Promised Journey They lay in the shade of the big oak tree on soft, green grass.

The morning dew dampened their backs, but they didn’t mind: It cooled them as the sun rose and warmed the air and shot thin beams of light between the oak leaves’ individual hand-like digits. “Daddy,” said Shawna, pulling on her father’s sleeve, “let’s go on an adventure today, okay?” Ander huffed with a deep breath; a happy sigh. He snickered and said, “Anything you’d like, sweetie. Where does my little girl want to go today?” She put her hands up in the air and formed a triangle between her thumbs and forefingers, then rotated them to make a rectangular frame through which she could peer into an imaginary cinema. “The ogre’s cave,” she said with total self-assurance. “Don’t you think that will be dangerous?” Shawna dropped her hands and threw her arms around her father’s arm, its wiry hair scratching her skin. She rubbed her face on his elbow. “You’ll keep me safe, right? So let’s go!” They gathered what little they needed: A small canvas satchel that Shawna found washed up on the shores of Red Creek (they let it dry, of course, to get rid of the fishy smell and the caked-on mud), two tall sticks (found by Shawna, carved and conditioned by Ander), and their deep blue cloth shawls, which they wrapped around their waists as they trekked towards the mountains. The path was treacherous. At times Shawna was unsure that they were on a path at all, but Ander assured her with a smile, “We’ve been this way before. Don’t worry! It’s just around the bend, up here. You’ll see.” Though it was early, they could hear frogs croaking, their redundant calls reverberating through the bogs and dark woods to the east, on the slope of the mountainside. The mud slowed them down whenever they went that way, so they made it a point to bear west, then north towards the Cliffside. “Look Daddy,” Shawna cried, excitedly. Ander, with his hand covered in soil and soot and woody residue, put his hand back before her face, signaling for her to be quieter in the woods. “Daddy,” she said with the same vigor but less volume, “look, a fox!” “Wow.” He rested his hands and chin on the tip of his staff, leaning forward. He had seen numerous foxes before, yes, but never on this side of the mountain. There was rarely anything for them to eat out here, no rabbits or mice that he’d ever been able to catch or trap. Perhaps it was a good sign for this season. A good omen of things to come in the encroaching summer months. They entered an opening in the mountain forest. Tree stumps, black and moldy, stood unmovable in clumps around them. Little red weeds and purple bushes sprouted here and there, soaking up the light leaked in through this strange opening. Shawna sprinted on ahead of Ander, eager to see how the spot had changed. Last fall, it was crunchy and covered in white and black powder, and when they travelled through it a chalky taste of wood and dirt stuck in her nose for days afterward. She was glad to see that the spring had brought new life to it. “What made this hole anyway?” she asked after reaching the center of the sea of woody

weeds, tall grass, and dark little creeping leaves. Ander looked around. He stuck his stick, a warped, lacquered staff only the height of his shoulder, into the ground. He slowly lowered himself to the ground and placed both palms firmly on the soil, sticking his arms through sharp thorns. With his eyes closed, he concentrated for a moment, turning his head from left to right. Shawna observed him, waiting for him to prophesy. “I didn’t think it was the ogre, but now I think it was.” He looked around seeing life thriving around them, but his scruffy face appeared disappointed. “Yes. It was the ogre. He’s been here recently, too,” he said, catching the scent of some rotting thing nearby. It was a bush, he saw, with tiny red and black berries. Full of resolve, Ander stood. “We have to keep moving. This place isn’t very safe. See? No birds, no bees, no animals. We’re the only ones here.” Shawna was no longer paying attention, he noticed, but was wandering about the space, swinging her stick at shrubs and bushes and stones, readying herself for combat with the beast. “It could be ghosts, Shawna. Forest spirits that want us to leave. We better keep moving.” A wave of fear overtook her. “No! Not ghosts, Daddy!” She couldn’t fathom the thought of some malevolent thing that she couldn’t touch or strike or run from; the corporeal winds that could move miles with a thought and devour living things whole. “I don’t like ghosts! Let’s get out of here.” “Anything you want, sweetie,” he said, following her as she sped out of the weedy plain. As they trekked on, thoughts of summer became fading memories and desired visions. The increasing chill of the mountain (which Shawna named, in her third year of life, ‘Deaf Mountain’) made them shiver, even with the sun coming now directly overhead, a white ball of pure heat and light surrounded by an unperturbed ocean of cloudless blue. They wrapped their shawls around their shoulders, keeping the goose pimples temporarily at bay. Shawna poked her finger through a worn out hole in her shawl. “Oh, shoot. This is my favorite one. Daddy, I don’t want to get a new one!” Sipping the cool, dry air in through his nostrils, Ander forced a grin. “You won’t have to, sweetie.” Then, shifting his mood, told her, “Maybe we can steal the ogre’s shawl. Then we’ll have one big enough for when you’re all grown up!” She grinned a huge, checkerboard smile and laughed loudly, sending birds fluttering through the trees, avalanching skyward. “Yeah!” Kneeling down, Ander put his arm around her and shushed her gently. “The ogre is smart and cunning, Shawna. He reads nature like a book. He’ll see the birds flying and know we’re coming for him, so we have to be quiet, okay?” “Yeah,” she said, embarrassed but still bursting with energy. “Sorry Daddy.” Early afternoon came upon them and their feet were already descending into the snow, exceeding the heights of the tree line as they hiked. Their shoes, old leather things made ages ago, kept them warm enough. The air, though cool, was not as frigid as the snow beneath their soles, and delivered sudden bursts of heat whenever the wind died down, however rarely that occurred. In a soft whisper, Shawna asked her father, “Why does the ogre live in the cave in the mountain? Why does he live so high up and far away, I mean?” Ander sped himself to meet his tiny daughter’s excited stride. “Because he’s afraid of us, too. That’s why he’s so mean.” He looked at his feet, trying to grasp the words, but he was

