When the hood was finally taken off William’s face he noticed he was in yet another new place. Although he had never seen such furniture that was in this room he could tell wherever he now stood was probably a pretty fancy place. The room seemed to scream royalty or well-to-do. Palace seemed to fit the description.
Carter and Parker were standing next to him. They, too,were taking in the surroundings. One thing was certain, none of them were home.
The long, slender creature stood nearby. “Sorry about the theatrics. It would never do to have an audience right now. The less they know, the happier they will be. Our lot tend to be happy creatures for the most part. Mainly because they don’t know any better.”
It sized up the three children. “Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid. My name is Crudy and no one here is out to do you any harm. Our goal is to get you back home. We don’t actually want your kind here. Once the adult versions of you find out we are actually harmless they will want to live here, too. Then we will be overrun and become extinct. So, we keep the myth that we are terrifying alive and out there. To protect us,” she sized up the children, “from the likes of you.”
William and Carter looked at each other.
“You probably don’t understand what I’m saying,” she said slowly. “That’s a good thing. Tomorrow you will wake up and this will all have been a dream. Something you can’t quite remember and the parts that you do recall will not seem real. We like it like that. It protects us both.”
“We get to go home?” William asked.
“Of course!” She said. “You always could.”
William and Carter looked at each other.
“Nevele isn’t a bad one. Just not the brightest. A little misguided. Sometimes that’s a dangerous combination. But you know all about that. Or, at least, you will. Every species has to contend with the poor, ignorant but meaning-well souls. It’s a burden on every society.”
One thing William knew for sure. This creature liked to talk. It reminded him of his great-grandma. The body moved a little slower than the others he met earlier but the eye seemed to take everything all in at once.
“I want you to know, the reason we instituted the stupid law in the first place. You know, the one Nevele followed so diligently. It was put there to protect children like you.” It walked over to a window and looked out. “See, we have a kingdom of creatures that don’t want for anything. They don’t need to eat. They don’t need to sleep. They don’t need anything in their long lifespan. That means they get a little bored. When they get bored we run into problems. They get mischievous. They get naughty.”
That reminded William of his little sister. She was always getting into his things. She must be bored a lot.
“In order to combat that, we gave them a job to do. A scavenger hunt every night. It keeps them busy. Gives them purpose. Helps them stay out of trouble.”
William and Carter looked at each other. They had a different opinion about the creatures staying out of trouble.
“The flaw in that plan,” she continued, “is they would take one look at the likes of you and fall in love. They all wanted to keep you as pets.”
William stiffened a little. He is no pet.
Of course, the children stayed at their own home but our people would visit often. Every night. The adults could never see us. They would think their kids had some kind of imaginary friend.” She shook her head slowly. “Eventually this made the adults nervous so they started medicating their kids. When that happened we would stop the visits.” She paused. “Always kind of felt bad about that.”
Carter scrunched his face.
“So we had to lay certain laws down. A protection. A few of us,” she cleared her throat, “older souls told the younger generation that if they were seen by any children they would have to bring them home to us. That they would never be allowed to leave. The finders would be responsible for the children. No one here wants that kind of responsibility. Or any responsibility for that matter. Worked like a charm. Until tonight.”
William swallowed hard. Where was this leading? Were they going to go home or not?
She stopped talking long enough to look at the children. Parker looked like she was about ready to cry again.
“Let’s get you home, shall we?”
William became excited and nodded his head. Carter also nodded his head. Parker held back her cry.
“It’s quite simple, really. It’s the same key it’s always been. We’ve just made it easier. Another fail-safe, shall we say?”
William really wished she would just say it already.
“All you have to do is say the name of the one that brought you here backwards. Just say his name backwards and you will be home. It was a lot more difficult back in my day. Try saying Crudy backwards. It’s not easy but it can be done.” She looked at Carter. “You are the oldest. Say Nevele’s name backward and you can go home. The other two will then say it and follow. It’s that simple.”
Carter didn’t say anything.
“Oh, for the love of Pete,” Crudy said and grabbed a small pile of toys from a shelf and placed them on the table.
“I’m not five yet,” he said slowly defending himself.
Yep, William thought. Crudy was as cranky as his great-grandma alright.
She rubbed her forehead with her three long fingers. “This night will never end.” She dropped her hand to her side. “Repeat after me,” she said. “One.” She slid a toy closer to the children.
“One,” Carter repeated and William mouthed it.
“Two.” She slid another toy next to the first one.
“Three.” Another toy joined the growing pile.
“Four.” And another toy. After she said a number she slid a toy to the pile.
She didn’t say anything but slid a toy to the pile and waited for him to say the next number.
Carter didn’t say anything.
But William is a smart boy. He did. He said, “Eleven.”
The next thing he remembered was opening his eyes. He was in his own bed and the sun was shining. It was morning and he was home. The bedroom door opened and his mom came in carrying his sister. All was right with the world.
“That’s odd,” his mom said as she went to his closet to get his clothes out. “You have eleven toys all lined up here.” She bent down and picked one up. “I don’t even remember getting you any of these.” She stared at it. “Hmm,” she set it down again and opened the closet door. “Good job lining them all up. They are in perfect order.” She smiled at what she thought was her son’s attention to detail.
He tried telling his mom about his adventure but she didn’t understand. Despite the eleven new toys that were in his room, he wasn’t sure he believed it either. Later that day, they took a walk and saw Carter and Parker playing in their yard. His mom stopped to talk to their mom and William walked over to Carter. He had the strangest dream last night and Carter was in it. But he couldn’t remember the details so they just played instead.