Across the field and through the forest Logan and Bill went again, but this time, they were joined by Marty. Frank had stayed behind, as he knew his size would slow the group down. The squirrel and bird walked ahead of Logan who followed close behind, sizing up his new companions.
"I have a question," he finally said after a long while. "Daniel's a rat, right?"
"You would be correct," Frank confirmed.
"Well, Frank's an enormous elephant. Why didn't we just stay with him so that he could step on them, or something?"
The animals turned and faced Logan. With confused expressions on their faces, they stared at him for a moment. Finally Bill turned to Marty and yelled, "Oh! We forgot to tell him!" He focused his attention back on Logan. "Daniel is a giant rat."
"Ah! Well, that figures."
The group continued walking as Logan pondered how big a giant rat was. He then began to wonder if the rest of the rats under Daniel's rule were all giants. The more he thought about it, the more terrified he became.
For as far back as Logan could remember, Laurie's favorite Christmas story had always been "The Nutcracker," and while Logan always enjoyed the story as well, it frightened him as a child when the Mouse King came to battle The Nutcracker. He was well aware that the story was fictitious, but the faces of the mice gave him the creeps.
And now he was on some unknown journey, running from a pack of giant rats. What have I gotten myself into?
"So where are we going?" Logan asked.
No one answered him. Instead, they continued walking until they reached a large, blue lake. The water was crystal clear and incredibly still. It would have been a peaceful and relaxing place had three human-sized rats not been standing there.
"Well, well, well. Look who finally decided to join us," the rat with the crown on his head said. "Are you ready to hand over the apple?"
Logan snapped his attention the Bill. "The apple?" he questioned fearfully. "The apple I ate?" he continued to whisper in exasperation.
"We would never give you the knowledge that the apple contains!" Bill declared. "And to ensure that you would never obtain it, we had Logan eat that apple!" The three rats glared at Logan. "Well, then it appears we're after you!" the king of the rats announced.
"But why?" Logan asked. "I didn't do anything to you."
Daniel laughed evilly. "Stupid boy! You ate the apple and now the knowledge is in you! Knowledge is power and right now, you possess it all. You must be destroyed."
Logan began to panic. Three giant rats were threatening to kill him and all he supposedly had was his mind as a weapon. Seeing the fear in Logan's eyes, Marty yelled, "Grab onto my leg!"
"What?" Logan yelled as Bill jumped onto Logan's back.
"Just do it!" Bill shouted.
As instructed, Logan quickly grabbed onto Marty's tiny leg as he flapped his wings, making the threesome airborne. Daniel and his pack tried to stop them, but they weren't able to stop Marty from flying Logan and Bill over the lake.
"We're free!" Logan yelled, in awe that he was flying over a giant body of water.
"For the moment," Marty said. "But we're not safe."
Marty flew for quite some time until they reached land once again. Once they touched down, Marty fell over from exhaustion.
"Marty! Are you all right?" Logan cried out.
"I'll ... be ... okay ..." Marty tried to speak. He had never carried a human and a squirrel across a lake before and didn't know if he would even be able to do it, but when faced with incredible danger, Marty had no other choice but to succeed.
Logan ran to the lake and cupped his hands, filling them with as much water as he could. "Drink this," he instructed Marty. "You're probably dehydrated."
Slowly, but surely, Marty began to gather his strength. "We can't rest any longer. We need to put distance between ourselves and Daniel."
"Well, let's get going," Logan said. "I'll carry you this time." He picked up the bird that had saved his life and carried him in his arms as they continued their journey. "I think we're going to need to create a plan. I mean, we can't just keep running. Eventually we need to fight."
"You're absolutely right, Logan," Bill stated. "Do you have any suggestions?"
"Well, let's review the facts. There are a few things we know for sure. I'm on a journey and need to figure out what this key unlocks," Logan said as he tugged on the chain around his neck. "We know that I know something that Daniel wants, except we have no idea what that something is. Oh! And didn't Frank tell me that a summer doesn't have a swallow?"
Bill laughed. "No, Logan. He said, 'one swallow does not make a summer.'"
"Right. So what does that mean, anyway?"
"It means that just because you have a little bit of evidence towards something does not necessary prove that you're right."
"Oh," Logan sighed. "I still don't see how that's relevant to anything."
"I hope you figure it out sooner rather than later," Bill declared
"How did this happen?" Logan's mother, Maggie, asked as she stared at her unconscious son in his hospital bed.
