He was a simple man with a brilliant mind, a man who would give anything for the ones he loved. He was a man who was both a skilled logger and wood worker, and passionate painter. He built his house all on his own, for his wife and his soon to be child and himself. It was sturdy, the perfect size, and warm. Every day during the winter there was a steady stream of smoke coming from the chimney, keeping the house’s inhabitants comfortable and cozy.
He was once a social being, someone who befriended every soul in the small town, someone who brought something all his own to every gathering. He sold his paintings, his woodworks, and his services to anyone who asked. Half the houses in this village were built by him.
He was always generous, even after the death of his wife. But with the death of her, he got the birth of his daughter. Lily had known her own child for merely four minutes before she eventually couldn’t hold on any longer. Jed was then a quiet man, a kind man ever still, but one who was not seen nearly as much.
To lose the one person he had and gain one he had never met before was peculiar to him. He felt ashamed to wish the child had never happened, since that would mean Lily might never have left. But when he looked into Dolly’s eyes, and held her tiny body in his arms, he realized he couldn’t possibly feel anything other than love for her.
Every winter, on the same day, he would return to Lily’s grave with Dolly. When she was old enough, he would tell her stories of her. She had named her in those four minutes. But Jed wasn’t sure if she had said “Dolly” or “Molly” or “Holly”, as he had only heard the Olly. And so he did his part in the naming by giving her the first letter. Eventually enough time passed where Dolly would do the talking. Telling him everything about her day, asking him everything about his. They were best friends from the get go, that’s how it always was.
She was a vibrant little girl, as intelligent as her parents. She could hold entire conversations from an early age, and would often wander the house having conversations with the inanimate objects of the house, asking the doorframes and paintings how their day was.
She would beg Jed to hoist her up on his shoulders, she would pretend to grimace when he would kiss her on the cheek because of his scratchy beard, and she would paint next to him. He would sit at a canvas and paint the trees and the sky and the river, and she would be set up at a table next to him with a large, white sheet of paper and two bottles. One filled with glue, the other with glitter.
And she would always, always ask to go on adventures. Specifically, adventures in the woods that surrounded the village. The one with the tall red trees that looked so pretty when it snowed. Her biggest dream was to see the Great Falls, a gorgeous waterfall deep in the woods very far from here that she learned about at school. Supposedly no one knew the way to it, or the exactly where it was. It was an area shrouded in mystery, and Dolly loved that. And every time she would ask to go exploring, he would always tell her the same thing.
It’s too dangerous.
Jed himself didn’t fancy adventuring, not anymore. He worked quietly and diligently, cutting down trees, building things, creating things. Selling to the village people what they needed. Everyone loved him, even if he was never as warm to them as he once was. And everyone loved Dolly, too. The little girl with the heart of a lion.
But, one day Jed had taken Dolly to the local medicine man, as per routine, whenever he would visit the village for a day or two.
But he had found something. The medicine man had found something within Dolly, a sort of medical marvel even he had only seen a handful of times. He said that Dolly had only a matter of months to live.
It had been eight years since Jed had felt the familiar feeling, finding out you’re about to watch the person you love most in this world die very, very soon. He told the medicine man to check again. And again.
But he was not wrong of its presence. There was nothing they could do, he had said. He was sorry. It is silent though, he says. The sickness kills during sleep. She might never notice. And, in a whisper, ‘maybe you shouldn’t tell her’.
When they arrived home that night, Jed went directly upstairs and slid into bed, still fully dressed. Half of his face was smushed against the pillow, the other half staring out into the darkness. How did it come to this?
As he looked at nothing, he came to a fleeting thought. A sudden burning flame within his chest, something he had to do. Something he had to do for her, for him. Although his daughter, he thought, could not possibly be dying, he had the uncontrollable urge to move.
He rose from his bed, and walked into her bedroom. He shook her awake, realizing now how long he really had been laying there looking at nothing. She turned, groggy.
“Let’s go, Princess.”
“We’re going on an adventure.”
She was suddenly wide awake. “Do you mean it?”
“Of course I mean it.” He tucked a piece of her hair behind her ear. “Let’s get packing.”
Dolly stood, her pink backpack filled to the brim, her trusty old pink rabbit stuffed animal companion clutched in her right hand. She stared at the trees in front of her, which looked far more menacing at night. In her opposite hand she held a lantern, one small and light enough for her to be able to carry.
