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Posted on January 16, 2013

The following is a story that takes place in the Tagalong universe. It's a very abbreviated piece as it was written for my students and designed to show them the basic structure of a fantasy story where a character is tasked to work with a magical guide in a quest in order to come to a realization about their own mundane circumstances.

My class is reading it next week, deconstructing the plot points and building a version of their own.

Tagalong mines very similar territory but on a larger canvas.

Connor Jones: Hero At Large!
By Brian Clopper

Connor Jones had eaten the berries. His cousin had told him not to. His grandpa had told him strange things would happen.

Connor really liked his grandpa and trusted him. His grandfather had been there for him ever since his mother's accident. His grandfather didn't push him. He knew the Connor needed time to heal. His grandfather homeschooled him on the farm since his mother's death. It helped Connor to feel better. Being around people left him feeling alone.

Today, he was in the kitchen. His grandfather had shown them the magic berries only a few minutes ago and told them they would really be something to taste. He trusted his grandfather. So, he had plopped the berries into his mouth and swallowed them whole.

In seconds, the walls and floor of his grandfather's kitchen evaporated before his eyes. The yellow refrigerator blinked into nothingness. The microwave popped out of existence. Even the caterpillar cookie jar he thought was so cool faded away. His cousin and grandfather also disappeared.

All of it was replaced by a jungle. Surrounding him were leaves of every imaginable color and size. There were leaves shaped like water pitchers, leaves like hammers. There was even a tree whose trunk was bent over and looked suspiciously like an old man hunched over complaining of a back pain.

At his feet stood a very tiny elephant, no bigger than a pillow. It was fiery red and had a temper to match.

"They sent you to help? Oh, great! Apparently, the requirements for a hero have really gone downhill." The elephant's ear flapped oddly when he spoke.

"Wha?" Connor said.

"And he speaks so well too. This ones'a real winner, Marv!"

Connor looked around. Nothing else was in the clearing. "Who are you talking to?"

The elephant looked at him like he had grown two heads. "Marv. He's a brave warrior skeleton type. He's riding on my back right now." The elephant smiled. "He's invisible."

"An invisible skeleton? Does it talk?" asked Connor.

He felt something small land on his shoulder. A voice came from the immediate direction of the shoulder. "Sure can. I speak, Human, Goblin and Demon. And you forgot to call me a warrior. I earned that title by carving up a lot of evil beasts with my sword."

"You mean you have an invisible sword or something?" Connor laughed at the idea.

The invisible skeleton warrior didn't appreciate him laughing. He responded by poking the boy with his sword.

"Ouch! Hey, that's sharp!" howled Connor, attempting to grab the invisible skeleton warrior. It jumped off his shoulder and returned to his elephant friend.

The elephant took control of the conversation. "You aren't much, but you are taller than us, so you can do some good. Come along, it won't take long to help us." The pachyderm made a beeline toward a small path, the only path exiting the clearing that Connor could see.

Once on the path, Connor rattled off many questions. "What is theis place? I want to go back to my grandpa's!"

The invisible skeleton warrior spoke first. "This is Myriad. You are in the land of Mufflewhump. We're all a bit silly here. You've been selected to help us with a wee problem."

"What are you? How did you know I'd show up in that part of the jungle?"

"We are tagalongs. We help young adventurers like yourself be successful in their adventures. Some of us are a bit nicer than others," said the warrior.

"Says the guy who poked him with an invisible sword," said the elephant.

"If I do this quest, you'll send me home?" asked Connor.

"Certainly. Don't want to spend anymore time with such a whiny kid than I have to." The elephant swatted his trunk at Connor's ankle.

"Okay, so what do I have to do?" Connor looked ahead. The path was approaching a large rock wall.

"Your first task is screaming at you from above even as we speak," said the invisible skeleton warrior who had again jumped onto Connor's shoulder.

Connor looked up. Racing toward him were three giant salamanders with flaming heads and large feathery wings. Their eyes, narrow slits, glowed a sickly yellow.

"Those guys there are trying to stop you. Poof Pests is what we call them." The warrior tugged on Connor's ear. "They're wicked nasty."

"What do they do? They look kind of small." The salamanders were no longer than a pencil. He doubted they could cause too much harm.

"Watch and see," said the warrior.

The smaller poof pest lanced toward the elephant, ignoring Connor.

The elephant tried to get out of the way, but was too slow. When the salamander
struck the elephant, both the poof pest and the elephant disappeared in a puff of smoke. Oddly, the sound effect Poof! appeared in colorful letters where they had been. It looked like air graffiti. It only hung there for a few seconds then it too vanished.

"You've got to get them to run into a tree and not us or else you'll get sent off to their slimy nest too!" The skeleton warrior jumped off his shoulders.

"Why can't you help?"

"They can't see me. I can' divert their attention. Not even my neon underwear I'm
wearing is enough to distract them because it's also invisible."

Connor grimaced at that image and was glad the skeleton was invisible. He had a tendency to share what his sister would call TMI.

