Today was Sam’s tenth birthday and he was spending it alone, again. Not entirely alone of course. He still participated in some of the traditional celebrations like getting his favourite meal cooked for him, and eating cake until he wished he hadn’t. But just like every other year, the feast of macaroni and cheese was shared only between his Dad, Mom and little sister, Katie.
Sam was not disappointed by this reality, in fact, he was genuinely happy about it. Having no friends meant he could spend more time alone, it meant he could filter out all the grumbled up noises of the world, and it meant, without interruption or compromise, he could be fully consumed by his daydreams and imaginations – venturing into extraordinary worlds with endless possibilities where he himself was the creator.
With a very full belly and a need for a proper celebration, Sam excused himself from the table and headed outside towards the treehouse. The warm summer breeze kissed his face as the crickets sang softly from the bushes. As he ran across the grass he immediately leapt from the ground, grasping the drifting rope ladder – his momentum swinging him effortlessly back and forth, like a cowboy on the run.
Guided only by the muted dusk light, he climbed up into the treehouse and gently crawled across the grainy wood boards. In anticipation, he laid down in the middle of the floor with his arms crossed behind his head, waiting eagerly for those first few stars to appear.
This was Sam’s sanctuary. This was his kingdom.
As soon as his thoughts began to take flight, the familiar sound of the porch screen door carried through the air – squeeeek, slap!
Sam’s eyes widened as he rolled over, scanning the empty porch and yard through a knotless peephole. He could hear a faint rustling down below. As he quickly turned his head towards the top of the ladder he noticed that it was moving! He immediately tucked into the corner, arming himself with his flashlight and fixing his eyes – trying to ignore any impulse he had to blink.
As the ladder began to swing more violently with each passing second, his body tightened and his heart pounded. Then, all of a sudden, he saw it. There at the top of the ladder was a furry red animal making its way in! His thoughts raced as he struggled through his next steps. I’ll throw my flashlight he thought, I’ll hit it straight on, wiping it clear off! He was about to take aim when the animal slowly rotated its body, exposing its milky white freckled complexion, its two eyes, and mischievous grin. It was his sister, Katie.
“UGH! What are you doing Katie? I told you never to come up here!”
“It’s my treehouse too!” Katie replied.
“Yeah well, get lost, I’m using it!” Sam bellowed.
Katie’s smile quickly faded and her eyes slowly filled with tears. Sam’s heart sank ever so slightly, but not enough to change his mind. With a painful stare, Katie climbed back down the ladder, running frantically across the grass and back inside the house – squeeeeak, slap!
This type of interaction was not uncommon for Katie and Sam. She had been trying to become friends with her brother for years now. It’s not that Sam didn’t love Katie, but holding on to his daydreams and imaginations were much more important to him, and from what he had learned about the world so far – from his ten years on it – was that this was not something of a priority for everyone else. In fact, it seemed like fantasies and magic were often discouraged and the quicker kids could grow out of these unproductive phases, the better. And so, Sam was left with no choice – he needed to protect himself.
Sam rolled his eyes as he lowered the flashlight back towards the floor. He barely had a moment to stretch out his legs and indulge in a couple of deep breaths before he heard it again – squeeeeak, slap! He immediately jumped to his feet and peered over the edge, locking his gaze upon the porch. There was Katie, in a red cape, wheeling his brand new banana seat bike out into the yard.
A rush of blood warmed his cheeks and his brow furrowed as he looked closer. Attached to the front of the bike was a popsicle stick windmill, sandwiched between two colourfully decorated rainbow ribbon handle bars, and there at the end of the long blue banana seat was a cluster of bird feathers secured with scotch tape.
“What did you do to my bike!!!?” Sam screamed.
Katie continued with no response, climbing onto the bike and placing her foot on the pedal.
Sam frantically lunged towards the ladder, tossing his body down the rope without pause. The fibres rushed past his hands and feet as he tried desperately to grip on. As the bottom rungs of the ladder shot towards the underside of the treehouse, he lost his balance, flipping his body into the air, landing him flat on his belly. The cake was about to make another appearance but then his eyes slowly closed.
