brittle glow of fluorescent lighting. Row upon row of long, shining glass tubes stretched across the ceiling tiles. And yet the bright, strange crispness of the yellow fluorescent light actually seemed inviting, even whimsical. There was just too much funny, silly, utterly human junk being lit up all over the place. The effect was like using a cold, precise electron microscope to study a Whoopee Cushion.
All connections with classical Old South architecture and social graces had ended abruptly at the front door (if not at the gas pumps). The Waffle Plantation was one gigantic room with ten aisles of gift shop display shelves crammed to capacity with pecan logs, back scratchers, cypress knee clocks, fifty cent squirt guns, portraits of Jesus mounted and shellacked on a slab of wood, snowglobes, travel stickers, magazines, GooGoo Clusters, and t-shirts. Then, to one's right and just past the sweat pants, was the Waffle side of the equation. On that side of the building, the Plantation suddenly metamorphosed into a diner complete with formica table tops, glass sugar silos, a free calendar or two compliments of the local mortuary, and plenty of coffee and waffles.
Max waded into the gift shop and found himself studying a shelf full of about four dozen little animals made of small shells glued together. He felt strangely at home. The gift shop area glowed with the flashy, surface-level, short-term novelty of tourism at its cheesiest. On the other hand, a glance into the diner revealed old men wearing worn-out baseball caps and middle-aged couples who just looked too worn and content to possibly be tourists. These people were obviously regular customers at the diner, who came by not only to eat but to see each other and talk a little over a cigarette and a cup of coffee. The intermingling of the flashy gift shop and the down-home diner had an unassuming charm. The whole place was disarming. It made Max want to buy something to make sure the Waffle Plantation stayed in business.
Following the flow of the shelf from the shell animals, to rubber tomahawks, to "World's Best Grandmother" figurines, Max found himself at the edge of the diner section of the Plantation. The smell of coffee, bacon, waffles, eggs, hashbrowns and cigarette smoke hovered in the air. The various aromas had commingled all morning to become one single smell -- the smell that would forever say "diner". Max wondered if this smell existed anywhere else. He stepped into the diner section, wondering if ancient Babylon had any diner smells to speak of or if diner smells would still exist one hundred years into the future.
Max was naturally drawn to the only spot where a solitary, thirteen year old boy could feel comfortable in a diner -- the chrome-plated, revolving stools at the counter. There seemed to be around twelve seats. Most of the seats on the gift shop side of the counter were occupied. So Max meandered down the gleaming, formica-topped expanse of sugar silos and napkin dispensers until he found a spot in front of a middle-aged waitress with bright blonde hair and a tired, capable, friendly look about her. He swung his leg over the stool and hopped aboard like he was climbing into a saddle. Then he waited as though he had just presented himself at a party and was pausing to hear his name announced. Of course, he had presented himself at a diner and was really waiting to hear, "What can I get for you?"
"Oh, honey," the lady said, grimacing and smiling at one time. "I'm sorry but that seat is taken."
Max blinked. He turned and stared one way down the counter and then the other. There were plenty of empty seats on this end of the counter -- two on either side of Max. Nevertheless, with a hurt look on his face, he began to climb off.
"Oh, don't go away!" the waitress said. "I didn't mean to run you off. I just have to save that seat for T. J. O'Neal. He comes in every morning and sets right there."
Max stared up at her. She put her hand on her hip and smiled as though she was flirting with him. The dress uniform she wore was pastel pink. Max brightened a little.
"So I can sit right here?" He pointed at the next stool to the left.
"Sure! Go right ahead!"
Max climbed onto the stool, smiling. He felt a sense of well-being. Talking to waitresses was just about the only small talk he was good at. He stared at the lady's nametag, trying not to stare at her cleavage. Her name was Patty.
Patty leaned over the counter toward Max as though they were old friends sharing a secret. "I sure appreciate it," she said with a wry smile. "He ain't got no family 'cept us. Comes in every day at the same time. Poor old feller. People need something to do with theirselves, don't they?"
Max found that he knew exactly how to answer that question. He tilted his head and nodded with one part humor and one part earnestness. The rapport held. It was as though he and Patty had both read the same book.
"They sure do," Patty continued. She stood up straight and put her hand on her hip again. "If he didn't come in here and set and talk with all his friends, what would he do with hisself? Set there at home watching the stories all day, probly! I'll tell you the God's honest truth: if he didn't have this place to come to, I don't think he'd still be living. Now, what can I get for you?"
Max blinked. It was hard to make the transition from old Mr. T. J. O'Neal's situation to ordering hashbrowns. "Umm... Uh... ," he began. But he didn't have to come up with an answer just yet.
Patty leaned forward and whispered. "Here he comes now."
Max turned and looked toward the gift shop. A thin, doddering rail of an old man was making his way past the shell animals and the rubber tomahawks. He leaned forward a little on a black, wooden cane and hardly lifted his feet from the floor. People to the man's left and right were yelling, "Hey, T. J.!" and "Mornin', T. J.!" Mr. T. J. O'Neal, apparently finding it too difficult to turn in anyone's particular direction, lifted his hand and waved straight ahead. He was making a slow, steady bee-line for the stool beside Max.
