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The Door Into Elsewhere


malign

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The Door Into Elsewhere

A Roger the Dragon Story

It is not so much that Elsewhere is an alternate reality. After all, why would reality need multiple versions? On the other hand, there's also no good reason why reality should be the same everywhere. It is true that people have always assumed that the simplest explanation was best, or at least tried to keep the explanations as simple as necessary. But how would we know beforehand how complicated they would need to be?

So it turns out that there are places in reality where things are a wee bit ... different. Not obvious things like sunlight or gravity. But there are places where the creatures of our dreams live. And this makes perfect sense: otherwise, how would we be able to imagine them? Dreams are no place for any self-respecting creature to live.

In fact, the Enchanted Forest is just one example of such a place. Elsewhere is an entirely different one.

*******************************

The Door Into Elsewhere was not very large, so it was a good thing that Richard was not, either. In fact, it was not even a proper door. It was simply a dark archway under the hedge at the bottom of the garden. If the other boys had not been pursuing him, he might not have found it at all.

One minute he was running along the thick old hedge through long wet grass after a rainstorm. The next he had ducked into the dark opening, hoping to get far enough into the hedge to hide from his pursuers. Only, instead of a dripping dark hole full of spider webs, he found himself suddenly on the other side of the hedge, in a forest of tall trees. The weather was unexpectedly different, too: here the sunlight was the warm silver of an overcast summer day, the air dry and warm. On this side, thrushes were singing here and there in the distance, and there were none of the human sounds of the neighborhood he had left, most especially no calls from the boys he was running from. Nevertheless, he decided to run deeper into the woods, just to be sure.

One cannot run forever, though, or even for very long. After a few minutes, he stopped behind the thick trunk of a tree to catch his breath. What surprised him was that no one had caught him; in fact, no one had even come through the hedge, as far as he could tell. It appeared that he had lost them.

Unfortunately, it also appeared that he had lost himself. For when he returned to the hedge, he could no longer find the Door, even after casting up and down along it in longer and longer sweeps. Everywhere he looked the bushes grew in tangled clumps. Nowhere was there a space he could even try to wriggle into.

Fear, which had only recently left him, returned. He yelled for help, his former predicament forgotten. There was no reply. The woods, which had seemed warm and welcoming earlier, began to seem forbidding and harsh compared to the lawn on the other side of the hedge. He wanted to go home now. He sat against a tree trunk facing the hedge and began to cry.

*******************************

June had watched Richard running from the other boys from a hiding place across the lawn. She had something of a sixth sense for trouble, and perhaps a seventh for trying to stop it. There was not really much she could do against the whole crowd of them, though, so she had been forced to watch.

She saw Richard desperately throw himself into the little archway in the hedge. She watched the pursuers overshoot his hiding place, then spread out to look for him. One boy even looked under the hedge at the exact spot where he disappeared, but somehow failed to see Richard. She made a mental note of the spot, though. Eventually the boys became bored and ran off screaming towards some other mischief. She carefully left her hiding place and ran home to fetch Roger. She was sure he would know what to do.

She was sure of that because Roger was a dragon, and dragons have many abilities besides flying and fire-breathing. They are an ancient and noble race with much secret lore passed down among them. Not that they are known for being extremely intelligent, but they are subtle. Well, and as the saying goes, quick to anger.

Physically, Roger was a fairly ordinary dragon except for one thing: in an encounter with a deceitful wizard, he had been shrunk from the size of a house down to someone that June could carry easily. Picture, to start with, something a bit like an iguana, with splayed legs and a whiplike tail. Add bony ridges over his eyes, a crest at the back of his head, and of course, leathery wings stretched over bony struts to give him exquisite control in flight. Examine his blackish-grey scales and the thick hide that makes dragons all but impervious to damage. Then, look him in the eyes, and note the pride, the sadness, and the nobility of one who ought to be ranked among the kings of beasts. His eyes say that even though he may be currently living in the back of a little girl's clothes closet, he is still a personality to reckon with. And he had chosen June as his friend.

