Far Away Adventures
By Antje Hergt
“That’s it!” Mark had enough. Angry, he stuffed his essentials into his big backpack: his favorite book with pirate Captain Sparks glowering from the cover at him, the fluffy blue blanket and his Christmas stash of sweets. The packing calmed his racing heart. Mum deserves it, he thought, that was so mean! To take my new toy away – just because… He stopped shoving his pillow into the backpack and attacked it with hard punches. That felt really good. Just because he didn’t walk the stupid old dog. It wasn’t even his dog. He huffed making the pillow fit with another smack. It was her dog and he was no fun at all, not like his friend’s. Mum’s dog was older than the Stone Age. He couldn’t do anything – just trotted behind you. What a bore!
He was done. He prepped his bed with a quilt to make it look like he was sleeping and switched off the lights as he tiptoed to the window. Very slowly he pried it open, hoping it would not squeak as it usually did. Inch by inch he pushed it up until he could squeeze through. He landed in the soft snow with a loud thud and held his breath. The Rankin Family was still playing and fiddling in the living room, so his Mum was folding laundry. Even though, she came as a young woman to Alberta, she still loved their music from back home and always played it when Dad wasn’t home, for he teased her endlessly.
A big grin spread over Mark’s face: the coast was clear, he was getting away, and Mum would never see him again – ever! Ever? Suddenly a lump formed in his throat. Ever was awfully long; he swallowed hard. I’m no crybaby, he thought clenching his hands into fists. “I’m as tough as Captain Sparks,” he whispered under his breath and sailed off into the silence of their orchard.
“Oh, hello there,” a voice rang out of the raspberry bushes. “Out for a walk, too?”
Mark swung around sharply. A man in a long captain’s coat leaned against Mark’s favorite tree.
“Beautiful night for stargazing – after a fresh snowfall,” the stranger mused.
“You’re in on our land,” Mark blurred out.
“Oops,” the man said with a smile. “I didn’t pay attention. Just came to visit this tree. It’s an old friend of mine,” he gently padded the brittle bark.
“It’s my favorite, too.” Mark said with a grin. “But Dad thinks it’s useless.”
“A tree is never useless,” the man glanced over his shoulder. “The tree and I have known each other for a long time. I was here when it was planted.”
Mark stepped closer. “How could you? Mum says it was planted by her great great grandfather when he built the farm.”
The man rubbed his chin. “Mmhmm, that’s about right.”
Mark laughed. “You can’t be that old – you look as old as my Mum.”
The stranger smiled. “Looks can be deceiving. So,” he pushed himself from the tree, “where are you off to?”
“Away,” Mark said shuffling his feet.
“That far?” The stranger smiled. “You better get going then. Nice to meet you.” The stranger waved and strolled to the end of the orchard.
Mark grabbed his backpack strap and fiddled with it. The stranger reached the fence, now only a grey silhouette in the shadows.
“Fancy an adventure?” The man called over his shoulder. “I’m taking my ship for a spin up there.”
“You got a spaceship?” Mark hopped closer.
The man shrugged his shoulders. “It nothing fancy.”
Mark’s jaw dropped. Right there at the end of garden, in the dirt corner, as his mum always called it because only blackberries would grow there, stood a shiny ship. It looked more like an oversized canoe, Mark thought. Its surface glinted in several facets of green and brown – just like the stranger’s eyes. It looked alive – kind of grown and it shivered as the stranger touched its side. An opening appeared and flooded the garden in warm light.
“Are you going to the moon?” Mark reached the opening.
The stranger smiled. “If you like, but its pretty much just dust and dirt up there.”
“Oh,” Mark’s face fell.
“How about a drift out and we’ll see if we find your Captain Sparks?”
“The pirate?” Mark stepped inside and his eyes widened to take it all in. The ship was one big room like his grandpa’s camper. There was a bed and a sofa tucked away beside the kitchen corner, but in the middle stood a triangular console blinking with many lights.