Connor raced down the path, zigzagging about. He stayed only a few feet ahead of the salamanders. How was he going to get them to run into a tree and go poof? As he raced along, he saw several smaller trees, no bigger than a hand shovel, planted very close to the path's edge. Maybe he could uproot one or two of them as he ran by. He decided to give it a try.

The first tree he reached for almost caused him to be hit by a salamander. he had ducked down to grab at it at the exact moment the poof pest had accelerated to poke at him. The poof pest flew past him and impacted with a large rock. Both the rock and the pest disappeared in the same puff of smoke as before.

Connor kept running. He reached down and this time yanked a tree successfully from the ground. It pulled out of the ground as easy as a carrot from a muddy garden. He held the tree high like a trophy. He whirled around and threw the small tree at the pest. It hit its target and both disappeared with a poof.

Connor fell to his knees and gulped in air. He had run a long distance and was
very out of breath.

He heard footsteps approaching him from behind. He turned an spied nothing on the path. The footsteps grew closer, almost on top of him. Connor realized who had to be the owner of the footsteps. "Okay, skeleton dude, I sure hope that's you."
"You sure run like a rabbit, Connor," said the skeleton.

"How'd you know my name?" asked Connor.

"Well, uh, your grandpa told me. He arranged for this little adventure."

Connor nodded, satisfied with the answer.

"So what's next?" He looked ahead and saw the rock wall was only a few feet
ahead of them. It rose nearly forty feet. He wondered who had stacked all the rocks to make the wall. It reminded him of a huge version of the old farmer's fence that rimmed the edge of his grandfather's property. He also spied a very large polka dot turtle shell resting at the base of the wall. It large enough that he imagined he could even fit in it if he crawled in from the head opening.
"You have to save a turtle," said the skeleton.

Connor rubbed his eyes. "Don't see a turtle. That shell is empty."

"Yeah, its new owner goes by the name of Dalton. He's perched atop that wall in
a shell he's outgrown. He needs to move out of his shell and into something bigger or he could die."

Connor looked up. He could make out the head and neck of a turtle peering over the edge of the wall. "Why won't he?"
"Ask him yourself."

He cupped his hands to help magnify his voice. "Excuse me, Dalton, why
don't you want to switch to a bigger shell?"

The turtle's timid voice drifted down to them. "I'm afraid of change. It's quite
comfortable in my shell. I know every nook and cranny of it. I like knowing what to expect."

Connor frowned. "But you can't lead a great life in a shell that is too small for you. You have to move on." He thought of his mom.

"I don't want to. You can't make me," said the turtle.

Connor imagined his mom looking down on him from Heaven. It made him feel special. "Look, I'll catch you. Just slide out of the old one and we can get you into a shell that will have more room and give you plenty of new nooks and crannies to explore."

"It's hard to move on," said the turtle.

"It is, but you can't play it safe all your life. You have to take a chance." Connor really listened to what he was saying.

"What do you know? You don't have to change shells."

Connor thought, then revealed his response. "Actually, I do know what you're feeling. I know what's like to close yourself off, to not want to move forward." He hesitated, unsure if the turtle was still listening. "If you take this next step, you don't lose, you gain."

It was very quiet for a very long time.

So quiet, Connor could hear his heart pumping.
Finally, the turtle spoke. "Okay, I'll come down. Be sure to catch me, I don't wan to go splat!"
"I will. Jump on three, okay?"

"Okay. One, Two, – -Three!" The turtle sailed over the edge. He landed neatly in Connor's arms.

Connor helped him crawl into his new home. The shell was two sizes too big. The turtle noticed and wasn't happy. "It's too big. I'll never grow to fill it."

"Yes, you will. You have all the time in the world to grow up and you'll never forget your old shell." Connor smiled at the turtle.

The turtle winked back.

A voice from behind him hooted, "Awesome work, Connor! You did it!" The invisible skeleton warrior let out a victory shout.

Connor was about to make a comment, but saw the world around him breaking into raindrops. He was returned to Earth in the exact spot where he had left. He bumped into the kitchen table as the room faded back into existence. His grandfather was sitting at the table, sipping a cup of coffee. His cousin was nowhere to be seen.

"Where's Louie?" asked Connor.

"Sent him home," said his grandpa. "Wanted to hear about your adventure by myself.

Everything go okay." His grandpa fetched him a mug of milk and set it on the table.

Connor slid into the other empty seat and cradled the cup of milk his grandpa had poured for him.

"So?" asked his grandpa.

"Before I tell you about my crazy adventure, I have to say something else."

"I figured as much." his dipped his head to slurp his coffee.

His lips felt puffy. "I don't think I want to stay home and be schooled anymore. I'm ready to go back to real school. I'm ready to be around others."

Grandpa smiled. "That sounds good. You need to move on. Your mama would want you to move on and stop being so shellfish." he winked after his mispronunciation.

"Yeah, I get it," said Connor and he laughed for the first time in a long time as he told his grandfather all about the elephant, the skeleton, the poof pests and the reluctant turtle.


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