The roof had started rumbling,windows were banging, leaves were rattling and a screeching voice of wry necked flute could be heard. It was 3 am. All the things were falling on the ground. At first, Naina thought it was again one of her stupid Dreams where she wakes up with a startle to something or the other and then escapes from an imaginary dreadful experience where one wrong step could lead to her death. When her younger brother, Karthik wakes her up. To her surprise she sees that it was not one of her dreams but a reality & all things had crashed down.
There was a storm.
"Now what?" Asked Karthik.
"I don't know."
Just then they saw out of the window that instead of the pine & birch trees that grew in abundance a few feet away there was a railway platform and there was a railway track laid on that steep hill. Also, there was snowfall then in the month of May! A chill ran across their spine.
They smelt fear but out of eager curiosity they went out of the house, in their pajamas and only with a torch. They did not even wear proper shoes. They had worn their home slippers.
No sooner had they shut the door behind them than a train,with snow gliders that could sweep away the snow, came gushing in towards the platform. They wanted to see the train and went running.
As soon as they reached the platform the train had also came to a halt. They saw a pale faced, scary and dark textured man who was probably a ticket collector. He asked the kids whether they wanted to get into the train as the ride for kids less than twelve years got it for free. Out of curiosity young Luthra's said yes and then they had to take it till the last destination which was still a mystery for them.
Inside many same aged children were sitting with their tickets, though none had known where they were heading to.... The most strange part was that all, including Naina and Karthik, on seeing only had silently wished to aboard the train but on seeing that weird man had cursed it, then too they had climbed up the train as if they were hypnotized on seeing the golden ticket.
There was only one seat left, inverted in front of a girl, Sharleen, who was busy with her books and had not even noticed the cousins sit against her. Behind a boy, Aakash, was constantly greeting the pair in different languages, French, Dutch, Spanish, Latin, Hindi, English and many others but they understood only English.
The train went with high velocity such that they could not clearly see the view but could only make out most of it.
Once they went over some huge water body they thought. Then they experienced sudden jerks and turns like the one's felt on a rollercoaster. Hardly had the train slowed when the bells started ringing and cold air blew off the only burning lamp.
They were ordered to get down and walk straight ahead. With the dim moonlight they could see their surroundings having heaps of bones and skeleton. Terrified almost everyone closed their eyes. Suddenly, the ground slid across their feet and they fell down, growing a bump on their heads.
From their eyes as small as a pearl they saw all the toys and cartoons of the mythical land in real life. But, Sharleen was the first to observe that even they had turned into Lego man. She said that in one of her encyclopedia of facts, there was a mention about some crazy man who had turned some underground place into a wicked toy place and who was captivating children by that to become toys.
"What is the easy way out of this?" Asked Naira. "Dunno." "Hey, there is one man advancing from north, and he is absolutely normal only he looks strange." But, as soon as they turned to face him, he transformed to a 'Walking Tree'.
"Kids! Don't get afraid from me. I'm here to help you. I know you have questions about this place and me but my time is limited. So, without any cross-questioning please listen."
(Umm..I guess it was also a talking tree.)
"I too was captured by the Riddleman. He will not come in front of you unless you become a headache for him. Keep in mind not to take any gift, he gives gifts to all those who enter here, but it contains something scary. Anyways, all things come, go & breathe here in his control only. Be sure that you have time to get out of here only till the coming Christmas. He will also not talk to you in a conversation, he will give some out of the box riddle and laugh his heart out. In that time use your brain....."
Before he could complete his warnings he was blown out in tiny pieces just as mystically as he came. It was already 23rd December. They only had a couple of days to help themselves.
"Be the headache.....be the headache." Was chorused. Even the ones who never used their brains were trying to use it though it only disturbed others.
"Gotchas", said Karthik with a mischievous grin. "OK."
They thought something that no adult can think of. There was a gift shop nearby. They walked into it and immediately scattered themselves. "No luck here." "Not here." "Ouch!!" It was Aakash. He had just fallen into a gift box. Others went running towards him. They were clinging onto the rod and we're going to get down when their plan worked out unknowingly. The Riddleman had come. "Hahhaha, wanted to cheat me,huh? Don't forget I will never come in your trap." "OK, don't tell him but why not tell us?" The children had started the gifting machine on which he was standing. He dare not step down from there as the gap had increased to ten feet, enough to fracture him. And if he did not cooperated with the kids, the consequences were either to get trapped inside his own magical gifts with no exit or to be dead.
