The Floor Is Lava
Richard and Amelia desperately needed an au pair for their daughter, Winston thought for the third time that week. He was getting too old to chase after children, and the two of them seemed to go out every night of the week for one reason or other. Naturally, they left five-year-old Lara at home with Winston and the maid, Mrs. Robinson.
Weren’t girls supposed to be less hyperactive than their male peers? Weren’t they supposed to sit quietly and play with dolls? Winston sighed and trudged up the stairs, following the sound of thuds and crashes. He traced them to the library, only to find the door locked from the inside. He knocked politely.
“Winston,” a little girl’s voice sang from the other side of the door.
“You can’t come in without your army hat,” she said playfully. “Go get your army hat so you can come in.”
“Oh, alright,” he said. He turned and made his way back down the stairs and into his bedroom, where he retrieved his old helmet. Lara had developed an obsession with it lately, so it was still sitting on his bed from when she had made him wear it to tea that afternoon. He marched back up the stairs and knocked on the door again.
“I’m wearing it,” he said. A small brown eye appeared at the keyhole, and a moment later the door opened.
“Hurry!” she said, grabbing his hand and dragging him into the room. He saw now that she had created the most expansive tent he had ever seen. She had tucked sheets from the tops of the massive bookshelves, and most of the room was taken up by this many-roomed fort.
“How on earth did you manage to get the sheets up there?” he asked.
“No time to explain, Winston! We mustn’t stay outside long, or the enemies will eat us for supper!” She pulled him inside the tent, and they both sat down on cushions from the downstairs sofa. Lara carefully closed the curtain they had come through.
“What are we hiding from, precisely?” Winston asked, his helmet slightly askew from the running.
“There’s a whole army of enemies out there,” Lara said, looking very serious. “I saw some ginormous octopuses, some dinosaurs, and some hungry bears. Oh yes, and the dinosaurs haven’t been fed for about four million years, either. I do feel very sorry for the dinosaurs and the bears, of course, but I don’t want them to eat me and you. I’m not sure why the octopus is after us. Maybe it’s because I stole their treasure.” She held up a paperweight from her father’s desk. “I almost died in a trap while I was stealing this.”
“Ah, I see,” Winston said gravely. “Well, should we gather our weapons and pick them off? Put them out of their misery before they attack us?”
“No, because this fort is magic,” Lara said. “They can’t come in.”
“That’s good, at least. Is there any chance the monsters might destroy your father’s library by accident?”
“Don’t be silly, Winston. They’re only pretend. Real monsters don’t usually come into your home. They’re usually outside.”
“Ah, I see,” he said. “Forgive me, I got caught up in the heat of battle. Although, you might be better off telling your father that bears and dinosaurs demolished his library. If I was you, I might consider it.”
She laughed at the advice, and he thought he saw a flash of something in her eyes. He wasn’t sure exactly what he had seen, but it was some hint of her future self, something far advanced beyond her age. It gave Winston a slight shiver, although not necessarily in a bad way.
“Do you hear that?” Lara asked suddenly.
“I think I’ve just heard a volcano erupt!” Lara said, jumping up and peeking out the tent. “Oh no! I was right! Winston, we’ve got to get to higher ground before the lava reaches us!”
“If you say so,” Winston said agreeably.
“Trust me, I’m an expert,” Lara assured him. She scrambled onto her father’s desk, knocking aside some papers and trinkets. Thinking it would be somewhat unwise to join her on such an old piece of furniture, Winston instead sat in her father’s chair.
“Damn volcanoes,” Lara said, sounding for all her child-like appearance like a grown woman. “They always muck up my plans. Winston, let’s use our guns to fight the enemies if they try to attack us.” She held up her thumb and index finger on each hand like a pistol and aimed them both around the room, scanning for “enemies”.
“Do you think it’s very likely they’ll come attack us during a volcanic eruption?” he inquired.
“I doubt it,” Lara replied cheerfully. “Animals usually just run away when there is a volcano. Winston, the lava is flowing this way and your feet are on the ground!”
“Oh, my!” Winston said, propping his feet up on the desk. Given the state of the rest of the library, he doubted Richard would notice any marks from it. “How long do we have to wait for the lava to stop flowing?”
Lara yawned again, staring out the dark windows in the library. “I’m not sure,” she said. “Let me find out.” Standing up, she jumped onto a nearby bookshelf, causing Winston to raise an eyebrow. She sidled across the first bookshelf, then leapt onto the next, then the next. She stopped here, her lips moving as she read the titles of the books and her short, skinny arms supporting her weight. She finally selected the one she wanted, then tucked it under her arm and made her way back to Winston, more clumsily this time.
“That was a dumb idea to forget a backpack,” she remarked, sitting down cross-legged on the desk and opening the book. “Next time I will remember one so I can move my arms more when I climb like that.”
“That sounds like an excellent idea,” Winston said.
