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To Be a Hero

Chapter 1

Richie drew Slayhammer and killed the robber with a single stroke. Finally, the way to the dragon's cave was clear. He was going to face the fire-breathing dragon and cut him to pieces. If he could, that was!

It would be a hard fight and he wasn't sure if he could win it. You never know what might happen, when you confront one of these stinking brutes. It doesn't matter how often you've done it before — and Richie had slaughtered his share — but every dragon was different, and there was a first time for every thing. This could be the dragon who fried him for breakfast!

The fighting was bloody. In the end, though, Richie's sword found its way through all three of the dragon’s hearts. The monster had terrified the whole kingdom by turning everything to grey ashes, but it would do so no more!

Richie came out off the cave with the dragon's head in his hand, the still steaming blood dripping onto the burnt ground. Standing outside, he watched his companions creeping out of their hideaways, shame for their cowardly behaviour showing clearly. On the way back to the castle the people cheered him for saving the kingdom from the dragon’s fiery breath...

The ringing of the clock tore him out of his dream. “Not now!”, he grumbled into the pillow.

Richie was angry: “I hate school!” he mumbled hitting the duvet with his fist. “I don't want to be a child! I want to be a hero!”

There were no dragons or evil sorcerers in real life. There was only school. The only way he could have an adventure was by reading a book, which was just not good enough, not by far.

At school Richie continued his daydream instead of paying attention. Even his favourite subject — science — could not attract his attention today. He went on chasing evil sorcerers, killing dragons, and anything else his vivid imagination could come up with.

On the way home he told himself off: “It can't go on like that or I’ll just go mad!” The woman, he passed at that moment, gave him a strange look. Now he was speaking to himself, like some looney! It really was time for a change.

After tea, Richie went to his room, to do his homework and he did not do a very good job of it. After that he read his favourite book, yet again, as if he had not read it about a thousand times already. He just could not get enough of it.

It was a really brilliant story. There was anything in it you could only wish for. It was about this boy who was, like Richie himself, eleven years old. This boy, Simon by name, got accidentally lost in a big department store. During the search for the exit and the way home the boy had to go through another world. He fought against just about everything you could imagine: orks, dragons, evil sorcerers and monsters. In the end, the boy was celebrated by the people he had rescued, as if he was one of King Arthur's knights.

Richie wished more than anything else to be somebody other people look up to, who is asked to find solutions for life-threatening problems. James Bond on Secret Mission would fit the bill nicely.

Half-way through the book he could sit still no longer. Richie walked through his bedroom like a panther in a cage. Suddenly, he had an idea: Simon, the boy in his book had accidentally lost his way in a department store, and then he had all these brilliant adventures! Why should he not lose his way, too? Just by mistake, of course?

Richie thought about it seriously: He would need something to put his stuff in... maybe his rucksack? No, a rucksack was too conspicuous, people might think he was a runaway and inform the police! Hmm... better take his school satchel. It had all these handy little pockets on the sides and on the front, and he would look like any other pupil on his way to school.

Richie congratulated himself to having worked out the first of, he was sure, many more problems to come. Then, he considered the rest of his equipment: A weapon that was absolutely essential. No weapon, no hero! A kitchen knife would have to do, though. Maybe he could pick up something better on the way. Food and a warm jumper. Who knows how long his quest would take? It might be winter before he came back. A change of clothes, just in case it might rain and he got all wet. Not to forget, matches, a torch, and his book for advice. Heroes always knew what to do, but then this was to be his first real adventure.

Richie was pleased with himself so far. The only problem now was, how to get away without alarming his parents? All his careful preparations would be good for nothing, if his parents realised what he was up to!

His parents would say: ‘You are much too young!’ and ‘There are dangers out there you even haven’t dreamt of!’ and, worst of all, ‘What about school?’ There was no way that they would just let him go. Richie decided to solve this problem later. First, he would pack his things. So he did. It did not take him long to put everything in, apart from the food and knife. They had to wait until he had the kitchen to himself.

