(Click picture to see a larger image.)
by Justin R. Lawfer
"All right, children," Mrs. Patterson said as she got up from her desk. "It is time to hand in your short-story assignment."
The classroom was filled with the sound of paper being torn from notebooks or removed from folders as the fourth-graders followed their teacher's instruction. The papers were passed to the front of the rows, where Mrs. Patterson collected them. One paper caught her eye. It was a blank sheet of paper with the name of its owner in the upper right-hand corner. "John," she said with a frown.
A short, blond-haired kid looked up from his desk near the back of the room. "Yes, Mrs. Patterson?"
"Why didn't you do the assignment?"
"Well, um..." He scratched his chin. "Mrs. Patterson, let me explain. Last night, I sat down at the desk in my room and got ready to do the assignment. I chewed at my pencil while attempting to come up with an idea for a story. Sadly, I wasn't having much luck, and my teeth were starting to hurt from the chewing.
"Suddenly, a fierce storm sprang up around my house. Brilliant flashes of white lightning drew me to my window, from which I saw the huge, black, circular cloud that had formed over my home. The lightning seemed to be coming from inside the cloud and nowhere else.
"I was about to call for my mom, when a loud knocking came from inside my closet. I slowly opened the door, unsure of what was making the noise. At that moment a massive wind sucked me into the closet. I let out a terrified scream as I plummeted down a long shaft of blue and white light.
"At long last I fell out of the shaft and landed on a hard, stone floor. I let out a gasp as I looked around me. I was in a massive room whose walls were made of multi-colored crystal. Large display cases held a variety of weapons and armor. A chandelier with red and yellow lights hung from the ceiling.
"'Greetings, human,' a deep masculine voice said. I turned around, and gasped again. Seated on a pair of silver thrones were two humanoid creatures. Both had dark-green skin and bronze-colored hair, and wore rainbow-colored robes.
"My legs trembled as I asked, 'W-who are you? W-where am I?'
"'You are in the land of Callaggan,' the creature on the right said. 'I am its ruler, King Dretres, and this is my wife, Queen Thricen.'
"'How do you do?' the queen asked.
"'Pretty darn scared and confused,' I said truthfully. 'How did I get here?'
"'Through a magical portal created by our sorcerers,' the king said, motioning to the ceiling. 'We are the ones who summoned you here.'
"At that moment a third creature entered the room. He was also dressed in a rainbow-colored robe. His long, auburn hair was tied into three ponytails. A long sword hung at his right side, and he carried a rolled-up carpet under his left arm.
"'Did the portal work?' he asked excitedly.
"'See for yourself, my son,' Queen Thricen said.
"The prince looked at me, and his eyes grew wide. 'Excellent! Now that we have the boy, I can get the helmet of Shaplor!' He walked toward me. 'Come, we must leave at once.'
"'Hold on a moment,' I said. By this point my courage had started to build, and I had decided that I wasn't going to be pushed around by a bunch of strange creatures. 'I'm not going with anyone to get anything until I know what's going on!'
"'You certainly deserve an explanation,' he said. 'I am Prince Ritok. You have already met my parents, I assume.'
"'They've introduced themselves,' I replied. 'But they haven't told me why I'm here.'
"'We face a desperate situation here in Callaggan,' Ritok said. 'You see, the evil monster Triprent has risen up from his cave deep in the earth to destroy all who inhabit this world. All attempts to kill him have failed. However, I know of a way to defeat the monster and save Callaggan!'
"I was about to ask how, when I heard the sound of a loud trumpet blaring. A look of shock came across everyone's face. 'Triprent is attacking!' Ritok gasped. He rushed to the end of the room and threw open a door, then stepped out onto a balcony. Dretres, Thricen, and I followed.
"What I beheld was an awesome sight. The castle was at the edge of a massive city whose buildings were spiraled structures made of shimmering crystal. The buildings changed color depending on where the moonlight passed through them.
"I had little time to take in the full beauty of the scene, for at that moment a loud roar filled the air. I looked toward the other end of the city and watched as a massive reptilian beast tore a building to shreds. The monster stood about ten stories high, and was covered with orange and red scales. He had a spiraled horn on the end of his nose, and a pair of horns jutted from above his eyes. His parrot-like beak was filled with small, pointed teeth. His massive arms and legs ended in sharp talons.
"I cried out in fright as the monster again let out a deafening roar. Suddenly, his horns began to glow with a sinister blue light. Bolts of blue lightning soared forth and danced across the buildings, reducing them to piles of shimmering rubble.
"A grim look came across Ritok's face. 'I must complete our task before Triprent destroys the city.' He unrolled the carpet, which I saw was triangular-shaped. He reached his hand toward me. 'Come, we must go quickly.'
