It was time for the bell to ring. So the moment that the teacher opened the door, Richard Tyler, as well as the rest of the students, charged outside to the coat room. He took hold of his book bag, stuffing folders and books inside with such speed, you would think he was trying to be the first one outside.
Well, it was no surprise. It was a lovely day, so no doubt everyone would be trying to get out and play in the sun. Spring was an ideal time of year to do so, but Richard wasn't excited about playing outside, even though his friends had asked him to play ball.
Richard planned to ride to the library, which was located deep in the woods in the town park. His friend, Chloe, was supposed to meet him there this afternoon, for they had some serious matters to take care of.
Some days ago, when Richard had taken another journey into a book, he had accidentally taken Chloe along with him. She had proved a vital partner to have on this adventure, for the two children had entered Alice in Wonderland—a place that was not at all easy to navigate with its twisted logic and crazy characters. They had visited the tea table of the legendary Mad Hatter and March Hare, but had walked away with a disaster on their hands. The Hatter had taken an interest in Richard's magic compass and, in spilling tea on it, had broken it, so that Richard and Chloe couldn't easily get back home.
Chloe managed to surprise Richard once more, because after that dreadful fiasco, she had produced a little golden pendant that enabled them to return to the library. It was a magic gift, given to her by Mr. Dewey when she was a little child, which had enabled her to travel through books as easily as Richard could.
Richard had been grateful that Chloe had gotten them back home, and that she was now a part of his adventures, but there was still the matter of fixing his compass. It was the only way he could ever go inside books on his own again.
And hopefully now, since Mr. Dewey had given Richard the compass, he could give the children some answers as to how to bring the compass back to life.
At last, Richard navigated the trees, and parked his bike outside the library. He bounded up the steps, past the two harsh-looking stone lions, and pulled the doors open.
By the time the big oak doors had shut, Richard had made it to the study tables at the back. As usual, it wasn't very full, so he could easily spot Chloe's head of fiery hair among the mahogany tables.
He noticed her in one of the armchairs that circled the room, running to plop his book bag down beside her.
"Chloe!" he addressed her.
"Richard, hey!" she exclaimed, standing up from her chair. She adjusted her shirt, pulling out the golden pendant from beneath it. "Good, you're here. Come on. Let's get started."
"Lead the way," Richard said, following his friend back towards the front desk. Chloe went into a speed-walk, causing her red hair to bounce on her shoulders. Her head swayed a little to her step, and Richard had to stifle a little chuckle.
They reached the front lobby, where a giant, circular desk sat in the center. It was cluttered with old leather-bound volumes, paper, and an ancient computer monitor. An old man with grass-like white hair sat at a weathered swiveling chair, turning around to reach different objects on the desktop.
"Grandpa?" Chloe piped up, reaching her arms over the countertop to greet him.
Mr. Dewey looked over his shoulder, and his eyes glimmered like an owl's. "Oh, Chloe, my girl. Good to see you here! And you too, Richard, my boy." He gave the same, all-knowing smile to Richard, who managed to smile nervously back. "What can I do you for?"
"We have a question for you," Chloe began, as she removed her pendant from around her neck.
Mr. Dewey took note of the pendant as Chloe handed it to him. "Why, whatever can it be?" he asked. "There can't be anything wrong with your pendant, is there?"
"No, no, not with mine," Chloe answered. "It's Richard's compass."
Mr. Dewey almost dropped the pendant with the look that crossed his face. "Well, that's a whole other story," he remarked. "Richard, my boy, let me see."
Richard opened the flap of his book bag, and pulled out the tarnished compass. The silver surface was blemished red now from the rust, the marble of the compass's face stained with the tea the Hatter had spilled. Mr. Dewey took the compass as delicately as he would a child, looking it up and around, before he set it on the desktop beside Chloe's pendant.
"Please explain how this happened," Mr. Dewey said.
Both Richard and Chloe rested their elbows on the countertop of the desk, and spoke to Mr. Dewey of how they had entered Wonderland, but had accidentally caused the Hatter to spill his tea onto the compass. Mr. Dewey continued to examine the compass, and didn't speak until Richard and Chloe had finished.
Mr. Dewey exhaled through his nose, sitting back. "My, this is unfortunate," he murmured. "Well, I do not really see how I can fix this, children."
"What?" Richard blurted. "But, Mr. Dewey, you gave that compass to me. And, don't you think, since you gave Chloe her magic pendant, that you would know how the magic works?"
"My boy, it may surprise you, but I was not the one who created these instruments."
Richard and Chloe exchanged glances. "Well, then…who did make them, Grandpa?" Chloe wanted to know.
"That is something for me to know, and you to find out," replied Mr. Dewey. "Such mysteries can only be discovered within the pages of a book."
"Or, you could tell us in whispers instead," Richard pressed.
Mr. Dewey shook his head. "No, no, no, Richard. Not here," he said. "You children are the only ones I trust with the secrets behind the pendant and the compass. And besides, it is not my place to relay such things. You'll have to discover it for yourselves."
Richard frowned. "Well, gee, thanks, um, Mr. Dewey," he said, deflated. "But, can't you at least tell us where we should start?"
"You know just where to begin, my boy. The fiction section."
"Oh, of course, how could I forget?" Richard said, not hiding the sarcasm in his voice.
"Never fear," said Mr. Dewey. "You won't be alone in this venture, boy. Chloe shall help you every step of the way."
"Right," Chloe agreed. "And, you know, it's not like you can get into a book without me. At least, not until we fix the compass somehow."
"Chloe is right," Mr. Dewey remarked.
Richard sighed, as he reached for the compass on the desk. "Okay," he said. "But I'll need the compass if we're going to find someone who can help us."
"By all means." Mr. Dewey handed the compass to Richard, and the pendant back to Chloe, turning back to his work. "The best of luck to you both."
Richard and Chloe started to walk away from the desk. Chloe hung her pendant back around her neck, but Richard slumped his head in defeat.
"'The fiction section'," he said. "Right. He could have at least told us where we could begin."
"Quit with the pessimism already, Richard," Chloe scolded.
"In case you didn't notice already, I like direction, and order," Richard remarked. "I would like to know where to start—it would make things easier for both of us."
"Well, I can help you there," Chloe said. "We can start with a fairy tale volume from the fantasy aisles. There are all kinds of people we could meet in those stories."
Richard chuckled. "In my experiences, Chloe, the fairies and witches, and people like that, are usually the bad guys. They can't help us."
Chloe playfully slugged Richard on the shoulder. "You forgot about the fairy godmother. And the good fairy from Sleeping Beauty. There are all kinds of good, wise people we can look to in a fairy tale—they don't all need to be fairies or witches, you know."
"I trust you, Chloe," said Richard. "As I told you before, lead the way."
Chloe led them to a shelf that held some thick volumes with golden titles on the spines. She removed the first book from the shelf, and opened the yellowing pages to the table of contents. "I'll gladly be the leader for now, but when we get the compass back on track, you're stepping up with me," she told him.
Together then, Richard and Chloe scanned the titles of the fairy tales. They pointed out different ones, debating which ones would be the best to start with. Until finally, Chloe set the book on the floor, opening the pendant so it lay flat on the pages. When she was sure that Richard was ready, she pressed the button on her pendant, and the lid popped open, the clock hands starting to whirl madly.
In an instant, Richard got a feeling in his stomach like someone had shoved him in one direction. Chloe moved the same way, spinning in circles on her feet. The world blurred like they were looking at it through a foggy window. Abruptly, Richard and Chloe were pushed into each other, as if closed in by a tight space, everything melting all around them.
At last, the light went away, and slowly, things came back into focus.