I’ve been working today on the adventure and suspense story I plan to model for my students this month and next. With that in mind, I thought I’d post my fantasy story from the last unit and see how you folks enjoy it.
As a janitor at the Empire State Building, there were some things Giovanni Uomi liked about his job, and some he didn’t. His favorite thing was to speak to the men and women who worked in the offices there. He knew that some people looked down on him – they didn’t think he was important enough to talk to – because he was a janitor. That’s why he loved talking to the office workers. They respected him, and he respected them.
Giovanni worked long days, and didn’t get home until 8:00 pm on most nights. Even though he was tired, he still went to a homeless shelter near his house every night to serve meals to the homeless. He was poor, but he also knew that those people were poorer. At least he had a house and could cook for himself.
Giovanni‘s day started like any other day. He woke up at 3:30 in the morning, got ready for work, and jumped on the subway to Manhattan. It was a cool summer morning.
That day at work, Giovanni kept looking out the windows of the Empire State Building. He always did, just for the beautiful views of New York. But that day, when he was vacuuming, the sky was a light grey. When he was mopping, it seemed darker, like an elephant’s skin. And then, when Giovanni was painting, the sky was so dark, it looked like a black blanket was covering the world. And it was only lunchtime.
Giovanni wondered what kind of horrible storm was coming. An office worker walked by. Giovanni asked, “Mr. Allen, have you seen the sky today?”
“Sure have, Gio. I’m heading home now. Don’t want to get caught in the rain.”
“That’s smart,” Giovanni said. “You get home safely to your kids, now.”
Mr. Allen thanked him and continued to the elevator. Unfortunately, for Giovanni, he couldn’t simply leave in the middle of the day. If anyone had to stay in the building, it was the janitors.
As the day went on, the sky became darker. It didn’t seem like it could get any darker, but at around 7, the sun began to disappear below the horizon, and the sky was now like a black hole – no moon, no stars, no airplanes flying by.
Thunder rumbled through the building, and lightning illuminated the empty floors. Giovanni started working quicker. A major storm was brewing outside. He wanted to get to the shelter because he knew, on a night like tonight, it would be packed with people looking for warmth. He finished his work and got in the elevator. “I’ll just head up to the 102nd floor to drop off my stuff and then head home,” he said to himself. He pushed the button that said “102” and leaned against the wall, tired from the day’s work.
The elevator climbed through the building, and approached the 102nd floor. Giovanni watched the numbers go up. 93…94…Giovanni took a deep breath and sighed. 95…96…”Come on, let’s go already,” Giovanni pleaded with the elevator. 96…97…98…99…100…101… “Just gonna drop my stuff off and get to the shelter to help…” Finally, the 102nd floor – the top floor of the Empire State Building – was in sight.
“Ah, yes, here it – -“ a loud thunderclap startled Giovanni. He inhaled. “Nothing to worry about, Gio,” he told himself. “Just some thunder.” The doors began opening and Giovanni prepared to step out, but suddenly he was lurched forward by a sudden charge of energy. He stumbled out of the elevator, fell, and hit his head on the tile floor. His whole world went black.
When he woke up, Giovanni had to blink several times while his eyes adjusted to the light. He wasn’t on a tile floor. He wasn’t even in a building. He was outside, on a white, sandy beach. The ocean’s waves were rolling quietly in the distance. Palm trees were swaying in a gentle breeze. Giovanni felt sure he was dreaming.
He heard other people speaking and turned his head to see who it was. Three very old men were talking to each other. They spoke in a language Giovanni couldn’t understand and, really, had never even heard before. He was frightened and panicked because he thought they were planning to harm him. Giovanni tried to sit up, but there was too much pain. Because he couldn’t understand them, he had no way of knowing that these men weren’t planning to hurt him, and that, in their language, they were really saying things like this:
“Isn’t it strange how he’s dressed?” “Do you think he’s The One?” “Oh come on, surely when The One comes he won’t be dressed in those dirty clothes! And he won’t be carrying a spray bottle, either!” “Should we call for Mose?” “What can Mose do at this point?” “Mose can tell us what to do!”
