Chapter 4: Fear and Dreaming in the Forest of Hope
Meanwhile, somewhere out in the distant reaches of the Forest of Hope, two figures were seen lounging; one was meditating against the trunk of a tree, while the other lay sprawled out in a hammock being held by one of the trees.
The one in the hammock was a tall, burly young man with a good body build, longish brown hair that reached to the bottom of his neck, and silvery green eyes. He wore an unbuttoned nautical blue baseball jersey with red piping and trim, a patch with a pair of red socks on the right side, a silver star on either sleeve, and the number '41' on the back in red. He also wore a gray t-shirt underneath the jersey, jean pants with a brown belt and faded gold shamrock belt buckle, white sneakers, and a navy baseball cap with an old-school letter 'B' on the front. On both of his forearms and biceps were metal braces with plates shielding the tops of them.
The meditating one was an anthropomorphic turtle with forest green skin and black hair atop his head, wearing a neon green headband with two holes that allowed pupilless eyes to show, a second navy blue headband with a steel plate (the latter part of which had a strange engraving in the middle), and a belt with silvery throwing daggers tucked into it.
"I dunno, Essteka," the big guy said, "I mean, I didn't think the Critic's Pound Puppies review was bad at all, it was pretty good. I just didn't particularly like the ending."
"You mean the part where he says to leave puppies in a pound to rot so the Pound Puppies people don't make any more movies?" the turtle, Essteka, asked.
"Well...yeah, that WAS sort of harsh," Essteka said. "If enough people get on his case about it, I bet it'll wind up somewhere on his Next Next Top Eleven Screwups, if he ever decides to do one."
"I'm sure he will," the big guy said, "He's done one every year so far, so I bet he'll do a third at one point or another. You know how it is with nitpicky fans."
"Hey, you guys!"
Two young women came rushing over to the two, startling the big guy and causing him to tumble out of his hammock. One of them was a young girl with caramel-colored skin, brown eyes, and wavy, dark-brown hair braided into three strands, and was tied back into a ponytail. She wore a purple top with gold trim, a brown belt with an extra pouch, white pants, and brown boots and gloves. In her ponytail was an aquamarine ribbon.
The other had long blonde hair and deep blue eyes. She wore a white tanktop with red, orange and yellow flamelike designs along the bottom, tan capri shorts, a straw cowgirl's hat, and white sandals. What was more impressive about her however, was the pair of long, white wings on her back.
"Oops...sorry about that, Papa T," the girl in purple giggled as she helped the man up.
"No worries, Kira, " Papa T sighed as he dusted himself off. "It happens quite a bit, so I'm used to it by now."
"Hey there, Kira, Taylor," Essteka rose from his meditation. "What's up?"
"We just saw Erika a few moments ago!" Taylor said excitedly. "She's back in the woods!"
Suddenly, something popped out from underneath Papa T's hat; a pink catlike creature with a tan underbelly and a purple marking over its right eye. It wore a red collar with all kinds of little baubles and tags. "Erika's back?!" she said excitedly in a high, squeaky voice. "Awesome! Let's go see her!"
"Where'd you come from, Phantom?" Papa T asked quizzically.
"I like to appear randomly from underneath people's hats," Phantom shrugged before hopping off the top of Papa T's head and scurrying off.
Two more people appeared from behind the group; a young boy in a white lab coat, purple gloves and black pants, and a young woman with long brown hair, blue eyes, an emerald green top, and sea green leggings; she wore no shoes, going barefoot.
"Did I hear that right? Is Erika back again?" the boy asked.
"Yeah, it's true, Dr. Dude!" Essteka nodded. "You and Molly showed up just in time!"
"Let's not stall anymore, than!" Molly giggled. "Come on!"
So, the group of authors took off to meet up with Erika.
Meanwhie, Erika waltzed about the forest, swinging her basket of berries to and fro as she plucked more from the bushes. She sang happily as she did so; meanwhile, her friends appeared in the bushes.
