Reads: 6

Alvin and Malvin

 

The body of the spaceship, covered in holes where the aliens’ lasers had hit it, crashed landed with a screech onto the landing pad. Men, women, and children poured out from the safety exits - shaken but alive. They had made it to Escobar while Evilins kept orbiting the station far away from its defensive weapons.

Alvin, an eleven-year-old boy, was holding the pen that doubled as a spaceship when he heard a voice behind him say, "Did you destroy them?"

Alvin turned around, confused. An older man, who he knew by face, was sitting on the bench by the door of the grey building of the nursing home in which back yard Alvin was playing. The older man was one of the residents of the nursing home where Alvin’s mother worked and where he lived. Alvin felt embarrassed that someone had seen him playing with the "spaceship." On the other hand, the man was looking at thoughtfully, unsmiling.

"Destroy... who?" Alvin asked.

"What do you mean by ‘who’—the bad guys, of course!" the man exclaimed. "I’ve been standing here for ten minutes, and I haven’t heard so much laser-shooting since... well, let’s say it’s been a long time."

"The Evilins..." Alvin began, and then he blushed, but the man was still looking at him seriously. He even nodded for Alvin to continue. "They attacked us, and I had to transport the people from Odessa to Escobar."

"Ah, I see," said the elderly man. "Escobar. It’s a good name for a space station. You’re Alvin, aren’t you?"

"Yes," the boy nodded.

"The notorious Alvin. The one who broke the lamp above the front door with his soccer ball, then the garage window, or activated the fire alarm a week ago. As you can see, you are well-known here, Alvin."

"I am?"

"You are," the old man confirmed. "There is talk about you. The name precedes you."

"Is that a good thing?" Alvin asked curiously.

"Well, it’s not all bad. It’s nice for people to know about you, even if it’s because of a broken lamp. I’m Malvin. Nice to meet you."

They shook hands seriously.

"You don’t have many friends here to play with, do you?" said Malvin.

"None," Alvin admitted sadly.

"That’s not good. Without friends, I take it going to school must be a great way to spend your time, don’t you?"

"I like going to school," Alvin answered. "But there is no school in the summer."

"Of course, you’re right," the old man nodded and thought for a while. "Your mother is a janitor here, right?"

"Yes, she is."

Malvin looked beyond the fence to where the forest began. He gestured in its direction and asked, "Don’t you like playing in the forest?"

"No," Alvin answered timidly. "I’m afraid of snakes. I don’t ever leave the yard."

"How is that possible? If I were your age, I would want to play beyond the fence all day long."

"Maybe someday I’ll go," Alvin hesitated.

"Maybe you will," Malvin said with a nod.

A bell rang somewhere in the building behind them.

"It’s dinner time," said Malvin. "I’ll be going. It was nice to meet you, Alvin."

"You too," the boy replied.

The man stood up from the bench and walked into the building. Alvin wasn’t in the mood to play more. Now, more than ever before, he wished he went into the forest. The boy approached the fence and threaded his fingers through the netting. He gazed through to the trees, which emanated a chill and a fresh smell.

Alvin looked towards the forest for a long time, but he didn’t see that at the same time, someone was observing him. From the third floor of the building, through a window into the dining room, Malvin was looking down.

 

***

A couple of weeks later, Alvin was having dinner with his mother, who asked him whether he knew Malvin.

"Yes," he answered. "We talked for a little while. What about him?"

Alvin’s mother thought for a while, and then she said, "Well, he asked me if I’d let you go on a walk with him in the forest. What do you think?"

"In the forest?"

"Yes," she confirmed. "Malvin seems like a nice guy. I think he’s a bit lonely. He has few friends here. If you want, you can go with him. He would like it. And you’ll have some fun."

"Hmm, why not?" Alvin said. He shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly but was jubilant that he was finally going on a walk beyond the fence.

"Hmm, why not?" his mother said in imitation. She laughed and ruffled his hair.

 

***

A few days later, early in the afternoon, Alvin was in the back yard of the nursing home, playing with his pen spaceship when Malvin suddenly appeared next to him dressed in jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, and heavy boots. He was also holding a long walking stick and carrying a light backpack as well.

"Come on," he said. "Let’s go!"

"Go? Where to?" Alvin asked, surprised.

"What do you mean ‘where to’?" Now it was Malvin’s turn to be surprised. "To the forest, of course! We must conquer our fears. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve been in there?"