A couple of the old farmers at the other end of the counter turned to watch Mr. O'Neal's approach. Max assumed they were old farmers because of their battered overalls and the square, yellow John Deere tractor company patches on their oil-smudged baseball caps. As T.J. entered the diner, several of the old men at the counter lifted their leathery white hands and muttered, "Hey there, T.J.," letting the "aaaay" sound trail off indefinitely, somehow emphasizing that they had said this every weekday morning for years and would continue to do so for as long as they were able.
T. J. O'Neal nodded and smiled, muttering something meaningful under his breath. Then he began climbing onto the stool beside Max.
Patty set a cup of coffee in front of the old man. "How you doin' this morning, T. J.?" she said in an only slightly louder voice.
T. J. moved his lips against each other as though he was chewing on a thought. "I'm... um... I'm doing pretty well. Pretty well," he managed in a thin, dry cough of a voice. Then he turned toward Max. "Hey, there. Young fella." T.J. O'Neal was so pervasively wrinkled that it was impossible to guess what he might have looked like earlier in life. His head was completely bald and dotted here and there with brown age spots, but if his pale round cranium caught the light at the right angle a wispy layer of baby hair could be seen on his scalp.
"Hey," Max managed. He felt a little overwhelmed, as though he was talking to a celebrity.
T. J. smiled at Max as though Max had said just the right thing. The old man's dentures were yellowed with coffee stains. Then T.J. turned to Patty. He pulled his coffee toward him and leaned in over it, his back being slightly humped. "How.. ub... How you think them Braves are gonter do this year, Patty?"
"I DON'T KNOW, T. J.!" Patty replied loudly and with bright Southern vowels. She sounded friendly but just slightly patronizing, as though "I don't know, T.J.!" was her official response to most of T.J.'s questions. Patty slid a tiny, metal cream dispenser across the counter and set it before the old man. "Seems to me they been trading away some of their best players!"
One of the farmers at the other end of the counter picked up his coffee and scooted down till he sat beside the old man. "Now that's the truth," the man said.
T. J. nodded, smiling, as he tilted a sugar silo over his cup of coffee and began to pour an enormous amount of white crystals into the black liquid.
Max wanted to keep watching, but felt like he was intruding on a family tradition. Besides, he didn't know a darn thing about baseball. Slowly, he slid backwards off the stool and lowered himself to the floor.
Patty turned toward him and began to apologize profusely. "I'm sorry! Did you tell me your order? We're not trying to run you off!"
Max smiled and waved. "That's okay. I was just hanging around until we had to go. I think my friends are probably ready to go by now."
Patty smiled. "Well, thanks for being so understanding," she said in a knowing tone and winked at him.
Max smiled and waved again and made his way back into the gift shop, staring at his feet and grinning. He felt like he had been pleasantly humbled.
"That's very strange. I haven't heard of that."
Max looked up. It was Mr. Traveller's voice, coming from the direction of the check-out counter. Max saw that Mr. Traveller was standing there, talking with a thin, white-haired old lady who seemed to be speaking to Mr. Traveller as she added up his purchase. Mr. Traveller had spoken loudly, with a hint of astonishment in his voice, and now he and the lady had settled into a low murmur that Max couldn't understand.
Max caught sight of a blur approaching in his peripheral vision and turned to find that it was Abbey.
"Look what I'm getting," she said. She held up a book of trivia questions about Disney World. It included a "magic writer" pen for revealing the answers which were printed in invisible ink.
"Uh, yeah," Max said. He looked back in Mr. Traveller's direction. Traveller was walking toward them with a paper bag in his hand and an odd, flat look in his face.
"You guys, um," he said, "get your stuff together. We need to hit the road." And he moved off to find Dabney.
Max and Abbey looked at each other as if to say, "What's with him?" Then Max turned and quickly searched for something to buy. He was more determined than ever that he had to make some contribution to show his support. After all, where would T. J. O'Neal be if it wasn't for the Waffle Plantation? Max marveled at how wonderful it must be to have someplace to go and drink coffee with friends every morning. It didn't seem like much, but imagine how much good it must do over a space of months, years, even decades.
Max's eyes zeroed in on a snowglobe that contained a tiny "Waffle Plantation" waffle -- like the one beside the highway -- surrounded by a watery, winter wonderland. It was perfect. Snatching it up, he sauntered over to the same old lady Mr. Traveller had spoken to. She didn't have anything in particular to say to Max.
Then, after Abbey had purchased her "magic writer" Disney trivia book, they both made their way back through the glass doors, across the parking lot, and into the car. Dabney was already there.
Mr. Traveller slid into the driver's seat and tossed the paper bag to Abbey. "Knock yourself out... " he said with a strange lack of presence and began putting the car back on the highway again.
Abbey eyed her Dad quizzically, but reached into the bag and began spreading the fun around -- mini pecan logs for everyone.
