Friday, February 29, 2008

The Boy Who Grew Up Too Fast, by Joe Mashburn, with illustrations by Jung Min Park

This is the account of a boy who thought that everything got easier as a person grew up. The unfortunate thing is that he lost sight of what really mattered: things that most people miss.

Lee was six years old. His daily routine consisted mainly of 1st grade and coming home to study his vocabulary words and then going outside to play in his backyard. His bedtime was eight, and on weekends it was nine.

However, life was not perfect. He didn’t have many friends at school because he was very shy. His best friend was his dog, whose name was Spike. Spike had lived with Lee since Lee was 2 years old. Spike was not a large dog and he was very timid. Spike liked Lee, but he liked anyone who gave him the occasional bite of food. Lee usually talked to Spike about life and school and his parents and things like that. Spike, being a dog, was a very good listener.

Lee also liked to take notice of small things, some of which the other kids took for granted. The grass appeared greener to Lee than it did to most kids. Colors in general were much brighter and clearer to Lee. What Lee felt was also greater than what the other kids felt.

One time, Lee jumped off a swing and when he reached the height of his jump, it felt like he would never fall. Everything melted away. When he looked down, all he could see were little ants, and the bright colors of trees and the red covered slide and the blue swing that he had just leapt from. It was the best feeling in the world to Lee, and he kept jumping off that same swing and getting the same feeling.

One day, the kids at school made fun of Lee. They picked on him because he did not want to go down the red slide. Lee was scared that he would get trapped inside and not be able to get out. When Lee got back home, his mother was teaching her students, as she was a piano teacher, and his dad was off in New York, but Lee had no idea what he did. His babysitter picked him up from school and took him home. She plopped him in front of the TV and started to read her magazine. All Lee wanted to do was talk to Spike. Slowly, Lee crept off into the other room where Spike was asleep on the couch. Lucky for Spike, it was Lee and not his mother, since she would have kicked him off the couch.

“The kids at school are not nice to me Spike. If I didn’t want to go down the slide, would you have made me?”
Spike’s response was to roll onto his back and sneeze.
“Of course you wouldn’t have. You’re much nicer than those kids at school. That slide was scary and dark, and you know how I don’t like the dark. See, if I were older, none of this would be a problem. Grown-ups have no problems with anything. You never hear them talk about how their friends pick on them, or how they can’t go down a covered slide because they’re scared. That’s because they aren’t scared, Spike. For some reason, they don’t think that the dark is scary. They can fix everything. It would be so much easier if I was older…”

At dinnertime, his mom took him out to eat a restaurant. She asked him how his day went at school and Lee avoided the question because he did not feel like explaining it to someone who would think it was an easy problem to fix. “Only Spike understands,” thought Lee. “Mom wouldn’t know what it is like.” This all took place on Friday, which meant that Lee’s bedtime was nine o’clock. Lee did not do anything between dinner and bedtime.

When bedtime came, Lee climbed into his bright orange dinosaur bedsheets quietly and listened to his mom read him a story. Before the story was done, Lee was asleep.

That night, something strange happened. Lee’s legs seemed to stretch, and his arms seemed to grow, and his stomach seemed to stretch. Everything changed on Lee while he was sleeping. His hair got longer, and he now had hair on his face. He woke up on Saturday to his mom telling him to get out of bed and go shave before he went to work. Lee was very confused by this, and got out of bed. As he turned around to make up his bed, he realized that his sheets were no longer the brilliant orange that they had been when he went to bed. They were very normal and very dry colors. In fact, his whole room had changed colors. Nothing struck Lee as being magnificent anymore. He was not surprised at how much color there was in his room. He looked outside, and the same thing had happened. The trees were now a boring color of green, as was the grass. Everything looked as though it was covered in a light smoke or something that was blocking the true color. The buildings that he saw out his window had even changed. They were not bright shades of white with the deepest of black shutters anymore. They were all copies of the same type. Even the birds that he used to hear every morning seemed to be further away. However, his mother was not, and she burst into his room screaming about how he needed to shave and go to work right away.

Lee, after a few mishaps with his razor, walked into what he used to know as a town. The birds still sounded far away, even though one was in the tree above him, and the colors still had a film of smoke over them. Lee was very confused. There was a chocolate shop up the street from where Lee lived and he had always said that he would like to work there. Lee guessed that this is where is mom meant, and he walked into the shop. The usual smell that came to his nose was gone. It was not fantastic anymore, or surprising. It just smelled… like a regular chocolate shop. They asked him if he needed anything, and Lee was so surprised that they did not tell him to get to work that he walked out of the store. He walked to the next drab building and walked in. This was the library. Lee always told himself never to get a job here, because he did not like that there were no interesting smells or colors or sounds in there. He walked in, and one of the ladies who worked there bustled over and asked him to fill the shelves in section C-2. Lee stared blankly at her and nodded. As she moved on to help a person looking for a book, Lee saw himself in a windowpane. He was very tall and very skinny. The blue eyes he had yesterday were now covered with the same smoky film that covered all the other colors in the world. They were now more of a grey, which made Lee very nervous. He liked his eyes, and colors in general, and wished that everything would go back to normal.