never one for description. “He wants what we have, and even though he knows how to ask nicely, he never wants to. He just wants to take things and hurt everything he can. It makes him happy.” Shawna scrunched her face in anger. “We’ll show him, Daddy! We’ll keep that mean ogre from hurting anyone ever again!” The staff in her hands, almost twice her height, became a deadly weapon in her eyes, and she clutched it with all the anger and valor in her heart. “We can beat it!” she said with unwavering certainty. “Yes,” said Ander, “together.” He flexed his bicep and looked up at the mountain peak as he dragged his feet through the snow. “To victory!” Pointing the blunted end of his cudgel forward, he cried, “Onward!” They rested in a dry spot and snacked on a meager pocketful of venison jerky, dried by Ander just days before. It was seasoned with wild spices, peppers and herbs he collected in the dense wood at the foot of the mountain where all sorts of plants, young and old, sprouted during all seasons but the blinding winter. Even in autumn, as foliage hibernated, drying and falling away, their leaves and flowers had value because they were already dried and required even less effort to preserve. Shawna removed her right shoe. “Ah…my ankle’s sore,” she whined. “Let me take a closer look,” said Ander. “Oh, this is nothing. Just a little irritated. Here.” He removed a pinch of little yellow bead-shaped flowers from Shawna’s satchel, wrapped in their own tiny leaves, put them in his mouth, and chewed heartily. He extended his tongue and let the pasty mix fall into the palm of his hand. “I’m going to just rub this here,” he said, applying it to her fragile, reddened skin. “That’s so great,” she said, watching him delicately put the substance on her. “Is that magic or something? Magic plants you found in the woods?” He nodded. “Yup. Always good to have them around. You know. Just in case you get cut or chapped or sore. This one’s really magic, too. It’s been used for thousands of years by the great ancient heroes. Without being able to keep from fidgeting, Shawna twitched with anticipation. “We’re gonna be heroes too, huh?” The sun’s rays refracted through his daughter’s hair, and Ander could make out, for a moment, a halo of light surrounding her, a golden crown fitting of a warrior princess. “Of course. That’s why we’re here.” The ground became slippery as they neared the glacial tunnel (which Shawna called the Ice Maze). Exuding her bravery, Shawna led the way. “I can fit better anyway. If it gets too small, I’ll let you know.” The cracks were small, but they were both able to squeeze through them, forcing themselves into thin sheets of flesh and bone through canyons of azure ice. Shawna grunted. “If you went first, you’d probably just get stuck in front of me, and then I’d have to go back alone!” A coughing laugh sent Ander’s breath, a cloud of vapor, up into his face and through the cracks of the Ice Maze, ever onwards towards the increasingly obscured sky. “That’d be too bad, huh? You’d have to run everything all by yourself. Finding food, mending clothes, collecting herbs.” Some frigid water ran down his neck and shoulder, and he shuddered, quickly sucking in air. “You’d have to take care of yourself when you got sick!” Their body heat caused the hardened glacier floor to become slick, and Shawna momentarily lost her footing, but quickly recovered without complaint. “We’re almost there!” she proclaimed, oblivious to the danger of the Ice Maze collapsing

