I hadn't spoken to her in a while but her face was engraved in my mind permanently; maybe the reason I hadn't spoken to her was because of my childish fear of change We had grown up together, although we were not always friends. We grew close, until we were practically inseparable; she was my best friend, like my sister. I finally had the perfect friendship that people always talk about, but the mere fact that it was perfect told me that it couldn't last. After we graduated from elementary school, the phone calls and visits became more and more infrequent, and finally, they stopped.
Now the very thought of what was brings tears to my eyes. I sit each day, alone, telling myself that I'm trapped in the middle of some sort of nightmare. I cry often... because of our friendship; because of her; because of Katrina. I cry out to any being listening to bring my life back to me, to bring our friendship back, to bring Katrina back. I stare at the phone, but somehow I just cannot bring myself to use it, to dial those ten numbers which are so familiar to me.
'Why don't you just call her?' I ask myself 'Why don't you just end your pain and call her? How foolish to sit and torture yourself over something preventable.' Yes maybe I could call her and share my feelings with her, but I am afraid of what her response will be. Not because she is selfish or cruel or anti-sympathetic, but I am afraid of change. Normally she would talk calmly and share her own feelings with me, and they would be similar to mine. We would go on for hours, until we ended in carefree laughing and had made plans to meet and cheer each other up. She had always cheered me up; I always knew what to say to her, and she always knew what to say to me, and we never felt uncomfortable doing or saying anything in front of each other. We were best friends. Now, as I am still staring at the phone, I wonder what she will say.
Will she want to meet? Will she be angry that I called? What do we have in common anymore that we can talk about? I don't feel that same comfort I once did when I was with her; it is almost as if I am afraid to say certain things to her. I cannot be open or casual anymore. I can no longer laugh those carefree laughs. I am saddened by the Fact that we have both changed. We have gone to different schools, taken different routes in life, and ultimately become two different people. I 'm not even sure what, if anything, we have in common anymore.
How can a friendship so strong, so perfect, so cherished, just disappear like this? It is all because of change. Change, my despised enemy. I hate it for tearing me apart from such a wonderful person. I hate it for the fact that because of it,I don't even really know this person anymore. I don't even know my best friend, Katrina! I do remember one thing about her, one very special interest of hers that I hope will always be one thing we have in common: magic. We both fantasized about unicorns and dragons and castles and knights in shining armor galloping on white horses to save a princess trapped in a tower. I wish, right now, I could just ride away on a unicorn, and shoot across the clouds like a moon beam away from my sadness.
This is why I must tell you of a dream that I had; it involved our love of fantasy and fiction, of magic and make believe. It w as about my very special friend Katrina and me, about our own magical world. And so I will tell you the tale of an enchanting and spell-binding dream; I will tell you about Katrina's ride.
I was lying on my bed in my room on this ordinary day, following my ordinary routine in my ordinary neighborhood. After sitting for several minutes, alone in the darkness of my confinement, I had a sudden urge to break free from my bleak surroundings and refresh myself with light from the morning sun. I tore open the beige shutters holding back the rays from my window, and an overwhelming burst of bright gold, bold red and fierce orange came shooting into my room. Suddenly the day seemed to come alive; it was no longer ordinary or boring.
I was suddenly filled with zest and excitement. I was suddenly curious and felt adventurous. I wanted to go explore the day; I wanted to quench my thirst for life. I pushed my door open and ran outside into the new day. I opened my arms wide and spun in circles with my face looking straight up to the heavens. I closed my eyes and basked in the warmth and energy of the sun. I absorbed all that I could from it, and then I just closed my eyes and contemplated on the peace that 1 felt.
I thought about how wonderful I felt, and how I hadn't been so happy in such a long time -I had not been happy ever since I graduated from elementary school and left behind Katrina, my best friend. But for some reason, I wasn't even thinking about that. I wasn't thinking about her, although 1 could never seem to get her out of my mind any other time. I was always sad or lonely or depressed, but today I pushed my sadness and loneliness to the side and thought about nothing except the sun.
Then, all of a sudden, I felt a drop of water hit my face. Then another. Then a series of tiny little droplets began faIling onto my face. Rain poured from the sky. The gleaming sun was buried beneath clumps of gray and black clouds, and just as suddenly as I had found happiness, that sadness that I pushed aside had found a place within my heart once again. I was still staring up at the sky, a blank expression on my face. The sun had gone away. my joy had gone away. I thought of Katrina again, and for lack of anything else to do, I began to cry. I just cried. Tears fell from my eyes and slid down my checks with the rain. I was soaked, covered in rain. My sorrow lead me to a corner in my alley, a little niche where I sat in a puddle and wallowed in self-pity as the rain continued to beat down on me. A harsh wind began to lash at me, and I could do nothing but curl up in a baIl and weep.
"Lauren...'' I heard a low voice call out to me from nearby. It sounded so much like Katrina, and I wanted to believe that it was, but I was too confused to lift my head and look.
The voice called out to me again: "Lauren... why are you crying?"
I convinced myself to look up, just to see who was calling out to me. It was katrina! It really was her. I leapt up quickly and forced my tired legs to move forward. I wrapped my arms around her and again I cried, but this time out of happiness.
I couldn't believe it was her. I had been so afraid to speak to her, and at this moment I was asking myself Why had I been afraid to call my best friend? Why had I been afraid to speak to someone so sympathetic, so understanding? Why hadn't I talked to the only person who knew everything there was to know about me, whom I had confided everything in and who I felt closer to than anyone I had ever known? I still held her tightly as I thought about all of this, and she seemed happy to see me as well.
"Well, what have you been up to?" she asked.
I smiled. "You know me... not much. Just lying around as usual." She nodded and laughed quietly. "You?" I asked.