So, when she arrived back home breathless and calling for him, he flew to her shoulder and listened to her explain what she had seen.

"And now I can't find Richard anywhere!" she concluded.

She listened as Roger planned out their search. Then she ran off to fetch the household items he had asked for. Finally, they set off together for the great hedge and their adventure into Elsewhere.

*******************************

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Richard did not cry for long. There did not seem to be much point. The sun was warm, though, and he was suddenly sleepy. He huddled against the tree trunk and fell asleep.

Now, anyone could tell you that falling asleep at the edge of that particular forest is not an extraordinarily good idea, especially for a young person. Of course, it would have to be someone from Elsewhere, and Richard had not met any yet.

But you can be sure he will ... shortly.

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In fact, there was one standing on his chest when he awoke.

Luckily for Richard's ribs, it was not a very big someone. In fact, it was a someone not much taller than Richard's hand, with approximately human proportions. This person was not exactly human, though; besides the size, there was something almost plant-like about them. Perhaps it was the clothing the person wore, which looked more like a leaf-wrapping than something sewn. Or maybe it was the smooth green color of the skin where the garment ended to expose a face and hands. It was even possible that clothing and skin were simply two different forms of the same substance, like the bark of a twig compared to that of a new shoot. There was also something about the way the little person planted his feet and rode the waves of Richard's chest as he breathed, gently swaying but never coming close to falling.

Whatever kind of person it might be, however, they posed a rather difficult problem for Richard: how to get up without tossing them to the ground? But when Richard flexed his muscles a little to give them a sort of hint, he found that he was thoroughly bound, so tightly that he could hardly wriggle, but with bonds that somehow did not cut into his muscles. It was like waking up mummified, or in some kind of coccoon.

He opened his mouth to speak, but coughed instead. The little person calmly rode out the spasms, though he did avert his face a bit. Finally, Richard found his voice.

"Who ... Who are you?" was the first thing he asked.

The voice that responded was a surprise to Richard. Though obviously not deep, it did not have even a hint of a squeak. The little person spoke without any trace of fear, like someone accustomed to being listened to, and obeyed.

"Why, I'm the Steward of my people, Emerald LongLeaf by name, my lord. And I have found us a new King."

"Have you?" Richard asked in some confusion. "Had you lost him?"

"My people have been without a King for many generations, my lord. We have been content, and prospered, under the rule of the Stewards, but now a threat has arisen from which we cannot protect ourselves. Unless, of course, a proper King were found.

"We are the Tree People, you see. We live, work, and die among the trees. They feed, shelter, and protect us, and we in turn tend them, pruning them, keeping them free of parasites, and protecting them from enemies. In a way, we are all stewards, in fact, and thus our way works well.

"But there has arisen an enemy too powerful for us to resist. It is not simply fire, which is bad enough, because my people burn just like the trees they live in. No, this is something more, something that seeks us out and wants to destroy us. It is the Heart of Fire, and it is systematically driving us out of the forest. In fact, our last stronghold is here, near the Portal, and it is here that I, in our hour of need, have summoned to us a new King."

"Really?" said Richard, quite taken by the story of a kind of fire that seeks its victims. "Will I have a chance to meet him, then?"

The little green man frowned. "Surely my lord jests. For when summoned, the Portal cannot fail to yield up the one who would be King. My lord must know that that one is he."

Richard took a moment to understand what the little man was saying. "What? You mean me? I can't possibly be your King. I'm just a boy, and besides, that whole portal thing was just an accident. I was being chased, and I ran. I tried to hide, and suddenly I was here."

The little man shook his head. "There are no accidents, my lord. None, and certainly not where the Portal is concerned. It is part of the spirit of this place that, when threatened, all of it, the land and everything in it, pulls together. The Portal chose you, of all the people who might have crossed into our land, as the one best suited to be our King."

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By the following morning, Richard was sure that there was something odd about the way Time worked, in this place. It seemed like only moments ago that Emerald had told him that, like it or not, he was a King.

