As the larger creatures discussed how to proceed, Jerry was distracted. He was pretty sure that whatever their friends decided, he and his mom would leave them to find his brother and his father (it seemed so strange to even think that). But he also realized he knew next to nothing about about this magical land.
“We’ve been here for ages,” he said to Dorothy eventually. “Doesn’t it ever get dark here?”
“Ha,” she replied. “You’ve noticed. Yeah, time moves differently here. That’s why you’re not tired. But the light also has to do with the two suns. It does get dark once in a while, but most of the time at least one of the suns is out.”
“That’s so weird,” Jerry replied, and then thought about it for a bit. “So wait, what’s once in a while? Like, how often does it get dark?”
“Well…” Dorothy calculated as she looked into the sky. “It’s a little difficult to compare it to time that we know, because, like, I said, time moves differently here. That’s part of the magic of this place. And I think it doesn’t always stay the same – like a leaf blowing in the wind, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. But when we were here looking for your dad, that sun” – she pointed to the smaller one – “seemed to set around every 27 hours…”
“Oh, well, that’s not much longer than a regular day,” Jerry replied.
“…but that one” – she pointed across the sky to the larger sun – “seemed to set every seventeen days.”
“What? That’s crazy!”
“Yeah, so it’s daylight for seventeen days straight…”
“And then nighttime on and off for the next seventeen?”
“Well, no,” Dorothy answered with a chuckle. “That would be too easy… Somehow it only stays dark for like eight hours, then light again, then dark for another four, then light for three, and then…” she trailed off.
“Huh,” Jerry said, not following the logic, before realizing that Dorothy was saying there wasn’t any.
“So yeah, not much nighttime.”
“I’m still worried about Tommy,” he said quietly.
Dorothy, who was feeling more positive about everything now, replied “I’m not. If I know your father, they’re probably together.”
“Really? Why would you think that? They haven’t seen each other in years. And you haven’t seen him in years either. Why would you think they’d be together?”
“Ah, just instinct,” she replied with a smile. Dorothy believed in the magic of this place. And she was excited for others to see it too.
A mile away, an unaware but reunited father and son were focused intently on keeping reality itself from falling to pieces (because, dear reader, you must remember that magic was broken).
Tommy and Michael had spent the last fifteen hours looking into a tear in the fabric of space and time, and describing in extreme detail everything they saw around them on their own side of the tear to a creature on the other side.
“These trees,” Michael explained, “they are known as palm trees where I come from. Some grow to be around thirty feet tall. They grow fronds – sometimes about ten feet long – with fifty or sixty leaves each…”
Tommy joined in, “Some of the leaves are maybe four feet long – it’s hard to tell exactly from here.”
To explain why they were doing this, though, we need to go back to Tommy’s arrival in the magical land some time earlier…
Tommy had woken up on a beach. He was lying in the most pristine natural sand he had ever felt. Most of his experiences with sand had been playground sand or pond sand, neither of which felt like this. The grains of sand were so small and soft that they poured between his fingers like the water that was lapping up only a few feet away.
He looked at the gentle waves coming in, wondering what was past them. He’d been in plenty of ponds before, but he didn’t think any water could be bigger than Lake Damariscotta. He’d never seen an ocean before. This water looked endless.
He was lost in thought about everything around him, and it was only when he saw a bright multi-colored bird flying overhead that his mind snapped to with panic.
“Jerry!” His head spun around, hoping to see his brother somewhere, and when he didn’t, his voice grew louder, and filled with more and more panic. “Jerry! JERRY!”
His shouting seemed to attract the colorful bird, which turned in a wide arc to fly in his direction. As soon as Tommy noticed, his panic turned to fear. He couldn’t tell the size of the bird, but its beak was large enough to scoop him up whole, and as Tommy looked around the beach, there wasn’t much shelter for him to use.
He ran towards the nearest plant he saw, in the grass just above the beach, about ten feet away. It wasn’t tall, but the five or six leaves it had were large enough that he thought it was his best chance to escape. He ran as fast as he could.
A few paces from reaching it, though, the whole plant seemed to give a little squeak, and then the stems pulled down into the ground until they pulled the leaves down into the ground too, leaving only a small hole in the soil where the plant had been a moment earlier.
“Huh?” Tommy couldn’t help but ask out loud. He turned and saw that the bird was getting closer. He saw another plant a few feet away – was that there before? he wondered – and ran towards it. Again, though, as he got close, the plant squeaked and pulled down into the ground.
Tommy noticed a third plant and ran toward it, but at this point he felt like even the plants wanted this bird to eat him.
He turned to see how close the bird was – maybe he could somehow twist out of the way when it came close – but it was too late. He saw darkness as the bird’s beak reached out and grabbed him from the ground.
I guess this is it, Tommy thought to himself as they first flew back up into the air. But then he realized the bird hadn’t eaten him yet, so he decided he could still fight his way free. He punched and kicked inside the bird’s mouth as hard as he could, and the bird made various grumbling noises of pain, and other sounds that someone would make if they were trying to speak but had a small person inside their mouth punching and kicking them.
Tommy could tell they were flying higher, and wondered what would happen if he managed to get out of the bird’s beak, but he didn’t feel like he had much choice, so he kept pushing, and eventually managed to stand and push up with his hands to open the beak. That’s when he realized just how high up they were – at least thirty feet off the ground.