Giovanni, still scared (because he couldn’t understand this strange language), pinched himself to make sure this wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t. He closed his eyes, unable to move, and knew he would soon pass out again. Just as he was drifting off to sleep, someone tapped his shoulder.
“Giovanni!” He opened his eyes, startled that anyone here would know his name (or even speak English). “Are you The One?”
The man who spoke wore glasses and a long white beard and carried a cane. Giovanni guessed he must be 90 or older. “The One?” Giovanni asked. “I’m a janitor. I’m the one that cleans the Empire State Building.”
“Then YOU ARE The One!” the old man said, smiling widely. “You are The One who has come to rescue all of Desideri from the evil and villainous Antica!”
Giovanni now felt certain this was a dream. But when the old man placed his hands under Giovanni’s arms to help him up, and he felt them, he knew he was not asleep. Giovanni was amazed at how easily this old man helped him up. He seemed to have the strength of a 20 year old.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” the man said. He walked Giovanni to a nearby bench under a palm tree, and they sat. “I am Mose. I am the aging leader of all that is good here in the land of Desideri – a representative of dignity, a champion of wisdom, a pillar of inspiration for so many people who are nearing death.”
Giovanni listened closely, becoming more interested with each word. “Excuse me, Mose,” he said. “But, what am I doing here?”
“Let me tell you about Desideri,” said Mose. “For, in order for you to understand why you’re here, you must understand what our world is like.” He paused, rubbed his chin, and moved his long beard to the other side of his lap. Then he spoke.
“We have here in Desideri a place we call Lago di Succo – or, in English, ‘Juice Lake.’ Many years ago, when I was much younger, my followers, the Meraviglie, and I controlled Lago. And it was good. We ruled fairly, allowing all the sick and elderly to come and drink the Succo. We were loved and our people lived long, wonderful lives.”
“Pardon me,” Giovanni interrupted. “What was so wonderful about the Lake?”
“The same thing that remains so wonderful about it, my dear child.” He placed a hand on Giovanni’s knee and continued. “Giovanni, the juice of the dragonfruit contains magical powers. And next to Lago di Succo, there is a dragonfruit tree. When the fruit falls from the tree, it is pressed for its precious juice. We store it in the lake, and when someone drinks from it, their sickness is healed, and their youth is brought back. It is, what I believe you would call, a ‘fountain of youth.’”
“How wonderful! It sounds just amazing. What a fantastic resource!” Giovanni exclaimed, with his eyes getting bigger.
“Yes,” continued Mose. “It is those things: wonderful, amazing, and fantastic. Sadly, though, my Meraviglie – and there are many of us – are no longer in control. Now it’s Antica and his Nonni. And their hearts are not golden like ours.”
Mose sighed, shifted his beard again, and drew shapes in the sand with his cane.
“You see, Giovanni. It has been nearly 10 years since my people drank from Lago di Succo. Antica doesn’t allow it. The Nonni guard Lago at all times. We are forbidden to drink the juice of the dragonfruit. Our sick are dying and our people are aging. If I and my dear friends, who you mistook for being enemies when you arrived on the beach, don’t get a drink from Lago soon, we will all expire.”
Mose ran the cane through the sand pictures, and Giovanni saw that he had drawn stick figures. “I mean to say, we will die.” He placed his cane on his lap, put his hand on Giovanni’s shoulder, and looked into his eyes with tears forming in his own. “And that, my child, is why you are here. You are The One who is going to help us overthrow Antica, regain control of Lago di Succo, and bring youth and happiness back to the good folks of Desideri.”
Giovanni was silent for a long time, and Mose sat looking at sunset dipping into the ocean. Finally, Mose said, “Let us sit here not a minute longer. Let’s go to my house, where my wife, Miranda, is undoubtedly preparing a delicious meal. You do enjoy salamander stew, don’t you?”
Neither Giovanni nor Mose was aware that there was a young man hiding behind a bush during this conversation. As soon as they departed for Mose’s house, the young man sprinted in the direction of the mountains. Before long – he was young and healthy, and therefore could run like a horse – the man arrived at the door of a great castle, with purple flags flapping in the breeze. On each flag was a yin yang. One side had an open eye. The other side had an eye sewn shut.
