When it came time to go, Carol Ann hugged her new friend and then took Teddy’s giant paw with her hand. Off they went back to the fork in the road; this time to take the other direction. Carol Ann gulped looking at the deep, dark woods. She wished there was another way.
“Maybe we could go back the way we came, Teddy,” she suggested.
Teddy shook his head in the negative and gave the little girl his solemn promise he would always protect her. Although she didn’t want to, Carol Ann eventually took a step forward which was quickly followed by her bear. The duo took it one step at a time until they were well within the forest.
Carol Ann was grateful for the lantern her new cat friend had given them. Without it, they could not have seen the blue road ahead of them. After walking for two hours, Carol Ann stopped to speak.
“I’m tired, Teddy. Let’s take a break.”
The bear nodded agreement and picked her up, cuddling her in his soothing, soft fur. Within minutes, Carol Ann was asleep once again. Suddenly a strange sound alerted her that there was something else in the woods with them. She clung desperately to her bear as she shook with fear.
“No worries,” Teddy said. “Whatever it is, I’ll take care of it.” With that he put the child down and stood. He looked all around and caught movement within a small grove of trees in front of them. Without saying a word, he closed the gap between them with just two giant strides. Then he reached down to grab something.
“Ow,” the little creature screamed. “You’re hurting me. Put me down you big oaf.”
Carol Ann couldn’t help but laugh at the sight of the tiny creature squirming in Teddy’s paw. It wasn’t big enough to hurt either one of them.
“What is it Teddy?” The sound of her voice made the creature stop squiggling. He looked in her direction, trying to get a sense of what she was. It was then she recognized his gray and white fur and big eyes surrounded by what looked like a mask.
“It’s a raccoon,” she said as she moved forward. “Teddy, put him down. He’s not going to hurt us.”
“How do you know that?” The raccoon stood straight and tall when Teddy finally put him down. He crossed his arms as if to impress upon them that he was someone with whom to be reckoned. But one look at the little girl softened his heart immediately. She was exquisite; like a porcelain doll. He thought he’d never seen anything so beautiful.
“I’m Carol Ann,” the child said as she held her hand out to the creature. “The big oaf, as you called him, is my bear Teddy. He won’t hurt you. He was just protecting me.”
“I’ve never seen you here before. Where did you come from?” The raccoon looked at Carol Ann suspiciously.
“That is difficult to explain since I don’t know how I got here,” she answered. “I don’t even know where ‘here’ is.”
“You are in Myopia of course.” The raccoon wasn’t buying Carol Ann’s explanation.
“Myopia? That’s a funny name,” Carol Ann giggled. “Who named it?”
“You don’t want to know that,” the raccoon responded as he seemed to shrink in size. “You don’t want to meet her.”
“You must be talking about the evil enchantress,” Carol Ann returned.
“You know her? I should have known. Nothing as beautiful as you could exist unless she created it.” With that the raccoon turned as if to run away.
“Please don’t go,” Carol Ann begged. “She didn’t make me. My mother and father did.”
“Are they magical beings as well?” The raccoon turned to face the child again.
“No, they aren’t magical. Don’t you have a mother and a father; older raccoons that take care of you?”
The raccoon shook his head. “I have no one but myself.”
“You do now,” Carol Ann returned. “You have a friend in me.”
“Friend? I do not know that word,” the raccoon muttered. “Are you trying to trick me?”
“Trick you?” Carol Ann looked shocked at the thought. “Why would I do that?”
“Then tell me, what is a friend? I’ve never heard that word before.”
“A friend is someone who helps you, loves you and supports you.”
“There is no such thing in Myopia. It is everyone for himself.”
“Then no wonder you can’t defeat the enchantress,” Carol Ann suggested. “If you banded together in a circle of friends, then perhaps you could.”
“I do not understand,” the raccoon said looking puzzled.
“Come walk with us and I will explain,” Carol Ann suggested.
“But where are you going?”
“I’m trying to find my way home to Texas,” Carol Ann said solemnly. “I’m just not sure how to get there from here.”
“Texas? And you think Myopia is a funny sounding name?” With that the raccoon began to laugh uncontrollably. Before long Carol Ann and Teddy joined in. When they were done, the trio decided to walk and talk along the way.
“Why is the enchantress evil?” Carol Ann posed the question to the air as much as to the raccoon.
“She just is. She likes hurting things,” the raccoon said softly. “I’ve seen her hurt many things.”
“I’m sorry,” Carol Ann moaned as she stopped walking. Without hesitation she reached down to hug the small animal. Instead of pulling away, the raccoon settled into her arms. He thought the hug was the most magical thing he’d ever experienced.
“You are magic,” the raccoon smile. “Good magic. Maybe you can help us defeat the enchantress.”
“I was told to stay away from her,” Carol Ann explained. “By a cat friend I met when I first arrived.”
“Cats don’t like raccoons,” the animal said sadly. “I don’t suppose we’ll ever be friends.”
“You could be,” Carol Ann corrected. “All it takes is for each of you to give a little of yourself to the other.”
“I still don’t understand,” the raccoon admitted. “But if this is friendship – what you and I have – then I like it very much. I would like to make more friends.”
“So you shall,” Carol Ann said without hesitation. “We will befriend all the creatures we meet along the way.”
“Be quiet up there,” yelled an angry small voice. “Someone is trying to sleep down here,” it continued.
“Where?” Carol Ann scanned the ground beneath her. All she could see was a tiny little ant.
“No one can sleep with your big booming voices shaking the ground,” the ant continued. Then he caught a look at Teddy who’d also bent down to view him.
“A giant. A giant,” he screamed. “Help me; he’s going to kill me.”
“Teddy wouldn’t hurt a fly,” Carol Ann said with certainty. “But you really shouldn’t be on the road. We could have accidentally stepped on you.”
“It’s as much my road as it is yours,” the ant responded indignantly. “I’ve got just as much right to sleep on it as you have to walk on it. Now get that giant away from me or I’ll sting you.”
“That’s not very nice; threatening us,” Carol Ann said as she stood up and put her hands on her hips. “And I was just about to offer to be your friend, too.”
“Friend. What is that? Why do I need one? Will it keep you from smashing me under your big foot?”
Despite her slight anger, Carol Ann couldn’t help but giggle. The tiny creature was trying so hard to sound mean.
“Step back, Teddy,” she suggested as she did the same.
“Him too,” the ant said, pointing at the raccoon.
Raccoon followed suit. “Are you sure you want to friend him?” he asked.
“I’m sure,” Carol Ann returned. “If we are going to defeat the evil enchantress, we must do it together.”
The ant looked at the little girl with wonder. “You plan to defeat her? Do you think you can?”
“I guess I’m going to try,” Carol Ann sighed. “Right after I teach all you Myopians how to get along.”
To be continued. . .