Washington winters last a lifetime. You’d think by now I’d be acclimated, but every year, when the days get shorter and the fog rolls in and masks the last golden rays of summer, my heart sinks and I dread the cold stranger that waits around the corner.
The suffocating grey skies circle like vultures and the cold courses through my veins like an icy, red river. It isn’t the grey and cold that bother me as much as the confinement. I spend my summers outdoors- far from the city and far from reality. I fill those coveted days with hiking and camping, picnicking and laughing with my friends…and dreaming. Dreams seem so much brighter in the summer.
From late June to September, the skies are seldom grey and rain is scarce. I live all year for the 45 days of summer here…. For the freedom and warmth those months offer. When the winter settles in, we are trapped indoors with unpredictable weather and limited light… and worse of all-each other.
Don’t get me wrong I love my family...in small doses, but we’ve been here four years and I still share a room with my little sister. I’m seventeen! It’s seriously lame. My mom homeschools us, so we are like ALWAYS together. There is no escape in the winter.
This is my last year in the dungeon…I mean at home… and then I am headed back to Texas. It wasn’t my idea to move here and I’m not staying any longer than I have to.
It’s already September 18th, and every day it gets a little cooler. I’m not ready to be stuck indoors. Not when there is so much out there to see. My mom hates that I hike alone, but it’s my outlet. My temporary escape. Last week I went a little further than I’d planned and came across an old cabin in the woods near Snoqualmie Falls. Its dilapidated, worn doors have been boarded shut, and its hazy windows blindfolded- just in case the old cabin tried to sneak a peek at a passerby like me, I suppose. I laughed when I saw the boarded door. It wouldn’t keep anyone out the way it was boarded up; it just made the old cabin look like a worn, old man with a hand over his mouth.
The sign above is intriguing. “Vaughn’s Vacation Venue. Stay a night and become an instant world traveler.”
I should have gone in when I had the chance, but it was getting dark and I was already late. I wonder what secret that old cabin is keeping.
I’ve been dying to get back to the cabin, but the days are getting shorter and no matter how much I love the outdoors, I know enough not to be caught out after dark. I know if I really want to explore the cabin, I need to go during the day and so I propose an outdoor research project to my school teacher mom as part of that month’s science curriculum. Truth be told, I think my mom sometimes gets as sick of my winter melancholy as I do of being stuck in the house, so it doesn’t take much convincing for her to give me a field day. Her one caveat is that I have to include my sister Rose in the excursion.
This is no problem. For years, my sister and I have worked out a mutually beneficial system in which I promise my sister that I will do all a project’s work for both of us and she will not mind when I abandon her and will also lie convincingly if asked about her participation. We both value our alone time. So far, it’s been a good arrangement. There are some advantages to being home schooled and old enough to have a driver’s license so I can disappear for a while on special school projects I dream up and my mom approves.
I drop Rose off at the outlet stores on my way up to the trail and promise her I’ll be back by 5:00. I’m guessing my phone may be out of range in the meantime. She waves her fingers without a backward glance as she beelines for the Gap.
I had googled “Vaughn’s Vacation Venue” the same night I found the cabin, hoping that I could get a little history on the place, but there was nothing. Maybe it had been abandoned so long, it had totally missed the age of the internet. And then I had checked out some of the hikers’ forums for the areas around the Falls. I thought for sure that the cabin would be mentioned somewhere--that it had intrigued someone else the way it did me, but again there was nothing. The cabin was only about two miles into the woods and just off a main trail. I thought it odd that nobody had mentioned it as a good destination for maybe a picnic with younger kids or something. It wasn’t that strenuous a hike. And then I started getting excited that maybe the cabin really is kind of secret. Maybe not as many people hike there as I thought they might. Maybe I’d have a chance to explore something all to myself.
Within ten minutes of dropping Rose off, I’m at the trailhead. I grab my day pack filled with the hiking essentials, plus food and water to last the day and start up the trail. I push back the hood of my raincoat as the cabin comes into view. The sun still hasn’t really broken through the clouds today and the rain started falling a few minutes ago. I was hoping to spend all day in the woods once I checked out the cabin, but there’s nothing like the water torture of a continuous drizzle. I wish the rain would come and dump it all at once in a fury and then be done with it like in Texas. At least I have a book. Maybe I can read for a bit in the old cabin and wait to see if the clouds ever let the sun peak through today.
