Ray & Gen & The Box of Hope™

The Journey Begins
By Chris Gurnick

     After dreams of hidden treasure and strange creatures eating toasted marshmallows, Ray and Gen, awoke with their fellow campers to Led Zeppelins’ Stairway to Heaven. The camp counselors used many inventive techniques to wake them up. Today was their last morning of their last season at Waydin. Sure, they could always come back as adults, maybe even guidance counselors, but for now, this was the last morning reveille each would experience as campers.
     The kids ate breakfast in the camp mess hall, and then headed back to their camps to finish the cabin clean up and pack all their supplies for the return trip home. “Wait,” Gen said loud enough for her friend Kelly to hear.
     “Gen, what are you talking about over there?” Kelly asked her as she stuffed her dirty clothes into her old duffle.
     “Oh, nothing, just thinking out loud,” she said.  Actually, Gen’s mind was spiraling away from her, full of too many thoughts and too many questions. Even now, she questioned whether all that occurred last night had even been real, or a dream built from exhaustion and sleep deprivation. 
     Gen and Kelly walked toward the docks. They waited for their group’s turn to take a large motorboat back to Boatline Bay. The camp provided busses that returned the campers to Toronto’s Peterson International Airport. Apparently, Gen and Ray had other plans laid for them. Could all this really be happening?
     Kelly questioned Gen, “Are you OK? You’ve been acting pretty weird since last night. You were talking like crazy in your sleep,” Kelly told her.
     “Yeah, I’m fine, just had weird dreams last night,” she nervously replied. Gen didn’t think that Fiona, if in fact Fiona turned out to be real, would want her or Ray to be telling others about this situation.
     “What happened?” asked Kelly, as kids bumped into them, vying for spots further ahead in the waiting line.
     “Well, I guess I’m just tired, but I had some freaky dreams last night, that’s all,” she replied.
     “OK,” Kelly said.
     Ray had also been acting strange. His friends all wrote it off as another one of Ray’s silent mood things. Ray walked with two of his fellow campers towards the dock, and also wondered if meeting Fiona had been real.
     “Ray, Good luck at Culford this year,” one of his friends said.
     Lost in his own thoughts, Ray mumbled, “yeah, Thanks.” 
     Ray walked up in line behind Gen and heard one of the guys, say, “I’ll e-mail ya!”
     Gen turned around to see her brother standing directly behind her. He poked her hard in the ribs with his canoe paddle.
     “Ouch!” she said loudly, and she dug her nails into his right forearm.  
     “Why do you two always do that crap to each other?” Kelly asked.
     “You do the same stuff to your sister, Kelly! I’ve seen you,” retorted Gen. Irritated, Kelly walked away from Gen to another group of girls.
     Ray & Gen warily eyed each other, and Ray whispered, “Do you think it was all real?”   
     “I hate to admit it,--but I think so. We have to find a way to get out of this Ray,” Gen said.
     “Let’s wait and see what happens when we get to the dock on the other side of the lake, OK?” he said trying to calm his sister.
     “OK,” she said quietly looking down to the ground.
     The camp boat pulled into the dock at Boatline Bay and the kids waited their turn to exit. They each slung their bags and packs over their shoulder and walked off the boat shaking and sweating with anxiousness and apprehension.
     “What do we do now?” Gen asked him, obviously frightened. Before Ray could answer her, he looked across the parking lot and saw something that made him stumble backwards into another camper, “Ouch, you bonehead!” screeched Patty, an obnoxious girl from Boston. Ray ignored her and quickly grabbed Gen’s arm and pulled her aside.
     “Oh my God, I saw her!” he said looking across the parking lot.     
     “You did? Where?” Gen asked pleadingly looking in the same direction as Ray.
     “Over there, behind that big pine at the end of the driveway! See?” he asked pointing in the direction he wanted her to look. All Gen saw was a large pine branch swinging to and fro.
     “What should we do?” squeaked Gen.
     “At this point, let’s go see what she says. I don’t think we’d be able to escape her right now even if we wanted to,” answered Ray.
