Rose’s face flushed crimson from the coach’s rant. She’d expected it, but that hadn’t made it any easier to take. And she hadn’t expected what he’d said after the lecture. She fished her flip-flops from her bag, trying to grasp what it would mean for her, and sank to the ground to remove her cleats.
“Hey, Rose, nice pass.” A girl with a blonde pony-tail and a blue elastic head band plopped down next to her.
Rose managed a smile. “Thanks, Jules – I knew you’d scorch it past the goalie like that.”
Julie smiled. “Yeah, I totally owned that goal!” She looked down and pulled at a few blades of grass. “So, you’re not gonna be here next week?”
“Nope,” Rose responded. She stuck a foot, sock and all, into a flip-flop and shoved a cleated soccer shoe into her bag.
“What did the coach say about that?” Julie asked.
Rose swiped at a black tendril of hair plastered to her forehead with sweat. “He was kind of angry, in case you didn’t notice.” She wrenched the other shoe from her foot. “He said that my parents should’ve planned to go on vacation before practice started for fall soccer.”
“Yeah,” her friend said, “but practice starts so early, it really eats into summer.”
“He said that I’ll have to run extra drills when I get back.”
“Wow, that sucks.”
Rose shoved her other cleat into the bag. “And he said that he wants me to be team captain.”
Julie’s head popped up, “What? No way!”
“I told him I didn’t want to be.”
“What? No way!”
“Well, I don’t think I really want to do all that team captain stuff – the peppy speeches, making sure everybody knows about schedule changes, making sure everyone has a ride who needs one...”
Julie gave Rose a skeptical look. “You don’t want to do it, or don’t think you can do it?”
Rose zipped her bag and stood without answering.
Julie scrambled to her feet. “Look, Rose,” she said as they walked together to the parking lot. “You always have good ideas and help out a lot already. Being team captain will just make it all official-like.”
Helping out was okay, but Rose’s stomach clenched at the thought of the whole team looking to her for direction. “I just don’t think I want to do anything officially.”
“So you’re not gonna do it?”
Rose paused beside the passenger door of her mother’s silver hybrid car. “I’m supposed to tell the coach my decision when I get back.”
Julie nodded. “Well, you’ll still be my bud, no matter what you decide.” She smiled, “But I know you’d make an awesome captain.” She reached out to give Rose a hug.
Rose put up her hands, “I’m sweaty and stinky!”
Julie laughed. “Me too.”
Rose grinned, grabbing her friend in a hug.
“Have a good vacation,” Julie said. “Where are you going, anyway?”
“My parents are spending a week with a bunch of artists at a retreat, so my sister and I are going to my Grandma’s.”
Julie’s mouth dropped. “Grandma Brigit’s?” she said, “The one with the sword, and the forest, and the homemade cookies?”
Rose nodded, smiling.
“Awesome! I’m so jealous. See you when you get back.”
Rose stuck her head out of the car window as her mother pulled away, “And don’t forget my birthday party in two weeks.”
Julie waved. “You’ll finally be a teenager like me!”
The thought of being team captain made Rose feel nauseous on the long drive to her grandmother’s house the next day. It was either that, or the winding roads through the mountains of
and New York that made her feel that way, she wasn’t sure which. She only began to feel better once she and her sister had been deposited next to their grandmother and she was waving goodbye to her parents’ retreating car. Pennsylvania
All unpleasant feelings finally melted away when her grandmother smiled at them both. “Time for cookies and lemonade on the back porch!”
Rose sighed. It was really good to be at Grandma’s.
That night Rose snuggled down in the familiar bed; the sheets were soft and white with tiny, faded, blue and pink flowers. Her dreams were not quite as comfy, though. They were filled with her dribbling soccer balls, balancing huge crowns on her head, and standing above oceans of people in endless fields, all asking, “What do we do next?”
Thankfully, the morning brought something to help her forget her dreams. Her sister, Eris, discovered a note lying half hidden under the door to their room. They opened the folded sheet of paper and found the
spindly scratchings of Og staring up at them.