I skirt around the boarded up front porch and start to make a 360 around the cabin. When I get to the back I see there’s a door that is hanging ajar. No need to break in; this is going to be easy. I hope somebody hasn’t vandalized the place. I push open the door and it swings soundlessly into the cabin. I take a single step up. The room is far from destroyed or abandoned. In fact, the cabin’s interior looks amazing. To start out with, it’s clean in a way that can’t come easily in the woods. There’s not even any dust or a single cobweb in a corner. This from a place that I imagined would be choked in years of forest growth and a haven for all sorts of creatures. Cheerful curtains frame the window and a small table holds two place settings with fresh flowers in a vase. I realize with a start that someone must be currently living here. But instead of bolting when I realize I’m trespassing, I find myself strangely drawn into the one room cabin.
In the corner close to the fireplace, a bed is neatly made and piled high with inviting pillows. I feel like Goldilocks as I drop my pack onto the floor and try out the bed. I bounce on it a few times to test the springs and then inexplicably recline until I’m enveloped in the nest of pillows. Intellectually, I know I should get out of here, but emotionally I feel incredibly calm. I wonder if the calm is somehow coming from inside me or if Vaughn’s Vacation Venue is exerting some external force over me. I ponder getting my book out, but my eyes seem to close on their own accord as I snuggle deeper into the pillows. I can’t remember a time I’ve felt so peaceful.
I awake with a start. Sunlight is streaming through the window across from my bed, filling the room with a yellow-striped haze.
How long have I been asleep? Long enough for it to be full day, I guess. Except that I haven’t seen sunshine this bright since the summer.
I sit up in the bed and look around the room. I had fallen asleep before I had much time to examine it, but something about the room feels different. Then I notice it. The table in the center of the room, with two place settings and a vase of fresh flowers, now also contains a steaming pot of something that smells delicious. The heavenly aroma fills the room, making my stomach gurgle in response. How long has it been since I have eaten?
The reality of the presence of the steaming food suddenly makes the hairs on the back of my neck and arms rise in anxiety. Someone is here with me. Someone brought that food in here, and probably saw me sleeping on the bed. They may have even stood over me as I slept, watching the gentle rise of my chest as I breathed in and out, and the flutter of my eyes as I dreamt, feeling safe and secure.
I feel very vulnerable.
Cautiously, I get off the bed and make my way to the door. I bypass the food. It may be a trap, for all I know. This whole cabin may be a trap to lure in unsuspecting hikers, to what end only time would tell.
The door is absurdly silent as I push it open a few inches, just enough to peek outside. There is no one there, so I take a deep breath to steady my pounding heart, and then slip outside into the sunshine. What I see takes my breath away.
I am in the forest, but it doesn’t look the same. The trees are so big, like giants standing guard around me, with a mass of violet and mossy green foliage hanging from their expansive arms. The sun shining through the trees casts a yellow haze over everything, creating a strange intensity in all the colors, like I have just walked from the black and white world of reality and into the magical color of the land of Oz.
Where am I?
“Why, hello there,” a voice calls cheerfully from the side of the cabin. I spin around to see a boy that looks to be my age, standing there with a huge basket of fruits and flowers propped on his cocked hip. His feet are bare, and he is wearing strange clothing for a boy, a deep green tunic that looks to be hand-stitched, and a pair of brown pants that are too short for his long legs. “It’s about time you decided to wake up! I thought that I would have to wake you before you slept the whole day away!”
“Wh-who are you?” I ask, trembling.
The boy lets out a bark of a laugh, kicking his head back as it rolls from him.
“Who am I?! Who am I?! Why, I should be asking who are you, since you are the one that turned up in my humble abode.”
I stand there staring, not knowing what to say.
“This is your cabin?” I finally ask, feeling silly and small.
“Well, yes it is. But you are welcome here. I love having visitors. I hardly get them, you see.”
The boy has a funny lilt to his voice, almost like he is singing, and I can’t help but stare at him. What is his accent? It sounds so foreign, and yet also familiar. I feel like I am in a trance, that somehow he has cast me under a strange spell.
