F09T Book 1 Chapter One - Larissa Of Foxwood
As the first soft gray wave of pre-dawn light filtered in through the open bedroom window, there was the slightest movement beneath the blankets. He detected it of course immediately, his peaked ears twitching and rotating like tiny radar stations, his ever-vigilant amber eyes flashing fully open. Yes, she was stirring. Soon she would be awake. His guardian duties were done for another night. He carefully raised himself from where he had lain curled up at the foot of the bed and alighted with a little jump from the bed to the floor. His four black-stockinged paws made no sound as he padded across the hardwood floor. Then came the short hop to the dresser top beneath the open window. There he hesitated to turn and regard his sleeping charge for a moment before departing. He wondered how such a seemingly vulnerable creature as this petite girl on the cusp of young womanhood, just turned twelve years old, could possibly be prepared for the adventure she was about to embark upon. The thought of it made the rust-red hairs of his fluffy tail stand on end, the twitching of his white tail-tip betraying his deep anxiety for her safety and well-being.
Larissa Lennox would soon, he knew, be making the Dream Journey, crossing over fully into the Dreaming World. It might very well happen this coming night. He knew the signs of imminent departure.
From his dresser top perch, Larissas loyal guardian for these last several weeks surveyed the bedroom he thought he might not be seeing again. He wanted a last look at some of the many sketches and paintings that were propped on easels or tacked to the walls or spilling over from the stack on her desk into an untidy pile on the floor. Larissas art works were all centered on one obsessional subject matter: her beloved foxes. Some of her foxes were drawn as one would normally think of foxes, much like those one would see in photographs or might catch a brief glimpse of while walking in the woods. But there were also her very special foxes. These foxes walked upright just like people one would see in normal everyday life. These foxes wore fanciful velveteen pants and blouses and even walked in leather high-heeled boots. Some wore buccaneer-style hats with enormous ostrich plumes affixed to their brims. Some of the foxes seemed to be slightly more fox than human. Some of the foxes seemed to be slightly more human than fox. Some seemed to be as equally fox as human.
Some of the vividly-imagined fox characters were sketched in bold action scenes, riding horses or dancing like Lords and Ladies in grand ballrooms. But some of the fox characters were very formally posed, singularly or in couples, as if Larissa had been commissioned to paint their actual portraits. It was as if her imaginary fox friends were living, breathing beings in her secret, private world.
The vulpine guardian, his survey complete, turned to focus his keen eyes on his favorite painting, the one hanging just by the open window, the open window through which he entered each evening and exited each morning. This painting was of a proper fox, without a fancy hat or boots, looking in fact very much like himself, he thought. He wondered if it might actually be his own portrait. Did she somehow know him, know him well enough to paint him, know that he was there at the foot of her bed each night, watching over her, as her dreams prepared her for the Journey? He liked to think so. But then again, he thought, he was probably only flattering himself. He couldnt possibly be as beautiful as the majestic fleet beast captured in her painting.
A bit lost in his reverie, he almost didnt hear the footsteps in the hallway, or the gentle turning of the doorknob. Larissas mother! One last look at Larissa, and then he vaulted from the windowsill to the dew-covered backyard lawn below. He crossed the yard in a flash as the first sunrays of the breaking dawn heralded the new day. There was only the neighbors yard to cross before disappearing into the safety of the edge of the woods, and deep within that woods, the sanctuary of his own burrow. As usual, the neighbors watchdog was sound asleep on the job. And so it was that the quick red fox jumped over the lazy brown dog, and then hurried on home, snickering to himself, as he did each morning, at his own private joke.
Good morning, sleepy-head. Todays your big day. Larissas mom sat on the edge of the bed, gently coaxing her daughter awake in the pleasant manner she seemed always capable of, no matter the worrisome circumstance.
Im awake, Im awake already, said Larissa, with her eyes still closed tight. And I know what day it is. Stop worrying about it. Its no big deal. Just some doctor poking around in my head.
