BRRRRING RING RING! My pear phone rang loudly in the middle of the night, where I was in the middle of dreaming about a farting bee.
“What is it?” I asked sleepily, brushing aside my tangled vines of hair.
“EDEN!” A shrill voice screams right in my ear. I thrust the phone away from my face and squint, turning down the volume.
“Yeah?” I whisper, trying my best to not wake the other kids in the room. “Is this Gradient?”
“Yeah!! I need someone to go with me on my Grapeness Trial and I wanted you to come with me!” The voice in the phone sounded so giddy and excited that I couldn’t help but smile.
“Really? I’m not even a Punny though,” I replied. “Is that allowed?”
“Uh huh!” Gradient squealed with excitement. “I asked the chief yesterday and he said it’s ok!”
“Wow! I still can’t believe you’ve invited me to be your companion,” I whispered. “Why though?”
“Well, you’re one of my best friends ever ,” Gradient replied. “And we love to go on all sorts of adventures together! So I know you’re perfect to be my companion!”
“Alright,” I told her. “I’ll be at your place in a week, okay? I need to prepare my stuff.”
One week later, I arrived at Gradient house in Cheesecloth (a small town of yellow bricks near the lower left corner of Punny Garden). “Ready to go?” she asked, opening the door. When I saw her, she had only a small grapecase on her back and a large flag with a G on it.
We walked up to the Spiral Fountain, where the entire town was gathered around. As soon as they saw us, the crowd of Punnies started to cheer and applaud. Gradient’s parents (a banana and an apple Punny) were there too, and they gave her a big hug before letting go. They kindly asked me to take care of their daughter, to which I gave a thumbs-up and said, “She is in good hands!” Although, I was (uncharacteristically) nervous about the whole thing since it seemed really important to Gradient – I didn’t want to let anyone down.
Gradient and I stepped into the fountain, with the clear blue water sprinkling on our heads. Then, everyone took out brightly colored seeds from their pockets.
“Wait wha- Hey!” I exclaimed. The other Punnies started to pelt us with loads of tiny seeds, which landed in the fountain water with tiny *sploosh* noises.
Before I could say another word, I looked down. All the seeds were taking root inside the fountain and sprouting. Within a mere five seconds, the colorful sprouts had become HUGEEEE! The biggest leaf was ten times the size of me! Then – you won’t believe it – they started to grow super fast, shooting north faster than a bullet train! I would later learn that these were the legendary Full Moon Drop Grape seeds, which have special transportation powers during every Grapeness Trial (or about every decade).
Gradient and I grabbed onto the vine as it grew. The cheers of the other Punnies faded out as the plant carried us upwards, with our hands holding onto it for dear life! We squeezed our eyes shut to avoid getting stuff inside our eye sockets – but whenever we slowed down, I would take a tiny peek at everything below us. Cheesecloth became a tiny spot in our view, as well as the nearby hills and jungle.
The leaves of the enormous sprouts took a sharp left, then a sharp right as they sped us faster towards our destination. We burst through a few unsuspecting clouds, then POOF! All of a sudden, we were dropped onto a pile of snow, and the entire vine disintegrated into colorful dust.
After we got up and came to our senses, Gradient said that we had to go up to the mountain peak to place her flag. I squinted through the heavy snowfall, seeing nothing but clouds up ahead.
We spent many hours hiking up to the top of the mountain. I was glad I brought my trusty adventuring boots and jacket, because they protected my feet from the cold and harsh snow. They were both hand-knitted by Ruby, a close friend of mine, with some special yarn made from galaxy coconuts. In Punny Garden, there is a legend that snow is a Lychee Punny’s spirit’s dandruff, which is why Punnies experience dry leaf after being exposed to it for too long. Even I would feel my hair turning crispy after a long day playing in the snow!
Anyway, Gradient was amazing, as she didn’t once stop hiking or freeze from the intense cold. I asked her if she wanted any of my jackets, to which she sternly refused. However, I could tell she was tired out by all the walking and harsh weather.
