To her surprise she simply kept falling, and landed on her back with a painful thump and a loud “Ooomph!” There was tall grass on either side of her. She lay there for a moment, trying to figure out what had just happened. She hadn’t hit a rock, wasn’t in the water as she had expected; in fact she wasn’t even wet. She sat up and took an inventory of herself to make sure she wasn’t hurt. Amazingly, her book was still in her right hand, and the drawing she had been reaching for when she fell was lying in the grass next to her, completely unharmed. Her backpack was tangled around her ankle. She stared at them for a minute, trying to figure out what had happened. After a moment she realized she didn’t hurt anywhere and seemed to be fine.
She pulled the backpack from around her ankle, opened the book and replaced the drawing, and then closed the book and fastened it with the band from her hair. She stood up and looked around, trying to figure out where she was. She certainly wasn’t in the park anymore, and nothing here seemed familiar. She turned around and saw that there was a wooden archway behind her, almost hidden in the tall grass. It looked old and worn, and there were strange symbols carved into the wood. She studied them for a minute, but realized she had no idea what they were or what they meant.
She turned from the arch and looked around again, trying to get some sense of where she was and what she should do next. In the distance in front of her, opposite the arch, she could see a line of trees which looked like the beginning of a forest. To her left and right the grass went as far as she could see. The sky was a rich, deep blue, and completely cloudless. She stood there looking at the landscape and considering her options.
“Well,” she finally said out loud, more to herself than to anyone else – since there was no one else around – “I can’t just stand here all day.”
She turned around again and faced the arch. She wasn’t sure why, but she thought that maybe going through it was her best bet. She tried walking through the archway but each time she got close, it simply faded from view as though it never existed.
“O.k.,” she said, hands on her hips, “I guess I’m not going that way.”
She looked around one last time and decided that heading toward the forest was the wisest move – it at least was something she could see. She had taken only a few steps when a voice behind her said, “Well, thank goodness you’ve finally made up your mind to go someplace!”
She spun around. She was still alone. “Hello?”
“But I must say,” the voice continued, over her left shoulder, “that’s an absolutely fabulous head covering you’ve got there. I mean, where did you get that color?”
She spun around again and found a small being hovering a few feet away from her at eye level. It wore beautiful, gauzy clothing, had very pale skin, and what would be hair on a person looked like a kind of sculpture on top of the creature’s head. If it had been standing on the ground, it would have just reached past Dante’s knees. Although she couldn’t see its wings she knew they were there; they were going so fast they were just a blur.
As she stared, mouth open in astonishment, it came closer and hovered in front of her, quite like a hummingbird. It studied her for a moment and then flew back, placing a hand to its face as if considering an important question.
“Well,” it finally said, “you’re certainly not as good looking as I am, but I must admit for this place you’re not too bad.”
Dante blinked. The creature continued to hover in front of her.
“What,” she stammered, “I mean, who are you?”
“I’m Seeya.” The small creature raised its eyebrows slightly, giving it a pleasant expression, and bowed its head. When Dante just stared, Seeya made a small circular gesture with its hand, saying, “and you are….”
“Oh! I’m Dante,” she said, smiling uncertainly. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Yes, I’m sure it is.” Seeya flew closer. “What is that thing you’re doing with your mouth?”
“Huh?” Dante was confused for a moment, and then said, “Oh, you mean my smile? You mean this?” and she smiled again. The creature nodded, its face a perfect blank.
“Oh, well, it’s a smile. It’s just, well, it’s just what I do when I’m happy or trying to look nice.” She felt confused, as she had never had to explain what a smile was before.
“But it makes lines on your face – I mean they go away when you stop, but what if they become permanent?”
Seeya’s face had assumed a blank look. “If you want to look pleasant you can do so by simply raising your eyebrows ever so slightly,” and he demonstrated (she couldn’t say why, but Dante felt Seeya was a “he”), showing Dante his pleasant look. “Not too high of course,” he cautioned as Dante tried it, “you don’t want lines on your forehead either.”
“Well, that’s really not the same as smiling,” she said.
He put his hands on his hips and shook his head. “No,” he said slowly, as if talking to a very small child, “it is not, but nothing says beauty like a clear, unlined face.”
When she continued to stare at him he said, “Well, some people do care about appearances. I mean, they really tell you everything about a person don’t they?”
“Well, no, they don’t,” she said. “Actually appearances can be quite deceiving.”