Carly had finally calmed down and her hysterical crying had slowed to sobs. "I tried to stop him, but he refused to let me take him home," Carly told Logan's parents. "I tried. I really tried," she cried.
Logan's mother hugged Carly. For quite some time now, Logan's parents had considered her to be part of the family. She would never take Laurie's place, but they loved her like a daughter.
"I thought that maybe if I at least followed him ..." Carly trailed off. "But he kept swerving and then he suddenly veered off of the road and hit the tree."
Logan's father turned to the doctor. Marcus was tired of dealing with doctors. They hadn't been able to save his baby girl, so how could he believe they would salvage his son? "How does it look, Dr. Thompson? And please tell us the truth."
"When Logan's head hit the steering wheel, it caused damage to his hippocampus. If he comes out of the coma, there is a possibility that he will have retrograde amnesia. But that's if he comes out of the coma," Dr. Thompson explained.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Logan's father asked. "What are the chances he'll come out of the coma?"
"Logan can snap back to reality at any time he wants, but he needs to want it. He needs a will to live and from what we've seen from Logan over the years, I'm not sure if his desire is strong enough."
Logan's mother joined Carly in her tears. She already lost one child. How would she survive if she lost her other one?
"It's all my fault!" Carly cried. "I sat at the bar with him. I watched him drink beer after beer. I didn't fight him hard enough for me to give him a ride."
"Carly, you know as well as we do that Logan can't be stopped. Ever since Laurie died, his drinking has been out of control. You didn't stand a chance in getting him to quit after a few beers and you certainly didn't stand a chance in getting him to leave the bar with you," Marcus consoled his son's best friend.
He sighed. After Laurie died, Carly was the only person who had any impact on Logan whatsoever. No one could get through to him the slightest bit, except for her. His son had once been so driven and so determined to succeed and then he just gave up. How could anyone believe that Logan would strive to come out of the coma when he didn't even care to live?
It was getting late, so Logan's parents told the doctor that they would return first thing in the morning.
"Are you going to go home?" Maggie asked Carly.
"I think I'm just going to hang back here for a while," she replied. Logan's mom kissed her forehead and then left with her husband. Once they were gone, Carly looked hopefully at the doctor. "What if I talk to him?" she asked.
Dr. Thompson looked at her curiously.
"Isn't it possible that he can hear me? Maybe I can convince him to come back to us!"
The doctor didn't want to get Carly's hopes up, but cases like that were not unheard of. "Carly, I encourage you to talk to Logan, but you need to understand that it's going to take more than that to pull him out of this."
"I know," she told Dr. Thompson. "But it's worth a try."
The doctor nodded as he walked out of the room and allowed Carly to have some privacy with Logan. Carly turned to her best friend with tears in her eyes.
"Why?" she asked him. "Why are you so stubborn?" The tears began to run down her face as she took Logan's hands in hers. "I know you're hurting, Logan, and I know that I can't take that pain away, but if you don't come back to us, imagine all of the pain your parents will feel. You are all they have left. They need you, Logan."
Carly took a deep breath and looked around the hospital room. She remembered the times that Laurie had been hospitalized. Carly would come visit her and always showed up with Laurie's favorite candy and magazines. Her face would light up when Carly entered her room and Carly had hoped that she would see that face for many more years to come. She had no idea how quickly Laurie would be taken from her.
While Logan was Carly's best friend, Laurie was her confidant. For as much as Carly had loved her boyfriend, she had very strong feelings for Logan and Laurie was the only person that knew that. Carly knew that it was a secret that Laurie took to her grave.
She returned to her conversation with Logan. "Your parents need you Logan, but I need you, too. What am I going to do without my best friend?" Carly paused. "You know, I have this dream that one day you won't just look at me as solely your best friend, but as something more. And I really believe that it's not a far-fetched dream, Logan, but if you don't come back to us, it's an impossible aspiration."
Carly looked at Logan's face and wished that she could look into his eyes. We would be so happy together, she thought.
"Be open to love, Logan," Carly demanded. "Let me love you."
Marty's strength returned to him and he made a full recovery. With Bill and Logan by his side, they crossed over hills and valleys and mountains. Growing tired from the expedition, Bill suggested that they take a small break on a mountaintop.
"Are you sure we can spare that time?" Logan asked his trusted companion.
"Yes. If we don't rest, time and distance will be of no use to us."
