There are things
that make no sense,that seem unreal,that can’t be grasped
or understoodor explained,that maybe don’t even exist…And still, somehow, those wonderful things
touch and change our lives.Isn’t it strange?
—Miss Annabelle Fancher
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
The Little Boy
Never in your wildest dreams would you think it a good thing to be swallowed whole by a big bad wolf. That is, until you met Gavin. But he’s an unusual boy, as you’ll soon find out; one with a dizzy imagination and crazy powers and secrets no ordinary person would think to have. This includes a fascination for exploring inside the bellies of ogres and gargoyles and other scary creatures such as big bad wolves—which is exactly where this story begins. Unbelievable to you, perhaps, but quite believable to me.
It was inside the belly of a big bad hairy wolf that Gavin was roaming about, searching by flashlight for something important the beast had swallowed. Something other than himself.
“Um…are you okay down there?” someone squeaked in a loud whisper from outside. It was the frightened voice of a younger boy.
“Of course I’m okay!” came a sure answer. The response rose from the throat of the sleeping wolf, though the wolf’s mouth didn’t move to form any words.
Gavin spoke again from deep inside a full belly that smelled of dead fish and rotten apples. “I still don’t see a truck in here—not one. Are you sure he ate it?”
“Oh, oh yes, I’m sure; I watched him swallow it whole! That big bad wolf told me he was going to eat me next, just like he ate my toy truck! I really do want it back; it was a gift from my Grandpapa.”
“Well, I don’t see it. There’s a lot of other stuff down here—a soggy baseball, an empty turtle shell, some crocodile teeth, a perfectly good rabbit’s foot, and a dead frog. Would you rather have one of those?”
“Oh, no, no, no! I really want my truck, please.”
“Ah-ha!” The sound of success burped up from the wolf’s belly. “I’ve found it!”
With big eyes, the hopeful little boy watched a large blob work its way through the sleeping beast, slowly maneuvering from tummy to throat. The moving blob caused the wolf’s hairy back to arch and its neck to swell three times normal size. Long, skinny fingers reached out from the mouth, taking hold of a wet snout. Gavin wriggled and pulled and climbed until at last his lanky body emerged—a young but tall figure with dark brown eyes and a messy mop of curls on his head to match.
It took a moment for the little boy to get past an understandable case of shock. But soon enough his wide eyes dropped from Gavin’s triumphant grin to the clunky, red fire engine held out in offer.
“My fire truck! Oh, oh thank you!” The boy ran to reclaim his precious gift. “I could never have faced my Grandpapa had I lost it. He’d be so angry with me.”
Gavin shrugged casually. “It was nothing really.”
“Oh, oh no!” said the boy, “It was something! You were so brave to let that wolf swallow you whole! And how clever to knock him in the head with the heel of your boot on the way down. He may have eaten me if you’d not come along!”
“And what fun it would’ve been had you been eaten!”
Gavin smiled cheerily, but the little boy failed to share the same expression.
“Oh, oh no, no, no! I don’t want to be eaten! No, no, never ever!”
“And why not?”
“Well…..because it might hurt!” the boy exclaimed. His round cheeks turned red as he admitted in a small voice, “And I’m afraid of the dark.”
“If that’s the case, maybe you should keep a flashlight in your pocket. Then dumb old wolves couldn’t frighten you and chase you up really high walls.” Each boy glanced over his shoulder at a tall, white, stone barrier covered in ivy and blue blossoms. It stretched out of sight in either direction.
“I hadn’t thought of that before,” the little boy said, skewing his eyebrows.
Gavin presented an open palm where a small flashlight suddenly appeared.
“Oh, oh thank you!” The child repaid his giver with a tight hug around the waist. He stepped away quickly enough, wearing a look of puzzlement on his face. “You’ve been so very kind to me, and I don’t even know who you are?”
The older boy lifted a pointed chin and jerked his head in a proud manner before announcing, “I am Gavin, the key keeper.”
