“Daddy, look! It’s the Spirit of Adventure!"
“Where is the bird?” asked the large black dog in a surprisingly high voice, as if it had swallowed helium from Carl’s balloons. “You said you had the bird.”
Dug cowered. “Oh yes, oh yes, since I have said that, I can see how you would think that.”
“Where is it?”
“Um, tomorrow. Come back tomorrow and then I will again have the bird.”
“You lost it?” snarled the dog.
Rapunzel found her voice. “Hey, leave Dug alone!”
The dog turned and growled at her. Rapunzel backed away. “Master will be most pleased that we have found them and will ask of them many questions. Come!”
“Wait, we’re not going anywhere with you,” Carl said. “We’re going to the Falls.”
Before any of them could step forwards, however, the dogs began to bark in a menacing manner. Dug cowered. Rapunzel seized Russell in a motherly grip. Like prisoners, the trio and Dug found themselves herded along, with the house in tow, through a canyon, patrolled by more fierce dogs, round a bend and towards a massive cave opening. More dogs filtered through this towards them, snarling and growling...until a voice from within the darkness commanded “Stay!”
The dogs stopped. The voice continued. “You came here...in that?”
“Uh...” Carl glanced at the house. “Yeah.”
“In a house? A floating house?” The voice laughed. Nervously, Carl, Russell and Rapunzel joined in. “That is the darndest thing I’ve ever seen! You’re not after my bird, are you? But if you need to borrow a cup of sugar, I’d be happy to oblige!” The dogs laughed. “Well,” the voice went on, “this is all a misunderstanding. My dogs made a mistake.”
The figure came into the light and Carl almost gasped. “Wait! Are you Charles Muntz?”
“Well,” replied Charles Muntz, a much older Charles Muntz than Carl and Ellie had idolised in their youth, but Charles Muntz nevertheless, “Yeah.”
“The Charles Muntz?” Rapunzel exclaimed, remembering all the things her parents had told her about their childhood hero.
“Adventure is out there!” he replied, giving her the iconic thumbs up.
“It’s really him!” Carl exclaimed, excitedly. “It’s Charles Muntz!”
“It is?!” Russell frowned. “Who’s Charles Muntz?”
“Him!” Rapunzel, equally as excited as her father, pointed to him, bouncing on the balls of her feet.
“Mr Muntz,” said Carl, “I’m Carl Frederickson, and this is my daughter Rapunzel.”
“Mom and Daddy were your biggest fans!” Rapunzel chirped.
“Well, you’re a man of good taste,” Charles laughed as Carl rushed forwards to shake his hand. “You must be tired. Hungry?”
“Uh-huh!” Russell piped up, rubbing his stomach.
“Attention, everyone!” said Charles to the dogs. “These people are no longer intruders. They are our guests.”
The dogs cheered. Charles led the way into the cave. “Wow,” Carl whispered.
“Daddy, look!” Rapunzel grabbed his arm. “It’s the Spirit of Adventure! Just like in that old film!”
“Go ahead and moor your airship right next to mine,” Charles said. He gestured to a pylon where Carl and Rapunzel tied up the house. The dogs walked up the gangplank into the airship.
“We’re not actually going inside the Spirit of Adventure itself?” Carl exclaimed.
“Oh, would you like to?” Charles asked.
“Would I?” Chuckling like a child, Carl hurried after his childhood hero. Rapunzel grinned and turned to Russell. “Come on, race you up the gangplank!”
“No fair!” Russell exclaimed, following her. “My legs aren’t as long as yours!”
Trying not to trip over dogs, they followed Carl and Charles into a large trophy room. Rapunzel was surprised that a balloon could hold so much weight. Charles pointed out his various trophies to Carl, who marvelled at them like a child in a museum, until Alpha, the large dog with the squeaky voice, said “Master, dinner is ready.”
“Oh, dear, broken translator,” Charles said, kneeling down to fix Alpha’s collar. “It’s that loose wire again. There you go, big fella.”
“Thank you, Master,” said Alpha in an unbelievably deep voice.