At their grandmother’s, Rose and Eris often found notes written in Og, a secret kind of writing that their grandmother had taught them. The notes sometimes held funny little jokes, or sent them on scavenger hunts, or sometimes summoned them to specific places in the house or yard. But, since Og had only had twenty-one letters the spellings were often creative.
Rose grabbed a pencil to write the letters that the markings stood for. It read simply, “Come to the room uere adbentures begin.”
“The room where adventures begin,” Eris said, staring at the note. “Which room is that, the back porch?”
“No,” said Rose, looking up. “It’s the map room.”
Eris smiled. “Yeah, the map room! Only it’s called the sword room, not the map room.”
“No it’s not, and I’ll race you there!”
Eris didn’t need any more coaxing. She took off, and Rose followed, chasing her younger sister down the stairs.
“I’m gonna get there first!” Eris laughed.
“No you won’t!” Rose shouted, her long hair trailing behind as she ran.
They tore down the stairs, past their grandparents’ wedding photograph. The much younger version of their grandmother in the picture leaned on a cane, even though the older version that they knew so well didn’t use one. Rose had always thought this was odd but had never asked about it, and just now her mind was occupied with other things. She put on a burst of speed. Eris exploded in laughter as Rose tried to jostle past.
“No!” Eris squealed, “No fair! I’m about to beat you!”
Rose smiled. She was two years older and knew she could easily outrun her sister, but she hung back just a little.
They turned a corner and dashed through a doorway. Their grandmother looked up as they bounded into the room one after the other. Her gray eyes sparkled in the familiar way that promised an exciting day.
She stood between a long, wooden table and wide cabinet with glass-paned doors which held scores of rolled-up maps. The curls of her cropped, white hair shone softly in the sunlight streaming through a large window. “I see you got my note. Should we look over some of these maps and plan an adventure?” She held out several for them to choose from.
Rose’s eyes lit up, “Okay!” She took a map and turned to Eris, “See,” she said, “It is the map room.”
Eris selected one of the rolls and pushed a caramel-blonde lock from her sweaty forehead. “Well,” she conceded, “only when we’re looking at maps.” She then pointedly positioned her chair under a beautiful sword which hung in a glass box on one of the walls. In the sunlight, it shone with glinting steel and glowing gold and ornately placed gems. It had always hung there, ever since the girls could remember. “It’s just something I picked up somewhere,” was the answer they always got when they asked questions about it.
They turned their attention to the maps, which they used quite often at their grandmother’s. Her house sat nestled in a meadow surrounded by a wood which was on the edge of great forested parkland. A number of trails wound from their grandmother’s meadow away into the woods and she had them marked on maps to show where they met up with park trails and where they branched off toward other destinations, known and unknown. The girls spent a while debating over taking a favorite trail to a known destination or choosing an unknown path toward adventure.
As far as things like that were concerned, their grandmother had only one rule: Rose and her sister were expressly forbidden to enter the forest after the sun went down. Rose never had a problem with this rule because she often heard coyotes yipping and howling in the forest after sunset and she didn’t want to meet any up close.
There was no rule against entering the forest while the sun was up, however. So today they chose a trail that wound its way down through the forest to the foot of an overlook where a set of small caves could be found.
“An excellent choice.” their grandmother said, “It’ll be warm today and the caves will be a cool treat after a hike in the woods.” She gathered the maps together. “Now that that’s decided, why don’t you two run along to the kitchen and pack our lunches while I put these away.”
With small packs slung on their backs, the three left the sunlit meadow surrounding the house and headed out under tall trees leafed out in the full green of summer. They stopped for lunch in a small glade filled with sunbeams and butterflies and wildflowers before taking up again the path that led to the caves.
Rose followed the winding trail under the trees with a feeling of peace. “I’m so glad I have nothing to do for a whole week but have fun here with you and Eris, Grandma,”
Her grandmother kept an eye on Eris who was running along ahead. “Aren’t you having fun at home this summer?” she asked.
Rose shrugged. The pack she was carrying shifted a little. “I guess so, but I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to do anything like this.”
Her grandmother smiled. “I’m not surprised you feel like you’ve had a busy summer. With morning swim team practices, horseback riding lessons, and competitions, who wouldn’t?”
