The carpet was brown this time.
Brown, and close-cropped to the ground like a buzz cut.
Stephanie preferred longer carpet, sinking her fingers into the long strands and pushing them around like wind over a grassy plain.
But, if there was one thing she had learned in her four years of life so far, it was to make the best of changes, so she ran her hands over the new carpet in circles until her fingertips tingled pleasantly.
Taking a look around, the walls were bare, and most likely going to stay that way for the few months they would live there, to make the packing up easier later.
Where was Daddy?
She whirled her head around, back and forth, looking in every corner of the one-room apartment, but he was nowhere to be found. Where was he? Daddy was supposed to be WITH her for the WHOLE DAY on the first day of moving in, where did he go?
Suddenly, the door busted open and Daddy came in from the outside, carrying a gigantic box. Stephanie breathed a sigh of relief. Of course, he was just unpacking more of their stuff! He set the box down by the windowsill and opened it up, pulling potted plant after potted plant out of it.
He looked up to see that Stephanie was looking at him, and he grinned at her. “Hey, my little Pixie,” he said, “Are you ready to ROCK?!”
“Yeeeaaaah!” she said in response, pumping her fist in the air.
“Good, because we got a biiiiig day ahead of us,” he said, spreading his arms out as wide as he could, and pointed out the window.
Out the window, in the night sky, were a million multicolored stars, and Stephanie’s vision zoomed into them, stars whizzing past her vision, and the mundane sounds of the apartment faded as she heard a voice calling her name, people yelling, people screaming, an evil LAUGH-
She awoke with a start and sat up abruptly in bed, heart pounding.
She took stock of the situation.
No brown carpet, no bare walls, only pink furniture and pink bedcovers.
Right. She was NOT in an apartment with her dad.
She was in her own room, in LazyTown, and she was ten years old, not four.
Plus, her dad never owned a big box of potted plants, that was silly.
Even so, the transition really disoriented her. The dream was so…real, right down to the feeling of the carpet under her fingertips, and it’s not every morning that you age six years just by waking up.
Plus…for just a split second, before she was fully awake, she thought she would see her dad when she opened her eyes.
He was still travelling the world with his job, and she was still in LazyTown without him.
Stephanie sighed, and stood up, trying to shake off the soul-crushing disappointment. Her life before Lazytown involved a lot of packing up her life into the same suitcase or two, moving from daycare to daycare and public school to public school, after school program to after school program, chaos littering the way…she definitely didn’t miss that part.
But she DID really miss her Daddy.
She got dressed, and slipped out the door. Maybe playing with her friends could make her feel better.
She had slept in a little bit late, the rest of the kids were already up and playing when she walked out the door—Trixie and Stingy playing a one-on-one game of basketball, Ziggy sitting on the bench eating candy, and Pixel was…doing some sort of test, both he and Sportacus tapping at their wrist computers.
Intrigued, Stephanie walked up to them.
“Did you get the route?” Sportacus was asking.
“Yep! Locked and loaded!” Pixel said excitedly.
Sportacus put down his goggles, and prepared himself to run.
“On your mark, get set, go!” Pixel yelled, pressing the button on his computer.
Sportacus shot off down the path, jumping and flipping as he went.
“Watcha up to, Pixel?” Stephanie asked.
“Oh, hi Stephanie! I’ve come up with an automatic flip counter!” Pixel said excitedly, “I’m testing its limits on Sportacus right now! Look, it attaches to the software that Sportacus already has, and it can count flips, jump ropes, and anything else numerical that has to do with exercise! That way, we never have to worry about losing count ever again!”
By the time he was done with that sentence, Sportacus was already racing back, doing his last few final flips before he landed, hands on hips, right where he started.
“What number did you get?” he asked, slightly out of breath.
Pixel pressed a few buttons, and gasped. “SEVENTY-FOUR?!”
“Yes!” Sportacus said, fist pumping, “That is what I counted too!”
“You did SEVENTY-FOUR flips just now?!” asked Stephanie, jaw hanging open.
“And Pixel counted them accurately!” Sportacus said, gesturing to the beaming boy, “That is a fantastic invention, you should feel very proud of the work that you have done!”
“Th-thanks, Sportacus,” Pixel said, looking up at him with wide eyes, “I’m gonna go put it in the computer right now! You know what they say about technology, it can always be improved!”
Sportacus chuckled as Pixel ran off, looking fondly after him.
That look suddenly reminded her of her dream, and she deflated again.
“What’s the matter, Stephanie? You look a little down,” asked Sportacus, a note of concern in his voice.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” she assured.
“Stephanie, you know you can ALWAYS talk to me, right?” he said, nudging her with his elbow.
She DID know that. And what harm would it be to talk about it? She had come out here in the first place to try to make herself feel better about it, and here Sportacus was, offering to do just that.
