Ally & Oz

Second Star to the Right (Eighth)

by William L. J. Galaini

A fine number of seasons passed, many of which were filled with shimmering Christmas trees and warm summer picnics in the wheat fields. The sound of the sea echoed as it gently rapped at the chalky cliffs and the onyx-black castle stood unmoving and vigilant at its great height. Thunderstorms rolled in, rolled out, and pricked the distant horizon with their singular lightning-strike fingers, occasionally silhouetting a tiny ship sailing along the horizon. The vast water and the vast wheat rolled and flowed like mimics of each other, casting the world in a gentle, rhythmic rocking motion with the onyx castle as the cradle.

Within, the den’s two large, enveloping chairs had become four and all of them faced the hearth directly with woolly cushions and thick blankets meant for nothing but warmth and calm. The library had now been dusted and arranged, even with an index cabinet, and reading had become a daily activity. In the green house, a portion had been sanctioned off to grow wild with vines, small trees, and deep thick grass making it into a tiny sabbatical and playground, ideal for alligators who needed to be alone for a bit. Also, a small tunnel, barely man-sized, had been painstaking carved through the storage cellar’s floor and a wooden set of stairs had been built so that access to the Undervault was safe, particularly for those with hooves.

But the bedroom remained entirely the same, it’s glass ceiling perfect for watching the late-night snow drift down as though it were simply flowing to you. In the bathroom the potpourri bowl remained full, and the candles lit. The mead hall’s high-domed ceiling remained pristine as the drawn constellations and the depicted heroic figures looked down at the long dinning table. Outside, the courtyard’s tree was just as big and unyielding and its leaves still made excellent sport every fall.

Joy. Warm, filling joy that wells so much within your chest that if forces your tears out. Everyone could speak, thank, apologize, forgive, praise, and love without imposition. The stone walls seemed soft, and every surface held comfort. Uh-oh alligator was still employed, often resulting in squeals of joy and the nighthawk could sometimes be seen perching on the castle’s tallest point, wings spread wide as it was warmed by the son.

“How do I know if I’m better?” Ally asked with a whisper one early morning as everyone was still in bed, including the sun. Ashley blinked awake with drowsy surprise to see Ally standing on her pillow. It was still dark and both William and Oz were snoring lightly.

“Did you have a been dream sweetie?” Ashley asked. It was a rule of Ashley’s that if any bad dreams were to be had, she was to be awoken and told of them at once.

“How do I know if I’m better?” Ally pressed her question.

“Hmmm.” Ashley thought, digging crusty’s from her eyes. “I’m not sure. We should give this some thought. How do you feel?”

Ally thought for a moment. “Happy.” Another thought followed. “And safe.”

Ashley smiled. “Well, I think that’s pretty good. Do you?”

Ally nodded.

“Are you a worthwhile person?” Ashley inquired.

Ally looked to Oz, her best friend who thought the world of her. Then she looked at William, the gentle father who kissed the tip of her nose every day. Looking back at Ashley, the tender mother of the entire seeming world, Ally responded.

“I am.”

“Can you say it, Ally?”

“I am a worthwhile person.”

“Are you very special?”

“I am.”

“Tell me, are we lucky to know an alligator such as you?”

“You are!” Ally said, building amusement in the questioning.

“How lucky are we!?” Ashley played back.

Ally seemed stumped, and suddenly sad.

“Do you need help with this one, sweetie?” Ashley beamed lovingly.

“Would you hate me if I wanted to leave?” Ally asked, terrified of the answer.

“I would never, ever hate you Ally. My love has no borders, no contract, no set of rules. It just is. Never be scared.”

“I know, I just don’t want to hurt anybody. I’m just . . . I don’t know.” Ally seemed perplexed.

Just then Oz popped up like a daisy from the covers, all smiles and perked ears. “Good mornings! What is we talkings about!?” he chirped as he climbed over Ashley as though she were a hill.

“We’re just talking about some things. Ally and I.”

“Can I joins you?”

Ashley looked to Ally.

“We’re talking about the ‘undiscovered country.’” Ally responded.

“And you did not waits for me!? Tsk tsk tsk.” Oz shook his head with mock disappointment. “Okays. I suggests we gets out of beds quick. William makes funny noises when he wakes up!”

Downstairs the three of them chatted as they sipped hot cocoa.

“So, let me understand this correctly. You two want to go sailing with the skeleton merchants in search of . . . . ‘the undiscovered country?’ Is that it?”

Ally and Oz nodded.

“Now Ally, I know you’ve read Hamlet several times. The undiscovered country that is spoken of seems to allude to death. You’re not searching for something like that, are you?” Ashley couldn’t hide the worry in her voice very well. It was true that Ally had read Hamlet a number of times, and the four of them had even acted it out (Oz had secured the leading role purely by birthright and Ally not only played Ophelia but also both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. William and Ashley were, of course, Gertrude and Claudius).

