Despite his strength waning, Barnaby kept going. He wandered further into Boogeyland than he ever did before, through more yawning caves, past towering stalagmites and withering cyprus trees. The only noises came from his own footsteps and the occasional drip of water from the high ceiling.
His mind was fixated on one thing – find a tunnel that led up and out instead of further and down. There had to be at least one that the Boogeymen didn’t know about or use to leave the cursed grotto they called their home.
His bag of gold was starting to weigh him down. He sat on a rock to catch his breath. Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, he mopped his brow and cleaned the dust off his spectacles. This journey was taking longer than he had anticipated. Oh, how he wished he had his walking stick with him! He was so caught up in his own self-pitying that he failed to notice something creeping up behind him.
Barnaby turned around as he felt a hot, heavy breath on the back of his neck. With a scream he fell off the rock as one of the Boogeymen loomed over him, its fangs jutting out over its upper lip, which was curled in something like a sneer. Its tiny black eyes were focused right on Barnaby. It gave a snort from its pig-like snout followed by a guttural roar.
Almost instantly, several more Boogeymen appeared, jumping out from behind rocks or down from the ceiling. What started as five turned into twenty, then thirty, then nearly fifty, all within a matter of seconds. Barnaby found himself surrounded by the beasts, each one glaring at him with animalistic, malicious intent.
No two Boogeymen looked the same. Though each one was covered with coarse brown fur, had long sharp claws and wore a grass loincloth, one had huge pointed ears like a bat, while another had the grin of a shark, and another had slit nostrils like a snake. Half-man and half-animal, they stood on two legs but bore the most monstrous of features.
Barnaby was too terrified to move. He could only shake and stammer. “N-now listen here, all of you. I-I was only j-just coming down to apologize for how things went sour up in Toyland.” The Boogeymen snarled in response; even with their limited intellect, they could see right through his lies.
Barnaby eyed his pouch full of treasure. He hated to part with it but if it meant his survival, well, he had done worse things before. He held it up to them. “Here…is a little compensation on my part. Take it! It’s yours!” He shook the bag with a conniving smile. At this the Boogeymen roared and pounced upon him.
Barnaby lost his grip on the pouch and it fell just out of his reach. He tried to grab it through the mounds of shaggy fur and writhing limbs. Several times a claw or set of fangs would come too close for comfort yet by some miracle would just miss its mark.
As Barnaby tried to clamber out of the rabble, something always dragged him back in. Despite this, he kept reaching for his satchel, first with one hand, then a few fingers, then…there! With one finger he dragged it to back him, then gathered it up with his free hand. With his prize out of harm’s way, Barnaby managed to crawl through the pile of monsters - who by this time had turned their hostility towards each other - grabbed his old black hat which had fallen during the scuffle, and backtracked down the nearest tunnel.
Barnaby fled through the endless rocky abyss with the bag of gold scooped up in his arms like a baby. By this point he had fully lost his sense of direction - he had no idea where he was going and where he had came from.
A distant roar followed by several more like it meant that the Boogeymen had discovered their prey had given them the slip. Eventually, they would find him and leave nothing but a pile chewed-up bones when they were done. Still, Barnaby kept on going. His instinct for survival was pushing him to his limits, but giving up was never an option for the Crooked Man. It was only when he dared to stop and look back at how far he had gone that his instincts rewarded him.
He didn’t know how he had missed it before, but behind him, just on his right, was another tunnel hewed into the cave wall. What separated this from the others, however, were the rubies and emeralds embedded around it, glinting in what little light there was in the cave.
Barnaby went up to it and caressed one of the gems with his long, bony fingers. “Beautiful,” he thought. Before his greed could fully seize him, he decided to investigate further.
In the tunnel, there were more red and green jewels sticking out of the walls. Some even littered the ground like ordinary stones. They became larger the further he went, and it wasn’t long before he could feel the floor beneath him beginning to slant upward.
Barnaby knew, at last, that he had found what he had been looking for. Now confident, he pounced upon the jewels, gathering as many as he could in fistfuls before adding them to his bag of treasure. Unfortunately for him, his luck started to run out. He may have escaped the Boogeymen largely unscathed, but his pouch wasn’t as lucky.
As Barnaby poured the jewels in, they, and whatever else remained inside, fell right back out at his feet. He looked inside it and his face fell – there was a long gash near the bottom that was, at the moment, big enough to fit both his hands through.
He turned around and saw a trail of all his gold and silver leading back through and out of the tunnel of jewels. It was at this point that he also heard the snarling and shambling of the monsters he was trying to escape growing louder and louder. He had led them directly to him. With a cry, Barnaby threw down the torn pouch, stuffed whatever gems he could into his coat pockets, and ran like the dickens.
The tunnel slanted further upwards and soon became very steep. A mix of both jewels and rough stones made the path more rocky. No longer able to run without stumbling, Barnaby found himself having to climb up on all fours. He kept his focus straight ahead, praying that he would soon reach the exit as the sounds of the Boogeymen drifted to his ears. Foolishly he dared to look back – they were very nearly upon him, climbing up and over one another to catch their quarry.