Logan stood at the cliff and looked over the valley. The view was breathtaking as the sun began to set, creating an image that looked like a watercolor painting. The once clear, blue sky was now streaked with orange and purple and red. It wasn't long before the moon came up, illuminating the valley.
As Marty and Bill slept, Logan enjoyed the peacefulness of his surroundings, but became disturbed when he heard something rustle behind him. His heartbeat quickened as he surveyed the area.
It must have just been my imagination, he thought.
Then he heard it again. Logan snapped his head around and was face to face with an enormously intimidating lion. With no other options visible to him, Logan screamed until his lungs felt like they would explode.
Bill and Marty jumped up and were immediately presented with the confrontation at hand.
"HELP!!!" Logan yelled as he quickly stepped backwards. "Help me, Bill!" Logan, fixated on the ferocious beast and not looking behind him, was quickly approaching the edge of the cliff.
"Logan, it's okay! He's on our side!" Bill explained.
"Stop walking!" Marty shouted.
Logan did as he was told. When he looked behind him, his eyes widened as he realized how close he was to plummeting to his death. It was the first time in a long time that he actually feared death. For three years now, it had been a welcomed idea; an escape from the world he was so incredibly miserable in.
"A great force has brought you here," the lion stated.
"Logan, this is Thomas," Bill introduced once Logan had stepped far enough away from the edge of the mountaintop.
"But you can call me Tommy," the great creature confirmed. "You must all follow me and fast."
"Where are we going?" Logan asked.
"I will explain that on the way. Come quickly."
As the group that was growing in size made their way down the mountain, Tommy explained the situation at hand.
"She constructed a labyrinth made of trees and vines. It's an intricate maze if I've ever seen one!" Tommy declared.
"Who is 'she'?" Logan inquired. Another lion? Or perhaps a bear? Maybe even a frog!
"Why, the Queen of the Kingdom, of course!" Tommy turned to Bill and Marty. "Didn't you tell him?" he whispered.
"No," Bill replied. "She told us that we needed to gain his trust first. He needed to prove a willingness to go on the journey without knowing all of the details."
Anger was emerging in Logan. He was putting all of his faith in these talking animals, but they were keeping secrets from him. "I'm sick and tired of all of this! I want to know everything that you all know! No more secrets!" Logan demanded.
"We can not do that, Logan," Bill said. "If we tell you everything, the journey is over. The greater good is lost. You will be stuck in Paradoxica forever."
Logan stopped to reflect. He was annoyed. He was tired. He wanted to go home, but what was home? Emptiness. Pain. Suffering. Sure, his parents were there, but they hadn't been the same since Laurie died. They had experienced loss once before. The second time around would be easier, Logan believed.
Home had his mom and home had his dad, but neither one was able to relieve him of the emptiness he felt. The pain that he felt. The suffering that he experienced day in and day out.
Emptiness. Pain. Suffering.
Home had Carly. Carly alleviated some of his anguish. She filled some of the void he felt in his heart. She assuaged some of the pain. She carried the burden of suffering by his side so as to lighten some of his load.
"I want to go home," Logan announced. "If you can't tell me everything, tell me all you can."
They continued their quest to the labyrinth as Tommy gave Logan all of the details that he was permitted to.
"The Kingdom of Paradoxica had always been a peaceful and pleasant land. Everything was wonderful here until a few years back when the king of the rats and the serpent tried to take over the kingdom. Violence erupted all over the kingdom, which disturbed the Queen. In an effort to eliminate the sadism, the Queen banished Daniel and the serpent from Paradoxica, but things were never quite the same after that.
But now, as you know, Daniel has entered the kingdom once again and is after knowledge. With this knowledge, he will be powerful enough to take over the kingdom and rule forever," Tommy explained.
Logan thought about the last few words that Tommy had just said. "Ok, but I have the knowledge now, don't I? Does that mean that I have the power to take over the kingdom?"
It was Bill that spoke up this time. "Without knowing what to do with the information you possess, you are not powerful enough."
"So explain this to me. Daniel is after knowledge so that he can eventually rule Paradoxica, but the Queen allowed me to have the knowledge. Why? Does she not believe that I will ever grasp an understanding of it? Did she give me the knowledge because I'm the safest one to protect it if I can't figure out what to do with it?"
The three animals smiled at each other.
"Quite the contrary," Marty proclaimed. "The Queen has faith that you will solve the puzzle and save the kingdom from destruction."
