Roger watched the whole thing, the way he always did. And once he knew she was asleep, he pulled the bottle Esperanza had given him out of his pocket. Would a warlord really trade a book that could change reality for a potion that could give him...hair? It just seemed ludicrous--and definitely like something out of a strange novel. This whole thing seemed so unreal, all of a sudden, sitting there in the still green swamp air. The fact that Mavis was hurting so much, the fact that they were in a magical world between worlds, the fact that he, the little brother, might be the only thing standing between Mavis and--but he refused to think that thought, even in his head. If Mavis were really that bad, then the doctors would be able to find something. And if they could give this whatever it is a name, then they could find a cure for it, too. Right? If Mavis were--if she was close to--if it was even a possibility for her to...you know what than their parents wouldn’t have left them at Grandma’s for the summer. Right? Parents don’t do things like go to seminars in Atlanta while things are...scary. He was overreacting. He needed to stop worrying. For all he knew, this was all some crazy long messed up dream, and he would wake up back in his own bed, probably on the last week of the school year. And then he would get to do the summer all over again, with his friends back home. He would tell Mavis all about this crazy cool dream he’d had, where they rode this ginormous swamp monster and met the lady on the moon.
But somewhere, deep in his heart of hearts, Roger knew that this was no dream. And he knew that Mavis was not doing well. And it felt like the bitterness of a thousand adult worries had crept into his dream world, like a noxious gas that clouded the sun and drained all enjoyment.
Harnswiggle startled him when she laid her hand on his arm. “It’s not your responsibility,” said Harnswiggle.
“You don’t understand. She’s my sister. And honestly, she’s really my best friend, too. I have to help her.”
“No,” said Harnswiggle. “You want to help her. That is different than having to. You are choosing. A good choice, but a choice still the same.”
Roger wasn’t sure what she meant, but somehow he knew it was something that he needed to remember, and think about.
The Marshwallow’s pace was slowing, and he seemed to be wading more in mud than in water. He had begun to cry again, too, because he had stubbed his toe, and he was hot, and his favorite tree was thirty miles away, and he was thirsty.
“Oh, goodness greif!” shouted Bollygoglgle, and Mavis sat up with a start.
“Now, there, there,” began Harnswiggle, but Bollygoggle wasn’t finished.
“You are the whiniest creature that there ever was! For crying great monstrous tears, put us down! We’ll walk from here!”
“You shouldn’t being so hard on him,” said Harnswiggle. “You know that he is only a youngish swamp monster.”
“He is?” asked Roger. “How young is youngish?”
“I’m--I’m six hundred and forty twoooooo!” wailed the Marshwallow.
Six hundred and forty-two didn’t seem that young to either Mavis or Roger, but they just followed Harnswiggle and Bollygoggle down off the Marshwallow’s arm and back into the muck. It wasn’t the most pleasant thing in the world, to get shoes wet and muddy, let them dry out, and then get them wet and muddy all over again. Mavis considered just taking hers off, but then she remembered all of the little cypress knees and how miserable it was to step on one with bare feet.
“Goodbye, Marshwallow,” said Mavis to the youngish and extravagantly sad swamp monster. “Thank you.”
“Yes, thank you,” Roger agreed.
And, for the first time, the Marshwallow smiled, ever so slightly. They got a glimpse of yellowed teeth the size of tree trunks, with moss growing merrily up and down the sides. As much as Mavis wanted to shudder, she smiled back instead.
“Come along,” sighed Harnswiggle. “There is still being plenty of way left to go.”
They sloshed on, until they started coming up out of the swamp, and the water got lower and lower, until at last they were on dry ground. Still they kept going, following a faint trail through the palmettos and winding their way around the pine trees. And then they got to openings in the trees, like little courtyards in the cities of live oaks. They would cross these, and Mavis would watch the ground to make sure that she didn’t twist her ankle in a low place, and Roger would watch the interesting bugs and flowers and cloud formations that there were to see.
“How much longer?” asked Mavis at last. She was a little tired, a little dizzy, and her head hurt, but she was trying her best not to be a wimp.
“It not too much farther,” said Harnswiggle, with a worried sort of look in her normally sparkling eyes.
“It is a long, long way farther,” said Bollygoggle.
Harnswiggle glared at Bollygoggle, and he shrugged. “It’s not my fault that we are off on this wildest goosey chase. It is all your fault. And it is being definitely your fault that we had to bring someone who is being sick all the time. Didn’t I always tell you not to get involved with the humanspersons that are sickos? They be waste time, I said. They slow us down, I said. Especially this humansperson.”
“Hey!” cried Roger. “Lay off! Mavis has been keeping up just fine, and she’s in pain! And don’t call her a sicko--it’s not her fault that she doesn’t feel well. Do you think she chose to be like this?!”
“She is the one who made the wishing,” said Bollygoggle.
Mavis was still walking and acting like she wasn’t crying, but she was, and they all knew it.