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On Revisiting a Childhood Epic « John W. Allie

On Revisiting a Childhood Epic

Here in my lap I have eighteen pages of lined paper ripped from a notebook. The obsessively neat handwriting is mine, as is the story. Both date from when I was ten. The story takes place on Crystalia, a world that had a pseudo-medieval society and a landscape dotted with giant inexplicable crystals. For a short time the place fascinated me, but now these few pages are all that remains.

Treyl’s foot slipped on the slick crystal. As he ascended up the side of the crystal, he wondered whether this climb would really succeed in getting him up high enough to be picked up by hot air balloon. He had to head to the island of Taloba to have his corn ground and sold.

With these words, Treyl’s adventure begins. The opening line is a pleasant surprise, far better than that of Remnants, a short novel I finished in 2006, which begins as follows: “Despite the birdsong, and the rustling of leaves, the forest seemed very quiet.” My ten-year-old self knew to jump straight to the action, a lesson which my seventeen-year-old self apparently forgot. But back to Treyl, who is in peril:

As he reached the balloon platform, his foot slipped again and he was afraid he was history. Grabbing a platform support, he just managed to stop himself from plummeting to his death.

Phew! Good catch, Treyl. It would be pretty tragic to die only halfway down the first page. This premature demise neatly avoided, Treyl boards a hot air balloon and sails out across the Jade Sea toward the island of Taloba. Hot air balloons are the only way one can reach Taloba, I explain, because the Jade Sea is plagued by constant tsunamis. Taloba itself is spared because the waves only move away from the island, which is pretty convenient. I’ll cut out a page and a half of exposition and cut to the action: shortly after arriving safely on Taloba, Treyl sees the balloon crash into the ocean.

Chapter 2: Boat Ride of Doom. There was nothing he could do. Treyl was sure of that. Sad that he could not help the person who had so kindly brought him to Taloba, Treyl turned away from the plummeting balloon. When he turned around he saw a boat. It was being used to decorate a garden of Braylow Flowers.

Needless to say, Treyl steals the boat and goes out to save the balloon pilot. It’s interesting, this sense of obligation. When no immediate course of action presented itself, Treyl was content to abandon the balloonist to the fates, but the boat somehow obliges him to risk his own life to rescue the guy. I can see myself, the ten-year-old author, controlling this world like a minor deity, striking down the balloon just to force Treyl into action. You won’t be grinding any corn today, Treyl.

Suffice to say the rescue operation ends badly (you can’t argue with tsunamis) but luckily Treyl and the still-unnamed pilot are rescued by a submarine.

“Well, well,” said a man, who was sitting at the controls of the submarine, as Treyl shut the hatch. “Bailai and I have been waiting for you.”

Bailai turns out to be a talking tarsier. I think he must have seemed funny when I was ten, but in retrospect he’s just embarassing.

“Ha!” it cried. “Bailai!” said Soman sternly. The creature leapt over to a cabinet and removed a feather from inside it. “Yes. Yes. Dodododododo it. Not mad. No.”

Soman, the submarine pilot, explains to our heroes that he’s looking for the Crystalian equivalent of Atlantis, where he will find a miracle fertilizer. His plans are cut short by a sudden attack by the giant, evil Olan Rays. Fortunately, Soman knows what to do.

“All right, here comes the tricky part. Treyl, you sit by that red button. If any rays come to [sic] close, push it, and it will blast a bunch of air at him should make him turn tail.” Then, with amazing speed, the submarine began to rush toward the rays. “AAA! No speed! No speed! Speed baah!” said Bailai to anyone who was listening. No one was.

Shortly thereafter they discover the sunken city. Soman and the ever-cooperative Treyl go out in diving suits to see if they can find the ancient fertilizer. Treyl and Soman pass through a library and pause long enough for Treyl to read a fairy tale before the floor caves in. Luckily, the library basement is pretty interesting.

On the wall in front of them, Treyl and Soman saw a long combination of numbers. It read: 1234615462415624525. Soman wrote it down on a notepad he kept in his pocket. […] They suddenly hit a solid stone wall. A tiny door opened in the wall revealing a tiny console. One object on the console was a number pad, the other was a ticker clicking off seconds. “Uh-oh,” said Soman. “A combination lock. If we get the combination right, the wall will open, if we get it wrong or run out of time, it traps us.” Soman had no idea what the combination could be, and Treyl had no idea either. Then he remembered the combination on the wall.

Quick thinking, Treyl! Unfortunately this flash of genius turns out to be a failure and an alarm starts to sound, but all is not lost!

Suddenly Treyl had an idea. There were three ones in the combination. Treyl typed 13, for three ones. Then 24 for four twos, 31 four [sic] one three, 44 for four fours, and so on.

Two seconds short of certain death, the wall swings open to reveal bottles and bottles of magical fertilizer.

And just like that, Crystalia ends. The next page has a heading for Chapter 7: Back in the Sub, but there’s no more text. I seem to recall it was going to be about Bailai acting crazy (because he was so funny, you see!), but I’m not sure. The story just ends, right at the beginning of what surely would have been a revolution in Crystalian farming technology.

So I am left with a story without a conclusion. Our heroes are in a fix with no clear avenues of escape. Do I have an obligation to save these people, as Treyl had toward the balloonist? Poor Treyl and Soman have been waiting in that high-tech broom closet for twelve years. The balloonist, horror of horrors, is trapped a small submarine with that hell-lemur Bailai. I set this world in motion. I placed its people in jeopardy. They’re still as I left them, waiting for something to happen.

I can’t help thinking that I’ve failed them.

(Reprinted from the Long River Review blog.)

Posted on May 2nd, 2010. Filed under Fiction, Writing. Tagged as: ,

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