Fire of Norea novel excerpt: Hanging out with Robin Goodfellow

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Excerpt from “1993”, in which Norea, about 10 years old, was given a sleep aid before running away from home. After a particularly bizarre dream involving a talking praying mantis, she wakes again, perhaps still inside a dream:

Norea rubbed her eyes.

“Speak very quietly now,” a warm voice softly instructed her.

“Why?” She shook her head to clear it. “Did I fall asleep in the library again? I’ve never been to a public library, but I often nap in our library at home.” She touched the ground and paused when she felt the hard gravel and damp grass of the parking lot. “This isn’t the library.”

“Perhaps. It may be that you are sleeping in the library. Or that you are sleeping in the car. Or perhaps you’re in bed and never left your home in the castle. Regardless of where you are sleeping, dear princess, rest assured all your caterwauling will’ve aroused you presently if you don’t take to speaking quietly…and then it will all be over. Do you understand?”

Norea rubbed her temples and shook her drug-addled head. “Of course not,” she said. “At least not until you’ve explained it to me as you would like for me to understand it.” She looked up and saw a tall, lovely youth with pale skin, ruddy cheeks, a bright, warm smile of perfect teeth and soft, dark curls falling about his shoulders. Squared, dark-framed glasses rested on the ridge of his long, narrow nose, making his eyes look larger. He wore a snug, dark red blazer without a shirt, revealing glimpses of his slender torso. His fitted, charcoal-colored slacks looked quite expensive and his wine-colored leather shoes had pointed toes. Small silver rings adorned his slender, delicate fingers and two stout horns curled about his temple as though he were a young ram. “Are you telling me this is just another dream? I’m beginning to wonder just what the doctor gave me last night!”

The young man slapped his hands together. “Oh, none of this is real, if that’s what you’re asking. You of all people should realize that by now. But if you prefer to call it a dream, I see no reason why I should be one to disagree.”

Norea: “I’m not sure. Do I prefer to call this a dream?”

“How might one prefer one thing over another, when no choice can be made? After all,

All that we see or seem

            Is but a dream within a dream.

He offered his slender hand. “Come with me, so that we may dream this dream together.”

Norea studied his face, but did not accept his hand. “I’m still asleep, then? Is that what you’re saying?”

He nodded slowly, again offering his hand. “You’ve been asleep for a very long time, and I daresay I’m not the one who would have you awaken.”

Norea tilted her head to the side. “And why should that be? You’re not making very much sense, you know. Even a character in a dream must make some kind of sense.”

“A character—? Let me explain it plainly, then: if I am only a character in your dream, it should be quite obvious that if you were to wake up, then—poof!—I’d go out, much like a match in a gale storm! I’d rather that not happen to me.”

“So you are living in my dream? Is that what you’re telling me?”

He rubbed his chin, thoughtfully. “I think it is best for you to believe it as such.” He snapped his fingers. “That’s just what it is, in fact, merely another dream!”

Norea sighed and brushed the dust off her legs, only to realize she was now wearing a black and white tea party dress with lace along the bottom hem, much like the one in her previous dream. “So whether it is dream or merely like a dream, it doesn’t matter. I’m trapped, either way.”

He leaned forward and spoke in a soft whisper: “Be that as it may, my dear, I am here to serve you. That is all you need to know, and you should know it with confidence.”

“Serve me? In what way?”

“In every way and any way, of course! Being that this is only a dream and you will have to return home in due time, I should think the best thing for you to do right now is whatever you wish! Don’t you think that would be grand? And I should like to accompany you, as your guide, your guard, your chaperone, whatever you like. That is how I will serve you, in whatever way you ask of me.”

“That is true, isn’t it? I really am free to do whatever I like, if only for a little while.” She frowned. “But I shouldn’t talk to strangers, even if it is a dream. You must understand, I have no idea who you are, and I’m not to speak to strangers.”

With a wave of his hand and an impish grin, the youth bowed deeply, saying: “Well, if that’s all the matter, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I am called Robin Goodfellow! Now please, take my hand and allow me to raise you from the muck and mire of commonality. Whether or not your home is in the castle, I feel obliged to preserve your royal demeanor, Princess Ann.”

“Princess Ann?” Norea stood on her own, ignoring his hand. “You’re very silly, but I like you, Mr. Goodfellow. You have unusual eyes, like a frog, but with all different colors.”

“Yes, they tend to do that: eyes of many colors, so that I may see a great many more things. Does that mean we shall be companions, then?”

Norea: “And are your horns real?”

Robin snapped his fingers. “Very clever girl. You think you’re on to something, don’t you? You thought perhaps to catch me unguarded?”

Norea: “I should hope so. It is my dream, after all.”

Robin: “Is it? Is that what we’ve surmised?” He pointed to the full moon above them. “Is that moon real? How can it be, if this is a dream? And why should she, a creature of the night, linger in a dream’s morning, even as the sun is rising in the sky? Did she fall asleep and forget her duty? Was she ever there at all?” He looked at Norea. “It’s your dream, after all. Don’t you know?”

Norea: “I’m afraid I do not.”

“Very well.” He plucked the moon from the sky and held it aloft with two long fingers, a circle of rice paper trembling in a faint breeze. “Think on it as such: if this is your dream, why should you not do this, rather than me?”

Norea took the paper moon and turned it over. “I don’t believe it.” She held it up, as though attempting to return it to its proper place in the sky. “This is some kind of trick, right?”