"Top o' the marnin' to ya, Erika!" Papa T called in a hearty Irish voice as he doffed his cap.
"Oh, hi there, guys," Erika chuckled. "Good to see you all again!"
"Same here, dood!" Dr. Dude smiled.
Yes, Erika had known these fine folk for a few years now. She said to have seen them about the forest whenever she, Belle, Flonne and Reminy went out for walks in the forest. When she started going into the woods on her own, she started to make friends with them; some of them were a bit shy at first, but as Erika visited the woods more often to collect berries, they began to open up to her as well. Also, as she got older, Erika noticed that her friends seemed to stay the same age year in and year out. What was it that caused this? She didn't know for sure. But, whatever the reason, they were great fun to be around.
"Mom's got'cha picking berries again?" Essteka asked.
"Yeah, she does," Erika grimaced. "I JUST picked some yesterday, too, but she said Flonne ate them all."
"Aww, really?" Kira asked. "I'd have expected better from that angel..."
"Well, I guess I can't exactly blame Flonne," Phantom said through a mouthful of berries. "These things are too dang good!"
"Phantom, save some of those for Erika," Taylor giggled.
Some few miles out from where Erika and the others were, Prince Carter and two of his friends wandered through the woods aimlessly, leading a grayish-white colored horse named Altivo along the way. The Prince had changed tremendously over the past sixteen years. He was much taller, and more well-built than before, with his hair a bit longer and messier. He wore a burnt-red long-sleeve shirt, a tan buckskin vest with a single breast pocket over it, tan cargo pants, and sandals. Draped over his back was a capelike blanket with an intricate design.
Lying on Altivo's back was a three foot tall anthropomorphic blue hedgehog with emerald green eyes and tan on his muzzle and belly. On his hands with white gloves, and on his feet were red and white sneakers with gold buckles. And walking alongside him was a teenage boy with reddish hair and a goatee, wearing a blue t-shirt, a whitish-tan hat, and baggy brown pants. He also had a wristwatch-like item strapped onto his right wrist.
"Gee, it sure is boring around here," the hedgehog yawned.
"C'mon, Sonic, that joke's been driven into the ground," the boy grumbled. "Can't you come up with anything more, you know, original?"
"Well, it's true," Sonic the Hedgehog retorted. "We haven't seen anything exciting out here for hours, Joe! I'm gettin' antsy out here!"
"Guys, you know I didn't come out here to do anything specific," Carter interrupted the two. "I just came out here to...to clear my mind."
"Still worried about the wedding, eh, Carter?" Sonic asked.
Carter sighed deeply. "Yeah," he nodded. "It's just...ever since my mother told me about getting married when I was twelve, it's been weighing on my mind. I don't even know this girl! The only time I really remember seeing her was when she was a baby...that's pretty much it, though. I haven't seen her for sixteen years, and never got the chance to really get to know her. I don't know if she's the right one for me...or if I'll be the right one for her. You guys know what I mean, don't you?"
"I guess," Joe shrugged. "We've never had to deal with this ourselves, but we can kind of understand where you're coming from. Right, Sonic?"
"Yeah," Sonic nodded, hopping off Altivo's back. "I'm not one to make cheesy speeches about love and all, but people seem to know who the right one is when they meet them. I'm sure when you finally meet the princess, you'll have found the right one for you. Take it from us!"
"Thanks, guys," Carter smiled and nodded.
The trio then heard a beautiful singing voice from far into the woods. "Wh-wh-wh-what was that?" Joe gulped.
"Sounds like someone singing...oh, and she sounds so beautiful," Carter said. "Let's see if we can find out who it is!"
"Uhh...let's not and say we did," Joe said. "It could be a trap or something!"
"Joe, don't be such a baby," Sonic smirked as Carter climbed onto Altivo's back. "Tell you what, you come with us, and we'll go out for lunch later."