     The two walked in silence toward Fiona, who stood in the darkness behind the 30-foot pine tree. She heard the kids approaching, but also saw a camp counselor running quickly behind them trying to get their attention, “Where are you two going?” asked Summer.
     Ray answered nervously, “My parents made special arrangements, I…..” then he stopped mid sentence, as Fiona, now dressed as a small, wrinkled human dwarf, clothed in multiple layers of colorful polyester clothing and gaudy old beads stepped out from behind the pine to talk to Summer.
     “Oh dear, don’t worry, they’re coming home with me,” she said with the voice of a nice old woman. “I’m sure that Mr. & Mrs. Bickerton told the camp about these changes in the children’s itinerary, no?” she asked Summer sweetly.
     “Let me see here Ma’am,” said summer, nervously shuffling through the pile of traveling papers she held that contained the details of each child’s trip home. “Oh,” she said. “Here it is, but it’s very difficult to read. It looks like it was written with a piece of charcoal, maybe a crayon. It’s the official form though, so it should be OK,” she finished, lost in the sea of paperwork.
     “So, everything is OK then?” Fiona asked for the last time.
      “Yes, Ma’am,” said Summer. She smiled and almost curtseyed to the older woman.  Summer watched the old woman and kids walk away from her, and then turned to head back to the other waiting campers. As she walked back, she was trying to figure out why the old woman smelled like mushrooms, and why a branch of ivy was trailing out from beneath the old woman’s powder-blue polyester jacket. “Weird” she mumbled.
     Gen and Ray followed Fiona behind the pine tree, toward a picnic bench in a grove of trees a few hundred feet into the woods. In the distance, they could hear the sound of buses taking kids back towards their homes and their familiar lives. All Ray and Gen felt was fear, panic, and a sudden sense of really missing their parents; this was the most homesickness either had felt the whole summer away from home. They walked together; close enough to bump elbows, but right now neither cared.
     They continued behind Fiona as she began stripping off the ugly old clothes and jewelry. By the time they made it to the picnic bench, Fiona once again resembled the creature they met last night in the dark woods, but now she had a new ivy plant growing off her rump and three morel mushrooms on her left shoulder. All Ray and Gen could do was stare and nod their heads back and forth. Gen even found herself suppressing a giggle. The mushrooms reminded Ray of an old family friend named Pete. Each April in southern Ohio, Pete went morel mushroom hunting. Sometimes, after hours of searching he’d come back with only a few morels, but to Pete, even that was a day well spent. Fiona’s obvious love of nature, reminded Ray of him.   
     Fiona motioned for the kids to sit down at the table and began, “OK, you both made it this far, and I’m sure that you have many questions and concerns, but we must get moving. We have a meeting at The Box of Hope archives within a few hours, and we can’t be late.” Gen and Ray stared at her with their mouths open and fearful looks on their faces.
     “What is The Box of Hope?” Ray asked, looking at Fiona. Gen stood open-mouthed beside him.
     “The Box of Hope is what you and Gen will be searching for. It is at the very center of the mission I spoke to you both about last night. Remember the very important mission?” she asked.
     “Raymond, I want to call Mom and Dad,” Gen said, clearly upset.
     “We will call your parents from the archive building,” Fiona commented. “We must, absolutely, must get flying,” she said quickly. She stuck two fingers into her wrinkly mouth and whistled loudly. With lightning-quick reflexes, Gen and Ray stood immediately and turned towards the woods as they heard something running through the underbrush.
     “Good Lord he makes a lot of noise,” said Fiona, obviously irritated. “Here he comes,” she said sweetly. Appearing from beneath a low branch of a Jack pine was a very small, shy-looking donkey. This donkey had two massive brownish-colored wings growing off either side of his body.
     “Ahhhh,” Gen said and took a step toward the donkey.
     “How does she expect a friggin’ donkey to save us?” Ray thought angrily to himself.
     “Ray, watch your thoughts!” Fiona said to the shocked teenager.
     “How did you do that?” Ray asked perplexed.
     “What did she do, Ray?” Gen asked.
     “She just read my mind Gen!” Ray told her with wide eyes, disbelieving what Fiona had just done.