Getting angry, he spilled out the riddle,
"I get filled with water,
Though I'm not a bottle.
It's in me you would
Just pop in a beautiful flower."
Using his magic at the right time he saved himself and ran away, warning the kids.
It took lot of time for them to solve it. Eventually Sharleen gave the answer 'vase', but they had no clue of what to do next. They decided to harass the Riddleman again. They made lots of noises. Broke glass door of shops. Seeing the ruined condition of his world, he certainly got angry. And any man in a high rage and ego bursts out some or other useful stuff to their foes which eventually lead to their devastation.
He was not extraordinary. The children succeeded once more and manages to hear his voice as a forecast from the sky accompanied by lightning and thunder.
"It's a holiday season once again. Set your sights and Christmas lights. Crazy games, foods and gifts. DJ music and loads of fun and frolic. Please join us as we celebrate the season."
"Ah. That was easy, it is a Christmas Party",said Jane.
"Then solve this,
'The fruit grows on the leaves.
The leaves grow on the fruit.'
"Think and think and think but keep in mind that you have only one hour left. Yes, only an hour and there is a party in the city circle. Exactly at midnight you will be transferred into some non living thing that will be fascinating to the new comers. Since you were already late, you are half transformed into Lego man. Only you can help and save everyone here. Before midnight enter the code to open door to our world or else you will be trapped here till infinity unless someone else comes and saves." It was the same mysterious man who came,spoke and went invisible.
"Now we have got answers to two out of three riddles --- 'Christmas Party' and 'vase'. I propose that we first reach the city circle and find the place where code to unlock the door is." Said Naina. "I agree, and we should be careful for the Riddleman's workers or else their whip will turn us frozen." Before Karthik could complete Sharleen started," Here I got a letter from the Riddleman's messenger saying that we have to reach the city circle and start cleaning before the party starts. That's good while cleaning in different places we will be able to search for the code and the door. So, let's head for the city circle."
Saying so, they headed towards the city circle. On reaching they saw that the city circle was divided into three parts. And each part had four concentric circles. In the middle of the innermost circle was a huge vase, shaped like a carrier baggage. Out of which sprouted out the gifts from the gift shop.
"Hey, that is a vase and here is the Christmas party. Now I understand the relation between the two. I suppose that near the vase will we get the clue to get out." Aakash was the first to speak. "Why not all of us start start cleaning from there then we can get the clue faster." Opinionated Naina. "NO. We have only half an hour left for the party and five hours for midnight. We cannot take any chance. Maybe the clue is far from the vase or it is kept there deliberately to mislead us. In the midst of the party it will be difficult for us to search far away. I will take the eastern part, Aakash you take the western part. Northern part will be yours Naina and Karthik yours will be the southern part. All the best everyone. If anyone gets anything then shout out to others." "Ahh, Sharleen now I understand the advantage of reading. After you finish your part, go to the vase and start there even that is a huge thing."
The fortune was not in their favour. They had no luck in the circles and everyone had went to the vase but were still disappointed. The party had started coming to light. Children's train was moving singing aloud alphabets and corresponding words starting with that letter. There was a giant wheel and some stalls for playing one-minute games. According to the Riddleman, he arranged the Christmas parties annually as he thought that those would be the last party of their lives.
The group were then asked to clean the upper portion of the vase using the ladders as then for some time the past people would come to take some gifts. As the group went working, Naina observed that on the neck of the vase there was a panel on which some spaces were left and below were all the alphabets. There were nine spaces left. It was the code.
They realised that the third riddle was the key to their home. But they were unable to make out the answer. Then only the train went screeching by and sung along that 'P for Pineapple'. "Hey, 'Pineapple' is the answer. See it's leaves grows on the fruit and the fruit grows on the leaves and it is a nine letter word too. We have only ten minutes left, enter fast." Karthik was right, as soon as Naina entered the answer, a magical ring shaped portal appeared which led all of them into the real world. Even the other people who had been transformed came back successfully.
After the children bid farewell, they were ready to depart tp their own towns when that mysterious man came with his eyes swelled up with tears. "Thank you for saving us. You have saved the world from that ruined man. I was his acquaintance when he started to dream of conquering the whole world. On opposing, he transformed me into a zombie while I can be seen and heard only every thirty six hours. Then he made the underworld where all of you were trapped. I started helping all but you were only successful enough to save us."