Montgomery the Moose looked around him. His nose had picked up a change. The beautiful fragrant smell of chocolate had disappeared. He had become so used to it being around that he’d taken it for granted, and now he missed it.
“Hey,” he asked Montgomery the Mouse, “where did Fred go?”
“Fred?” Montgomery the Mouse replied from on top of his friend’s head. He loved it up there, and used the long guard hairs as a nest, with the soft woolly undercoat as the perfect bed. But the heat in this magical land made him very sleepy, and he found it hard to keep up with everything that was going on.
“Yeah, Fred. The Chocolate Lab. He’s gone.” He looked around the hilltop they were on again. “Hm, I think Jerry and Dorothy have gone too.”
“Yep,” Roger the giant Raccoon said as she lumbered past them, grabbing some coconuts off a nearby tree with ease. “They left about an hour ago. Maybe. I don’t know. I can’t tell what’s going on here.” She closed her eyes and shook her head as if trying to shake out some hidden knowledge that would help her make sense of it all.
Montgomery and Montgomery both knew how their friend felt. It was hard to keep track of how long they had been in this magical land. Their life back in Maine seemed so long ago at this point, but somehow they weren’t even sure if they’d slept at all since being here.
“Where did the dragon go?” Montgomery the Moose asked. Suddenly everything was starting to seem confusing.
“He said he was going to find another dragon, remember?” Montgomery the Mouse answered. “He said it was here in this land too.” Then he started to doubt himself also. “At least, I think…”
“Hey, how did you get so big anyway?” Montgomery the Moose asked Roger. Roger looked at herself.
“Wait, what do you mean?” she asked. “Are you saying I’m eating too many of these crunchy eggs?”
“No,” Montgomery replied. “Remember you used to be smaller?”
“Huh,” Roger responded. “Yeah, you’re right. I was smaller.”
“Yeah, you definitely were,” Montgomery the Mouse replied. “Remember you were like my size? And Montgomery almost ate you once?”
“That wasn’t me,” Roger replied. “That was the frog, remember?”
Montgomery the Mouse blinked in shock. How could he have forgotten the frogs? The frogs had saved them from drowning!
“Frankie!” he blurted out. “No… Freddie! And Francesca!”
“Oh wow,” Montgomery the Moose added. “I’d forgotten about them. How did I forget about them? Moose never forget! That’s the one thing everyone knows about moose. Moose never forget!”
“No, that’s elephants,” his mouse friend gently reminded him.
“Elephants! Yes, that’s right! Moose never forget elephants!”
Montgomery the Mouse shook his head gently and said a soft “uh uh.”
“It’s elephants that never forget,” he continued.
“Elephants never forget elephants?” Montgomery the Moose replied, looking perplexed. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“That doesn’t make any sense ‘cuz it’s not true,” Montgomery the Mouse said gently but definitively.
“No?” Montgomery the Moose asked. “Well then how come I never forget things?”
“You forget things all the time!” His small friend objected.
“Well, okay… maybe that’s true,” Montgomery the Moose admitted sadly.
Roger was busy smashing two coconuts together to break them open.
“How long do you think this whole thing will take?” Montgomery the Moose asked after a pause. “I mean, this whole ‘fixing magic’ thing? ‘Cuz I don’t think I like this place that much after all.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Montgomery the Mouse replied. “I don’t like that it’s making us forget our friends.”
“Is that magic?” Montgomery the Moose asked. “Because if it is, maybe it’s not a bad thing that it’s broken.”
Montgomery the Mouse climbed onto his moose friend’s nose – it was the only place where he could look into his friend’s eyes, even though he knew his friend had to cross his eyes to see him clearly.
He nodded at his large friend in agreement.
“Let’s go home,” he said.
“Yeah,” Montgomery the Moose agreed.
“Wait, what?!” Roger asked incredulously. “This place is so much better than that fake mountain I lived in, with the orange jackets chasing me all the time.”
“But Roger, you don’t live there anymore, remember?” her mouse friend replied. “We left there together – you can live with us now at our camp by the lake.”
Roger shook her enormous head again, as if trying to make sense of everything. “Yeah, of course,” she said. “I remember that. Of course I do. But…” she couldn’t quite make sense of why she wanted to stay so much, but she knew she did. She just decided to declare her decision, and figure out the details later. “I’m staying here.”
Montgomery and Montgomery looked at their enormous raccoon friend, and at each other, with some sadness. Montgomery the Mouse turned back to look at Roger again, and in unison the Moose and the Mouse said, “Okay.”