The man entered the castle (the guard must have known him because he let him come in without any questions) and proceeded to the great chamber at the end of the long hall. He hurried past the jars of eyeballs on either side of him and entered the prodigious room. Purple curtains covered the windows. Seated on a gilded throne lined with purple fabric was a handsome young man, about 25 years old. He wore a purple cape made of silk and held a scepter in his right hand. On top of the scepter, a statue of a baby sat with his mouth open in a perpetual scream. The man’s face – what you could see of it – was white as paper. The rest of his face, more than half, was covered by a purple mask that contained a scar running through a slit where his other eye should have been.
The young man approached this King, kneeled, and in a trembling voice, spoke: “Your royal highness, Prince of Youth, Lord of Agelessness, Count of All Things Juvenile, Antica.”
The man in the purple cape looked up with his one eye. “What is it, my loyal servant, Nonno Vecchio?”
“Sir, there is an intruder among us. At the beach – although now he has headed to his host for dinner.”
“Who is this host of which you speak?” Antica demanded angrily.
“It’s Mose. Mose found him and they talked. And Mose has come to the conclusion that this man – Giovanni – is The One.”
Antica rose from his throne. He stepped down and approached Nonno Vecchio. “THE ONE?” he screamed. Nonno Vecchio cringed. “Are you telling me that I and the Nonni are threatened by this man, that he is The One who has come to wage battle against us? That he is The One who will try to wrestle Lago di Succo away from us?”
“Yes, Antica. Yes, that is what I believe to be true.”
“Then he must be dealt with,” Antica said in a cold voice. He turned from Nonno Vecchio and calmly returned to his throne. He sat down, adjusted his mask, and gently stroked the head of the statue on his scepter. “And we will deal with him.”
The next morning, Giovanni and Mose ate a breakfast of pickled eggs and fried pixie tails. It was a quiet meal, with the only noises other than their knives and forks being Mose’s demands for “More coffee, Miranda!” or Giovanni’s compliments of “Miranda, this is the finest fried pixie tail I have ever had.” She didn’t embarrass him by reminding him it was the only fried pixie tail he ever had.
After breakfast, Mose asked Giovanni the question he knew he would. “Giovanni, dear friend, you will help us won’t you?”
Giovanni shifted uncomfortably in his chair, and reached for his coffee cup. He took a sip and placed it back on the table. “Mose, I never expected anything like this to ever happen in my life as a janitor.” Mose chuckled and smiled understandingly. “I go to work in the morning – or, at least I used to – do my job, talk to some people, and then go serve meals at a shelter. I’m not meant to be a hero.”
Mose chuckled again. “But don’t you understand, child? That is what you are. And that is why you are here.” His smile turned serious now. “You are a decent human being, and only you can save us.”
Giovanni took another sip of coffee. “I wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t,” he said, half believing it. “So, of course, I will do everything I can to help you and Meraviglie.”
“Oh, be blessed, dear man,” cried Mose, wiping his eyes and nose on his beard. “You are a hero to us all.” He called to the kitchen, “Miranda, bring Giovanni some more coffee. He will need his strength!” Looking back at Giovanni, he said, “Giovanni, the word will spread throughout the land of Desideri that you are the one who brought order back to our land. Be blessed, dear friend. Be blessed.”
For the next few hours, Giovanni and Mose sat and talked. Giovanni was anxious to learn more about Desideri. They discussed the magic of Lago di Succo.
“In our land, we have dragons that produce magical eggs.” Mose looked grandfatherly as he explained. “Ever since the dawn of time, it has been nature’s law that any purple egg a dragon lays must be planted along Lago di Succo.”
“Then how can the baby dragon be born?” Giovanni asked. He was no longer surprised about hearing things about dragons and purple eggs.
“That’s the magic,” Mose said. “That’s the magic of Lago di Succo. When a purple dragon’s egg is planted near the lake, it acts like a seed. And the dragonfruit tree grows from it. You remember, of course, that dragonfruit…”
“…heals the sick and makes the elderly younger,” Giovanni finished. He ran his hands through his messy mane of grey hair. “How will I overtake the guards at Lago di Succo?”
“Ah, yes.” Here, Mose stood up and walked to his bookcase. He ran his fingers across the volumes, looking for the right one. He found it. “Here it is – ‘A Complete History of Desideri and the Battles for Lago di Succo.”
