Despite the safety and comfort afforded him by his brand new, bright red superhero-inspired gadget belt and the companionship of Mr. Monkey, Landon was still apprehensive. The step from the safe, pillowy carpet to the dark recesses of the unknown before him was as vast as the ocean. But he had made it this far. There was no turning back now.
Breathing in all of the oxygen in the room, Landon took a step. And then another. Gone was the protection of the familiar world in which he knew, replaced instead with this...nothingness. He gripped the tiny stuffed paw of Mr. Monkey tight. The miniature room was dark and foreign. Stray pieces of cloth hung down from above, tickling his nose. His feet grazed against unknown objects. Some of them soft, some of them hard and jagged. Serving no use to him in this jungle of darkness, Landon closed his eyes and felt the way before him. A piece of metal with a rubber grip sat just at his fingertips. He picked it up – it might prove useful later on his journey. Another step, a few more unidentified objects. One round with a rubbery texture. The other, soft and warm. And it moved.
Landon could feel the lump in his throat growing. He reached further into the abyss. He feared this room. Who wouldn’t? It was dark, it was cold and it certainly contained all matter of beasts and rare, child-devouring monsters. Fearful, not only for himself, but for his traveling companion, Landon clasped the sticky hands of Mr. Monkey together and threw them over his head. Using his free hand, Landon continued to feel around in the dark. A ringing began to grow in his ears from the silence. And then, something new. Something pleasant.
Rays of sunlight began to warm his chilled skin. He reached further, this time feeling the unmistakable prickliness of a palm leaf. His toes sank into sand. He could hear the ocean. The room lit up. And then another sound. A familiar sound. The sound of laughter.
Landon opened his eyes to a tropical paradise. Palm trees dotted the landscape in every direction. Behind him, a cool ocean breeze splashed over his face as the waves in the distance crashed over jagged rocks and unexplained structures. His feet were already starting to sting from the sun-heated sand. The sky was a rare color of blue. Sapphire blue, as his mom liked to call it.
Off in the distance he could see children playing in the surf. There were seven kids, all wearing garments made entirely out of palm leaves and items found around the island. The boys splashed in the water and kicked around a small brown ball, their leaf skirts blowing in the breeze. The girls sat off to the side, digging in the sand with small hand tools, sporting the same leaf dressing with colorful pieces of fabric covering their tops. They were all adorned with bracelets on their wrists and ankles and elaborate necklaces made of seashells and bright rocks. They played, minding no notice whatsoever of this new visitor.
Landon stuck the spear he was holding into the ground and took a canteen out of his pouch. He devoured half of the container, the cool water instantly gratifying his sun-parched throat. A weight dropped from his shoulders as Mr. Monkey leapt to the ground and scurried up a nearby tree. He was immediately joined by half a dozen or so primates of similar size and fur color. Before long they had swung out of eyesight, deeper into the jungle.
As Landon returned the canteen to his belt, a loud horn interrupted his train of thought. CAHOOOO! CAHOOO!
Standing in a makeshift treehouse just beside where the children were playing stood a tall, muscular boy holding a large conch shell in his hand. He was dressed similar to the children in the sand, only he had a thin green crown sitting atop his head with a single, perfectly shaped seashell in the middle. He had a sash across his chest that held a large wooden spear sticking peaking just above his head. On his side he wore a sword with a thick blade, no more than 13 or 14 inches in length, with a rounded bronze guard. The boy in the treehouse looked down at the children below him who had all stopped playing and then over at Landon. The boy in the treehouse smiled.
He leapt from the house high above the trees, spectacularly grabbing pieces of vine in mid-fall and acrobatically working his way to the ground. Large plumes of sand scattered into the wind as he ran, his long, curly brown hair trailing behind him as he quickly covered the beach between them. He snatched up Landon with a mountainous hug.
“My boy! How long has it been?”
Landon allowed the air to return to his lungs before he spoke.
“A long time! How have you been Maku?”
“Fantastic my boy! Oh how we have missed you. It simply has not been the same without you. The children, the fairies, the water-folk, none of them have felt safe since you left. There have been reports of monsters all over the island. Will you help us eliminate them?”
“Of course! Why do you think I am here?”
Maku’s face lit up.
“That’s my Landon.”
The muscular boy wasn’t much older than Landon. He had dark, sun-kissed skin that didn’t seem to sync with his aquamarine eyes. His skin was youthful, but covered in scars. He had tattoos on his right arm and all across his chest. On his feet he wore moccasins and on his belt opposite of his weapon was a box carefully tied with a piece of string.
