We saw you come here on the back of our compatriot. The words were deep and resonant, knowing and kind, and they were articulated without any motion at all on the part of the perhaps-whale save its gentle bobbing in the air. We could tell that you were in need of aid.

“Yes,” said the girl tremblingly, teaching out a hand. “I’ve lost my friend, I’ve lost my way, and I must get to the Great Eye.”

The perhaps-whale’s wordless tone grew concerned. Yes, we know of the Great Eye at Childhood’s End, it wordlessly intoned. It is beyond our power to reach.

“Why?” said the girl petulantly. “You could fly me there in minutes.”

No, we cannot, replied the perhaps-whale. For you see, we do not exist.

The girl raised a skeptical eyebrow. “You look like you exist to me,” she said.

Of course, for we are childhood dreams, borne upward by winds of belief and sustained by the power of innocent minds. But Childhood’s End is the death of all such dreams, the grey crushing that accompanies all such young things. We exist only for those who believe, or can be made to believe, and to pass through the Great Eye at Childhood’s End would be, for us, to cease.

“I don’t believe in you,” the girl replied. “Whales can’t fly.”

You, a child, should know better than anyone the difference between what one says to others and what one feels to oneself. The tone without tone of the perhaps-whale sounded light and amused at this. Suffice it to say that we would not, we could not, be speaking if that were really so.

“So that’s it, then,” said the girl. “You won’t help me.”

Why would you want help to reach such an awful place? Childhood’s End is the death of wonder and dreaming, the graveyard of games and fun, the tomb of carelessness. To pass through the Great Eye is to lose all those things. Why not stay here, stay outside it, forever? You would grow older but remain a child. does that not appeal?

The girl bit her lip.

Is that not the darkest and most desperate desire of your heart? Surely you have seen them where you live, those who never leave home, those who still wake to mother’s fresh meals, those who know nothing but play and games their whole lives.

The girl thought about poor Bear, the gobs, and all she had seen and heard up to that point. “That sounds…terrible,” she said. “As bad as Childhood’s End sounds, that sounds just as bad. Isn’t there another way?”

There is no other way. Childhood is sunshine and adulthood is night. It is one or the other, always.

“What about sunrise?” the girl said defiantly. “What about sunset? If you won’t take me there, I’ll go alone.”

Inspired by this image.

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Mikey had long been accustomed to the old wagon–falling asleep to the gentle humming of its tires as heard from the cabin at speed, listening to the faint pitch changes as the automatic transmission shifted as it carried Mom away to work, the little pieces of meals and toys long past that would sometimes resurface on or under the seats.

But the new car was alien.

It was far too quiet, meaning Mikey was distracted by the beating of his own heart when he tried to nap. It glided unnaturally up and down the driveway without any of the comforting sonic cues that spelled out M-O-M. Its interior was cold, sterile, with a clinical smell and none of the stains with stories attached. Worse, Mom wouldn’t allow any eating or drinking anything but water.

It wasn’t long before Mikey was throwing tantrums and demanding the old wagon back. He fancied he saw it downtown sometimes, moldering in a used car lot or bearing a new family of usurpers.

That spring, Danny finally outgrew his old bike, the one he’d learned to ride on. It had fit, just barely, during the fall, but now his legs banged awkwardly against the handlebars, leaving angry red stripes across Danny’s knees.

Dad said that, thanks to little Sandy’s new dentalwork, any new bike would have to wait until Christmas.

“I can’t just walk everywhere all summer!”

“You’ll appreciate your new bike a lot more once you have it,” Dad said. “And that means you’ll take better care of it. I’ll show you how to give it a nice tune-up; it’ll be fun.”

Danny stormed up to his room and threw himself on the bed. It wasn’t fair. Why did parents always have to be like this? It wasn’t his fault he’d outgrown the old bike. They probably just didn’t want to pay.

“The city garage sale is coming up,” Mom said the next morning. “I bet you can find a nice used bike, and your father’d help you fix it up.”

Four hours’ worth of poking around dusty piles of junk later, Danny was about ready to go home, dejected and bikeless, when he saw sunlight glinting off spokes in the corner.

The old Flyer was definitely a garage-sale special—it was sturdy, ran well, and had cost only ten dollars. The fact that the bike had looping handlebars, a banana seat, and a definitively made-in-1973 paint scheme mattered less than the fact that it moved.

Dad, who was an amateur mechanic and doted on his old Schwinn, had helped give the old girl a tune-up. He’d even let Danny reattach the bike’s chain after cleaning it; thanks to carefully watching his father, Danny had been able to do it on his first try.

The real piece-de-resistance, though, was the sleek battery-powered light Danny picked up at Wal-Mart—he’d been so excited by the purchase that the Flyer’s unveiling and maiden ride happened at night. Danny had torn through the city streets like a man possessed, reveling in the speed, the wind.