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Adventures in Akadia

Chapter 24

The Challenges


     As the sun peeked through the windows of their cozy cottages, the kids were woken up by the lively sound of a bugle echoing through the village. It was somehow even louder than the one that had woken them on the morning of Mystiboo. 

     "I guess this is how all Quotidians wake up," Jamari groaned, stretching his arms and rubbing his sleepy eyes. 

     Lukas, with a pillow pressed against his face to block out the noise, commented in a muffled voice, “It sure sounds that way.”

     Once they were fully awake, the children wasted no time getting ready. They hurriedly emerged from their cottages to find the streets already bustling with Quotidians, all heading in the same direction. Spotting Wink nearby, they scampered over to him, curious about the commotion. 

     "Where's everyone going, Wink?" Elizabeth asked, her sleepy eyes wide with wonder.

     "Mornin', kiddos!" Wink greeted them cheerfully, stirring a large pot of slurpylurp, "They goin’ to the challenges of course!" he explained with a grin.

     "Already?" Lukas exclaimed, a hint of nervousness in his voice. 

     Wink nodded enthusiastically, "They be wantin’ good seats!" he chuckled. 

     As Wink dished out the slurpylurp, the familiar and sweet aroma wafted through the air. 

     Wink encouraged the kids to eat up, declaring, "It's a big day!" 

     This felt like a bit of an understatement to the kids. Everything they had been doing in Akadia was leading up to today. Despite the jitters brought on by this thought, slurpylurp was just too good to pass up and they eagerly tucked into their breakfast.

     As the children were enjoying their food, they noticed Aurelia walking up the road towards them, heading in the opposite direction of all the Quotidians. She waved happily to the Quotidians shouting greetings like, “Hiya Relly!” and “Mornin’ Relly!” 

     When Aurelia finally reached the spot where the kids were eating, she greeted them cheerfully, “Good morning, kids! Good morning, Wink!” 

     Wink replied, “Good mornin’, Relly! You be wantin’ some slurpy-lurp?” 

     “Oh, yes!” Aurelia exclaimed, “I love your slurpylurp!” 

     Wink handed her a bowl, and after taking a few bites, Aurelia asked, “How is everyone feeling?” 

     “Good,” Jamari replied as he took a big bite. 

     Gabriela followed up with, “Yeah, me too.” 

     “I’m feeling mostly good, but a little nervous,” Elizabeth admitted. 

     Lukas nodded, showing his agreement with each of the others.

     "Where did you go?" Elizabeth asked, curious where Aurelia had been that morning.

     "I was helping get things ready for the challenges," Aurelia answered with a grin.

     "Will you tell us what our challenges are now?" Jamari said as he increased the pitch of his voice, showing that he was joking and that he knew he wasn’t going to be getting an answer.

     Aurelia chuckled, shaking her head, and answered playfully, "Nope. You'll know soon enough!"

     Once the breakfast was cleared away, Wink picked up his walking stick and declared, "Okeekay, let's go!"

     Joining the flood of Quotidians on the road, the kids made their way toward the stadium. As they crested a hill, the stadium came into view—a massive wooden structure that looked like it could fit thousands of Quotidians.

     To enter the stadium, they passed through an enormous tunnel. While inside, the noise from the crowd was muffled, but as they emerged into the stadium, the cheers and excitement became almost deafening. The Quotidians, noticing the kids’ arrival, cheered even louder.

     "They're here!" echoed through the crowd, along with shouts of "It's the kiddos!"

     Guided by Aurelia and Wink, the children climbed a few steps to the front row. They settled into their seats nervously, waiting for the challenges to begin. 

     As the kids made eye contact with Aurelia, she signaled to them them with the breathing exercise they had practiced, expanding and deflating an imaginary bubblyball with her hands. When the last Quotidians found their seats, Aurelia rose and descended the steps toward the field. Throughout the stadium, Quotidians chatted amongst themselves, using the name "Relly" in their conversations. 

     When Aurelia reached the center of the field, she raised her hands to call for everyone's attention. The stadium fell into a quiet hush. 

     "Welcome, everyone!" Aurelia called out in a clear voice. "We have four wonderful kids here today, ready to complete their challenges!" The Quotidians erupted into cheers, then quickly quieted down again. 

