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Another place, another time
To cross it was a sentence worse than death, but for his entire life, Johny could not help but look out at the ocean in wonderment. No one knew where the railroad tracks that crossed the wide expanse lead; many said that it ended abruptly, dumping those crazy enough to travel the road into the unforgiving sea. These rumors, sparked by the fact that no one had ever returned from such a voyage bounced through the young boy’s head as he gazed longingly into the treacherous waves.
He was a good looking boy for 11, a lanky lad with shaggy, beautiful brown hair, misty gray green eyes, and a face angels sing songs about. He would walk down the streets with his head in the clouds, not noticing the looks that the young ladies of his sea faring town would give him. To catch his eye had become somewhat of a game of silliness for the adolescent females, but none had done so yet.
Everyone in the village mocked his interest. “A boy should not spend time better left to sowing fields daydreaming of the impossible.” But to Johny’s curious mind, it was not impossible. His parents had done it, and hope still lived in his heart that they would return someday to the son they left behind 10 years earlier.
“They’re never coming back stupid,” said his inner conscience, as he bent for a rock and threw it out over the water. “No one wants you.” Another rock flew, even farther this time. “They’re either dead or having a wonderful adventure without being slowed down by a stupid boy like you.” Lately he’d been having more and more of these thoughts, and the voice in his head had become more persistent. He had to admit that the likelihood that his parents would return diminished more and more each day.
He had ask Loora and Ector nearly everyday since he could speak complete sentences to tell him the story of how he came to live with them, and every time they responded in the same, slightly frustrated way, “You came to us by basket with only a note saying your name and that your parents had decided to ride the rail. No thank you, and no promises of return.” They meant this to discourage his obsession, but it only spurred it on. He knew that they did it, and that there had to be a good reason they hadn’t come back yet. Maybe they were kidnapped by good stealing pirates, or joined the royal army of their new land to defend from people who dared to try anything funny, or bumped their heads and lost their memories and forgot all about their son.
Johny threw the last of his rocks into the sea and began to head for home. “Maybe I am just a stupid daydreaming boy. They’re gone and not coming back for me.” The voice in his head purred at this agreement, and sat quiet for the rest of the day.
“Johny, could you run down to our dock and retrieve some salt water for washing,” asked Loora in the sing song-y way she said things while she cleaned. Of course their house, like almost every other house in the village, had running water, but Loora liked to do things “the way her mother, and her mother’s mother, and her mother’s mother’s mother before that” had done it—including Johny’s least liked of chores, fetching water to boil for cleaning. It wasn’t that he wasn’t strong for his age, but he would wind up bringing bucket upon bucket up until one met Loora’s approval. This typically didn’t happen until the fifth or sixth bucket, but Johny loved Loora like no one else, save maybe Johan, did, and so he went through this little routine every time. “Only because I love you so,” he replied.
“My sweet boy,” Loora cooed. “If only we could keep your head looking forward instead of upwards then any girl would be honored to have such a kind young boy walk her around the square.” She said this every time. Loora was one that was older than her time on alive showed. To this woman, who had bared no children and taken no husband, the thing, what she worried about most was not Johny’s parents coming back for him, but finding her boy a wife.
“She thinks everything to be that simple,” Johny thought. “Does she not realize that there’s a big world that doesn’t revolve around finding a mate?” He knew that the answer to this was yes, but she did not care.
The journey down to the dock was one he always enjoyed. He would speed down the steps as fast as he could, and then right as he reached the last one, he would jump. By doing this, he imagined jumping off the land, and straight into the ocean, where he would not stop swimming until he came to a new land. But Johny never jump off land, and after only a second or so, reality would come back as his slightly too large feet would touch back down and he’d stumble forward. Typically this would lead him to feel more saddened and depressed, but today was a day when he could feel no worse.
His birthday, or the anniversary of the day he came to live with Loora and Johan, was today. A cake with candles had been made, and tonight after all the work had been done, he would blow out said candles and wish for the same thing he always did: for some hint, any hint, about where or who his parents were. So as he blew out those infamous candles, he wished his wish, and tears came to his eyes.
Johny was dreaming of crossing the sea again, but this time, he was older, wiser, stronger, and was riding on something. Wind was whipping his hair, longer in the dream, back as he sped quickly forward. He could feel determination in his heart as his destination grew closer each second, but right as he could almost see it, shouting brought him back to the present. “The tracks,” some yelled. “Look on the tracks.” This snapped him into action as he threw on his long jacket and a pair of well worn shoes and ran out the house and down the street.
A crowd carrying torches was gathered around the end of the landmark. At Johny’s approach they had grown silent. He pushed through to the front, and everyone let him through. “What’s the fuss about?” asked the boy, silently kicking himself for the slightly high pitched ending to his question. He couldn’t help it, ten years of nothing, and then something. No one answered him, except to point a distance to where a figure was limping towards them. Suddenly the figure fell onto the tracks, and Johny’s instincts took over. He ran the distance in record time, and as he got close, he saw that the figure was not an adult, but a teenager. As he reached him, Johny dropped to his knees, and flipped the boy over. The stranger mustered up enough strength for one sentence, “My king, I have found you,” before slipping into a deep unconsciousness.
Johny stood watch over their new arrival all night, until the exhaustion had overcome him and he slumped down into his seat. A slight cough awoke him, and the boy instantly jumped to his feet, looking around for the source of the cough.