“The undiscover'd country, from whose bourn no traveller returns, puzzles the will and makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of?” Ally quoted. She let Shakespeare’s words linger before continuing. “I don’t want to bear my ills any longer. It’s not that I’m not happy, or safe, or better than I ever have been before. It’s just that . . . I’m out there somewhere. There’s this whole ‘me’ I’ve yet to meet! I just have to know if this is all I am. Hasn’t my grief been paid? Can’t I grow?”

Ally and Oz had not grown so much in shape or size, but they had certainly in another regard. The finest regard. Just a few weeks back Ashley had set Oz aside and offered to teach him proper grammar and conjugation. He simply kissed her cheek.

“I is what I is.” Was his reply, followed with a wink. He had come to some level of comfort with himself, and his confidence made him a little taller, even for such a small pink pig.

As for Ally, she gobbled up nearly every book she could open and her introspective abilities had grown tremendously. Oz and her would often spend the whole day pouring over old maps while they fashioned imaginary expeditions, supply lists and all.

Clearly, they were no longer content with traveling within the confines of imagination. It began to set in that Ally and Oz we ready to move on and grow as individuals, and Ashley’s big brown eyes softened with held-back tears.

“Are you going to come back and visit?” she asked, throat tightening.

Both Ally and Oz scampered over to her with hugs and assurances. They all held each other close, Ashley’s tight embrace squishing them as they rocked back and forth.

After that they went upstairs and woke William up. His nostrils twitched much like Oz’s often do, at the scent of everyone’s cocoa breath.

“Morning’s off to a good start!” he said, rolling onto his back. They told him everything and whereas Ashley had managed to just hold back her tears William outright sobbed. Neither he nor Ashley were forlorn or saddened per se, they were just overwhelmed with pride and acknowledgement that their little house guests from long ago had become their children, and now their children had grown into wonderful little adults capable of making their own decisions.

Most of the morning was spent in bed snuggling, crying, and laughing. Ally explained her motivations, and William understood them without question as though he had always known them.

“As for me.” Oz said, placing a hoof against his chest. “I looks at the edges of the maps in the library and I wonders ‘what is there’ and ‘who lives there’ and ‘what kind of foods do they haves there.’ I is jealous of all the things that the writers has written, because they had seens them and I had not. I wants to write too, tell peoples about things they never seen. And from what I reads, muches of the world has already beens discovered so I better hurries!” Oz had been planning things for some time, and he had constructed a supply list along with possible destinations, many of which were distant nebulas and star clusters.

“I hear Betelgeuse is lovelies at this times of year!”

And so it began.

Ashley gathered the softest cotton from the castle’s storeroom and fashioned two little coats designed specifically for inclement weather. Each had a thick collar and strong brass clasps, their design easily manageable for either hooves or little teeth, but it meant that they would have to put them on each other. Ashley smiled at the thought.

William went to the library, and gathered the finest paper. He fashioned two new pens of a tiny size, and made a fresh batch of Indian ink. Next he folded hundreds of envelopes, pink ones for Oz and yellow ones for Ally, and bound them in large leather pouches to keep them dry.

Ashley and William picked out books as well, and together made a wooden chest with a side that folded down to make it into a tiny bookshelf of sorts. Inside was ‘Hamlet’ and ‘The Giver’ as well as some knew things. Ashley selected Siddhartha, her favorite, for Ally’s internal exploration and William added a copy of Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketches for Oz’s enjoyment.

It was now late summer, and everything was ready.

“Well, I found some unused barrels in the store. I could try and bind them up. Maybe fill them with some wheat or oats?”

“Williams, we is fine!” Oz said for the countless time. “Captain Cromwell is well stocked with foods and supplies! No needs to worries, okay?”

In their last days at the castle, both William and Ashley had a lump in their throat whenever they woke up, but they wore a smile as best they could just the same. Sometimes one would shoot a knowing glance at the other, pleading for a hug. Each day was packed with activities like baking (which turned the kitchen into a floury wonderland), picnics, star gazing, or simply lying about in the grass bed in the greenhouse.

The final day came, and no one wanted the day to end.

“We could stay a while longer. Captain Cromwell wouldn’t mind at all.” Ally offered, she herself feeling the sinking feeling of an ‘end’ inside as they all sat by the fire in the den.

“No, no . . .” William mustered. “Don’t start putting off your future. That leads to stagnation.”

“Just promise that you’ll come back and visit as often as you can, okay? Please?” Ashley ‘please’ disintegrated into a whimper, and hugs were exchanged.

“We haves something for you!” Oz eclaimed. He and Ally ran out of the den for a bit, and soon returned with wrapped gifts, each bound in a red ribbon and big bow. The presents were soft and squishy, and both William and Ashley laughed as they opened them.

Ally and Oz had produced mimics of themselves. In Ashley’s hands was a slightly misshapen alligator with button eyes and a green ridge down its yellow back. William held a surprisingly exact replication of Oz and even his face looked precise.

