“Why’re you crying?”
I tried to keep my voice level and free of annoyance as I watched Theo sift through the rocks in the stream, sniffling and wiping his nose on the hem of his jacket. You could line his pockets with Kleenex boxes and he’d still wipe his snot-riddled nose on his dirty green jacket sleeve.
“B-b-because they threw it in here!” His voice wobbled in his high-pitched squeak. He didn’t meet my eye, but kept shuffling the rocks frantically in the clear stream bed.
I sighed. “Who threw what in there?”
“Who else, sissy? Those kids at the bus stop thew my doorknob rock in here and now I can’t find it!” His voice was growing shriller and more frantic as he kicked the stream.
I took off my shoes and socks and rolled up my pant legs before stepping in the ice-cold water beside him, gently patting him on the back. He clutched at my leg and buried his nose in my jeans. For an eight-year-old, he certainly held a lot of emotions in his tiny body. He was the shortest in his class and the quietest, which made him an easy target for all the other boys who were well on their way to puberty. Nobody had a bigger heart than my little brother though.
“Well, it’s a rock,” I said lightly, ruffling his messy brown hair in my fingers, “so it definitely wouldn’t float away which is something to be positive about, hm?”
He nodded slightly, his face still buried in my jeans.
“So that means it’s still here, so let’s have a look.”
I squinted at the stream, my eyes rolling past one smooth dull brown rock to another. He called his rock a doorknob rock. I always thought it was shaped more like a large mushroom, but I let him be. It was sort of like his version of a security blanket. Whenever he was upset (which seems to be always these days with the older boys at the bus stop stealing his backpack and calling him names) he would take his rock and run off somewhere dark like a closet or under the dining room table. Sometimes I’d hear him whispering under the table, and I’d tiptoe quietly by, letting his imagination carry him somewhere safe.
“Are you sure it was at this spot they threw it in the water?”
His shoulders sagged, and he nodded again while wiping his nose on the other green sleeve. “Positive,” he muttered, hopelessly.
“I’ll stay out here and look for it, why don’t you run inside and make us a few sandwiches so we can be fueled up while we search. And bring a flashlight. I’ll stay out here all night if I have to!”
At this, he smiled up at me, his large brown eyes twinkling innocently up at me, “really? You’ll stay out here all night? What about trolls?”
“Maybe I can convince them to help in the search.”
“Trolls love chocolate. I better bring some of that out here too for you.”
Theo hopped out of the water, oblivious to the cold as he ran up the hill barefoot towards the house. I chuckled, and turned back to the flowing stream, using my big toe to push a few rocks around.
Maybe it’d do good for the doorknob rock to be gone. Force him to grow up a bit, out of his imaginary world and into the real one. I know that’s why those kids pick on him at school. I’ve seen him in passing in the hallway, head down and tears in his eyes as ‘Theo the weirdo!’ was being chanted somewhere further away. I was able to help him out a bit, being his much older sister and having the authority over the middle school boys who taunted him, but what about next year when I’m off to college? Who will be there for him?
I waded out to my knees, my body tensing with the cold rush. I couldn’t feel my toes anymore, but I still used them to numbly push the rocks around. Theo was already running back down the hill, a Hershey’s chocolate bar held high above his head.
“Here!” he said, stopping just before the creek and threw it as hard as his skinny arms would allow. It splashed in the water just in front of me. I picked it up and wiped it dry on my puffy jacket before placing it in my jean pocket. “I’ll go make the sandwiches now. Oh! And I’ll go get a flashlight.” He ran back up the hill, determination on his face.
Diverting my attention back to the stones in the crystal-clear water, I focused on finding the pale blue mushroom—or doorknob—shaped rock. This is going to take a lifetime, I thought cynically to myself.
Just as I thought it, a light blue rock caught my eye.
“No way,” I gasped as I shuffled it with my foot to see that it was, indeed, the shape I had been looking for. I chuckled as I reached down to grab it.
I felt the smoothness of it as my fingers dipped into the chilly water and wrapped around it. It felt like it was vibrating lightly, and it was much heavier than I expected. Placing my other hand in the water now, I bent my knees and lurched upwards with considerable effort.
How the heck does Theo carry this around in his backpack every day and stay as scrawny as he is?
I fell forward as the rock released from the bed surrounding it, and my vision instantly went black, the breath escaping my lungs. I screamed as I fell, but not a single noise came out. I thought my eyes were open, but I couldn’t tell. I was lost in pitch blackness. The cold water engulfed me, but somehow, I must still be breathing. At least I didn’t feel like I was drowning. Just…floating? Was I having some sort of seizure?