Without changing his expression, Seeya managed to look annoyed. “Hmmmph,” was all he said. “Well, never mind that, let’s just take you to Addis and see what he makes of you.”
He turned, hovering. “Addis. Come on then. I suppose you can’t fly?”
Dante shook her head and Seeya sighed. “Yes, yes, just like Addis. It does get tiring.”
And he shot off toward the trees. In an instant he was gone. Dante stood looking after him for a moment. Suddenly he was back, hovering in front of her face.
“Well,” he said, “come on then!”
And he darted off again. Dante began walking in the direction he had gone. He kept darting back to her, then darting ahead, and in that fashion they began heading toward the line of trees.
At one point he flew a circle around Dante, then quickly appeared in front of her. “That, that thing,” he said, sounding excited, “on your back. What is it?”
Dante looked over her shoulder and said, “My backpack?”
Seeya cocked his head and asked, “So what’s in it?”
She shrugged. “Just my journal today, and some leftover lunch. During the week I carry my schoolbooks in it.”
Seeya flew closer. “Can I see?” he asked.
“Sure,” she said. She stopped, pulled off her backpack and opened it. Her journal and the brown paper bag with her lunch trash and leftovers was inside. Seeya flew back, and seemed disappointed.
“That’s all that’s in there?” he said.
“Yes,” Dante answered, “like I said, today it’s just my journal and what’s left of my lunch. Why, what were you expecting?”
“Well,” Seeya began and then stopped. “Never mind, just follow me,” he said.
She followed Seeya to the edge of the forest. When they reached the first of the trees she could see they were very large, with thick pale trunks leading up to large, dark leafy branches. The bark was peeling away from the trunks in places, leaving marbled patterns on the trees underneath. She was surprised at how much of the ground she could see between the trees; they didn’t seem to drop any leaves.
They headed into the forest and before too long reached a small clearing. Seeya darted ahead but Dante followed slowly, unsure of what was happening.
“Addis? Addis? I’ve found something I want to show you.” Seeya looked around for a minute, then flew back to Dante who had just entered the clearing.
“Be a dear and stay here just a sec, he’s wandered off.”
Then Seeya flew off into the trees. For a moment, Dante was worried, realizing she had no idea where she was, and had no idea how to find her way back to where she had started. Before she could truly panic, Seeya was back.
He zipped into the clearing, singing out, “Found him, come on.” Dante followed Seeya to the far side of the clearing back into the forest.
After a short walk they reached a hammock stretched between two large trees. In the hammock was a round, lazy looking creature smoking a pipe. It was very different from Seeya, and had on a purple vest and a pair of green velvet slippers. A red carpet bag rested directly under the hammock. The creature didn’t look up as they approached.
“O.k., Seeya, what is it this time. . .oh!” The startled creature sat up as Dante walked over. She looked down at the belly protruding from under the vest.
“I’m Dante,” she said.
“And he’s Addis.”
Seeya flew over and sat at the head of the hammock. For the first time Dante could see a pair of beautiful, delicate wings folded neatly on his back.
“See, I told you I found something good.” Although Seeya had no expression on his face, Dante got the impression he was extremely pleased and impressed with himself.
“How,” Addis asked Dante, completely ignoring Seeya, “did you get here?”
“He led me,” she answered, pointing at Seeya.
Addis shook his head. “No, no, I mean how did you get to Endolye?”
“Oh, well, I’m not really sure,” Dante said. “I was sitting in my special place, by the pool. My drawing fell in the water and I was trying to get it. I thought I fell in, but then I landed in the field out there. I know it doesn’t make much sense…” she began but Addis had jumped quickly out of the hammock, dislodging Seeya from his perch. Seeya darted up before he hit the ground and hovered just behind Addis’ head.
“Come to think of it,” Dante said, thinking of it for the first time, “it was rather odd. I mean, there I was on a rock, and I fell into water but landed here.”
“A portal,” Addis said slowly, looking Seeya in the eye. “It’s got to be a portal.”
“A portal!” Seeya exclaimed. “But how? Why?”
“I don’t know,” Addis said, and he began to pace around the hammock.
“In fact,” Dante continued, watching Addis pace, “this is all quite impossible, which means I must be dreaming.”
“I wonder where it goes?” Addis said, stopping suddenly.
“Which means now that I know I’m dreaming, I should be waking up soon.” Dante concluded.