“Do not be afraid,” the boy says suddenly, setting his basket on the moss-covered ground. “I love having visitors,” he repeats, and steps lightly toward me. The way he moves is like nothing I have ever seen before. His feet hardly touch the ground and he makes no sound. He is next to me before I can even blink.
“My name is Robin. Robin Vaughn. What is yours?”
I look into his eyes that are impossibly green. They are the same color as his tunic, only they have flecks of gold in them.
“Emma,” I stammer, and then try to regain control of myself. “My name is Emma Stone.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Emma Stone,” he says, his eyes twinkling. Then he cocks a mischievous eyebrow and nods toward me. “You and I are going to have a bit of fun now, aren’t we?”
He laughs again, loud and unafraid. Then he takes my hand and leads me back toward the cabin.
“Come along, Emma Stone. There is always a feast before one begins a journey.”
“A journey?” I stutter, as he is dragging me into the cabin. “I don’t understand. Where am I? How did I get here?”
The boy plops me into one of the chairs at the table, and with a flourish, removes the lid from the steaming pot, revealing a roasted chicken and large chunks of potatoes and vegetables. My mouth begins to salivate. He then ducks outside the door for a moment, and produces the basket which he had been carrying when I first saw him.
He empties the basket onto the table, which contains an assortment of peaches, grapes, and another fruit that I do not recognize. They are huge and round and I can almost taste them just from their overpowering scent. He also produces a large crusty loaf of bread, the edges slightly charred as though it has been baked over a hot fire. I feel overwhelmed with the assortment of aromas filling the room. It’s like my senses have all been turned up to “high,” and my brain is trying to make logical sense of everything.
“All your questions will be answered. But for now, Emma Stone, you will eat.” Then he smiles at me, and all I want is to sit and stare into those eyes.
Pull yourself together, I think, and try to mentally snap out of the daze that I seem to fall into whenever I look into this boy’s face.
I look at the table, at my plate, at the utensils, at the unusual flowers on the table, at the roasted chicken. These are the things I can concentrate on. Don’t look up. Don’t look into those eyes. I fill my plate with food because I am hungry and I don’t believe this boy has poisoned the food. He’s dressed weird and his eyes make me woozy but he isn’t evil. I can feel it and this food is really good. I wish my Mom could learn to cook like this.
Robin laughs. “It’s good to see you are a good eater. Many of my visitors barely eat anything and then they are not prepared for their journey. You will need the strength. Eat away, Emma Stone.”
I continue eating. What else is there to do? I am hungry. Robin moves around the room collecting items. I glance up now and then to see what he is doing. He picks up a rope and wooden bucket and puts them by the door where he has already collected an assortment of things, some I know what they are and some I don’t.
Robin looks at me right then. I look down quickly but not quickly enough to completely avoid his eyes. A strange electricity runs through my body in that instant. “Emma Stone, I need you to think of the three places in the universe that you would like to visit. I will need to know them before we leave.”
“I don’t understand,” I say, looking up but I making sure my eyes don’t go any higher than his chest.
“You don’t need to understand everything,” says Robin. “You just need to realize we are going on a journey and you decide where we will go. You, and only you, know where we must go. When we get to each of our three destinations, we will explore and discover wonderful sights and there might even be an adventure to be had but there will always be an item we must collect and bring home. You will know it when you see it.”
I look up then and look him square in the eyes, “What the heck?!?” I exclaim. “I’m not going anywhere with you. Thank-you for the food but I gotta be goin’. My sister will be waitin’ for me.” I try to stand up but Robin puts his hand on my shoulder and I stay in my seat. I stutter as I try to continue and my voice is beginning to get higher and higher in pitch. His eyes are getting to me. “She, she likes to shop but she, she knows we have to get home on time or my parents will freak out. She’ll freak out if I’m not there on time and it’s got to be time by now.”
Robin bends down and keeps my eyes locked on him,“Emma Stone, time began to stand still when you entered the cabin. You, literally, have all the time in the world to complete your journey. However, the sooner we leave, the sooner you come back and can return to your family. I see you haven’t finished your food yet, please do so and remember, think about where we need to go. These three places can be somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit, places you’ve been or even places you’ve only dreamed of. In other words, there are no boundaries. Eat quickly, I’m almost done packing.”
