“We’re close,” Tommy told the group, as they made their way through a clearing.
“You’ve been saying that for ages,” Roger replied, speaking for her friends. She had been going in and out of naps for hours, and after waking up seemingly just to make her comment, she snuggled back in to her cozy spot between Montgomery the Moose’s shoulders. The frogs, who had joined the group also, slept close by.
“It’s true, you’ve said it at least five times,” Montgomery the Mouse responded. In fact, he had been keeping track, and this was the twelfth time, but he wanted to be kind to his friend.
“I know, but this time, I’m sure,” Tommy said with excitement. In his mind, this was a quest a long time in the making; a quest of heroes, even. But he also wondered, don’t heroes usually also mean that there are villains? Was the dragon the map mentioned something they would need to fight? That sounded kind of exciting, but terrifying at the same time. He started to shake a little just thinking about all the possibilities ahead of them.
“You know, I think he’s right,” Jerry added, holding the map in front of him, and comparing it to what was around them. He pointed. “Look, this mountain is the one we saw from the island.”
The land around them was covered in a moss they’d never seen before, which seemed to glimmer in the sunlight that shone through the trees as if to welcome them. It seemed to affect them all, and they became quiet as the awe of it came over them.
They walked quietly on, without talking or referring to the map, like they were walking a path they had walked many times before.
“Here,” Tommy said eventually, climbing down from Montgomery the Moose as he saw a huge clump of grass on the hillside – a plume as tall as Montgomery’s shoulders, with copper foliage and its blades hanging over down the slope. Tommy instinctively knew that the blades were covering whatever was marked with an X on the map. He had to investigate.
The blades were too large for him to pull back fully, and the others saw him part them like curtains, take a step forward, and let them fall back into place behind him, covering him completely.
Jerry and Montgomery the Mouse looked at each other with anticipation, unsure of what was going to happen next. All the friends assumed that Tommy would come back out any moment, and looked for the blades to part again, but they didn’t.
“Tommy?” Jerry said, calmly at first, and then – after getting no response – again, and with more concern.
Whatever it was that made the group so calm and quiet before seemed to lift now, as they tried to figure out what was going on. Jerry and Montgomery the Mouse climbed down from Montgomery the Moose’s back with urgency. Roger started to perk up.
“I still don’t understand,” said Freddie the Frog to Francesca, woken from their slumber on Montgomery the Moose’s back. “Why are we even here?”
“Oh, just go back to sleep, grumpy,” she replied.
Jerry and Montgomery the Mouse rushed to the clump of grass, and Jerry called out again, “Tommy! Tommy!” But they found that as they reached the grass, calm returned to their bodies, and they were no longer concerned. Instead, they both found themselves parting the grass in the same way Tommy had, and together they too walked through.
Roger, rather matter-of-factly, said “okay, something weird is going on here.”
Montgomery the Moose replied in the same matter-of-fact tone, “Well, he did say it was a magical land, right?”
Roger started to climb down, but she reconsidered, and explained as she climbed back up. “Look, what’s gonna happen if I go down there is that I’m gonna go all quiet, pull apart the grass, and then walk through. Then we’ll be in exactly the same position as we are now, except with one less me.”
“That sounds about right,” Montgomery replied. “So what do we do?”
“Well,” Roger continued, “you’re way too big to suddenly just walk through some grass, so I think you should take a look.”
Montgomery mulled over this for a moment. He didn’t like being too big to fit anywhere, and took a little offence at the comment, but he knew what he could do. He stepped forward and stuck his muzzle into the same spot in the clump of grass that his friends had stepped through, and snuffled around to see what he could find.
He often used his nose and tongue to “see” things that were in his blind spot in front of his eyes – his favorite being chocolate chips, of course. This method wasn’t perfect, but pretty reliable – except for the time he’d almost eaten Montgomery the Mouse, of course. This time, he “saw” a hole in the hillside where the grass was growing. The hole was larger than the entrance to Montgomery the Mouse’s underground home, but Montgomery the Moose’s muzzle filled the hole, with no room for anything else. He could smell his friends, along with some faint scents he has never smelled before.
“Find anything?” asked Roger.
“Yes,” Montgomery the Moose replied. “And I know what to do.”
