TOBI LEE SIGONA
Florence & Hugo
If you wish for money, it turns up in your wallet. If you hope for good fortune, it’s there, in your pocket. If you want the moon, he flies down to say ‘hello’ in his boisterously moonish voice. And if you’re Florence and Hugo, then you cross your fingers and toes that you can fly, and it comes true, and that’s that.
“Keep up!” Florence called. She shot through the clouds, her speed creating puffs of smoke.
Hugo’s silver hair rolled around in tuffs, smacking him in his ashen eyes; his matching black shirt and pants wouldn’t stay put either, giving his ankles and midriff the chills. He moved through the sky like a broken-down motor, unable to stabilize himself due to the newness of the mushroom-moth that gave him flight. His moth was orange with fiery-transparent wings, had a body covered with tiny sensory hairs like a butterfly, and a face like a chipmunk. It had narrow, leaf-ridged antennas used for detecting the wind when in flight.
“Maybe,” he said, trying to focus, “if you,” he squirmed away from a bird in flight, “slowed down a bit-” he squealed; Florence, who was just so far away, now stood inches from his crooked nose. “Hey, Floss!”
“It’s Florence,” she said sternly. Her long golden hair danced around her glowing almond cheeks, brightening her features amidst a mysteriously onyx cloak laced with crimson. Her mushroom-moth was pale pink with translucent wings and two dimples on her chipmunk-like cheeks. It winked at Hugo’s moth, who blushed.
“Hey, Floss, you smell real nice. I never noticed before cause you always keep your distance.”
She huffed and sped off. “Out of all of the Vellĕ, how did I get paired with you?”
“I can hear you, ya know.”
Florence jumped, unaware that Hugo had caught up. Infuriated, she sped up once more. He waited for the air to clear, then followed her scent into a dark opening. What was once bright and filled with color now sat gloomy, dull, and eerie. Hugo slowed down desperately to make a clean landing, his leg becoming molasses as his big toe reached out for the ground below him. Just as the grass was about to tickle his skin, his body froze in midair, and he dropped. Moaning, he turned over, his face caked in mud, staring up at his mushroom-moth. Hugo couldn’t be mad at it for too long; its eyes were huge, the epitome of pure innocence.
Hugo dusted the grass stains off his knees and watched as Florence poked around a seemingly abandoned old shack. She stood on her tiptoes, her mushroom-moth perched atop her right shoulder, and rubbed the grime away from the window with her sleeve. “This is it.”
“What is?” Hugo strolled closer, his moth perching itself atop his head. “You still haven’t told me what it is we’re looking for.”
“Shh!” She walked around back, testing out rocks and pieces of wood to knock open the window, leaving Hugo with his hands on his hips.
“Actually, you haven’t told me a single thing since I’ve been assigned to you.” Florence wasn’t listening. “Haven’t even said hi.”
A single apple hung from the tree above them. “Ah-ha!” She positioned herself for flight, and her moth attached itself to her back as if it had been there all along. It spread its wings once more.
“An apple. That’s your solution?”
He walked over to the window where the smudge was, but he couldn’t see a thing inside. He huffed. So did his moth.
His eyes trailed over to the door, close in reach. “Ah, yes, a door to a house. How unthinkable! Unimaginable!” He laughed to himself, spit into his hands, gave them a good rub, and reached out toward the knob. Just as he was about to touch it, Florence zoomed down from the apple tree, winding up the fruit. “No!”
The apple flew across the table and landed in Grandmother’s soup.
Tarron sat at his dining room table with Father, who paid no attention to him or Grandmother, whose face was melting a soupy, wrinkled frown. He looked away quickly. Florence and Hugo sat quietly on his lap, their cloth faces waiting patiently to go on another adventure. He brushed a piece of wool yarn hair out of Florence’s stitched eye.
“Tarron James Carnelian!” she scowled again. Little Brother burped from his high-chair.
He turned to look her directly in the eyes because that’s what she wanted. She had a pointed chin and masculine features like a gothic Roman Empress, but with too much lipstick. She squeezed the butter knife next to her plate as she spoke.
“I have had enough of your ‘pretend’ nonsense and ‘imaginative’ games.” She took a firm breath. “Take that filth,” she pointed the knife toward his dolls, “and get upstairs right now!”
“Mother, he hasn’t eaten yet,” Father finally spoke, though his voice was timid. He turned back to face his plate, his horn-rimmed glasses scooting themselves down his pinched nose.
She bit her tongue and continued more slowly. “Then, he can take his food with him. But he can’t stay here. I refuse to eat dinner this way. He needs to grow up.”
It was quiet, all for Little Brother smashing the peas on his plate.
The boy jumped out of his chair and ran upstairs with his dolls.
His room was pretty dull; he wasn’t allowed to have much because Father said they could only afford the necessities. Father wasn’t able to work because he’s sick, but Tarron wasn’t allowed to ask about it. Grandmother moved in to help take care of the boys and always complained that Tarron needed to grow up and work, even though he was only eight.
He flew Florence and Hugo above his head as he sat on his bed. There was a knock at the door, and he held on tight to his friends. If it was Grandmother, she’d spank him hard enough so he couldn’t sit.
The same disheveled wisps of caramel hair as he snuck through the door as it cracked open a bit. Father stood there with his plate of unfinished vegetables, meat, and bread. They stared at each other for a moment. Father usually did this when Tarron got into mischief and didn’t really know what to say. Tarron wondered if he let Grandmother do the yelling because he was afraid to. Father never shouted, aside from the time he accidentally slammed his finger in the barn door outside. Tarron turned back to his dolls and continued to talk to them. Father placed the plate on top of his dresser and turned to go.