Yes, dear, but thats my Mom Job to worry whenever theres some doctor going to be poking around in your head. Now lets get up and get ready. You still have a full day at school before we go to the clinic this evening. I want you to eat a good breakfast.
All right then, said Larissa, yawning and pulling the blankets back over her head.
All right then, said Larissas mom, pulling the blankets back down off Larissas head.
Lakewood Elementary School was a nice enough school in a nice enough suburb of a nice enough small town. It was filled with nice enough teachers and even nice enough kids. There were very few incidents of fighting or bullying. This was probably because most of the kids had nice enough parents, making for nice enough happy homes. But, still, most of Larissas seventh grade classmates were in agreement that she was a little weird, though maybe not necessarily in a bad way. She just always seemed to be off in her own world all the time, endlessly daydreaming. At lunchtime or during recess she only wanted to sketch and sketch and sketch in her sketchpads. Sometimes she had more sketchpads than textbooks in her school backpack. So the other kids mostly left her alone to pursue her daydreaming and her drawings, though some of her more thoughtful classmates did secretly tell the school counselor that they thought her lone wolf routine was getting progressively worse, maybe even to the extent of becoming a bad thing after all.
But Larissa had one true champion to defend her against all nay-sayers.
Shes an artist. What dont you guys get about that? Shes going to be famous someday in comic books or doing CGI in movies, or maybe even with serious art stuff in museums.
What we all get is that youre totally in love with her.
Yeah, right. Were just friends. And I just happen to be able to appreciate her talent, thats all. Have you ever even looked at her drawings? Theyre only totally awesome.
Timothy Gardner was, as usual, having a difficult time trying to sound convincing in his oft-stated stance of being solely a friendly fan of Larissas artistic skills, and harboring absolutely no romantic interest in her whatsoever. He justified this only half-true political position by reasoning that he was genuinely knocked out by her talent and not just singing her praises to get her to like him, and
the fact that he also thought she was the most awesome and amazing girl in the whole world was really none of the other kids business, anyway. They didnt even get her art!
Billy Washington was having none of it.
So explain to me how this friendship you have with her works, OK? I see you following her around all the time, talking to her. I see you sitting next to her all the time, talking to her, OK?
Yeah, so? Were friends, said Timothy.
So heres the deal, said Billy. I dont think Ive ever seen her saying anything back to you. I mean, does she even know youre there?
Timothys face turned to stone. Billy tried to soften the blow of what he had just said with a little laugh. I mean, Im only saying, she just seems to be on another planet and
Timothy, his face contorted in anger and humiliation, abruptly turned his back to Billy and walked away quickly, almost running.
Billy looked miserable, having hurt Timothys feelings. Oh, man, he mumbled to himself, I didnt mean your secret girlfriend doesnt know you exist
In third period History, Larissa sat at her usual desk, the one in the far corner away from the teacher. Timothy sat at his usual desk, just across the aisle from her. Whatever it was that the teacher was going on about having to do with General Grant and General Lee at Appomattox wasnt at all as interesting as what was happening on Larissas sketchpad. Timothy sat transfixed, watching the deft motions of her pale tapered fingers, first bold and then delicate, as she created one of her Foxes Ballroom Dancing scenes. He had trouble keeping his focus, his eyes constantly drawn from the thing of beauty being created on the sketchpad to the other, living, thing of beauty, so magically lost in the process of her creation. Suddenly, Larissa was done, and seemed to return to Earth for a moment. She nervously glanced at the teacher to see if she had been caught
doodling again. But the coast was clear. She smiled at Timothy and tilted her pad up for him to get a better look. He nodded enthusiastically and approvingly.
This was the moment Timothy had waited for. He didnt have the nerve to actually draw in class, like Larissa. But he was in the habit of bringing his own drawings that he did at home into the classroom, so he could get Larissas always brutal but honest critique. (He also worried that if Larissa actually saw him drawing, saw how long it took him, saw how hard it was for him, she might laugh at his efforts. He wished he could draw like her, draw like the wind.) Timothy carefully slid his secretly stashed artwork from his backpack and tilted it for Larissa to get a good look.
