“Ewww! Eggs and bacon again?!” Emarilda, or Emmie, a petulant child with springy red curls and freckles galore, threw down her fork and refused to eat this plain breakfast again. It was the same breakfast every weekend.
She knew how it must look. It looked as if she was unappreciative of her mother’s efforts. But Emmie just couldn’t understand. How hard is it to do something better like chocolate chip pancakes? Hellooo.
“You know what other kids get to eat for breakfast?” Emmie paused for effect…nothing. She continued goading. “They get waffles with strawberries, whip cream, and tons of syrup. And big pieces of French toast with sugar powder too!”
Emarilda’s mother didn’t feed her tantrum and responded, “Well you’re not ‘other kids’ and when you grow up you can eat whatever you want.” She smiled to keep the peace. After all, the day had only just begun.
“That’s right because all of you won’t be there to stop me.”
Her younger brother, Sam, chimed in with a mouthful of food, “I’ll be right there with you, sis!”
Their father and oldest brother, Jack, snorted simultaneously. Emmie concentrated on devouring her uninspired breakfast. It was nearly cold now, its warmth released during her fit of temper.
Fine, she thought, not much longer till I’m out on my own and I can have fun all the time and eat what I want whenever I want.
Emmie and her mother used to get along famously – the whole family did – until they moved to Boca Raton in South Florida. Almost immediately Emmie realized all of the cool things they lacked! She was hypnotized by the latest and most advanced gadgets the kids possessed. And the clothes? Only the trendiest, popular clothes filled their closets! These same kids even received allowances without doing chores! It just wasn’t fair that Boca kids got everything they wanted and Emarilda didn’t.
She had noticed that her parents have been working more than normal. Something about the economy hurting – all she absorbed from that was the hint that she won’t be getting as many Christmas presents this year. Emmie had to have that new Burberry backpack. It only made sense. She had to fit in with the girls in her class.
Needless to say, Emmie’s parents have frustrated and confused her more each day. What was the point of them working so hard if they can’t give their kids what they want?
Emmie demolished everything on her plate and hurriedly dropped it in the sink. Her dad yelled after her to rinse her dish but she pretended not to hear him. What did parents know anyways?
Snatching up her purple notebook and pen and her favorite plaid (Burberry knockoff) blanket Emmie scurried out to the backyard and nearly ran over Sam.
“Hey where you going, Emmie?”
“I have plans to make for when I move outta here. I wanna write down all the fun things I’m going to do.”
“When you move out? But you’re only 14, Emmie.”
“You sound like Mom and Dad. You coming with me or not?”
“Okay.” Sam obeyed.
Once brother and sister settled outside Emmie suggested they create a list of all the fun things they’ll do when family isn’t around to oppose. It was a perfect day; the warm air refreshed the body and soul and also fueled Emarilda’s retaliation against the crutch of boredom.
They developed a list of activities that would fit perfectly in their world of fantasy. The entertainment ranged from water sports to rock climbing to advanced computer technology to an endless supply of delicious cuisines.
The day flew by while imagination was cultivated. Since it was Saturday, it was movie night and that meant cheeseburgers, fries, milkshakes, and popcorn. The movie choice was The Spy Next Door. Emmie thought to herself. A Family movie. Great. Family movies were so corny.
Unexpectedly, Emmie found the movie to be bearable. It was surprisingly funny and it reinforced her idea that adventure is vital within families. It keeps them going strong. When the movie ended it was bedtime. Emmie trudged slowly to her room contemplating what boring things lay in store for tomorrow.
While Emmie got comfortable in her plush bed her parents entered. Her mother asked, “Did you enjoy the movie honey?”
“Yeah it was okay.”
“I thought it was pretty comical.” Her mother tried. “Maybe we can do something fun tomorrow.”
“Let’s talk over breakfast in the morning. I think we’re all overdue for a family outing.” Emmie’s dad agreed.
“Like it’ll actually happen.” Emarilda answered cynically.
“Well…we’ll see tomorrow. Goodnight lovebug.” Her parents kissed her goodnight and shut the door quietly.
Emma once heard that if you wished upon a star at a time in which all digits in the time, date, and year are identical then your wish was sure to come true. Lucky for Emmie it was October 10th, 2010 and it was nearly 10:10pm! Think Emmie – quick! This was her chance to wish for the world of fun her and Sam had concocted!
“I wish that Sam and I lived in a world where there was nothing but amusement! No parents!”
The clock switched over to 10:11pm. Hopefully I made it on time. Emmie sighed. Pointless, she thought. Wishing on stars.
