Curious

Originally written in October of 2010…

Stephen was only 10 years old the day he thought the world was going to end. What made it worse was that he thought it was all his fault. That’s a lot of responsibility for a kid that age to shoulder.

He and his older sister, Heather, were spending the summer with their uncle at his cabin by the lake. For Stephen, most of the time, summers like this meant a lot of fun times: swimming in the lake, camping in the woods, climbing trees, and even shooting arrows with his uncle’s bow at the targets in the shed. But this year things were a little different. Heather had just turned 16. Stephen knew that his big sister had decided that she was too old to hang out at the lake and sleep in the woods. She was starting to get too interested in make up and clothes and boys. She wasn’t any fun anymore.

So, for the most part, Stephen was on his own this summer. Sure, Uncle Roger was fun to hang out with, and even though he worked from home, there were still chunks of the day when Roger wasn’t available to enjoy a second childhood with his only nephew. But Roger trusted Stephen to know his own limitations. Stephen was allowed to wander around and explore the woods near his uncle’s cabin.

Even though he spent these hours alone, Stephen was still able to enjoy himself. By nature, he was a curious individual, so the time that he spent exploring the lake shore seemed like an exciting adventure. One day, while he was skipping rocks on the lake’s surface, something odd caught his eye. Not too far away from where he stood, he saw a strange creature that he couldn’t identify. The thing was short and squat. It walked on two legs and had a face, almost like a person. But it was nearly completely covered in thick brown hair. Stephen’s best guess was that this was a troll.

But his eyes must have been playing tricks on him. Even at the age of ten, Stephen understood the difference between reality and fiction. Trolls were creatures that existed only in stories, weren’t they? Even if they did exist, there were no bridges nearby. Weren’t trolls supposed to live under bridges? Stephen’s young mind was racing with possibilities, and his curiosity got the better of him. So he followed the troll deeper into the forest.

Stephen was careful not to be seen. What if this was an angry or unfriendly troll? From the stories that he had heard, Stephen understood trolls to be fairly unpleasant creatures. He knew the longer he could go undetected, the better off he’d be. Just as these thoughts has passed through his head, however, Stephen stepped on a twig, creating a very loud CRACK! The boy froze, but it was too late. The troll turned and spotted him instantly.

He wasn’t sure what to do at this point. He thought about turning and running back to his uncle’s place. He had seen the troll move, he was pretty sure he could outrun the thing. But he was still curious about what this thing really was. He still wanted to know what in the world a troll was doing here in real life in these woods. He watched the troll as it stooped over to pick up a rock. Stephen barely had time to raise his hands in defense as the rock came flying at his head. He was able to deflect the stone and avoid a serious head injury, but his right arm would have a heck of a bruise later on.

The thing had taken off through the forest. And despite the obvious fact that Stephen could be putting himself in danger by chasing this creature, he ran after the ugly little troll. This thing was up to no good and he was going to find out why it was here. The troll disappeared into a hole in the ground. Stephen showed no fear and leaped in after it.

In the dim light of the small cavern, Stephen saw the troll insert a long crystal into a small hole in the cave wall. “What are you doing?” he asked, unsure if the troll would even understand him.

“I’m going home!” yelled the troll as a swirling vortex of light and smoke appeared out of nowhere. “I don’t belong in this world, I should never have come here exploring it!”

Stephen’s young mind was racing. “You’re from another world?” He couldn’t believe what he was seeing or hearing.

“Of course I’m from another world! Do you see many of my kind very often?” the troll laughed at the kid. “Yeah, I didn’t think so.”

The troll turned back to the vortex and got ready to jump into the hole in reality. “Wait! I have so many questions!” Stephen yelled as the vortex grew larger and louder.

“Kid, I don’t have time to sit through your interrogation! I’ve already activated the portal. If I don’t get to the other side to deactivate it, it’ll just keep growing and it’ll destroy both our worlds!”

But it was already too late, and Stephen knew it. He could feel himself being pulled into the swirl of light. His feet flew out from under him and he landed hard on his back. He flipped himself over and clawed at the ground. He knew this was all his fault. If he hadn’t chased the troll, if he hadn’t jumped in after it, if he hadn’t asked it so many stupid questions, the world wouldn’t be sucked into this black hole.

Suddenly, he felt the wind growing colder as it blew over his body. He knew he was being pulled into the vortex and he was powerless to stop it from happening. The view of the cave around him was growing smaller and smaller until it disappeared altogether. And then it was dark and quiet. There was no more wind. There was no more vortex. But where was the troll?

Stephen stood up and looked around. His eyes adjusted to the darkness and he finally saw the troll. It was staring right into his face. “Great, you got sucked in.” The troll closed its eyes and shook its shaggy head. “Well, kid, I think it’s safe to say you’re not in Kansas anymore.”

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