“Best to hold on there,” the stranger said pointing to one of the smaller sides of the triangle. “Take off is a bit rough.”
Mark grabbed the console as a low hum vibrated throughout the ship, the floor quivered and without warning the ship bucked forward like a wild horse.
“Woah!” Mark shouted swinging one arm in a wild hoop.
The stranger winked. “A bit temperamental.”
He dialed a few panels, pumped some handles and a gigantic screen sank down. Mark saw his house shrinking until it faded into the darkness. He gulped back a lump forming in his throat.
“Good-bye sickness?” the stranger looked at him compassionately.
Mark nodded as invisible hands kneaded his stomach.
“You’ll get used to it,” the stranger said tapping a compass.
Before Mark could answer the ship shook violently.
“Oh, nononono,” the stranger spun around the corner of the console. “Captain Sparks found us already!”
“What do we do now?” Mark leaned into the console. He stared at the screen where a massive ship appeared, at least twice their size. He jumped back as the image changed and the huge face of Captain Sparks leered at him.
“We run,” the stranger beamed as he pushed a handle down. The ship shivered, shot forward and Mark was catapulted onto the sofa. Dumbstruck, he looked at the stranger before he burst out laughing. “That was cool!”
The pirate ship disappeared into a small blip on the screen and the stranger let out a breath.
“I was hoping to show you the Captain from a distance. Ideally not his prison cell.”
“Fine with me,” Mark jumped off the sofa. “Where to now?”
His head still spun from all the adventures they raced through. Riding seahorses on a purple-blue planet, eating ice cream like glibber on a red-hot star or swimming in the light of three moons through green water. On and on the traveler pushed. From singing with a ghost choir to dancing with fairies under the stars, they went laughing and grinning with delight, but never stopping too long in one place. Mark’s belly still hurt from all the laughter they shared – or maybe it was from all the running they did. Running away from Captain Sparks, who nearly caught up with them seeking new slaves or the six-eyed monsters or the machines with whipping tentacles instead of arms. Mark looked at the screen. Stars drifted by lazily, the Milky Way appeared like snowflakes before fading away. For a moment, Stardust obscured the image as they flew through an asteroid belt. All this time traveling, the fist in his stomach had loosened its grip slightly to give way to the excitement of seeing all this, but space stretched out endlessly and he felt very small, like a dust corn in the universe of his untidy room. His room… Mark swallowed hard. What was his Mum doing without him now? She won’t have anybody to bake cookies for. Nobody to hug her… his shoulders slumped.
“Time to go home?” the traveler said softly behind him.
Mark turned around. The traveler’s eyes were dark with sadness.
For the first time Mark saw his loneliness of years traveling far too many times alone. Mark nodded.
“Quite alright,” the traveler looked away and busied himself with setting the dials.
“Just know,” the traveler glanced up. “If you return now, I won’t be able to pick you up again. Ever!”
Mark twisted a strap hanging from his jacket. The traveling had been fun and all the adventures they had. “My Mom will be very sad if I don’t return.”
The traveler studied him. “Right then.”
The ship came to an abrupt halt, the side door opened with a swish as the traveler walked around the console and shook Mark’s hand. “It was an honor traveling with you.”
Mark grinned. “Loved it!”
The traveler winked. “Off you go then.”
Mark waved one more time before stepping through the door and –
woke up with a start in front of his bed.
His Mom was standing in the door, a tray of cookies and hot chocolate in her hands.
“Thought you might be hungry.”
He nodded and his stomach tingled. As soon as she put the tray down on the nightstand, he jumped to embrace her. She held him tight as he buried his head in her familiar smells, wondering if his adventures with the traveler had all just been a dream. He shifted his head, peeking over her shoulder out of the window. He grinned. There stood the traveler. His big green brown eyes still shone a bit sadly, but as he waved, a smile formed on his lips. Before he dissolved, Mark heard his voice in his head. “Sometimes dreams need to fly.”