Emmie snuck down to Sam’s basement room and told him about the wish.
“That would be awesome, Emmie. But when you tell someone your wish doesn’t it stop the wish from coming true?”
“I don’t know.” She whispered, “It’s not like it would happen anyways.”
Emmie decided to sleep on the idea. She fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.
Around midnight, though, a peculiar noise disrupted her sleep. It was a heavy wind blowing noise paired with light flashes that occurred in uneven intervals outside her window. Frightened but curious she slipped out of her safe bed and peeked around the edge of the window curtain.
Emmie opened the curtain all the way, risking being seen, and gasped.
Two hot air balloons in the front yard.
Woah – gotta limit the popcorn and soda before bedtime, Emmie. She shook her head and squeezed her eyes shut willing the outside scene to go back to a grassy front lawn with the usual inhabitants.
No such luck. This was certainly a wacky dream. Emmie spun around when she realized Sam was at her doorway, “Emmie! Did you see what’s outside?! What’s going on?”
“Come on, Sam. Let’s go see. What’s the worst that can happen? This has to be a dream!” Emmie laughed nervously and ran outside to the massive unmanned balloons. No one else had heard or seen this bizarre scene.
Sam followed cautiously. They knew they would be embarking on an outlandish journey as soon as they were each in their own balloon. What a story this would be in the morning! The contraptions ascending slowly into the obscure sky.
As the miles above land increased, the once open and airy hot air balloon began to transform! Within seconds it was completely enclosed and the air had changed. Emmie was light-headed and frantic. We’re being abducted by aliens! A window materialized while the gravity rapidly disappeared. Emmie floated uncontrollably throughout the spacious, reformed balloon. She looked out to the dark space and noticed stars and planets and….at least twenty other balloons! Each child peered out into the unknown. Their expressions ranged from euphoric to downright panic. Sam’s balloon was immediately across from Emmie’s. He was all smiles! At eleven he was so carefree.
Abruptly, the balloons gained speed. The balloons moved faster and faster; they became wild. It appeared that outer space had…roads. Instead of pavement, though, there were roads comprised of star clusters and constellations! These energetic stars gave off strong light while spacecraft balloons continued to zip along the star highway. But the faster they went the more the other balloons started to blur.
Emmie noticed an upcoming wall of tightly packed green stars that appeared to signal “go.” It was frightening as the balloons moved closer towards it and the possibility of combusting in star flames entered Emmie’s mind. She braced for impact.
After staying in that position for some time she opened one eye expecting to be doomed and floating in space but no….all balloons had passed safely through the crevices of the wall effortlessly. Next thing Emmie knew stars began surrounding the balloon. It tipped upside down, then to the right, left, forward, faster, faster, down like an elevator dropping 10 floors. She no longer had the luxury of seeing outside. Suddenly the ride came to a smooth rolling stop. The lights diminished and an exit door magically appeared. Emmie’s inquisitive nature took lead. She stepped out and immediately recognized the familiar gravity.
A smiling teenager welcomed her. “Hello Emarilda. I am Zoey, a counselor here at F.U.N!”
“Fun?” Emmie asked, donning her most skeptical look.
Zoey chuckled “F – U – N. Fantastic Universal Neuro-galactic-academy.”
“Wouldn’t that be F-U-N-G-A – funga?”
“Nope. Here we abbreviate it as F.U.N. because fun is the number one goal here. Besides, Neuro-Galactic-Academy is all one word, silly. No parents here my new friend. Just kids that are tired of listening to boring rules. Here at F.U.N. you can play, scream, eat anything, go nuts! Just be a kid.” Zoey kept smiling.
“Okay. This is so weird. Is this a dream? Where’s my brother?”
“Sam is partaking in the fun!”
After walking a short distance Emmie spotted her brother rock climbing. She stopped to take in her surroundings. A tremendous dome shielded them from the dangers of space but also allowed them to admire its beauty. There were rollercoasters, carnival games, food courts, and more. Everything that Sam and I wrote on that list is here!
“Step right up! Enjoy F.U.N. Everything you’ve ever wanted to do is at your fingertips!” The voice claimed over an intercom. Emmie was still trying to take it all in.
Balloons continued landing onto a grip and rolling up to the dock. Once new children arrived their looks of uncertainty disappeared. They instantly forgot their mode of transportation. Were they disgruntled children like me? Unhappy at home?
Emmie ran over to Sam. “Can you come inside with me?”
He was beaming with excitement. “This place is awesome!”
