GROUNDHOGS AT TERABITHIA
KING OF TERABITHIA'S ROW
Please feel free to scroll down past this preface to Chapter 1 if I seem too long-winded. You will want to scroll back up and reread it later, however!
Standard disclaimer, I do not own the characters and am not using them for profit. They belong to Katherine Paterson and David Paterson, Walt Disney Pictures, Walden Media etc.
As a school psychologist, I'm supposed to be able to help kids cope with the realities of death and get them through the grieving process. I may actually use the 2007 movie version of Bridge to Terabithia to do that once it comes out on DVD.
That having been said, there is way too much tragedy and misery in the world as it is, and I still have a soft spot for happy endings, and many of my early creative writings of childhood were fanfics (even before the term was invented) rewriting the endings of kids angst stories. I agree that there are some stories with tragic endings that are best left alone. James Michener's Korean War novella The Bridges at Toko-Ri, for example (and another "Bridge" story whose film version was extremely faithful to the written work) ended with the hero, a US Navy fighter pilot, being shot down over enemy territory, two of his friends flying a rescue helicopter getting shot down and killed trying to get him out, and then the hero getting surrounded by enemy troops in a ditch and shot to death. Hollywood reportedly wanted a happier ending in which he is rescued, but William Holden, who was cast as the hero and actually had a brother who was killed in action as a Navy fighter pilot, refused to agree with that compromise, and he was right in my opinion. I'd have a lot of trouble, even if paid to do so, rewriting a happier ending to The Bridges at Toko-Ri where another helicopter comes in, guns down all the enemy troops and snatches the hero from the jaws of death. (Apparently Stephen Coonts, on the other hand, didn't; he then changed the setting to the next war after Korea, changed the characters' names and called it Flight of the Intruder!)
I know that talking about a Korean War shoot 'em up as a prelude to a Children's Classic story fanfic seems rambling and irrelevant, but you'll catch the connection if you stay with the story! Again feel free to scroll down to Chapter 1.
Bridge to Terabithia is different, and something compels me to write this. Leslie Burke is just too sweet and lovable a character (especially as portrayed by Annasophia Robb) to stay dead, even though her real-life inspiration obviously and sadly is, and I mean absolutely no disrespect to that young lady's memory. But Leslie herself is still a fictional character and still fair game in the Kingdom of Fanfiction.
Canonically, this is something derived from both the original novel and the movie. I favor the movie, but the DVD isn't out yet, so I have to refer to the novel for some of the dialogue and chronology, and to fill in some gaps in the movie. I've also decided to stay with the book on Leslie dying on the Thursday of Easter week instead of on a Saturday as the dialogue flows better that way. But since the Music teacher's name is spelled "Edmunds" in the book and "Edmonds" on the movie credits, I'm spelling it per the movie credits.
I'm giving this a PG-13 rating; if anyone out there thinks a preteen boy and girl innocently skinnydipping together in an Eden-like woods is child porn, then not only did Henry Bellamann write child porn that became a national bestseller in 1940, but Ronald Reagan starred in the film version of it! In fact the alternate title of this fanfic, King of Terabithia's Row, is both a reference to a big disturbance in Jesse's life (a row as in rhyming with "cow") and a play on the title of said Henry Bellamann novel/Ronald Reagan movie.
One last comment for the benefit of Katherine Paterson: Yes, I know that "Banzai" means "May you live ten thousand years," but once upon a time where I was born, yelling it could get you shot, blown up, or decapitated by a bolo knife:-P
GROUNDHOGS AT TEREBITHIA
KING OF TERABITHIA'S ROW
"Jess, it's your girlfriend!" May Belle said. "I called you three times!"
He couldn't believe he was hearing this! After making her the new Princess of Terabithia, she had the nerve to tease him about Leslie. No, come to think about it, the last time May Belle referred to his "girlfriend" calling, it was Miss Edmonds. He screwed up his face as he took the phone. I know Miss Edmonds is still worried about me. So are all the other teachers. But why would she call me before school? "Hello?"
