They made it to the ark, but the danger has not passed.
Someone on board the ark is not what they seem, and Thimblerig discovers that there are plans afoot to steal the Seed of Asarata, the key to life after the flood. Now, to save the seed and the future, he and his company of animals will have to steal it first, right out from under the noses of Noah, the humans, and the wild dogs who protect it.
Thimblerig’s Ark 2: The Ark Heist
“What do you say, pal? You in, or you out?”
Thimblerig the groundhog stared across the makeshift table, trying to read the emotionless eyes of the big green iguana, a feat which was extremely difficult. But Thimblerig didn’t have the luxury of being picky these days.
These days. Just a couple of weeks earlier, the days had been a lot less complicated. Back then, Thimblerig had been a simple grifter, plying his trade under the enormous branches of Asarata, the Queen of the Jungle, the great fig tree.
And then he met Tannier Isa, the supposedly mythological unicorn king, and everything changed.
It all happened so quickly, too. One moment, he had been minding his own business, playing his modest shell game for the few figs it could win him, trying to keep his prime spot by the base of the tree, and the next moment he was the leader of a small group of animals, running for their lives from the wild dogs who ran the forest.
And craziest thing of all? He’d gone from mocking the feeble-minded suckers who claimed to believe in unicorns to being a die-hard, certified (or certifiable?) believer himself. Not just one of them, but a leader of a whole group of them.
It had only been a week since he and his little group of believers had scrambled onboard the ark just before the decimating waters had struck. Now he spent his time trying not to think about the world’s destruction happening on the other side of the wooden walls, and getting used to being tossed around like a cub as the ark navigated waves as large as mountains.
And so Thimblerig stole away from his pen in the mammal section and snuck down to the reptiles in attempt to avoid thinking about all of that. And to see if he could win a few figs.
Old habits die hard, after all.
Thimblerig’s nose wrinkled as a terrible smell wafted by. The reptiles had been given a large room deep in the bowels of the great ark so that they could be cool and enjoy the darkness, but unfortunately, the ark had been engineered so that all of the animal waste slid down empty pipes and made its way to the very bottom, a level below the room in which he stood.
How can the reptiles stand it? Thimblerig thought. Maybe their noses work differently than everyone else’s?
“Just give me a minute,” the iguana answered, pulling the groundhog back to the game. He stared down at the three shells sitting on the small rough plank of wood before him. Thimblerig knew exactly what the iguana thought, exactly where he thought the pea sat, and he also knew that it didn’t really matter, because the pea sat exactly where Thimblerig wanted it to sit.
That is, tucked safely under a claw on his right paw.
“Ask for a minute, and I’ll give you two,” Thimblerig, the consummate showman, called for all to hear. “So that your guess may be right and true.”
He looked up at his reptilian audience. Many stared down from their perches on the beams above, some watched while clinging to the walls. It gratified Thimblerig to see so many pairs of glowing eyes looking with curiosity down at his game out of the darkness. If he could get used to the smell, he could really clean up in a room like this, a room filled with gullible believers, unaccustomed to the con. I could get away with anything down here, he thought. No humans, no Kid Duffy, no nobody.
Thimblerig gulped. No nobody indeed, just a room full of animals who – in the wild – would enjoy having a plump groundhog for breakfast. They can’t eat me on the ark, he reminded himself. It’s against the rules.
But as an animal who had made his living breaking the rules, this thought didn’t necessarily make Thimblerig feel any better.
“Alright, I’m in,” the iguana finally said. He reached his snout into a little pouch around his neck, pulled out a dried fig, and dropped it on the table beside the shells. “It’s on the right.”
Thimblerig had rehearsed it a thousand times. “Are you sure?” he asked, crestfallen. “You don’t want to pick the middle one?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” the iguana replied.
“Not the one on the left?” Thimblerig asked.
“I said I’m sure!” the iguana spat, impatient.
Good, good, Thimblerig thought. Emotions lead to mistakes.
“Well, I’m not so sure,” Thimblerig goaded. “I’ll see your fig, and raise you one.” Thimblerig reached into his pouch, pulled out two of his dried figs, and set them down carefully beside the iguana’s lone fig. And then he smiled.
The iguana stared at Thimblerig, either sizing him up or imagining him as breakfast. Thimblerig did his best to lizard-stare the iguana back, not permitting himself to be sized.
Finally, the lizard’s tongue flicked, and Thimblerig knew he had him.
The iguana was pulling out another fig when a screeching voice pierced the darkness of the reptile area.
A female iguana came stomping through the crowd, scattering reptiles to the left and right on her way to Thimblerig’s makeshift table. Seeing Lagar with his head in his fig bag, the table with figs on it, and a groundhog standing before it all, the female immediately knew what going on.
“You’re betting? Losing all our figs to a furback?”
Lagar slowly drew his head out of the bag, revealing a face full of emotion: Fear.
“No, it’s not like that…” he muttered, with trembling voice.
How humiliating, Thimblerig thought, suddenly glad he didn’t have a mate.
“It’s not like that,” she mocked, moving up so close to the male iguana that her flickering tongue lashed Lagar’s face like a little wet slaps. “We get two figs a day, and you’re dropping them on the table like they grow on trees!”
“Well, they do,” Thimblerig said. And if he had been capable of reaching into the air and pulling words back into his mouth, he would have done it.
“What did you say?” she said, turning to the groundhog. Over the female’s head, he saw that Lagar was shaking his head, ever so slightly. A warning?
“I just said that figs do grow on trees,” Thimblerig stammered, not enjoying being the target of that withering iguana gaze. “Fig trees, to be exact.”
The female hopped up on the table and stuck her big, green, scaly face right into his smaller furry one. “And do you see any fig trees, furback?” she hissed.
“Um, no,” Thimblerig admitted.
“Then take your rotten figs and your rotten games and get out of here before I call that wild dog to come down and take care of you!”
With a final flick of the tongue, she leapt off the table, scooped the figs into her bag, and pushed her emasculated mate off into the darkness, followed by the rest of the reptiles.
It was only after they’d gone, and Thimblerig was able to breathe again, that he realized that she’d just made off with his two figs as well as her mate’s. Alone with the darkness and the stench, the only light coming from the glowing firegems embedded into the walls, Thimblerig packed up his shells and kicked the wooden board aside.
Yeah, the unicorn had definitely messed up the groundhog’s mojo, and then some. The crazy part was that there was a time when having one of his games self-destruct so spectacularly would have decimated him, but now he wasn’t so bothered by it.
Maybe it’s time to try a new line of work, Thimblerig thought, turning and heading up the ramp back towards the other mammals in the levels above.
Look for another excerpt in the coming weeks.
Thimblerig’s Ark 2: The Ark Heist will be released on May 1, 2015.
Want to read Thimblerig’s Ark before the sequel is released? Get your copy by clicking on the cover below!