“Where were you all?” Hermione was trying to keep her voice steady, but it was clear she was rattled.
“Where were we? You were the one that just went and disappeared.” Binny replied.
Hermione looked taken aback.
“It doesn’t matter. We’re all here now, right?” Katniss said, in the surprising role of peacemaker. “Speaking of which, where is here?”
A path lay before the group, and they started walking. The countryside spread out on either side. As they walked, the scenery seemed to get less and less colorful. It was as if the color had literally drained from the scenery. When monotonal birds would fly by and tweet their songs, Michel said, “Even the songs are quite ‘gray’, no?”
They continued on. The road switched back and forth in an endless series of climbing curves. But the longer they walked, the less progress they seemed to make. And then the yawning began. First it was Arya, but soon everyone succumbed to a fit of the yawns.
It got so bad that Binny couldn’t take another step forward. Covering her mouth for what seemed like the fiftieth yawn in a row, Binny managed to say, “I don’t think I can take another step forward.”
“This is the worst place ever.” Hermione said.
“I’ve seen worse.” Katniss tried to joke between yawns.
“There… are… worse… places… than… this…” a disembodied voice said. It sounded far away.
“Worse than this?” Arya sounded incredulous.
“Where is this?” Binny demanded.
“Who said that?” Hermione craned her neck in all directions trying to spot the speaker. But they were alone.
“This… is… the… Dol… drums…” Another voice spoke. This one sounded nearer.
“Of course it is. I’m such an idiot!” Binny said. “I forgot, we’re in the Phantom Tollbooth. These are the Doldrums.”
“Educate us if you don’t mind?” Katniss said.
“The Doldrums are where nothing ever happens and nothing ever changes.” Binny said in unison with another voice. This one was at their feet.
Binny laughed and continued on her own, “These are the Lethargarians. They live here.”
And when they looked down, suddenly, there was a small creature standing among them. It took a gentle bow. It had been almost impossible to see as it was the same color as the gray road on which they were standing on.
“Look, more of them.” Arya pointed.
And suddenly, everywhere the five of them looked were small creatures blending almost perfectly with whatever shade of gray was the color of the object directly behind them.
Arya unsheathed Needle. Her eyes sparkled.
Binny screamed. “No! Don’t do it!”
“Indeed don’t. Don’t do anything at all. Doing things is against the law here. As is thinking, laughing, and a variety of other things.” Said the Lethargarian.
“Are you serious? He’s really asking for it.” Arya rolled her eyes, still waiting for permission to slice the creature.
“Hold on. Hold on. I forgot this is what would happen here. I need to think for a second.”
“Think? But the rules!” A chorus of Lethargarians shouted.
Binny put her hands to her ears to block them out and tried to remember how Milo had escaped the Doldrums in the book. It had been awhile since she’d read the book, but she was pretty sure this was the point where Tock had shown up and scared off the little creatures.
Binny took a step forward.
“Look, she’s moving.” Michel said excitedly.
Binny looked down, and indeed, she had taken a step. Just a minute ago, she’d felt paralyzed. “That’s it. I’d forgotten how this place worked because I just wasn’t thinking. Start thinking and you can walk again.”
Hermione put her hands on her hips looking like she wasn’t going to participate in what she perceived as a load of silliness.
“Think about what?” Katniss asked.
“Anything. Pies. Cookies. Birds. Cars. Home.” Binny said, taking another couple of steps as she spoke.
Katniss took a step.
Soon the others were walking forward again as well. Hermione, saw their progress, and fell into line.
Gradually the Lethargarians scattered. Binny tried not to look at them as she feared it would lull her into more not thinking. But she was pretty sure she saw a look of disappointment on at least a few of their faces. It gave her satisfaction. Soon even they were gone.
The countryside started regaining its color, the bird songs got more tuneful, and the five of them picked up their pace. With the Doldrums becoming an increasingly distant memory, Binny’s mood picked up as well. They were finally going to find out what this place was all about.
Binny’s good mood didn’t last long. They hadn’t gone far when they spotted a new obstacle in the distance. Given its size it was amazing they hadn’t seen it before. Binny guessed that maybe they had, but everything had been so gray that it was hard to distinguish one object on the horizon from another.
The road had straightened out, and they had been making more progress, but directly in front of them, and stretching out endlessly in either direction, was the most massive wall that not only Binny had ever seen, but it was beyond anything she had even ever conceived of. The wall was not only positively enormous, but it was made entirely of ice.
“I know this place.” Arya said.
They had walked ahead for awhile, debating what it was they were facing. Katniss, Binny, Hermione, and Michel all offering theories. Arya had been silent, until now.
“You do?” They all turned to her.
“I’ve never been here, but I know of it. It’s the wall. I grew up near here.”
“Of course. It’s from your book.” Katniss said. And then after she seemed to process the implications, “Oh no. This is that wall.”
“How much of this was covered in the first book? That’s as far as I got.” Binny sounded impatient.
“It’s 300 miles long and 700 feet high. It’s designed to keep out the Others, and whatever else is in the wild lands.” Arya answered in a low voice.
“I have only one question.” Binny said. “If these ‘Others’ are on one side of the wall, and it’s designed to protect from them, which side are we on?”
Arya said, “I’m pretty sure the wrong one. Let’s hurry.”
