I was a kid again but in some other life it seemed because I had a little brother much closer to me in age than my real brother Kevin. My dream brother’s name was Toby. We’d grown bored with our toys so ran away into the mist around our house to have an adventure. We’d each taken the de rigeur knapsack tied to a stick and Toby had stuffed his pockets full of strange things he thought we might need. When I saw him tuck in a little plastic lion figure, I didn’t even ask. He was usually quite right about these things.
Once, for instance, he’d taken so many marbles that it made his pants sag on one side. No talking him out of it. But then, when monsters began pursuing us through the fog, he tossed them by the handful under their feet so that they fell in all directions and tumbled onto their noses, allowing our safe escape.
We tiptoed through the ferns, careful not to wake them. They only looked like docile green plants. They were really carnivores from another planet who considered stray children a delicacy for gobbling. Heaven forbid we should accidentally stumble into one’s mouth! Then up would come those deadly fronds like octopus tentacles to pull us in and the sharp beak hidden at the center would open wide to snap us up! A terrifying fate!
We heard them hiss now and then and froze every time. They couldn’t see us if we weren’t moving. Then there was a very loud hissing sound and we freaked and ran for the safety of our guardian Willow, who hid us in her long green hair until it was safe to go on.
Deep in the forest was the realm of the fey so now we were not only avoiding the kid-eating ferns, but also watching our feet to avoid stepping on fairies or on the little flowers they so loved. They’d be very put out with us if we stepped on either one! So we walked very softly and sang little songs to them, echoing in the mist, as we went, pointing out to one another their apartment houses and palaces created out of the up-thrusting roots of trees and hollow logs. Now and then, we’d fill an acorn cap with tiny berries and leave it as a gift on one of their toadstool tables.
Some trees, we’d climb and bounce on their branches. Some, who were scary looking and reached down for us with menacing clawed branches, we screamed and ran from. Some fallen ones made us long straight paths safe and high through the thickest undergrowth full of unseen bugs and beasties surely lurking.
When the trees abruptly ended, it took us by surprise. There was only the silver mist and in it a shushing trickling sound and deep, deep sighs. We paused to exchange questioning glances, then firmly held hands and stepped resolutely forward together into something that crunched a little and gave softly beneath our feet: soft sand, the color of the mist.
We were standing wonderingly in a wet foam whispering around our feet, soaking through our shoes, when we heard men’s voices echoing distantly around us.
“Pirates….” Toby told me, wide-eyed. He didn’t look remotely upset about it though.
“Where?” I asked, not seeing them; not seeing anything but the mist.
“There,” he pointed toward some indistinct shadows moving in the distance. “Come on! Let’s go adventuring with them!”
“But they’re PIRATES!” I protested.
“I know!” he grinned, eagerly pulling at me until I finally gave in and followed him at a run, all the while uncertain this was really a good idea but not about to let him go it alone.
Even as we ran, I offered one last protest: “If this gets us into trouble Toby, I’m telling Mom it was all your idea!”
“Okay!” he shouted, “I’ll claim full responsibility.”
I gave up, though I still fumed a little in my thoughts. Nice of him to claim full responsibility but, being his elder, I’d get the blame anyhow. I was sure hoping it’d be worth it though. Heck, it might be. We’d never done anything like this before. Most kids like us I’d heard just ran away to join the circus. Ha! So mundane!
We were suddenly amid the men who were carrying sacks and chests down the pier. We almost tripped on the pier in the shadow of a grand three-master. From a pile, we each selected something small enough for us to carry and followed suit. Ahead of us, nonchalant, an old man carried a sack over one shoulder and led a bleating goat on a rope. Ahead of him was another man carrying a crate of clucking hens.
My heart skipped a beat when the shadow ahead of became wood planks, a real ship, creaking and tugging on it ropes, and we entered through the big door on its side into its dim dank belly lit only by a few flickering hanging lamps here and there.
Someone poked his head down a trap door at the top of a ladder and yelled to all of us in there, “You there! Come up quick! Cap’ns meeting in his quarters afore we set sail.”
We followed the others up the ladder, across the wooden deck, and through the door into a surprising large room with benches in it, quickly filled up with the crew. Toby and I were left standing awkwardly in the center, acutely aware of being the only children there and wondering if that were going to be okay.
The captain, looking exactly like Captain Hook right down to the hook-for-a-hand, scowled at us standing there and said, “I see we have stowaways among us. Can you pay up? It’ll cost you $35 each.”
Silently, we shook our heads. Money was something we didn’t have and hadn’t even thought of needing. “We could maybe work it off,” I suggested half-heartedly.
“Ach,” he said, “Ye’re too little, and we have more than enough able hands. We’ll make another use of you. All who can’t pay will be takin’ a walk off the end of the plank to appease the Kraken and give us safe passage.”
