As I sit in the chair in his room, the midmorning sunlight shines in through the window illuminating his rocking horse. Two years’ worth of dust caked the antique toy. The dust that has yet to find its final resting place dances in the beams of light. I rarely come in here. I miss him so much. I left it just as it was before he disappeared two years ago at the age of six. I’m too hurt to cry. Maybe this is just how some men are, or maybe I have no tears left. First my wife leaves us, then my son vanishes in the night. Our son Joshua always prayed that she would come back. He didn’t truly understand that death was permanent. When he was five, we lost his mother to the sea. She was on a private plane, caught in a storm on her way back from a business trip in Hawaii.
After being in a daze, I found myself on his bed holding an old stuffed bunny. I think Dizzy was its name. His mother had it from her childhood, and Joshua would rarely let it go. As I held Dizzy I was overwhelmed with emotion. I don’t know how I ended up breaking my long-standing tradition of leaving things be in his room, but here I was. As I closed my eyes I wished, I wished so hard that I could see my boy again.
I heard a rustling in the bushes. I opened my eyes, confused about my surroundings. What am I doing outside. I thought. I looked in the direction of the rustling and stood up. Coming at me, and gaining speed, was some very odd-looking man with a massive forehead. He was grinning and declared some nonsense at me, but he kept coming. He rammed his forehead into mine and all went black.
As I was on the ground, head aching, I heard laughing nearby and struggled to sit up as I got my vision back. The man with the large forehead simply grinned at me, and behind me was another man, still laughing. He came around to my front and helped me up. He too mumbled some unknown language to me.
“Where am I?” I asked.
Forehead still grinned at me but tilted his head slightly. It looked like the front of his brain pushed his forehead out a few extra inches, and he had a protruding nub above each eye. The other man, who looked fully human, gave me a very confused look.
“Thank you for helping me up.” I said to the man. I was trembling at this point. Fear, confusion. Hopefully not a concussion.
“Anku elbeen ob.” The man struggled to mimic my words.
“Do you speak English?” I asked.
“Doo-eek lesh.” He said with a big smile.
This is going nowhere. I thought. I motioned that I was thirsty, and thankfully I believe that they understood. Forehead ran off and had a skip to his stride, whereas the human-looking fellow kindly tugged my shoulder, indicating to follow. I fell a little behind as the two of them ventured on, animated in their own tongue. Occasionally, the human-looking one would continue to mimic my English from earlier. We were travelling through the most stunning surroundings. Odd looking fruit on more than half of the trees, and colors I don’t ever recall seeing in nature. In the distance to my left I saw some sort of structure. It looked similar to a cottage from long ago, yet with a unique roof unlike I’d ever seen. I then looked up and noticed a second moon. My heart started racing. How hard did he hit my head? Am I still asleep? Did I simply fall asleep in Joshua’s room?
More gibberish came from them both, directed at me. The humanoid pointed ahead, and I saw the most spectacular city. It was so futuristic, a complete contradiction to what I had seen thus far. Skyscrapers of shiny gold, silver, and sparkling ones of blue, red, green. So much color, everything glistening in the sun, (the single sun, thank goodness). Of course who knows what’s going on on the other side of the planet. Is this a planet? Am I on a turtle on a disk?
As we got near the entrance to the city, there was what appeared to be countless vendors. It was loud there, and full of all kinds of people and talking creatures. The majority of what I saw were the same as my large forehead companion. I saw several of them ramming their foreheads together in delight. That was a bit of good news, knowing that I wasn’t attacked, but greeted. It’s like their version of a handshake. I didn’t understand a word, but I didn’t need to understand their spoken language to translate certain gestures and emotions. Despite the fear and confusion of it all, it was all so amazing. As I looked around, I saw all kinds of food and drinks, odd animals in cages, all sorts of produce, most of which I had never seen before. I hadn’t noticed that my forehead companion had wandered off until he returned with a beverage. I smiled and accepted it with both hands, and I did a subtle bow of appreciation and respect. It looked like melted lead, but only in color. Its viscosity was closer to milk. They motioned for me to drink, and I was very thirsty, so I took a sip. It was the oddest flavor, sour and a little salty. But the aftertaste was actually quite sweet. I was instantly refreshed. After a couple gulps, the human-looking man, (I need to learn their names) had taken the drink and had some, then handed it to Mr. Forehead, who then took a few swigs before returning it to me. I noticed a seating area and gestured to my new companions for us to sit. They both obliged and we sat, all sharing our single beverage. They both talked to me in their language, full of hand gestures and animated facial expressions. They both pointed to their ears, then their mouths. They were certainly trying to tell me something. Forehead pointed to the city and stood up.
It seemed that our conversation was coming to an end, so I used the time to do what I should have done during our walk. I pointed to my chest and said, “Daniel. My name is Daniel.”
They looked at me, both confused, so I did it again. “Daniel.”
At once it seemed they both understood. I couldn’t pronounce what Forehead said his name was, but he was satisfied with my best attempt. Shawrawty was what I called him. The human looking man pointed at himself, “Toshy,” he said with a smile. At that, Shawrawty stood and taught me that their common greeting was not only a ‘hello’ but also a ‘goodbye’. He gave Toshy a good hit but came in slow for me. We all laughed and Shawrawty was on his way. Laughter, the hearts universal language.
I had no idea whether Shawrawty was going to return or not, but I had assumed that we were waiting for him. Toshy stayed with me and showed me around. We ate all kinds of odd-looking things. I couldn’t believe how many different flavors there could be. Although some things seemed familiar by taste, most items were quite different by looks. I found that many of their fruits had a bitterness to them, but usually with a sweet aftertaste.
“Tone-tone ett”. Toshy said, handing me a golf ball sized fuzzy thing.