And, it seemed reasonable to try to forget some of what had happened since then. For instance, he preferred not to dwell on the experience of being lowered, still tightly bound (for his own safety, they told him), from the dizzyingly high tree branch where he had met Emerald, by half a dozen of Emerald's six inch tall brethren. It appeared that Richard's People (and he found himself thinking of them as such, already) were disproportionately strong. It was a daunting thought, knowing that he was expected to face a threat that they could not handle, for all their strength and numbers.

On the other hand, he wished he could remember more of the celebration that had followed. It had seemed to him to be a mixture of a coronation party and a wake. But all that was left of it in his memory was a whirl of fire light, swarms of the People eating and drinking and laughing, speeches and toasts and songs. Then he had woken up in a comfortable bed on the ground, surrounded by his personal guards. The remainder of the People were climbing down from the trees to greet the day.

It was then that messengers brought the news that the Door had opened once again. The only explanation that Emerald would give was, "The Portal may allow the King suitable companions."

***********************************

Armed scouts of the Tree People had surrounded June and Roger as soon as they had entered the forest. Roger might have fought them and escaped, if he had been alone, but he had June to protect. So, he allowed the scouts to surround them and lead them into the forest.

Little did they imagine that they were being taken to King Richard himself. When June saw him seated among his court, she wanted to run towards him, but was blocked by the troops of his guard. Richard called them off: "It's okay, it's okay. I recognize her."

June blurted out, "We followed you. I saw you disappear. I thought you needed help."

But Richard had focused on the strange creature hovering around June's head. She had kept Roger's secret fairly well since she had agreed to hide him in her clothes closet. None of the other children had ever seen the little dragon with her.

"What is that?" he exclaimed.

"He's not a 'that'; he's Roger!" she replied. "He's my friend."

"Yes, I'm sorry. But ... I just meant ... Well, what is he?"

So June introduced Roger to Richard, and taking turns they told him the lengthy story of how their friendship began. Richard found that he liked the little dragon: he gave off the same air of modest self-assurance that he had seen in Emerald. As for June, he found her difficult to understand, a quiet girl with a penchant for underdogs. Yet he could hardly be anything but grateful that she had cared enough to come find him. However, he found that for some reason they seemed to avoid each other's eyes.

And then it was Richard's turn to tell the story of how he had been found by the Tree People and somehow become their King. And of the fearsome creature that he was expected to defeat. Together, the three of them talked late into the night, plotting strategy for the defeat of the Heart of Fire.

***********************************

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Dragons are masters of strategy, with generations of battles in their racial memories. Yet, the final plan was Richard's; he relied on Roger's knowledge only for the details, and certain skills of Roger's that Richard did not know about.

They set out the next morning. They soon found a spot that fit their plan: a wide shallow stream bubbling over loose stones, with a small bare island in the middle. Richard and June found a fallen log that was not yet rotten, and dragged it to the shore. There, Roger spent an hour carefully heating the log with his flame, though taking care not to allow it to catch fire. Then Richard and June carried one end of the log thus dried across the stream to the island, creating a simple bridge. The final preparation was to gather two smaller pieces of dead wood and set them alight, so that Richard and June each had their own torch. Roger, of course, was himself a sort of flying torch.

Then they each took separate paths. Richard advanced slowly into the woods, while June walked some distance upstream to wait. Roger's path was the longest, but he could fly it: he was sent to circle widely downstream and attempt to come in behind the approaching flame spirit.

Richard advanced slowly along the forest floor, looking for signs of smoke, listening for the crackle of burning wood. But the Heart of Fire, feeling him nearby, had stopped its indiscriminate fire-setting. Instead, it drew itself together, burning more intensely, and flew towards him. Roger saw it pass him, and turned in behind it, as Richard had planned.

When Richard became aware of the flame-being advancing towards him, he began to retreat. He would stop and yell at it and wave his torch, then run back to the shelter of the next tree, then do it again. The spirit followed slowly, hovering, in no hurry knowing that Richard could not escape it.

Eventually, after long tense minutes when he worried the spirit might catch him before he reached the stream bank, Richard emerged at the very spot where they had prepared the bridge log. Quickly he ran across to the island and turned to meet the being of fire.