"Do you want to go there?" asked Alvin. "Now?"

"Of course." Malvin nodded firmly. "I asked your mother, and she allowed you to come with me as long as you’re careful, of course. Go put on some long pants and boots, and take a bottle with water and a sandwich with you, and let’s go!"

Alvin didn’t think about it for too long. He ran to his and his mother’s apartment, and in no time, he came back down, ready and excited. The boy couldn’t believe that the two of them would be going on an adventure into the forest. It had been a long time that he’d waited for someone to take him there.

"Ready?" Malvin asked.

"Ready!" said Alvin.

The two of them went to the small gate in the fence, and Malvin opened the latch. He gestured for Alvin to go through first. The boy crossed the fence line, followed by his companion. They stood together on the meadow outside of the fence. Malvin started for the forest, and when he reached the line of trees, he started walking parallel to them.

"There was a path here a long time ago," said Malvin. "Deer, keep it clear. We’ll take it when we find it."

They soon found the path, and Malvin disappeared between the trees. Alvin remained on the meadow and turned around, but behind him, there was nothing but the ugly, gray building of the nursing home. He turned around and started after Malvin along the path.

It was chilly on the path, and the green crowns of the trees somewhat obscured the sky. Alvin stepped forward, a little disoriented, and searched for Malvin, who was striding down the path without looking back. Alvin rushed to catch up.

Soon, the path reached a brook. Malvin stopped and turned around. He looked down at Alvin and said, "Now we are in the unknown. How does it feel?"

"Feels fine," Alvin answered, trying to conceal the excitement in his voice. The trees, the sound of the wind tenderly stirring up the branches, and the smell of the earth and mold all filled him with joy. How close to the forest he lived, and what an adventure he had been missing out on!

"I will show you a secret place—the Den," said Malvin. "Only I know about it... and George. Once upon a time, it was our hideout. Mine and my friends’. You’ll like it."

With that, Malvin turned around and started walking down the path by the brook. It was winding further and further between the trees, their crowns got thicker and closer to each other, and the air got cooler as it got darker around.

After about an hour, the two hikers stopped to rest. Malvin sat on a log that had fallen across the path and opened his backpack. He took out a sandwich and a bottle of water and started calmly eating. Alvin stood next to him, staring at a big puddle the brook had made where small fish were swimming.

At last, Alvin gathered his courage since he wasn’t yet got used to his new friend. He asked, "Do you come here often?"

Malvin stopped chewing for a moment and thought about Alvin’s question. "Often?" he began. "Well, no. Once upon a time, I was a boy just like you. I had a few friends. Instead of the nursing home, there was just a meadow where we liked playing. However, we were afraid of the forest. But once we found this path, we followed it. No one wanted to be the first to turn back. If one had turned back, everyone would’ve followed. Anyway, we reached the end. And since then, we had loved playing here. But then I grew up. I moved to another town. I forgot about this place. Only when I grew old and came back to live in the nursing home, I remembered it."

"So, when was the last time you came here?" asked Alvin.

"Since after I grew up? Never."

"Why not?"

Malvin thought about it for a while. Then he said, "I don’t know. Would you believe me if I told you that one of my childhood friends lives in the same nursing home as I do? His name is George. The one with the long beard. He forgets a little or maybe more. We used to play here as children together. When I saw you looking this way, I felt like coming here again. I felt like seeing the Den. I’ve forgotten how it looked, but we’ll reach it soon."

"How about George," asked Alvin. "Did you ask him if he wanted to come?"

Malvin laughed. "George? He said he remembers it pretty well. It seems he remembers all the old things. He told me to bring you with me, though."

With these words, Malvin closed his backpack and heaved it over his shoulders. They started walking again. Malvin began talking, mostly to himself, but Alvin was listening carefully.

"A path here is like the path of life. It splits in two, then in two again. There are many choices. You don’t know which direction to go or which path to take. Each one is unique and leads to a different place. If you never walked it, you don’t know where it’ll lead you. As they say, if you don’t know where you’re going, you will arrive somewhere else. Isn’t it wonderful? Isn’t life like an adventure in the forest? Sometimes you know your path, at least you think you do, and you follow it. And sometimes you choose every crossing. I’ve lived a long time, and even though I know this path where my life will lead me is a mystery and isn’t that the charm of it - the ability to choose between paths, not knowing where they will exactly lead you?"