I looked at him, very confused. He had his own, and he cracked it with his fingernail and gestured that I do the same. He made it look rather easy, for mine burst open and I nearly lost my contents. He laughed again, then resumed his teaching. He split his in half and inside I saw a very slimy brownish goo. And it was moving! He ate it and kept looking up while shaking his head back and forth. Then he gave me an excited look and again pointed at my busted tone-tone ett. Hesitantly I finished opening my creepy living thing and swallowed it like a raw oyster. Or so I thought, but this thing was struggling to get out of my mouth. I gave him a shocked look, interrupting his laughter, and he again looked up and shook his head. I did the same, fighting my instinct to not allow this creature down my throat. When I thought I finally swallowed it, he handed me another drink. As I grabbed it to finish the job, I felt this sudden euphoric rush, almost as if I were weightless. I felt perfectly at peace with everything and everyone. The feeling slowly faded away, but not entirely.
“Shormatka veen.” Toshy said with a smile of approval.
“Shormatka veen.” I replied, not knowing what I was literally saying, but understanding on some level.
From behind Toshy I recognized Shawrawty coming our way. More from what he was wearing, less by his face. Being new to this area, I was still struggling to find the minute differences in the faces of the locals. With him, he had a little metal box and he showed it to me and described it in his language. He opened the box and took out a futuristic looking device. He held out what looked like an earpiece and pointed to his ear, then mine. Simple enough. The other device was similar to a hockey puck, but half the size. This would be clipped to my person, so I attached it to my shirt. I put the earpiece in my ear, and on its own it morphed and shaped itself to my ear. That was creepy, but also somewhat pleasing.
“Yooshtoo.” Toshy said. Then in my earpiece I heard, speak.
“Oh wow,” I said. “it’s a translator.” Then the little hockey puck, which turned out to be a speaker, translated into their language. They both smiled.
Now that we could understand one another, I was able to ask some of the millions of questions I had. My first questions of course were where am I, how did I get here, and how do I get home? From what I could gather, this world originally inhabited Shawrawty’s people, and his race is more or less an evolved goat or ram-like animal. That explains their greeting. As for me and everyone else, we simply showed up through magical means. Toshy too just appeared one day, some 20 or so years back. The planet, and yes, it’s a planet, has thousands of major cities, full of highly evolved technologies, and outside of the cities everything is left as it has been for hundreds if not thousands of years.
“Why, with all of your advanced technology is everything outside of the city so...?”
Luckily Shawrawty understood and responded before I said anything insulting, “Our people appreciate both ways of living. Most prefer one way over the other, but as a whole we appreciate the balance.”
“So why couldn’t I enter the city?” I asked
“My people inhabit much of the city, and it can take several days to finish your ‘takta’ before visitors are allowed in.”
“Takta?” I repeated, wondering why it didn’t translate. “So, like a travel visa?”
Shawrawty seemed confused at first, but either understood or was being polite. “Yes.” He said.
As far as getting home, that was a great mystery for another day, so in the meantime they insisted I go with them for food and shelter. I was so involved in conversation I almost missed the village of dwarves we passed by. We were close enough where I could take a look at several grumpy looking bearded men…and women. I was fascinated to see that the females were actually a little bigger, hairier, and stronger looking than the male counterpart. And as we were beyond the village, I took one more look back and swear I saw a human with elf ears. The most beautiful man or woman I had ever seen. I wondered to myself if people of Earth had ever visited here and brought back tales of this place. As exciting as that prospect was, in a way it took something away from the stories from home.
After a couple hours of walking and talking, which was slowed down by waiting for the translator, we approached a very unexpected sight. Underneath decades of forest growth I saw what looked a lot like a small plane. Nearby was a stunning treehouse, which I then learned was the home of Toshy. He said that years ago he left one world and appeared in this one, right beside this plane. He had long forgotten the word for plane, and the word couldn’t be translated into their language.
I was scared in this world and wanted to go home, but I was thankful to have Toshy and Shawrawty as company. And there was something about that plane that kept drawing my attention. Throughout our discussions and dinner by the fire, I kept peeking over at the plane. I finally built up the courage to ask if it was okay to look inside the plane. I could tell that Toshy was protective of it, and Shawrawty gave me a look of disapproval. After a long moment of silence, “Yes. You may look.” Toshy said as he said motionless and with an unreadable expression.
Hesitantly, and with heart racing, I walked to the plane and found the way in. As I had feared but half-expected, I found a long-dead human body in the cabin. I had a suspicion that I could not explain, and I had to know. So I went straight to the left hand of the decayed corpse and saw what I wanted and didn’t want to find. My wife’s wedding ring. As if I wasn’t shocked enough, Toshy had silently approached from behind and in perfect English, said, “Mommy.” Awshtuk, came out of my translator. My mind was overloaded, but then it settled with one thought. One feeling. Toshy. Joshy. My Joshua.
I turned and looked at my son. Time obviously moves much differently here. “Joshua? Joshy, is that you?” I looked him deep in his eyes. “Was this your mother?” I gestured back with a tilt of my head.
He nodded. “Father?”
At this point the tears finally came. I went to hug him, but I think he was overwhelmed and confused. He did however lightly rest his forehead against mine, and that’s when he saw Dizzy sticking out of my inside jacket pocket. He grabbed the bunny and smiled, and his eyes became misty. That’s when I had the thought. Who knows how his mother got here, but he must have made a wish to see her just as I wished to see him. As if we shared the same thought, Toshy, or Joshy rather, reached out for Dizzy. As we looked each other in the eyes, I said, “let’s go home.”
Nothing happened. “I wish for us to go home”. Again, nothing. Maybe because we both didn’t want it. Maybe we aren’t allowed to go back. Or maybe because home is wherever we are, together.