They said their goodbyes, and Montgomery and Montgomery started the trek back to the tunnel they’d come through on their way into the magical land. They wondered what would happen to Roger if she came home too – would she fit? Would she remain huge once – if – they got through? That if got them thinking further – they couldn’t be sure that Montgomery the Moose would fit through anymore, or if that was a one-way thing. They each silently wondered what they would do if he couldn’t, and whether Montgomery the Mouse should go on without him, but the thought of separating didn’t sound good to either of them, and they decided to cross that bridge if they came to it.
As they made their way up the hillside where Montgomery the Moose had first met Fred, they reflected on their strange few weeks together. Before meeting each other, both had never spoken to a creature of a different species, and they had both led very ordinary lives for a moose and a mouse to lead. Reminiscing about their first meeting, they both chuckled that it was their love of chocolate that led them to each other. Thinking about their visit to the chocolate shop, Montgomery the Moose closed his eyes and imagined the sight of that full-sized chocolate moose, and the wondrous smell that accompanied it. The image was so vivid in his mind, that he could smell it right now. Huh, he thought, that’s odd. I can smell it right now.
When he opened his eyes, Montgomery the Mouse was already clambering down and onto the ground. There was chocolate on the ground in front of them. Small puddles of chocolate, leading the way along the path like footprints. A lot like footprints. In fact, they were footprints. Dog footprints, to be exact.
As they walked up the path, they noticed the footprints became deeper and more defined the closer they came to the tunnel. The footprints were facing away from the tunnel, but seemed to emanate from where Montgomery and Fred had first met, like an echo.
“I think these are Fred’s,” Montgomery the Moose confirmed to his friend, who had been stopping to nibble a little from each one. Montgomery the Moose also bent down and licked some up, although he couldn’t quite decide if these footprints were actually part of Fred, which felt kind of gross.
The two friends continued up the path, and as they reached the small hole in the hillside that was their destination, the footprints were thicker and larger than all the rest. Montgomery the Mouse hung back to keep eating. Montgomery the Moose looked at his friend, and nudged with a few come ons until the Mouse looked at him with wide eyes.
“Are you sure you want to go?” Montgomery the Mouse asked. “I mean, this place isn’t bad, right?”
“No! Not you too!” Montgomery the Moose shouted back. “It’s this place, Montgomery! It’s making you think differently. I’m leaving, and I’m not letting you stay here.”
“But I mean, this place has chocolate,” Montgomery the Mouse pleaded. “And I bet there’s a lot more than this. I mean this place is magic, right? If Fred can turn to chocolate, maybe anything here can. Then think how much chocolate there is.”
“Right, that’s it,” Montgomery the Moose said decisively. He bent his head down, opened his mouth wide, and scooped Montgomery the Mouse up, closing his jaws and lips so he couldn’t escape.
Then he looked at the small hole in the hillside where he’d come through before, briefly panicked that there was no way he’d fit through, realized that he’d done it before, and ran right for the hole, closing his eyes as he approached it, and launching his whole body at full speed towards his target.
Next thing he knew, he was in the tunnel again, with enough space to walk. He was about to open his mouth to show his friend, but then he realized in the dim light coming from behind him, and the overpowering smell, that the whole tunnel was now chocolate too.
He ran – or more accurately since the tunnel wasn’t large enough for him to really run, he walked fast and awkwardly – down the tunnel. With the light behind him he couldn’t really tell where he was going, and this time both his antlers hit the tunnel and wobbled a little, which worried him. Despite the noise and the strange feelings coming from the mouse inside his mouth, he walked fast and awkwardly on, until… light!
He stumbled forward as fast as he could, and as the light got brighter and brighter he had to close his eyes. But still he walked on.
And then, all of a sudden, he found himself bathed in cool air. Familiar air. The air of Maine.
He started to open his eyes, but the bright sunlight was too much, and he kept them closed. But he was home. The air felt like fall again. Cool, crisp, and damp. And the smells… wait, the smells… I can still smell the chocolate, he thought. Weird. But I guess we were in there for a while, so…
He opened his mouth to let Montgomery the Mouse know they were back, and the mouse scampered out as quickly as he could, onto his moose friend’s head. He didn’t give much thought to being gentle, and his claws scratched Montgomery the Moose’s top lip as he climbed up.
“Ugh, smells gross in there,” Montgomery the Mouse said, panting for fresh air after holding his breath in the moose’s mouth for so long, “but I get why you did it. Thank you.”
The chocolate smell lingered. As their eyes adjusted, they realized why. It was hard to take in. They were back in Maine, and the plant life seemed so familiar – off in the distance they could also smell the water of Lake Damariscotta – but around them, for about fifty feet in every direction, the flowers, the plants, the moss, the rocks, and even a grass snake, had turned… to chocolate.