'Same as always," she responded, "hanging out with Spencer, going to work with my dad.. " Spencer was her great dane, and I was almost surprised that she hadn't brought him along.
"It's been so long, I hardly know what to say..." I just looked at her, at a loss of words, but surging with feelings I can't describe.
"Don't look at me like that, you're scaring me!" she exclaimed.
I just laughed. "Sorry, it's just so hard to believe that I haven't seen you in months. I mean, we used to do everything together, and now it's like we see each other once every six months. I really miss you." A tear slipped from my eye as I said this, but I quickly wiped it away before she turned to look at me.
"Well," she said, "we'd better gel out of the rain, we're both soaked. How long have you been out here any way?"
"Only about fifteen minutes," I smiled and said, "I was standing out here and it was sunny, and the next thing I knew it was pouring down rain and I was huddled up in that puddle."
"Why were you over there crying?" she asked.
"Mostly because I 'm dumb., but partly because of you."
"Why me? Why were you crying because of me? I haven't been around here long enough to make you cry.
"That's exactly my point,'' I said, "I haven't seen you, and I know it's my fault, but the truth is it's tearing me apart."
She looked at me sympathetically, pulling out an umbrella that seemed to come from nowhere and opening it, She held it above both of our heads.
"Well, I guess we're going to have to change that, now aren't we? I'll call you more often if you call me. I mean, I tried calling you. Sometimes I called three or four, times a day, but it was either busy or it would just ring and ring. A few times, I swear I must have let it ring for, like, thirty times. I guess I just got tired of you not calling me back. I thought you were avoiding me or something."
She turned her head, and I wanted to cry, but then I knew I had to tell her why I had acted like that.
"I know. I guess I was kind of avoiding you. Sometimes I'd be sitting on the couch. Sometimes I'd be sitting on the couch or something, really bored and wanting to call you and then the phone would ring . I'd look on the caller-ID and it would be you, but for some reason I'd just let it ring. I wanted to pick it up, oh, I wanted so badly just to pick up the phone but its weird. It was like something was holding me back. I'd just let the phone ring and ring. And then you would call back again and again and I would just sit there and listen to it. Sometimes I cried while it was ringing, and instead of just picking it up I sat there and listened to it and tortured myself I don't know why I did that, and I was almost mad at you, like it was your fault that I couldn't or wouldn't pick up the phone. I guess I was just afraid."
She appeared to be confused, and I couldn't t blame her. She looked down at me from her five-foot seven inch frame, saying. "Why? Why were you afraid?"
"I don't know. I was afraid of how much you'd changed, of how much I'd changed. How we wouldn't. be as close as we were, but I guess I was just tearing us further apart. I still wanted us to he best friends, like we were in eighth grade. How I could tell you anything and felt completely comfortable around you, like I knew I could do anything or say anything and it wouldn't matter because you liked me for me. And I knew you felt the same way. Now I'm afraid we won't have anything in common, or you'll think badly of me if I say something idiotic like I used to. I want us to be as close as we were; how we used to call each other at least once a day and talk for hours at a time. When we used to go over each others houses every weekend, and we used to stay up until six o'clock in the morning just talking. We used to have such in-depth conversations, and we could just say one word and understand each other perfectly. We had the same opinions about most things, and had crushes on the same boys. I was there for you when your grandmother died, and you were there to comfort me when my depression became almost unbearable. I was afraid that would all disappear because things are different now."
I burst into tears, and she surprised me by doing something that she was always uncomfortable doing...she embraced me and held me close to herself She always felt awkward embracing or touching someone, but now she seemed so comfortable, and I stopped crying and smiled.
"Hey," she said, "the rain's not so bad, is it? Remember that time at my house when we were out in the rain for an hour, and we got each other soaked? I nodded. Then she threw the umbrella and began to laugh uncontrollably. "You know what would he funny?" she asked me with a half-crazed look on her face.
"What would?" I asked somewhat nervously.
"This..." she kicked at the biggest puddle of water I'd seen all day and drenched me from head to toe in water.
"No, Kat, you know what would be even funnier?" Before I gave her a chance to respond, I picked up the lid of a trash can and threw the water at her.
We went on splashing each other and laughing until we were both dripping wet arid blue in the face. We hadn't laughed like that, played like that, in months. I enjoyed it;in fact, I was savoring every minute of it. Then, I looked up to the sky and saw a tiny white snowflake fluttering downward then another. Then a series of snow flakes began falling, and each time I looked up there would he more of them falling faster and faster.
"This is so cool!" I exclaimed, "Snow in June! I bet this'll be on the news. I never would have thought..." I looked over at Katrina, who appeared pale and somewhat sick looking.
"This isn't a good sign," she said with a worried look on her face.
"What, is this one of those things you read in your horoscope, or your little magic books or something?" I asked playfully.
"No," she said, "this isn't a joke. I never read this anywhere. I just have this really bad feeling, like something bad is about to happen. You know what I mean, don't you?"
She looked at me, and I nodded. "I know what you mean, but it's only snow It snows all the time and nothing 'bad' has happened, has it? Not besides being trapped in the house with your parents for a few hours, right?"
"Yeah," she said, "but this is different. When was the last time it snowed in the middle of June? I really think we should go in my house for a while, just until it stops."
"Oh, come on, Katrina! Just like you said, when wax the last time it snowed in June? We should take advantage of it since it's never happened in history before. There's nothing to worry about, except for the fact that you have turned into the biggest party-pooper I know."
"Lauren, I know I might seem like a huge pessimist or a loser or whatever you want to call me, but it's not that. Really. I'm having strong premonitions that something bad is going to happen if we don't get out of this snowstorm soon, and I really don't wanna risk it just because it's snowing."
