"I didn't know there was a creek here."
By this time, Richard, Aurora, and I were deep enough into the forest that Celeste's house was only a hidden picture in the trees. It was warm inside the woods, though there wasn't too much sunlight coming down between the branches. But now, much to Aurora's delight, we had found a creek cutting through the ground, and she was reaching down to touch the cool water. She traced shapes in the water with her finger, as Richard and I watched her.
Aurora then stood up and looked ahead of the creek, noticing in the meantime that there was a wide log crossing the water. "I wonder what's beyond this place," she wondered aloud. But she took a step back, and looked behind at us uncertainly.
"Go ahead, Aurora," Richard urged. "We're coming with you."
Aurora turned back ahead with newfound confidence, and started across the log. Her arms were spread out on either side of her, and her steps were small and precise. Then, taking a deep breath, I began to follow her, mimicking her motions; I guessed that the water wasn't very deep, but I wasn't about to take a swim in it. I could hear Richard's concentrated breaths behind me, and suddenly my own concentration wavered. My foot caught on part of the log, and I tumbled hand-first down into the grass, catching my palms on some sticks that stuck from the dirt. "Ouch!" I spat out on instinct.
A pair of brown shoes stomped onto the ground next to me, and before I knew it, I felt myself being lifted back to my feet.
"Thanks," I said, when Richard let go of my hands. I caught his eyes long enough to see him shrug, but then grin, right before he started after Aurora. And just as quickly, the pain in my hands was numbed, and my lips found a smile on my face.
But then, why couldn't I forget what had happened? I didn't want to, but it was all I could think of when I looked at Richard. I frowned; I didn't want to go on feeling like I couldn't look him in the face without wanting to run away.
I tagged along between the trees, just trying to keep my eye on Aurora. Everything here seemed the same on this side of the creek, but with every step, Aurora grew more and more excited.
"This forest is amazing!" she exclaimed, reaching onto a low tree branch and hoisting herself into the air. She looked like a happy little monkey, swinging from the branch. "It's like a little fairy tale forest you hear about in those stories." Then her face lit up. "Hey, Rich, Chloe, you think there is a fire-breathing dragon somewhere in these woods?"
I smiled sinisterly, causing Aurora to get an uneasy expression. "There could be," I answered. "They could be lingering in these trees as we speak."
Aurora laughed as she jumped down from the branch. She looked all around, as if scouting for something. And with a motion quicker than the way she slapped down cards, she picked up a stick, brandishing it like a sword. With one hand, she swept her hair back from her face, and took her stance with both feet wide apart. Then she turned around swiftly, gesturing for me and Richard to follow her.
There before her, stood an enormous cluster of trees that seemed to gather in a circle. But when she walked inside, looking around in all her rapture, she tripped and fell with a high yelp.
"Aurora!" Richard and I raced over to her, where she was still on her behind in the grass. "Are you okay?" I asked, helping her up.
"I think," Aurora answered as she clenched her teeth together. Tears brimmed at her eyes, and her face turned a bright shade of red as she looked at her knee, which was pink from her fall. Gently, I began to rub it, feeling the raw skin. Aurora winced and grunted, trying to hold back more tears.
"What happened?" Richard asked, looking around at where Aurora had fallen.
"I tripped on that," Aurora said, pointing at something sticking up out of the ground. It looked like a triangle of orange cardboard, about an inch thick.
Curious, I touched the cardboard. It felt rough, like sandpaper, and felt a little papery along the width.
So, I took a firm grip on it, and pulled. It must have been very far down, because it took a great amount of strength to pull it out another few inches—until it got stuck. Aurora, who had joined me, pulled back as far as she could, and suddenly went flying backwards when the object popped out of the ground.
"Good job, Aurora," Richard said. "Let's see what this is."
Aurora reached for the old, scratched object and picked it up to show us.
"A book?" she asked, looking it up and down.
Richard dusted off the dirty cover, revealing the title.
"Of Mice and Men," he read, his face lighting up slightly.
I had the same reaction. I remembered reading that book a long time ago. It had even been part of the secret adventures that Richard and I had when we were younger. Actually, I recalled every detail—how we had crossed into the Salinas Valley, and had met the farmhands that inhabited the setting. We'd barely escaped with our lives when a gunfight had begun, and yet I found I was fond of that venture.
Then, Richard handed me the book. "Chloe, do you remember this?" he whispered.
I raised one eyebrow in his direction. "If you're talking about what I think you are, then I do." Richard winked back at me.
"What are you guys talking about?" Aurora interrupted.