Instead of drawing foxes, Timothy drew wolves. He thought creating mighty wolf characters a more properly masculine activity for a boy. And he also thought his wolves would make for a nice artistic complement to Larissas fox characters. So there he sat, anxiously displaying his latest wolf portrait for Larissas approval, desperately hoping the teacher wouldnt notice the private art appreciation session going on in the far corner of the classroom.
The wolf character was drawn, like all of Timothys drawings, as if in homage to Larissas fox characters. He shamelessly aped her style, though he was obviously lacking of her in-born talents. His leather-clad motorcycle gang-looking wolf character looked mean and tough enough, but in a sort of simple and cartoonish manner. Larissa stared intently at the sketch, saying nothing. Then she thrust out her hand, startling Timothy. He gave her the drawing. He then watched as she put her pencils to his masterwork, savagely stroking and shading the paper. She finished quickly and thrust the drawing back across to him. He gasped at what she had transformed his cartoon wolf into. The wolf on the sketch paper was now a terrifying monster, looking like something that could only have been drawn by Goya or Frank Frazetta! Timothy shook as if he had a fever. He felt dizzy. Not a sick flu-ishy kind of dizzy, but a happy sort of rollercoastery funhouse dizzy.
Just think, he thought, Our first collaboration!
I dont know. It sounds kind of dangerous to me. The more Larissa told Timothy about her impending evenings activities, the more upset he was getting. What if lightning hits the building and theres a power surge and the machine goes haywire and fries your brain and you cant draw anymore?
Larissa laughed her little laugh (that usually delighted Timothy, but not today) and continued penciling in her sketchbook. The machine cant do anything to my brain. Its just a monitor. Like a movie camera. Its just going to record whats going on in my head when Im sleeping.
Timothy wasnt convinced. He fidgeted nervously on the bench of the picnic table that was his and her reserved seating each day during lunch recess.
I just think, said Timothy, that this whole thing seems really unnecessary and your mom and dad shouldnt be making you do it.
Larissas eyes continued to be focused on her artwork, and she continued her part in the conversation in her typically detached, matter-of-fact manner. Mom and Dad are getting worried about how Ive been sleeping ten or twelve hours almost every night. And then Dr. Osgood really freaked them out by telling them about some condition I might have that lots of girls my age get. Sometimes the girls even die. But its totally under-reported and Dr. Osgood is one of the few experts. Mom and Dad just want to help me be able to concentrate on my school work again so I can get a job some day and not starve. Its not like theyre being evil to me or anything.
Maybe, said Timothy, youll marry some guy with a good job and youll be free to draw all day.
Yeah, right, snorted Larissa. Thats a sensible plan.
Timothy hoped Larissa didnt see the twinge on his face when she so instantly dismissed his suggestion as preposterous.
Larissa finally set her pencil down and looked up at Timothy. Seriously, its no big whoop. Just some wires stuck to my forehead and some numbers coming out of a computer to see where I fit in on the freak scale. And then Ill be seeing you on Monday.
The school bell rang its ring. Larissa stood and gathered her pencils and pads. She sighed as she looked at the boy across the picnic table with his face knotted up in a quiet panic. I shouldnt even have told you about tonight. You take everything so seriously! I dont need you to be my knight in shining armor, Timothy. Those olden days you like to play in your video games are totally over
Cmon, theyre going to shut the door!
Larissa wondered if she was going to be able to fall asleep with all the little wire contact rubber discs glued all over her face and shoulders. She was glad Dr. Osgood let her wear her favorite pajamas for the procedure instead of the ugly Sleep Clinic gown, but the wires were just impossible. She laid her head back on the pillow, careful not to knock loose any of Dr. Osgoods painstaking work.