"Do you hear yourself?" I asked, "You sound ridiculous. Something bad is going to happen just because we're having a good time in the Snow. Ha! That's actually pretty funny, you know that? Could you please return from whatever realm you're in? Boy, talk about eating too much ice cream and watching the Sci Fi channel!"
She shook her head, as if bringing herself out of some sort of trance, and then nodded. "Yeah, I guess I do sound kind of stupid, don't I? Just forget I said anything." I smiled at her and formed a snowball behind my hack, trying to withhold any sign that might suggest my oncoming attack. "Besides," she said, "it wasn't ice cream.. it was snickers and frappucinos!
We both laughed, and I launched the snowball at her head. It spun several times, but she leapt away in an effort to dodge the icy clump, and it missed and hit her on the shoulder.
"Ooh! You're so dead!" she screamed at me. She scooped up some snow with her right hand and hurled it at me, and it hit me directly in my stomach. I let out a gasp and she laughed at me. "Gotcha!" she yelled.
Then I saw a perplexed look form upon her weather-worn face. "Am I seeing things. or is there a strange little man coming down from the sky?" she asked me, almost as though she thought she were going crazy.
I laughed at her in disbelief almost sure that there was something wrong with her, until I looked up to the sky myself Sure enough, there was a strange little man, growing bigger and bigger as he drifted downward. I wondered why gravity was so generously allowing him to move at his own pace through the clouds, and ultimately wondered what he was doing in the sky. I wondered if I, too, was seeing things; hallucinating.
"Umm.... Kat, " I stuttered out, "is that little man for real?" She was still looking at him, and the outline of some sort of white creature was forming beneath him, but it blended in with the snow so well that I could not distinguish what it was.
"Why don't you ask him, or his little animal friend." She was in too much shock, as was I, to absorb any humor from her wisecrack.
Now he was only a few feet above the ground on the back of a white dragon which had landed him safely on the ground. I let out a shriek; I was stunned, shocked, bewildered. I could not bring myself to accept what I had Just seen, to accept the two figures which were now standing right in front ol me. I practically refused to accept it, but yet I knew that some sort of fairy-tale creatures had landed in Katrina's front yard. He snickered, and his eerie grin and yellowish teeth made me cringe.
The dragon was a magnificent sight. Standing about two hundred and fifty feet off the ground, and at a length of about ninety feet, he stared down at us with his crystal-blue eyes. He was completely white, and blended perfectly with his snowy surroundings. His tail was about twenty feet long, arid stretched to her neighbor's lawn three houses down. There he sat, the strange little man on his hack who was still somewhat smiling, staring down at us.
The man, who was definitely strange but no longer little, came to a height of seven feet. He was clothed in a royal blue robe, and a matching hat with a crystal formed into a star on the top, He had no shoes on, but the cold and ice that covered his bare feet did not seem to bother him at all. He looked at me. "Well, hello there, Lauren."
I gasped. How did he know my name?
"You're probably wondering how I knew your name..." he said, "well isn't that typical of a mortal. Well you probably know that all wizards know just about everything there is to know, and if you haven't figured it out already, you're staring directly at a wizard. And here, to my left, is my snow dragon."
I could not get over the fact that the cold snow did not affect his feet.
"Oh, yes, you re probably also wondering why the ice isn't affecting me. Well, it's simple. think about it. I have one snow dragon, it suddenly got cold as I came near, and I'm standing in sub-zero temperatures with no shoes on I'm sure that you've come up with the only explanation possible: I 'm an ice wizard! Wonderful deduction! Now, anyway, there's the whole matter of this kidnapping issue, so if you wouldn't mind, it would be a whole hot simpler if you just stood there while I took the girl. A resistance could only lead to an unwanted death, and we certainly wouldn't want that, since I just said that it was unwanted, now would we?"
I stared at him for a few moments in disbelief. Is he real? Am I dreaming this whole thing?
"Aren't we through with that whole disbelief stage yet?" he said, "I thought we could just skip to the part where I take your best friend and you live happily ever after."
Then it finally hit me: this was real, and he was after Katrina. "Woah, What was that about my best friend? Could we back up for just a second?"
He smiled, "So, I see we're finally catching on. Well, you've summed it up for me, so if you don't mind i've got an appointment and I don't have a whole lot of time to waste here."
"No, I don't think you understand. You're not going anywhere with my best friend. What makes you think that you can just appear, make me unhappy again, and then disappear? NO way, never gonna happen."
"Hmm...it seems to me that the only reason you're friends with Katrina is for personal gain. You want her because 'if' I take her, you'll be sad. Boo-Hoo. I really feel for you, but you see, you're missing the whole point here; I'm bigger than you, I'm stronger than you, I'm bigger than you, and I'm stronger than you. There's really nothing to it. Would you like me to repeat it again?"
"No, that won't be necessary," I said, "but I think there's something that you don't understand: YOU CAN'T HAVE MY BEST FRIEND! What do you want with her anyway?"
He stared at me for a long while, and I turned to look at Katrina, who was shaking.
She whispered something to me but she was stuttering so much that I couldn't understand what she was saying. The wizard spoke again, and I almost wished he would just kill me, because taking my best friend would be Just as bad, if not worse. I already lost her once, and I couldn't lose her again.
"You should have listened to her," he told me.
He wanted to hurt my feelings, he wanted me to feel guilty. Maybe that was the whole point of this, he just wanted me to cry. Maybe if I cried he would go away and leave me alone. Or maybe I had dreamed him up out of self-pity or guilt. Maybe I felt guilty about all the time I lost with Katrina, so I figured that dreaming that I was losing her would make me appreciate her more. Or maybe she wasn't even here; maybe this was all an illusion, all a fantasy, all a dream. But it seemed too real to be a dream; I could never imagine such vivid characters, and certainly not Katrina. I shook myself out of thought as I heard him speaking again.