He turns away from me then and continues picking up things from the cabin, mumbling to himself as he goes about his business and I know he has spoken the truth. I know I must be crazy to believe him but I know he is right. His eyes didn’t even made me woozy that time. They just testified to my soul that what he was saying was right.
There are three places we need to go and I know where they are as sure as I know my name is Emma Stone. We are going to Disneyland. They always ask everyone after they win an important game of any sort, where are you going and it’s always Disneyland. Well, if I get to choose where we are going, it is definitely going to include Disneyland. Besides, I know there’s something we need there. After Disneyland, we’re going to Green Gables on Prince Edward Island. I read the Anne of Green Gables series in middle school and I know there is something we need that we can only get at Green Gables. I am kind of excited about that. I love Green Gables! And then we’re going to Kenya. I’ve never been there. I’ve never studied the country and I just barely know where it is in the world but that’s where we need to be. I’m excited now.
I’m not really hungry anymore but I know I’m going to need my strength for the places we’re headed. I quickly finish my food.
“I’m ready,” I say.
“That was fast Emma Stone. You must know where we are to go,” says Robin.
“I do. First, we’re going to Disneyland.”
Robin groans. “You have the entire universe to explore and you pick Disneyland?”
I’m a little offended. “Yes,” I reply stiffly. “There’s something we need there and besides it’s the happiest place on earth. What’s your problem?”
“No problems. I was just hoping you might have a little more imagination is all. Disneyland is all magical and wonderful and all but it’s all smoke and mirrors. There’s no real magic at all!” says Robin.
“WELL... the other two places we’re going to are Green Gables, a fiction location so you can employ all your magic to get us there and the other place is Kenya, where you can use your magic to keep us alive. I don’t know much about Kenya but I don’t think it’s that safe of a location,” I proclaim. I’m a little miffed he doesn’t like Disneyland. What’s not to like about Disneyland?
“Okay, okay Emma Stone, let’s go,” says Robin.
He puts the things he’s collected into two backpacks and hands me one. He ties the wooden bucket onto his backpack. He takes my hand and we walk out the door and into Disneyland.
I’m looking right at the hill of flowers that look like Mickey Mouse. I love this place. Everything is perfect. There seems to be magic in the air and even more so since we skipped all the lines to get in. That’s when I realize that no one seems to be moving around me. The people are all frozen. I look at Robin.
“What’s going on?” I ask. “Why is no one moving? They all seem to be frozen.”
“They are in a way. I told you time was standing still. It means that nothing is happening in the world until we get done collecting the things you will need.”
“What? I can’t go on any rides?” I was more worried about the fun I wanted to have than the things we needed to collect.
“Emma Stone, I can make the rides go. You may ride on whatever you like but we do need to collect your item. Do you know what it is or where it is located?”
“Nope, but I know I want to start by going on Star Tours, then head all the way around the park going on every ride,” I say.
“Every ride?” asks Robin.
“Just about. I don’t get to come here every day. It costs a small fortune for my family to come and we rarely have a small fortune available. Let’s go.”
We ride Star Tours, Astro Blasters, Buzz Lightyear, Space Mountain (3 times!), Autotopia, both tracks. Finding Nemo is a little creepy since I am the only one on the submarine. Robin says he doesn’t like to be under water. We did the Matterhorn Bobsleds (3 times too), It’s a Small World, all of Toontown and Fantasyland, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (4 times because it’s so cool!) and then we take a nice, quiet ride on the Mark Twain boat riverboat. We run to get on the Pirates of the Caribbean next. I love this ride. We are coming up to the prison where the pirates are trying to get the keys from the dog when I know we have to stop the ride.
“Stop the ride!” I yell.
“Okay,” says Robin as the boat slows to a stop.
“I have to get off the boat I need the keys from that dog,” I say.
“Really? Those pirates have been trying to get those keys from that dog for fifty years and now you are going to come and take them. That’s hilarious!” says Robin.
I stand up, prepared to jump to shore but the boat is rocking so much I know my jump may land short. “I need your help. I need to stabilize the boat so I can get a good jump. It’s not far but I don’t want to land anywhere near the water.”