Russell grabbed Rapunzel’s hand, nervously. “I like his other voice.”
“Me too,” Rapunzel agreed.
Charles laughed. “Well, dinner is served! Right this way!”
A woman was standing in the dining room when they came in. She had long dark curls and was dressed in a red wine colour dress, medieval in style. When she turned, there was something about her that Rapunzel felt she recognised, but she couldn’t quite place it.
“Charles, who are our guests?”
“Fans,” Charles replied. “And you’ll never guess how they got here; in a floating house, no less, Gothel.”
Gothel? That name sounded familiar to Carl but he couldn’t think how.
Gothel smiled benignly at the trio. “Well, welcome. Have a seat.”
They all sat down at the table. “I hope you’re hungry,” Charles said, “because Epsilon is the finest chef we have ever had.” The dogs came up with some covered platters which they place on the table in front of each guest. When the covers were removed, it was fish with beurre blanc, except for Russell’s, which was a hot dog. “Oh, Epsilon, you’ve done it again!”
“Hey!” Russell exclaimed, seizing his plate and glass as some of the dogs tried to help themselves to his food. Rapunzel laughed.
“Oh, my Ellie would have loved all this,” Carl sighed. “You know it’s because of you she had this dream to come down here and live by Paradise Falls.”
“We used to save up every year to come,” Rapunzel added. “We had a jar marked Paradise Falls and everything.”
“I’m honoured,” replied Charles. “And now you’ve made it.”
“You’re sure we’re not a bother? We’d hate to impose.”
“Please,” smiled Gothel. “It’s a pleasure.”
“Yes,” agreed Charles. “A real treat.”
“Treat?” exclaimed the dogs, scrabbling over each other. “I want a treat! Treat! Treat!”
“No, no,” groaned Charles. “Shouldn’t have used that word. Having guests is a delight!” The dogs quietened down at once, apart from one that tried to swipe the rest of Russell’s hot dog. Rapunzel tried her dinner; she’d forgotten how hungry she was. It tasted delicious. She smiled at Gothel. “My compliments to the chef, this is delicious.”
Gothel smiled and Rapunzel felt, momentarily, that she was being observed closely by her.
Charles went on. “I mean, more often than not we get thieves, who want to steal what’s rightfully ours.”
“No!” exclaimed Carl, aghast.
Charles picked up a lantern and went to the back of the room. “They called me a fraud, those...dah! But once I bring back this creature, my name will be cleared!”
The lantern illuminated a great number of photographs and etchings of...a bird that looked exactly like Kevin. Rapunzel swallowed.
Charles went over to a full sized bird skeleton. “Beautiful, isn’t it? We’ve spent a lifetime tracking it!”
“What is it?” Rapunzel asked.
“We’re not entirely certain,” Gothel replied, leaning one arm on the table. “But you must admit it’s not normal.”
“We’ve tried to smoke it out of that deathly labyrinth where it lives,” Charles replied. “Can’t go in after it. Once in, there’s no way out. Lost so many good dogs.” Carl and Rapunzel exchanged a secret glance, unobserved by their hosts.
“And here they come,” Charles went on, “these bandits, and think the bird is theirs to take. But they’ll soon find this mountain is a very dangerous place.”
Russell, who hadn’t been listening, finally looked up from his dinner. “Hey, that looks like Kevin!”
Carl looked worried. Rapunzel felt scared. Charles turned to them. “Kevin?”
“Yeah,” Russell chirped, unaware of the potential danger. “That’s my new giant bird pet. I trained it to follow us.”
Rapunzel laughed, nervously. “Very funny, Russell, good one!”
“Follow you?” Charles snapped. “Impossible! How?”
“She likes chocolate,” Russell said, holding up a bar.
“Yeah. I gave her some of my chocolate. She goes ga-ga for it.”
“Russell, shh!” Rapunzel hissed.
“It ran off!” Carl insisted. “It’s gone now!”