"She built the labyrinth to test your strength, but it's not to prove anything to her. It's to prove it to you," Tommy clarified. "Once you realize how strong you are, you are one step closer to completing the journey."
"Well, then bring on the maze!"
* * * *
After many hours, Logan and his friends finally reached the elaborate labyrinth. They stood in front of it in complete awe.
"She sure went to a lot of trouble," Logan stated with eyes as wide as those of a child in a candy shop.
"Are you ready to go inside?" Marty asked.
Logan took a deep breath. "Do I have any other choice?" he asked as he felt a paw on his leg.
"You've got us, Logan," Bill said. "We're not going to leave your side."
Just as Logan and his friends were about to step into the labyrinth, a sheep appeared at the entranceway.
"Welcome, friends," he said in a very composed manner. "I am Brent, the Queen's faithful assistant. I am hoping I find you all in good health."
Logan looked at his animal friends as the simultaneously nodded affirmatively.
"Very well," Brent continued. "The Queen has asked me to wish you luck on your quest through the maze. It will not be easy, but shall you succeed and reach the exit, which the Queen is sure you will, you will be graciously rewarded."
The furry white sheep cleared the way and allowed the journeyers to enter the labyrinth. Logan glared at the tangled mess of trees and vines that surrounded him. "Any ideas, guys?" he surveyed the group.
"I suppose we should just follow the path until we reach a fork in our path," Bill suggested.
They did just that, but it wasn't long before they were faced with a challenge.
"It's a dead end!" Logan shouted. "But how is that possible? We were never given any options to choose!"
"There must be something we missed," Tommy declared.
"But what?" Logan asked, exasperated.
"We need to go back. Look around," Bill said.
The group turned around and retraced their footsteps, carefully observing the maze in its entirety. It was then that Logan noticed a sparse area of trees amidst the denseness that created the walls.
"Look!" he yelled. We can just climb through there!"
"You're right!" Bill told him.
Marty flew through the area first, looking to see what other obstacles might stand in their way. "The coast is clear!"
Upon getting the green light from Marty, Logan and his bunch of animals scrambled through the trees. It was on the other side that the inevitable fork in the road lay. "Now what?"
"It's your choice, Logan. Left or right?" Tommy asked.
"There has to be some method to this," he thought. He searched his brain and decided to go with the instinctive feeling he felt in his gut. "The Queen wants to do what's right for the kingdom, so I say we go right," Logan declared.
All of the animals agreed with Logan's reasoning, so the group followed the path to their right. They walked a few steps and then came to another turn.
"How are we supposed to know which way to go?" Logan wondered. "We can't just keep guessing."
Follow your heart, Logan heard a voice say.
"What did you say?" he asked as he turned around and looked at his friends.
The animals all looked at each other, confused.
"No one said anything," Marty said.
"But I could have sworn ..."
Logan, follow your heart.
"Who said that?" Logan asked, looking all around him. "Didn't you guys hear that?"
"Are you okay, Logan?" Bill asked, concerned for his charge.
Logan grabbed his head. He knew he heard someone, but the voice he heard sounded like a girl. In fact, the voice sounded like --
You know what to do, Logan.
"Laurie? Laurie is that you? Where are you?"
I'm always with you Logan. I'm in your head and I'm in your heart. Only you know how to get out of the maze. You just have to believe in yourself.
"But, Laurie, I don't know. I need you," he pleaded.
"Laurie, come back! Come back, Laurie!" Logan cried. He dropped to the ground and buried his face between his legs. He could feel Bill, Marty, and Tommy approaching him, but he didn't look up. He continued to cry, missing his sister more than ever.
She said she's always with me, Logan thought. She said that I'm the only one who can find the exit.
Just then, Logan felt something inside of him. He had to get out of the maze. He had to do it for Laurie. He refused to disappoint her.
Feeling empowered, Logan got to his feet. "Follow me!" he instructed his friends.
Logan turned left. With force, he continued down the path and then made a sharp right. He didn't know how, but he could feel deep inside of him which direction was the correct one.
"How do you know we're going the right way?" Bill asked.
"I just know."
The group continued following Logan through the maze. Although they were speeding through it, the voyage was taking a long time, but in that time, Logan did a lot of thinking.
"Thank you," Logan whispered to Bill who was standing beside him.
"For what?" Bill inquired.