He heard his mother rummaging in the kitchen. This is just the opportunity I need, Richie thought. So he went straight in the kitchen to help his mother doing the washing-up. His mother was mildly surprise, normally she had to blackmail him to help her. She was glad, though, and left Richie alone, finishing off. This was the chance Richie had waited for. He took some ham and cheese out of the fridge and put both in a lunch box. Several slices of bread followed, together with his weapon — a not too big kitchen knife. His mother would miss the big one, so he decided against it, although he would have felt safer (and much more like a hero) with it. Finally, he found two bars of chocolate, three cans of lemonade. This would last for a few days. After that, he just would have to go hunting.

Another problem solved. Now for the last one, how to get away without his parents noticing. Mothers seemed to have a sixth sense for things like this!

Richie went back to his room to ponder the problem. There was only one chance, as he saw it: He had to pretend he was going to school like usually. If he left at night — which was just the thing he would like to do — his parents probably would inform the police in the morning. However, if he pretended to go to school, then he would have the whole day, maybe even part of the evening. This would allow him to cover quite some distance. By the time they miss me, I’ll be out off reach, Richie grinned, pleased with himself. Now, everything else would be a piece of cake!

That night he smiled in his sleep, dreaming of all the great adventures awaiting him.

He awoke before the clock the next morning, and singing he dressed and went to the kitchen to prepare breakfast. His mother was grateful that, for once, she did not have to drag him out of bed.

When Richie had finished, he went back to his bedroom and put all the money, he had saved up during the last few months since Christmas in his pocket and he was on his way!

Chapter 2: On The Way

Richie quickly made his way to the tube station. This was the first time he played truant, and he was a bit scared somebody would realise and stop him.

He reached the last station and found himself in the country side. Although, he had been here before visiting relatives it still felt different. Richie was excited and afraid at the same time. Still, it felt good, even if he did not have know where to go from here. Everything will fall into place, he told himself.

The sky was grey and dull, and after an hour all by himself Richie felt less excited but lonely. He assured himself that this was probably part of being a hero, although it would be nicer to share the adventures waiting just round the corner for him. He wondered if he should have asked one of his mates to come along? He could not think of one who would have been up for something like this, though. Anyway, it was too late for that.

Richie was a little disappointed. He had expected, adventures to pile up the minute he was out off the door. Well, this was real life not a book, but all the excitement was bound to happen soon.

Then it began to rain. “No, not rain!”, Richie said aloud. He slowed down as he began to tire. He was not afraid anymore that his parents would catch up to him, so there was not really any reason to run or even walk fast.

Bored, he put one foot in front of the other, not looking around very much, because he did not like the rain in his face. He lost himself in another daydream. It did not last very long, rain and increasing hunger distracted him too much. Richie thought, I did not really expect to be just wandering around with sore feet and rain dripping down my collar! At least, his satchel was filled with food. Richie looked for a barn or something where he could eat his sandwich. Half a mile down the road he saw a bus station with a roof. This would have to do.

Richie marched a little faster again, and soon arrived at the bus station. Sitting down, he rummaged through his satchel and eventually managed to make himself a sandwich. A can of lemonade helped it slide down easier.

Refreshed, he was sitting under the roof, feeling a lot better. The only problem now was that he did not feel like getting up again. It was still raining — not cats and dogs — but a steady drizzle. It did not look as if it was going to stop soon either, and here he was at least a little protected.

The only thing that made him leave his shelter again, was the fact that the bus station meant people. They might find it suspicious that he was sitting here in the daytime when he should be at school. It was just half past one in the afternoon, nowhere near the time school finishes.

So Richie packed his satchel, and then was on the ‘road again’ like it said in one of those old songs his dad was always listening to. Richie tried to convince himself that it was still a lot better to be here in the rain, than at boring, boring school.

Bravely Richie kept on going. After a while he came to a crossing. If he followed the road straight on he would reach the village where he had been for his mother’s birthday meal half a year ago. He fondly remembered the lovely steak and kidney pie... Adventures not pies, he told himself firmly.

