Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Chapter One

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 is an unusual boy, as you will 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, yet 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.”
A minute didn’t pass before the sound of success burped up from the wolf’s belly.  “Ah-ha!  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 snap out of a reasonable 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. 
“For me?”
“For you.”
“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?”
“Just one.”
“That’s all?”
“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 asked.  “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 his adorable 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 had not 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 is 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

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