Josiah Swanson

BENJAMIN BULL


        Once, there was a boy who lived between a desert land and a crystal-blue sea, in a country called Maebelhearst. He spent his days tying nets for sailors and helping his mother grow vegetables. From a young age, he understood that boys must work, and that if they don’t, they should be unsatisfied. So, he would greet the rising sun with a smile on his face and a plow in his hand, and he would tend to the garden until his classes began at nine thirty. After history and math, he would come home to see what kind of food his mother was preparing. Dinner was an important meal in his family, and his mother was usually already working on preparations at lunch-time. This meant that he would take some samples from the big pot in the middle of the kitchen before heading back to school. His teachers would not mind if he was a little late, because he was such an attentive student. Even in those afternoon classes, when many kids his age would fall asleep at their desks, he was sharp as a tack. As school got out, he would hurry to the workshop by the bay where he tied special knots and talked to sea-weathered men who told the same stories over and over again. He loved these stories and requested specifically certain stories that he enjoyed the most. Once all the nets were tied and sent off to the harbor, it was time to hurry home for dinner. The four sisters he had would greet him at the door with hula-hoops and kittens and cheer for him as he came through the door.

        He rarely thought of himself, and this made him very likable.

        “Benjamin Bull,” his neighbors would call, (for that was his name), “what caused you to become this way?” Of course Benjamin didn’t know what caused him to be this way. In fact, for a long time, Benjamin didn’t know what “way” he was.

        One day, something terrible happened. Benjamin was kidnapped by the desert bandits. These crooked men knew that Benjamin was a very hard worker, so they took him while he was coming home from the bay, on a night when the moon was new and the clouds dimmed the star-light. The first ones to notice were the townspeople that were used to seeing Benjamin pass by on his way home. Besides wishing they could ask Benjamin about the news (he always knew what was happening), the townspeople were concerned about the boy’s safety. Everybody knew that the desert bandits were in need of hard-working boys to help them with their heists. (The desert bandits were lazy, and if they were ever unsuccessful in their endeavors, chances were the members lacked character.) So, it was not long before the whole town was talking about the missing boy and about the desert bandits who were most likely the culprits if Benjamin was indeed kidnapped.

        Meanwhile, Benjamin was in the back of a wagon, with a cloth tied around his mouth and a blindfold over his eyes. His hands were tied up. Benjamin was sad because he knew that his parents would be very worried when he didn’t show up to their home at the typical time. Because he did not like to sulk, Benjamin decided to recite some of his favorite poetry. As he began with some Donne, he heard a voice in the darkness.

        “That’s Donne, ain’t it?”

        Benjamin was sitting in the corner of the wagon with his back against the wall. He had assumed he was alone in the dark, so he was surprised by the voice. He was also a little embarrassed.

        “Yes, sir, it is,” Benjamin said quietly, “are you a reader of poetry?”

        “Not really, to be honest, but I’ve got appreciation for any poet’s whit. And Donne has whit to spare.”

        “Most certainly!” Benjamin said, trying to sound calm.

        “You know what’s happening to you?”

        “I believe I am being kidnapped by the infamous desert bandits.”

        “That’s a good boy!”

        “This is a new kind of adventure for me. I’m not sure what to expect. May I ask what your duty is here?”

        “We don’t have duties, normally. We like to make other people work for us.”

        “Oh, I see.”

        “You can work for us?”

        “Well, I can do my best, but not much more. However, I plan on escaping. I would like to go back to my family. They need my help, too, you know.”

        “I used to be like you, boy. I worked hard at my mother’s garden. And, I was a sailor’s helper in the summer months. I know a thing or two about hard work! But let me tell you a story. One day, when I was about your age probably, I realized that all the work I had done was getting me nowhere. The vegetables grow and the fisherman catch, and the people eat, and the cycle goes on without any real reward for me. The desert bandits snatched me up on a night just like tonight, and I soon discovered a different way of doing things. Let me tell you something you might not know: being a desert bandit is quite alright! Of course, we don’t have sisters who greet us with cheering, nor mothers with soup. But, we have fun! Every day we eat whatever our hearts desire, and we play with our toys, and we make jokes. We like to make plans, so there is always something to look forward to.”

        Benjamin was quite silent at this time, and the voice continued on, this time more hushed, “I hope you will consider yourself one of us. For now there will be lots of work for you to do. But, as time goes on, you may one day find yourself becoming infected with the same passion for fun that the rest of us share, and you will then be one of us, truly! Here we are, boy. I must go and help with the other cargo. Keep your Donne with you!”