"If you would have gone into the house like Katrina wanted, maybe this never would have happened. Maybe if you weren't so selfish, if you wouldn't have ignored her, maybe she'd he safe right now. Well, it's too late for that, I must be off. He waved his hand, and the dragon opened his mouth and puffed a cloud of smoke that was too thick to see past. I heard Katrina scream, and tried desperately to find her within the fog, groping around hopelessly. It was then that I saw her atop the white dragon with that evil wizard. She was crying, and I could hear her talking to me:
"Lauren Why did you do this to me? I told you something was wrong, and now it's too late. I told you that so nothing bad would happen, but you wouldn't listen. It's all your fault! It's all your fault.
They faded off into the distance, and her cries became fainter and fainter until all I could hear were those accusations echoing again and again in my head. I fell to my knees, and once more, I cried. I could not bear the thought of losing her twice, and both times because of my own selfishness. I didn't know where to start, where to begin. How could I find her? How would I get to her? The wizard had Just seemed to appear out of nowhere, so how would I know where to locate him?
Confused, I ran. I just ran. I had no particular destination, and could not think of any particular reason why I was running. I just wanted to escape my problems, wanted to run away from them and leave them all behind. I wanted to run far away, out of this terrible place that I once loved. This couldn't be home, my own neighborhood, it just couldn't! It was too awful to be true, and yet, it was.
My eyes were tilled with tears, and I tried to hold them back, I tried to keep myself from crying, to tell myself that I was just imagining things, and that everything would be alright once I got to my house. I just had to get to my real home. I was out of breath and completely tired, yet I pushed myself forward, forced myself to continue. I took all of the strength that I had left inside of myself and continued on, praying that somehow I could erase the past. I thought that maybe, just maybe, by getting home I could completely alter what had just happened.
I almost had himself convinced, but when I came to my street, I looked down it and saw nothing but dirty, abandoned houses and trash cans dumped out and thrown into the middle of the street. I saw strange people, ones whom I had never seen before, gathering around my neighbors' homes. I could not imagine what had happened. I must have taken the wrong street; I must have taken the wrong way home. This must be another Duluth Avenue, this is not my neighborhood.
I ran down the street, finding my house in shambles. It was broken-down and rat-infested, and the sight of it made me sick. A huge knot formed in my stomach. Where was I? How did I get here?' Was this my home? I took the key out of my pocket and placed it into the keyhole. I turned it, but for some reason it just would not open. I turned it every-which-way, trying desperately to unlock what was left of my front door. I began to bang on it with my fists, pounding at it fiercely. I think I expected to break it down, but it wouldn't budge. I banged harder arid louder, and I didn't give up. I promised myself that I would not stop until my mother or father opened the door, until I was back in my neighborhood, at my front door. A crowd had formed behind me, staring at me as I continued to yell and beat at the piece of rotting wood. Tears were pouring down my cheeks.
"Mom! dad! Open the door! please...it's cold outside. It's me, it's Lauren. I'm scared... what's going on? Mom! Don't leave me! Please, help me! Don't leave me out here!"
Blood was pouring down my hands, and I bad pieces of rough wood dangling from my wounds, but somehow I did not feel it. I was numb, my whole body was numb. I could not seem to think of anything except how confused I was. I fell to my knees, still banging at the door with the little strength I bad left. Blood and tears dripped onto my pants, and my body somewhat collapsed and fell onto the porch. Finally I stopped crying and just laid there, staring at people who bad congregated to watch me. Then I started to laugh It was one of those insane kind of laughs, where you've gone crazy and you laugh hysterically because you re just so dumbfounded.
In spite of everything that bad just happened, and the terrible pain I was in, I laughed on and on until I was so exhausted that I passed out. I think I blacked out for about fifteen minutes or so, but it was hard to tell since I was unconscious. I woke up again to find myself lying in the same spot. My hands were stinging, and my eyes were swollen from crying. I could hardly find the strength to get up, but I did. I sat up, only to find those same people staring in amazement. Now I knew how the animals at the zoo must feel; people were staring at me as though I were their entertainment. I was angry. Angry at them. I wanted to make them stop looking at me, make them leave me alone. Their eyes were fixed on me though, and unable to control myself I screamed.
"What are you people looking at? What do you want, a show? I'll give you a show alright! I'll give you something to stare at!"
I ran down the three small steps of the porch and headed towards the people I grabbed the first man I saw by the neck and began to shake him violently.
"What? What do you want from me? Stop it! Stop it! Leave me alone! Stop playing this awful trick on me and just leave me alone.
I let him go and began to walk back up the street. I bad nowhere else to go, nothing else to do. My best friend was gone. My family was gone. My life was gone. Where could I turn from here? What was there left to do? I didn't know the answers to any of these questions, but I continued to walk up this unfamiliar street, which used to be so familiar to me.
I cried an endless stream of tears, which impaired my vision to the point that I did not notice the person standing right in front of me. I promptly bumped into her. I sputtered out somewhat of an apology, but she surprised me with what she did next: she took her hand and placed it on my shoulder, and I could hear her talking about Katrina, but I could not comprehend another single word.
"Snap out of it!" she yelled, and I wiped the tears from my eyes so as to see who was talking to me. I took a step back in amazement: I bad been talking to a fairy!