from vocal reverberation. “I see the cliff coming up ahead!” It was difficult, but Ander managed to squat, squeezing himself until his hips and knees were both at equal height. It was clear, he saw as he squinted, that they were only a few strides’ length away from their goal. The ogre’s cave was near, now. Overwhelmed with visions of glory, Shawna put her hands on the walls and crawled, sliding her knees and wrists on the glassy blue surface beneath. Ander followed suit, using his staff to anchor him to one side while he balanced and pulled with his left hand. The rocks crumbled under Shawna’s feet as she emerged from the cavern. “The ground is wet and red.” Her father was still in the Ice Maze, and she hoped he could hear her as she stood only a few feet away from the mouth to the ogre’s cave. She crouched and lowered her voice to a faint hum. “Red from the blood. The blood of the victims he eats.” An earthquake of terror ran through her as she approached it. It was blocked. Huge planks of broken trees, broken and wrenched from the earth, lined the outer perimeter. Stones were pulled individually from high up on the mountain’s peak to ensure that the removal of the bony fortification would be quite impossible without the strength and dexterity of another ogre. “Shawna, wait!” Ander shouted, reaching out to keep her from climbing up the sharp wooden teeth or falling on the jagged stones. “Daddy,” she whined, “we need to get it. We need to destroy the ogre! There’s not a second to waste!” With arms outstretched, Ander took his wriggling daughter into his grip, removing her squirming, pliant body from the microcosmic cliff she had climbed and promptly released her back to the earth. “Just wait. Just a second, sweetie. Come on, now.” Tears filled her eyes and she darted back towards the heap of rock and wood, heedless of his plea. Her sobs filled the craggy mountainside, drowning out all other sounds. “We came all this way! Why are you being so mean?” His voice was calm and reassuring. “We just need to plan what we’re going to do. You know what you do when you go to a big fight? You send in a scout. You can’t just sneak up on your enemy and attack him. That’s mean, right? Look, come back down. See? You dropped your stick. You’ll need that for the big fight.” The thought was difficult for her to digest, but she eventually accepted it. It seemed to make sense, and her dad was always right in matters of diplomacy and combat. Ander knelt down into the crimson, rocky earth. “So the first thing we do is…” “Go in and kill the ogre,” she moaned. “Oh, now wait. Don’t wipe your face with your arm. See? You’ve got dirt all over your cheek. Hold on, let me use my shawl. There. Better?” Shawna nodded. With firm yet gentle hands, he took her shoulders into his grip. “So what do we do first?” “We go in and kill the…go in and kill it.” “But we can’t, remember? What do we do first? What’s fair in war?” The sky above suddenly became overcast; shifting to a violent vermillion as each cloud absorbed and transmitted the sunlight. Shawna was distracted, trying to readjust her emotions from sadness and anxiety to animalistic killer instinct. “Hon?” Ander asked. “What do we do before we kill it?” “We go in and look around.” “Right! And then what?”

Searing enthusiasm ran through her, tensing her muscles. She threw her arms in the air. “We kill it!” Cautious and quiet, Ander looked over his shoulder, back to the mouth of the cave. “What I think we should do is, go in, look around, find the ogre, and warn him. Warn him.” His voice took on an especially deep and chivalrous timbre. “‘Come out and surrender, ogre, or we’re coming in to kill you.’ Something like that.” He rubbed Shawna’s shoulder. “Like when we hunt, we always ask our food if it’s okay for us to hunt it. We always thank it afterwards.” Her lips pouted and pursed, but she looked up to meet her father’s eyes. “Okay. We’ll be nice at first. But then we’ll kill it!” “Whatever you say, sweetie.” At one corner of the cave’s mouth, where a stream of glacial water flowed and pooled in the sunlight, a lavender flower I sprouted up. It was fed well, it seemed, with plenty of liquid and light. Reaching high up above its stony base, praising the sky, seeking freedom, in its attempt to be free from earthly restrictions. Ander eased its struggle, plucking it with a rubbery squeak from the ground and tying it into his shawl. Columns of light illuminated the cave, so they needed no torch or lantern. It was no old cave, carved into a mountainside, but formed by movement, by the shifting and turbulence of rocks that could happen at any moment in this range. This cave was tested and sturdy, though. The ogre ensured that it would not collapse, building it with such unnatural perfection that it would always be able to return, unfettered, to this place. However, there were many hiding placed, holes through which the ogre might suddenly appear, attacking them with lightning quick ferocity. Shawna made a point of reminding her father of this as they proceeded onward. “There,” Shawna whispered, though in the enclosed space her voice was amplified as a thunderbolt in a canyon. “It’s waiting. I see it.” “Well? Go ahead and call out to it.” Full of pluck, she set a foot forward, but suddenly retracted. “I’m scared. You do it. I’ll fight when he says no.” “Come on. I’ll make sure you’re safe while you’re asking. In fact, here. Let me start for you.” Ander raised his staff with both hands, holding it parallel to the ground in a defensive position, ready for an attack. “Ogre! You take and you take from us, but no more!” Feeling her father’s nudge, Shawna peered out from behind his leg. “And we’re gonna kill you!” she chirped before ducking back. “Yes. We’re here to kill you. But, if you surrender now, we will not kill you. We will only command you to leave. Will you submit?” A creaking sound and a crumble of stone sent them both pedaling back. “Respond now,” Ander ordered the beast in the darkness, “or we’re coming for you.” Suddenly, a current ran through the cave and a coil of sand spun upward towards the cave ceiling. In a frenzy, Shawna grabbed her staff and began swinging wildly, anticipating an attack from any angle. She lunged forward, arced from left to right, and bashed it, like a club, against the stony walls. With his left hand, still gripping his staff, firmly against his hip and his right hand aimed forward, aiming the tip of his weapon towards its target—the darkness—he lowered his gaze and furrowed his brow. “You leave us no choice. Prepare to fight!” Into the darkness he trotted, looking back briefly to make sure that Shawna was behind him. She was, though her eyes were closed as she attacked the air around her. With a battle cry, they dashed forward, Shawna following the sound of his voice until they reached the darkest,