        At that, the wagon stopped abruptly.

        “What is your name, so I can find you and talk to you again?” Benjamin asked into the darkness.

        “My name is Bamboe.” came the voice, this time from outside the wagon. “And, I already know your name. Benjamin Bull. You have a reputation!”

        Soon, Benjamin was carried onto a boat. He assumed he was on the shore of Gossamer Lake, about fifteen miles east of his home. The men in the boat were not quite as friendly as Bamboe, and Benjamin decided to try to sleep.

        After a while (Benjamin didn’t know how long), a strong wind began to blow. The men onboard were mostly quiet at first. Then, one of the men said something about police. Soon, the party was headed in a very different direction. Benjamin was still quite certain that they were on Gossamer Lake, but he was very uncertain which direction they were now headed. The men said nothing more about police, although they were from that point forward much more agitated towards each other.

        At about this time, Benjamin began to grasp more wholly what kind of situation he was in. Indeed, although he was a courageous boy, his weariness caused deep fears to spread. A terrible duty awaited him somewhere far away, and those who he would serve would not treat him kindly. It was unlikely that he would find much sympathy among the desert bandits. All that he loved about home would be taken away, and he would be forced to work for evil men.

        The idea of escape entered into Benjamin’s mind, and anything around him that could assist in escape he suddenly became very aware of. He knew the men had guns, knives, and fire. On the boat could be found oars and crates. This Benjamin could discern just by listening. Sitting there, with the blindfold on and the rope tied tightly around his wrists, he prayed to God that he might be rescued somehow.

        Within an hour, the boat arrived to a shoreline.

        “We will be taking you to the weapons factory.” a man said.

        The people onboard began shuffling around rapidly. Benjamin gathered that the men had just come across an unexpected visitor. Soon, Benjamin was left sitting by the oars. He quickly adjusted the blindfold to get a glimpse of his surroundings. Beside him, a burly man sat, watching the sun rise over the nearby mountains. It was just the two of them on the small boat, docked at a port that was unfamiliar to Benjamin. While the man was looking away, Benjamin took in all his surroundings and saw that they were not on Gossamer Lake at all! It was very certain that the boy would have a very hard time getting home without a map or a guide.

        All of a sudden, two things happened. The man in the boat shouted at Benjamin, and a flaming arrow struck the dock! The latter preoccupied the burly man, so Benjamin quickly broke the rope on his wrist with a knife and took the cloth out of his mouth. Jumping onto the dock and passing the flaming arrow, Benjamin beheld a tall man on a horse, silhouetted by the moon. The man was preparing to shoot another arrow towards the boat. The burly man was yelling when the boy simply sprinted away, running away from the dock in the opposite direction of the horseman, bisecting the shoreline and a moonlit road. Benjamin ran so fast that the shoes he was wearing simply fell apart. His cap flew off and his shirt came unbuttoned. At length, Benjamin came to a valley that ran perpendicular to the direction he was headed in. He decided to descend into the valley and look for a place to hide.

        On his way down, he noticed tiny structures scattered all around the stems of the trees. From these structures came a soft yellow light. But Benjamin had no time to stop and observe, so he continued down the slope.

        At length, the dusty and tired boy came to the bottom of the valley where a small river rushed under his aching feet. Shedding tears, Benjamin fell to his knees and drank of the water. Although the sun was rising, in the valley it was dark enough for one to lie down and rest. Within a few moments, Benjamin was fast asleep.

        The sound of a woman’s voice awoke Benjamin. He knew not how long he was asleep for, and the sun was hidden but a canopy of green. Standing up, Benjamin examined his surroundings.

        The atmosphere was certainly dry like a desert would be, but the valley seemed to be bursting with an out-of-place jungle-life. Benjamin recognized this as the Valley of Yimoa. His mother used to tell him stories about a valley in a distant land, where all the water from the desert drained into a deep hole in the ground. Benjamin had assumed that the stories were all made-up, nut now he was beginning to think that he really was in the Valley of Yimoa.

        “If I am in the Valley of Yimoa, then I must find the fairies.” Benjamin said to himself.

        He had, in fact, heard the voice of a young woman a few moments before, and he was beginning to investigate his surroundings some more. He came back to the small structures he had seen on his way into the valley, and he discovered their true nature. These little things were the fairies’ dwelling-places!

