Adventures in Akadia
The forest felt different when Aurelia wasn’t there. Even though the path was clear and easy to follow, they were much less sure of their ability to complete the journey.
Jamari, who was leading the group, attempted to break the tension. "So, do you guys have any guesses what your challenge is going to be?"
The question hung in the air, but no one responded. Everyone else had been thinking about the challenges, but not about what their specific task might be. Elizabeth was still entirely focused on whether her performance on the challenge would be “good enough”. Gabriela was preoccupied with Aurelia's words: For some children that visit Akadia, the most difficult part about the challenge is accepting the lesson that needs to be learned. Lukas, knowing that they wouldn’t be told what the challenge was until the moment came, saw no point in making guesses.
When their silence persisted, Jamari glanced back to make sure the others were still with him. He decided to continue the conversation on his own, "Well, mine better be something fun. I don't want it to be boring."
Elizabeth’s worries turned into frustration toward Jamari, "Weren't you listening? Aurelia said the challenge will help us with something we need to do better. So maybe your challenge will be something about not always goofing off."
This struck a nerve and Jamari decided to respond with the first thing that came to his mind, "You suck the fun out of everything!”
"I do not!" Elizabeth fired back, hurt evident in her voice.
Jamari doubled-down, "Do too! Maybe your challenge needs to teach you how to not be so boring!"
Tears welled up in Elizabeth’s eyes. She slowed down, allowing Gabriela and Lukas to walk ahead. An uncomfortable silence came over the group and it persisted for much of the afternoon.
As the hours passed, Gabriela wondered what she could say to get the group talking and being friends again. Struggling to think of the right words, she decided to just start talking and hope that something good might come out of her mouth. As she took in a breath to speak, a familiar noise from the forest interrupted her.
Much like before, the sounds of movement in the trees and on the ground rapidly closed in from every direction. High-pitched giggles filled the air, growing so boisterous that the kids would have needed to shout in order to hear one another. The commotion carried on for a full minute and, unlike before, didn’t retreat.
Even though Aurelia had explained what, or rather who, was the source of this ruckus, the children couldn't help feeling uneasy. Their gazes darted in all directions and up into the treetops, but they couldn’t see anything. They each wondered how it was possible to not be able to see something that was making so much noise. Gabriela, seeing an opportunity to break the silence among the group, decided to initiate a conversation with the visitors.
"Excuse me?" she called out into the forest.
The giggling stopped abruptly. It felt impossibly quiet given how loud it had been just a moment before. Caught off guard by the sudden silence, Gabriela took a hesitant half-step backward, her eyes scanning the trees above. The other children watched her closely, waiting for her next words.
"Um, hi," Gabriela began awkwardly. Unsure of what to say next, she asked the first thing that came to her mind, "Are you the Quotidians?"
The forest remained silent. Gabriela looked around the forest again, wondering if the Quotidians had retreated or somehow disappeared. She took a breath and was reminded of Aurelia’s encouragement to trust the Quotidians. Pointing to herself and the other kids, she continued, “We are Aurelia’s friends. She told us you can help us get ready for our challenges.” She paused and her voice became more unsure as she asked, “Will you help us?”
The forest erupted into a burst of celebration. All at once, Quotidians popped out from behind every plant, tree, or branch that was big enough to conceal them. As a large group ran toward the children from the forest, dozens more were playfully swinging down from the forest canopy. This sudden rush of unfamiliar figures would normally be a frightening thing, but Quotidians were simply too tiny and adorable to be threatening. They were especially small compared to the children, the tallest barely reaching their waist. Their clothing was simple and appeared hand-made. They wore pointed hats that appeared too large for their heads, drooping down to partially cover their eyes and ears. The males had thick beards, some of them stretching all the way down to their feet.
As the Quotidians gathered around the children, their excitement gradually settled and the commotion hushed. An elderly Quotidian stepped forward and, with a gentle prod of his walking stick to Gabriela’s leg, asked, "Who you? Who you?"
The children smiled at the sound of his sweet high-pitched voice.
Gabriela placed her hand over her chest and replied, "My name is Gabriela."
The elderly Quotidian turned to the other Quotidians and, while raising his stick, exclaimed, "Gabby!"