Robin laughed. “Unless, perhaps, I am dreaming you? Then it is no trick at all.”

“That’s not possible,” said Norea. “I know I’m real, and I can see that you are clearly not.”

Robin: “You can see me, and, by your powers of observation, you have concluded that I am the phantasm? Why it’s settled, then, is it not?” Robin playfully kicked his heels and leaped, a tour en l’air. He raised his head to the sky with his hand on his breast and bellowed hoarsely:

You say it’s only a paper moon

            Sailing over a cardboard sea

But it wouldn’t be make believe if you believed in me

Yes, it’s only a canvas sky

Hanging over a muslin tree

But it wouldn’t be make-believe if you believed in me

Without your love it’s a honky tonk parade

Without your love it’s a melody played in a penny arcade

It’s a Barnum and Bailey world

Just as phony as it can be

But it wouldn’t be make-believe if you believed in me!

What do you say, my dear, can I convince you to believe in me, whether I am real or not?” Robin kneeled on his knee and offered his hand. “If you won’t believe in me, at least you might make believe with me? And if this isn’t my dream or your dream, then perhaps it’s best we stick together, right, my dear Princess?”

Norea thought for a moment, her hands firmly planted on her hips. “It seems to me that, whether you are real or not…and especially if you are not, in which case you are most certainly something from inside my head…it’s up to me to decide how best to proceed. After all, I am Princess Ann, isn’t that right?”

Robin grinned. “Now you’re getting it. Or, leastways, something like it.”

Norea crushed the moon in her fist and lifted her foot for him. “My shoes seem to have gotten dirty. Not very becoming for a princess, now is it?”

Mr. Goodfellow, still squatting before her, rocked back on his heels. “You wouldn’t ask me for that sort of thing, would you? Especially considering we’ve only just met!” He waved her foot away and stood. “Did your father never teach you manners, Princess? That was a rude request.”

Norea crossed her arms. “Papa taught me all sorts of things about the proper way to speak to other people, but you’re not like a real person at all!” She kicked dust at him. “And how could he ever teach me the proper way to speak to a person in a dream if he had never met one? You’re just being silly.”

Robin slowly pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and spit on it. “I wouldn’t do this for just anyone, you understand. That’s the point I’m trying to make.”

Norea: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Robin studied her eyes. “You know a fare bit more than you let on, don’t you, little girl?”

Norea smiled and pointed to her foot. “I know I’m the princess and you have to do what I say.”

Mr. Goodfellow sighed and kneeled before Norea in the gravel lot. He spit again on the handkerchief, caressed her foot in the palm of his hand, and carefully wiped the dust from her shoe.

His head bobbed before her, his attention focused on her shoe. Norea reached out and gently caressed the nearest curling horn, embracing it with the tips of her fingers.

Robin bucked from her grip and fell hard on his backside. “What on earth are you doing?”

Norea: “I wanted to know if your horns are real.”

Robin: “What? And why should that matter?”

Norea leaned close to him. “Listen, Mr. Goodfellow: I will play your game as long as it pleases me. But remember that you are the one who offered to serve me. I won’t apologize for being the princess.”

Robin laughed, deep and long. “This day may prove more entertaining than I had anticipated.”

“Of course it will! I’ve always wanted to try a Sun-Drop. That will be our first stop! And then we could look in shop windows, walk in the rain, have fun and maybe some excitement!”

“A Sun-Drop?” Robin stood and patted the dust off himself. “What the devil is a Sun-Drop?”

“Well, it’s like a Coke, I guess, only it’s yellow. I’m not allowed to drink Cokes.”

Robin rolled his eyes and spread his arms wide. “Even in a bad dream, I might count myself a king of infinite space, if not for this nutshell!”

Norea stamped her foot. “Are you making fun of me?”

Mr. Goodfellow shook his head. “I am merely lamenting the severe limitations you would put on our day, given how little of the outside world you seem to have experienced.” He shrugged. “But why am I here, if not to give you a tour of the world, am I right? If your sincerest wish is to drink a Sun-Drop, who am I to deprive you of such pleasure?”

“In a café. On a patio.”

“What’s that, then?”

“A café, on the street, like in the movies. Today is so beautiful, I want to be outside every possible moment. Even if it is only a dream, I want it to be the best dream ever!”

“Ah. Very well, then, let us find a street café that serves…Sun-Drop.” Robin offered his arm. “Shall we, then, princess?”

“With a straw.”

“I thought that should be obvious.”

“You won’t be bored, will you? I know you think my idea is silly.”

“On the contrary, I have to imagine living such a sheltered life might make even the smallest experiences seem quite grand. It’s my sincerest pleasure to share them with you.”

“What are you really thinking?” She took his arm and allowed him to lead her out of the parking lot.

Robin smiled. “I’m thinking about what old Bill might say if he catches you sipping Sun-Drop with a straw at a sidewalk café in the middle of the day.”

“Oh, I think he’d have a fit. I know Isaac would.”

“In that case, let’s go find your café. A little deviant behavior before lunch ensures an interesting day.”

“All right, then. And Robin?”

“Yes, my dear princess?”

“Just for the record, I don’t catercall.”

Robin studied her face as they walked together. “You’re quite the play-actor, aren’t you, child?”

Norea smiled. “And whatever do you mean by that, Mr. Robin Goodfellow?”

Robin smiled as well. “I simply mean you’re in good company, my dear.”

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