“What is it?” A screechy voice echoed in the black abyss.
“It looks like the boy, but much bigger and…uglier,” answered a deeper voice.
I felt a sharp jab in my ribs. “Ow!” I said, but couldn’t see anything around me that could have poked me. My voice sounded muffled, as if I was just speaking for the first time.
“Ewwww, it made a noise! Poke it again!” said the screechy voice.
“No!” I choked, my voice slurring. “Theo!” I called out desperately.
“Theo? You know Sir Theo?” replied the deeper voice.
“Yes,” I said, the words on my lips feeling dreamlike, “Theo! That’s my little brother.”
The two voices gasped loudly, their echoes filling the space around me.
“Could it be? Sir Theo’s noble sister, Lady Julia?”
Well, I am Julia. But Lady Julia?
“Yes,” I answered, “but I can’t see. Where am I?”
They giggled and whispered to each other, their chatter so loud it made my ears ring.
“Lady Julia is lost?” giggled the high-pitched voice.
“Just open your eyes, ugly one.”
I opened my eyes and blinked; my vision severely blurred. I could make out two giant forms towering over me. I patted my hands carefully around me, realizing now that I had not been floating at all. I’m flat on my back on what appears to be solid stone. I squinted, but the blurred figures in front of me were no clearer.
“I…I think I fell and hit my head. I can’t see properly.” My voice sounded less dreamlike, but still muddled. My fingers were numb as I grazed them gingerly across my head. The giant shadows bent their heads together, giggling.
“Silly Lady! She hit her head and thought she was dead!” The screeching voice taunted.
“Dead she isn’t, just blinded though! How will she ever find Sir Theo?” The deeper voice chanted followed by roars of laughter.
“Who are you?” I asked, sitting up and trying to focus in on them. My body felt unusually heavy, as if I would sink through the stone floor at any moment.
“I’m Bergin,” said the deep voice.
“…and I’m Ulla,” answered the shrill one.
“Bergin and Ulla,” I replied, “Where am I?”
The blurred forms laughed again, their bodies swaying.
“She has no idea where she’s fallen to!” screeched Ulla.
Bergin teased, “should we tell her?”
“I think Sir Theo would appreciate his sister being returned,” I said, feeling an uneasy sensation in my gut.
They gasped and whispered to one another while I leaned back on my hands, trying to find the strength to stand.
“Okay, Lady Julia, we will answer a question of yours for each of ours that is answered!” said Bergin. I blinked up at the towering form. “Did Sir Theo send you?”
“I asked you a question first,” I spoke, finding my voice, “Where am I?”
“You’re in Jotunheim,” answered Ulla cheerfully.
Jotunheim didn’t sound like it was anywhere in America. I felt my stomach churn into an uncomfortable knot.
“Did Sir Theo send you?” Bergin asked impatiently.
“Yes,” I lied. They inhaled loudly, their large forms drawing back.
“Where is Jotunheim?” I asked.
“Just below Midgard, of course. Where else?” answered Ulla.
Great. I bumped my head, and am now talking to two huge blurry forms called Bergin and Ulla in Jotunheim just below Midgard. That really clears things up.
“Did Sir Theo send you to deliver his punishment for eating all those humans?”
Bergin must have elbowed Ulla, as the sound of her sucking in a painful rush of air after a loud thump was heard. My stomach flopped. Eating all those…humans? What does that mean? How come they haven’t eaten me yet? Wait…what were they?
“Yes,” I lied again, gulping down my fear. “Sir Theo has sent me to rein punishment upon you for the horrible, horrible thing you’ve done.”
Ulla let out a squeak and Bergin grunted.
“What are you, if not human?”
The two blurry forms looked at one another. I rubbed my eyes…why can I still not see clearly? Why was my body so heavy?
“Trolls,” said Bergin, a hint of doubt in his voice.
“Trolls in Jutenheim?” I thought out loud.
“Well, we’re not giants,” scoffed Ulla. “Do we look like clambering fools to you?”
“I can’t see,” I reminded them, “but you do look like giant trolls to me.”
At this, they laughed. I felt my ears pop painfully, and their voices went from sounding muffled and dreamlike to crystal clear.
“You are but a small tasty human, what do you know of anything?”
Bergin leaned forward as if to pick me up. I retorted loudly, “I am Sir Theo’s sister, Lady Julia! You will respect me!” As I yelled it, I felt my body lighten. I rose slowly on my shaking legs, like a baby deer standing for the first time.