     "I am so proud of each of them," Aurelia continued. "They have worked incredibly hard during their time in Akadia, and each of them has grown so much." Another round of applause echoed through the stadium. 

     "Let the challenges begin!" Aurelia declared. The Quotidians cheered once more. Then, she turned her gaze toward the kids and extended her hand, "First, we will have Elizabeth complete her challenge."

     Elizabeth’s stomach hit the floor as she heard her name. She took a deep breath and stepped forward, feeling a little encouraged as the Quotidians cheered and many shouted “Lizzy!”

     As she walked out onto the field toward Aurelia, she noticed a small group of young Quotidians also walking out onto the field.

     As she approached, Aurelia asked, “Are you ready, Elizabeth?”

     Elizabeth nodded.

     Aurelia then explained, “Here is your challenge. We want you to teach these young Quotidians how to do a chasse.”

     Elizabeth was stunned. She certainly didn’t expect to hear that her challenge was to teach a dance move that she already knew really well. Suddenly, she felt a burst of confidence.

     She looked at the young Quotidians and said, “Okay, I can do this. This is really easy. Just watch me.”

     Elizabeth demonstrated the dance move for the Quotidians. It was very graceful and oos and ahhs could be heard throughout the stadium. The young Quotidians she was going to teach had wide eyes of amazement and began to clap.

     This gave Elizabeth another boost of confidence until she watched the first attempt of the Quotidians. Many of them struggled to coordinate their feet, and some ended up falling on the ground. Elizabeth realized this challenge might be a little harder than she expected.

     She tried to break down the chasse into smaller steps that they could understand. She worked with them individually and they were making good progress. Unfortunately, some of the Quotidians were getting frustrated that they couldn’t do it as nicely as Elizabeth.

     After making a really good attempt at the dance move, one Quotidian sat down on the ground and grumbled, ”It no good!” while folding their arms.

     Elizabeth kneeled down beside them and said, “Oh, don’t say that. It was very good. It doesn’t need to be perfect to be good. You just need to do your best.”

     The frown on the little Quotidian melted away and they gave a knowing grin toward Elizabeth. Confused, Elizabeth looked around and noticed everyone else had the same look. Everyone was smiling at her like they were all in on a secret that she didn’t know about.

     “What?” Elizabeth asked nervously.

     “What did you just say?” Aurelia asked gently.

     “I was just saying that it didn’t need to be per…” Elizabeth stopped mid-sentence. She now understood what the challenge was meant to teach her.

     From the outside, it was easy to see why the Quotidians shouldn’t expect themselves to do something perfectly, especially on the first try.

     She now realized how often she had been unfair to herself or expected too much.

     Elizabeth looked to Aurelia and said, “The challenge wasn’t actually to teach them to dance, was it?”

     Aurelia smiled and shook her head, “What do you think it was?”

     Elizabeth, still kneeling down by the Quotidian, thought for a moment and then said, “Things don’t need to be perfect to be good. The best I can do will always be good enough.”

     Aurelia smiled even wider and said, “Excellent, Elizabeth. Excellent!”

     The Quotidians cheered, and Aurelia motioned for Elizabeth to rejoin the others. A sense of accomplishment swelled in Elizabeth as she returned to her seat.

      After a moment, Aurelia announced, “Next, we will have Lukas!”

     Lukas stepped onto the field, still without a clue of what his challenge might be. He stood for a moment, alone in the field, wondering what was supposed to happen next. Suddenly, there came a loud growl from the stadium tunnel. Lukas' heart skipped a beat. Whatever was in the tunnel sounded big. What was the challenge? Was he going to have to fight whatever was about to come out of the tunnel?

     A deafening squawk filled the air, and Lukas began to feel afraid. He quickly looked around to see if there was anything close by that he could use to defend himself. To his surprise, the creature that bounded out of the tunnel wasn't at all what he expected. It was smaller, much smaller, than it had sounded. It was a peculiar little bird, looking like a mix of a chicken and an ostrich, with brown feathers sticking out in all directions.

     "What in the world?" Lukas muttered to himself.

     Lukas then observed a few Quotidians bringing out a small crate—the creature's cage. It became clear that his challenge was not to fight the animal, but to catch it.