"I stood, uncertain of what to do. Then I watched Triprent sink his teeth into a building, and I didn't need any more coaxing. I leapt onto the carpet. It rose over the castle, and zoomed away from the city.
"'Where are we going?' I asked, as we soared over a forest of red-leafed trees.
"'To the Cave of Shaplor,' Ritok answered.
"'Who is Shaplor?'
"'He was a great warrior who drove the goblin-king Seratin and his army of bat-faced knights from this land two thousand years ago. If I can obtain his third enchanted relic, I will be able to defeat Triprent.'
"A bolt of lightning suddenly flew past us. We looked back, and saw Triprent charging after us with a speed that belied his size. He knocked trees aside as if they were toothpicks.
"'Triprent must know of my plan to slay him!' Ritok said.
"More bolts of lightning flew from Triprent's horns as he pursued us. Ritok maneuvered the carpet with expertise, dodging each and every shot. I soon realized that we were heading toward a black mountain. 'What I seek is in there,' Ritok said, pointing to the cave at the base of the mountain.
"A menacing hiss emanated from the cave. A huge reptilian creature, about half as tall as Triprent, lumbered into the open. It walked on all four legs. Its head was covered with red armor, and a row of scythe-like spines covered its back. It spotted us, and hissed again.
"'This isn't good,' Ritok said. 'The cave is guarded by a ferocious lacrosaur.'
"'What are you going to do?' I asked. 'There is a monster behind us, and a monster in front of us!'
"Ritok smiled. He swooped low to the ground, aiming the carpet directly for the lacrosaur's open mouth. I could feel the creature's hot breath wash over us. Suddenly, the carpet veered down and we passed beneath its jaw. We flew between its legs, around the base of its tail, and into the cave.
"'But, Ritok,' I said, 'if the lacrosaur comes in here, we'll be trapped!'
"Ritok grinned, and pointed outside. Triprent moved toward the cave. The lacrosaur grunted in challenge. It swayed from side to side, displaying its spines. Triprent paused, examined his foe, then took a step forward. The lacrosaur charged. Triprent fired a blast from his horns. The blast struck the lacrosaur's head and knocked off a chunk of armor. The lacrosaur moaned in pain. It slammed its tail against its opponent's leg. Triprent took a step back. He dropped to all fours, horns aimed at the lacrosaur's side. He gave a mighty roar and charged at full speed. The creatures collided, and both fell to the ground.
"'They will keep each other busy long enough for us to get what we need,' Ritok said.
"The carpet slowly drifted deeper and deeper into the cave, which eventually opened up into a chamber as wide as a football field. The ceiling was adorned with shimmering crystals. It was the light from these crystals that allowed me to see the magnificent images carved into the walls. They depicted a giant winged figure battling hordes of bat-faced creatures armed with spears and maces.
"Ritok put his hand on my shoulder and pointed ahead of us. In the center of the chamber was a slab of stone, above which floated a golden helmet. 'The helmet of Shaplor!' the prince said in awe. He flew the carpet close to the ground, then leapt to the ground and ran to the slab. Something darted from the side of the chamber and stood in his way. It was a humanoid creature garbed in rolling gray robes.
"'Halt!' the creature said, raising the silver staff he held in his right hand. 'I am Kaplor, proud descendent of Shaplor. My pet lacrosaur and I are the guardians of the legendary helmet. State your name and your reason for coming to this place!'
"Ritok knelt before him. 'Your Greatness, I am Ritok, son of King Dretres and Queen Thricen, and the prince of Callaggan. I already possess the sword and magical carpet of Shaplor, which the royal family has safeguarded for generations, and need his helmet so that I may defeat Triprent and save my people from destruction.'
"Kaplor nodded. 'Your reason is noble, Ritok, but you know what is written in the sacred text of Shaplor: In order to ensure that it is never used for the purposes of evil, the helmet of Shaplor can only be taken from its resting place by an innocent child from the Other World.'
"'I have brought such a child with me,' Ritok said. He motioned toward me.
"Kaplor's eyes went wide. 'How is this possible? Shaplor thought that no one would be able to summon a child from the Other World!'
"'Our magical capabilities have improved since Shaplor's time,' Ritok said. 'Now, let him claim the helmet.'
"'Wait. Although he is from the Other World, how do you know he is an innocent child?'
"I grew nervous. 'W-well, I h-haven't been a perfect boy,' I answered. 'One time I stole a pack of gum from a grocery store. But my mom found out, and I had to take it back and apologize. And one time I hit my little sister because she was playing with my toys. But I've never taken drugs or smoked cigarettes, or...'
