“Welcome to the arboretum,” the tour guide said to Mrs. Hanson’s fourth grade class. “Stay with the group. Getting lost could be dangerous.”
Clark rolled his eyes. What could be dangerous about a bunch of trees and plants?
When the group started forward, Clark took a side path to explore on his own. He found himself in the great conifer forest.
“These would sure be hard to decorate at Christmas,” Clark thought.
Suddenly, a troll popped its head around a pine tree and grabbed at him. Clark zigged and zagged through the forest. The troll kept pace.
Clark slipped behind a fat spruce and picked up a pinecone. He tossed it deeper into the forest and the troll went to investigate.
Clark fled the forest and found himself in the bog. His sneakers squished and squelched in the mucky ground.
Before he knew it, he was up to his knees in mud. The carnivorous pitcher plants bobbed and nodded in the breeze. He had a feeling they were hungry for something meatier than flies and mosquitoes.
He couldn’t go back the way he came, the mud held him like glue. He grabbed a log and hauled himself out on the far side, panting.
Clark backed into a wall of bamboo, slipped and fell through. Something slithered across his foot. The bamboo prison was crawling with snakes.
He shimmied up a bamboo shoot as snakes boiled around its base. Near the top, his weight bent the stalk and it dropped him gracefully in the tropical jungle.
Giant palms surrounded him. Monkeys in the trees hurled coconuts and screeched at the intruder. Clark pulled the banana from his backpack. The monkeys started down. Clark dropped the banana. He took off as the simians squabbled over the fruit.
He escaped into the shadows of the giant redwood glen. The huge trees scratched the sky. A buzzing sound approached. Clark turned and ducked as a monster dragonfly swooped in.
The blue green giant dive-bombed him, banked left, and approached again. Clark darted over to a redwood and stood still. The dragonfly zeroed in and Clark dropped. The dragonfly crashed into the tree and fell to the ground, stunned.
Clark raced into the orchard. Red, green and yellow apples dripped from the trees like jewels. Clark picked one. He bit into it, gagged and spat it out
A worm wriggled out of a hole in the bite mark. Worms burrowed out of every apple in sight and dropped to the ground. The worm army inched forward and surrounded him. He grabbed a low branch and swung from tree to tree. When he reached the edge of the orchard, he swung hard.
He landed in the vegetable patch. Nothing threatening there. Just some tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and beets. A scarecrow wearing an old pair of overalls and a straw hat stood watch over the patch.
Clark stepped closed and the scarecrow wrapped its arms around him in a bear hug. Straw poked through his t-shirt and scratched his back. He dug his sneakers into the ground and pushed forward.
The pole the scarecrow was hanging on snapped and they fell. The scarecrow burst open, spilling straw from its sleeves, belly and head. It relaxed its grip and Clark got to his feet, wiping a smooshed tomato from his face.
He darted into the heirloom rose garden. Buds of every hue danced in the breeze. Clark bent to smell one of the flowers and a shadow fell over him. A swarm of bees blocked out the sun.
Clark bolted, slipped through the gate of the children’s garden and dove into the lily pond. He treaded water, ready to duck under if the bees got too close.
The stone alligator jerked. It turned and came after the boy, mouth open, teeth flashing in the sun. Clark scrambled onto the bridge, grabbed a rake and stuck it in the reptile’s mouth.
The alligator thrashed. Its huge tail came down on one of the bridge planks. It flipped the boy over the fence.
Clark landed in the desert display, surrounded by prickly pear cacti and Spanish dagger plants. Something growled. Looking up,Clark stared into the face of a mangy coyote.
He pulled a bologna sandwich out of his backpack. The coyote closed in. Clark wound up and pitched the sandwich. The coyote dashed after it.
Clark got to his feet. He raced out of the desert and nearly bumped into the tour guide.
“I hope you enjoyed your tour of the Arboretum,” the guide was telling the group.
Everyone said they did. Clark had a feeling he enjoyed it most of all.