I held the book out to her, and she took it gently. "Aurora," I began, "do you think you would ever want to read this book?"
Once more she looked it over and under, even opening the cover to flip through the pages. Dust and sand fell from the binding, getting onto her sundress. But Aurora seemed too preoccupied to care if her clothes got dirty. And the further that she looked into the book, the bigger her eyes became, and the wider her mouth opened.
"Aurora?" Richard prompted her.
Finally, she closed the book. "Wow," she breathed. "I've never seen a book like this."
"I don't think any of us have," said Richard with a slow shake of his head.
Aurora zipped her eyes around the place where she had tripped. As she got up to move around, she clutched the copy of Of Mice and Men close to her side. "I wonder if there are more of them around here," she said lowly. "And, if there are, I think we should keep them! We could read them together! The three of us!"
Richard and I looked at each other. Though it took me a second, I could tell what sorts of thoughts were whirring across his mind. A smile was starting to inch across his face, and from the corner of my eye, I could see his hand reaching towards his pocket, where I knew the compass was. Almost instinctively, my hand reached to my chest, and my heart jolted when I felt my pendant, though not from feeling it there. Adrenaline coursed through me, and a collection of memories and excitement banged me hard enough that I stopped breathing for a moment.
Judging from Aurora's tiny squeal of excitement, I knew Richard had consented to her request.
And then she squealed again, when something fluttered out from the book to the ground. She bent down and picked it up. It was just as weathered and dirty as it's book home, even tearing at the center crease. Squinting her eyes, Aurora unfolded the paper, and began to read:
"To Whom It May Concern,
Well, first of all, congratulations upon your discovery. You have uncovered a beautiful book with a classic story waiting inside for you to endure. But as these are the years where the magic of books has about been forgotten, I ask you to endure the adventures these stories will take you on. As my wife and I discovered, they allow us to do the impossible: slay a dragon, cast a magic spell, accomplish dreams, travel through time, and live a happily ever after.
So, as of these books being very old, I ask you to please take care of them as though they were your own children and cherish them forever as I did. For I know they will bring you memories and journeys that you shall never forget."
It was quiet after Aurora finished reading, except for the forest bending with the elements. All three of us were breathless in rapture to have made a discovery such as this. I mean, from what the note read, we were about to uncover some stories that probably hadn't been read from a real book since who knows when!
"There's no name?" Richard asked, craning his head to look at the script on the paper.
Aurora shook her head, speechless.
"Hmm," I said. "If I didn't know better, I would say that someone like Mr. Dewey would have pulled off this kind of stunt."
"Who?" asked Aurora.
"He was my grandfather," I explained. "He used to run the library where Richard and I grew up. He died three years ago, but he was the one who gave me my gold pendant, and the silver compass to Richard." I held out my pendant in my palm, and Aurora stroked it with her finger.
"But…why would someone bury books?" she pondered aloud, eyeing the book in her hand.
Richard picked up the note. "Beats me, Aurora," he answered. "But I still think leaving behind these books was a wise thing to do—so someone else could find them someday."
Aurora opened the book again, and she swept her hands across the pages to get rid of all the dust. "Do you guys know anything about this book?" Aurora wanted to know, holding it in front of me and Richard. "Is it actually about mice?"
"Well," I answered. "it's actually a story of two men in the 1930's, and how they try to accomplish their dream of finding a home through all their struggles."
Aurora's lips curled up again, but then, her eyes wandered from the book to the ground, where she raised a pointing finger. "What's that over there?"
Our gazes moved from her point to another corner of cardboard pointing up out of the ground.
Taking it in my hands, I pulled and pulled until it popped out of the dirt.
"To Kill a Mockingbird," Aurora read, dusting off the book slightly.
Richard opened the back cover and found yet another note tucked into the binding; also tearing. When he unfolded it, it said the very same thing that the first note had said.
Again, Aurora's eyes were widening as she gazed at the book for a long time. "I don't think I've heard of this one either," she said.
"Again, it's a classic book about the 1930's," I replied. "It's the story of a girl's childhood in the South during the days when black people were treated badly and when she learns some important lessons about life from her brother and her father."
Aurora gave me a weird look. "That doesn't sound as interesting as the other book," she said.
"It's just as good as the other one, in my opinion," I added. "Maybe someday if you read it, you will like it just as much as I did."
"Well, if what the note said is true, we all may have some real adventures together." Aurora put the book down, and started to pull at yet another cover sticking out of the dirt. And this time, Richard and I didn't wait to help her.