I know a boy and his best friend is a lion. It’s a real lion too but even though he has sharp teeth and long claws, he never hurts the boy because they are best friends.
One day, the boy was almost too excited to eat his dinner. Why was he so excited? Because that morning, the lion had whispered in his ear that he was going to take the boy on an adventure when everyone else in his family was fast asleep. He couldn’t tell his mommy or daddy or brother about the adventure and he didn’t want to give it away so he forced himself to eat six small pieces of chicken, four pieces of broccoli, and three spoonfuls of potatoes.
He said he didn’t want any dessert and his mommy gave him a funny look. Then he said, “Is it time for bed yet?” and his mommy gave him a really funny look.This was something new! Before she could ask him if he was sick, the boy raced down the hallway and started putting on his jammies. His brother just looked after him and said “I’m not crazy! I want dessert!”
The little boy sat in his bed surrounded by all his stuffed animals and clutching his lion really tight. He knew that later on the little lion would become real. He didn’t think his daddy would ever finish reading stories! Finally, his mommy and daddy kissed him and his brother good night, turned on the wave machine and the nightlight, and closed the door. Now the boy just had to wait for everyone to go to sleep.
He waited. And he waited. He could hear his parents puttering around in the kitchen. He could hear his brother re-arranging his animals and straightening his blankets. “Go to sleep!” the boy said. “Geez Louise,” said his brother. “You sure are acting peculiar today!”
Oh brother, thought the boy. I mean really: Oh brother!
Finally, finally, the house was quiet. The little boy snapped his eyes open when he felt hot breath on his face. The lion was snuffling nearby. The lion put a paw on the boy’s bed and smiled a toothy lion smile. His mane was twitching with excitement. “Come on!” he whispered. The boy grabbed his big paw and the lion set the boy right on his mane. He pushed a button on the wall next to the boy’s bed and the ceiling slid open to the night sky. “Hey! I never noticed that button before,” said the boy. “Just installed it,” said the lion casually, and then he sprang straight up into the air, through the hole in the ceiling, and into the night.
The next thing the boy knew, he was high up in a pine tree which smelled all fresh and kind of Christmasy. “Did you close the ceiling again?” asked the boy. “I don’t want my brother to get too cold.”
“Oh, I made it so that it would close automatically,” said the lion.
“But can we get back in?” asked the boy.
“Shhhh,” said the lion. “Let me worry about that. You have to make an important decision.”
“What decision?” asked the boy.
“Well, see all these pinecones,” explained the lion. “You need to pick the one you want to go inside.”
“I can’t fit inside a pinecone,” the boy sputtered.
“Let me worry about that too,” said the lion calmly.
Wow! thought the boy. This guy can take care of anything! He looked around at all of the pinecones. How should he pick one? Should it be big? Small? Heavy? Light? In the end, he picked a medium one. Just right.
“Excellent,” said the lion. “Now close your eyes.”
The boy closed his eyes.
“Now put one hand on your tummy.”
“Huh?” asked the boy. He wanted to peek but he kept his eyes closed and since the lion didn’t say anything else, he put one hand on his tummy.
“Now put the other hand on your left ear.”
The boy giggled a little but did as he was told.
“Now curl your toes under, press your knees together, blow air through your nose and sneeze.”
The boy thought this was pretty crazy but when he was trying to do all those things, he suddenly sneezed! And when he opened his eyes he saw that he was no longer in a pine tree.
“Are we inside?” asked the boy. The lion nodded. “Of a pinecone?” the boy continued. The lion nodded. “The one I picked?” the boy asked. The lion nodded. “You sure ask a lot of questions,” the lion said. “Why don’t we take a look around?”
The boy turned and saw a monkey swinging by. “Well,” said the boy, “where there are monkeys, there are banana trees.” Sure enough, the monkey was swinging on a banana tree. “And where there are banana trees, there are rivers.” Just beyond the tree, the boy saw water sparkling. “And where there are rivers there are crocodiles!”
“That’s okay,” said the lion. “Because where there are rivers there are also bridges for crossing over. Let’s go!”