        Kneeling on the jungle-y floor, Benjamin put his face next to one of the miniature homes. Looking through the windows, he could only see the tiny furniture of tiny fairies. On one of the tables inside, he saw a platter with pastries stacked in a pyramid shape. Each one was glazed and dusted with powdered sugar. How Benjamin wished he were small enough to enjoy the tiny bounty! After more investigation, Benjamin was disappointed: the fairies were nowhere to be seen.

        Just then, Benjamin slapped his forehead. “Yimoa,” he exclaimed.

        Of course, there was a Keeper of the Valley, and it was he who the valley was actually named after. Yimoa was apparently a man of magic, a wizard, and the stories explain that the Yimoa dwells inside of a cave inside of a waterfall.

        Hoping to find food along the way, Benjamin set off to try to find the Yimoa. Given that the river was quite weak where he had come down, the boy decided to travel upstream, assuming that there was a dam somewhere above.

        The jungle was certainly magical. In every square inch of it was something wonderful. Little caterpillars danced on the leaves. Each one was a different shade of green. Above and below these leaves were the butterflies, dancing in the air. The wings of these little creatures were fantastically colored in rich purple and gold. They flapped their wings surprisingly slowly, and seemed to move with a pleasant carelessness that could only be found in a butterfly’s dance.

        At length, Benjamin came to a little waterfall. There was no wizard here, but there was a family of frogs. The frogs were enjoying brunch, each one smiling with fork in hand and thanking God for providing a feast of fruit-flies. Benjamin found some fruit, as well.

        Having crawled up a slimy trunk and nearly falling twice, the boy came at last to a branch where little blue orbs hung. The orbs were similar to oranges in the way that they hung and in the way the flesh was protected by a rind. However, Benjamin had never tasted a fruit like this before. And, although the flavor was almost hard to appreciate at first, the fruits were deeply satisfying to his hungry stomach and dry mouth.

        At last, Benjamin arrived at the wizard’s waterfall. The crystal water flowed turbulently and crashed into a very deep pool. On one side there was a massive dam preventing the cool water from escaping the pool. On the other side, one could find the wizard cave. Of course, it was hidden by the waterfall (wizards like privacy, especially in the Valley of Yimoa where all the creatures are lively).

        Coming close to the roaring waterfall, the boy peered under a giant rock ledge. Taking the steps up to the dwelling-place, Benjamin buttoned his shirt and came inside. Immediately, he heard the voice of the woman that he had heard earlier on, the one that had awoken him.

        The woman was talking hurriedly about some kind of danger. Coming around a corner, Benjamin beheld the most wonderful little living-room. A large fire danced under a natural chimney and a few hand-made pieces of wooden furniture filled the blank spaces of a carpeted floor. Everywhere was green and black. There was mist in the air from the waterfall, and there was the smell of coffee and tea.

        The fairy was sitting on the mantel, speaking to Yimoa. And, beside her the wizard was a little girl. Both were resting contentedly on a couch of fur.

        “Who’s that?” whispered the wizard, turning his bearded head slowly towards Benjamin.

        Immediately, the boy realized that it was the wizard who had shot the flaming arrows at the dock that morning.

        “I’m sorry,” the boy said, “I am certainly lost and simply looking for a way back home. I was hoping you could help me. My mother used to tell me about your wisdom in her bed-time stories.”

        Slowly standing up, the wizard returned, “Hello Benjamin! Your mother taught you well, and we must return you to her so that you can lend your hand in the new harvest! I am the Keeper of this valley. I am Yimoa. Welcome!”

        “Thank you!” exclaimed Benjamin, glad to be welcomed by a man of such a reputation and flattered to find that the wizard knew who he was.

        “And you must meet my niece,” the wizard continued, “she will be your companion on the way back home. Her mother misses her, just as yours misses you! Her name is Blueberry.”

        “Hi Blueberry,” Benjamin said, trying to look sharp, “I am Benjamin.”

        The girl only smiled as she sat there on the couch of fur. And her smile faded quickly into a calm frown, one that the boy recognized quickly; she wanted to go home, too.

        “Before I send you on your way, I must give you some lunch,” the wizard explained, turning to a table in the adjoined room, and looking around for something to offer.

        The fairy on the mantle said, “Yimoa, the frogs here eat Let me get these two something to eat!”

        At this time, Benjamin and Blueberry joined the fairy for lunch. Her name was Fiadora, and she lived in a fairy-house beside Yimeo’s waterfall home.