     Aurelia approached Lukas, a knowing smile on her face, "Do you got the idea, Lukas?" she asked.

     Lukas nodded, “I think so. What exactly is that thing?" he asked.

     "Well you’ve heard of big blueys, right?" she asked.

     Lukas nodded.

     "Well, they call this one a little browny," Aurelia chuckled before patting Lukas on the back and saying, “Good luck.” She then returned to her seat, leaving Lukas to think about how to catch the bird.

     Lukas looked around the stadium again, hoping to see something that would help him catch the fast little bird.       But there was nothing around, just open space. Lukas scratched his head, wondering what to do next.

     Out of ideas, Lukas decided to simply chase after the little browny, hoping to outrun it. But the little browny proved to be much too fast! It zoomed around the stadium, squawking and kicking up dust. Lukas just couldn't keep up.

     Puffing and panting, Lukas knew he needed a new plan. He thought maybe he could sneak up on the little browny. But every time he got close, the bird would start to run away. Lukas would try lunging at the bird, but would end up flopping onto the ground.

     After a while, he was left exhausted, feeling frustrated, and out of ideas. As Lukas watched the little browny pecking at the ground he sighed, "There’s no way I can get that bird in its cage on my own."

     Then it hit him. He knew what his real challenge was. He stood up, wiping the dust off his pants and walked back to where the other kids were sitting. 

     As he walked back, the Quotidians in the stands began to worry that he might be quitting the challenge.

     "Don't give up, Lukey," you could hear one murmur. 

     “Keep goin’, Lukey,” whispered another.

     Seeing Lukas walking toward them, the other kids were also a bit worried. 

     "What's wrong, Lukas?" Elizabeth asked.

     He took a moment, then replied, "Nothing." There was a long pause before he continued, "I think I know what my challenge is."

     "To catch the bird, right?" Jamari guessed.

     Lukas hesitated before explaining, ”Sort of,” he began, “But I don’t think there is any way for me to catch it alone.” He paused again, “I think my challenge is to ask for help.”

     There was one final pause before he asked, “Will you guys help me?”

     Elizabeth looked to Aurelia and eagerly asked, "Can we do that? Can we help him?"

     Aurelia smiled and gave a single nod. 

     Without wasting a moment, the others rushed down to join Lukas.

     Jamari gave Lukas a pat on the back and said, “We’ll help you catch that crazy chicken. What’s the plan?”

     Lukas thought for a moment. "Elizabeth, you go stand next to the cage. Be ready to close the door and latch it once we get it inside." 

     "And what about us?" Gabriela asked.

     Lukas explained, “The three of us will stand with our arms out, trying to move the bird toward the cage. It can’t get by all of us.”

     "Sounds good," Jamari said enthusiastically.

     Elizabeth ran to her position and the others stood on the far side of the bird, making themselves as long as they could. They immediately started trying to move the little browny toward the cage. It proved to be difficult and the little browny managed to escape a few times.

     But on the third try, they were able to keep it from escaping, and eventually got the little browny to the point where it decided to run back into its cage. Elizabeth quickly shut the door and latched it.

     The Quotidians erupted into cheers, and each of the kids ran up to give Lukas a high five or a fist bump.

Aurelia commended their efforts and then announced Jamari's challenge would be next.

     The crowd erupted into cheers of, "Jammy!"

     Jamari stayed behind in the challenge area while the others went back to their seats. A group of Quotidians had emerged and were busily setting up a large, sturdy table. On top of it, two big tubs gleamed—one filled with bubbly, soapy water, and the other with clear, fresh water for rinsing. Beside the tubs sat a sponge, a soft, fluffy drying cloth, and a large stack of dirty dishes.

     "You gotta be kidding me," Jamari muttered to himself, a hint of disbelief in his voice. This couldn't be his challenge, could it? Washing dishes? Jamari wasn't mad or upset, but he sure wasn't expecting something so... ordinary. This didn't feel like a challenge at all; it felt more like a chore.

     With a sigh, Jamari shrugged his shoulders and rolled up his sleeves, getting ready to dive in and get started.