I know this should not have surprised me, since I bad just bad so many extraordinary encounters, but I could not get over the fact that I was talking to an imaginary creature that I bad believed in when I was a child. She stood only about three feet off the ground, and bad long, wavy, chocolate-brown hair that cascaded down her back and shoulders and fell to her knees. She was clad in a skirt of rose petals, and a tiny shirt made of sunflower leaves and carnation blossoms of all pastels. She bad honey-suckle hanging from her hair, and her blue eyes sparkled like tiny sea crystals. She bad tiny alabaster wings that flapped back and forth on her back. She was a gorgeous sight to behold, and this almost led me to believe that I bad indeed gone crazy, that I was making imaginary friends to suffice for the one I bad lost. Then she spoke again, her voice so soft, so angelic, that I felt she was singing me a lullaby.
"You will find Katrina" she said, "and I will help you. I can tell you what to do, and I can tell you how to find her, if you trust me. But you have to be brave. You're going to have to overcome some obstacles that may be very difficult, and they may involve things that scare you, things that you've only seen in nightmares, but you'll have to fight them if you ever want to get your friend back. You've got to tell me what it is that you want to do. I promise I'll be there for you to help you, but it's all up to you.
She opened her hand and extended it towards me, looking up at me with her beautiful eyes, as if telling mc that Katrina needed me - so I took her hand. What else was I to do? What else could I say? Of course I was afraid, I was terrified, but it was my fault that Katrina was gone in the first place, and I bad to get her back. I bad to get my family back and I bad to get my life straight. I was too confused, too scared not to do it. I bad no other choice, unless I wanted to spend the rest of my life as a miserable old wanderer in this remote land called home.
She lead me down the street, humming a tune that seemed to calm me and make me feel as though none of this bad happened, and that I was about to open my eyes and wake up in my bed. I followed her until we came to the end of the street. She again looked into my eyes and said, "Now is the time, are you ready?" I nodded my head, and she took my hands in hers as she gave me the instructions.
"What are you afraid of?" she inquired I Just stared down at her blankly, as if saying that I was not afraid anything. I knew that I was, I knew there were many things that I was afraid of, but I couldn't bring myself to say them aloud, then my fears would crawl out of their hiding places and torture me. They would encircle me and taunt me until I fell to my knees and gave in to them and they took over my body and made me live in fear for the rest of my life. I could not make my lips move. They quivered, and I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes, and so I held them back along with the words she told me I bad to say. I could not cry, and I could not tell her what I was afraid of.
"Tell me," she said, "You have to confront it. It's the only way. You told me you wanted to save your friend Katrina, well, now is the lime to prove your determination. Tell me."
I gathered up my strength, and although I knew that something bad would come of it, I told her. "I m.. .I 'm afraid of..." I paused and just looked at her, and then I finished, "I'm afraid to be alone! I don't want to be by myself I don't want to die alone, because then all of the terrible things that I'm afraid of will come to get me and I won't be able to stop them. I can't be alone, they'll come to get me if I am, I know it!"
I burst into tears and again. I could led her tiny hand on my shoulder. Now that I had told her what I was afraid of I had nothing to lose. I would most likely be dead soon, seeing as those evil spirits had heard too and would be crawling out of their hiding places to swarm around me, their sticky fingers grasping at me, wanting my soul. They would try to pull me into the darkness - it was inevitable. I was terrified, and the situation seemed hopeless. I fell to the ground and curled up in a ball, hoping to keep them away so that they were unable to suck the life out of me.
"Lauren," she said so softly and calmly that I almost didn't hear her, "you've done wonderful, but this is only half the battle. It's up to you now, and there's one more thing you must do in order to find Katrina."
I looked up at her with my dripping eyes and tear-stained cheeks, and she took her fingers and wiped the moisture from my face. She was so gentle that it felt as though she hadn't touched me at all. I nodded my head, and she seemed to understand me perfectly. She knew that I meant I would go through with it, that I wanted to know what I had to do.
"You're so brave," she declared, "Now this may be difficult. but it's the only way. You have to face your fear head-on. Like if you were afraid of spiders you'd have to confront a spider, or if you were afraid of heights you'd have to climb to the top of a tall building. Well, in this case, you have to confront solitude, and a solitary death. See how long this street is ahead of you? See how far it seems to stretch? It looks to be hundreds of miles, and it looks so barren and inhospitable. You will see some very unpleasant things down this road and you will have to face them alone, but you can get it over with quickly."
I stared in amazement as the road before me transformed into some nightmarish passage within a blink. There were shadowy figures lurking behind decaying trees, and dead doves lying along the ground, below their conquerors, the vultures. Those hideous birds were everywhere, gawking at me with their beady eyes as if saying, "come join us." It was eerie, but I gathered up my courage and said, "Tell me what I have to do..."
"Well, you have to run. Run as hard and as fast as you can and don't look at anything around you. Don't look at those things surrounding you that appear so frightening, because if you don't look at them, they can't scare you and they lose their power. Just look ahead, and get to what lies ahead as quickly as possible. You will run until you come to the edge of a cliff but you can't stop. You have to keep running. Now I'm going to tell you something that I probably shouldn't tell you: the things surrounding you may seem real, but they're just illusions. If you give in to your fears however, they will become very real, and could quite possibly overcome you. And you must promise me that you will run over that cliff I know it's going to be hard, but you'll be doomed if you don't, and you'll never be able to turn back, or to escape that path."
I nodded once again, and I began to feel sick in my stomach to the point that I wasn't sure if I could continue with the whole ordeal, but I put on a front for the fairy and nodded.
Again she spoke: "Now, when you come to the edge of the cliff and run off of it, you will begin to spiral downward so fast that you won't be able to think straight, and voices are going to call out to you "do you want to die?" or "just say no," or "we're going to get you." They're just trying to frighten you while you're vulnerable, but don't give in. Just keep silent. You'll then come within centimeters of touching the ground but then everything around you will evaporate, and you'll be in the kingdom of the wizard. There, you'll find Katrina."