We stared at him wide-eyed.
He smiled crookedly and added, “And don’t ye be worrying. Ye’ll not be alone. There a dozen other scalawags as’ll be joining ye.”
I was so scared in that moment that tears sprang to my eyes and I cried out, “But Cap’n, we can’t swim! We’ll drown!”
“Ach! Ye’re be not going to drown Missie. The Kraken’ll eat you first!”
That was NOT reassuring.
But Toby, he’s a brave one, owing to his quintessential basic craziness. He just stood there ramrod straight, chin up, looking like he had not a care in the world.
And then came a bone-chilling growl from somewhere in the room and the captain and several others asked, “What in tarnation was that?”
Toby grinned at him then and says, “Cap’n, sir! I have a lion in my pocket and he’ll eat you all if I let him out!”
I put a hand over my eyes and rubbed my forehead thinking, OMG, his little plastic lion. Brilliant! But how did he do that growl? What on earth else had he put in his pocket?
The growling came again; this time from the shadows right behind the captain. It was LOUD, reverberating around the room. Everyone froze, wide-eyed in trepidation, me along with them.
Toby tugged my arm hard then. “Come on Sis, let’s go!”
We ran out the door and to the side of the ship, thinking to climb down one of the ladders to the pier down below… only the pier wasn’t down there anymore. The fog was just thin enough here for us to see the glint of steely gray water and nothing else. We moved around the railing just looking and still couldn’t see the pier anywhere. But I did finally notice something bright blue down there. It was some sort of plastic boat bobbing along beside the ship; not tied to it, just floating there. It looked very light, too light to carry men without sinking, but maybe not too light to carry us. So we rolled down one of the rope ladders and carefully descended into it.
The pirates came roaring out at us even as Toby fell into the boat and I jumped in afterward, landing atop him. I gave a little squeal when the boat rocked perilously and water came splashing over the side. But they only laughed when they saw what we were in and one commented that we’d only escaped to the Kraken’s serving plate anyhow. And then they just walked away.
We had no oars and eventually floated free of the ship. We could paddle with our hands, but there was no land in sight, only the silver mist so we just sat there shivering and Toby insisted I tell him one story after another. I thought he’d done pretty good to get us safely away even if to who-knows-where and happily obliged, making things up as I went.
Somewhere along the way, we must have fallen asleep, gently rocked by the boat on the placid sea, because a suddenly jolt made us sit up, coming out the fuzzy depths of unconsciousness. We’d landed on a rocky shore. Grateful that at least it was a shore, we splashed out of the boat and dragged it up after us to the edge of the beach where a great dark forest began, shrouded in the mist.
There were no ferns here; the pine trees were so thick here that there was hardly any room for them. Not even knowing where we were going, we just plunged on in and found ourselves on a steep trail going up.
The climb became VERY steep at a point where there was finally a wide and even gap between the trees on either side. It looked like the opening you might see for a ski-lift. There was no ski lift here, but there was a small train track built in loops both horizontal and vertical as if for a very small rollercoaster. And it spread out more the higher we got in its midst. It sent looping paths through the trees going from around their bases to around the tops and back again.
Toby and I dropped down the wheels of our sneakers, climbed onto the rails, a foot on each rail, and went rollercoastering away on them, squealing with delight at every hairpin turn and loopy loop. It was great! We played until we were tired and had by then rolled into… well not a village exactly… more like what looked like a ghost town, all tumbled down simply abandoned old buildings.
No people visible. But there was the sound of a dryer tumbling away coming from one open basement window, the faint light when we peered in there just illumating a pile of blankets beside the drier. Being cold and tired by now, we climbed through the window and tumbled into the blankets to sleep.
We woke at home in our laundry room, our mother leaning over us in surprise saying, “Oh there your are!” as she laughingly pulled the blankets off us. “I was wondering where you’d gotten to!”
“We ran away to join the pirates Mom, but Toby saved us when they were going to make us walk the plank to feed the Kraken!”
“Oh really?” she asked. “How did he do that?”
“I had a lion in my pocket that I told them was going to eat them when I let it out!” Toby announced, pulling it out of his pocket to show her.
She laughed. “And did it?”
“No. It just scared them long enough for us to escape and then jumped back into my pocket.”
“I wish I had a lion like that,” she mused and he generously gave it to her, though she seemed unaware of it’s real value and just put it on the shelf above the washer after thanking him for it.
“Then we landed on a desert island where we climbed a steep path through a thick forest and found a roller coaster track just the right size for our Heeleys and played there for HOURS!” I told her.
“And how did you get into this pile of my clean laundry?” she asked.
I told her. We both did. Repeatedly. She just laughed and told us lunch was ready.
And then I woke up for real…