His admirer’s face brightened. The youngster was highly intrigued. “Oh, oh, a key keeper! And how many keys do you keep?”
“That’s all I need.”
The child considered this, unsure what to ask next. He decided to let every question in his head tumble out of his mouth at once. “Is it a big key? Can I see it? Does it open everything or just one thing? Will it open a treasure chest? Or a hidden safe? Or a prison cell? Or is it meant for a door to a secret room?”
The key keeper reached into his shirt to fish out the item in question. “Yes you may see it.” A bronze skeleton key appeared, pinched between two fingers. The polished surface shimmered over detailed engravings. He answered the last question. “And, yes, you might say it opens a door…of sorts.”
The boy went to touch the key, but Gavin held it out of reach.
“Oh, oh, does it unlock an important door?”
Gavin nodded assuredly, making his dark curls bounce.
“Oh, oh please, may I watch you open it?”
The key keeper took a moment to think while the smaller boy wordlessly begged with adorable, pleading eyes for the privilege to see the decorative key in use. Gavin slipped it back beneath his shirt where it hung safely from a braided chain. He was never without that key around his neck—both night and day.
“I suppose you could come along and help search for the right door.”
“Oh, oh thank you! Thank you! I won’t be a bother, oh, oh, I promise!”
Within a blink, everything about their surroundings changed. The sleeping wolf, the forest, the ivy-laden wall—it all vanished, giving way to a never-ending hall of facing doors. As Gavin stepped between the closed doors, his follower kept very near. There was no ceiling to look up at and no floor to tap a shoe against, yet the two were able to walk with ease down the peculiar corridor of shut-off entries and exits.
Sounds and fragrances as well as whiffs of sweetness strong enough to taste emanated from the doors. Each was unique in appearance and color. Each hid secrets on the inside.
A glossy white door with a brass ball knob appeared to swell and shrink repeatedly as if breathing in air. Singing, soft and womanly, penetrated the painted wood. The little boy stepped closer. His ear perked to hear a lullaby.
“The stars can’t put on a sparkly show,
The fullest moon can’t reflect a glow,
The hottest sun cannot burn, you know,
Bright enough to outshine my dear child.”
He stepped away easily enough, not enticed by a mother’s song of admiration.
The next entry that appealed to the boy was a high, wooden set of double doors. They were encased in arched framing. Polished, bronze handles reached out from the center in swirled figure eights. Behind these doors a stringed orchestra erupted into glorious music-making. Gavin looked sideways and watched the child creep close, behaving as if tempted to steal a peek at the auditorium inside. But the curious listener backed away without trying the handles. He glanced back at Gavin.
“Which door will your key unlock? I really want to know!”
The question was answered with another question. “Which door do you wish it to unlock?”
The little boy ran his eyes up both sides of the corridor, unable to decide. He continued forward, just a couple steps in front of his guide.
They passed weathered wooden barriers from which talking, laughing, singing, and persistent begging called to them. They passed freshly-painted doors where smells of burning apple wood, homemade pastries, and frying fish compelled a good sniff. There were doors that thumped, doors that cried, and doors that resonated with eerie clatter. These, the lad stepped quickly past. It was a plain, rectangular, mahogany slab of wood that made him stop in his tracks. A simple thumb-press handle glimmered for attention on the right-hand side.
“This looks exactly like Grandpapa’s….” the boy trailed off, wondering. He stepped up and placed a hand against the dull surface. His ear followed. It was nearly silent on the other side except for the sound of an old man’s snores.
“I think it is Grandpapa!”
There was no hesitation in his next move. With a familiar squeeze on the knob and a light push against the wood, the door opened inward. The little boy took a step toward his Grandfather’s amplified snoring…..and disappeared. He hadn’t even thought to ask Gavin to use his special key.
“And that’s that!” The key keeper smirked triumphantly. He clapped his hands once and swiveled on the balls of his feet. With his chore accomplished, he set out for home.