Malvin stopped short and looked around into the trees. They had passed a few paths picking their way at the crossings somewhat arbitrarily. "Alvin?" the old man said.

"What is it?"

"Don’t worry," Malvin began, "but I think we got lost. At least I did. When I’m talking, I don’t look where I’m going. And the paths have changed since the last time I came here. I think it will be better for us just to go back. We just need to find the brook, and then we’ll be home."

Alvin got scared right away. They got lost! But his fear subsided quickly, though, and was replaced by a happy excitement suddenly seizing him—they have gotten lost! It was a real adventure now! Each path was new. Like every choice in life, as Malvin had said. Where would the next turn take them? His companion also didn’t look very concerned. He just took a sip from his water bottle and began walking back.

The trees clamored around. Alvin’s imagination went wild. The forest was like a puzzle rearranging itself in every moment. The paths were changing. However, this still didn’t worry him. He was good at solving puzzles.

It seemed that Malvin felt he is solving a puzzle, too, since he stopped at every crossing and wondered which route to take. Sometimes he would think for a while, and sometimes he would exclaim, "Ah, yes. This is it!" and then walk decisively forward.

In the end, Malvin stopped and laughed.

"Well, I don’t know anymore," he said. "I have no idea where we are. I’m out of luck today. I don’t see the sun because of the clouds. They say that the north is over on the same side where the moss is, but the moss is everywhere. I’m trying to find the brook that we followed because it must cross our way eventually, but I don’t see it, either."

"May I lead?" Alvin asked.

The old man smiled, and with a wave of his hand, he said, "Of course. You may turn out to be the lucky one!"

Alvin walked ahead. A gut feeling was leading him on, directing him to where he should go. Should he choose the broader paths or, the narrower ones? Or maybe it was the little light that the tree crowns let through. It wasn’t yet clear, but they crossed a few paths, and the forest grew thinner and thinner. At last, they walked out of the line of trees.

They now found themselves in a meadow with a hill in the middle of it. A brook crossed the field—the same creek, they thought, from which the path had deviated. It was bright outside once the tree crowns didn’t block the light. Flowers covered the meadow. Alvin ran towards the hill, climbed it, and looked around.

"Is this the secret place you told me about?" Alvin asked.

Malvin climbed the hill and stood next to the boy wiping his brow. "No, it’s not," he said. "I don’t think I can find the Den now. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to. But maybe George can. However, this place is even better. And you found it on your own."

Alvin thought that until this morning, his favorite toy was the pen-spaceship, but now he could play on the meadow with the brook and the hill.

"This will be your secret place," Malvin continued. "You’ll be able to show it to your friends."

"My secret place," Alvin said, trying out the taste of the words. He imagined coming there with his school friends. He wasn’t afraid to go into the forest anymore. In unspoken agreement, Alvin and Malvin lay down on the top of the hill, and each ate a sandwich. It was nice to be on in the center of the forest, far from everyone, just watching the flowers and listening to the water gurgling along beside them.

Eventually, it was time for them to go. The two hikers followed the brook, which entered between the trees. In a short time, they had found the path they had deviated from and soon were out of the forest with the nursing home in view before them.

When they stepped out on the meadow in front of the nursing home, Alvin couldn’t wait to find his mother and tell her about his adventure. He said goodbye to Malvin and rushed up the stairs to his apartment.

Malvin remained alone outside. He turned toward the forest and smiled.

A voice behind him said, "Eh?"

Malvin turned to see his friend George - an older man with a long beard who had left the nursing home and sat on the bench next to the wall of the building. The sun had appeared underneath the clouds, shining warmly and joyfully over the two men.

"Did you find the place?" said George.

"I’ve forgotten it," said Malvin. "I’ve forgotten where the Den is. But he found a new place. A beautiful meadow."

"I understand," said George. "Everyone finds something different in the forest, isn’t that right, Malvin? We can’t repeat what once was. The paths between the trees change with time. The Dens change too or disappear altogether. We change, as well. Maybe this is the reason we can’t find the way, do you think?"

"We also change George," Malvin nodded in agreement. "And it must be so. It’s nice that it’s so."

Malvin sat next to his friend. It was nice there on the bench, sitting together under the setting sun, which kept getting lower and lower on the horizon. They only went back into the building when it got dark and cold.


Submitted: May 20, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Robert Ratman. All rights reserved.

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