"Hi, Jesse!" Miss Edmonds chirped cheerily, "Listen, I was supposed to take my nephews to the National Gallery today, but my sister had a change in plans, so I've got tickets I'm not using. I thought you might want to come."
He squinted again. "Miss Edmonds, thanks. I know you're trying to make me feel better after everything, but we can't both play hooky just for that, can we?"
He heard her laugh. "Play hooky? Jesse, I know you're eager to get back to school, but we still have today, tomorrow and the whole weekend before Spring Break's over! Don't go short-changing us!"
He raised his eyebrows and gasped.
"Jesse, you still there?"
"Yes, Miss Edmonds."
"You should ask your folks first. I'll wait while you ask."
He put down the phone and stepped over to his parents' bedroom in a daze. What the heck is going on? What kind of game is Miss Edmonds playing? But he knew she would never do anything harmful, so he decided to play along with it.
"Momma," he said, again in a tone to keep from waking her fully, "I don't know why, but Miss Edmonds wants to take me to the museum again. Okay?"
His mother again mumbled something incoherent without moving out from under the covers.
"Miss Edmonds?" he returned to the phone, "My mom says okay."
"Great, Jesse! I'll be there in a few minutes!"
He hung up, still in a daze. Why would Miss Edmonds play a game like this? Pretending it was last week, the day Leslie died, wanting to take me to the museum again? And then it hit him, and he raged. It wasn't Miss Edmonds! Just someone who's good at imitating her voice, playing a mean trick on me! Who? Janice! Janice or one of her friends or a relative! After the trick Leslie and I played on her, forging that love note from Willard Hughes, this would be the perfect payback! Janice and her friends will probably pull up in a car and start teasing me about Leslie and Miss Edmonds. The truce with Janice is over. Well, I'll be ready for them!... But how the heck did they know that Miss Edmonds took me to the museum that day? I never told anybody and I don't think she would have!
But it was time to get ready for the school bus anyway. He finished dressing and pulled his backpack on, and stepped out the door, all the while planning how to react when Janice and her friends drove by. "Ha! Ha! I knew it was you all long, Janice!" wouldn't do. Gotta be something classic. Got nothing to slime their car with. No pie to throw in her face...
And then as he walked down the driveway, something made him freeze in his tracks.
It was Leslie's parents' Mercedes. Sitting in front of their house like it usually did up until yesterday.
Did they forget something? Mr. Burke sure sounded like they were never coming back when they left yesterday. It sounded like goodbye forever.
He stared, remaining frozen, puzzled and confused. He didn't know how long he stood there, thinking maybe he should knock on the door and say hi, ask why they were back. Then the sound of a vehicle turning into the driveway caught his attention. Actually coming down the driveway, he saw from the corner of his eye, so not the school bus. He tensed up, not having a ready response for Janice and her crew.
The vehicle pulled right up to him, the front bumper only a foot or so to his left. But he still didn't turn his head away from the Burkes' house. Or their car. Not even when the driver's door opened on the other car.
He glanced over. It was Miss Edmonds after all! In her old familiar maroon Volvo station wagon, the same one that he'd carried her boxes of instruments to and from, and in which he'd ridden with her to the Museum last Thursday, the day Leslie died. That brought back the first question: What kind of game was she playing? And did the Burkes' car being back have anything to do with it?
"What's with the backpack?" Miss Edmonds continued with a little laugh. "This is a learning trip, but it's not really schoolwork!"
He nodded absently.
"Earth to Jesse! Earth to Jesse!" Miss Edmonds said. "You did hear me when I reminded you on the phone a few minutes ago that we still have four days of Spring Break left!"
"Oh, I'm sorry, Miss Edmonds," he again glanced at her and returned his attention to the Burkes' house. "I just wasn't sure about..." His voice trailed off.
"Wasn't sure about what?" she said after a while, then smiled knowingly. "Would you like me to invite Leslie too? I'd love to have her along! I have more tickets."
That snapped him out of it, and he faced her, a little angry now, his eyes starting to sting with tears. "Miss Edmonds, I wasn't trying to be a smartass last Friday at the wake, when I said we should bring Leslie the next time. It was just wishful thinking."