Jed came up behind her, a lantern far larger and brighter in his own hand, equipment and supplies on his back.
“Where are we going adventuring, Daddy?”
“I don’t know yet.”
This was it. One step further into these woods and there was no going back.
Jed knew that once they left on this journey, once they started travelling, they wouldn’t be coming home until she was gone. He didn’t want to return home to wait for her death. They must move forward until there is no more forward left.
His biggest fear was her finding out. He couldn’t let her know. God, if she only knew.
He squeezed her hand, and gave her a smile that she brightly returned.
“Let’s go,” he said.
The excitement of adventure for Dolly never lost its luster. She skipped cross the dark trail with her lantern in hand, her father yelling at her from always back to slow down, and let him go first.
In truth it had been a very long time since Jed had travelled through these woods with his wife. The trees still looked the same, and the trail wasn’t much different.
He frowned, feeling as though this was the trail of death and he was the escort. He shook the thought away. No. No bad thoughts.
He decided to think, instead, on the short term goal. Get to the next village.
“Dolly, do you have the map?” he called to her. “And for the love of God, get back here!”
The bouncing lantern stopped in its tracks and waited.
Dolly put it down slanted on the uneven cobblestones, and pulled the map out of her dark colored poncho jacket with the silver buttons she so loved. She unraveled it, and placed it on the ground beside the lantern, carefully smoothing out its creases. Jed knelt beside her, and pointed to a small dot on the map labelled:Winterstone
“That,” he said. “I used to know someone there who might be able to help us.”
“Help us with what?” Dolly asked.
“Help us figure out what places to go. She used to go on adventures, I know. The town is only a few days away.”
“DAYS?” Dolly wailed.
“Days full of adventures,” Jed said, folding up the map. “Would you rather we turn around and have days full of school?”
Dolly stood, grabbing the small lantern once again. “No…” she said in a miniscule voice.
“Come on,” Jed said. “Maybe she can help us get to the Great Falls.”
“Maybe, it’s possible. Now let’s go, we can play a game while we walk.”
They had gone through three full days of “guess what kind of animal I am” and “I spy”, went through four cans of peaches and three cans of baked beans, sang dozens of songs together, and Jed had two sleepless nights at the side of the trail before they reached Winterstone.
They stumbled in on a quiet chilly evening, during a festival.
Dolly had never, ever, not in any second that Jed knew her, looked so bewildered in the best of ways.
They came out of the woods upon a great green, with makeshift wooden stands strung with little white lights. More electricity than they would’ve seen back home. The smell of food was intoxicating, chatter and laughter and music filled the air and it suddenly felt ten degrees warmer. Jed had forgotten how lively the rest of the world could be.
Dolly couldn’t decide which direction she’d rather look, left or right. And so her head turned back and forth, her mouth forming a little o and her eyes glowing with the reflection of the little lights.
No one had noticed their quiet intrusion on the festival, but something told both Jed and Dolly that they wouldn’t have cared. It was only when Jed was buying Dolly a flower lei when he heard the cello.
Its music suddenly cascaded through the air, filling everything with a beautiful, somber tone. His heart lept. She was still here, even after all of these years.
“Where is that music coming from?” asked Jed. “Can you see?”
“Right over there, Daddy,” Dolly said, putting her purple lei on and pointing eastward. He looked, seeing a small wooden stage decorated with lights and wisteria, framing the figure of a dark haired woman, a bit younger than Jed, while she sat playing the cello.
Jed grabbed Dolly’s hand, pushing through the crowd as politely as possible, not taking his eyes off the woman.
The music got louder and louder as they pushed through the crowd politely as possible until they finally reached the bottom of the stage. Jed could tell that yes, this was definitely, undoubtedly her. She played beautifully, her eyes closed, just like she always had. He couldn’t contain his excitement nor his relief and called out her name.
Her eyes opened immediately, and she quickly scanned the mass of people. She noticed Jed, and her eyes lit up like fireworks.
“Jed?!” she exclaimed, rising from where she sat. “Oh my god.” She laid her cello and bow down on the stage and hurried off of it as soon as possible, not even bothering to use the steps. She engulfed him in a hug, nearly jumping up and down in excitement.
