“It’s useless,” muttered Shasta, crumpling up her sheet of paper and tossing it into a corner where it bounced off the growing pile of discarded paper and careened across the cluttered floor.
Shasta crossed her bony arms across her thin chest and stuck out her lower lip. “It’s a stupid assignment really,” she said. She kicked the leg of her desk and shoved her bangs out of her eyes.
She had loved the assignment when her sixth grade English teacher had told them about it that morning. It had seemed so simple, write a short story about visiting a fictitious location. Finally she was doing something in school that she understood and was really good at doing. She had loved the idea then, but now, two hours after school, she was frustrated. Making up a story was harder than she had thought it was going to be, and a lot harder than it use to be. She glanced at the huge pile of discarded attempts at a story beginning and sighed.
She pushed herself away from her desk and stared down at her crooked legs. Standing, she once again flung her foot in the direction of her desk leg. She winced with the sudden pain and then flung herself onto her bed and cried. Venting her frustration with her tears, she beat her pillow with a tightly clinched fist until she could do no more than sniffle. “Why do I have to be so different?” she cried, and buried her face in her pillow, fresh tears streaming down her face.
Shasta had once been able to tell all kinds of stories. She had spent much of her childhood in the hospital. Her legs had been useless when she was born. Her doctor had not been very positive about her walking. He had felt that maybe she could walk with braces someday, but she would spend most of her life in a wheel chair. Her parents had been determined to give her the chance, and so she had gone to the hospital for her first operation only days after her second birthday.
It had taken many operations before she had been able to begin learning how to walk, first with braces and crutches and then finally two years ago, she had walked alone. Learning to walk had been dreary and painful, but she had never lost sight of her goal and had never given up. Now she could run. She had spent her time in therapy and conditioning telling the nurses stories to help her forget the pain. Her stories had been wild and entertaining. The nurses had enjoyed working with her because of them. Now, however, she had trouble putting two words together, let alone a whole sentence.
Sixth grade had been her first year in a real school. She had always been home schooled before, when she could not walk, when she was in the hospital. School had been out of the question because she was in the hospital so much. She had been so excited when she had discovered that she would be able to “go to school” for the first time. “Real school” had been a great disappointment to her. She loved her teachers, but the other students were so cruel.
She was not a pretty child. She had plain brown hair that was too thin and too straight. Her face and ears were strangely shaped, almost elfish. She had pale green eyes, too large for her small face, pale skin, and a painfully skinny figure from the years spent in the hospital. Her legs were covered with scars and were still oddly shaped, even after so many operations and so much time in therapy. She was terrible at sports, and could not understand most of the games since she had never played any of them. Who plays kickball in the hospital ward for crippled and critically ill children? So the other children refused to associate with her, and often teased her openly. She had soon lost her confidence in herself and her ability to achieve, and along with it went her ability to tell stories.
Suddenly, Shasta jerked upright. Had she been asleep, she wondered. What had woken her up? She glanced around the room and then at her clock. Six-thirty, her mother would be home in half an hour. She had to get dinner started or her mother would be upset. Stretching and rubbing her eyes, Shasta managed to get to her feet.
She was almost to the door when she heard it again, someone had knocked on a door. She glanced in the direction of the front door, puzzled. No, the sound had come from ... from her room she realized with sudden fear.
“Who’s there?” she asked, her voice shaking in fear.
She heard the knock again, it was coming from her closet!
Trembling, she edged her way over to the door and flung it open. There stood a little boy – no, it wasn’t a boy, it was a little man.
“He must have escaped from a circus,” she thought, glancing down at the strangely dressed man.
His clothes looked like they had come from one of her story books about old England. He wore a red pointed hat with red and turquoise feathers sticking in the top. He had on a brown shirt and a red vest, turquoise pants and strange brown boots, obviously homemade. He had a large round face, small black eyes, a very large nose, and a wart on his left cheek. His face and hands were like leather. His hands were small and fat, she wondered how he used such small hands. He was half as wide as he was tall, and as he removed his hat, she noticed that his dark black hair was pulled back into a pony tail, and would have been considered much too long by her mother’s standards. He was a perfect little dwarf, just like the ones pictured in her books.
“I’m Flewder,” he said, and offered her his hand.
Gingerly she took it and replied, “Shasta.”
“Yes, I know,” he replied. His voice was deep and gravelly. “I’ve come to take you back with me. You are our last hope.”
“How did you get in my closet?” she demanded, before what he had said set in.
“The great Wizard Homgloff opened a door from my world to yours. It can only be open for a minute, or the Quaglarks will know and will destroy the portal.”
“Why me?” She felt strange at the thought of being “the last hope” for anyone.
“You are the chosen. You know how to save our world.”
Shasta very much doubted that she could help, she had no special talents, but the thought of travel intrigued her, and there was still that writing assignment to do. “I’ll need to pack a few things, if I’m to be of any help anyway,” she stammered, trying to buy time to consider her options. Surely this was just a dream, and soon she would wake up.
“Of course,” agreed Flewder. “I will return to the wizard for now, but I will return here in twenty of your minutes.” He pulled the door shut.
Shasta stood stunned for a second, then jerked the door back open. Just a closet. She sighed in relief, then she noticed the turquoise feather lying in her shoe. “He was real!” she shouted. A big grin spread across her face.
Grabbing her backpack, Shasta dumped her books onto her desk. She stuffed a pair of jeans, two T-shirts, and a sweatshirt inside, then grabbed her jacket and boots. She laid it all on her bed and glanced around the room. From the pile on her desk, she grabbed several pens and a new spiral notebook and tossed them on the bed with the rest of the stuff. Digging in her drawers, she found a canteen and a compass from her hiking trip last summer, and changes of socks and underwear. She tossed her findings on the bed and considered her options.
Dashing down the hall, she raced to her parents room and retrieved a small pair of high powered binoculars and her father’s hunting knife. She hesitated only a second before also taking his new underwater watch, it was very fancy and could do a lot more than tell time, she hastily fastened it to her wrist. Stopping in the bathroom on her way back, she grabbed her toothbrush, toothpaste, and a small first aide kit. She licked her lips and glanced at her own wrist watch. She had already used up nearly ten minutes.
She dumped her new treasures on her bed and raced to the kitchen. Grabbing a plastic shopping bag, she stuffed beef jerky, fruit, some juice boxes and a few other things into it, including matches, a flashlight, and extra batteries. She paused as she started out the door, and then grabbed some chicken and put it in the oven for her mother’s supper. Then she took pen and paper and wrote her mom a note.
“Mom, Don’t worry. Gone through the closet to somewhere else. Be back soon. Love, Shasta.” She placed the note under the salt shaker and placed the feather beside it. She grabbed her bag of food and dashed up the stairs.
Back in her room, Shasta worked frantically to get everything ready to go. She stuffed her things into her backpack and tied the boots and canteen to it. She was buckling the last strap as she once again heard the knock on her closet door.
For an instant she froze in fear, her arms and legs seemed made of lead. What did she think she was doing anyway? What was that saying her mother had? “Never talk to or go anywhere with a stranger - unless he knocks at your closet door.” Did she know? Impossible.
Swallowing her fear, she flung open her closet door. Once again the little man was there. “Are you ready?” he asked solemnly.
“We must be very silent, and move very quickly” whispered Flewder.
Shasta nodded again. With hands that she could barely force to work, she picked up her chosen items, put on the backpack, and stepped into the closet with Flewder. Glancing around the room once more, she let out a deep breath and closed the door.