The slender, young knight tossed her unruly yellow hair. Shiny ribbons of pale pink, white, and bright red were tied to her upper arm. She wore the streaming colors proudly. A steady left hand held the reins, while her right hand clutched a sword.
Caldor, the fearless black charger, and his golden-haired rider faced a towering enemy. An evil giant from deep within the earth wanted to destroy the magic castle. Only the lone rider blocked its path.
A fresh breeze rippled the murky green cloak that covered the giant from head to foot. The hairy creature had no eyes, nose, or ears, yet somehow knew that an adversary approached. A gust of wind flung open the giant’s cape, revealing a thousand outstretched arms. Its writhing tentacles beckoned, daring the knight to come within range of their deadly grasp. It hissed a whispery challenge: “Come. I’m waiting for you.”
Caldor snorted and pranced. His eyes blazed with orange and red fire, and his body trembled with excitement.
“Caldooooor. Go! Go! Go!” shouted the rider. Then she and her mighty horse raced to defend the castle. Hooves thundered. Blue eyes flashed. The knight’s sword whooshed as it cut through the air and struck the creature’s rigid body. A thousand arms waved furiously in a clutching frenzy. They wanted to rip and strangle!
Whoosh! Thunk! The sword struck again. And again. On the final stroke her weapon split, but the blade had found its mark. A tangy smell filled the air.
“We’ve done it! The giant is dead!” the knight declared. “Good boy. Come on, Caldor. Let’s go back to the house, I mean the castle, and I’ll bind your wounds.” She stroked the soft black fabric on the stick horse’s velvety neck.
Muffled giggling broke the heroic spell. A boy and girl hung on the post and rail fence between their yard and Chelsea’s. The twins’ red hair shone like the sun on polished copper. “Who are you, and what were you doing to that tree?” the boy asked.
“I’m Chelsea. I moved here yesterday, and I’m playing. Who’re you?”
“I’m Paul. This is my sister Raychel. Why did you break that on the tree?” he asked, pointing to the long cardboard tube Chelsea’s mother had given her to play with.
“It’s my sword, and I broke it in battle.”
“You fought a tree?” he asked, incredulous. “Are you weird or something?”
“It’s only a tree sometimes. Other times it’s a dragon, or a giant.”
“Come on, Raychel. Let’s go. She’s weird.”
“Wait, Paul,” said Raychel. “That’s a beautiful stick horse, isn’t it?” Raychel pointed to Caldor and arched a scolding eyebrow at her twin.
“It’s OK, I guess,” he conceded at last.
“I’ve never played a game like that, Chelsea. Can we play, too?” asked Raychel.
“Not me!” exclaimed Paul.
“Sure, Raychel. It’s better with more players,” Chelsea told her.
“Come on, Paul,” Raychel urged. “Won’t you play too?”
“That’s OK, Raychel,” Chelsea said. “He doesn’t have to. Besides, you need special stuff to play this game. You need magic.”
“Magic!” declared Paul. “You just need to be loony to beat up a tree. What would the other guys think if I galloped around on a stick, screaming and beating up an old tree?”
“Don’t pay any attention to him, Chelsea. Tell me—what magic?” Raychel’s eyes were bright with interest.
Chelsea paused and studied Raychel hopefully.
“Imagination,” she said at last. “Look at the tree and squint your eyes. Do you see the arms of a monster waving in the wind?”
Paul turned his back, pretending not to listen, but Chelsea caught him squinting at the gnarled old tree out of one eye.
Raychel crinkled up her face and squinted hard. “I see it! Black and scary. Covered with long, grasping arms!”
“That’s it!” cried Chelsea triumphantly. She’d found a friend.
“Chelsea, lunchtime,” called her mother from the back door. “You may invite your new friends in for lunch, if you like,” she suggested as Chelsea tromped up the porch steps. “I’ve already asked their mother if it’s all right.”
Paul was poking at the tree with a stick. He quickly dropped it when Chelsea hollered an invitation. As he followed his sister toward the house, he glanced nervously over his shoulder at the gnarled old tree. The branches whispered and sighed in the wind. His eyes widened. “Hey, Raychel, wait for me!” he called and hurried a little faster to catch up to her.