There once lived a boy named Whispering Wind. He lived in the woods, with his mother, Willow, and father, Night Sky. One morning he woke up and after eating a breakfast of warm oatmeal he decided he would go in search of the sweet water spring, which fed the creek that meandered behind their house. Willow gave him a smooth, polished staff, saying to him, “If you are ever in any need, tap the staff on the ground and say Willa Willa Willa.” He thanked her and set out with his bear Teddy tucked into a pack on his back, along with the sandwich his mother had made him.
He soon jumped over the creek and began following it into the woodland. It twisted and turned; the trail leading through lush green ferns and enormous skunk cabbages, and every now and then another small stream would join the main one. He stopped often to look at a curious fleshy white plant perhaps or to move rocks about in the creek or to walk across a fallen tree trunk. Sometimes he would spy bright capped mushrooms and he’d look about for signs of brownies. When he came to the wild berry brambles he ate his fill, and drinking from the creek to quench his thirst he then began the ascent upward, deeper into the forest. Here grew stands of tulip poplar and locust, hickory, birch, and everywhere, their young saplings. The creek flew over rocks and boulders, and fallen logs made bridges to get from one side to another. Standing under a tulip poplar, he played with the leaves; each one a dress upon a dancing sprite. He startled a grouse from its hiding place in the wild roses. And onward he continued, the growth getting denser, and the forest darker. When he had walked for about half the day, he stopped and ate his sandwich upon a moss covered boulder, then he thought that he’d better head back if he wanted to return before nightfall.
Dinner was waiting when he arrived home, and after the family had eaten their fill of beans and cornbread they gathered for a story. Then it was bedtime. Whispering Wind got into his pajamas and cleaned up, and it was while he was getting into bed that he realized that Teddy was missing. He searched the house for the bear and could not find him. Willow and Night Sky looked too, but Teddy was nowhere to be found. “I must have dropped him in the forest,” he told his parents, “Can I go look for him tomorrow?” They were fine with this, so he went to sleep dreaming of the sweet water spring and Teddy, who was jumping into mushrooms with bearded brownies.
Next morning he woke up earlier than usual. He quickly got dressed and brushed his teeth, then ran downstairs where Willow was not yet making breakfast. “Hurry Mama,” he said, “I have to go find Teddy!” She smiled and soon a steaming bowl of oatmeal was placed before him at the table. He gobbled down the hot food, gathered up his staff and pack and set off into the forest again. This time his stride was long and fast, his eyes scanning spots as he walked by places he had stopped the day before. It wasn’t until he reached a log bridge over the creek that he caught sight of a piece of red cloth: Teddy’s hat. But the bear was missing. As he searched the area he found footprints.
He followed the prints. It began to get darker around him, as the tracks led deep into the woods. Here the trees grew high and heavy with leaf, blotting out the sun. They stood close together and he would see trunks intertwined with one another or standing side by side with barely a crack in between. It was easy walking but gradually the ground became mucky and there were many uprooted, fallen over trees; their muddy roots dangling sideways above the ground. Beneath some of these were bubbling waters that trickled out through the forest floor, forming a swampy boggy space filled with flying, biting insects and strange globular plants. The trail ended here and he could make out a light up ahead, so he jumped from rock to log and found his way to it through the swamp.
To his astonishment the light came from a hut that stood upon two enormous chicken legs, which were currently standing. At his approach a clucking sound came from the hut and the legs sat down, lowering the hut to the ground. Whispering Wind approached the door and there he saw, through one of the two windows, was Teddy: tied to a chair. Before he could raise his hand to knock, the door came flying open and a short woman dressed in a worn black and brown dress stood in the threshold. Her hair was grey and tangled upon her head, there was hair growing from her nose and chin, and she squinted at him as she spoke.
“What do you come here for boy?”
“I was looking for my bear, Teddy. You have him tied to a chair,” replied Whispering Wind.
“What of it?” asked the Swamp Hag, “I found him lying in the woods, which makes him mine now.”
