It was raining. It wasn’t a soft, gentle rain, either. Rain was pouring down in that relentless, driving way that sounded like a flock of woodpeckers was targeting the roof. Charlie looked out the front window and sighed. “It’s not fair,” he said. “We were supposed to go camping today.”
“I’m sorry, Charlie,” Isaac said. “Maybe next weekend?”
“Mom has a meeting,” Charlie said.
“We’ll look at the calendar and see what we can do,” Isaac said.
“Maybe we can watch a movie,” Marianne said.
“But Mom,” Charlie said. “I want to go camping.”
“Maybe we could camp in your room again,” Isaac said.
“All of us?” Charlie asked.
“Sure,” Marianne said.
So they tied ropes from Charlie’s loft bed to the desk and chair and dresser. Then they arranged blankets and sheets over the top, until the floor was inside one big tent, and Charlie’s door was the door to the tent.
They ate dinner in the kitchen, much to Charlie’s disappointment. “Let’s not get crumbs or stains on your carpet,” Marianne said.
Then they sat in the dark living room and watched the rain through the window. When they saw a flash of lightning, they counted together until thunder cracked and rumbled. “Should we tell scary stories?” Isaac asked.
Thunder boomed. Charlie looked nervous. “Maybe we could tell funny stories instead,” Marianne said. “I know a great one. When Charlie was three, he couldn’t reach the paper towels on the counter, so he…”
“Mom!” Charlie said. “That’s not a funny story. That’s an embarrassing story.”
Marianne laughed. “Well, then let me tell you about the time your Dad got lost in the grocery store,” she said.
“Hey!” Isaac said. “Well, maybe it was a little funny.”
“I think it sounds funny,” Charlie said.
They laughed and told stories and finally rolled out their sleeping bags on Charlie’s floor and went to sleep. Isaac woke up hours later. Charlie had somehow turned sideways and was kicking him.
Isaac sat up and considered turning Charlie around. And then he heard an owl hooting. He paused and listened. He couldn’t hear the rain. The owl hooted again, and it sounded really close. He looked up. Instead of the nightlight glowing brightly through the tent ceiling, the light seemed dimmer and softer.
He crawled forward and looked out of Charlie’s door and didn’t see the hallway. Instead, there was a forest. Isaac stood up and stepped out of the tent. He looked around. The forest stretched in all directions. The tent didn’t look like blankets and sheets and rope. It was large and round, with a peaked roof like a circus tent. It had white and gold stripes that glowed in the moonlight.
The moon above was full and the stars were bright. He couldn’t see any clouds in the sky. He was looking for constellations he recognized, when some branches snapped behind him and Isaac turned to face a centaur. The centaur was tall, with gray hair. He smiled at Isaac.
“Hello, traveler,” the centaur said. “You’ve come from far away.”
“I have?” Isaac asked.
“Yes, you’ve traveled thousands of years. Tell me about the future. Is it marvelous?”
“Well, people live longer. And they can communicate and travel much more easily, too,” Isaac said. “There are still a lot of misunderstandings though. And wars and natural disasters and such.”
“That isn’t very surprising. It comes from living in an imperfect world,” the centaur said. “What are your hopes and dreams, man from the future?”
Isaac glanced back at the tent. “I want my family to be safe and happy. I want to do good and make a difference.”
The centaur smiled. “Then the future can’t be so bad after all. People still hope and dream and love and care. Don’t give up, man from the future.” He waved his hand in a small circle and there was a brilliant flash of light.
When Isaac opened his eyes again, he could see blankets and rope above him. The nightlight shone brightly through the ceiling of the tent. Charlie kicked him in the side and there was a rumble of thunder. Had it been a dream? Maybe. Maybe not. Isaac shifted Charlie around and went back to sleep.