“Well, let us not waste any time. Saddle up.”
Maku let out a loud whistle and two horses came galloping out of the jungle. Maku jumped onto a black and white spotted Appaloosa, while Landon leapt onto a solid brown Arabian. The coats on both animals were like silk. Their manes were braided to match their tails. Each had a small saddle and a thin black rein. They smelled of summer.
Within an hour the boy and the brave warrior had reached the other side of the island. There were immediate signs that something was not right by the way the trees were bent over and by the strange formations in the sand.
“This must be what the children were talking about. Look there! It looks like something was dragged across the beach.”
A large crater stretched from a thin patch of grass on the edge of the tree line to the ocean. The hole was so deep it carved up layers of dark red dirt and piled it high on either side. The crater was as tall as Landon, if not taller. A thin layer of clear mucus trailed along the path of each. The sound of monkeys playing filled the air as the pair investigated the entirety of the beach. Briefly, Landon thought he saw Mr. Monkey swinging through one of the trees. With the exception of a cluster of tiny dots on the monkeys back where he had spilled some glue on him last year, they all looked the same to him.
The investigation led Maku and Landon to a large cave carved from a rock formation a few hundred paces from the craters. The entrance was well protected. Only a few inches of its cavernous opening was visible, the rest was hidden deep below the water line. At low tide the entrance was certainly much more manageable, but at this time of day it would not be an easy trip. They only found the cave thanks to the help of a lovely young mermaid with pink hair, yellow eyes and a face that seemed to glow in the sunlight. The mermaid, with a name few could pronounce, was an old friend of Maku. He called her Lilly.
“Lilly, what is in there?”
“Stay away Maku.” Her voice was like a choir. It seemed three or four voices were coming out of her mouth at once, all singing in a different pitch. “This is far more dangerous than anything you have encountered before. Please, stay away my friend.”
But this was Maku. The bravest warrior on the islands of Augwen. Maybe the bravest warrior in the world.
Maku and Landon jumped into the water and swam into the cave.
The world was once again dark. The stench of rotting fish and seaweed emanated off of the rock walls. Large stalactites dipped down from the ceiling above, dripping with a foul green liquid. The rocks beneath their feet were slippery and cold. Maku pulled from his sash a large piece of wood with some dried leaves on the end. From the box tied to his belt, he pulled out a contraption Landon had never seen before. Maku pushed the small green item against the dried leaves and pressed a button. Immediately the room lit up with the warm glow of fire.
The cave appeared to go on forever. Every hundred or so feet, new branches jutted off of the main path, some manageable and some so narrow few could navigate. The cave looked like it might stretch beneath the entire island. Landon and his warrior friend decided to follow the main path. They said very little, hoping to hide their presence as much as possible. Every so often, something would move off in the distance. Mirage or creature, they could not tell.
As the travelers journeyed deeper into the cave, the stench began to grow stronger. Bones and small animal carcasses dotted the corners where the floor and the great walls met. Everything was wet and gray. And then, something new. Something, shiny.
“Look Landon, treasure!”
Maku took off at a run toward the glowing objects. The cave had opened up into a massive room that reminded Landon of a cathedral. There were even holes high above that looked like windows and a single rock in the distance that looked like a throne. Beside the throne-shaped rock, Landon could see coins and gold bars and a giant box overflowing with colorful jewels. And then he saw it.
“Maku, look out!”
A thunderous echo rang out through the darkness as a massive tail slammed to the ground. The tail was as big as a bus, attached to something much, much larger. And it was right beside Maku.
But Maku didn’t run. He turned toward the towering creature and raised his torch. The tail winded back into the darkness and then out again, attached to the head of a great snake with two curved fangs as long as any spear either boy had ever seen. Its massive tongue slithered in and out of its flattened head. Its foul, copper eyes were locked onto Maku and his fire stick. The creature opened its mouth wide, letting loose a roar that Landon was sure could be heard back in his world. Before Maku could move, Landon jumped into action.
The young boy took the spear in his hand and launched it at the creature, its tip penetrating one of its eyes. As the snake reared its giant head to the side, Maku removed the sword from his belt and ran toward the beast. He used the treasure chest as leverage and leapt toward the serpent. With one massive swipe, Maku lopped the head of the snake off. It landed with a thud, rolling to the corner of the room as its body hit the ground with the force of a mighty earthquake. Rocks and dust fell from the massive ceiling. The body of the creature continued to twitch wildly.