Logan looked at his furry friend. "For everything. For taking care of me, and being my friend, and having faith in me."
Bill blushed and looked down at the ground. "I was just doing my job," he said modestly.
"What is your job?" Logan asked.
"I'm an In-Between," he said. "I can pass through the stages of consciousness to help save those that need saving."
"I'm not sure I understand," Logan admitted.
"Logan, you're in need of help," Bill began. "You've been going through life with reckless abandon. You have no regards for the people that care most about you in life and you have no consideration for yourself."
It was Logan whose gaze now shifted down to the ground.
"How much longer do you think you can continue drinking the way that you do? Alcohol can only temporarily alleviate the pain. It doesn't take it away. You need to work through your problems and allow others to help you."
Logan continued to look down at his feet. He no longer needed to see where he was going. He just knew.
"Logan, you incessantly shut the people that love you out of your life. After you refused to let Carly help you, the Queen sent me to your reality. Don't you remember how I ran in front of your car?"
Logan ceased staring at his feet and shifted his glare to Bill.
"I needed to force you to allow yourself to be helped. The Queen knew that if Carly couldn't stop you from making a mistake, no one could. And if no one could stop you, things were going to get worse."
Logan sighed, knowing that he was his own worst enemy.
"I'm glad you're here, Bill."
"And I'll be glad when you can leave," Bill declared.
Just then, Logan heard a strange noise.
"Do you hear that?" he asked.
"I do," Bill replied, wondering what was causing the buzzing sound.
Logan turned around to Marty and Tommy. "Do you guys know what that is?"
The two made curious faces as they tried to distinguish what the sound was that they were hearing.
Marty cocked his head. "It sounds almost like -- "
"Bees!" Tommy yelled as a swarm of hundreds of bees appeared from behind one of the corners of the labyrinth and after them.
"Run!" Logan yelled as all of the animals took off in his footsteps.
Corner after corner was turned, but the killer bees were quickly catching up to their targets.
"Why are they after us?" Logan yelled.
"I don't know! This can't be the Queen's doing!" Bill declared.
"What should we do? They're picking up speed!" Logan shouted in terror.
Bill turned around to see how close the swarm was, but when he did, he failed to see the rock that was in his path. He tripped over it and fell to the ground.
"Bill!" Logan screamed. He quickly turned around to help his friend, but the bees were getting closer.
"Go, Logan! Marty and Tommy can't get out of here without you!"
"But -- "
Logan promptly spun around and obeyed the friend that had gotten him this far. He didn't want to leave him behind, but how could he jeopardize the safety of his other friends? The familiar feeling of loss washed over him. He hadn't just lost Bill; he had sacrificed him. Emptiness. Pain. Suffering.
The group continued running until the realized that they were no longer being followed.
"I think we're safe," Marty stated.
"I thought the Queen was your friend!" Logan cried. "Why would she send killer bees after us?"
"I don't know," Tommy said. "But it's probably all part of the greater good."
"To hell with the greater good!" Logan yelled, but his shouts turned to cries. "We lost Bill," he sobbed. Emptiness. Pain. Suffering.
Logan took the back of his hand and wiped away his tears. When his eyes were clear, he was shocked to see that they had reached the exit. Brent, the sheep, appeared once again.
"Congratulations, friends. You have completed your task, although I am sure your success is bittersweet."
Rage ran through Logan's blood. He wanted to kill the sheep for being so blas? about the death of his friend. How could he be so nonchalant when Logan was feeling so much aching in his heart?
When he finally spoke, the only word that could escape his mouth was, "Why?"
"You will see. You must have faith," Brent said. "You must have faith."
Logan cringed. How could he have faith when his guide was taken away from him?
"As your reward for successfully making it through the labyrinth, the Queen has asked me to present you with this." Brent handed Logan a long, white box with a note attached to it. "Prosperity is yours. Use good judgment and remember to have faith. Farewell, my friends."
With that, Brent disappeared. Logan read the note before opening the box. "It's time to see what you're made of," he read aloud. "This next part of your journey must be done alone. Go to the forest unaccompanied and prepare for a hunt." Logan carefully opened the box and was surprised to find a shiny, but dangerous-looking, sword. He pulled it out of the sheath as the sun that was now hanging in the sky again, reflected off of the metallic surface.
"This isn't very reassuring," Logan said. He had a bad feeling that making it through the maze was only another battle won. The war, on the other hand, was not over.