“Battles?” asked Giovanni, standing to join Mose.
“Oh yes. This book details all nine of the battles that have occurred for the dragonfruit juice.” Mose looked through the book for a moment, remembering better days. “I can tell you this, and save you some reading: whenever we’ve beaten the Nonni, we have done it in a different way. Part of their magic is that they can never be defeated the same way twice.” He winked at Giovanni. “Part of our magic is that we always find a way to come back, to be born again, if you will.” He winked again, and said, “Time for my nap. Get started on that book, my friend.” And he shuffled off to the living room couch.
Giovanni opened the book and sat down to read it. From the other room, Mose called, “Figure out a way to defeat them. You must be smart. You must creative. And you must be quick. I am an old man running out of time.”
Giovanni looked through the book for ideas. It was a difficult read, very long and uninteresting at points. As he fell asleep, his eyes kept rereading something about the effects of cleaning chemicals on dragonfruit…cleaning chemicals…dragon…
His eyes closed and he drifted off to sleep. When Giovanni woke up, it was dark outside. Miranda was knitting a scarf on the couch and Mose was preparing a pot of tea. Giovanni returned to his book, saying to himself “There must be a way.”
He sighed and took a glimpse of the room. It was littered with old newspapers and trash. He noticed his own items from home clustered in a corner. His mop, his walkie talkie, a copy of the New York Daily News, and his squirt bottle.
“YES!” He screamed. “THAT’S IT!”
Giovanni grabbed the bottle and ran to the kitchen to tell Mose. “Mose, I think I’ve got it. Sit down.” He did. Giovanni called toward the living room, “Miranda, come in!” She did. And, as he paced excitedly, Giovanni told them his idea, while Mose and Miranda chipped in comments like, “Yes, it might work,” and “Now, what if you tried this?” and “They do drink the dragonfruit juice…You may be onto something here.”
And so, they agreed. Giovanni would carry his squirt bottle – with the leftover bleach and water – and use it to defeat the Nonni. The Meraviglie were summoned to Mose’s home and told of the plan. Though they were old men, they danced merrily when they heard the grand ideas. Finally, Mose passed out glasses of dandelion juice and made a little speech before they drank it:
“My dear friends, may this be the last time we drink dandelion juice, and tomorrow, may be press our lips to Lago di Succo and imbibe our young adulthood once more!” The assembled party screamed, “Hear, hear!” and Mose turned to Giovanni. “Giovanni, please say something to us. You are The One, after all.”
Giovanni thought briefly, raised his glass, looked around the room, and called out, “To life! To youth!” They all roared and drank the juice.
The next morning, Giovanni led the Meraviglie in the direction of Lago di Succo. The plan was to take control of Lago by getting rid of the guard and then marching to Ponte Giovane to inform Antica his reign was over.
When the sun came up, Giovanni and Mose were already hiding behind a passionfruit tree that allowed them to see the entrance to Lago di Succo. About 100 yards behind them, an army of Meraviglie was hiding and waiting.
“It’s time, Mose,” Giovanni said, pulling Mose into an embrace. “The only way for me to get past the guard is for you to do this.”
“I know. It’s true.” Mose sighed. “I will offer myself to the guard as a sacrifice of sorts, and no matter what he does to me, you are to stay here and allow it to happen. Then, when the time is right, you do what you must. Bless you, Giovanni.” Mose straightened his beard, turned, and approached the guard. Giovanni watched it all happen from behind the tree. He was prepared to watch his friend die.
“Halt right there, Mose!” the guard screamed, holding up a hand. Mose continued walking toward the gate.” The guard, who looked like he was 12 years old, again told Mose to stop. And then Mose was right there, looking at this youthful looking guard.
Mose spoke. “Arrabiata, why are you angry with me? I am just an old man who craves a final sip from Lago di Succo before I expire.” Arrabiata, the guard, blinked once. Then he blinked again. And when he blinked a third time, something terrifying happened. He grew about 2 feet, and his hair changed colors. His face became white as paper, and one of his eyes fell out of his head. It was quickly covered by a mask that had a scar running through a slit where the eye should have been. A purple cape appeared on his shoulders. Antica had disguised himself as Arrabiata! He punched Mose in the face (Giovanni bit his fist to keep from screaming), and the old man fell to the ground, wheezing for breath.