“I haven’t seen you since you and Lily left years ago,” she said, her voice muffled by the hug.
“It’s good to see you, Violet.”
Violet pulled back, teary eyed, looking at the person she had lost so long ago. She hadn’t seen him in ages, and the occasional letter wasn’t enough. It was hard to send mail here, as the postmen were slow and unreliable.
Violet’s eyes then moved down to Dolly, who was standing next to Jed looking slightly bewildered.
“Yep, this is Dolly,” Jed said very proudly.
Violet gave Dolly a hug too, her eyes filling with tears.
“What are you guys doing here?” she asked.
“We’re on an adventure,” Dolly interjected.
“Oh well, if you need anywhere to stay, you’re welcome to stay with me.”
Dolly looked to Jed quickly, wide eyed and hopeful. “Can we Daddy?”
Violet’s house was something out of a storybook, a small wooden cottage with two equally small bedrooms and a joint kitchen/living room. Everything smelled like lilacs and vanilla, and was decorated quaintly. She had framed pictures of pressed flowers adorning the walls, and lace curtains draping the windows.
Dolly went to bed immediately, far too relieved to be able to sleep in a bed instead of the side of a trail to stick around and listen to the adults talk.
Violet prepared tea in the kitchen, talking to Jed of the old memories, and the missed ones.
“So,” she had said. “You’re going on a journey?”
“Yes, we are.”
“How wonderful. Where to?”
“…Well, we’re trying to make it to the Great Falls.”
Violet placed a kettle full of water onto the stove, and lit the flame beneath it. “Oh wow, that’s not an easy place to go.”
“But you have been there, haven’t you?”
She smiled as she opened the cupboard, taking out two identical teacups.
“I have.” She turned away from the counter, her face bright, an idea bursting from within her mind.
“What if I took you? Escorted you?”
“Oh…well, you could draw us a map, and send us on our way.”
“Don’t be stupid. I can’t just let you walk on out of here again.”
It was quiet for a moment, the lost decade hanging between the two old friends. Jed thought about it. He couldn’t deny that he would love to have her come along. He knew the thought of returning home alone was too much for him to think about ahead of time. But to involve Violet in the inevitable?
“Thank you. But before you make any decisions, I need to tell you something. Something about Dolly.”
Violet leaned back against the counter, furrowing her brow and gearing for a story.
“She’s dying, Violet.”
“What?” Violet glanced at the closed bedroom door. “How? How long? What?”
“She only has a few months. That’s why we’re on this journey. She always wanted to be an explorer…so I’m making sure that happens.” He looked proud, but the tears beginning to form in his eyes showed the truth behind his words.
“Oh Jed, oh no,” Violet said, her shoulders falling. “I’m so sorry.” She thought of Lily, of watching them leave, and of hearing of her death.
“Will you still come?” Jed asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
Violet crossed the room, and put both hands on his shoulders, looking him directly in the eye.
“You’ll always have one person, Jed. There will always be at least one. And for Dolly, well, if we can’t change her death, then we can change her life. Both of us. I’ll be damned if I let you by yourself again.”
Jed gave her a hug, taking a deep, shaky, relieved breath.
“There’s just one thing left we need to know,” said Violet, still holding tightly to Jed. “What are we going to do after the fact?”
Jed’s answer was solid, clearly something he had already thought through.
“We keep going. We see the world for her.”
“I’m with you wherever you choose to go.”
“We choose together.”
The sun arose the next morning the same way it always did, from the east, cascading the willow trees of Winterstone in golden streams of liquid sunlight. While the sun steadily rose, up to the tops of the trees, Jed, Violet and Dolly all prepared to continue on the adventure.
Violet and Dolly spread out an old map of Violet’s, and drew on it with colorful pencils, marking the pathways and trails to the Great Falls. Dolly listened intently as Violet told her old stories of adventure, talking of her favorite places and the trickiest ones to get to. Dolly’s fascination with the Great Falls grew smaller and smaller, and she began to get excited for the canyons, caves, and castles that were scattered around the world as well.
At last, the three of them stood at the entrance to the forest, ready to go. Violet insisted on bringing her cello, Dolly all of the maps, with her purple flower lei still hung around her neck, and Jed was the pack mule.
For however long they had, however far they would go, one thing was for certain: Dolly’s last minutes on this planet were going to be within a journey, a true fairytale.