“Practice just started for fall soccer, too,” Rose added, “And school will be starting soon.”
Her grandmother’s eyebrows went up, “My, you are busy! All of that and a birthday to plan, too.”
Rose smiled. She thought about the things she planned to do with her friends on the first birthday of her teenage life. At that same moment the sun managed to break through the canopy of leaves overhead to dance across her face. She brought a hand up to shade her eyes.
“I’m looking forward to my birthday,” she said, and then her smile turned into a little frown. “But I’m not looking forward to my next soccer practice.”
“Oh? And why’s that?” her grandmother asked.
Rose looked down, dropping her hand, and kicked a stick from the path in front of her. “Well, my soccer coach wants me to be team captain this year, and I have to tell him my decision when I get back.”
“Ah,” her grandmother said, “And you’re not sure you want to be team captain?”
Rose sighed. “Well, I don’t know if I want the responsibility. I mean, I think I’m fine with other people doing all that stuff.”
“Hmm,” her grandmother nodded, “It’s a big step. But I also see what the coach sees in you.”
Rose looked up.
“He sees the leader that’s inside of you.” Her grandmother smiled. “Maybe if you give it a try you’ll find what he and I both know is there.”
Rose rolled her eyes and pushed her thumbs under the straps of her pack. “Oh, Grandma.” She was about to laugh when her grandmother continued.
“You know, Rose, some people are born into leadership and some people become leaders along the way. You are in the unique position that both may apply…”
Her grandmother stopped walking. Her face took on the look of someone who’s said something she shouldn’t. Rose wasn’t sure what her grandmother meant. She looked like maybe she wanted to say more, something important, but just at that moment Eris called out.
“Hey! I see the caves, come on!”
Her grandmother’s face softened. She placed a hand on Rose’s shoulder. “We’ll talk more, later.” She gave Rose’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. Following after Eris she called out, “We’re coming!”
Rose wondered what her grandmother had been about to say. She figured that she would find out later.
Upon reaching their destination, they left the warmth of the summer day behind to enter a realm of dim, damp, mossy caves and crevasses that laced their way through the ledges of rock towering overhead. They turned back from their explorations only when their stomachs began to rumble and, peeking out, they noticed the shadows in the other world, the world of the sun, had grown long.
They made their way safely back to the house before sundown. Grandma busied herself in the kitchen making homemade macaroni and cheese with which they finally filled their grumbling stomachs. As the sun set and the light began to wane they moved outside to enjoy a mild evening on the back porch. Rose sank into the cushiony comfort of a lawn chair while Eris ran into the flower garden, begging her grandmother to come with her, “C’mon Grandma, let’s chase fireflies.”
Her grandmother laughed. “Okay,” she said, stepping off of the porch and into the garden. “But remember to stay close to the house.”
Eris turned back to her sister. “Come with us, Rose, don’t just sit there.”
Rose ignored her sister, though. She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. She just wanted to relax. Eris didn’t give up and kept calling every few minutes. Finally Rose opened her eyes. It did look like fun. It was getting quite dark. Her grandmother had just caught two fireflies at once and Eris was peeking into her cupped-together hands, watching the glow through a small opening between her grandmother’s fingers.
Rose got up and joined the fun, chasing first this blink, and then the next. She followed one firefly out of the garden and into the meadow, only to lose it. She waited until it blinked again, this time a little deeper into the meadow. She ran toward it and when it went out she kept her eye on its darkened shape as it drifted still further away. She caught up to the hovering shape and when it blinked, she reached out to close her hand gently around it in triumph.
As she did so, three things happened. She heard her grandmother’s voice calling to her. She realized that she was no longer in the meadow but had run two steps along one of the paths into the wood. And without warning a huge, antlered buck bounded suddenly out of the trees at her right.
The massive animal, snorting a warning, leapt across the path and disappeared into the darkness of the forest, leaving Rose’s heart pounding in surprise. Rose heard her grandmother’s voice again. It sounded frantic and far away. She turned to call back and got a shock, her grandmother wasn’t there. The meadow wasn’t there. She stared instead into a shadowy forest that melted away into the surrounding night. Turning completely around, she saw nothing but trees vanishing into dense darkness wherever she looked. And then she heard a growl.