        Before Benjamin could ask Fiadora how she could possibly feed two humans enough to satisfy them, she explained, “Yimoa has provided us with protection for many years. In return, we have taught him the fairy-magic of our homeland. One aspect of this magic that he and other humans enjoy particularly is that of growth spells. There are many kinds of course, some for foods, others for vessels, and others that can make trees grow more quickly. For lunch, I will give you some grain and fruit from our farmers, and I will make it enough for you two to enjoy.”

        So, the two knelt down beside Fiadora as she flew under an oak tree and went inside her tiny home beside the waterfall. She came out with two platters. What she carried could at first only be identified with spectacles or a magnifying glass. However, after whispering something and dripping a few drops of some kind of liquid onto each of the platters, something incredible happened.

        “Quickly,” exclaimed the fairy, “take the platters into your hands!”

        So, Benjamin and Blueberry scooped up the tiny articles and watched as they grew and grew and grew. The plates were soon larger than their own hands and the food on top grew with them.

        “Enjoy, my children!” the fairy called out, bringing out chairs and a table and growing those for the two as well.

        Before long, the boy and the girl were enjoying a delightful lunch of grain, fruit, and pastries, all freshly arranged on a round table with a golden tablecloth. From here, they sat and watched the waterfall.

        “Where is your home?” Benjamin asked his new friend across the table.

        Setting down her silverware and looking up from her over-flowing plate, Blueberry replied, “I live on the South-facing shore of the country of Humberweeple.”

        “Do you,” said Benjamin, “I’ve been there only once before. I was very impressed by the churches there.”

        “My father built those churches,” Blueberry said softly, “before the Battle of the Thunderborgs.”

        “I was told that your father was killed in combat,” Benjamin said slowly, “he was a noble man, from what I know. He taught many men to fear God, and to love Him, too!”

        “That is right, Benjamin!”

        “I met him once,” the boy explained, “he seemed to me the type of man who enjoyed luxury, but could do just as easily without it.”

        Dragonflies appeared from the sky, descending with baskets of bounty from the day’s work.

        “That is right, Benjamin.” Blueberry said.

        Soon, Fiadora put the lunch things away and Yimoa came to talk to them.

        “Earlier, you unfortunately witnessed my defense against the desert bandits,” the wizard said, “I’m sorry that that is how we had to meet. I’m sorry also that you were taken but them to begin with. The desert has been plagued by a foolish evil, one that grinds and clasps and does not cease.”

        Fiadora yelped and Benjamin cringed. As Yimoa spoke, the beautiful setting seemed to resist entertaining thoughts of evil things.

        “In this valley, we work hard to protect ourselves. We are hard workers, but we also enjoy our play. You two must live by example, to show the desert bandits what God has intended for His people.”

        “They will try to take us!” Blueberry cried.

        “If danger comes, help will come too. These crooks will tell you that the wise man fails in the real world. But, they live in a false reality. The real world is full of wise people who are unashamed to work. Benjamin, you were taken. But look at what has come of that!”

        “The bandits,” chirped Benjamin, “believe that they can get away with what they have done. They have decided to chase after a different kind of reward from us.”

        The wizard leaned forward and his beard nearly dropped onto Benjamin’s innocent face, “You already have the reward if you’ve drank of the water of life. We shall not want.”

        Benjamin smiled, for he felt the well springing up from within.

        “And,” said the wizard with a commanding air, “if you ever doubt your satisfaction, you’ve been listening to a liar!”

        “How can we convince the bandits that there is a better way?” Fiadora inquired of her uncle.

        “They may never learn.” the wizard said solemnly, “the best we can do is live by example.”

        Within a few moments, Fiadora was gone to be with her husband, who had just come home, and the wizard was saying farewell to Benjamin and Blueberry.

        “I will miss you, Master Yimoa!” cried Benjamin.

        “I will miss you, son. Don’t forget to visit me again someday. You must go on more adventures when you grow older, you know!”

        “I love you, Uncle Yimoa!” Blueberry said.

        “I love you, my Blueberry. Say hello to your mother for me.”

        As the boy and the girl began their ascent, all the fairies were coming home from their daily adventures. They were singing songs and lighting fires and flying merrily.