“Do you want to play?”
Father turned back around, thinking perhaps he had spoken to someone else.
“You could be Florence.”
Father seemed reluctant at first until Tarron held her out toward him. Father walked inside and closed the door gently. He took the doll from Tarron’s hand and stroked at the hair, thinking of Mother. Mother made the dolls when Tarron was born; they were all he had left of her. Father smiled.
“What are you playing?” he asked, sitting down beside his son.
“Well, Hugo and Florence are on a secret mission.”
“They’re two people who live in a world far far away in Trabesbury.”
“What’s the mission?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Hugo just opened the door, even though he wasn’t supposed to, and it’s filled with boxes and maps and treasures from the ocean.” Tarron stood, his room transforming into the shack more and more. “Over there, they found piles of letters from a man to his wife during the war and over here is where they discovered broken pieces of clock mechanics, wires, and tools. There’s no light anywhere, except for the ball of light Florence can manipulate in her hand. She’s able to see the writing on the walls more easily, but it’s written in a language they had never heard of.”
Father looked around the room, and for a moment, Tarron thought he could see it too. “What’s that over there?”
Tarron turned to where Father pointed: the shadow in the corner of his closet. The edge of the forest. Legend says that creatures of the undead live there, feeding on darkness and bone. Nobody has ever lived to see one, but as Father and Florence went to observe, he could have sworn he saw two blinking, blood-soaked eyes.
“I think I see it,” Father said.
Tarron stiffened, holding Hugo out in front of him. “I knew it was them. The Osseins.” That’s what the bone creatures were called.
“No. It’s worse. Much worse.” He bent down into the closet, his voice changing drastically, becoming high-pitched and cartoony. “Hugo, its got me!”
Tarron looked up and put on a profound voice, “What is it, Florence?”
“It’s… it’s Prince Jasper! The deadly fire-breathing dragon of Trabesbury!” Father threw out an old puffy dragon stuffed animal with an eye missing and stuffing trailing out of its tail. “Legend says he’s actually a human transformation, but he’s still not very good at turning into his dragon form.”
“Oh, please, do something!” Father squealed in his girlish accent, tossing Florence into the air.
Tarron caught her just in time. Father roared like a monster, and Tarron screamed and laughed at the same time.
“My flames are burning up the room,” he snarled, now in a gravelly tone, “and the floor is lava!”
“Run!” Hugo said. Tarron jumped onto the bed, but the dragon was too quick for his tiny legs. Hugo and Florence took flight and soared through the forest of Trabesbury and a small door hidden in a large tree trunk. They screamed, dodging fire bullets from the wicked Prince Jasper.
“I’m going to get you!” the dragon barked, and their moth-wings took up speed.
“What’s going ahhh-” Grandmother shouted as they pushed past her on the stairs and bolted outside.
“Dragons are immune to tire swings,” Hugo said, and Tarron sat through and waited for the standoff to commence.
“Not the tire swing!” Dragon snarled. “My fire will never penetrate through.”
“Looks like we’ve defeated you, Prince Jasper.”
“Just this time. But I’ll be back, you hear me?” Father tried to make his voice trail off as the dragon flew away, but he wasn’t really good at it. “Are you laughing at me?” He spoke in his natural voice now. “Are you laughing at your father?”
He ran over and spun Tarron around so fast in the tire swing that he dropped Hugo and Florence. The world was so blurry that all he could do was laugh and laugh and laugh until he fell off the swing and sank into the grass with Father laughing along beside him. The crescent moon set, and the sky felt like the Earth stopped in time so that they could play. It wasn’t until Father looked up and saw Grandmother’s shadow hunched in the doorway that they stopped.
“Father?” Tarron rubbed his eyes and glanced out the window, thinking maybe he slept until the next night, but Father still wore the same clothes.
“I didn’t mean to wake you, but I have a gift for you.”
Tarron sat up, the sound of a gift making him feel better about being woken up.
Father revealed a black leather box from behind his back, stroking its edges, as if unsure whether or not he actually wanted him to have it. Tarron crawled out of his blanket to get a better look.
“I made it special for you,” he said. When Tarron didn’t respond, he continued, “It’s so Grandmother can’t see you when you’re visiting Trabesbury.”
Tarron’s eyes lit up with joy as Father reached for the edges with his shaky fingers.
“Keep it safe for me, okay?” His bare wrist receded from his shirt as he reached over to stroke Tarron’s cheek, revealing a ↔ (left to right arrow) symbol, another thing Tarron wasn’t allowed to ask about.
Tarron nodded, holding his breath, not wanting to miss a moment.
“What is going on in here?” Grandmother shrieked.
Father hid the box in his pocket. “Nothing, I was just-”
“I couldn’t sleep,” Tarron broke in softly. “Father was just telling me a story to feel better and-” but Tarron realized that was the wrong thing to say.
“What did I say about stories?”
Neither of them spoke.
“You need to learn to discipline the boy, or he will never learn.”
Father stood and turned to Tarron, who held the blankets up to his eyes. Father leaned down, cupped his face in the palms of his hand, and kissed him on the forehead.
“I love you, Tarron.”
“I love you too.”
Father looked back one last time at his son as Grandmother slammed the door shut.
It had been four years since Tarron had last seen Father, but the detail of that memory ceased from fading.