Together they walked to the main building that resembled a skyscraper hotel. Upon entering the double doors they gasped. The hotel was as high as the eye could see. Each floor was a different color of the spectrum. Wacky room numbers (numbers that were tilted, angled, patterned, etc.) graced the doors.
They arrived at what appeared to be the elevators but they weren’t ordinary elevators. There were no doors. You simply stood on a lit circle and….DISAPPEARED!
Emmie started hyperventilating. “Those kids just vanished Sam! We need to get out of here!”
“Relax Emmie – it’s a transporter that beams you right to your room!”
“A transporter? Like in Star Trek?”
“Uh yeah. Like in Star Trek!”
Just then Emmie felt a soothing wave of energy wash over her. It was as if a curtain had been allowed to open and the sunlight was rushed in. What am I worried about? It’s time to have some fun for once. We’d worry about getting home later. They set out to accomplish everything on their list.
Hours went by. Hours turned into days. Days turned into weeks. Emmie and Sam didn’t find that much sleep was necessary. A catnap here and there sufficed. There was just so much to do! Home was an ideal that gradually drifted from their minds. The hospitable counselors always seemed to find new activities for them to enjoy.
One day while Emmie napped at a picnic table she had an oddly familiar dream. Cozy family….popcorn….movie. What was that random dream supposed to mean?
Lost in thought, Emmie sauntered around F.U.N. It was easy to lose track of time as there was so much to entertain. Every kid was constantly going and going – like a posse of Energizer bunnies.
Speaking of losing track of time, she nursed a nagging feeling that she couldn’t quite put a finger on. It gnawed on her senses when she thought about time. Suddenly her mind jerked back to the present. The fun. No pressure. No school. No homework. No fighting. No….Mom, Dad, or Jack.
Emmie began asking around for the date. No one knew! They acted like it was insane to ask for such a thing. Emmie was beyond frustrated, an emotion she hadn’t experienced in what felt like days or maybe a week.
Emmie decided she would attempt to sneak into the room designated “Employees Only.” She devised a plan to distract the F.U.N. employees that stood guard. In seconds, she disheveled her clothing and rubbed dirt on her face. Running inside she screamed hysterically. “Everyone! Zoey needs your help. A big fight broke out over by the rock climbing walls! Hurry!”
They immediately followed with shocked looks on their faces. They had obviously never heard of a fight occurring there. Once the employees were off she ran through the forbidden door and immediately zoned in on a calendar.
What had seemed like a week was actually five whole months. Emmie shrieked with panic when she thought of what her family must be going through.
An employee finally discovered her. “Hey! You lost?”
“I want to go home!”
The teenage boy chuckled and walked toward her. “This is home. Why don’t you go back outside and have fun?”
“Stay back! I want my real home!” Emmie shouted.
“And why would you want to go home anyways? Didn’t you think it was boring?” His tone turned sarcastic.
Emmie quickly outmaneuvered him and sprinted. She began anxiously questioning kids on how to get home.
Just when leaving felt completely impossible she heard a whisper “Hey. You. You want to go home? I know how.”
Emmie turned around and saw a skinny boy sitting on a picnic table in a far corner. “You know how?”
Nervously he began, “I just know. You have to find the Mystic.”
“The Mystic?” She gazed at him skeptically. “If you know about this why don’t you leave?”
“Because…” He twitched uneasily.
Emmie felt bad for the shy boy. “What is your name?” She asked gently.
“Hi Bernard. I’m Emmie. Nice to meet you.”
“So why don’t you want to go home?”
“Because my parents beat me. There’s no reason for me to be there.” Bernard’s eyes filled with tears. “They hate me.”
“I’m sorry. “
“It doesn’t matter now. I’m free from them. So. You have to find the Mystic.”
“A special room. Blue door with an upside down number two. She will tell you how to leave.”
They both stood and Emmie gave Bernard a huge hug. “Thank you!”
“You must have a wonderful family.”
“We do. My brother Sam and I.” She paused. “Would you like to come with us?”
He smiled at that. “Thank you but no. This is my home now.”
“Good luck, Bernard.”
Emmie ran off in search of Sam and found him playing volleyball. “Sam!” She grabbed his hand and pulled him out of the game. “We need to get home. Come on!”
“Home?” He said the word as if it were alien. For her it was almost the same way; home was an idea that had become distant in her mind. But reality was weaving its way back in.
“We have to find the Mystic!” She dragged him despite his protests. They found the room Bernard spoke of. A dirty blue door with a rusty number two upside down.
Emmie opened the door to reveal the Mystic who sat in the middle of the room. On the right side of the room was a wide projector screen and on the left there were two large bathtubs.
The Mystic spoke lightly. “Can I help you?”