deepest reaches of the cave. Always controlled and thoughtful, Ander calmed himself, though his voice trembled. “It seems he’s gone.” “Oh no he’s not!” Shawna ran forward, seeking out her enemy even though she and her father were clearly alone. “I bet he’s hiding somewhere.” With hands cupped around her mouth, she yelled out, “Come on out, ogre! Come on out and fight! Or are you afraid?” “Shawna, honey, look at this,” Ander said. Where he had directed her attention there was a mound of soil, the only organic, earthy substance growing this high in the mountains. It was dry, ashy stuff made wet only by the melting of the ice and snow, the rain showers and dripping morning dew. From it, he saw a straight white protrusion. Overcome with curiosity, Shawna reached out for it. “Oh! What is it?” Using his stick, he nudged her hand away from it. “This is…well, this is the ogre. It looks like he must have surrendered himself a long time ago. The mountain spirits must have burned him and buried him to make sure he couldn’t hurt anyone again.” Shawna kicked her foot, disappointed. They had travelled all this way, crossed the path of danger and pain and suffering at every turn, ready to test their mettle and punish the evil old ogre, and he was already dead and gone? She held in her tears, though it was hard. A droplet coursed down Ander’s face as well, and he delicately untied the purple flower from the knot in his shawl. He knelt down next to the heap, covering the white thing that stuck from the black mass with soil and, with great care, planted the flower, skyward bound, into that spot. “We came here to find you,” he said, his face tingling. “We wanted so badly to find you and meet you. I’ve come here before to find you and speak to you. To plea with you.” Courageously, Shawna bent over the mound. “But you weren’t here! You died! Why’d you have to die?” Ander thumbed around the base of the flower, expecting, hoping for some warmth, some animation and life. For him. For his daughter. “For us,” he whispered, “come back for us.” His shawl was scratchy as he wiped his tears away with it. “You made a promise that you would be here, and now…” Red faced, he crumpled to the ground, as helpless a living heap as the one before him. “Now you’re gone. I…we need you so badly. Please just come back. Please.” A sudden, startling warmth overcame him. “It’s okay, Daddy,” said Shawna, her arms thrown around him, forming a protective barrier between his flesh and the cold cavern into which they had ventured. “It’s better this way. At least the ogre isn’t hurting anyone anymore, right?” He breathed deeply and nodded, rubbing his eyes with dirty palms. “Yes. You’re right, Shawna. Let’s go now, okay?” She shot that grin at him, that beaming smile of teeth and gums that only his beloved daughter could deliver. A surge ran through him, and he was no longer so sad as he looked into those eyes, those eyes that reflected the absolute love he felt for the world, for all life he had ever known and even that which he would never encounter. He wanted to melt. He had done sometime amazing with his life so far, and he didn’t ever want to quit. “Yeah!” she squeaked. Shawna took her father’s hand, helping him to rise. She hugged him, hard, her head resting just under his elbow as he held her gently. After one last glance back at the dark mound, both partners left the cave and crammed themselves through the Ice Maze. Using an old technique, devised by Shawna, they were able to use their shawls as sleds and swiftly slide down

the mountainside in a matter of minutes. Their skin was red and freezing, true, and their fingers were nearly immobilized and blue, but there was still some little sliver of sunlight peering over the western range as they tramped through the weedy grove, over mosquito filled creeks and froggy bogs. Soon, the moon’s light came, shining that piercing white light down on them. The old oak tree, standing sturdily on the hill just within sight, was the sign. Welcome home, it called to them. They sipped on soup from beans and basil, made thick by deer fat and tender meat. Ander kept Shawna close by hugging her close to his skin. She smiled, looking up at the moon. “Daddy?” “Yeah, sweetie?” “Tomorrow, let’s go to the moon.” Ander set his soup down on the uneven earth beneath him and hugged his daughter, the little young thing, close to him. With a kiss he stamped her forehead with his love. “Anything you want, sweetie.”

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