Gothel got to her feet and walked over to a table full of helmets...with skulls inside them. “You know, all these people who pass through here tell pretty good stories. A “Surveyor” making a map.” She knocked one helmet to the floor with her long fingernails. “A “Botanist” cataloguing plants.” She knocked another to the floor. It rolled towards Rapunzel’s feet. “An old man taking his house to Paradise Falls.”
“Oh, that’s the best one yet,” Charles agreed, his tone sinister. “I can’t wait to hear how it ends.”
Carl glanced around nervously and spotted Kevin sitting on top of the roof of their house. “Well,” he said, hastily, “it’s been a wonderful evening, but we’d better be going.”
“Yeah,” Rapunzel agreed. “Come on, Russell.”
“But we haven’t even had dessert yet,” Russell argued as she pulled him to his feet.
“If we don’t leave now, WE could be the dessert!” Rapunzel hissed to him.
“Oh, you really must stay,” crooned Charles, advancing menacingly. “I insist. We have so much more to talk about.”
A sudden haunted wail caused them all to face the window. “Kevin?” Russell exclaimed.
“It’s here!” cried Gothel, and the trio took advantage of the distraction to run for it. Rapunzel turned and saw the dogs right behind them, millions of them it seemed. “Master, over here!” cried Dug. They followed the sound of his voice, down a small tunnel, and through the opening beyond. Kevin leapt down from the house, and, towing it behind her, swept the trio up onto her back and began to sprint.
“Faster, Kevin!” Rapunzel exclaimed. The dogs were gaining. “Oh, why do we live in such a heavy house?”
A few of the balloons popped as they scraped the ceiling of the cave and Carl, Russell and Rapunzel hung onto Kevin for dear life. The dogs were closing in on them. Carl tugged the house to avoid a rock, but the house crashed into the rock anyway and Russell fell off, getting dragged along behind them.
“Russell!” exclaimed Carl.
Rapunzel leaned down. “Russell, grab my hand!”
An avalanche of boulders behind them stopped the dogs for a while. “Go, Master!” Dug cried. “I will stop the dogs!” But Alpha tossed him off the path like a ragdoll. Rapunzel grabbed Russell’s hand and pulled him back onto Kevin’s back as they reached the cliff edge. Dug joined them and Carl seized him by the collar as the momentum of the house lifted them all into the air. Alpha leapt at Kevin, biting her leg, but fell to the river below as she released herself with a swift kick. Several other dogs who had misjudged the distance joined him. Rapunzel breathed out as the house carried them to safety on the other side of the chasm. They all landed hard on the ground and she hugged Russell tightly in relief. “That was a close one!”
Carl breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing the house was still intact. Kevin tried to get to her feet but let out a cry of pain and fell down. “Kevin!” cried Russell, darting forwards. Rapunzel gasped, seeing the blood on Kevin’s leg as Russell bandaged it. "Oh, no!"
From the distant labyrinth of rocks, the baby birds called out to their mother. Kevin responded and tried to walk but she fell. “No, no, Kevin!” Russell begged her. “Stay down.” He looked at his friends. “She’s hurt real bad. Can’t we get her home?”
Rapunzel looked at Carl. “Daddy?”
They both knew the right thing to do, even if it would delay their journey to the Falls. “Alright,” Carl replied. “But we’ve got to hurry.”
Together they helped Kevin onto the porch of the house and began to pull it gently along in the direction of the labyrinth. “My pack is not following us,” Dug reported. “Boy, are they dumb.”
“This is crazy,” Carl sighed. “I finally meet my childhood hero and he’s trying to kill me. What a joke.”
“Hey, I know a joke,” Dug said, in an attempt to cheer them all up. “A squirrel walks up to a tree and says “I forgot to store any acorns for the winter and now I am dead.” It’s funny because the squirrel gets dead!”
Rapunzel smiled. “Good one, Dug.” She looked at Carl. “Did you know that woman, Gothel? I felt like I knew her, from somewhere, but I can’t think where.”
Carl glanced at her. He had, in those final moments before they had landed safely this side of the river, remembered why he knew the name Gothel. But he couldn’t bring himself to tell her. “No, sweetie, I don’t know her at all.”
“Charles, who are our guests?”