        One song that was sung by a group of merry friends went something like this:

We get our food and press our wine

In the Valley of Yimoa

The people here are very fine

In the Valley of Yimoa

Under the rushing river speaks

The spirit of breeze

And over the distant mountain peaks

Our God we long to please

We eat our feasts and drink delight

In the Valley of Yimoa

Each one’s soul flies like a kite

In the Valley of Yimoa

        Soon, the boy and the girl were coming out of the valley. They were now following a map given them by the fairies. Apparently, the lake Benjamin had been taken to was called Lake Omission. It was far South of Maebelhearst, in the southernmost portion of the desert-lands. To get home, the two would journey north through the coast-lands of Gooperquop. They knew now that the route the desert bandits had taken was much longer than it had to be. Of course, the crooks took a desert detour. That’s the kind of thing that crooks do.

        “Do you visit your uncle very often?” Benjamin asked Blueberry as they walked along the valley’s perimeter, under a golden sun’s beam.

        “I try to visit him once a year.” she said. “I love to sit by his fire under the waterfall.”

        “As do I!” said Benjamin.

        The two passed through the ton of Gooperquop with skipping strides. The town as full of colorful light sand music from the East. A ferris wheel spun slowly, casting warm light on the calm sea.

        The two were soon crossing the border between Gooperquop and Maebelhearst under a purple twilight. A flying fox surprised them, landing beside their path. It had a rabbit in its mouth and its golden coat shimmered in the starlight.

        “Shoo!” yelled Benjamin, trying to scare the creature away.

        At length, they could see the town of Maebelhearst. However, between them and the city lights was the ominous glow of bandit firelight.

        “I am afraid!” cried Blueberry.

        “We will be safe,” comforted Benjamin, “remember what Yimoa said.

        The truth is that Benjamin was somewhat afraid himself.

        Suddenly, three men appeared in front of them with torches in hand.

        “Benjamin Bull?” one of them whispered.

        “Grab him!” demanded the one in the middle.

        Soon, the two were in ropes. Blueberry was crying and Benjamin was trying to stay courageous.

        “You are not getting away this time!” one of them said.

        “Is that you Bamboe?” asked Benjamin, remembering his voice.

        “Yes, it is, Mr. Bull.”

        “Bamboe, you know that the true reward isn’t found this way. Remember what it was like when you were young? Don’t you want to come home?”

        Benjamin couldn’t tell whether Bamboe was considering the “true reward” or not.

        Then, seemingly from nowhere, came a fleet of flying foxes from the sky, landing on the bandit’s heads and sanding them in to the darkness with unpleasant noises.

        “Bamboe!” cried Benjamin.

        But he was gone.

        “Are we safe now?” asked Blueberry.

        Then, the foxes came and undid their ropes.

        “Thank you, flying foxes,” exclaimed Benjamin, “I’m sorry I didn’t understand you were on our side at first!”

        Soon, were on their way to Maebelhearst again.

        “You can stay at my house tonight,” Benjamin told Blueberry, “I can take you home tomorrow.”

        She thanked him and then noticed a frown on his face. She asked him what the matter was.

        “I am sad that those bandits don’t realize how good it can be to work hard for the true reward. They must learn the ways of Yimoa!”

        “Someday, they may remember you, and your example.” she said softly.

        Of course, the townspeople were overjoyed to have Benjamin again, especially his parents and sisters. The boy was so eager to tell his mother that Yimoa was a real wizard in a real valley. However, the story sounded too fantastic to be true.

        The day after their arrival, Benjamin and Blueberry came to the beautiful country of Humberweeple. Under coastal arches and dazzling spirals, the children said farewell. The land was singing for joy that the noble friends were safely returned after a grand adventure.

        The two said goodbye, and Benjamin told his new friend that he hoped to see her again. Together, they made a plan to meet in the Valley of Yimoa, just before the next harvest.

        Coming back to school, Benjamin found that all the students were curious to hear about his abduction, quietly listening whenever he stopped to explain his story. The teachers, like his mother, were hesitant to believe all the details of the kidnapping. However, everybody who listened was, at least, entertained.

        You might be curious about Bamboe, for his potential conversion beyond the events of this story. All I can say is that many years later, Benjamin’s prayers were answered. In an unexpected turn of events, this lone bandit turned himself in. By then, Benjamin was much older and had taken up residence in the Valley of Yimoa. He hurried to the county jail to see Bamboe and ask him what had happened.

        “My old friend,” Bamboe said slowly with a peaceful yawn, “I knew that you were always right about God’s design for us. I hope you will forgive me for what I did to you. But, I must also thank you for waking me up to the truth about work. If they ever let me out of prison, I hope you will let me help you with your nets and with your farm. I want to find the true reward. I know you have found it, although I have lost it. I believe I can find it again.”