“Where Are You Friend?”
Travis felt lost.
The trees stretched to the sky, gripping the sun and blotting out the light. The trunks seemed endless. Row upon row. Crowding. Suffocating. All looked the same to Travis.
He was breathless as he came to a halt. Hands on knees. Head hanging between his knees as he sucked in ragged breaths. He wheezed. Tired.
But if Travis didn’t move forward… No. He needed to move. To not move meant he’d never find another soul. Never find his sisters or his father.
Travis forced himself forward. Foot in front of foot. Repeat.
Every step sunk into mud. Stuck. Pull. Stuck. Pull. Repeat.
Travis grabbed his left leg. Pulled.
Plop. His foot came free.
However, the mud was not finished.
Chuckling madly, Travis endeavored to go further. He stepped forward. And the mud gripped his sneaker, squelching.
Tears blinding him, Travis planted his butt on the forest’s soft floor. He sunk and sighed, laughing hysterically until his tears dried up.
Travis wiped away damp from his eyes with his sleeve. Sniffed. Closed his eyes. Drew in a deep breath. And he waited…
Pull yourself together. You’ll never find ’em if you don’t. Pull. Up. Your. Shoelaces.
Travis exhaled and then opened his eyes.
In his brief moment of dark self-pity, after he’d found a little spirit to press on, the forest transformed.
The trees bloated comically. Moss decorated the trunks like fuzzy skirts. Silly purple knots pocked the grey bark. The sodden ground had deepened, turning into a swamp.
Travis himself sat on a lily pad strong enough to support a fat frog. Soft and spongy, cold to the touch, slick, but Travis could stand firmly. Jump. So he did, laughing for the first time since he realized he’d lost his family.
Other lily pads spotted the swampy ground, like a path of paving cobbles. Some led to the trees with the funny purple nods and wide waists. Other pads went to trees with growth sprouting from the trunks like platforms of a tree house, each leading up to the sun that streamed through the boughs overhead.
Flicks of light played in that sunlight.
Inspecting the light, the flecks dashing in the light were so bright Travis had to shade his eyes with a hand. Suddenly the flecks bounded out of the beams, dragging light by their feet. The flecks had feet! The flecks were fairies!
The fairies waltzed around Travis while making sounds tinier than a tinkling of bells.
Then the fairies shot off.
Travis pursued. He hopped from lily pad to lily pad. Each step spreading a ring of ripples across the dark green water. One jump he missed by an inch. His foot dipped in the foul swamp water. Travis fell forward and on to the lily pad, his knee supporting him. Quickly he pulled his now sodden foot from the water and righted himself on the pad.
Not far away the fairies observed this silly boy. They were amused by Travis’ blundering, dunking a foot into the swamp.
Then they were gone. Zipping away faster than Travis could follow.
He should’ve been mad, despaired by loneliness, like before the forest had transformed into a magical swamp. Except Travis was having too much fun!
A smile creased his lips.
Travis hopped forward, planting his feet firmly on each lily pad in his path.
“It’s like skipping!” he gleefully exclaimed, not content to keep his squee’ing inside.
Along his route across the lilies Travis saw a stick protruding from the swampy muck, between two pads.
He skipped. He jumped. Dipped low. Fingertips skimming the stagnant water.
Travis grasped the stick, pulled it from green and brown water as if the crooked wooden shaft were a magic sword.
Astride a lily the boy swiped the stick through the air. Cutting down bog monsters as they rose up bubbling to bar his path. Long toothed. Tentacles. Ten eyed some. One eyed others. Scaly skin all. But their hides were no match for Travis’ swampy blade.
Two cuts and Travis advanced along his path. He jabbed at more tentacles as they reached out to wind around his legs.
None touched the swamp warrior Sir Travis, though.
Courage swelled in Travis’ chest as an orchestra strummed strings and blew horns in honor of his deeds.
Travis eventually came to the largest lily pad in the path and stopped. Out of breath. Chest heaving with laughter. Sweat dappling his crater face.
His fear conquered more thoroughly than the swamp’s tentacled monsters, Travis knew he now needed to find and rescue his family before they fell to danger.
Trusty sword in hand he leaned out over the lily, brought his free hand to his brow, shading his eyes, and cast his gaze over the swamp. Looking for movement. Listening for familiar calls.
That’s when, underneath his feet, Travis felt the swamp churn with a cackle. The lily quavered like a rumbling stomach and began to rise. Travis struggled to keep his balance.
Rising up from the swamp, directly beneath the swamp’s littlest but bravest adversary, was the largest bog monster Travis had encountered thus far. One eyed. A huge eye the size of most people’s torsos and heads. Purple and pink scales. Yellow gnashing teeth in a small curving mouth–small compared to the eyeball. Moss draped like dreads from atop its head.
Travis wasted no time.
He reversed the hold on his branch sword and plunged the wooden shaft into the monster’s single huge eye, poking it hard.
The swamp erupted in agitation as the monster bellowed an unintimidating cry.
Tentacles reached up and swarmed over the monster’s reddened eyeball. Green liquid leaked out from the corners. Tears.
Travis pinwheeled his arms, fighting the shaking that shook out from the monster beneath him.
The monster is crying! He’s just a kid! A kid like me!
Travis knelt and patted the monster’s eyeball, which rolled up to look at the human with fear and sympathy.
“Geez. I’m sorry,” Travis told it. “I thought you were like them back there.” He swung his branch sword behind, back toward where he’d ventured from across the lily path.
As much as a creature could that possessed a goopy thumb-shape for a body rather than a body-body like Travis, the monster shrugged. It nearly threw Travis off. The boy grabbed hold of the monster’s dreads to steady himself. The catch was comical. The monster chuckled and blinked away its tears.
“I’m looking for some people,” Travis declared to the monster. The monster seemed to appreciate the words, nodding carefully. “Wanna help me find em, big guy?”
In its way of agreement, the monster slapped its tentacles together in a clapping. Atop its head, Travis leaned forward, determination on his face, and pointed his sword forward.