“Very well, my Lady. What is our punishment?”
A wild thought popped into my head, and my heart raced with fear of being eaten.
“Let’s say this…if you deliver me safely back to Midgard, I will tell Sir Theo that your punishment has been delivered.”
I squinted, watching their blurry heads turn towards one another.
“And why would you help us?” questioned Ulla. I thought I could see a small, slippery smile slide across her face. “Why wouldn’t we just eat you and tell Sir Theo we never saw you?”
“Yes,” answered Bergin, “good point, Ulla!”
“Because,” I stammered, “Sir Theo sent me. And if I don’t return, he will know it’s because of you two.” I backed away slowly, sliding my feet cautiously on the stone flooring. “Besides, you don’t want to know the punishment for eating the only sister of Sir Theo’s.”
Ulla gasped, her large hands clapping against her cheeks, “We’d be sent to Niflheim?!”
“Hush!” jabbed Bergin. He gave Ulla a haughty glare. I rubbed my eyes, my vision slowly coming to me. They were everything I pictured trolls to be. Giant and covered in long brown mattes of hair.
“Yes, Niflheim. In fact, that’s where he was determined to send you now.”
They both lurched backwards. “But Lady Julia tends to lean to the side of mercy. I will give you one more chance to…” I gulped before spewing out rest of my sentence, “not eat humans.”
“Hmmm,” Bergin mumbled, stroking his dirty, fuzzy chin.
The voice echoed loudly from above, rattling the teeth in my head and forcing me to cover my ears. I looked up, and saw a giant gaping rectangle in the bright blue sky, with a small familiar head peering out of it.
“THEO!” I yelled.
“Sir Theo!” Bergin and Ulla chimed together, tripping over each other as they backed away.
“Grab my hand!” Theo yelled, his arm stretching impossibly long across the sky and down to me. I grabbed it without hesitation, allowing Theo to pull me towards him. I felt a strong grip wrap around my ankles, and looked down to see Bergin and Ulla, their eyes red with anger and teeth gnashing, each dangling from my legs.
“The chocolate! Throw the chocolate!” yelled Theo.
I reached a free hand down into my jeans and launched the Hershey’s chocolate bar across the field. Without a second thought, both sets of red troll eyes followed the chocolate bar and jumped back to the ground, running towards it. Theo yanked me up effortlessly, through the rectangle shaped hole in the sky.
I sputtered, choking up water as he dragged me to the grass beside the stream. He was holding the doorknob rock in his hand, and placed it gently in his jacket pocket.
“Are you okay?” he said, placing an arm on each shoulder of mine.
“I…I don’t know.” I stuttered. “What happened?”
“You found my doorknob rock, and you twisted it open,” he said so matter-of-factly, as if I did nothing more than casually stroll into a craft store.
“Open to where?”
“Well, luckily you only fell to the realm directly below us. Juttenheim.”
Am I the only person who doesn’t know about Juttenheim? I stared at him, waiting for him to continue.
“Juttenheim is the land of giants and trolls. Too bad a giant didn’t find you. They’re nice. Bergin and Ulla are in real big trouble now.”
“And you are Sir Theo?”
“Yeup. I rule Midgard. Which is…well, here basically. Earth. Or so the giants and trolls believe. They’re kind of dim, if I’m being honest.”
“So Midgard is Earth, and Juttenheim is the land of trolls and giants…what is Niflheim?”
Theo shuttered, “It’s below Hel, world of the dead. Niflheim is where the real bad people go when they die. They go to freeze in eternal torture.”
“Okay well…how come I couldn’t see at first? And how come I could barely stand?”
Theo shrugged as we stood up off the bank. “Because you didn’t believe any of it at first. Once you start believing, it comes to life. Actually, you must have had some initial belief if you were able to open up the realm. Most people just think it’s a dumb rock and would never be able to access the other worlds.”
I thought carefully. How could I have believed in something that I never thought existed? Maybe a small part of me believed that Theo believed in his rock…was that it? Was that the spark that opened the realm?
“I think you should send Bergin and Ulla to Niflheim,” I said, “They ate humans.”
“Yeah,” Theo giggled. “I’ll think of something. I’m glad you found my doorknob rock.”
I hugged Sir Theo tightly. “Maybe you should throw those bus stop kids down to Bergin and Ulla,” I whispered, watching his large brown eyes twinkle with amusement.
“You’re funny, sissy,” he said.
I felt a small comfort knowing that my little brother, Sir Theo, ruled over giants and trolls. He doesn’t need me by his side next year…he’s much stronger than any of us ever thought.