In unison, every Quotidian in the forest shouted, "Gabby!" At first, Gabriela was confused with what had just happened. But after a moment of looking into the eyes of the Quotidians around her, she realized they had just decided what they were going to call her.
The Quotidian waddled to face Elizabeth and asked, "Who you?"
Elizabeth giggled and responded, "My name is Elizabeth."
The Quotidian stroked his beard for a moment, raised his walking stick and shouted, "Lizzy!"
The others cheered “Lizzy” back. Elizabeth’s heart swelled and she responded with a giant smile.
The older Quotidian turned to Jamari, repeating his question, "Who you?"
"I'm Jamari," he replied, curious what they would decide to do with his name.
The Quotidian looked over Jamari and then, turning to the other Quotidians, called out, "Jammy!"
The Quotidians responded with a rousing, “Jammy!”
The other three children laughed. Jamari wasn’t sure how he felt about his name. It did kind of sound like “jam”, like dunking a basketball, but it also sounded a whole lot like the word “jammies”.
Finally, the Quotidian came to Lukas and asked, "Who you?"
Reluctantly, Lukas replied, "I'm Lukas."
Waving his stick, the Quotidian called out, "Lukey!" The rest of the Quotidians echoed in unison, accepting the name.
Lukas let out a sigh of relief. After hearing the name they gave Jamari, he was worried the Quotidians might call him something like “Lammy” or “Lulu”.
The older Quotidian moved to once again face Gabriela. He held his hand up to his chest, copying Gabriela’s motion from earlier, and said, “Wink.”
“Huh? What is he saying?” Jamari asked the other children.
The Quotidian smiled and motioned again to his chest while saying, “Me Wink.”
Elizabeth became excited as she understood and cried out, “Oh, that’s your name!”
Wink smiled and nodded.
Gabriela spoke up, “Aurelia told us that you can help us get ready for the challenges. Will you help us?”
Wink replied, “Oooh, yeah! Yeah! Relly like we help.”
At the mention of Relly, their name for Aurelia, the Quotidians exchanged happy whispers like “Me likey Relly!” “Relly so nice!” and “Relly make yummies!”
Elizabeth followed up on Gabriela’s first question. “What are we supposed to do to get ready for our challenge?”
Wink looked deeply into Elizabeth’s eyes as he once again stroked his beard. After a moment he asked, “You have map?”
Lukas quickly realized that he was talking about the map from Aurelia.
“I have it,” Lukas said, sliding his bag off of his back and pulling out the map. He unrolled the map and set it down in front of Wink, grabbing some nearby rocks to hold down the edges.
Wink stepped right in front of the map. He set his hands on top of his walking stick and looked closely over the drawing of Akadia.
Moving his walking stick to his right hand, he pointed at the mountain range near Aurelia’s home. “You almos’ here. These the Big Rocks.”
Looking up at the children he continued, “This hard. Pointy. Big climbs.” Then he used his stick to point at them each in turn. “You need be friends to do.”
Gabriela saw this as her opportunity to try and make things right in the group. Already knowing the answer, she asked Wink, “So you’re saying the only way to pass these mountains is to help each other?”
Wink nodded. “These rocks no do alone. Only wif friends.”
Feeling somewhat embarrassed with how they had acted before, Elizabeth and Jamari both looked toward the ground. They didn’t know if Wink was talking directly to them, but it felt like he was. They both knew they had been unkind, but they weren’t sure what to do about it.
Gabriela noticed the changed demeanor in Elizabeth and Jamari. She turned back to Wink and asked, “Can you help us get through the mountains?”
Before answering, Wink looked up into the trees to get a sense of where the sun was in the sky.
“Yes. We help. We go after new day. New day Mystiboo! You come Mystiboo!”
The rest of the Quotidians had an immediate and joyful reaction to the word “Mystiboo”. They each began chattering wildly, their voices reaching an even higher pitch. Each of them seemed to be wanting to tell the children how wonderful Mystiboo was. In an attempt to be the one that had their attention, some Quotidians even began to climb the children. With everyone talking at once, it was impossible to understand what any of them were saying.
“Hold on,” Jamari said, taking a young Quotidian off his head and placing it on the ground, “what is Mystiboo?”