"Cheeseburgers and chili dogs?" Joe raised his brow.
"All you can eat," Carter winked.
Joe rubbed his chin for a minute and thought. Was he really going to let the possability of that singing scare him off from all the cheeseburgers he could eat?
...Of course not.
"Oh, yeah! Come on, boys!" Joe barked as he jumped up onto Altivo's head and pointed forward epically. "We'll follow that trail!" Altivo reared back and whinnied as he began dashing forward and full-speed. Unfortunately for Joe, he was too caught up in the moment to notice a low-hanging branch that knocked him, Carter and Sonic off of Altivo's back, and into a mud puddle.
"Cheeseburgers cloud your mind?" Sonic asked rhetorically.
"Sure, let's go with that," Joe chuckled nervously.
Erika danced along through the woods as her friends watched and followed her. As she danced, she sang a sweet little tune...
I wonder...I wonder...
I wonder why each little bird has a song to sing to...
A happy little melody...
I wonder...I wonder...
If my heart keeps singing,
Will my song go on to someone,
Who'll find me...
And bring back a love song, to me...
The crew eventually came to a high ledge that overlooked the kingdom. Off in the distance was the castle; unknowingly, Erika's real home.
"Wow...look at that!" Dr. Dude marveled. "I don't think anyone could ask for a better view than this!"
"Tell me about it," Essteka nodded. "This could make a great postcard!"
Phantom whipped out a little camera and snapped a picture of the horizon. "That's a keeper!" she squeaked.
Erika's face dissolved into a sad, longing expression as she turned away. "Erika? Hunny, what's wrong?" Molly asked in concern.
"It just isn't fair," Erika sighed. "Even when I'm sixteen years old, they still treat me like a child!"
"Who? Belle, Flonne and Reminy?" Kira asked.
"Yes," Erika nodded. "They never want me to meet anybody new...well, outside of you guys, of course."
"Well, to be fair, Flonne's the only one that sort of knows about us," Papa T said. "Belle and Reminy have never really seen us in person."
"But, you know something?" Erika smiled. "I tricked them! I HAVE met someone!"
"Oooh, do tell, do tell," Papa T said with a calm excitement, rubbing his hands together.
"A prince," Erika said dreamily. "Tall, handsome...guys, he was SO romantic..."
"Wow, I've never seen this side of you before," Taylor chuckled. She looked to you, the readers, and said, "And to think, I created her!"
"So what did you wind up doing with this prince-man-guy?" Phantom asked.
"The usual things...we walked together, and talked together," Erika said. "Exchanged secrets and said sweet nothings to one another. And then, before we say goodbye...he takes me into his arms..."
The authors leaned forward in excitement. "Yes, yes, go on, go on," Essteka nodded.
"...I woke up," Erika finished rather lamely.
Whatever excitement the authors had quickly deflated. "So, what you're saying is..." Molly started out.
"Yes, Molly, it was just another dream," Erika said sadly. "The same one I've been having for a few days now."
"If you've been having it for a few days," Dr. Dude said, "Maybe the dream's not too far off from becoming a reality. And besides, it's been said that if you dream something more than once, it's bound to happen at some point or another! And if it's all the same to you, we hope that dream happens, too!"
"Thanks, you guys," Erika nodded. "But...I've seen him so many times now! I don't know when it will happen...or IF it'll happen at all!"
Out of the corner of his eye, Papa T noticed something. It was the cape and vest that Carter was wearing earlier, hung out to dry! Sonic's shoes also sat at the bottom, as well as Joe's watch, beneath the clothes. A sly grin creeped across his face; an idea was forming. "Hey, I got an idea," he said, beckoning the others to come over and huddle. "Now, here's what we'll do...Phantom, you and Dr. Dude create a distraction, and the rest of you guys..." Papa T's voice lowered to an audible whisper as the others listened to his plan...
End of Chapter 4