“Ready yourselves for your hunt. Today we will feast on your kills in Goblinland,” a voice announces.
“I think now is the time to play hooky,” whispers DaveyBoy, the kid who never misses a day of school.
But we’re flying through the air back to our hut and we land on our witchy rides before I get a chance to say that I doubt they’ll let us off the hook.
On all sides of me, witches of all shapes and sizes fly on their mounts, leaning forward with an excited urgency. I think the trainees are starved before the missions exactly for this reason—everyone must be much more eager to hunt when their stomachs are growling.
There’s no driver behind me today. The wind slashes through my wig, blowing hair in all directions, yet my clips hold fast, and it stays glued to my head. My mount picks up speed and ascends higher in the air. I feel like I’m riding a shooting star. I hold on with only one hand and shout out, “Whoopeee!”
The ride ends all too soon for me. We start descending on a gray colorless land resembling the terrain on the moon.
As soon as we dismount onto a cement covered ground that looks a bit like a parking lot, our mounts vanish into thin air.
“Where did they go?” DaveyBoy cries out, his head spinning from side to side.
“Oh, they’re here, hovering above our heads,” a witch with braces and red lipstick informs him. “They went invisible now so when we scatter, the goblins won’t have a clue we’re here and come hunting us down.”
There’s a protruding ball in DaveyBoy’s throat. “Do you mean the goblins will eat us if we get caught?”
“Oh, they’re not like us who enjoy luscious dishes made from different species of creatures. This group in particular is vegetarian.”
“Phew! I was really scared there for a minute.”
“You can’t let down your guard, though. They may not be interested in eating you, but you can be sure they’ll kill you if you get caught.”
DaveyBoy stumbles and I get a grip on him to steady him before he hits the gray cement floor.
“Have your spoons at the ready, and you’ll be fine.” She pats his shoulder with spoons she’s pulled out of her tall black boots.
DaveyBoy looks at me with a desperate question mark in his pitiful gaze.
It’s obvious what he’s asking, and the answer is no, I didn’t bring along my spoons. How was a recruit supposed to know that? No one told us anything. Gosh, this camp stinks in the training department. “Did any of the counselors bring along spares?” I ask the girl.
“No such thing, only the spoons assigned to you at your first feast will work for you.”
“I think this is when we exit the mission,” DaveyBoy announces.
“There’s no going back. Your rides will only return you to camp when you’ve captured at least one goblin—but all you need is one goblin for the two of you if you’re a pair, so you should be okay.”
A whisper, carried by the wind, swirls through us. “All witches have arrived. Hunt begins in three minutes. Ready yourselves.” Coils of rope and an egg-shaped plastic container dances before each of us. We stick out our hands and grab on to them. I unscrew the container. Maybe there are some magical remote controlled bullets in here or something. The lid pops off, and I stare inside…
Bubblegum. Loads of it.
“A snack? Now?” DaveyBoy asks.
The girl shakes her head. “No, silly, the rope and gum are your ammunition, especially helpful for those who forgot to bring their spoons. See what you’ve got to do.” The girl pops piece after piece of gum into her mouth and chews vigorously, saliva dripping down her chin. She blows a huge bubble, pops it, and takes the sticky wad out of her mouth and places it back in the container. “Get it?”
“Not exactly,” I say. “What happens, when you pop the bubble, the goblin pops?”
“You’re both kinda weird. No, the rope and gum are your trapping materials. When the goblin gets stuck on the sticky wad, you tie him up with your rope and drag him back here. Then you’ll be whisked back to camp with him, and the butchering and cooking spells will take care of the rest. It’s really quite simple. See?”
What I see is that we’re in for something that will either be the death of us, or it will turn out to be another summer adventure worth writing home about.
The three minutes are up, and the witches spread out from the circle and disperse. I motion to DaveyBoy to proceed along with me.
“I’m sweating from fear. What’s the plan, J.J.?”
“I’m thinking. Okay, the fact is we’re at a serious disadvantage, having no magic spoons.”
He stops in his tracks and takes short deep breaths. I’m too busy churning the gears in my brain to calm him down. He must have taken sixty-six breaths when I figure it out.
“Surprise! Our only chance at capturing a goblin is if we use strategy, and our best shot is to try and catch one unawares. The witches with spoons can afford to engage in out and out warfare, but we’ve got to play this game unfairly.”
“You can’t be serious. You know I never cheat.”
Oh boy, do I know. How many times have I tried to encourage him to copy homework from the Internet after the bullies stole his own work, and he stubbornly refused to “have a hand in cheating” as he calls it.
“If the goblins here are anything at all like they are in the fairytales, then I wouldn’t at all put it past them to use some crafty tricks too. So unless you want to be fuel to feed a goblin bonfire, cheating it is.”