Shayna Gladstone - Insearch of the Scientist
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Chapter One

The Prophecy

Shayna Gladstone was so short that everyone in her class at Sir Gawain Elementary School stood at least four inches taller. This is without even mentioning Trudy Moorphy who towered seven inches over Shayna.

Even Shayna’s gym teacher, Mrs. Gangle, teased her. At the end of gym class Mrs. Gangle, with a wart drooping below her right eye, reminded the class, “Tomorrow after school we will be holding the tryouts for the girls’ basketball team. Sorry Shayna. You can’t try out. We don’t have a midget team.”

The class erupted with laughter and Shayna stormed out of the gym.

“Get back here this instant, young lady. I’m warning you!” hollered the warty Mrs. Gangle.

“Sorry, I can’t hear you because I’m too short!” She bolted out the doors of the school and scrambled onto her bicycle. She didn’t know where she was going, but she was definitely leaving. She pedaled so hard that her legs seemed a blur.

Shayna wasn’t yet across the soccer field before she started to smell bubble gum. The wind picked up and a shadow swept over her. She looked up to see a hot-air balloon falling from the sky.

“What in the world?”

Shayna slid off her bicycle just as the massive hot-air balloon touched down pinning the wheels of her bike under its basket. This was definitely the largest hot-air balloon imaginable, easily the size of a schoolhouse. The pastel candy floss colors of the balloon looked delicious.

A winged man, no larger than a groundhog, flew out of the bottom of the balloon and dropped a ladder made of red licorice ropes into the balloon basket. He fiddled at a control panel as he whistled and fluttered his iridescent wings.

A bizarre lady made her way down the licorice ladder. Her green boots with pink light-up laces clashed with her purple and red polka-dotted stockings. The orange bloomers, held up by sequined turquoise suspenders, were an even bigger fashion disaster. The lady’s blue blouse would have screamed style if it was the 1980’s. Auburn hair poured out of the top of her saucy green and white striped fez, which was adorned with a brilliant cardinal feather.

“Greetings. I am the Balloon Lady,” said the woman flinging a yellow feather boa around her neck. “I hail from Terramanna the land of fun, frivolity, and merriment. I am pleased to introduce to you our ace scrumption pilot, Atlas of the Skytrak clan.” With her index finger she summoned Atlas, the groundhog-sized man.

Atlas fluttered to the floor of the basket and instantly grew to the size of a young boy...a boy with wings mind you.

Shayna had never seen a scrumption before, let alone one that could fly. “Are you aliens?”

The Balloon Lady burst into laughter. “How fantastic! What a stupendous inquiry.”

“Pleased to meet you, kiddo,” Atlas said with a lisp. He bowed and then sneezed in Shayna’s face. It seemed that he considered sneezing in one’s face a term of endearment.

“Likewise,” said Shayna wiping her forehead with her sleeve.

“I’m plum thrilled to attend before you,” said the Balloon Lady. “I have heard so much about you over the years from our cherished Minnie Maudde.” Shayna blinked her eyes a few times. The name did sound familiar. Then a light bulb went off in her head. “Minnie Maudde, the inventor! You mean my grandfather’s cousin, once removed I think.”

“Precisely. Not your own cousin. I would never have implied that,” said the Balloon Lady. “Frankly, I never intended to come here but after bobbing yon and hither on an exhaustive search for a heroic Shayna I decided, as a last resort, that I must come to assess your quality of spirit. The Queens’ Council dismissed my idea. Afterall, you are merely a child and, as we all know, children can’t be involved in anything serious.”

“Pardon me?” said Shayna.

“Precisely,” said the Balloon Lady. “In accordance with the constitution of Terramanna, children must have fun, fun, fun. Therefore, you see, matters of importance must be attended to by adults.”

“That’s absurd,” said Shayna.

“Now tell me, my friend, what heroic deeds have you achieved in the name of fun?” The Balloon Lady pulled an oversized note pad and floppy pencil out of a miniature pocket at the side of her bloomers. She licked the nib of the pencil and smiled at Shayna in anticipation of making note of an outstanding answer. However, when Shayna didn’t answer the pencil became so limp that it folded over on itself.

“I’m a last resort, am I?” Shayna mumbled. “Merely a child? I am eleven years old.” With those words, Shayna tried to pull her bicycle out from under the balloon basket. The banana seat popped off in her hands and she rolled backwards landing square on the seat.