Seeya had been listening to them both, his gaze moving from one to the other, as if watching a tennis match. At Dante’s final statement he flew over to where she was standing and pinched her on the arm.
“OW!” Dante cried.
“So wake up!” Seeya yelled, hovering in front of her face. Dante glared at him, rubbing her arm. The commotion seemed to stir Addis from his thoughts.
“O.k.,” he said, jumping up from his hammock, “the first thing we do is find that portal. I want you to show me where it is.”
“Oh Addis, calm down,” Seeya ran a hand over his head, smoothing a spot and fussing with his clothes. “As if she’s going to be able to tell you anything. She doesn’t even know where she is.”
Dante, still rubbing her arm, glared up at Seeya. “I’m in Endolye,” she said.
Seeya stopped his grooming and stared at her with his blankest expression. “Oh well yes, that took some real deduction. Are they all this bright where you’re from?”
Ignoring him Dante turned to Addis. “It’s back this way.” She started through the trees but Addis called out, “Wait.”
She stopped and turned back. Addis reached under the hammock and pulled out the carpet bag. He took off his vest and slippers and put them in the bag. Without the vest she could see a large, round pendant hanging on a thick chain around his neck. He pulled a pair of khaki walking shoes and a nylon windbreaker out of the bag and put them on. Then he placed the bag back under the hammock.
“O.k.,” he said, “I’m ready.”
Seeya turned to watch them go, then said casually, “Well I’m not heading back there.”
“O.k.,” Addis didn’t even bother to turn around as he continued to follow Dante.
“No, really Addis, I mean it.”
Addis and Dante continued through the trees. Seeya watched them for another moment, until Dante stopped and looked around in confusion. He zipped over to them, lighting on a low-hanging branch.
“Problem?” he asked. Dante wasn’t sure how he did it, but he managed to look smug without really having any expression at all.
“Yes,” she said, “I don’t quite know the way back. You were going rather quickly and I was so busy trying to keep up with you I wasn’t watching where we were going.”
“Hmmmm, whatever will you do now?”
Addis sighed. “Now Seeya,” he began, “of course we could get to the edge of the woods, and climb a tree, or find another way to figure out where we’re going. But then you’d miss all the adventure, and have no story to tell in the Circle tonight.”
Seeya seemed to consider this for a moment. “Oh all right, the least you could do is say please.”
He flew off and the other two followed. “Really,” he muttered to himself, “not a single ounce of appreciation. Bring her there and everything, but not even a thank you. Oh no, just a ‘take us back Seeya.’ I don’t know why I even bother.”
Addis paid absolutely no attention to the small creature. Normally Dante would have said she was sorry, because she could see Seeya’s point, but he hadn’t been very nice about it so she followed silently after Addis.
They reached the edge of the forest, and when they walked into the field the grass reached over Addis’ head. Dante could barely see over the top.
“I don’t understand,” she said. “It’s gotten so much taller since we were here a few moments ago. How is that possible?” She tried to look around. “I’ll never be able to find the arch in this grass.” She looked up at the small creature hovering over their heads above the grass.
“Seeya?” She tried to sound as pleasant as possible.
Seeya rolled his eyes, “Let me guess,” he said, “time for a favor? After all, it’s been what, 30 seconds?”
“Well, yes. Would you please fly up a bit and see if you can see that wooden arch I was next to? I could really use your help because I can’t see it through all this grass.” She waited a moment then added again, “Please? We really can’t do it without you.”
“Oh we most certainly could,” Addis began, “why there are ways. . . .” But he didn’t get a chance to finish. Seeya had happily flown ahead of them looking around.
After a moment he flew back and said, “This way,” rather breathlessly.
They followed Seeya until they could see the top of the arch. Addis rushed eagerly toward it, but it faded away just as he reached it. He stood back with his hand on his chin, and examined it carefully. He turned to Dante, who had come up to stand behind him.
“This is how you got here?”
She nodded. “I mean, I guess it is. Like I told you, I fell into the pool and ended up on my back in front of this arch. But when I tried to go back through it to see if I could get home it just kept disappearing like it did just now.”
She paused, looking at it a moment. “What is it?”
Seeya flew down and said excitedly, “It’s a portal. A way to travel. You see, when you want to go somewhere else, you can go through a portal. Oh there used to be just SCADS of them, but they’ve been gone as long as anyone can remember. Ever since….”
His voice trailed off and he looked at the portal. Even with his face blank, Dante thought he somehow looked worried. He tried to fly closer to the archway, but it shimmered and vanished, only to reappear when he returned to where Dante and Addis were standing.