Stephanie fiddled with her bracelet. “Sportacus…you aren’t from around here, right?”
“Yes, I suppose you could say that. What was your first clue?” he asked, exaggerating his accent for comedic effect.
She giggled, but sobered quickly as she continued her previous line of thought.
“Sportacus…I love it here in Lazytown,” she began, “It’s the only place that I have ever lived in for two years in a row, and it’s the first place that I have ever felt at home.”
“It is a great place,” Sportacus agreed, nodding.
“But…my dad and I, we never settled down in one place for very long. No place ever felt like home, but having HIM always did,” she said, tears coming unbidden to her eyes, “And I know he sent me here because-because his job made it…made it really hard for him to take care of me, and I could be h-happier,” she swallowed hard.
Sportacus put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Go on.”
“What…what do you, um, do when you’re homesick for f-family?” she asked, on the verge of tears.
Sportacus tugged her in for an embrace as the tears spilled over, patting her comfortingly on the back as she sobbed into his chest.
“It is…sad, when you must go somewhere without the family that raised you,” Sportacus said carefully as she continued to hold onto him, “But, if you keep your heart open, I swear that you can find home, and family, anywhere. Then, wherever you go? You will NEVER be alone.”
Stephanie pulled back from him, lip still wobbly.
“Let me put it this way,” Sportacus said, “Is there anyone here in LazyTown that makes you feel welcome, and safe? Is there anyone that you would do anything to help, and that you could count on their help in return?”
Stephanie sniffed. Everyone in this town, in one way or another, was exactly how Sportacus described. Her uncle who always took care of her, Bessie who answered her every social question no matter how stupid it sounded, her friends who always made her feel included in LazyTown since the first day of that fateful summer, even Robbie Rotten, he made sure that none of their days were ever boring.
And here was Sportacus, helping her right now.
“Thanks Sportacus,” she said, wiping her eyes, “Sorry for crying.”
“Oh, no no no NO, Stephanie, it is very important to your health that you express your emotions!” Sportacus encouraged, clasping her hand in both of his, “And, I understand completely. I have not seen my family in many, many years.”
Stephanie was taken aback. “Really?”
Sportacus nodded. “Being without them? Makes me feel very sad, at times. But when I do feel sad, I think about all of the family that I have here, in LazyTown,” he smiled. “And I count myself lucky that I have so MANY family members, in different parts of the world.”
“I guess…I guess we are the lucky ones, having such a big family all over the place,” Stephanie grinned.
“Yeah,” Sportacus said, and they high fived.
“Remember, Stephanie, I, your uncle, and even Bessie are all here if you ever need to talk to somebody. That is what family is for!” he ruffled her hair.
“Yeah, I know that,” Stephanie said, flattening her hair back out.
Suddenly, Sportacus’ crystal went off.
“Someone’s in TROUBLE!” Sportacus gasped, stepping away from Stephanie.
“I will see you later, Stephanie,” he said, and did his signature move. “Be good!” he called, and he raced off, flipping as he went.
Stephanie waved after him as he went, glad she came outside today.
She DID feel better.
“Hey, Stephanie,” said Pixel, walking back over, “Check it out.”
He pointed to his wrist computer’s screen, where a little icon version of Sportacus was rushing across a digitized map of LazyTown, picking up speed as his airship did in real life.
“Nyoooom,” Pixel said, giggling.
AS Sportacus’ airship continued north, Stephanie was struck with a horrible thought.
“Oh no, he’s heading towards the ocean! I hope it’s not Uncle Milford and Bessie on their beach vacation!”
Pixel shrugged. “Even if it was them, we know that Sportacus will take care of it, in a snap!”
It didn’t stop Stephanie from worrying, however, as Sportacus headed towards where she knew the ocean to be.
“Look, his ship is turning! See, it’s not them,” Pixel said, pointing out at the airship making a left turn.
Stephanie exhaled. Of course, Sportacus sometimes went to OTHER towns, saving people that they didn’t even know.
“Sportacus has probably saved somebody from EVERY single town in the country,” Stephanie mused aloud.
“But we are his FAVORITE town!” exclaimed Ziggy, “That’s why he keeps coming back to us!”
“You know what, Ziggy? I think you are right,” said Stephanie, smiling, as she watched the airship turn to a tiny speck in the distance.
Morning turned to afternoon, and afternoon turned to night, and night turned again to morning…and Sportacus was still not back.
That particular morning, Trixie and Stephanie were playing a little one-on-one basketball, while Ziggy, Pixel, and Stingy drew with chalk on the blacktop.
“I can’t believe that Sportacus is STILL gone,” said Trixie, dribbling the basketball and passing it to Stephanie.
“I know,” Stephanie said, looking up at the sky, “That emergency must have been somewhere pretty far away.”
While she was looking, a tiny moving speck caught her eye.
A BLUE speck.