"I how will I know where to go, or what to do once I arrive in the wizard's kingdom? How can I ever get her back from him? Look at me! How could I possibly overcome him? Overcome his power? There's no chance! Why should I even go through with this?" I sounded pessimistic, I know, but the situation seemed hopeless.
"Well, I don't know, why should you go through with this? It's up to you, I'm not the one who wants to get my friend back. The choice is up to you, remember that. I'm not going to force you to do it, but don't Forget that she'd still be here right now if it hadn't been for you. Now if you're not going, I'm afraid I'll have to be off.
She shook her head in disbelief and was about to take off when I shouted, "What do I have to do to find her?!"
She smiled. "I'll tell you what will happen. The minute your hand touches hers, and you both want to be together and want to go back home with all your hearts, you will be transported to my land. Oh, it's wonderful. You can leave whenever you like, but one you leave, you won't be able to return. And when you do leave, you will go back to your home where things will be back to normal. Things should be perfect for you from then on. But you both have to want the same thing with your whole hearts."
She had such a glow about her, such a beauty and an essence of total happiness and freedom; I longed for that very same happiness, that very same freedom, but I knew that the only way to obtain my freedom would be to confront my fear and overcome it. I lifted my head up to the sky and breathed in the cool air.
"There's just one more thing before I do this. Tell me, please tell me, about your land. Tell me what it's called, where it is, everything about it.
She seemed just as eager to tell me about it as I was to hear about it. She closed her eyes., as if imagining it in her mind. "Well, where shall I begin? Hmm... I live in the land of dreams. It sits atop an alabaster cloud high in the sky, surrounded by a mist of magic, and moonbeams swirling round and round. There are so many fairy-tale creatures, it is almost as if we are living a fantasy. There are the other fairies, who are clothed in flowers and strings of vine. Then there are the little pixies and nymphs, who are robed in stardust and sparkles. They have long white hair and pointed ears and tiny wands with which they perform their magic. There are cherubim, who are wrapped in blankets of silk, and have wings made of gold. Then, of course, there are the gnomes and elves, the tiny little men and women who live as nomads. They travel all the time; in the springtime they live beneath the budding flowers, and in the summer under the ripe mushrooms; in autumn they make tents out of the newly-fallen leaves, and in the winter they wrap themselves in the dying blades of grass until the snow has melted away and they can hunt for somewhere else to stay.
All of these little creatures have special purposes as well. The pixies and nymphs travel down to earth to play with the little boys and girls. They tug at their ears and poke them and make them laugh, and cause them to have adventurous daydreams when they should be doing something else. The cherubim comfort the lonely children, and sing lullabies to little children when they can't fall asleep. They hum a tune and gently caress their skin with the silk to let the children know that they are not alone. The gnomes and elves like to play tricks on the children; they like to confuse them with riddles and play simple pranks on them then laugh hysterically when the child is gullible enough to tall for it. Then there are the fairies, who are the most important of all; we are the creators of the children's dreams.If you're a good little boy or girl, we give you sweet dreams, but if you've been bad, we devise the most horrible nightmares possible. It may seem hard to believe that such creatures as fairies could put such horrible dreams into one's head, but just as we are sweet and beautiful, we can be harsh and deal out punishment. We can also visit someone in their dreams; if they are having a hard time resolving something, we can appear to them in a dream and help them to make things better.
When we want to give children sweet dreams, we simply sprinkle stardust onto their eyes and the magic takes over. When we send bad dreams, however, we clasp our hands together and draw out the shadow's from the crevices of the night. Then we form them and give them shape and life and pour them onto the child, who tosses and turns all night in fear. I've created dreams for you many times. Remember when you dreamed that you were an angel, and you flew through the heavens and could see all the world below you? That was one of mine. Or remember when you dreamed that you were stuck m that dark room with all those ugly creatures grabbing at you, and you couldn't escape? I sent you that nightmare after you said all oh those horrible things to that boy in your class. Who knows, I may even appear to you sometime and help you out a bit. You may not even know that it's me, or you may not even realize that I'm helping you.
Now, all this you have to look forward to when you come to visit us. Don't worry, none of those bad dreams will come to bother you while you're there; the land is full of goodness and sweet dreams. I will have the cherubim sing to you, and the pixies to frolic alongside you through the rose gardens. Maybe I will let you take a flight with the fairies and dance through the air. You could chase a butterfly with the nymphs, and leap as high as twenty Feet and let laughter consume you. Perhaps the little elves could take you to the ocean of dreams, where you could ride with the dolphins or swim with the mermaids. You could take a tour of our castle with the gnomes; it sits on the coast of the ocean of dreams, and you have a perfect view of the never-ending sunrise. The sky is always painted with and orange and purple and pink. The sun burns furiously beneath the clouds of all shades of blue as its rays stream down upon the kingdom of this land I speak of .
The castle is surrounded by a light pink haze, and as you draw near, you can see a draw bridge made of peppermint that extends to help you cross the ocean. Draping from the entrance and outer walls of the castle are roses and as you enter the castle, you see the fairies at work, making dreams and laughing all the while. You look out the window and see the nymphs and gnomes playing in the orchard. They run through the rows of carnations and sunflowers and daffodils; they picnic beneath the willows, whose beautiful white buds are blooming from branches that sweep the ground. The little creatures fly through the air to plant more flowers, and gather a single white rose to take to the princess of the land, Celeste.
She is the ruler of all the land of dreams. She wears a long satin gown, colored scarlet, with tiny rosebuds forming the waistline. Her golden locks are hanging in a hong braid down her back. little pink roses and bits of babies breath are weaved into her braid, and a crown of deep red rosebuds sits atop her head, matching her ruby lips and amethyst eyes. She is perhaps the most gorgeous girl anyone has ever laid eyes on; it is even said that the goddess Aphrodite was jealous of her. She is, I'm sure, awaiting your visit, so I won't speak any longer. Don't you have a trip to make?"