Before he could leave, however, he turned around and saw the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. Now, he didn’t actually know she was beautiful. He couldn’t tell that for some reason, and the more he thought about it the more he fell away from the idea that she was beautiful.

But there was something about her, something magical almost. He went to talk to her, and realized that her eyes were completely green. There was no shade over them, and immediately he knew he was in love. Then he turned around and saw the blandness in the world.

Lee left the library and ran home. He thought since he had fallen asleep young and woken up older, that if he fell asleep again it might set him back to being young again. As he entered the house, his mom started to say something, but he held up his hand and ran into his room. He jumped in bed without even taking his clothes off and shut his eyes. He relaxed, and in fifteen minutes was asleep.

During his sleep, Lee changed locations completely. He woke up with a start and looked around him. He stood up out of bed and looked at his covers. “Oh-no” thought Lee, as he saw that his old dinosaur covers had been replaced by boring grey ones. He looked in the mirror and saw that he now had short black hair, and actual grey eyes, and grey everything. In fact, Lee looked around, and realized that everything was grey. He ran to the window, and all he could see was another window, which had grey curtains. He ran outside his room and ran to what he believed was the front door of his house. The girl with the green eyes was in his house with a ring around her finger. Her eyes were dull. Lee didn’t know what to do, since this was the girl who appeared to shrug all the effects of this horrible world off, and her eyes were grey. The door he found brought him to what looked like an alleyway, and he took a right and headed down the grey hallway. He found stairs at the end and ran down them, taking two at a time. He ran past two people who were walking their dog, which was grey, just like the people and the walls they were near. By now, Lee was getting nervous. He found a door that had a grey street behind it. He ran outside and was surrounded by the noise of nothing. All this time, Lee had not realized that he could not hear anything. There was a consistent buzz in his head that was fairly loud, but there were no birds, and there was nothing that reminded him of home.

When Lee went on the street, he saw something that terrified him. Surrounding him were giant buildings, so tall that planes would have to fly around them. The people who were near him were talking, but he could not hear them. They were all the same shade of grey as the buildings. They were talking very fast, and seemed to be in a rush to get somewhere. However, none of them seemed to be moving. They stood where they were, in a rush to get somewhere, but not actually going anywhere. Their outlines became blurry, and Lee could not tell where one started and the other ended. The world started to spin, and then there was nothing. Lee was floating in a huge amount of nothing. There was no noise, no color, and no smell.

Lee awoke with a start. He looked around him and was surprised to see vivid color. He looked at his bedsheets and realized they were his brilliant orange dinosaur bed sheets. He looked in the mirror on his door, and smiled when he saw his brilliant blue eyes. He jumped out of bed and ran to look outside. Overnight it had snowed, and the snow lay over everything equally. On the pine tree that covered his driveway, the occasional patch of brilliant green caught his eye, and then was gone, taken up by the brightest white Lee had ever seen. He went downstairs where he was sure he could smell pancakes being made. He was right! When he opened the door, his mom was standing in front of the griddle yelling at Spike to get off the couch. Spike was ignoring her. She turned and looked at Lee, and he realized that she had brilliant blue eyes also. Her robe was an astonished shade of red, and her hair reflected the light into millions of different patterns on the wall. Lee ran to find his favorite thing in the house: the crystal, which hung in one of the windows. When he found it, he stopped in his tracks. The blue and red and green and yellow that fell on the floor in patterns were the most astonishing things that he had ever seen. And they were all so alive and vibrant, he could hardly think of what to do next. He stared for a couple more seconds, then left to go tell Spike about his dream.

Now, some people say that there are different endings to this story. Some people will tell you that he talked with Spike for over three hours about his dream and how he thought that he never was supposed to grow up in the first place. Others will say that when he saw Spike, he realized for the first time that Spike actually was many different colors which combined to make him a beautiful peachy white, which Lee thought was the most gorgeous thing that he had ever seen. But I know what really happened. When Lee sat down to tell Spike about his dream, Spike leapt up and gave Lee a giant lick right on his face. Lee laughed and said to Spike: “You don’t really even need to know about my dream, do you? I bet you already know what happened!” and then laughed some more. Lee hugged Spike, and for a split second, Spike’s eyes changed from the deepest black to the bluest blue and in a flash, were black again.


Anonymous said...

The combination of words and images is wonderful. The writer manages a tone that captures exactly the dilemma of the protagonist, the artist lyrically creates images that are apt and engaging.

Ramakrishna said...

Nice story telling.
Once I had similar dream in different manner. This story reminds me of my childhood. Without colors this world is nothing.
Sweet and simple vocabulary. Illustrations by Jung Min Park were great. Subscribed to blog feed.