He looked at his two companions. “You don’t think anyone else is going to come through it, do you?” Addis looked thoughtful, but Dante shook her head.
“I was alone,” she said, “and unless someone else falls into the pool, I don’t think anyone else is coming that way. We certainly can’t get through it any rate.”
Seeya nodded in agreement. “Yes, it is rather inconvenient, that disappearing/reappearing habit it has.”
Addis, who had been ignoring them both, suddenly spoke. “You’re sure,” he said to Dante, “that no one else will be coming through here?”
She turned to him and considered the question, but before she could answer the portal flickered, and vanished completely. The three stood for a moment in silence.
“Yes,” Dante said, “I’m sure no one else is coming through that portal.”
Seeya snorted. Addis said nothing, but just stared at the sport where the portal had been. It was like he was trying to work out a very difficult problem in his head.
“So what exactly is a portal?” Dante asked, breaking the silence.
“A traveling device,” Seeya answered. “The stories tell us there used to be regular portals and we used to travel to other places, and visit with other people. Addis keeps telling us he got here through a portal, but he doesn’t have much to say about where he came from, and of course the portal is gone so he can’t go back. Hey!” he said, seeming pleased, “just like you.”
Addis turned slowly to Dante, the sun catching just a bit of the pendant visible around his neck. “Where was it you said you came from?”
“Well,” she said, not sure how specific she should get, “I’m from a state called Arizona.”
She figured she’d start there, then narrow it down if she needed to. Addis nodded his head, “Ah yes, Arizona.”
“Oh,” Dante said, brightening, “have you heard of it?”
Addis looked at her, still nodding his head and smiling a kindly smile. “No,” he said.
“Oh.” Dante tried not to look disappointed.
“Well,” Addis said, “I guess you can’t tell me anything else?” Dante shook her head.
“Right, well, no use staying here any longer.”
He turned around. The grass was now at his shoulder. Dante turned around and just stared in amazement. Addis headed back toward the line of trees, which could now be seen in the distance. Dante waited a moment, and then followed him. Several times Addis turned and looked back into the field. By the time they reached the edge of the woods, the portal had vanished behind them in the tall grass.
“Hmmmmmm.” Addis stood a moment as if considering something, then walked into the trees. They headed back to where Addis’ hammock was hanging. He appeared to be deep in thought.
“Come on,” Seeya said to both of them. “Let’s head back to the Bulu. There’s no point hanging around here worrying about something that’s already taken care of itself.”
He looked at Dante. “Of course you’re coming with us – it doesn’t look like you really have anywhere else to go.”
“No,” Dante said, “it doesn’t.” And she felt strangely excited to be having an adventure.
Addis just nodded, untied his hammock, folded it up, and put it into his bag. Then he picked up the bag and looked at Seeya.
“O.k.,” he said, “let’s go.”
Seeya darted ahead of them, “Oh Dante, everyone back at the Bulu will be so excited to see someone new! You’ll be our special guest – I mean, now that Addis has been there for just ages it isn’t like he’s all that special anymore. Well, you know what I mean,” he zipped back and hovered in front of Dante’s face. She nodded. Seeya zipped ahead again.
“I really think you’ll love it. I mean, you can’t ask for more tasteful accommodations, although I must warn you not everyone takes their appearance as seriously as I do. Of course, no one takes their appearance less seriously than Addis, so you really don’t need to worry. He’ll always make you look good.”
“Seeya!” Dante looked behind her to see if Addis was offended, but he appeared deep in thought.
“Oh, well, of course,” Seeya said hurriedly, “not that anyone cares what Addis looks like. Well, what I mean is, oh never mind, he’s not even listening. Dante I’m just excited you’re going to see the Bulu. No one would believe me if I told them about that fabulous – what do you call it?” and he gestured at her head.
“Hair,” Dante answered, smiling.
“O.k., hair.” Seeya said. He darted ahead again.
Dante looked back at Addis, “He certainly has a lot of energy.”
Addis looked up. “Hmmm? Oh yes, they’re all like that.”
He called out to Seeya, “Why don’t you go ahead and just fly on and let everyone know we’re coming? I can get there from here.”
Seeya darted back to him and hovered, “Oh perfect,” he said, “they’d kill me if I just wandered in with a guest and they didn’t get any warning.” And he immediately shot out of sight.