Antica kicked Mose in the stomach, cracking four ribs. “You old fool! I told you” – KICK – “not to” – KICK – “come” – KICK – “any” – KICK – “closer!” Mose was bloodied, and his beard was now covered in a deep red. “And now,” Antica said through gritted teeth, “you’ve allowed yourself to be killed.” He kicked Mose one more time. “You fool.”
Antica turned around and walked back toward his position. And here, Giovanni crept toward him. As he passed Mose, he took a moment to bow his head for a prayer, but Mose gave him a weak thumbs up to show he was – amazingly – still alive. Giovanni smiled and continued quietly toward Antica. He tapped the guard on the shoulder. “Excuse me, sir.”
“What the…?” Antica turned, his hand on his baton, ready to strike. “Who in the name of the Nonni…?”
But before he could finish his question, Giovanni had sprayed bleach into his eyes, instantly blinding Antica. He fell to the ground, clutching his eyes, newly aware that he couldn’t see. His one remaining eye had lost the ability to see, but it didn’t lost the ability to cry, and that’s what Antica did.
The Meraviglie, seeing that Antica was down, stormed toward him. Several tied him up with a rope. They ripped his mask from his face, revealing the empty socket where an eye should have been. Antica screamed in anguish.
Others went to Mose to tend to him, and comfort him, for he was in an unbearable amount of pain. Quickly, Giovanni ran through the gate to Lago di Succo. He didn’t have time to marvel at the dragonfruit trees, or even the spectacular emerald color of the lake. He quickly dumped the bleach from his spray bottle and plunged it into the juice. When it was full, he covered it (so he wouldn’t spill any) and ran back toward Mose.
He kneeled beside his dying friend. “Mose, here, drink this,” he said as he unscrewed the bottle’s cap. “It’s the dragonfruit juice from Lago di Succo. Drink it. You’ll be well again.” He put it to Mose’s lips and tipped the juice down his throat.
Nothing happened. One of the Meraviglie told Giovanni what he didn’t want to hear, but had to be told.
“He’s gone, sir. He didn’t make it.”
Giovanni wailed toward the sky, where a beautiful day was dawning and the trees didn’t seem to understand that now was not the time to be dancing in the breeze. As he cried, he noticed a bird flying out of the sun’s light. It was getting bigger, and appeared to be emerald colored. It was a beautiful bird. As it approached, Giovanni was amazed by its size. It looked like a pterodactyl. Finally, it landed beside Mose’s body. Giovanni approached it angrily, but the Meraviglie said, “No, leave it.”
This thing – it turned out later to be a dragon – placed its mouth near Mose’s head and breathed fire on the body. When Mose’s body was gone, the dragon turned to Giovanni and appeared to be waiting for him to say something.
So he did. “Am I supposed to thank you for that?” he asked angrily.
The dragon, to Giovanni’s surprise, smiled. When he laughed, a little smoke came out of his mouth. And when he spoke, Giovanni was amazed to hear Mose’s voice.
“No, my child. I am supposed to thank you. I may be dead as human, but I have found the fountain of youth as a dragon. I will always guard you and the Meraviglie, for the Lago di Succo will never change hands again. You and the Meraviglie may drink from it forever, and I’ll make sure to send some purple eggs your way.”
Giovanni cried and thanked the dragon. The dragon flapped his wings, and turned in the direction of Ponte Giovane. He circled the castle and the flags went from purple to emerald. The jars of eyes in the castle became purple dragon’s eggs, and the baby on top of the scepter came to life.
When Giovanni was brought to the throne in the chamber at the end of the long hall to be made King, he found the baby crawling there. He picked him up, sat on the throne, and held the baby in his arms. He looked at the baby, and tickled his stomach.
“I think I’ll call you Mose.”
Giovanni still rules Desideri today, and is loved by all. The baby Mose grew to be 20 years old, and then, like everyone else, began drinking from Lago di Succo. Today, everyone in Desideri is the age they want to be, and no one is sick anymore. And that’s the way it will always be.