Now, you may be wondering what kind of gruesome chore it is to make a seemingly nice little boy disappear, but I guarantee there’s no sordid mischief at play here. There are things you must understand about a key keeper. The first is that he is an honorable and noble character. Were it not so, the heads of parliament in Dreamland would come together to judge and ultimately dismiss him from his calling. Such a thing would be highly disgraceful for a key keeper! So you see, Gavin is exactly the opposite of sordid or shady in his dealings with stray dreamers.And, oh yes, that little boy was indeed dreaming. Where else but in dreams could you be swallowed whole by a big bad hairy wolf and find it ticklish fun?
Copyright 2015 Richelle E. Goodrich
The wall that surrounds Dreamland is of unknown measure. Some find it small enough to barely fit a cozy village in its circle. Others insist a great and marvelous city exists within its boundaries, including avenues of skyscrapers surrounded by miles of two-story neighborhoods. Once, I actually sailed the ocean inside these guarded walls. You may say impossible, but not so.
I say “not so” because I know a secret. Lend me your ear and I will share it with you. But first, promise to keep the secret, for this wondrous truth must be carefully kept.
Dreamland is an actual place; it really exists!
Oh yes, yes, it truly does! And what’s astonishing is how this magical world has endured forever in a realm only visible to dreamers. Hence the name, perhaps.
Bring your ear closer and I will share a better secret. This too must be protected.
Reality in Dreamland is whatever you want it to be.
The details of this enchanted world are formed in the eye of the beholder. In other words, when you step through the gates of this marvelous land, whatever you wish for becomes so. If your desire is to experience life on acres of farmland, that’s exactly what you’ll find. If you prefer a bustling city, such a reality will appear. If you yearn to sail the world’s oceans within a gated border, it will be as you wish. And that is the big secret Gavin, the key keeper, protects.
It is his job to prevent wandering dreamers from trespassing the gates of Dreamland. For if they were to scale the wall, or tunnel beneath it, or find some way across its borders, the likelihood is great they would never choose to leave such a paradise. That fact is understandable, of course. If you could have anything you wished for—anything imaginable—would you so easily turn away from it? Would you abandon your dreams to wake up again?
It might help to see the truth in action before deciding. And what better way than to visit the magical land in question?
The hall of doors where we last left Gavin happens to end where a dark forest begins. Or possibly the hallway begins where the forest ends; I’m not quite certain. Either way, the trees in that timbered area are so congested with leafy tops that barely a shard of sunlight slips through. Within the woods are hiding places that shield and shelter the most ferocious of monsters. But their introduction will be saved for another time.
Having his duties handled for the present moment, Gavin made his way through the forest toward the outside wall enclosing Dreamland. He seemed undaunted by a thick growth of ivy that nearly concealed the wall from view.
Though it appeared to be a dead end, his footsteps moved forward with confident strides, taking him right up to the wall. Slipping a hand beneath his shirt, he retrieved his key and held it in front of him like a warding symbol—as far as the attached chain would allow. As if fearful, or perhaps respectful of the power trapped within the key, the ivy and its blue blooms peeled away, opening a narrow area before the stone wall. The exposed gates glimmered as if sprinkled with pixie dust, reflecting all available light off a dimpled texture.
Depressed in the stone at shoulder height was a square groove about the size of a hand. An indentation appeared like a mold in the center of it. Gavin brought up his bronze key, behaving as if he’d performed the same move a million times, and placed it over the indentation. A perfect match! The walls began to tremble, and he stepped back, slipping the key beneath his shirt once again.
The gates parted by only a fraction and then closed behind the key keeper as soon as he stepped inside. What his eyes took in was a wondrous view of home; a world shaped to his own personal liking.