Dont worry, Larissa, they wont come loose. Try to make yourself as comfortable as you can. Dr. Osgood had a nice bedside manner, always smiling and speaking authoritatively but soothingly to her patient. Larissa wondered if she were technically a patient or more like a lab rat? She tried to remember if she had ever drawn a rat. She wondered if she could draw a really good rat. Then she thought that she was getting really sleepy after all. She tried to pay attention to what the doctor was saying. The sedative should be kicking in right about now, was what the doctor was saying. I think were all set for the night.
Alice and John, Larissas mom and dad, were standing across the bed from Dr. Osgood. They looked to the doctor, trading their worried looks for her reassuring smiles and nods. Remember, said Mom, that were going to be sleeping in a bedroom just down the hall all night, baby, so theres nothing to worry about.
Larissa pointed an unsteady finger at the flashing monitor of the impressive computer set up next to her bed. What if the lightning makes the computer melt my brain?
What?! exclaimed Larissas dad.
Dr. Osgood just laughed. The sedatives definitely working. I think its time for you guys to say your goodnights.
Larissas mom and dad took turns giving their daughter her goodnight hugs and kisses, and then slowly made their way out of the room, still exchanging winks and smiles and hopeful looks with Dr. Osgood all the while.
Larissa felt herself slipping off into sleep.
Dr. Gwen? Dr. Gwen?
Wheres your bed?
No sleeping for me, said the doctor. Im going to be awake in this chair by your bed all night, watching the data popping up on this screen and making sure youre OK. Ive even got my own special headset, see? Check it out.
In her last waking moments, Larissa watched Dr. Osgood pulling on a sci-fi movie-looking Velcro headband with its own wires running into the computers big brain box.
Ta-dah! said the doctor, quietly.
Cool, said Larissa, and then she was asleep.
It was hours later, Larissa was sleeping peacefully, but by the puzzled expression on Dr. Osgoods face, the numbers appearing on the computer monitor were not making much sense. She kept shaking her head and consulting the several open manuals she had piled in her lap. She punched in new coordinates on the keyboard. Only to sit and stare and shake her head some more.
It was then that two big yellow eyes suddenly appeared in the darkness just beside the computer monitor.
Minx! shouted Dr. Osgood, but in a hushed voice to not wake Larissa. You know youre not allowed in here! Especially tonight! Now shoo! Shoo!
The doctors commands were ignored by the enormous black cat. She only hopped across to the bed and sat down right next to Larissas sleeping form, staring back in the darkness at the doctor as if to mock her.
Not tonight, Minxie, whispered the doctor. None of your games tonight!
A look of determination on her face, Dr. Osgood began to rise to shoo the meddlesome feline, but she suddenly sat back in her chair, appearing a bit faint. She shook her head and rubbed her eyes. Then she slowly opened her eyes and peered over at the imperious cat once again.
The doctor and the cat locked eyes in the darkened room, only the quiet beeps and other rustlings of the computer breaking the silence. After a few moments, Dr. Osgoods head slumped to her chest. She was sound asleep. The cat waited a few moments before hopping over into the doctors lap and sniffing at her face, as if checking to make sure she was really out cold.
Then Minx the big black cat stretched her back slowly in a luxurious arch, as if in a gesture of victory, and began to purr a deep, satisfied purr.
After taking a few moments to savor her downing of Dr. Gwen, Minx slinked across to the tabletop where the big computer monitor still glowed in the darkness, its screen a mad dance of flashing numbers and graphs. The big black cat went round to the rear of the monitor and eyed the many plugs plugged in in a neat row. Now, for my next trick! she thought to herself as she raised one paw
There was a sound at the window.
Whats this? thought Minx. An intruder on such a night as tonight? The cat jumped to the floor and secreted herself in the shadows. Her watchful eyes held fast on the closed window, which was now being stealthily opened, raised up by some unknown someone outside in the dark. A chill wind blew in to the room when the window was finally fully raised. Minx watched as a sneakered foot, followed by a blue-jeaned leg, slowly pushed in across the windowsill. Then there was a great crashing sound outside.