“We want to go home.” Emmie was bold.
“Why? You are in the world of fun you both dreamed of. You hated your life.” The Mystic chided. “Here you have all of the food you want and games and rides and just so much fun!”
“How do we get home?! We miss our family!” Emmie cried. Sam helplessly watched his sister fall to pieces.
“Do you truly mean that Emmie? Sam?” The Mystic questioned.
“Yes. “ Sam chimed in. “We mean it. Please.”
Emmie sobbed. “I didn’t realize how much home was a part of who we are.”
The Mystic handed them each a strange pack. Each package contained a limp canvas balloon.
“Ummm…” Sam began. The situation was so weird that he couldn’t even find words.
Little did Sam and Emmie know – it would only get more peculiar.
“Listen to me carefully.” The Mystic stood. “If you want to go home you have to hold your balloon and sit in the bathtub. The container will fill with water…Th…”
“What?!” Emmie interrupted.
“Do you want to go home my dear?” The Mystic persisted.
“Let the water cover you and watch the screen. Think of what is waiting for you at home. Your mother. Your father. Your brother.”
Emmie climbed into the bathtub and focused on home.
The screen began displaying a slideshow of pictures. Familiar pictures. Pictures of their family. Emmie could feel something changing…she felt…different. Sam hesitated. He turned his head toward the door.
Emmie begged. “Focus Sam! Concentrate!”
Emmie felt the canvas hot air balloon start to envelop her. She was moving away from the Mystic, away from Sam.
“Sam please! Remember home!”
And then she was gone….
Seconds later Emmie awoke disoriented.
It was light out. Familiarity touched her senses. Sheets, pajamas…something soft and plush…
“My bed! I’m home!” She rolled around with excitement.
Then she stopped. Oh please tell me Sam made it! Emmie jumped out of her bed, ran out of her room, down the hallway, down the stairs. Each heartbeat grew louder in her chest. Her breath was ragged.
“Sam!” She practically knocked down the door to the basement.
The bed was empty! She dropped to her knees and sobbed uncontrollably. Sam was gone. Emmie dragged her feet back towards her bedroom.
“Sam!” She screamed. He was standing in the hallway that led to Emmie’s room. They ran to each other and hugged. “I thought you didn’t make it back! I ran to your room right after I woke up in my bed!”
“Oh. You woke up in your bed?” He asked scratching his head.
“Er…I don’t want to talk about it”
Emmie giggled. “You can tell me later – I love you. I don’t want that to ever happen again!”
“I second that. I love you too. I think everyone’s in the kitchen.”
“Let’s go. We have a lot of apologizing to do.”
Their family was quietly enjoying breakfast. Sister and brother stood in the doorway absorbing the panorama they’d previously taken for granted. A family that always cared for them but they were too stubborn to ever notice. They had been trapped in their own little world…
Lesson learned. Be careful what you wish for.
“Good morning” Emmie said weakly.
They mumbled good morning in return.
Sam started “We have a lot of apologizing to do.”
Three shocked faces turned.
“Is this a joke?” Jack snorted “I have to get to work.”
“What day is it?” Emmie asked.
“Sunday.” Jack replied curtly.
“Wait Jack, please. Sam and I want to apologize for how terrible we’ve acted toward you guys. “
“What made you finally realize it?” Their father questioned.
“Let’s just say Sam and I had a rude awakening. It was like a….um…dream we both had. About the life we wanted so badly. But it wasn’t as great as we thought it’d be. It’s not great without family.”
“I say apology accepted. We love you both so much.” Their mother gave them kisses and they hugged her tightly. “Now”, she said, “you can start redeeming yourselves!”
“I’ll get the dishes!” Emmie yelled.
“I’ll get the trash!” Sam volunteered.
“Uh uh. After you eat some breakfast first.” Their mother rebuked.
Their father and brother glanced at each other. After a thick silence Jack spoke. “Good to have you two back.” He winked. Emmie and Sam grinned.
“How about another movie night? Popcorn. A great flick. As a family.” Their dad suggested happily.
“Sounds great dad!” Sam was eager. “How about Over the Top?”
They all laughed. They had seen that movie one too many times for Sam.
“How about...” Their father contemplated. “I know!” He was thrilled. “How about that new movie that just came out on DVD? Space Kids in Mars! That sounds like a perfect family movie.”
Sam and Emmie looked at each other quickly and screamed in chorus, “Nooooo!” and started laughing so hard they were crying.
Their lives were excellent and they had never known it. Until now. Now they see it clearly and plan to enjoy every moment of it…all together.