Robin reaches across the relatively short divide from the boat to the set and steadies the boat. I take a leap and land safely on two feet. I feel kind of guilty for doing this but I go up to the dog, pry open his mouth and take the keys. Triumph and a sense of rightness that this is what I will need fall upon me. I do a little dance before I look up and see Robin looking at me. I hurry back to the boat and the ride continues. We add the keys to the backpack.
“Any idea why the keys, Emma Stone?” asks Robin.
“I was going to ask you the same question,” I reply. “I have no idea. I just know these are what we need. I felt something.”
“Good, well now we can go,” says Robin.
“No way,” I reply. “We still have to ride the Jungle Cruise, go to the Haunted Mansion and ride Splash Mountain and then we can go.”
“Okay, let’s get going then,” replies Robin with a little humph at the end.
As we are zooming down the last plunge on Splash Mountain, the water is coming closer and closer when all of a sudden I am no longer coming closer and closer to water but I am surrounded by snow and zooming down a hill on a sled. I feel Robins arms around my waist and I realize we are dressed from head to toe in warm clothes, just not quite warm enough and I shudder. We hit a small mound of snow at the bottom of the hill and I go flying off to the right. I land and scurry up to get out of the snow. My legs are cold and I look down and adjust my long skirt to try and cover more of my cold legs. I look up around me and that’s when I see it. Green Gables. We are at Green Gables!
“I can’t believe it!” I exclaim, “It’s really Green Gables. It looks exactly right!”
“Of course,” Robin said. He looked a little annoyed that I’d doubted him.
I ran around in the snow, which was difficult because I was wearing a heavy woolen skirt, and looked at the house. I was glad to be wearing the skirt though. It was right. I wouldn’t have been as happy at Green Gables in jeans. Over a little rise, I looked across the snowy fields and saw The Lake of Shining Waters. It had to be! It was frozen over and if I wasn’t mistaken, that was Anne Shirley and Diana Barry ice skating. They were of course frozen themselves because time stood still but I could see Anne’s red braids and a glossy dark braid down Diana’s back. I sighed from the pure perfection of it all.
Finally, I stamped my feet up the steps to clear off all the snow and tried the door. It was locked. “Oh,” I sighed disappointedly. I would have loved to have explored inside. “I wonder where Matthew and Marilla are,” I said, trying to peek through a window.
I turned to look at Robin. He had his hands on his hips and was looking at me expectantly.
“What?” I asked.
“You may as well tell me,” I said impatiently. My feet were cold.
He lifted up the keys we’d taken from Pirates of the Caribbean.
“No!” I exclaimed, “Really?” I grasped the keys and tried them in the lock. Somehow the oversized key slid into the small keyhole and the door clicked open. I ran through the house, looking at everything. It was perfect! Perfect! I found Marilla’s sewing basket and school work in Anne’s room. I looked out her bedroom window, sure this was the best thing that had ever happened to me. I kept exploring and in a cabinet downstairs, I found a small bottle of cherry cordial.
“This is what I need to take!” I said. Robin raised his eyebrows but said nothing.
“Can we just go down to the barn?” I asked.
“Sure, we have time,” Robin said with a grin, “See what I did there? A little joke. Time is standing still, we can do whatever we want.”
I smiled. As we walked to the barn, I asked him, “So I probably should have asked you earlier, but is there a catch to all of this? You’re taking me to all these great places but what do you want in exchange?”
“I was wondering when you were going to ask,” Robin said.
“We will talk more about your “exchange rate” later. But now, hold onto your skirts, we are off to Mombasa,” replied Robin.
Hold onto my skirts I did - wondering what he was holding onto. This seemed to be a bit of a longer ride than the previous two destinations, and a lot more bumpy. Finally we skidded out of Green Gables barn doors and onto the beach at the famous Mombasa Beach Hotel.
Leaving Green Gables was hard. It was like I didn’t quite get finished there. Maybe we could stop by the barn again on our way back home. But I didn’t have time to think about that now. Remembering what ocean I was about to dip my feet into was requiring all of my homeschooled knowledge. Indian! Yes. The water was clear and free of the abundant seaweed we had in the Puget Sound. There was a reef about 40 meters out which made for some really amazing waves which settled down by the time they reached the shore. There was a family frozen nearby, enjoying time in the water and the sun; they looked nearly as pale as I felt. Wondering if they had remembered their sun screen, I thought about ransacking their beach bag.