After we reached the peak of the mountain, where hundreds of flags littered the landscape, Gradient stuck her own flag deeply in the snow next to her mother’s. We both let out a sigh of accomplishment and relief and gave each other high fives.
After our initial celebration, we stopped and sat down on a rock nearby.
“When are they going to get us?” I asked her.
“Hmm, I don’t know,” she replied. “They didn’t give me instructions beyond planting the – .”
Just then, the mountain began to shake with loud RUMBLING noises. Thinking it was an earthquake, we quickly held on to the flags – then, WHOOOOSH! A powerful storm started to kick up, with the wind blasting the snow everywhere like breadcrumbs inside of a vacuum cleaner. We covered our eyes to prevent the snowflakes from blasting inside our eye sockets. Even though it was already frigid before, the temperature of the snowstorm felt like absolute zero!
Suddenly, a strong push of wind knocked me and Gradient off the cliff we were standing on! We both screamed as we got knocked off the edge. I grabbed onto a nearby tree trunk hanging off on the cliffside and Gradient clung onto the cliff’s edge. She tried to call me and wave her hands around, but her cries were absorbed by the deafening rush of the snowstorm. Just then, the branch let out a loud SNAP, and I fell straight downward!
I almost hit a sharp rock on the wall, but luckily I was able to grab onto a shallow dent in the mountain. I yelled for Gradient, but I couldn’t see anything beyond 5 inches as the whiteout was so blinding. I reached into my pocket in hopes of grabbing a signal flare, but it there was nothing.
As my hands began to turn numb while clinging on the mountainside, I started to panic. I was certain I packed 5 signal flares inside my zipped pocket beforehand. I even remembered labeling each one of them. My face breaks out into an even colder sweat as I search my pants pockets, my shirt pockets, my other jackets’ pockets, inside my backpack, even inside my hat… There was nothing. Had they fallen out? No, that’s impossible. I had made sure my pockets were secured, and they weren’t ripped. Then, I reached into my shoes.
As my fingers touched the bottom, I felt a bunch of little ball-shaped objects inside. What were they? I wondered, kind of shocked that I didn’t notice them earlier. Then, I realized what they were.
I felt around some more. There had to be at least 30 of these things inside just one of my shoes. Just as I was about to reach for the other shoe, I felt someone grab my hand and pull me up to safety.
“Gradient!” I cried, shocked with relief. “You’re okay!” Even though she couldn’t hear me, I could see a big smile on her face as we held onto each other. I could slightly hear her yell, “How are we going to get out of here?” I had a brilliant idea, so I motioned for us to move elsewhere. With much effort, we braved the storm and trudged over to a large rock where the storm couldn’t knock us over again.
I took off my backpack and grabbed my extra-insulated water bottle. I opened it, and luckily the water was still liquid (although it was freezing up fast!). Gradient looked a little confused, and then bewildered as I took off my boots, careful to not let the little things inside fall out. Then, I poured the content of my shoes (including some of the lint) into my water bottle with one quick motion.
Just before the water froze over, my bottle EXPLODED with colorful sprouts (the same kind that took us to the mountain)! Again, the leaves sprouted ten times as large as my body size and started to shoot upwards.
“Quick, grab on!” I yelled. Right in the nick of time, we each took a tight hold of a leaf as the plants soared above the snowstorm. In a flash of white, we were out of the mountains and once again in the warm, familiar skies of Punny Garden. We soared above the land the same way we came, but this time there was a feeling of relief in my chest.
As we finally touched down in Cheesecloth Fountain, everyone came out of their homes to see us, cheering as they saw Gradient wave to them. She reunited with her parents and I fixed my hair. I’m proud to announce that she passed her Grapeness trial with flying colors. The experience was wild, but we both learned that grape potential can be found in the most unlikely of places.