As he struggled to lift his eyelids into a squint, sideways blades of blurry grass entered his vision. With his right eye buried in the ground, his left eye wandered. He could see Katie gaining speed on the bike, travelling up and down the length of the yard with her red cape floating behind her.
As she circled closer to him, he noticed a gap between the tires and the ground. He sat up slowly, widening his eyes to confirm. But it can’t be he thought. There before him was his kid sister, in what appeared to be flight, peddling at least six inches off the ground!
“What are you doing? What’s going on!?” Sam demanded
“I’m riding your bike, what’s it to you? You’re not going to use it anyways, you just hang out in YOUR treehouse all the time,” Katie replied.
“No, what’s going on!?” Sam said as he pointed his finger towards the bike, gesturing it up and down in an attempt to describe the baffling scene.
“Oh this? Surprised you noticed,” Katie said with a mischievous grin.
As she raised her eyebrows the bike lifted further into flight, accelerating the speed of the popsicle stick windmill. It was now at least five feet off the ground. Sam’s mouth fell open and his eyes glazed over in disbelief. He sat there blankly, unable to issue a response.
Katie finally landed and walked towards him, her red ringlets and cape bouncing with each step.
“Are you ok?” she asked.
“Ahhh, how, how did you do that?” Sam asked while looking desperately confused.
“Imagination is a great thing Sam but sometimes you need that extra secret ingredient to make it even better,” Katie replied.
Sam stood up, brushed himself off and hesitantly walked towards the bike, his knees weak with uncertainty as he swung his leg over and mounted the seat.
“Here, you will need my cape,” Katie announced.
Katie quickly untied the knot, grabbing it from her backside and gesturing it towards him.
“No, I don’t need that!” he said in a dismissive tone while placing his foot on the pedal.
He began to ride, gaining as much speed as he could along the straight runs of the yard. He closed his eyes and prepared himself, unsure as to what would happen next. But nothing did. It wasn’t working. He stopped immediately and jumped off, letting the bike fall to the ground. He crossed his arms and stared at Katie as though he had been tricked.
She walked towards him, cape in hand.
“Here, you will need my cape, trust me,” she said. Her tone bold and her eyes strong and determined.
Sam reluctantly took the cape, thinking to himself how silly all this was. He loosely tied a knot around his neck and climbed back on. As soon as he began to pedal, the bike jolted forward with tremendous speed and immediately soared into the air. He could feel the knot of the cape slowly slip from its twists and folds and without an ounce of hesitation, he reached for the loose pieces of string, grabbing them with all his might like he was never going to let go – the golden letters that spelled out Katie on the back, gently glistening in the remaining sunlight.
Tingles danced up and down his body as he relished in the most exhilarating moment of his life. And as a large smile swept across his face he looked back down at his sister Katie and noticed that she was smiling too.
Sam woke up the next morning feeling incredible, the excitement and magic still pumping through his veins. Unable to contain himself, he ran down the hallway and leapt from the landing, clearing the steps and startling Katie who was in the kitchen eating her cereal – milk and rice krispies now all over her face.
“Hey Katie!” Sam said in a giddy tone.
She responded with a confused and guarded stare. “Get lost!” she said, her brow furrowed and determined.
Sam’s heart sank as the excitement quickly left him. He stumbled outside lost in thought as he glanced at his banana seat bike leaning up against the back brick wall, completely void of decorations.
He continued to walk through the yard, the cold morning dew sprinkling over his bare feet. With each passing step he tried to make sense out of what he thought had happened. As he looked down, he could just barely see the edges peeking out from underneath his foot. But when he lifted his leg, there it was, hiding in the depths of the grass – a wooden popsicle stick. His smile quickly grew and as he turned towards the house he yelled out, without an ounce of hesitation.
“Hey Katie, I have an idea!”
Photo by Jonathan Borbaon Unsplash