“We each made ourselves for you in the sewing room while you slept.” Ally said.

“It tooks several weeks, but we dids it! Although I thinks I is makings a funny face . . .”

William and Ashley loved them and upstairs they went; both Ally and Oz putting them in their proper places. Side by side atop the pillows.

The late afternoon came, and dusk was soon coming. The Saint Williams would be launching soon, and William, Ashley, Oz, and Ally waited at the top of the cliff’s walking path watching the sun prepare to set. As it dipped distantly into the ocean, it melted the clouds to gold, red, and green colors. Rays of light speared in radiant directions, aiming up as the sun moved down. The world became a gentle red, and a rowboat came to the bottom of the cliffs.

William and Ashley turned to Ally and Oz.

“Are you excited!?” Ashley smiled, wiping her eyes a bit.

Ally and Oz clearly were, both seeming to vibrate with delight over the promise of the future.

“You should be! You’re both going to do so well. We are so proud of both of you and can’t wait to see you and hear the wonderful things you’ve done.” She said with a sniffle.

“I remember” William began, kneeling down to them. “The first time we saw you two huddled at the side of the cliff. We had no idea that you would be filled with so much wonder. You two have brought so much into our lives, and made us so much richer that I will spend the rest of my days trying to find words to describe it.” He kissed them both atop their little heads, and looked them both in the eye, and spoke with as much sincerity as the human voice can carry. “We love you. Thank you so, so much.”

Ashley made sure their coats were on proper, and their satchels filled. Up the path came Captain Cromwell, and as soon as he reached them he lifted his hat and swooped it low to the ground in a great bow.

“That bow is only for kings and Queens.” He said, straightening himself out. “We have ferried infamous jesters, saviors of nations, and thinkers of the greatest thoughts. However, our chosen eternal paradise is to take these two little ones about the universe and show them the cogs of the world and the sprockets of the stars.” Looking down at Ally and Oz, he admired their coats, his eyes brightening. “You’ll need some hats. I know an excellent place in Madagascar. Are we ready then?”

Everyone nodded. Goodbye hugs and ‘I love you’s’ were exchanged. Ally kissed William’s hand where she once bit him long ago, and Oz produced a small jar of strawberries he had kept secret since May for Ashley.

William and Ashley stood atop the cliff and watched Ally and Oz run to the rowboat with Captain Cromwell walking behind them, their luggage and effects over his shoulders. Out of sight they soon rowed, and William and Ashley sat in the sand, arms around each other, as they gazed out at the ocean awaited the ship’s launch from the cove. Not much time past, and the sun was nearly set, when out appeared the long boat of wood and silver. Its sails shimmered like molten silk and it glided over the water with little regard to wave or wind. After it had gained some distance the two long metal tubes extended from the ship’s sides outward over the water and blossomed vertically. As they did so, the ship arched and lifted up, the bottom of its hull dripping as it climbed into the sky. The metal tubes finally had bloomed in full, making two fan-shaped sails on either side that glowed as the sun finally ducked under the horizon, flashing with a vibrant green.

Onward it sailed into the sky, a bell on board ringing, toward the early evening stars.

Time passed and the leaves came to fall, and William and Ashley sat on their balcony laughing as they recalled all of the games and shenanigans that took place in the courtyard below. Expanding the tunnel in the storeroom, they occasionally went to Undervault together, just to enjoy the sound of the water.

The bathroom was quiet in a lonely way, as was dinner, and William and Ashley missed that part of their lives so much. But every time they thought of it, thought of Ally and Oz, they couldn’t possibly frown. Smiles would creep across one’s face, and the other would ask to share in the reminiscence.

Christmas came, and on its eve a fir tree stood decorated in the den and upstairs William and Ashley slept with their little ‘Ally and Oz’ stuffed toys tightly.

Ashley awoke first that morning, yawned, and as she sat up in bed she gave her little stuffed animal a morning hug only to discover it hugged her back. It was Ally! Some how in the night Ally and Oz had come back! Everyone’s laughter could be heard echoing throughout the castle.

“We is everywhere!!!” Oz menacingly joked as William gasped in surprise.

And so it was, often around holidays or special times. Sometimes they could be found at the fireplace, playing a game or once even William and Ashley came back from a long hike to find that an entire diner had been cooked and laid out by the Saint Williams’ crew with Ally and Oz waiting to dine.

And so it was, sometimes randomly during the year a flapping ornithopter or a balloon filled with nebula gas from the sky would deliver presents or care-packages into the courtyard or through a window. Tracking Ally and Oz’s progress with William’s sextant, Ashley and William often ended their evening atop the highest castle battlement, pointing at the sky.

And so it was, that a little pig named Oz and a little alligator named Ally escaped a place of harm, and through fortune and will, came to a better life filled with love.

And so it was.

© William L. J. Galaini