It stopped for a moment on the bank, as if to consider the safety of crossing the water. That was the cue for Roger and June to run from their hiding places on either side of the spirit and brandish their respective flames. Beset from behind and with its need to reach Richard overpowering its caution, it moved onto the log bridge.

Only, as the fire spirit crossed the carefully dried log, the log caught fire and began burning quickly. Afraid that the log would burn through and cast it into the water, the spirit hurried across, and made it to the island just as the log burned completely through and fell into the rushing stream. The Heart of Fire was stranded on the island, unable to cross the stream in any direction. It turned to face Richard, and spoke.

Richard had intended to swim away across the stream, leaving the spirit captive there on the island. Instead, the spirit's words held his attention.

"I am the Heart of Fire," it said.

"I am Life, and though I bring Death to every living thing, first I bring Life.

"I am neither Good nor Evil; I am Life, which is the Choice between the two."

"Then why have you attacked the Tree People?" Richard demanded.

"I am Life, and I must test the living," it replied.

"I merely caused them to call you forth, that you might be tested."

"Well, then, since you're trapped here, I assume I've passed," Richard said with satisfaction.

"I am Life, and the test continues until Death.

"However, I offer you the right to use my power, as may any being that lives.

"Or, you may choose to leave me behind, not to use my gift. That is the safer course, but not necessarily the wiser.

"The test is, how will you use what is yours?"

After a moment, Richard reached out and embraced the spirit of Life.

*******************************

The next day, after a victory feast thrown by the jubilant Tree People, the three companions set out for the Door. June and Roger had given up asking Richard what had happened on the island; he refused to discuss it at all. But they both saw that there was something different about him.

As the three emerged from the Door and it vanished behind them, they found their way blocked by the same gang of boys who had chased Richard through it in the first place. In fact, on this side of the Door, only minutes had passed since June and Roger had followed him through.

Tommy, the ringleader and chief bully, stepped forward, gloating.

"Well, what have we here? Little Dicky the 'fraidy-cat, hiding with a girl!" he taunted.

Richard stepped up to meet him. The other boy was taller and heavier, but Richard did not flinch.

"You leave her out of this. If you have a problem, it's with me," he said quietly.

Tommy said, "Come on, boys, let's pound him!"

But the other boys were paying a bit more attention to Richard than Tommy was. Or perhaps Tommy was only seeing what he wanted to see, what he had always seen in Richard, a victim. But the others had noticed that Richard wasn't running any more, and they saw something in his eye, a glint that had not been there before. They did not move.

"What, you're scared of this little twirp?" Tommy jeered, still not realizing his error. "Then I'll just do it myself!"

With that lengthy warning, and the slow heavy punch that he usually used on boys smaller than himself, Tommy swung. Now, when you're bigger than all the other kids and you're not that bright and you think fear is all that matters, you think that one really good punch is all that you'll ever need, so you never develop any others. No one ever fights back, so why bother, right?

Richard wasn't there when the punch reached him. Worse for Tommy, though, is that Richard was actually under the punch, preparing one of his own. One that was packed with rage, a significantly better grasp of human anatomy, and the certainty that he was only going to get one. Fortunately, that's generally a winning combination, and Tommy went down, holding his stomach and retching.

The other boys dispersed without looking back. Tommy dragged himself away, but Richard and June paid him no attention. Neither did anyone else, after that day.

And so ends our story. Now, some might be tempted to debate: did the Door open because of Richard's need to learn something vital about Life, or did it open because of the Tree People's need for a King (and companions) to defeat the menace that threatened their way of life? And to those people I say, Think Bigger. Perhaps all of reality, the entire Universe, is one interwoven story, and all we can see is this one tiny fairy tale.

******************************************

This story is dedicated to all those who, like me, see fairy tales all around us.

And strangely, also to those who don't.

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I love fairy tales :D

You know my beliefs where fairy tales are concerned - I think most people here on this site do, :D

Big Bro, what can I say except, erm......

"When is the next one ?"

Thankyou for writing these wonderful stories, and sharing them with us all:o

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