She looked up at me, her blue eyes seemingly penetrating through me, reading those things that I have buried deep in my soul. For one single moment, I looked back at her, completely mesmerized, feeling as if her eyes had hypnotized me and I suddenly had a great burst of energy and strength. It suddenly seemed as though I was no longer afraid of those things which had, moments ago, caused me to tremble with fear. I shook my head, realizing that I still had a job to do; I still had to get my life back to normal.
'Yeah," I said, "I'm ready. I can do this, I KNOW it! I have to. If I don't, I'll never get my life back to normal."
She smiled at me, and then I took a deep breath and gathered up my courage; and with all the strength I had within myself, I took off down the street. I ran. I ran as fast as I could. Several times I was almost sure that I wouldn't make it; I was tired and I could see those terrible things ahead that I was approaching. But then I forced those discouraging thoughts out of my head and pushed onward to restore my own life, to give Katrina her life back. Then a dark shadow came upon me, and I could see those eery little creatures creeping out from the darkness and reaching their long, sticky fingers out towards me, trying to pull me in with them.
Then came the voices; they called out over and over again?
"Lauren! You'll never make it, Lauren."
"Katrina's dead, and you will be soon if you don't turn around.
"You think you could save your friend? Ha! Just give up now and let us put you out of your misery."
"We're going to get you, Lauren. We'll catch up with you no matter how fast you run, or we'll hunt you down, but we'll get you."
I almost broke down and cried a few times; I was scared to death and I was beginning to think that maybe those voices were right, maybe I just couldn't do it Maybe I couldn't save myself, or Katrina. I was so afraid that one of those things was really going to get me, and that's when one of them jumped out of the darkness almost completely. It was almost on my path, and it was running alongside me. It was the most hideous thing I'd ever seen; it was carved out of darkness, and covered in blood. I could almost make out a face within the blackness, but I couldn't bring myself to look any closer, I began to run slower and slower as it spoke to me.
"Lauren..I told you I'd catch up with you, and now I'm going to get you...
I could feel my strength fading, and I was about to fall; I was about to just let go and give up and let them have me. Then I could hear another voice, even louder than the ones around me, which was directed to me.
"Lauren, it's me..I'm your friend," the fairy spoke, "you CAN make it, you CAN keep going. Just ignore those voices. You're almost there, you're almost at the end of the road. And remember, KEEP RUNNING! Don't stop. Never stop. Never give up Katrina needs you. You need to do this for her, and yourself"
Then her voice faded and disappeared, and I mustered up the last little bit of strength I had and kept running I pushed my fears out of the way; I knew those ugly things were there, but determination wouldn't let me give up. Somehow I knew that I was going to make it, that I was going to go all the way and restore things, no matter how afraid or unsure I may be at any certain point. Somehow I knew that I would succeed, and that nothing could keep me from my destination. I think that the thing running beside me knew what I was thinking; I think it was reading my thoughts, because it spoke up just as I sped up again. From its tone I could tell it was desperate, that it would do anything to keep me from achieving victory and making It past my obstacles.
"You don't really think she's right, do you? You don't really think that you can make it."
There was a long pause, and I did just as the fairy had instructed: I ignored the voices and kept running. It was silent; I could hear nothing more than my feet hitting the ground below me, and it was an eerie sort of silence. I wasn't afraid though, and that's the strange thing; it was more like I was anticipating something - not bad, but something unexpected. I took a deep breath and pushed my left leg out, my right, and then my left again. I could see somewhat of an end to this road up ahead, and that's what I was going to reach.
"Lauren!" the voice called out once more. "Lauren, answer me! I know you're afraid, you have to be afraid!"
Its voice sounded almost panicked, and for a moment I think I chuckled to myself, it was rather funny to think that something I was once terrified of was practically begging me to be afraid, or to pretend I was afraid. It persisted only a few moments more, and then shriveled up and faded back into the deep ebony of the facade of night. I could see light up ahead, and growing weak and weary, I stretched out my arms and reached for it with all my power. Now, in the last few moments before I would come to the end of the road, I had to convince myself that I HAD to keep running.
I was so afraid. I didn't want to die, and I didn't want to do it alone. I remembered that the fairy said I wouldn't, but I knew what she meant. I would die and be reborn. And I knew what she meant when she said I could stay in her land as long as I wanted before I went home; she meant that she wanted me to stay in the land of dreams, because I really wouldn't have a home to go back to. I may have been fairly naive, but I certainly wasn't gullible enough to believe that you could just appear in another realm unless you were a supernatural being, or unless, of course, you had died. I also knew that my family had been taken away, possibly even killed, and no matter what realm I was in, I could never bring them back.
Yet, I pushed onward, knowing that whatever the future held had to be better than the present; I kept going because even though I couldn't save my family, I could save Katrina. In some twisted sense, I felt that saving katrina would bring me relief from all of my current grievances. And don't let me convince you that I was doing it only to make myself feel better, because I was doing it to save the only person I had left in the world, the only person who truly knew who I was and accepted me for just being that person.
I could feel my feet slowly slipping off the earth, and my heart rose up in my throat as I realized that I was in mid-air, falling downward to something unknown, and nearing my death. My DEATH. I was choosing to die, I had already chosen to die, and it was too late to turn back now. I could feel myself getting closer and closer to the ground below me. Then it happened. I hit the ground. I died.
The fairy was wrong about two things: I could feel pain, tremendous pain, and the transportation did not happen immediately - it took hours - three grueling hours; she had to wait until I died. When I hit the ground, I had broken my neck and severed my right leg. I could feel hardly anything, except for that unbearable pain coming from the hole in my right hip. I died from blood loss.