“Don’t worry, the sun won’t be burning your skin. We are on the equator and you will definitely feel the sun’s heat, but the rays will have no effect on the color of your skin,” Robin reassured me, almost as if he had read my mind.
“So why Kenya?” he asked me. “It’s hot here, there is a great deal of poverty, not a lot of water, they seem to be just eking out their existences day by day. Is it the people you are curious about? The animals on safari? Parliament? The food? What?”
Unfortunately, these were questions I was asking myself as well. Kilimanjaro was here in Kenya, right? Maybe I needed to summit that magnificent dormant volcano. Hiking 19,341 feet (ok, gotta get into the right frame of mind here - 5,895 meters) up into the stratosphere sounded amazing. “Staggering to half way up that mountain would be more like it though,” my realistic self chimed in. So, no, that didn’t feel right. Besides, then I remembered Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania, not Kenya. Duh.
Robin and I began walking, which might sound weird but most people seemed to walk everywhere here. As we got onto the main drag into downtown Mombasa, I saw all kinds of people in that strange fixed state of not moving. There were beautiful women with mahogany skin, large, white smiles and dark eyes, carrying five-gallon buckets on their heads (how on earth did they do that?!), others carrying large bundles of sticks on their heads and children from newborns to toddlers wrapped on their backs. Then there were men, both young and old, pushing carts filled with buckets of water, two-by-fours, mountains of fruit, piles of rock, and even a family of goats. Most were barefoot and I wondered if my feet could ever become tough enough to walk over pebbles and prickers and dirt clods like these captivating people did. We walked past markets, hair salons, charging stations (can you believe they have an abundance of cell phones over here?), fruit stands, people selling water in clear blue water bottles or slingshots or produce of any kind and of course, Coca Cola in the middle of the road to the drivers of trucks and tuk-tuks and safari vans and racing Toyota Camrys. We walked past herds of goats as well as their herders, chickens out socializing, and children playing with balls made from a bunch of plastic bags wrapped tightly together. The landscape became more desert like as we left town behind and began passing by small villages. Here we saw school children returning home after their day at school. The only way I was able to tell the boys from the girls is whether they had on skirts or shorts, as all of them had shaved heads.
Soon I was dripping. I hadn’t realized how humid it was while we were on the beach and then as we began traveling I had been so immersed with all the new things I was seeing that I hadn’t noticed the sweat pouring down my neck and the backs of my arms, until now. My brow was sprinkled with beads of perspiration. I began to wonder where we would get some water to drink. While I was thankful for the wonderful meal we had eaten before leaving that magical cabin, I could not imagine traveling another meter without some water.
Seeing a woman up ahead near a sign that said, “Water 2 shillings per jerry bucket” I approached her buckets, anticipating some relief from my thirst. However, when I looked into several of the buckets, I knew that no relief would be found here for me. The water was dirty, a dark brown with things (I don’t know what things exactly) floating on top. It screamed “disease!”
“I need something to drink, Robin,” I begged. “Please, it is so hot.” He looked at me kindly then handed me one of those cool blue bottles of water. Clean water. One liter of life in such a small container. I was so very grateful. As I chugged down the water, he asked me where we needed to go next.
Then I knew. Of course, it had been so obvious! We had to go to the elephant orphanage.
“The what?” Robin blurted.
“I’ve heard about one of the few remaining black rhinoceros living among the baby elephants at the elephant orphanage. It’s near Nairobi. Is that far from here?”
“Only about 440 kilometers, Emma. But don’t worry, it will take us just a moment with my travel agent,” Robin reassured me. And then suddenly we were standing in front of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi.
“I know what we need to take from here, Robin” I said. But I wasn’t at all really that sure. Well, I was sure, I just didn’t have a clue about how we were going to take it home with us.