“Yes but he’s really mine,” said Whispering Wind, “I lost him you see . . . ”
“Ah, and now you’re wanting him back is it! Well you ought to have looked after him better,” she declared, “As I shan’t be giving him up, oh no boy!” and she slammed the door shut.
Whispering Wind knocked at the door and waited. Presently the woman opened it.
“Get gone boy,” she said, “What’s mine is mine, and I haven’t lost it yet.”
“Please,” said Whispering Wind, “I’ll do anything to get him back. I can split wood for you or run errands or, whatever you like!”
“Is that so?” asked the Swamp Hag. “Hmmm, well, there is one thing perhaps that you could do . . . ”
“What is it?” he asked.
“If you were to bring me a hair from the head of an orange hobjo, then I would give you the bear in trade.” she said, “Now be off and don’t come back until you have it!”
And with a grin, she slammed the door shut again. From within he could hear the sound of the woman cackling. Feeling rather sad, he made his way slowly back home. Willow took one look at him and asked what had happened. He told his mother how Teddy was being held hostage unless he brought back a hair from an orange hobjo. Whatever did that mean anyway? It was impossible! Over dinner that evening there was much discussion, with Whispering Wind stating that he would simply sneak in one day while the hag was gone and take back what was his. Eventually he declared that he would visit Sugar Plum the next day and find out if she knew anything of hobjos. This decided, the day was put to rest and he went off to bed.
The morning sun sent out pink and orange fingers through the sky, and Whispering Wind awoke feeling excited. After his breakfast was eaten, he checked the eggs, brushed down the horses, and then headed off toward Sugar Plum’s cottage. She lived at the end of their driveway in a stone cottage that sat in the middle of a plum orchard. There was a huge patch of blackberries that grew behind her house and a small vegetable garden too. The cottage had wisteria, hops, and moonflower vining their way up over the walls, and hollyhocks, lilies, and other artemesias had their own space all about the cottage. He walked past yarrow, bee balm, and mint, which he nibbled on, all the way up to her house. Along the way he glanced over at the empty house that sat on the other side of the creek, wondering, as he often did if anyone would ever live in it. No one had as long as he could remember, and he often swang from the rope that dangled down the maple tree which sat grandly in front of the house. He got to Sugar Plum’s, and there she was shelling peas on a blanket in the sunshine. She smiled as he approached and got up to give him a hug and a kiss.
Then looking at him she asked, “What’s happened dear, your eyes seem troubled.”
“Oh Sugar Plum,” he said, “I lost Teddy and now the Swamp Hag has him! She won’t give him back unless I bring her a hair from the head of an orange hobjo. I don’t even know what that means!!!”
“Ah,” said his friend, “Hobjo hair is it. Well well, let’s see what we can do. Here, eat some peas.”
They sat down and she shelled peas while he munched on the sweet pods.
“Hobjos are people that live in a place called Hobjolia,” she said after a while.
“Hobjolia? Where is it?” he asked.
“Well, as to ‘where’ it is I can’t say exactly, but I do know how you can get there. You must go into the forest beyond and look for the trees that have Posted signs on them. These signs lead into Hobjolia, but not any one will do. You must find a sign that is either completely covered with the light of the moon or the light from the sun. Only that sign will allow passage into Hobjolia.”
“Is there a doorway?” asked Whispering Wind, puzzled.
“Not exactly, you have to run into the sign and it takes you there. In Hobjolia there are seven different Hobjo’s, each of them has different colored hair: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. They have a leader, he is called Gromlet, and I am known to him. Come inside, I will give you some cookies to take along with you. They love cookies in Hobjolia, it seems like they don’t have food such as ours there, so cookies are always a welcome gift,” she said, smiling.
She took him inside and took out a tin of cookies from a cupboard. Some she wrapped up in a bundle, which he tucked into his pack, and the two of them shared the rest.
“Thanks Sugar Plum,” Whispering Wind said, a big grin on his face, “You’re the best. I’d better start looking.”
“Good luck,” she said, and stood watching as he went around the back of the cottage and was soon out of sight.