While everyone else chewed resolutely on their Southern roadside delicacy, Max reached for his Destination Report and cleared his throat to begin speaking -- but this was just as Abbey said, "Hey, Dad... " to ask Mr. Traveller what was wrong.
"Um, wait a minute," Mr. Traveller said. "I just heard something really weird."
"What?" Abbey said.
"Well, I may be stepping into ground that will be covered in Max's report, but I think you ought to hear this." Mr. Traveller pushed his black wire glasses up on his nose. "While I was looking at the t-shirts -- most of them were bad Disney copies, so you didn't miss anything if you didn't get that far -- a lady came up and asked me if she could help me find anything."
"That is pretty weird -- for the Waffle Plantation," Dabney snickered.
"Hmm, well, perhaps so," Mr. Traveller replied. "Anyway, I said, 'No, I'm just stopping off on my way down to The Lost World.' And she suddenly sort of perked up at hearing that and said, 'Really? My grandson works as a lifeguard at the Lava Pit Swimmin' Hole there. Boy, he's had some weird stories to tell about that place lately, let me tell you.' Then, I perked up and said, 'Well, tell me,' as you can probably imagine. So we walked over to the checkout counter, I bought those pecan logs, and she told me."
Max, Dabney and Abbey were now leaning forward with interest.
Mr. Traveller was beginning to perform a little as he spoke, unconsciously imitating the lady's Southern accent whenever her voice entered the story. "First of all, she looked at me kinda funny and said, 'You know Willy Leonard disappeared almost seven years ago, don't you?'" Mr. Traveller glanced at Max and Dabney via the rear view mirror as he spoke. "Of course, I told her I was aware of that. Then she said: 'Well, last week my grandson and his wife were up for a visit. And my grandson told me something mighty strange. There's been several reports of people seeing a little grey-bearded old man, peeking out at them from the trees around some of them rides. One time, one of the people that works there was doing the Boat Tour around the volcano, talking about all the dinosaurs and everything, and then he said, Hey, what's that?! And everybody in the boat turned and looked and there was this little, grey-bearded old man kind of sinking behind the bushes like he wanted you to think he was one of them robots. Except there ain't no old man robot on that ride! And, according to my grandson, that man was the spittin' image of Willy Leonard. I'm tellin' you, Willy Leonard has returned sure as I'm standing here talking.'" Mr. Traveller grinned. "And, sure enough, she was standing there talking. I checked to make sure."
Max and Abbey turned to glance at each other. At the sight of each other's wonder and amazement, they both felt a sudden chill and goosebumps crowded on their arms.
"She went on a little more about other sightings," Mr. Traveller said. "Then she said that all of the employees at The Lost World are supposed to keep the whole thing secret, but most of the workers really seem to believe that Willy Leonard is back."
Mr. Traveller paused a long moment, so that only the hum of the engine and the tires was heard. Then he looked into the rear view mirror and grinned at Max and Dabney.
"Oh, you're grinning!" Max blurted out. "You made all that up!"
"No," Mr. Traveller replied. "I'm grinning because I didn't make it up."
"I thought Willy Leonard was supposed to be dead," Abbey said then.
"Well," Mr. Traveller began. "Once again, I think we're walking all over Max's report... "
"Don't worry about it," Max said.
"... but, technically, Willy Leonard simply disappeared almost seven years ago. A couple of times, word started getting around that someone had found his bullet-riddled body in an alley somewhere or his rotting skeleton in a Peruvian jungle, but it was always merely a rumor. Nobody knows where he is or what has become of him."
"Well, yeah, but that's what his family kept saying on the news reports," Dabney interjected. "'He's gone -- he's dead... "
"How do you remember that?" Max said. "You were only -- what? Six years old when he disappeared."
"They had a special about him on Nightline and Dad taped it. Plus, I just remember that sort of thing. That's why I always beat Abbey at Trivial Pursuit." Dabney grinned in Abbey's direction.
"Only the Entertainment and Literature cards," Abbey objected.
"I still do better than you do at Science and Sports... " Dabney countered.
"Alright, alright," Mr. Traveller said. "Let's stay on target. The point is ... well, what is the point?"
Max and the Traveller siblings all twisted slightly in their seats. They had gradually turned to face each other during Mr. Traveller's monologue, but now they turned to face perfectly forward and isolate their own individual thought processes. Everyone was silent for about fifteen seconds.
Then Abbey said, "Well, it means that maybe Mr. Leonard has come back."
"But, for some reason, if it is him," Dabney said, "he's doing it in secret."
"Or," Max said, and he deliberately waited until everyone had chewed on Dabney's suggestion for a second more, "he really did die and he's come back from the grave to haunt The Lost World."
"No!" Abbey cried dubiously.
"Maybeee... " Max said in a tiny, insistent voice.
"Can't we go any faster?" came Dabney's voice from the back seat.
Everyone felt the G-forces pushing them further into their seats as Mr. Traveller depressed the gas pedal.
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