Lara looked at the back of the book, presumably at the index, then struggled to find the right page. Apparently locating it, she began to read aloud slowly and a bit choppily. “B… bas…. B-a-s-a-l-t-i-c lava cools quite quickly when ex…exposed to air. Ho-weaver, because lava is very ins… ins... insulting, lava takes in-cree-ase-ing-ly longer time to cool the further from the sur-face it is. It is off-ten possible to walk on a lava crust within fifteen minutes.” Despite struggling through most of the words, she beamed up at Winston when she was finished. He returned the smile. “We can walk on the lava in fifteen minutes,” she said triumphantly.
“Excellent information,” Winston said. “Thank you for doing that important volcanic research for us, Dr. Croft.”
“Dr. Croft?” Lara giggled. “How come you didn’t call me Dr. Lara? Lara is my real name.”
Too tired to explain the nuances of titles, Winston merely smiled. “My mistake, Dr. Lara.”
“Check your watch so we know when it’s been fifteen minutes,” Lara urged him. “Tell me when it’s safe to walk. We have to pretend like this is a real life situation in case a volcano ever explodes for real.”
“I see,” Winston said, checking his pocket watch and thinking that the odds of a real volcano erupting inside Lara’s father’s library were slim indeed. “I will certainly let you know when the lava has formed a safe crust.”
They sat in a pleasant silence for a moment, during which Lara yawned twice. Finally, she shifted uncomfortably on the desk. “Winston, the desk isn’t very nice to sit on,” she said. “Can I sit in the chair with you?”
“Of course,” he said, offering her his hand. He doubted she needed help getting onto the chair, but he would rather she didn’t leap onto his lap as she seemed ready to do. She sat sideways on his lap, staring out the stained glass window quietly and yawning occasionally. Eventually she rested her head on his chest, avoiding the buttons on his waistcoat. Winston began to rock her gently in the old, creaking chair. Her breathing soon became deep and even; her little arms and
legs, normally so active and busy, fell limp and relaxed against his stomach. She smiled in her sleep, tiny fingers clasping the edge of his waistcoat tightly as she dreamed.
After several long moments, he rose very carefully, so as not to wake his charge. Shifting her position in his arms, he carried her to her lavish bedroom at the end of a long corridor. He laid her in her bed, which, like the rest of the room, was much too big for such a little girl. Lara stirred in her sleep as Winston lowered her, and he caught the words, “careful”, “lava”, and “burn your feet up”. Chuckling silently, he pulled the down comforter over her—the sheets were missing, though he recalled seeing pink sheets in the fort—and then kissed her brown hair before standing up.
The pink walls and lacy hanging hearts (which Amelia had decided on after Lara was born on St. Valentine’s Day) were now almost completely covered in new decorations that suited Lara’s budding personality better. Maps of the world filled one wall, while pictures of dinosaurs, volcanoes, pyramids, and even Lara’s parents filled another. The toy chest lying open nearby was overflowing with toy guns and large dolls that were wrapped securely in bootlaces. Winston recalled Lara mentioning something about rescuing her kidnapped friends a few days before, and couldn’t help shaking his head at her imagination.
Her bookshelf was filled with well-read copies of books like Nancy Drew mysteries, The Secret Garden, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Boxcar Children… all books with strong female characters, just easy enough for her to read that she wouldn’t become discouraged with them. Most girls might read such books on the suggestion of their mother, but Winston knew it was
Lara’s father who had provided these books for her, hoping to mold her into a strong, independent woman from an early age. Amelia still read Beatrix Potter to Lara at bedtime. A children’s dictionary lay open on young Lara’s too-large desk, as if she had been looking up a new word and forgotten to shut it. Scattered across the desk were crayon drawings of dinosaurs eating the heads off of people in cars while Lara stabbed giant bears with a knife. She had also written out a poorly spelled list in crayon. It made Winston feel the same slight shiver as before.
“Things to do before I die
Shut a real gun
Kill a real bear
Clime a real mountane
See real lava and volcano
Go under water in a submurene
Drive a car
Find a importent thing in arceoligy with father”
No matter how poor his digestion might be by then, Winston would eat his hat if Lara didn’t grow up to be an interesting, determined young woman. He strongly considered leaving the mess in the library for the Crofts to discover, thinking perhaps finding their Egyptian cotton sheets draped over a bookshelf might motivate them to hire a child-minder for Lara. Just as quickly as he’d had the idea, he dismissed it and went to go tidy up, whistling a happy tune as he went. Now that he thought about it, the last thing he wanted right then was for Lara’s parents to hire someone else to play volcano with the young adventuress.
NOTICE: This story is a work of fiction. Lara Croft, her likeness, and the Tomb Raider games are all copyright of EIDOS Interactive. There is no challenge to these copyrights intended by this story, as it is a
non-sanctioned, unofficial work of the author's own.