The two friends set off through a grove of banana trees all of them with one monkey swinging from the branches. When they got to the river, they saw six crocodiles on the bank. They all slithered into the water when they saw the lion and boy approach. “I think they’re scared of you,” the boy told the lion.
“They should be!”exclaimed the lion. “I’m the king of the jungle!”
“Good point,” the boy said.
The reached a bridge and started across it. “Where there are bridges…” the boy began.
“Don’t say it!” said the lion.
“There are trolls,” the boy finished.
“Grumble bumble grumble,” the boy heard a a grumpy voice say.
“Oh dear,” said the lion. “You’ve conjured up a troll.”
“What does ‘conjured’ mean?”
“Never mind. Let’s just see what he wants.”
“Hello troll!” yelled the boy. “What do you want from us to cross the bridge?”
“Who said I wanted something?” the troll queried grumpily. “Everyone always thinks trolls are mean and want things and threaten people. It’s ridiculous! I’m telling you, we’ve got a bad reputation from just a couple of measly stories.”
The troll emerged over the side of the bridge, lifting one leg and then another over the railing. He was a very hairy troll with a big beard and mustache, red hair down his back, and hair on his arms, even on his knuckles!
He crossed his furry arms and pouted some more. “You want to hear my story?” he asked, but he didn’t stop long enough for the boy to answer. “I’ll tell you,” he said. “I’m here all by myself. The crocodiles won’t talk to me, the monkeys throw bananas at me, even the fish look at me funny.”
“I didn’t know there were fish,” the boy said.
“Well,” said the lion, “where there are rivers…”
“There are fish!”
“It seems to me,” the lion said politely, “that you do want something from us.”
“I’m telling you I’m not that kind of a troll!” the troll said, stomping his feet. “I’m telling you—“
“I know,” interrupted the lion. “What I mean is: you need a friend.”
“A friend? What’s that?”
The boy laughed. “You don’t even know what a friend IS? Boy, do you ever need one!”
“Who would be a good friend for a troll?” the lion wondered.
“Another troll?” suggested the boy.
“Too much grumpiness all around,” said the lion.
“I’m telling you—“ shouted the troll.
“I know.” The lion interrupted him again. “You told us. But you have to admit you’re just a smidge grumpy.”
“Grumble bumble grumble!” said the troll.
“Well,” said the boy, “where there are rivers and fish and crocodiles and trolls, there are bound to be…”
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” asked the lion.
“There are bound to be mermaids!” the boy smiled. “Did I conjure one?”
Sure enough, when they looked down at the river, they saw a mermaid sunning herself on a big rock. “Hello!” she called out. “My name is Mermus. I can’t go up on the bridge, but if you live under the bridge, I can be your friend.”
For the first time, the troll smiled.
“We did a good thing here, but we need to be getting back,” the lion whispered to the boy. “Your parents will be waking up soon.”
“And finding me missing!” the boy said.
The troll scooted over the edge of the bridge to talk to his new friend. The crocodiles crawled onto the bank of the river and looked up at the bridge. The monkeys were all lined up at the edge of the banana trees waving.
“Close your eyes,” the lion said.
The boy closed his eyes and got ready to put his hands on his tummy and ear but then the bear said, “Put your right foot on your tummy.”
“My foot!?!” the boy exclaimed. “I’ll have to lie down.” He lay down on the bridge and pulled his foot up to his tummy. He could hear the river beneath him and the quiet conversation between the troll and the mermaid.
“Now, kiss your knee, smack the bridge with your left foot, and sneeze!”
The boy tried to do all of those things at once and suddenly he sneezed. When he opened his eyes he saw that he was back in his bed, listening to the wave machine instead of the river and hearing his parents talking softly instead of the mermaid and the troll.
“What happened?” the boy whispered.
“You’re home again,” the lion said. “We’ll do another adventure soon. For now I need to un-install this button. We don’t want anyone else finding out about it!”
The lion quickly erased the ceiling-moving button from the wall. The boy pulled up his blankets and when his parents opened the door, the lion was small again.
“Are you awake already?” his mommy asked.
“Just woke up,” the boy said, and gave the lion an extra squeeze.