“Hey, is that Sportacus?” she asked, squinting up at it.
Her question got the interest of the boys as well, and they all crowded around to look up at it.
“No, it’s a paper airplane!” Trixie said, as the speck continued to glide downward.
Sure enough, a paper airplane soared through the air above them.
A BLUE paper airplane.
Stephanie dropped the basketball on the ground.
“FOLLOW THAT PLANE!” she yelled, pointing out at it, and they all raced after it.
As it dipped lower and lower, it seemed to move faster and faster. Stephanie ran after it with all of her might, and she was catching up!
“It’s…too…high!” Stephanie panted, as they ran underneath it.
“You gotta…JUMP, Pinkie!” Trixie gasped, holding her side.
Stephanie steeled herself, and prepared to jump as high as she had ever jumped in her entire LIFE-
When a butterfly net swung itself up, caught the paper airplane, and swung back down to the ground.
Stephanie skidded to a stop, seeing a smug Stingy holding the pole of the net.
“Stingy,” Stephanie said, breathing hard, “Why…do YOU have…Robbie’s butterfly net?”
“Oh! It’s not MYYYY fault that he leaves it just…LAYING AROUND for anyone to find!!” he protested in a huff. “All that matters is…we got the letter!”
The kids celebrated with a HOORAY!
Stephanie carefully unfolded the paper airplane, and they peered at the contents inside.
“Ugh, why does Sportacus always have the WORST handwriting?!” Stingy complained. “I don’t even know if those are WORDS!”
“Don’t worry, I can read it,” Stephanie said, waving a hand at him and squinting at the near-illegible scribblings that seemed to be even WORSE than usual.
“This letter is for Robbie Rotten!” Stephanie said in surprise.
“What does it say?” Trixie asked.
“’Robbie,’” Stephanie read aloud, “’I have reason to believe…that there is something very dangerous going on in….alf…heima?’”
“Alf-what?” chorused the other four kids.
“I don’t know, look, the A has a little accent,” She said, showing the weird word “Álfheima“ to the others.
“Ohh, go on, go on, what does the rest say??” asked Stingy, still clutching the butterfly net’s pole with a death grip.
“’If this message reaches you, then that means that…’” Stephanie gasped, heart sinking into her stomach, “’I am in danger as well!’”
A collective gasp came from her audience.
“How could SPORTACUS be in danger, huh?? Is-is that even ALLOWED??” asked Ziggy, genuine worry in his voice.
“Wait, guys, there’s more-'Please, don’t tell the kids. I don’t want them to worry. -Sportacus,’” Stephanie finished, heavy finality in her voice.
“Well, it’s too late for THAT,” Stingy remarked bitterly.
“What…what should we do?” asked Ziggy.
Stephanie put the message on the bench and thought back to what Sportacus had said yesterday.
Is there anyone that you would do anything to help, and that you could count on their help in return?
“We have to go save him,” Stephanie said decisively.
“We can’t just…HAVE this information, and then do nothing with it!” she said, voice cracking from emotion, “Sportacus ALWAYS helps us, Sportacus always SAVES us from dangerous situations, and now HE needs help! HE needs to be saved! Sportacus is our FAMILY, and we can’t just leave our family in danger!” Stephanie declared.
“Yeah!” the other kids chorused.
Stephanie felt a fire coursing through her veins.
“Now lets go save Sportacus!” she threw her fist up in the air.
The kids all cheered their agreement.
“Pixel!” Stephanie exclaimed as a through struck her, “can you find out where Sportacus is, right now, with your computer?”
“Yeah!” he said, pressing a few buttons, “Just have to find Sportacus’ last known coordinates…”
They all gathered around him with bated breath as he tracked Sportacus’ movement over the last day.
“Got it! His last known location was…” he watched as the display zoomed in on the map, “here! In the middle of Iceland!”
“Wow, that WAS far away,” Trixie said under her breath.
“Great!” Stephanie said, “Pixel, lock onto those coordinates and find us a route!”
If Sportacus was in another COUNTRY, Stephanie reasoned, they would have to find something that would get them there FAST…
She whirled around and looked at Trixie next.
“Trixie! Go get…the rocket!”
“Yes ma’am!” she saluted, and ran off.
“Ziggy! Take that candy out of your mouth!” Stephanie ordered, “It’s time for business!”
“Right!” he exclaimed, furrowing his brow and tossing the taffy over his shoulder.
“Stingy! Go get our rocket suits!”
He balked for a moment at being told what to do.
“Fiiine, if it will save SPORTACUS,” he said, grumbling. “But what are YOU going to do?”
“Me? I’m gonna…prepare for the WORST,” she said, narrowing her eyes, and dashing over to the nearest apple tree.
There was untold danger waiting for them in this mysterious place called Álfheima.
They were gonna need a LOT of sportscandy.