There was no doubt about it. I was well and truly lost.
Not that I was unduly upset about it. Sure, a little worried, but not really worked up about it. I mean, it’s not like I’m Tim and I could go for a walk and end up in a magic land. I wished I could end up in a magic land, if only so I’d end up someplace and not be lost anymore. And with how lost I was, I deserved to find a whole magic kingdom. Maybe Narnia.
My thoughts were interrupted when I stumbled onto a hidden path. I glanced down at my trail map. The path in front of me was not on my map anywhere. It led through the woods I had been walking in and up over a nearby hill. It seemed somehow suspicious, but after being lost for half an hour it was better than nothing. I quashed my uneasiness, adjusted my backpack strap, and followed the dim, winding trail.
The dirt track lead through the densest part of the woods I had yet seen. On and on up the steep hill it led, sometimes doubling back on itself. Halfway up the incline, I took off my sweatshirt. The air was stifling for a May morning. I stopped to catch my breath and sat on a stump with my waterbottle, grateful that I had remembered to pack it. After a moment, I hoisted my backpack to my shoulder and continued on up the hill.
At the top of the hill, I looked down the trail ahead of me. It widened and ran down the hill toward a clearing in the valley below. I glanced again at my map. The lines and marks blurred before my eyes. Blinking in surprise, I rubbed my eyes and stared at the map again. The trails marked on the map appeared washed out and faded, as though the map had gotten wet and the ink had been diluted. I patted it with my hand. Still dry. Perplexed, I stuck it in my pocket and continued along the widening trail.
Not only did the trail widen, but it became smoother as it eased from the trees into the bowl-shaped valley before me. Forest gave way to grassy clearings littered with stone foundations as the road, for so it could now be called, wound on through the wood. As I rounded a corner, I suddenly came upon the remains of a large stone structure. Its sheer size staggered me; it appeared almost . . . castle-like. I approached it with caution, listening for any sound of other park visitors touring the ruins. Silence reigned.
Finally, my curiosity got the better of me. I wandered through the ruined town, wondering who had built it, when they had abandoned it, and especially why. I pulled out my camera, eager to take pictures of the impressive structures. The stone remains seemed better suited to a European travel book than a Minnesota park. Still, if Tim said Renolia was out here, maybe this is what it looked like.
I stopped in my tracks, floored by the possibilities of such a thought. What if this was Renolia? Could Tim’s story be . . . true? After thinking for a moment, I devised a test. I drew the trail map out of my pocket. Surely ruins of this size would have a historical marker on the map. If they were not on the map, perhaps I had found Renolia. I unfolded the map, pressed it flat, and saw . . . nothing. The map was blank. Just a white piece of paper. I turned it over. The back was blank too.
I stood for a moment, baffled. What had happened to my map? Magic was all I could think of. Did Renolia have magic that erased maps? Tim had said something about the “passage” being “closed.” Did that have anything to do with my map? I whirled back in the direction from which I had come. The path back up the hill seemed real enough. Should I go back now, while I still could?
A sound interrupted my thoughts. A clatter on cobblestone came from deeper in the valley. I froze for a moment, caught between going back to safety and the possibility of meeting a real Renolian.
Adventure won out. If Tim had been to Renolia and back safely, what’s to say I couldn’t as well? I crumpled the trail map and tossed it behind me on the path. Useless piece of paper, I wouldn’t need that in Renolia. Steeling my resolve and cinching up my backpack, I set out in pursuit of the mysterious sound.