An unnatural amount of light, more than the lantern could emit, filled the surrounding space revealing a cartoon character that towered above his own average height. Arjen was incredulous at the ridiculous image before him. It was a stuffed toy from a well known child’s book, dressed like a cross between a circus clown and a matador. He wore a tight red sequin jacket and wild checkered pants. It had an outsized head with a mop of yam colored yarn for hair, a wide plump grin and big blue eyes with white pupils. The artist should have drawn the pupils in black he corrected in an aside. The disproportionally large hands were sheathed in purple mittens.
At first he seemed benign with his goofy grin. Arjen turned and smiled at the girl there was nothing to be afraid of. He wondered how this nonsensical character could be so alarming to her. Children sometimes find terror in the most innocuous things and as an adult he had forgotten that.
The character “Poppy”- prone to pratfalls, inane suggestions and dumb explanations to the goings on of the hero of the book, was truly a harmless figure. When Arjen turned back to him however, his heart leapt in fear equal to the little girl.
The expression on the face had changed, it was now contorted into an expression of fierce menace. The mouth was open, showing a jagged line of sharp teeth like a shark’s. Arjen was on guard and manged to step aside as the monster reached out with a massive paw and tried to grab him. He avoided the grasp easily because the monster- for it truly resembled one now-moved slowly as if underwater. It was utterly silent, the only sound was Arjen’s panting and shuffling feet. He continued to evade the clutching; guiding it away from his original prey while trying to figure out how to defeat it. He tried to remember the story for some clue to a weakness. He had read it to one of Laura’s nieces and cursed himself for not being as absorbed in it as Simone.
A memory came to him in a flash, water. The character hated water so of course he was dumped in it at every opportunity by his companions. It was funny until he fell in a lake over his head and they discovered he couldn’t swim. There was a moral in the episode but right now all Arjen cared about was finding a substantial body of water.
Since thought were actions in dreams, he thought of a vast bottomless lake but nothing happened. The creature continued his lumbering advance.
Damn, he didn’t have the will to change the dream since it was the child who created this reality. Arjen dodged sideways, keeping Poppy at bay while getting close enough to call out to the child.
“Water, you must think of water like a lake, an ocean, a river, anything.” but she only shook her head vigorously, burying her face in her hands.
The sick grinning doll swung at Arjen and he ducked just in time, feeling his hair brushed. He shifted in the other direction hoping to move the goliath away from the trembling girl rooted to the spot in shock. He tried to stimulate her imagination once more.
“I would love to take you for a ride in a rowboat out on a lake, where the water is cold and deep and gold fish swim and jump about. We could feed them too.” he said in a pleasant cojoling voice as he ducked another swing. He was exhausted from his exertions causing him to trip on a chunk of fallen stone and fall on the floor, knocking the lamp out of his hand. To his surprise the doll stopped, suddenly uninterested in him and headed to the girl curled on the floor.
“Oh no you don’t” Arjen jumped up and heaved the irksome stone at Poppy but it had no effect on him.
He picked up the lantern to light his way back when another flash of insight came. Poppy, like all the other characters, except the hero of the story, was a plush toy made of cloth and stuffed with hay.
Arjen broke the glass shade over his knee and uncapped the fuel tank. He turned the flame up as high as possible and sloshed the kerosene all over, the strong smell almost overwhelming him, until the whole thing ignited then hurled it as hard as he could at the backside of gaudy toy. That did the trick. He burst into flames, his coat and hair drenched in kerosene. It waved it’s stubby ineffective arms around in vain. Arjen scooped up the girl in his arms, feeling her heart pound madly as he held her close, and put as much distance as he could between them and the engulfed figure. The heat and fire lit up the vast hall, casting harsh shadows over the sculptured walls and columns. The thing burned for a long time, too long he figured and looked at the girl in his embrace, commanding her.
“Let it rain a river and wash the monster away.” she understood at last and nodded. They were immediately inundated in a downpour. The water snuffed out the fire, leaving a mass of sodden smoldering, straw in a heap.
The sky appeared and lighted to a gray overcast as the rain came down in sheets, flooding the place. A moment later the rain ceased as abruptly as it started and the clouds parted letting the sun come out dazzling brightly. Arjen and the girl were now in a row boat, she held an immense parasol, while he was dressed like a Glouster fisherman in yellow raincoat and wide brimmed hat. He was amused at the absurd setting. The heap of blackened material disappeared under the water, leaving the faint smell of a burnt hay behind.
“Very good princess”Arjen said formally as he rowed the boat across the water.
“Who are you Monsieur hero?” her voice pitched full of joy. Arjen allowed a rare smile to spread across his face.
“Your humble servant.”