Together we walked through the orphanage. There were about 30 elephants here ranging in ages from a few weeks old to 8 years. One was blind, another had a damaged trunk from the hyenas that had attacked it after it had been abandoned by its mother. Still another had just arrived and had an IV inserted into a vein just beneath the ear flap. I hadn’t ever thought about doing something like that before and wondered just how tough the hide of an elephant was. Then at the back, I saw what I knew we had come searching for. Maxwell. The blind six-year old black rhino that had been abandoned when he was only a week old. He was huge, prehistoric looking, and yet seemed so meek and shy. I walked over and placed my hand on his horn, the big one right on the tip of his nose. It was rough and covered in dried mud and reminded me of my grandfathers really gross toenail with fungus. But this horn wasn’t gross! Of course he didn’t move when I touched him, but it was still a bit unnerving to be so close to something so massive. An animal I had never considered seeing much less touching.
“Robin,” I began nervously, “This is what we need to take with us. I’ll give him the cherry cordial from Green Gables to drink so that when we arrive at our next destination - which I hope is home - he won’t totally freak out. He should remain calm.” How I knew this was beyond me.
“Sure, Emma Stone. I’ll just pop him in my backpack and off we’ll go. Intoxicated rhino and all.” I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t.
I cautiously opened the bottle of cherry cordial and poured it into the massive creature’s mouth. It began to dribble out the corners and Robin rushed over with his wooden bucket and tried to save every drop possible. I pried his mouth open as far as I could and shoved the bottle in, making sure to empty its entire contents. Robin stood back with a relieved smile, his mystic green eyes flickering in the African sunlight.
“Now what?” I asked. “How are we going to get him back?”
“I told you Miss Stone. We will pack him up in my backpack and be gone.” He tipped his head back, stretched out his arms and laughed, loud and hard. He did this for several minutes until his laugh subtly flowed into a low, rhythmic mantra. I just shook my head and thought him odd. But then it happened.
A breeze swirled around Robin, causing his tunic and hair to dance wildly about. When he met my gaze again, his eyes looked different than they had just moments before. The gold flecks were more prominent than the green. He seemed to be looking through me rather than at me. I did not trust those eyes. Nothing about them lulled me like before. He blinked precipitously and looked down. The wind surrounding him died as quickly as it began and the dry earth rumbled below Maxwell. The sun baked mud that covered the animal began to crumble and fall at his feet. I took a step back and watched as the blind, black rhino began to diminish in size. In less than a minute, the prehistoric, 2000 lb creature was reduced to no more than a trinket. I stood there in disbelief.
“There now. Let’s add him with the others.” Robin said calmly… in a voice I did not recognize.
“The others?” I asked as I cautiously turned to him. I gasped as I beheld a withering old man in Robin’s green tunic. His hair was streaked grey and white and his once beautiful eyes were now empty of all color. From his tunic, he pulled out a flask and drank eagerly. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and sighed.
“You see Emma. There is always a price for negligent curiosity. I wandered into an abandoned shop in my country when I was no older than you. I liked the idea of an adventure. I thought my life to be so mundane.” He shook his head and spat in self-disgust before he continued. “I journeyed with a man to three destinations collecting items just as you have done with me….just as those who preceded me did as well. I chose for my locations the Amazon River, Gatsby’s mansion in West Egg and a place I had overheard an American claiming to have found gold…Snoqualmie Falls, Washington state, America. What I didn’t know, sadly, was that once you take an item from a fictional location-like the Gatsby mansion or Green Gables- and transport it to reality, its properties change…it becomes a...sort of portal, I guess you would say. Time has been still for me for seventy two of your earthly years Emma Stone; and now, thanks to you, I am free.” He removed a long piece of twine from the backpack and stumbled toward me. He knelt down and ran his hands across the dusty, red clay searchingly, until he found the shrunken rhino. He carefully tied the cord around the rhino and held the cord up. Several other trinkets littered the make-shift necklace and my eyes grew wide in realization. His blank eyes met mine as he looped the necklace around his neck and said “Unfortunately, Emma Stone, that means you are not.”
I watched in horror as Robin faded and disappeared. The necklace lay drained of its power at my feet. A warm wind kicked up dust from the waterless ground and knocked over the bucket containing the few remaining drops of cherry cordial . I guarded my eyes with my forearm and bent down to retrieve the cursed talismans. When the dust settled I noticed an old shack off in the distance. A faded sign banged gently against the metal siding. It read “Stone Sanctuary. Where time stands still.”