They trudged on as they debated what to do. At first they had worried the Wall was impassible, but Arya explained that there were tunnels. But getting through them was not going to happen unless the Night’s Watch let them through. They were blocked by massive iron bars. Arya wasn’t entirely sure where in her books they were at this very moment, so she couldn’t be certain what was going to happen.
The closer they got however, the more visible one of the tunnels she described became. Just as Arya had promised, the tunnel was at the base of the cliff. But upon further inspection, there was a lone figure standing there. From a distance it was hard to see what it as doing. At times they wondered if it was even alive as it made no movements.
Arya listed all the creatures it might be. Most of them sounded horrifying and scary to Binny. She kept reminding herself that dying in the Stacks didn’t mean much, thought it was small consolation given that it would set back their quest quite a bit.
“I still don’t even understand what we’re doing out here.” Hermione complained as they walked.
“You’re not even the tiniest bit curious about this place?” Binny asked.
“Not in the least.”
“So, there’s some far off Rare Books Room, with mashed together books, that you can enter differently than every other book in the library, and the first two things we encounter are obstacles that seem endless. And you don’t think there’s anything interesting beyond them?” Binny’s tone was cutting.
Hermione fumed but didn’t respond.
“I want to see what’s beyond the wall.” Katniss said.
Hermione glared at Katniss.
“Maybe we’ll get to visit Winterfell. It’s where I grew up.” Arya said, letting her voice sound a touch hopeful.
The closer they got to the tunnel, the more the figure guarding it came into focus. When they were no more than fifty yards away, it became clear, the single guard, the one person standing waiting for them, was someone they all knew. It was someone they had all met. If they weren’t supposed to be here, this was the moment when their adventure would end. The figure waiting for them, all clad in gray, was Three. And he didn’t look happy.
“You all have had quite an adventure.” Three said when they finally arrived.
Binny had debated running in a different direction but there didn’t seem to be a point. There was only one way through the wall, and Three had seen them already anyway. Marching forward and dealing with Three seemed like the only possibility.
Hermione’s mood changed decidedly. Binny wasn’t sure whether Hermione was more nervous at the prospect of getting in trouble or excited at seeing Binny get in trouble? At least Hermione didn’t run to Three claiming that they’d kidnapped her. Binny smiled to herself, steeling herself for Three’s disapproval – again.
“I wanted to explore, and everyone was kind enough to go with me since I’m new here.” Binny offered.
“Ah, another learning experience for our new resident?” Three said.
“Something like that.” Binny smiled as best she could.
“Well, I understand, I was once new here too.”
“Yes. I’ve been meaning to ask you about that actually.” Binny said. “It’s obvious how we all go there, but I’d love to know more about you. I think you’re very interesting.” Binny smiled at him.
Suddenly Three looked like he’d said too much. Binny noticed that while his features were also a touch hard to make out as he had shared a general lack of contrast like One and Two, but he still looked younger than them to her.
“Interesting.” Three uttered. “You are inquisitive. Why don’t we talk about it on the way back?” Three said. He looked almost embarrassed and maybe even touched.
“The way back?”
“Yes. I thought we might walk back together.”
Everyone looked at Binny, wondering what she would say next. Even Hermione remained silent, curious to see where this would lead.
“No thanks.” Binny said as if Three had just offered her a drink and she wasn’t thirsty.
The corners of Katniss’ mouth went up in the slightest of smiles. She leaned forward a touch, eager not to miss a moment.
“No thanks?” Three said. The way he asked made it sound like he was having a hard time understanding how those words connected with his previous statement.
Binny remained silent, a placid look on her face.
“You’d rather walk back without me?” Three said.
“What then?” Binny heard a hint of frustration in Three’s voice.
“I’m not going back. I want to see what’s beyond the wall.”
Three laughed. “That’s very funny Binny Jordan. Very funny indeed. But it’s time to go home now. The Secret Garden awaits.”
“I don’t’ think so.”
“Look, Binny, I didn’t want to have to say this, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to go there.” Three tried to keep his voice light, but there was a nervous note as well. He sounded like he hadn’t considered this possibility.
“I think I’m gonna do it anyway. It’s my day off and this place feels different.”
“Binny, there are consequences for the choices we make.” Three said. All lightness now completely gone from his voice.
“Like what? As far as I can tell, nothing is as bad as not having any readers. Beyond that, there don’t really appear to be consequences for anything here.”
Three thought for a moment, and tried a different tack. “If I may ask, why are you here? What are you looking for?”
Binny sensed potential victory in Three’s tactical shift. “It’s my first day off, and I just wanted to explore. I spend every other day working all day, why can’t I choose how I spend today?”
Katniss sensed the tide shifting and smiled a little more as well.
Hermione was looking increasingly uncomfortable.
Michel and Arya just looked at Binny in awe at her confidence.
“Are you looking for something in particular? Perhaps I could help you find it. I know the Stacks quite well you know.” Three tried to smile.
“That’s very kind of you, but I prefer to just see where the path leads me.” And with that, Binny started walking towards the tunnel. The iron gates had been raised and Binny walked through them without looking back.
For a moment, it wasn’t clear what the others would do, but after a second their hesitation dissipated and Katniss, Arya, and Michel followed Binny through.
Hermione was the last to follow. She paused at the entrance and turned back to Three who’s expression was indecipherable.
Hermione shrugged her shoulders, looking for guidance.
Three gave her an almost imperceptible nod.
Hermione turned on her heel and followed the others into the tunnel, and through the massive wall of ice.