But as he began scrubbing away at the towering stack of dishes, a little voice whispered in his mind: Maybe, just maybe, there was more to this than meets the eye. He thought back to when he was washing dishes on Mystiboo. The simple melody sung to him by one of the Quotidians entered his mind:


Jammy, wisten, here da key,

Work be fun fun, just you see.

Sing a song, giggles start,

Work wif joy, wif your heart.


     The tune echoed in Jamari's head, mingling with the clatter of plates and the splash of water. Could it be that the true challenge wasn't just about finishing the job, but about how he did it? 

     But how could he wash the dishes differently? No matter what, they still needed to be washed and rinsed. Then he thought about the song's words: "sing a song, giggles start, work with joy, with your heart."

     Jamari still wasn't too keen on singing out loud, especially with all the Quotidians watching. But maybe humming wouldn't be so bad. So, he started to hum the simple melody from the song. And as he did, a playful energy sparked inside him.

     Instead of scrubbing in the same old way, he got creative. With each dish, he tried a new trick to get a dish into the rinsing tub—maybe a pass behind his back or a throw between his legs. And as he worked, he found himself whistling the melody of the song, adding a touch of joy to the task.

     As he got more creative, the Quotidians cheered him on. Their encouragement fueled Jamari's fun, and he kept finding new ways to turn the chore into a game.

     Before he knew it, he was drying the dishes with a grin on his face, stacking them neatly one by one. Something inside him had changed. Instead of just rushing to finish, he wanted to do a good job and enjoy it along the way.

     With the final plate stacked, the Quotidians erupted into cheers, chanting, "Jammy! Jammy! Jammy!"

Beaming with pride, Jamari dried off his hands and headed back to join the others. As he passed Aurelia, she gave him a high five and said, "Great job, Jamari!"

     When the chanting settled down, Aurelia announced, “and finally, we have Gabriela!”

“Gabby!” the Quotidians cheered.

     As Gabriela stepped forward and Jamari’s challenge was cleared, she noticed the Quotidians bringing out just one item. As they set it up, she realized it was a door. But this wasn't just any door. It had a shiny silver doorknob and pretty pink flowers painted on it, each with a sunny yellow center. It looked just like the door to her old bedroom. After a moment, the door began to glow just like the door that brought them to Akadia.

The stadium grew so quiet that Gabriela could hear her own heartbeat.

     Confused, she looked around, unsure of what she was supposed to do. Then, she felt Aurelia's comforting hand on her back, but Aurelia didn't say a word. 

     "I don’t understand," Gabriela said. "That's the door to my old bedroom, but what am I supposed to do?"

     In a gentle voice, Aurelia explained, "Gabriela, your challenge is to choose the life you want. This door has the magic to take you back to your old life. But if you choose to go through it, you wouldn’t be able to take any of the memories since you moved."

     Gabriela's heart raced with uncertainty, "So I won’t remember any of it? Akadia? You? Barky? Wink? The Quotidians?" she asked, tears welling in her eyes.

     With a tear in her own eye, Aurelia nodded sadly, "That's right," she said softly. 

     Gabriela turned to her new friends, Elizabeth, Jamari, and Lukas, “and I won’t remember them either?” 

     Aurelia softly shook her head.

     With trembling hands, Gabriela stepped forward and reached for the handle, feeling the weight of her decision. She gently touched the door with her other hand, her mind racing with memories of both her old home but also of everything that had happened since her family had moved.

     Gabriela took a deep breath and closed her eyes, trying to imagine what life would be like if she went through the door. She thought about her room, her school, her family, and her old friends. But then she thought about Akadia, the adventures she had, the friends she had made, and everything this life could become.

     Finally, with tears still on her cheeks, Gabriela turned back to Aurelia and gave a small smile, "I choose to stay," she said softly, "This is where I’m supposed to be." 

     As Gabriela made her decision, the magic of the door slowly faded away, returning it to its normal appearance. Gabriela moved in to hug Aurelia tightly, her tears a mix of sadness and joy. Elizabeth rushed over to join the hug, followed by Jamari and Lukas. With the Quotidians chanting, "kiddos! kiddos! kiddos!" in the background, Gabriela felt a sense of peace wash over her. There would always be a piece of her that missed where she had grown up, but this was home now.

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