Barnaby was so afraid that he didn’t look where he was going and nearly ran face-first into a boulder large enough to obscure what lay ahead of him. Desperately, he clambered over it. He could feel it coming loose beneath him as he did, but it did not give way. As he reached solid ground, he could see a faint light before him – he was nearly there!
Triumphant, he turned to face his attackers. With a cocky sneer he shouted down at them, “So, you think you can attack your lord and master Silas Barnaby and not expect any consequences? I promised you land! I promised you a feast! And when you failed you turn on me? Well –“ He began to kick at the loose boulder before him, sending a few pebbles and small rubies tumbling on to the Boogeymen’s shaggy heads. “This! Will teach you! To trifle! With! The true! Master! Of Toyland!”
With one final push, the boulder rolled forward, and Barnaby watched in amazement as it plowed through the terrified Boogeymen – not because of what was happening, but because the boulder was, in fact, a giant emerald, its beauty partially hidden by the earth before it was sent on a collision course with an army of monsters.
The Boogeymen who weren’t in the immediate path of the emerald or had fallen behind ran for their lives out of the tunnel, leaving the rest to face the giant stone head-on. Their frightened shrieks bounced off the walls along with the cacophonous rumblings of the tumbling emerald. When it reached the mouth of the tunnel, it collided with an almighty crash and stuck there.
Barnaby stood over the wreckage, winded by his exertion, but feeling relieved. Whatever Boogeymen had remained in the tunnel with him were dead, and the others were far too afraid to come back and try to take him again. With a smug smile of satisfaction, he turned around and started to head back up the path towards the light.
He stuck his hands in his pockets and let his fingers sift through the jewels he had collected. That’s when he felt something in his left pocket that didn’t feel like a gemstone. It was round, cold, and hard, like a coin. Anticipating a piece of gold he had somehow overlooked, Barnaby whipped it out of his pocket to inspect it. What he found, however, wasn’t gold or silver. It wasn’t even a half-crown or a shilling.
It was a sixpence. A tarnished, rough, slightly dented, crooked sixpence. It lay on Barnaby’s flat palm while he stared down at it.
At first he was overwhelmed with disappointment. He was ready to throw away the rusty old coin and continue on his journey when his greed made him reconsider. Money was money, after all, and every coin, no matter how small, had its worth.
But just as he was about to pocket it, something else, a tiny voice in the back of his mind, made him look at the crooked sixpence a little longer. The coin was old to be sure, yet Barnaby had the strangest feeling that he knew the old sixpence, like it was an old friend, a part of him long forgotten.
That voice called out to him again, urging him to keep looking, to think deeper and harder ...
His current situation came back to him before he could delve further, however. He shoved the coin back into his pocket with a grumble. What was he thinking, acting like a single coin was so important when he was already carrying emeralds and rubies the size of his fists.
Barnaby trudged up the path toward the light. The cave became brighter but not to a dazzling degree, even with the jewels sparkling on the walls. When he finally emerged, the first thing he saw was the sky. It was the faint blue-purple glow of twilight, with grey and lavender clouds like claw marks gliding past. Barnaby looked around and found himself in a desolate forest.
The twisted trees were almost bare. Brown leaves carpeted the ground. The wind made eerie noises as it blew past him. Barnaby pulled his coat a little closer to him as he walked through the woods. There was nobody in sight, but he had the oddest feeling that he wasn't alone here.
Looking up he saw some unfamiliar grey birds on a branch staring back down at him with glowing red eyes. One flew away with a loud screech. Not for the first time this day, Barnaby found himself second-guessing his plan. He ran his fingers through his jewel-laden pockets for comfort.
He tread carefully through the woods until he reached a beaten dirt path. At a fork in the road stood a crudely painted wooden sign proclaiming he was in “The Haunted Forest” with one mile left until he reached “The Witch’s Castle” (“I’d turn back if I were you!”).
“A witch? Here?” Barnaby thought. He looked around again apprehensively, as if a cackling old crone would pounce upon him at any moment. Instantly he made up his mind to be anywhere BUT here right now. If witches prowled this strange land, he’d be better off as far away from it as possible.
That’s when he heard the distant flapping of wings, like a flock of birds in flight, accompanied by another sound like the call of the Boogeymen, but high-pitched, shorter, and multiplied by a hundred. A gust of wind nearly blew his hat off his head. Barnaby turned around to find whatever was making those noises was heading right for him.
Barnaby was not far off in imagining a flock when he heard his pursuers. These creatures were carried through the air on feathered wings, but they were birds just as much as he was. Their faces were blue and their bodies were covered in blue and grey fur. Some of them wore little vests and hats that matched their skin.
Barnaby couldn’t count how many there were coming at him, but he knew that they couldn’t have anything good store for him. Still holding on to his hat for dear life, he fled as quick as he could. The creatures landed all around him, cutting off his path. They shrieked and grinned at him through wide red lips, and Barnaby couldn’t hold back a shiver of terror at the sight.
All of a sudden, he was pulled off his feet high into the air. The forest seemed to shrink beneath him. Looking up, he saw two monstrosities holding him up as they flew to the west. Barnaby saw the signpost below and felt his stomach drop. They were flying towards the direction of the witch's castle.