The ground looked like black crumbs—moist, rich dirt that mashed under every footstep. The soil quickly disappeared beneath plant life that crowded the landscape beyond. In every direction a wall of rainforest blocked off any decent view of the horizon. Trees towered like giants, joined together by drooping swags of moss. Vines as thick in circumference as plumber’s pipe entangled every sturdy tree branch. The underbrush stood unusually high as well, extending up to Gavin’s waist, some ferns stretching to brush their feathered fronds against his shoulders.
The air smelled of fresh rain, but it was perceptible by feel as well; a heaviness put pressure on the muscles and sinuses. Jungle sounds chattered in abundance. This way—a conversation of twittering birds. That way—a panther’s roar receiving a return growl. From high above fell the laughter of primates. And in surround sound, leaves rustled, disturbed by creatures that slithered, crawled, and skittered in the shadows.
Gavin stepped forward to be swallowed up by this animated jungle.
It seemed not long enough to hold one’s breath before he appeared on the other end, emerging from a curtain of greenery onto a sandy stretch of beachfront. The bluest crystal ocean greeted him mere strides away, but Gavin’s focus wasn’t on the clear waters. It was lifted, peering into a black sky full of twinkling lights.
Stars—or rather, diamonds.
He squinted in the darkness to be sure of his sight. A frown indented each corner of his mouth when he felt certain his assumption was correct. Pirates were sailing overhead, flying a black flag with skull and crossbones. The thieves were en route to steal the stars and pilfer a fortune in diamonds.
“Bly me!” he grumbled to himself.
His dark eyes lowered, glancing over ocean waters. Another ship floated not too far distant in the bay. Gavin walked across the short stretch of beachfront and waded knee-high into warm waters. His arms rose in the moonlight, waving back and forth as he cried aloud, hoping to hail the ship. Miraculously, his ruckus gained someone’s attention and a rowboat was sent for him. Two unshaven scalawags manned the oars, both with a great many missing teeth. They wore tri-corner caps as shabby as their matching rags. Reaching the young key keeper, they helped him into their boat and then rowed back to a triple-mast sailing ship designated The Witchery.
Gavin was greeted aboard by a Captain Jimbo Harvey, one of the fiercest pirates known to unlawfully regulate affairs on Dreamland waters. A stubborn old rogue, he refused to acknowledge Dreamland as a free nation and claimed the entire area under his rule, calling it ‘the scum of Ankergnat’ to suit his brigand taste.
A crooked smile glinted of gold behind his coarse whiskers. His face was masked by a thick, graying beard. His build was medium stock though rock-solid. On his head sat the widest brim of any hat ever made, and on his shoulder was perched a lime-green parrot. This bird possessed the ability to command the crew nearly as well as Captain Harvey himself.
“Ahoy thar, Matey. And what sorta hornswagglin’ ideas might ye be havin’ in the middle o’ the night? I’ll ne’er believe ye be up to much else but dev’lish mischief.”
“Then you believe wrong, sir,” Gavin informed the captain, “because I’m here to put a stop to the devilish mischief of others currently underway.”
Narrowing his gaze suspiciously, the captain asked, “And whose mischief be ye aimin’ on interferein’ with?”
“That of dishonorable pirates!”
The green parrot raised its feathers and squawked.
Jimbo Harvey backed up, cautious and wary. His fingers curled around the hilt of a sword fastened to a thick belt that secured his britches. “Ye be a dern fool then, lad. A daft sprog to think o’ challengin’ me surrounded by me own men. We be nuthin’ but honorable gents here, content to lay low o’ Jack mischief.”
There was a hushed murmur of agreement to their innocence, tainted by a few wicked chuckles. Gavin realized he’d been misunderstood.
“Oh, no, no, no, I’m not talking about you, Captain Harvey. The shameful pirates I’m referring to are the ones plundering the stars above your heads as we speak.”
Gavin’s pointing finger rose straight up, along with every eye on the ship. Lo and behold they found the key keeper to be right! A pirate ship was indeed sailing through black clouds, netting and collecting twinkling diamonds right out of the night.