The road on his left led to a motorway.The only choice that made sense was the path on his right. There was no sign saying where it went.

Richie turned to the right and followed the path up a little hill. Some cows lying under a big tree, watched him pass by with chewing grass with bored faces. From the top of the hill he could see that the road would soon lead into a forest. Richie was glad about that, at least he would be out off the rain.

Richie smelled the slightly tangy flavour of the firs, and the rather musky smell of rotten leaves and mushrooms. The forest was silent apart from the raindrops hitting the leaves of oak trees and, occasionally, the chirping of a bird. Richie felt lonelier than ever, he was used to the busy streets of the city. Since he had left the tube he had scarcely seen a living soul at all.

Of course, this way nobody would find it suspicious that he was not at school and there would not be anybody to give his description or whereabouts to the police, either.

His parents sooner or later would contact the police, Richie felt sure. Usually, he got on very well with them, and they were not too bad as parents go, but they would draw the line, when they found out he had run away.

Richie lost himself in yet another daydream. Before his inner eye, he saw police men in their uniforms; blue lights flashed; shouts from his parents: “Richie, Richie, please come home!” How could he go home? He had a special mission to fulfil! Hiding behind a tree, momentarily out of sight, he waited for the right moment to run, using the natural cover of the trees and bushes, always aware that one wrong step might give the game away...

Immersed in his daydream, he found himself deep in the woods without even noticing. His tummy brought him back to reality. He found a big stone with velvety moss growing on it and took the edge of the hunger with a bar of chocolate. He could not afford to eat all his food on the first day, especially, as there did not seem to be a village or town with shops nearby to get more.

Anyway, he might need the little money from his piggy bank, for something more important, like armour or a horse, or a decent weapon! Although, he did not think twenty pounds would be enough money to buy any of these. I might find a treasure, hidden under the roots of a tree, he cheered himself up.

After he had eaten half the chocolate, he put what was left back into the satchel again, and went on. The forest grew darker and darker, and Richie suddenly realised that he had to find a place to sleep. A barn, filled with hay to keep him warm, would be lovely, as he had forgotten to bring a blanket or sleeping bag with him. Luckily, it was early summer and the nights would not be too cold.

He went on and on, still following the squelchy path under the drip-dropping cover of the trees. The end of the forest was still not in sight, and Richie’s hopes to find shelter diminished.

When the light began to fade, Richie realised that any shelter at all was better than nothing. He had to find something before it was too dark to see. He had his torch, but he was not sure, if the little thing really would be of much help.

Richie carefully looked around. Afraid to leave the path, he searched for a place to sleep close by, so he would not loose his way. After a while he found a big fir tree with branches hanging down all the way to the ground and a hollow filled with dry leaves underneath. Richie crawled in, resigned that this was the best the forest had to offer.

His little teepee was cozy and Richie felt protected from the wind and anything a bit more dangerous. The only time he had ever slept under an open sky had been on a weekend fishing trip with his father. They had lit a nice fire near the river and had slept, huddled together for warmth and comfort, in their soft sleeping bags. It had been great and he had been looking forward to go again some time soon. Now, it would have to wait until he got back, if he did. You never knew on adventures.

Richie’s tummy began to rumble. Time for more food. A bit of warmth would be nice, too. He switched the torch on and looked through all the pockets in his satchel: no matches! He was so sure, he had put them in. How stupid of me to forget the matches!, he thought. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea anyway. The tree might catch fire, Richie consoled himself.

He just put his jumper on, glad that he at least had thought of that, and ate. Then, he curled up to go to sleep too tired even to read a few pages in his book, as he usually did. Despite his exhaustion, the sounds of the forest kept him awake for a long time: branches scraping at the ground or against each other, the cry of a hunting owl, the rustling noise of leaves, the squeaking of a mouse or other little animal. [...]

Copyright, Sybille Sterk 2002 - 2004
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