The bird kept making noises like it was trying to explain something. Then it paused and made two short sounds like it was asking Tommy a question. Tommy didn’t reply, of course, because he was preoccupied with not being eaten.
Suddenly, the bird tipped forward so Tommy was looking straight down at the ground way below, and opened its beak. Tommy lost all his grip, and immediately tumbled out into the air.
“Aaaaargh!” He shouted.
The bird swooped down and grabbed Tommy again by his left foot, before flicking his beak up, sending Tommy up into the air and looping under, so Tommy landed on the bird’s back with a thud. This time Tommy grabbed hold as tight as he could.
“Okay, finally,” the bird said. “Wow, that was really painful.”
Tommy was glad not to be falling, and he knew the bird couldn’t eat him from where he was. His fear was starting to subside, and he was impressed with himself for managing to get out of a situation that seemed like certain death.
“Okay,” the bird said. “Now can you understand me?”
“Put me down!” Tommy shouted back to the bird.
“Yes, I will,” the bird replied. “When we get where we’re going. Did you not hear anything I said?”
“I told you,” the bird continued, “you’re obviously lost, and so I’m taking you to meet someone who’s the same kind of creature as you. He needs help, and maybe if you help him, he can help you too.”
“Wait, what? You weren’t trying to eat me?”
“Eat you? No, that’s gross! Besides, toucans only eat fruit, and sometimes eggs. I haven’t seen any of those here – well, I’ve seen eggs on trees, but when I tried them, they’re super hard, and only have some white chewy stuff inside – not the kind of eggs I like.”
“Yeah – that’s what I am. A toucan.”
“And you’re sure you don’t want to eat me?” Tommy asked.
“No, honestly. That would be pretty disgusting. I mean, no offense. Unless… do you want me to eat you?”
“No! Of course not.”
“No, that’s what I thought. I thought you made that pretty clear before – just wasn’t sure if you’d changed your mind.”
“No, thanks,” Tommy replied. Despite being so high up, he was feeling much more relaxed now that he knew this creature – this toucan – was friendly. And it sounded like the toucan was going to take him to Jerry, so he felt better about everything.
As they flew on, they shared their stories – the toucan had also come from a different land, although certainly not Maine, Tommy thought. The toucan’s land only had one sun – he’s from our world, thought Tommy – but had two moons – oh, maybe not.
They flew over hills and valleys. Tommy marveled at the vibrant colors below, and soaked in the warmth and the fruity smell, which was entirely different than either Cambridge or Maine. When they flew over a particularly high mountain, Tommy looked around and realized that he could see all the way around. They were on an island.
“Where are we?” he asked.
The toucan took a moment to respond. “Yeah, it’s confusing at first, isn’t it?” He didn’t say more, so Tommy felt the need to follow up.
“What’s out there?” he asked. “I mean, across the sea?”
“I’ve flown out there a few times, in different directions. Every time I’ve been out there, it’s the same thing. The water just drops off.”
“Yeah. It goes out a little further than you can see from here, and then that’s it. There’s nothing past that. It’s the end.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I, really.”
The toucan let Tommy know they were almost there and they lowered to ten feet or so above the ground, when Tommy realized something was still lingering from how they met.
“Hey, Mr. Toucan,” he started.
“Mister?” the toucan replied.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Tommy said, realizing he’d caused offence. “I mean, Ms. Toucan…”
“No, I’m not…” the toucan started. “I mean… I don’t… just call me Toucan.”
“Okay… Toucan. If you didn’t want to eat me, why did you pick me up like that?”
“How else was I going to pick you up?”
“Well, your feet, I suppose. But I mean why did you pick me up at all? Why didn’t you just explain that you wanted to take me to someone?”
“It’s very hard to have a conversation with someone on the ground, you know…”
Tommy could tell he was missing something. “What? Why didn’t you just land?”
“Land?” Toucan asked.
“You know, it’s when you’re actually on the ground, or in a tree or something.”
“But how do I do that?” Toucan asked.
“Wait, have you been flying around your whole life?”
“Well, my life before coming here is a bit of a blur, but since I’ve been here, I think so, yeah.”
“Then how do you…?” Tommy wondered about eating, and sleeping, and so many other things, before deciding, “never mind.”
“So wait, how do I land?”
“I don’t know, you’re the bird. Don’t you just close your wings or something?”
Toucan’s wings closed. Both Toucan and Tommy shot through the air towards the ground like a missile, while Tommy shouted out “Nooooooo!”
They crashed and tumbled head over heels, with arms, legs and wings tangling up and bending ways that they’re not supposed to bend.
“Ooooh,” “Owwww,” they both moaned as everything settled.
Toucan jumped up on both feet, and happily said “Wow, landing really hurts.”
“Ugh, yeah it does,” Tommy groaned.
“Toucan!” shouted a voice from a small cave a few feet from where they’d crashed. “Is that you?”
“Yes!” Toucan replied. “And I brought a friend!”
Tommy finally picked himself up, and he and Toucan walked into the cave. Tommy couldn’t believe what he was seeing. His father, looking exactly the same as Tommy remembered from his young childhood memories, was standing next to another tear in reality into another world, and on the other side of the tear was a blue dragon, locked up in some kind of prison cell.
Tommy’s mind was struggling to keep up with what he was seeing. “What on earth is going on?”
“On earth?” his father replied. “Oh, this isn’t on earth…”