“Shiver me timbers! Those scurvy dogs be pluckin’ jewels from me rooftop! How’d them thar villains get by with ne’er a notice?” The captain scanned his crew for a man who’d look him square in the eye. No one dared to meet his critical gaze.
He flailed his arms, frustrated, while the parrot on his shoulder copied the gesture with flitting wings.
“Raise them sheets to the wind! Arm yer stations and prepare for a hearty swashbucklin’! We’ve a rival Jolly Roger in our midst! I swear on the grave of me dear ol’ mum we be sinkin’ that swaggy and sendin’ every last lily-livered crook to an eternal rest in Davy Jones’ locker! Tally ho wi’ a vengeance!”
“Aye! Arrrg!” the men shouted, riled by their captain’s speech.
The deck swayed as The Witchery’s forward lifted, bowsprit pointing skyward. All sails roped to masts filled with air and expanded. The rudder was last to leave the sea. They climbed into the sky on a straight course for rival pirates who remained unaware of their nearing, too busy netting and collecting sparkling jewels.
The Witchery fell silent. Every grimy member of the crew waited, keen and anxious, as they drifted closer to the vessel Captain Harvey planned to sink.
Gavin patted his thighs. At each side, a sword in sheath appeared out of thin air. He clutched either hilt, ready.
It was the rival pirates who broke the tranquility of the night.
They sounded the alarm, and immediately Captain Harvey gave the order to fire canons. The enemy ship was shot full of holes but remained hovering above the clouds. Again came an order to fire a second round. Additional ruptures opened up the bottom decks of the targeted pirate ship. By this time it was on its way around to face off with The Witchery. Gavin glanced at the name painted in black, fancy lettering across the stern of the damaged vessel. It read The Red Dagger.
He gasped. This was a nightmare ship! A cursed, unsinkable, haunted craft! A legend Gavin had heard mention of in many captivating bedtime stories featuring the notorious pirate of greater cunning and fiercer prowess and superior swordsmanship than any other infamous buccaneer! The captain of this nefarious ship was none other than…….the charcoal-haired Drake Blackmont!
Gavin drew both swords and steadied himself. This would be a worthy fight for the key keeper—a challenge he truly longed for—if fate paired him off with the most aggressive swordsman ever spoken of in pirate lore.
“Aye.” He licked his lips and grinned at the thought.
There was a blur of motion on either vessel as deckhands rushed to and fro responding to captain’s battle orders. Canons fired repeatedly from The Witchery, and yet The Red Dagger pulled up alongside its attacker, communicating a suicidal wish, daring the enemy to gut its belly hollow. All eyes turned upward, men ducking and cowering from instinct when it rained on Captain Harvey’s men. Captain Blackmont had ordered an ambush.
Drake’s crew swung from high ropes, falling on The Witchery and those sorry souls aboard. Their faces were painted red and black, marked like demons. One glance proved petrifying, causing even the bravest warrior to hesitate. Many of Jimbo’s men were run through, paralyzed by initial shock before managing to lift their own swords. But a war cry hit the air and rallied their resolve.
A rabble sword fight engulfed the only ship not ablaze.
Gavin swung his dual blades right and left, exchanging blows using both hands equally well. Every painted figure that came his way met the same fate—cast aside in a motionless heap upon the bloody deck. He fought his way through the crowd, cutting down the enemy, exerting his force with precise, effective moves. But his eye kept focused on the ultimate prize……the captain of The Red Dagger.
Drake Blackmont fought on the raised stern, defending his heightened pedestal with a rapier in hand and a case of bold, grinning arrogance.
Gavin paused when he found it his turn to contend with the notorious pirate. He stole a moment to gaze in awe at a legend come to life. Drake paused likewise, swelling with pride at the look of obvious admiration from another soon-to-be victim of his unerring blade.
Gavin raised an eyebrow. Drake raised one also.
“Aye, lad, yer a young one. If survival be yer wish today, turn tail now and run. Run away, and I shan’t be forced to cut you down in yer youth.”
