California, Early January 2015
"Yeah, Mom," I sighed into the phone. "I'm going to do my homework, I promise."
"I just want to make sure you're staying on track," she responded. "You go back to college in two days. I don't want you showing up to class behind on your homework."
"Mom, I'm almost nineteen. I think I know how to manage my own homework."
I readjusted the strap of my bag on my shoulder and huffed into the receiver. I was walking back to my roommate's house from the drugstore when my mom called me. She was in a panic about my schoolwork since I hadn't spent all of Christmas break at home with her, and so she was frantically trying to make sure I was caught up.
"Okay, okay, fine. I'm sorry. You're right."
I smiled at the worried tone of her voice. "Mom, it's fine. Really. I only have to finish a paper for one class. All my other classes are new. That means no homework."
"Okay, okay. I'm sorry."
I stopped mid stride in the middle of the sidewalk and sighed. "Mom, it's fine. Okay?"
She exhaled heavily on the other end of the phone. "Okay."
"Alright. I gotta go now, but I love you."
"I love you too, sweetie."
I hung up and stuffed the phone back into my shoulder bag, then started walking again. I shivered when a harsh, cold wind suddenly whipped around me, tossing leaves and trash across the street in tiny tornados. Looking up at the sky, I noticed that the clouds from earlier that day had disappeared to reveal the sun shining brilliantly like it usually did in the summer.
A flash of light suddenly shot across the sky, then fell to the earth mere feet in front of me. The light was so blinding that my vision blurred into fuzzy white spots. The wind grew harsher and pushed me forward towards the white light. Then I felt myself falling off a ledge and I screamed until my vision went dark.
Barrow Downs, Early January 3002
I woke up to sunlight shining in my eyes, birds chirping, and the hush of wind in the trees. Confused and extremely frightened, I sat up and looked around at my surroundings in awe. Tall, green trees towered over me and swayed to and fro with the breeze that blew through the area.
Looking down, I spotted my shoulder bag just a few feet away and let out a cry of relief. I crawled over to my bag and pulled it to my chest, then started looking through it to make sure I hadn't lost anything. All four books, my wallet, cell phone, and iPod were still intact and stored safely in my bag.
A bird screeched overhead and I gasped with a start, clutching my bag even tighter against my chest. I pushed myself to my feet and slung my bag over my shoulders. Another bird called out and flew down from its perch on a branch nearby, soaring past me and into another tree.
A short distance away, a voice suddenly began to sing to a sweet tune I had never heard before:
"Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo!
Ring a dong! hop along! fal lal the willow!
Tom Bom, jolly Tom, Tom Bombadillo!"
A man burst through the bushes in front of me, startling me so much that I stumbled backwards a few paces. I stared speechlessly at the man, taking in every detail about his appearance. He stopped singing the moment he spotted me and copied my actions by staring back at me in fascination.
He was shorter than normal, reaching somewhere around the height of my chest, and had a rounded belly. His hair and beard was brown threaded with silver and his beard was well trimmed. The man was wearing a blue jacket with gold buttons, a cream colored waistcoat with similar buttons, and brown trousers that stopped mid calf. His shoes were a bright yellow color, similar to the shade of a dandelion or a daffodil, and laced with white string.
"Hello there, young lady," the man said in a sweet, kind voice. His cheeks were red and rosy and his smile was genuine and oddly comforting. "What's a lovely human lass like yourself doin' out here in the Barrow Downs so close to dusk?"
"What?" I deadpanned.
The man furrowed his brows. "Are you lost?" he asked.
I nodded. "Yeah. I-I think so. I… I don't know where I am," I stammered.
"Well, you know where the Barrow Downs are, don't you?"
"Barrow Downs?" I echoed.
The man exhaled through his nose and shook his head. "You seem a bit confused, young lady," he noted after looking me up and down again. "And your garments are such as I've never seen before."
I looked down at my dark blue jeans, black flats, and v-neck shirt, then back to the man. "I don't understand what's happening. Where am I?"
"I've already told you twice, lass. The Barrow Downs."
"But where is that?"
"East of the Shire and west of Bree."
My breath caught in my throat and I nearly choked. "Bree?" I repeated incredulously.
I grabbed at my shoulder bag and almost tore it open, rummaging through my things to find a specific book. I pulled the book out with shaky hands and turned to the back where the maps were located. There, in black print on bright white paper, was the name "Bree" written next to a small dot. Next to word was a small drawing of a forest and some hills with the words "Barrow Downs" written beneath them.
"Oh my God," I breathed.
The book nearly slipped through my fingers as I took in a gasping breath, locking eyes with the man. I knew who he was supposed to be. How had it taken me so long to realize where I was, who the man was? It was so obvious.
"Tom Bombadil?" I whispered hesitantly.
The man nodded with a grin. "Aye, tha's me. I see my reputation proceeds me."
I nodded slowly, forcing a nervous smile onto my face. "Y-You could say that."
"And who do I have the pleasure of meeting?"
I swallowed nervously. "Um, Diana. Scott," I said haltingly. "Diana Scott. Sorry."
Tom smiled reassuringly at me and waved my apology away. "No apologies, lass. You're obviously lost and confused. Completely understandable." He paused for a moment, considering something, then continued, "I hope you wouldn't be alarmed if I asked you to come back with me to my home. I would like to help you, if I can."
Before I could stop myself or think properly about the situation, I agreed and was on my way to the house of Tom Bombadil. The sunlight was already starting to fade and turn golden through the leaves above us. I could just make out the colors of the sunset through the treetops.
"Beautiful, isn't it?"
Tom glanced at me over his shoulder. "The sunset. You were admiring it, weren't you?"
I flushed a little and nodded. "Yes."
Tom looked ahead again with a smile. "Goldberry will be extremely pleased to meet you, Miss Diana. She always enjoys kind female company."
"My wife," the man answered proudly.
"Yes, I-…" I trailed off, but continued the sentence in my head. I know.
I looked back at the sky and spotted a flash of orange and pink reflected in the clouds. This can't be real, I thought as more and more trees began to block my view of the sky. There's no way.