By John Thomas Tuft

Tis a tale as old as time, or at least as long as there have been boys and girls setting out on adventures. So it was that John Paul George, Nancy Ellen, Jack LB, and Putty set out on one of their own. With snacks and other essential provisions they set out across the Green Field, that led to the Dark Woods, that led to the Cool Stream that ran to the Mighty River that flowed past the Great Mountains. They were determined to find High Rock Castle, a structure said to exist only in the imaginations of some, deep in the Great Mountains, whose gates are guarded by a band of Golden Lions. It was said that first you had to approach the Wise Woman who lived in a little cottage beside the Mighty River and beseech her for the Quest Map and the Diamond Key to High Rock Castle if you wanted any chance of fulfilling your adventure. As John Paul George, Nancy Ellen, Jack LB, and Putty crossed the Green Field that day they were full of energy, eager for the journey, regaling each other with all the possibilities for glory and honor that awaited them. The weather was pleasant, the mountains distant, their loads were light, and Putty kept running back and forth picking flowers while John Paul George marched resolutely forward, demanding that they all stay together and follow his lead. Jack LB composed a poem in his head about this glorious adventure and Nancy Ellen said they might want to be on the lookout for dragons. When they neared the Dark Woods, they instinctively drew closer together. “Wish I had a sword,” muttered John Paul George. “This isn’t Narnia,” replied Jack LB, but the Dark Forest seemed to swallow his brotherly jab in a blanket of silence. The trees were very tall and close together, in a scary sort of way. It didn’t help that a strange mist rose from the moss and damp leaves carpeting the forest floor. The sights and familiar sounds of their hometown faded away, as they always must in true adventures and journeys toward the truth. Putty looked around, afraid. “You didn’t tell me there would be scary stuff,” she whimpered. Jack LB put his arm around her and was just starting to say, “Don’t be afra…” when a horrible roar came from the forest. Nancy Ellen screamed, “Dragons!” as John Paul George flung off his pack. “I need a sword!” he hollered as a big, hairy, hoary hedgehog came crashing through the underbrush. “It’s a ghost!” cried Jack LB. Nancy Ellen picked up a rock. “Run everybody, run. Now!” She hurled the rock at the hedgehog as the others ran for their lives. The rock bounced off the nose of the charging hedgehog ghoul. “Follow me,” commanded John Paul George, dashing toward the Cool Stream. The others followed as fast as they could run. Just as they cleared the trees, Jack LB tripped and landed on a rock. Putty stopped to help. “You’re bleeding,” she wailed as Nancy Ellen grabbed Jack LB under the arms and lifted him. “Keep going,” she shouted. Finally they all collapsed on the bank of the Cool Stream. “Looks nasty,” said a wobbly voice. “The stream talks,” said Putty. They all looked up. An otter was floating nearby, belly up, little paws waving as it smiled. “I’m Obie,” said the creature. “And that boy needs special medicine.” John Paul George scowled, “Animals don’t talk.” Obie winked. “Yeah, yeah, and if you had a sword, tough guy…” After Obie had dressed Jack LB’s wound with special medicinal herbs, he asked, “Where are you going?” “High Rock Castle,” said Nancy Ellen. “After we get a map from the Wise Woman,” added Jack LB, nursing his sore leg. “Shut up,” ordered John Paul George. “How do we know we can trust a talking otter?” Putty went over and rubbed Obie’s belly. “I trust him.” “I suppose you know there’s a Troll Bridge over the Mighty River. The Troll used to be the Silver Knight of High Rock Castle.” “Ohh, a knight,” said Nancy Ellen. “Are trolls mean?” asked Putty. “Does he have a sword?” wondered John Paul George. Jack LB kept scribbling in his notebook. “Just don’t look him in the eye,” warned Obie. “He’ll ask you the password question. If you answer correctly, you can pass. Otherwise, he will keep one of you….forever.” The children resumed their adventure of a journey, following Cool Stream to the Mighty River, and heading upriver toward the Great Mountains. In the late afternoon they finally spied the Troll Bridge, and sure enough, on the other side they saw the cottage of the Wise Woman. In their excitement, they dashed onto the stone bridge with its high walls. They could see her in her beautiful white gown with the silver stars, waiting for them. Then halfway across, the bridge started to shake violently. A man in dark armor with a huge sword jumped off the wall, blocking their path. “Who dares pass this way?” he roared. “You must tell me the password. Or one of you must stay with me…under my bridge,” he growled. “Forever…” …Mr. Patterson yawned and stood up to stretch. “That’s enough for tonight, kids.” Howls of protest erupted. “Not fair!” said Nancy Ellen. “You promised!” cried Jack LB (with a bandage on his knee). “Daddy!” exclaimed Putty. “Don’t make me get a sword!” John Paul George groaned. The storyteller was not swayed. “Don’t worry,” he said. “From my lips to your imagination is the true journey, the real adventure.” And he turned out the lights. “Meet you at High Rock Castle.” Words are magic, and writers are wizards.