Setting one foot behind for balance, Gavin gripped tight to his weapons and declared courageously, “I will not run from you.”
The legendary captain crooked his head. “Then yer a fool. An ignorant, misfortunate fool. For I am invincible, laddy. I’ve walked through fire, carved my way from the guts of dragons, sunk every ship rash enough to give me battle, destroyed whole armies, and cut down countless warriors who believed falsely that a mob had the power to crush me. I’ve no fear of death, lad. Though time and time again he tries, the Grimm Reaper cannot grasp me. Death is cursed for my sake, ne’er to have my soul. And so, I’ve no fear of anything.”
“You don’t have to be afraid to be defeated, Captain Blackmont.”
“Aye, is that right, laddy?” A pirate smirk conveyed acceptance to a duel. “Then we shall test yer theory.”
As if generously evening the odds, Drake Blackmont placed one hand behind his back. He jumped down from the heightened deck and met Gavin on level ground. The two circled once, weapons pointed and ready, eyes glued on one another. The captain advanced first. His moves were swifter than anticipated, but Gavin managed to cross his swords and parry the drive downward between his feet. His pulse pounded in his ears, thumping like deep, base drums.
Thank goodness for quick reflexes.
Captain Blackmont grinned and struck again, whizzing his blade a fraction of an inch past the boy’s ear. Had he wanted it, Drake could’ve held a severed ear in the palm of his hand. Gavin retreated quickly, unnerved by his awareness of what could have—should have—happened. His rival gave him no time to consider his luck, but advanced in succession, aiming high, then low, playing with his young challenger. The expert swordsman punctured a shoulder, then a knee, and finally pierced an ear. Every prick bled droplets of red.
Winded and overwhelmed, Gavin distanced himself from such malicious toying. His opponent allowed him a moment’s rest.
“I gave you a chance to run,” Drake smirked darkly. “You should’ve skedaddled.”
Gavin straightened his posture and tossed one sword aside, holding the other before him like a shield. Perhaps concentrating on a single weapon would prove a better strategy. He drew air in and out, working to steady his breathing. Managing a forced smile, he taunted, “I’m just getting started. I didn’t want to hurt your feelings right off, old man.”
The captain laughed aloud, amused by the boy’s boldness. Though minor scuffles continued to take place around them, the two had drawn a crowd. Only Drake seemed aware of the fact.
He attacked without a hint of warning—a thrust aimed at a thigh. Gavin parried the blow, scuttling backwards to avoid a strike. As Drake recovered, he easily deflected a desperate jab meant for his heart. Then the captain lunged forward again, swift as metallic lightning. Gavin parried, retreating. It was nothing but a dance for Captain Blackmont and an exercise in self-defense for the boy.
After barely holding off a sequence of fancy brandishing, Gavin found himself on his back looking up at the pointed end of a rapier. He’d tripped over a coil of rope while avoiding his opponent’s blade. It had happened faster than his mind could register.
“Avast! Leave the boy be!” It was Captain Harvey running to his aide, but there was no need for anyone’s interference.
Beneath Gavin’s shirt an amber glow sparked, growing bright enough to catch the attention of onlookers. Its radiance reached into the darkness.
“It’s my key,” Gavin said. “I have to go; someone’s near the gates.”
Drake withdrew his sword and slipped it into the sheath at his side. “Aye! Get along, key keeper. I’m sure we’ll meet up again.”
Gavin jumped to his feet. And so did every other character on board who’d been lying motionless as if struck dead by a rival sword. The Red Dagger was no longer ablaze, but appeared whole and solid as if it had never suffered one blast from a canon.
Strange? Not really. For that is another secret Gavin keeps. Aye, ya see, me hearties, in Dreamland all lads and lasses and e’en sly ol’ buccaneers ne’er, e’er taste the sting o’ death. In proper words…
No one ever really dies in Dreamland.