     Fiona smiled, shook her head, and knelt down a few inches to look the very small Donkey in the eyes, “It is so good to see you.”
     The Donkey replied, “It is always a pleasure to be in the presence of one so honorable, Fiona the Wise.”
     “Fiona the Wise?” Gen commented with obvious cynicism in her voice.  Gen had barely finished asking the question, and all three were knocked backwards by the sheer awesome force of the donkey’s shrill bray, “EEEEEAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!” He roared fiercely at the tops of his lungs; he resembled and sounded like a proud Lion.
     “Do not speak to Fiona in that manner please!”
     Then Fiona screamed, “Children! This donkey is no common beast of burden. And “yes” I am known to many as, “Fiona the Wise.”
     She quickly knelt and placed her palms against the moist earth. She then closed her eyes, took one large deep breath, and then stood up-obviously and completely relieved of all the stress and anger that had momentarily filled her. She now appeared at peace, even serene. “I am so sorry that I lost my patience with all of you like that. It should never have happened,” she said with great sincerity, as she bowed to the three of them.
     Ray and Gen didn’t know how to respond. The donkey helped them, “Quickly, bow down with her, look her in the eyes, and tell her that she is forgiven. Now-quickly!” he instructed with quiet force.
     They did as told, knelt down to Fiona, looked into both her eyes, and said, “Fiona, we forgive you.”
     Fiona stood, looked at them both, and feeling the honor in their hearts said, “It is I who am honored to be your guide on this journey.”
     The donkey spoke, “We must remember that all life, all of God’s creations are equal. No person, plant or animal holds more significance than any other. We are all connected in ways that you will soon see for yourselves.”
     “Ray and Gen, please let me introduce you to Chadwick,” Fiona said. She turned towards the donkey and said, “Chadwick, these are the Bickerton children that we have learned so much about.”
     “It is my pleasure to meet you both,” Chadwick said with a slight bow of his head. Gen and Ray stood still, absorbing all that stood in front of them: Fiona covered in all things natural, and Chadwick-a flying donkey. What mattered even more were the feelings of love and respect they each felt from Fiona and Chadwick.  It was difficult to believe, that moments ago, they both feared Fiona. Now they were both in safe, trusted hands.
     Chadwick moved and Fiona hopped onto his back. She motioned for Gen to follow suit. Ray was last and with one giant hop, he jumped up then over the donkey, landing on the ground, on the other side of the animal, completely red--faced. The other three laughed, in spite of themselves.
     “OK, try that again, Ray. I must have moved as you jumped up,” said Chadwick, trying to soothe the teenage boy’s bruised ego. Ray jumped again, and landed with a great thud on the donkey’s back.
     As all three wiggled into place, Gen spoke, “Are you sure that you can carry all of us Chadwick? I do not mean to insult you, but the horses back home are larger than you, and can usually only take two people,” she asked tentatively. 
     “This is no concern for Chadwick,” Fiona answered for him, hoping to avert another braying session. “Donkeys are much more intelligent than horses, and pound-for-pound, can carry much more weight. Plus, Chadwick comes from one of the bravest, strongest, and most intelligent donkey families known. Chadwick himself is thought by many to be the strongest of them all,” Fiona shared.   
     After everyone was seated comfortably they took flight.  With very little effort on the part of Chadwick, they lifted off the ground and Ray asked, “Fiona, I remember you saying that we would travel invisibly. Are we invisible now?”
     “Thanks for reminding me Ray. Chadwick, please make us invisible to the human eye.”  Fiona seemed assured they were invisible and she spoke loudly as the wind whipped through their hair, “Now, we’re invisible Ray.”
      Sure enough, Gen and Ray, their legs astride Chadwick’s strong, small back, looked toward the ground and saw NOTHING!
     “How is this happening?” Ray asked, yelling to compensate for the loud roar of the air passing quickly by the flying quartet.
     “I’ll explain later, Ray” Fiona answered, smiling.
     The ground fell beneath them, and lost in their own worried thoughts, the wind blew over the blonde-haired, freckle-faced teenagers; two regular kids who were about to begin the adventure of a lifetime.    

© Copyright, All Rights Reserved. Chris Gurnick