She jumped when a voice sounded in her ear, “Quick, climb up on the rock!” She spun to see who was there and saw only darkness and forest.
“There isn’t time for spinning!” the voice shouted. “Climb up on the rock, now!”
Rose looked to her left and was surprised to see the looming shape of a large boulder. Another growl came from somewhere in the darkness. Immediately she did as the mysterious voice urged, and very quickly she climbed to the top of the boulder.
Confusion played with the fear that began to tingle through her body. She couldn’t remember any boulders this big at the edge of the wood by her grandmother’s meadow – and her grandmother’s meadow had just turned into a forest. She looked down from her perch at the boulder’s top. Shining eyes stared up at her. “A coyote!” she thought, and soon there were others.
Before she could even think of what to do, a small light, pulsing in a spectrum of colors, appeared suddenly at her shoulder and dove at the animals below.
Incredibly the light spoke, “This isn’t what you’re after,” it shouted. “Go chase your buck and leave us alone!”
Rose gasped as one of the animals leapt and snapped at the light. Suddenly the single light was joined by what seemed like hundreds more. They swarmed the animals, flashing and pulsing in a myriad of colors. The coyotes yelped and danced around, snapping at the lights before finally being driven off by them into the dark wood.
One of the lights rose up and hovered in front of Rose’s nose. She was astonished to see that it wasn’t a light at all, but a tiny, winged person – a man, in fact. Swirling patterns of luminescence whirled over his face and body, as if fluttering ribbons of light had been tattooed onto his skin. Multi-hued pulses coursed over them, shining through his clothing. Dragonfly wings of shimmery, translucent silver fluttered at his back. She stared in awe.
The tiny person’s brow filled with serious furrows. “The wolves may be back soon, come quickly and we’ll lead you to safety.”
Rose blinked. “Wolves?” A vision of them, large and dark and coming after her, filled her head, pushing out images of their more timid, yipping counterparts. “They aren’t coyotes?”
“Coyotes?” said the man, “No, they’re wolves and they may be back. Hurry! Get down and come with us.”
Rose didn’t argue. She half scrambled, half leapt off the boulder. “Are you taking me to my grandmother?” she asked as her feet hit the ground. Her bright companion hovered by her face. The other colorful beings, each with shimmering silver or gold or jewel-like wings, formed a perimeter around them and then went dark.
“I don’t know,” the man said, “if she lives in the town, then yes. Quickly, follow me, and keep up! The others are still around us, though you may not see them.”
The word ‘fairy’ had popped into Rose’s head. She began to form the question on her lips to ask if he was a fairy. The chance was lost when, quick as a flash, the fairy person flew down a path in the direction that should have taken Rose back to her grandmother’s meadow, but instead went on and on through a forest that should not have been there.
She had to run to keep up with him. Suddenly he turned down a side path to the left and she followed, breathing hard. The path twisted and turned through thick trees and she could barely make her stumbling way by the light of the fairy’s luminescent glow. What she could see appeared to be like any forest, even her grandmother’s, but her heaving lungs noticed a subtle difference. The air held an untamed scent, as if it was used to being breathed mostly by leaves and wild and unexpected things.
After what seemed like way too many back and forth drills over the length of a soccer field, the path opened up and they emerged from the close trees. Rose saw houses and buildings before her, but the scene looked like it had been plucked from the page of a history book. Everything was made of wood or white-washed stone. Thick, thatched roofs hung low on houses. Each sported a chimney out of which gray smoke curled into the black night sky. Worn, wooden carts and wagons stood empty and motionless by the sides of many of the buildings. She didn’t know of anything like this near her grandmother’s house.
“You’re safe now,” said the fairy, “Go home and don’t play in the forest after dark, even on a festival night. The wolves don’t know a festival night from any other!”
Rose stood, panting. “But where am I?” she asked between breaths.
The fairy didn’t answer, for he and all of his companions had disappeared into the forest.