Roger seemed satisfied with this response, and as Montgomery walked away from the clump of grass, she was sure her huge friend was looking for something. So she became a little confused as he turned to face the grass again and looked at it intently.
“So,” she asked, “what’s the plan?”
“Shhh,” Montgomery replied. “I’m concentrating.”
After a few seconds’ pause, Roger felt Montgomery lurch forward, and quickly pick up pace until he was hurtling towards the grass at top speed. Roger heard some panicked sounds behind her, and turned around to see the two frogs falling to the ground, thrown off by the Moose’s speed.
She faced forward again, and saw that Montgomery the Moose’s eyes were closed.
“Ugh, this is gonna end badly,” Roger said to no one in particular, and decided now would be a good time to bail before the inevitable crash. As Montgomery ran, she jumped to catch a branch hanging from a nearby maple tree.
It took her a few seconds to climb up onto the branch, and when she did, she looked to see what had happened to Montgomery. She fully expected to see him doubled over in pain, or trying to pick himself back up, so she was confused when he was nowhere to be found.
“Are you kidding me?!” she said to herself, more annoyed than anything else.
Meanwhile, Montgomery the Moose was thrilled. “I knew it would work,” he said to himself. “It always does.”
He looked around. He was in a tunnel; a dirt tunnel. He’d never been in a tunnel before, so that in itself was exciting, but something else seemed different. There was light coming from further up ahead, but the tunnel seemed to twist and turn enough that he only got ambient light. It was enough for him to see that the soil around him seemed enormous, though. That’s a strange thing to think about soil, he admitted to himself, so he looked closer to see why he thought it. It was true, though, that he could see detail in the brown clumps of soil that he’d never seen before, and the roots that he usually barely even notices in soil looked thick and strong.
What happened to me? he wondered.
He took up most of the space in the tunnel, so he couldn’t turn around to see if the way he got in was still behind him. The only way to go was forward. He decided to try and find his friends. Then he remembered that he had some of his friends on his back when he started running towards the hole.
“Roger? Are you still back there?” No reply. He wished he could remember the frogs’ names, but he’d barely met them and one of them seemed very grumpy the whole time. “Um… f… frogs?” he asked hesitantly, half-hoping they weren’t there so he wasn’t offending them. Again, no reply.
Then he realized that his other friends must be ahead of him in the tunnel with him, though.
“Montgomery?” he called out. “Jerry? Tommy?” Still nothing.
In the quiet, he decided to follow the light and see where it was coming from. Maybe his friends were there.
As he walked forward, his antlers caught on the top of the tunnel. He pulled his head away, and noticed that his left antler felt a little loose. It was a disconcerting feeling, especially in such an mysterious setting. His antlers fell off every winter around this time and he regrew them in the spring, but he barely remembered this happening last year, and his life seemed so different now. For a long time he had been alone, and wanting to make friends, and now he had some amazing friends and was on a magical adventure to find… well, he wasn’t sure what they were trying to find, but it was fun. Except, he thought, where are my friends?
As he walked on, the light became stronger. He had to squint, and even then, looking at the light made him sneeze.
Sunlight, he thought. And it’s warm, too. Really warm. Like summer.
As confusing as it was, he walked forward into the sunlight. It became so bright that he had to close his eyes altogether. But when he took another few steps forward, he felt his foot give way under him, and he quickly spread out his legs to stop himself from falling. He steadied himself for a few moments, and slowly worked on opening his eyes, and letting them adjust to the light shining down on him.
As he looked around, he saw that he was high up on a hillside, looking around at lush green mountains in the distance, covered in a kind of trees he’d never seen before, with bent over trunks and huge green leaves. He saw a waterfall and below it, a crystal blue stream rippling down the mountain to his right, and large open spaces on each mountain leading into the valley between them. Off in the distance he saw a bright shiny ocean. Closer to him, he saw plants with bright vibrant colors he’d never seen at home. The heat definitely didn’t feel like the early winter days of Maine. The sun beat down, but even the sun felt different; as if it was smaller, but coming from a few different places.
He wondered if Roger was following him, and he turned his head to look. But the tunnel behind him wasn’t there anymore. Or was it? As he looked closely, he saw a small hole, maybe six inches tall. Was that the tunnel he’d been in?
He looked at the landscape ahead of him again, and asked out loud, “Where am I?”
“You,” said a voice from below him, “are coming with me.”