The two stood in attack position, ready for anything else that might attack from the shadows. But there was nothing. After a few moments of silence, Maku returned the sword to his belt and walked over to the monster's head. He knelt down beside the creature, saying a few words before cutting something from the monster and returning to the center of the cathedral room.
“Nice work Landon. I was frozen. Without you, I surely would have been killed.”
Maku put his hand on the boys shoulder. “Take this.”
In one hand, Maku returned the spear to the young boy. In the other, he handed him the eye of the great snake.
“This creature was not here by accident. I fear that Evandell has returned. It is the only explanation for all of the creatures we have seen on the islands. He must be using this cave system to steal and protect the treasures he has been taking from the people. It is only a matter of time before one of these creatures hurts someone. Or worse.”
Maku looked at the little boy, who had begun to yawn.
“But that is for another adventure. Let’s get you home”
The children celebrated as Maku and the little boy returned to the beaches on the far side of the island. Each took their turn congratulating the two brave warriors for defeating the monster. While the journey had certainly exhausted the little boy, he had enough energy remaining to join the children in a game of ball. Landon looked toward Maku who gave an approving nod and joined them on the beach, kicking a coconut into a net made of bamboo sticks and vine netting.
As the sun began to set, Landon visited his friend who had returned to his perch high in the trees. He used a flimsy rope ladder to reach the midpoint of the tree and then used the tree's massive branches to climb the rest of the way.
“I do hope you will come back.” Maku lowered his head, staring at the wooden planks making up the base of his home in the sky.
“I will Maku. Don’t you worry about it.”
Maku turned toward the boy and thanked him for everything. For coming back. For helping him search the island. For saving his life. As Maku completed his speech, a familiar noise reached Landon’s ear. Mr. Monkey leapt onto the edge of the tree house and climbed up onto the boys shoulders.
“It is time now. Time for you to return to your world. I will see you again. Now, close your eyes and count backwards from three.”
Landon closed his eyes. He could feel the last rays of the setting sun on his cheeks.
He could hear the ocean crashing against the shore off in the distance.
He could hear the words of Maku one last time.
It was dark. Landon’s skin was cold. In one hand, he was gripping a small, stuffed monkey. In the other, he held a miniature baseball bat. He climbed through a maze of boxes and pushed aside the shirts hanging down from the hangers above.
He stepped out of his closet.
As his feet touched the soft, ivory carpet, he opened his eyes. Just behind him, Landon’s pet cat jumped out of the darkness and quickly disappeared from the room.
Landon’s mother was sitting on the edge of his bed, wearing a headband made out of green felt with a poorly colored cutout of a seashell taped to the front. She pointed the flashlight at him.
“How was your trip?”
“Incredible! We fought a snake monster. We saw a mermaid. I finally got to play with the other kids.” Landon took a deep breath. “It was so cool mom! And I even got this.”
Landon held out his hand and in it, was a small glass marble.
“Well isn’t that something. It sounded like quite an adventure this time.”
Landon ran over and gave his mom a hug.
“Can we go back tomorrow?”
“We will see. We have a big day tomorrow. It’s your first day of second grade. You are moving up with the big kids now.”
“Mom, I’m not a kid anymore!”
“I know, I know. Well, kid or not, you need to get ready for bed. It is already past your bedtime.”
“Ok, mom. I love you!”
Landon gave his mom a kiss and no-so-subtly hinted at her to leave the room. He was about to be a second grader, after all. But even in his advanced age, he sure did love a good bedtime story.
After brushing his teeth – twice after inspection – Landon laid his head down on his pillow. He yelled down to his mother that he loved her and pulled Mr. Monkey close to his chest. The last image he saw before closing his eyes was the fabric headband his mother had sat on the nightstand. He loved her stories, how they seemed to come to life. Every night a new adventure. Landon’s eyes began to grow heavy. Then darkness.
“Good to see you again! Ready for another adventure?”
The little boy and the brave warrior removed their weapons and gripped them tight in each hand. Across the beach stood a dragon at least 15 stories tall. It had three heads, each uglier than the last. Fire was dripping from its nostrils. With every step, the earth shook beneath their feet.
“I sure am. Let’s do this Maku!”
The little boy and the brave warrior took off across the open sand ready to do battle. This was their biggest monster yet.