Miss Edmonds shook her head and squinted at him. "Last Friday? Wake? Next time? Jesse what are you talking about? I didn't even see you last Friday. It was Good Friday, school was already out."
His eyes opened wide. If this was some kind of game, she was playing it really well. He noticed that she was even wearing the exact same clothing she wore the day Leslie died, right down to the small hole in her stocking just above her right ankle. Could it be? Was this past week all just a bad dream? No, I thought my folks telling me Leslie was killed was a dream and it wasn't!
"Come on," Miss Edmonds continued to smile as she shut the car door and stepped toward the Burkes' house. "I'll ask Leslie and her parents myself!"
His confusion and apprehension increased as he stepped behind her. Then he noticed something that made it even more confusing: the stack of lumber that he'd used to build the rails and planks to the tree bridge was as it had been before he'd taken from it.
She rang the doorbell, and as Jesse stepped up on the stoop beside her, Mr. Burke opened the door.
"Good morning, Mr. Burke! I'm Miss Edmonds, the Music teacher."
"Oh, yes!" he smiled back. "I remember you from Back-to-School Night!" He turned to Jesse, who was amazed that he made no mention of the wake. "How're ya doing, Jess?" he continued with the same cheerfulness. "Both of you, please come in!"
The living room was the same as it had always been, as if nothing had happened. At Jesse's entrance, Prince Terrian bounded up to him and placed his front paws against Jesse's shin. He absently scratched the dog behind his ears, a dog he'd never expected to see again.
"Mr. Burke, I had tickets to take my nephews to the National Gallery at the Smithsonian," Miss Edmonds explained, "but something else came up with my sister and her family, so I thought I'd invite Leslie and Jesse to come instead."
"Sure, why not?" Mr. Burke nodded with a continued smile. "I've heard there've been a lot of changes since the last time we took her there. She's still asleep, but I'll get her up. Just 'cause school's out for the week, doesn't give her an excuse to sleep her life away!"
He disappeared into the hallway and Jesse heard him call out cheerfully, "Hey, Sleeping Beauty! Wake up! You've got company!"
Jesse didn't know what to expect next, and felt the knot in his guts getting tighter. If this was a game, it was a very elaborate game and both Miss Edmonds and Leslie's dad were in on it. Were they both mocking him for his earlier denial over Leslie's death? It was a more cruel game than anything Janice could have come up with.
And then there she was in the living room!
She looked half asleep, her hair was tousled and uncombed, and she was wearing a yellow robe that didn't quite make it down to her knees. Prince Terrian immediately shifted his attention from Jesse's leg to those of his mistress, licking her toes, and she immediately giggled at the tickling. She would have looked particularly cute to Jesse even if she hadn't- at least in his mind- just come back from the dead.
"Leslie!" he gasped, then pitched into her with his arms tightly around her. That woke her up the rest of the way.
"Hey, Jess!" she hugged him back.
She was real! He felt her softness and warmth in his arms, smelled the scent of shampoo and conditioner in her hair. The whole week had been a nightmare, but it was literally just a nightmare, and it was over!
"Hey, it's not like you didn't just see me ten hours ago!" Leslie giggled, and Jesse was suddenly aware of the mix of amusement and surprise on both her father's and Miss Edmonds' faces. He separated from her but didn't feel embarrassed about it. He didn't care. He had his Leslie back!
"Hi, Miss Edmonds!" Leslie smiled, "What brings you here?"
"She wants to take both of us to the National Gallery in Washington," Jesse interjected quickly. "Please say you'll come!"
"Well, today I wanted to..." Leslie started, then saw Jesse continuing to plead with his eyes, an unspoken but desperate, actually frightened plea. "Sure!" she smiled. "Give me a few minutes to get dressed and eat a little breakfast."
"We can stop for breakfast on the way," Miss Edmonds told her. "My treat!"
Comments and reviews are invited.
Any questions? If you scrolled past the Prologue and have questions, you might want to scroll back up and reread it before asking.
I should be posting the chapters in fairly rapid order,as the story is almost finished at this point.