“Marvelous! That was a spectacular stunt. How positively perfectly fun! You are a veritable rib-tickler.” The Balloon Lady clapped her hands while jumping up and down. “Yes, I believe you satisfy subsections one through four of The Prophesy.”

“Prophesy?” asked Shayna.

“One...Your name is Shayna. Two...you are fun.” The Balloon Lady ticked off points in the air with her droopy pencil as she spoke. “Three...you adore candy, gum, treats and the like. Mind you, who doesn’t? And number four...you are destined to save Terramanna.”

“What would I know about saving Terramanna?” said Shayna. “I couldn’t be the Shayna you’re looking for. I know nothing about this prophesy and I’ve never heard of Terramanna before. And fun? Do you mean like a clown?”

“You only need come with us to Terramanna, Kiddo,” said Atlas. He whistled his esses like a toothy beaver, if one could only imagine a beaver speaking. “You are Terramanna’s hope for continued fun, frivolity, and merriment.”

A brilliant question dawned on Shayna. “If I come to Terramanna will I get to meet Minnie Maudde?”

“Precisely,” said the Balloon Lady balancing her rear-end on the ledge of the balloon basket. She nibbled on the licorice rope. “Yet I confess, my friend, scheduling a meeting with Minnie Maudde may be a challenge. Nonetheless, in Terramanna opportunities abound for fun, fun, fun.”

“What do you mean meeting Minnie Maudde may be a challenge?” asked Shayna.

“My friend, it’s the fun that’s important. Fun, fun, fun,” sang the Balloon Lady. “Well, I’m certainly satisfied you are the subject of The Prophesy and that’s good enough for me. Now, let’s skedaddle to the land of fun, frivolity, and merriment.”

The Balloon Lady hopped off the ledge onto the basket floor and offered Shayna a piece of licorice rope.

Shayna flung the licorice around her neck and frayed its ends like a scarf as she stared, deep in thought, at the Balloon Lady. “I’d like to meet Minnie Maudde. Meeting her is going to be the fun part. Why can’t I see her?”

“I’m afraid she’s indisposed. Kindly, come into the basket before the balloon departs,” said the Balloon Lady.

“Indisposed? What do you mean?”

“She’s, well...she’s unavailable.” The Balloon Lady shuffled her feet and cleared her throat twice.

“Unavailable?” asked Shayna.

“You can’t meet with Minnie Maudde because, you see...oh, goodness Shayna, I can’t very well simply tell you she’s been kidnapped.” The Balloon Lady clasped her hand over her mouth. “Oh, pickled peach fuzz. I didn’t mean to tell you.”

“Kidnapped! That’s horrible,” said Shayna. “I can’t go to Terramanna. It’s dangerous.”

“My friend, we urge you to reconsider,” said the Balloon Lady. “The ancient prophesy of the Terraman Oracle states that a heroic person by the name of Shayna will restore fun, frivolity, and merriment to Terramanna in the Age of Gloom. The Queens’ Council assures us that the Age of Gloom is imminent. I beg you to help Terramanna defeat unimaginable forthcoming gloom.”

“Just because my name is Shayna doesn’t mean I can do anything about gloom. I’m terribly sorry.”

The cuckoo clock watch on Atlas’ wrist cuckooed six times. The balloon started creaking and shaking.

“Automatic lift-off engaged,” said Atlas.

“Shayna Gladstone!” shouted Mrs. Gangle, marching across the field, pumping her fist in the air. “Little Shayna Gladstone, you get back in the school this minute.”

“Hide me!” Shayna jumped into the basket and ducked behind the Balloon Lady. “Please, hide me from my teacher. She always teases me because I’m short. I hate her!”

The balloon made a loud noise like air escaping, and a strong wind whipped up around it. The balloon lifted off the ground, leaving Mrs. Gangle in its wake.

“You get down here this minute, you lady. I’m warning you!”

The balloon rose higher and higher. Shayna peered over the rim of the basket and watched Mrs. Gangle become smaller and smaller until she looked no bigger than a measly ant. The balloon broke through the downy clouds and, at last, Mrs. Gangle faded out of sight.

When Shayna could see nothing but clouds below her, a huge know twisted inside her stomach. “Oh, no! What have I gotten myself into?”