“I’m sorry, my lord,” said a voice. “I did not mean to scare you so.” Johny saw that the location of the voice was a boy, only a few years older than the lad gawking at him. Johny recovered from his shock, and remember his manners.
“No, it is not your fault. I was merely taken by surprise at finding someone in the same room as I.” They looked at each other with what can only be described as a look of trying to remember where you met someone before. “Would you like some breakfast?” asked Johny. “Here, I’ll go see what Loora has ready.”
Scurrying off to the kitchen, thoughts raced through his head. “He looks so familiar, but from where?” Thoughts such as these filled his head as he bumped into Ector, who happened to be walking toward the room Johny had just left. “Slow down, young Jon,” stated the old man. “I’ve got breakfast right here for both of you, so turn your tokhes around. We have much talking to do.”
Slowly turning, Johny obeyed. When they returned to the room, they were greeted by the warm smile of the slightly pale looking wanderer. The thought crossed Johny’s mind that he still did not know the boy’s name. Almost as if he had read his mind, the boy spoke, “My name’s Gareth, by the way, your majesty.” “Why do you keep calling me that?” stammered Johny.
“Does he not know of whom he is?” Gareth asked Ector, instead of answering Johny’s question. “Have you never told our king of his greatness, of his kingdom, of his parents?” Gareth pointed an accusatory finger at the elder. “He knows not of any part of him.”
In response, Ector stood, and strode to the door. “Come along, Johny,” he called over his shoulder. He bent over the rug that Johny had walked on thousands of times over the course of his young life without thinking anything of it, and peeled it back to reveal a door, barely visible under a layer of dust. Pulling it back, the old man then began a descent down a flight of stairs. Somewhat uncertainly, Johny then Gareth followed. Down the stairs they went, for what seemed like hours, but were in all actuality only a few seconds, until they came upon the most amazing thing Johny had ever seen. What he saw was what looked to be a market cart with three of the sides cut off. In their place stood a large pole and with a sheet attached to it. To Johny, it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
“What is it?” he asked in awe.
“The way home,” replied Ector and Gareth simultaneously.
“We have been lying to you all this time,” said Ector. They were sitting in a small circle of chairs. Loora had joined them, and was staring intently at Johny. “We have not wanted to, but we never believed that this day would come so soon. We had been planning on telling you when you were older and more mature, but young master Gareth has taken away this opportunity.” Ector smiled kindly at Gareth, but his smile was returned only with a glare. “We were not lying when we said that you had come by basket, but we were when we said that we had no clues to your past except your name. Your parents, Johny, are the king and queen of another place, another time. This is a place of beauty and darkness, a place of immense happiness and sadness, a place of great good and evil. This place is your kingdom, Johny, and it is called Mallowlight Moment. Your parents are the king and queen of this wondrous place, but Gareth’s coming here tells me that all is not as it seems.”
Gareth had not said anything since his outburst earlier, and was feeling self conscience at being address to tell part of the story. Giving a slight cough, he began, “You were always getting into trouble when you were younger. We would hide in the servants’ quarters of the Red Castle, and scare the maids as they walked by. When it came time to choose your age, everyone thought that you would chose to stay a child, but you have always been full of surprises, and instead you chose to become a man such as tradition of your family told.
“Everyone in the land of Mallowlight Moment must—when they become twelve years past birth—chose a stage in which to be frozen in time. In this place, you can choose to be older or younger, at first, but after your first transformation, only older can you grow.
“Not long after your, and my, first transformation, did a great evil descend over the land. Rumors of rebels forming grew like wild fire, which caused your parents to make the decision that has lead us all into this current situation. Your parents decided to run, taking you away from the terrain of your birth.
“Only while we remain in Mallowlight do we stay put in our place in time. As soon as you and your parents stepped foot onto the tracks, you began to age backwards, rapidly at first, but steadily slowing. Your parents were barely late teenagers by the time they presented you to Loora and Ector. You had lost age so rapidly that only two years of your life remained untouched before your parents left you in a basket with only your name to give any significance.
“It did not come as a surprise to the older couple, for they had been sent many many many years earlier to await such arrival. They have loved and raised you as if you were their own child, up until the day when your people need you to return to them.” Gareth ended this and looked up at Johny, whose mouth was hanging open in a most impolite way.
“Unfortunately, the news I have to bring is not pleasant. The good king Mordid, may his body rest in peace, has been brought down by rebels, and it is now your turn to take the thrown and lead the good Mallowlightians out of this period of darkness.” The last he said with a look of sadness.
“We’ll leave immediately,” said Loora, and she walked upstairs to gather what would be needed for the journey.
“But I don’t understand,” stammered Johny. “How did you used to know me? How are you only 12? And what exactly is Mallowlight Moment?”
He continued barrage of questions as they went around the house gathering food and other objects they would need for their journey. No more explanation would be given, no matter how many times Johny asked as he help Ector and Gareth bring the cart upstairs. It was very dark as they pushed the cart out onto the tracks. When everything was packed and arranged to Loora’s satisfaction, the four travelers loaded in, and set sail for a land of mystery.
“We’ve all gone mad,” thought Johny to himself as he took his turn at the controls. “We’re going off to no where, and we’re all going to die.” Even as he thought this, his heart sparked with hope; a hope that only grew as the horizon grew land and a majestic pink castle. Johny may have had no idea of why he was going, but there was no turning around now. The question of who he was bounced through his head. If there was an answer, he'd find it there.