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.”

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“What shall we do today, Goldilocks?”

Lutea’s fish, swimming idly in her bowl, did not reply.

“Fine then, I’ll think of something myself.”

Lutea paced back and forth on her tiled floor, each tile handmade and unique. She stared at her walls, covered in green wallpaper of her own design and accented with beautifully painted fruits (because why not?). There were so many possibilities, a paralyzing panoply of possibilities in point of fact.

Perhaps arts and crafts? Lutea examined her last project, an umbrella with the same sorts of fruits that covered her wall. She lounged on the wooden bench that doubled as bed and couch, chair and china cabinet. Well, quadrupled as those things anyhow. There were so many unfinished art projects on and underneath it that she’d have to do a mighty clearing the next time she wanted to sleep.

Perhaps best not to start anything new, then.

“Goldilocks, you’re usually so helpful when I can’t decide what to do today,” Lutea said, pouting slightly.

The fish swam about her bowl, blithely fanning her tiny gills.

“All right, I’m sorry about what I said the other day,” said Lutea. “You’re not a silly fish. The walking stick was a very good idea, I just felt like modifying it a little bit since there’s nowhere to walk and you never know when it might rain.”

“That’s better,” the goldfish said, her sweet voice warbled by the waters in which she swam. “Is a simple apology so hard?”

“Harder before you’ve done it than after,” laughed Lutea. “Now let’s hear your idea for today. I can see in your eyes that you’ve got one.”

“We should make some more tiles, Lutea. It may not be as fun as other things, but we can make the place bigger! Maybe even find someplace new!”

It was a simple suggestion, perhaps, but–as always–a good one. Lutea sat on her bench, stretched out her arms, and concentrated. After a moment, the thin outline of a tile, more like a washed-out photograph than anything, began to appear. Following a little more mental effort, the dust of the universe coalesced into something firm enough to be held.

“What do you think for colors, Goldilocks?”

“Raspberry and vanilla swirl!”

“Oooh! You always know just what will work.” Lutea swirled her hands, and as she did so vibrant colors blossomed forth across the plain surface, following the every motion of her hands like a viscous liquid. When the pattern caught her fancy, she froze it and held the completed tile up. Goldilocks flipped her tail in approval, and Lutea laid the tile in a gap at the edge of her place.

One more square looking into the infinite starry void that surrounded them filled up. Lutea looked out over the endless expanse thoughtfully, picking out a few minor bits of debris and a great void-whale to which she waved before turning back.

“If you can concentrate a bit harder, Lutea, we can make more than one at once,” said Goldilocks. “Then we could blaze a bath and see what’s out there, away from our little patch.”

“Someday, Goldilocks. Someday.”

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Children have such a wonderful way of investing everything they see with an anima, an animating spirit, and it’s beyond their young comprehension that the playthings and pets they talk to might not understand or absorb every word, every secret.

Zoë’s parents had bought Goldie the goldfish on a whim, expecting a sailor’s funeral for him in a month. But to their surprise, the bowl’s water was changed, aerated, and sprinkled with nourishing flakes with astonishing regularity for a flighty six-year-old. But Zoë saw Goldie as a full member of the family, and he enjoyed her full confidence.

In fact, late at night–after her bedtime–Zoë would often sneak out of bed and hand her head over Goldie’s bowl. With the two of them lit only by light leaking in from the hall, or a nightlight, Zoë would talk to her fish. Her day at school, who’d been mean to her, questions about the water temperature and fish food…Goldie was better than a diary written in Zoë’s halting hand because he had his own wants and needs and opinions. Even if he couldn’t express them.

One night, not long after Zoë’s seventh birthday, she couldn’t sleep and approached Goldie’s bowl as usual. “How are you doing tonight, Goldie?” she whispered brightly.

“I’m doing fine, Zoë,” said Goldie. “How are you?”

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Without Bear to guide her, the girl could only wander aimlessly and desperately through the endless forest. She’d have given anything to have him back by her side, despite his often irritating old-fashioned demeanor, despite the secret fear that the others from school would laugh at her if they knew her childhood toy had escaped the dumpster (which had long since consumed her classmates’ toys).

Absent his determination, his steel, she was lost. It was painful to admit; twelve years old was practically grown up, after all, and what sort of grownup relied on teddy bears to guide them through far and enchanted wolds? What sort of grownup hovered on the verge of tears instead of taking charge?

And what sort was consumed by a deep and trembling fear when it was clear something was following her?

Horrified that it might be more gobs, or worse, the girl deliberately wandered through a muddy patch backwards, making it look like she had stumbled in the other direction, and then carefully doubled back through patches of fallen leaves that would betray no sign of her passing. It was a trick she had honed in years of hide and seek in the woods at Grandpa’s house, and her naturally light step allowed it to be pulled off without more than a soft rustle of fall foliage to betray her position.

The girl approached the shadow in the woods from behind, with the gob dagger drawn, though she had no idea how to use it. As the approached, the creature came into focus: a great grey blob that floated on the still air, controlling itself with large and gossamer fins. It looked like nothing so much as a large fish.

Hoping to scare it, the girl burst out of the underbrush with what she hoped was a very fierce yell and the gob dagger raised high. The curious fish-thing pivoted and faced her with a terrible gurgling sound, and the girl prepared to bury her dagger in her pursuer up to the hilt.

Then she saw its eyes.

Wide, sorrowful, fearful…they were like a mirror of her own. The girl lowered her weapon. “You’re just like me, aren’t you?” she said in her most soothing tone. “Lost and afraid.”

The creature bobbed, approximating a nod despite its lack of a neck.

“What do you say we travel together, then?” the girl said. She approached and calmly stroked the beast’s scaly surface. “We can be lost together.”

Gentle fins lofted her off the ground and onto the fish-thing’s neck, and the girl rode her newfound companion in the direction of the setting suns.

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