Oh, great! exclaimed Timothy, but in a hushed tone, as the bicycle he had been balancing on clattered to the sidewalk below. Guess Im fully committed now, he thought to himself.
Once inside, it took a few moments for Timothys eyes to adjust to the darkness. And when he could see, he didnt like what he saw: Larissa laid out on a hospital bed with a bunch of scary wires glued to her head. It was all way too Bride of Frankenstein, he thought, a panicky sensation rising in his throat. And then he could see Dr. Osgood asleep at her station! So no ones in charge! he thought. Timothy stood by Larissas bed, quietly but nervously observing his sleeping schoolmate. His plan had originally been to just check in on her, to make sure everything was copacetic, and then head back home. But this this! was not acceptable. How could he abandon Larissa amidst such obvious medical and scientific incompetence?! What if the wires started burning into her head and no one was there to pull them off?! He knew what he had to do. He didnt care if he got into trouble.
Timothy slowly and delicately crawled into bed and arranged himself neatly beside Larissa. He gently put one protective arm around her waist. He vowed to stay awake no matter what for the entire night. He would be there to save her, even at the cost of his own life, should there be the dreaded major meltdown after all. He felt a little scared, but very determined.
As soon as Timothys fluttering eyelids closed long enough to indicate he was finally deeply asleep, Minx emerged from the shadows and leapt back up to the computer monitor.
Now where was I? she thought, as she raised her big paw and extended her long claws. Ah, yes
One by one and all in a row, she began whacking each important plug from its important input portal in the back of the monitor. As the final plug hit the floor like a discarded catnip mouse cat toy, the monitor screen went all staticky, and an expression of profound self-satisfaction, such as only certain imperious felines are capable of, played across Minxs furry face.
Alice and John, Larissas mom and dad, stood by the bedside of Larissas empty bed, their arms around each other, desperately trying to comfort each other. The morning sunlight streamed in through the open window as clinic workers in their green scrubs uniforms dashed frantically in and out of the room. They whispered bits of updated information into the ear of the man whose badge read Head of Security.
The bicycle outside belongs to a kid from your daughters school, a Timothy Gardner, the Security man standing so stoically next to Alice and John was saying.
But Timothy is her best friend, Alice said in a shaking voice. He would never harm Larissa.
No, maam, said the Security man. There was no kidnapping. We see the boy riding his bicycle onto the grounds, on our security camera videotapes, but he was the only person who entered this building last night. The tapes also tell us that absolutely nobody left this building last night, including the boy.
Then where are Larissa and Timothy? asked John, his voice quavering slightly.
Were still searching the building, sir, said the Security man. He looked away nervously, as if he himself was in a state of shocked disbelief. How could all his men and all the clinic staff members not be able to find two kids in a building as small as this one?
Alice couldnt stop shaking her head, even as John tried to dry the tears falling down her cheeks with his handkerchief.
I just dont understand, John, I just dont understand
the distraught mother kept repeating over and over.
Soon, soon well know, very soon now said John, trying to sound hopeful.
But this is crazy. Where could Larissa and Timothy be? asked Alice. And
she continued, looking imploringly into her husbands worried eyes.
And what, my dearest? asked John.
Where is Dr. Osgood?!
John could only shake his head.
The stricken parents looked over across the bed to where they last saw Dr. Gwen Osgood when they were speaking with her just the night before. Dr. Gwens special monitoring chair was now deserted and empty save for her crumpled many-wired headband and
one peacefully sleeping big black cat.
Minx, as if on cue, woke just long enough to yawn a big yawn, and wink one yellow-eyed wink of acknowledgement back to Alice and John. Then the cat curled up a bit tighter and went back to sleep. She had done good work, she thought to herself, and deserved a good rest.
CHAPTER 2 http://f09.deviantart.com/gallery/12651473#/d2b0s4z