"Kaplor held up his hand. 'Enough! The true test shall be if you can remove the helmet from the slab.'
"I stepped off the carpet, and cautiously made my way to the stone slab. The air seemed to fill with electricity. I reached forward and clasped my hands onto the helmet of Shaplor. I slowly pulled it toward me, then handed it to Ritok.
"'Thank you,' he said. 'Now I shall destroy Triprent once and for all!' He pulled me onto the carpet, and we zoomed back out of the cave.
"The battle had not gone well for the lacrosaur, which had fallen on its side. It gasped for air as tiny streams of blood ran from its mouth. Three of its spines had been torn off. I looked at Triprent, whose claws were stained with his opponent's blood. He let out a roar, and prepared to tear the lacrosaur to pieces.
"At that moment Ritok gave a mighty yell. The monster looked at us and growled. Ritok moved the carpet closer to the ground. 'Get to a safe place,' he said. I quickly scrambled behind some rocks as he took to the sky. He soared around the monster and lashed out with his sword, slicing grooves into Triprent's hide. The monster seemed unaffected. Lightning danced between his horns and flew out in all directions. Then the unthinkable happened. One bolt struck Ritok, and he plummeted toward the ground.
"'No!' I cried, my eyes fixed on his falling form.
"Moments before he hit the ground, he managed to place the helmet on his head and held the sword close to his chest. The carpet burst into flames that surrounded him in a ball of swirling colors. The ball became larger and larger. It stopped its descent and climbed back into the sky. The flames formed into a humanoid shape, then disappeared. In their place was now a huge, eighty-foot-tall figure with blood-red skin, a glistening gold-and-silver helmet, blinding white eyes, and a pair of rainbow-colored angelic wings that kept him afloat in the air. In his right hand was the sword of Shaplor, now grown to a length of forty feet and shimmering with waves of red and blue light.
"'Triprent!' Ritok called out in a voice that was much more than his own. 'It is time to finish this. For too long you have threatened the people of this land. Today, your reign of terror ends!'
"Triprent showed no fear. He unleashed a blazing display of lightning that danced across Ritok's armor and wings, creating huge holes and ripping deep gouges into his skin. Ritok did not even flinch! Triprent fired again. Ritok still did not cry out in pain or fall to the ground.
"The monster was panting heavily now, as the attacks were using up a lot of his energy. Ritok raised his sword, then slashed it forward. The blade sliced off Triprent's nasal horn, thus preventing him from firing his lightning blasts.
"Ritok descended. He pointed the weapon at the ground and stabbed it downwards, embedding half the blade into the soil. The ground shook violently. A huge fissure raced from the sword toward Triprent. The creature tried to run, but the fissure quickly caught up to him. It opened beneath Triprent's feet. Huge flames burst upwards, engulfing Triprent. The beast screamed as he fell into the bowels of the earth.
"Ritok pulled up his sword, and the fissure closed. He slowly walked over to the lacrosaur and laid his hands on its neck. New spines grew on the creature's back to replace the missing ones, and the wounds on its head and side instantly healed. The lacrosaur stood, gently nuzzled Ritok's leg, then returned to the cave.
"Ritok approached me and removed his helmet. There was flash of light as the prince returned to his normal form. He then flew toward me on the carpet.
"I rushed to him. 'That was incredible!' I said. 'You were magnificent!'
"He smiled. 'Now that Triprent is gone, the people of my kingdom will be overwhelmed with joy. Would you like to see the magnificent lands which I will one day rule over?'
"Of course I agreed, and stepped onto his flying carpet. As we flew across the land, I witnessed beauties and wonders which our language has no words for. As the sun slowly rose, Ritok took me back to the castle, where I was transported back to this world. Just as I walked out of my closet, my mother entered my room and told me to get ready for school.
"And that, Mrs. Patterson, is why I didn't get the assignment done."
The classroom was silent. Then John's classmates burst into enthusiastic applause.
Mrs. Patterson tapped her fingers on her desktop. "John, I am willing to give you credit for creativity and content. However, because you did not have a written paper, you receive no points for punctuation, sentence structure, or grammatical accuracy. You earn a 'C' on your assignment, and I want to see you after school to discuss your study habits."
John sighed in relief, then slumped back in his seat. Someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned to face Brad, the freckled boy sitting behind him.
"Hey, John," Brad whispered. "That was awesome!"
"Yeah," John replied. "Now I just have to think of what I'm going to tell her when she asks why I didn't finish my math assignment!"
Story copyright 2001 by Justin R. Lawfer firstname.lastname@example.org
Illustration copyright 2001 by Cynthia Frederick email@example.com
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