When I finally died, and the pain ceased, I had somewhat of an out-of-body experience. I could see myself lying on the ground, and I shuddered at the feeling I got from looking down at my own lifeless body. I flew through the sky, following a path that I did not know, but was drawn down by some invisible magnetism I could barely breath, I was moving so fast, but it was an exhilarating feeling. I had dreams when I was a child of flying through the heavens, but I never imagined that I would have to go through so much in order to do it.
Well, maybe the pain was worth it, hut it didn't bring back those simple joys Iliad once, like laughing with my mom, or spending time with my aunt. Those things were gone forever, but for some reason, those things no longer bothered me. I was soaring past the sun at hundreds of miles per second, and just to see its furious, radiant rays of gold up close mystified me. The moon was beautiful as well, its shiny alabaster surface casting my reflection back Into the heavens.
The most extraordinary sight, however, was the stars. They were simply breathtaking - millions of little glowing orbs, which weren't so little up close. They were millions of wishes sparkling waiting for their turn to be granted, and then to become a falling star when they come true. but where was my star? Where was my wish, because it certainly hadn't come true? Was my wish to remain there forever, or had it burned out and died just as I had? Maybe this was so. Could a dead girl make a wish? Would it ever come true? Well, I didn't know whether or not it would come true, but I closed my eyes and made a wish anyway.
I wished with all of my heart and soul that things would he back to normal, back to the way things were before I even graduated from elementary school. I wished that things could be simple again, that I could just be carefree and laugh with my friends, who were my friends just because I was me. I wished that I could be with my family again, just to be with the people who loved me, and not have to worry about death or hurt or pain or saving someone or being someone or something that I'm not. I wished I wouldn't have to worry about other people's opinions or what I was supposed to live minutes from now.
I didn't want to have to worry about how I looked or if I was beautiful or ugly or even if I was human, I just wanted to be simple and free, and to be me. I wanted life to be carefree and happy and for time to stand completely still for just one second until someone realized that a terrible mistake had occurred and I was actually supposed to be at my house with my best friend Katrina, teasing my sister and laughing about those things we used to laugh about before life became complicated. Then I opened my eyes, and I did not see any new stars, so I knew that my wish hadn't been heard, much less granted. I sighed a sad sort of sigh, and then continued on.
I just floated through the air unaware of just about everything that was going on. A mysterious force just carried me on, while I just looked around in disbelief I had no idea where I was or where I was going, or even what I was supposed to do when I arrived at my unknown destination. I wasn't even positive that there was a destination, or a place that I was headed. Maybe I would have to float on forever as an eternal punishment fur something that I hadn't even remembered doing.
Then I remembered what had happened to Katrina and I when I saw a castle carved out of ice up ahead. There were two pointed towers at the top, and there was a large drawbridge made of ice. It was hard to see through all the mist surrounding it, but I could see the dragon sitting to the left of the castle, and he appeared to he sleeping. Suddenly, the force that had been propelling me Just let go, and I went tumbling to the ground, but this time I landed safely on my feet.
I stormed through the door of the castle, gliding over the moat with ease. There was the wizard, sitting at a table made of ice and staring into something that resembled a crystal baIl. He looked up at me just as I was about to get his attention on my own.
"Well, well, the infamous Lauren. I see you've made it to my castle. You've done quite well, but I'm sure you know that you can never leave Katrina."
I snickered and half laughed at him. "And you know you can't stop me, don't you? I'm dead, and you have no power over me anymore. I'm taking my friend, and we're leaving NOW, and there's nothing you can do to Stop us.
He laughed at me as well, looking amused and almost happy that I had come. "My dear, you don't really believe that you've died, do you? Do you even know if you've ever been alive in the first place? Do you know if you've just dreamed half of this up? Do you know where you are or how you got here or where you're going next? I know that you don't, and therefore I would be VERY careful when speaking to me, since I D0 have power over you, and you may never escape from my clutches."
I was determined, and my anger came rushing to the surface and was the First feeling I could exert. "Don't even think you can toy with me," I said in a threatening voice, "Don't even believe for one minute that I'm afraid of you. I may have been at one time, but this game has strengthened me far too much for me to even let out more than a sigh at the sight of you. You don't scare me, you practically make me laugh with your pathetic attempt to 'scare' me. Now understand this, old man, Katrina and I are leaving."
"I wouldn't be so bold, little girl. Realize one thing: whether or not you think you died, I have, and always will have, far more power than you could ever hope to Imagine. And if you don't think that I have power over you, then what, may I ask, do you think I have power over? You didn't die, Lauren, you never even left this 'realm' as you put it. We're just having fun with you, can't you see that? We are just bored, all of us, and we've decided to put on a play, and you and your little friends are the puppets. The only difference is that the effects of our little extravaganza are...permanent. You'll never get your family back, and you'll never see Katrina again. Then again... I have a better idea, one which is far more amusing..."
He paused, and I could not get the words he had Last spoken to sink into my head. I could not believe them, he had to be lying "But.. "I sputtered. "it was.. just...the pain was real. I know it. I felt that pain. I laid there for three hours I died. I felt those splinters in my hands. It was real."
Silence filled the room, and then I wandered outside, where the sky had faded into night. Then I heard the wizard's voice call out to me. "You can have Katrina, but the question is, will she go with you?
When I turned around, I saw Katrina standing there, her face blank and expressionless. Her hands hung stiffly at her sides, and her eyes remained focused on the same spot for a long time.
"Katrina!" I cried out, "It's been so long. You have no idea what I've been through. And you have to tell me how you've been. Are you okay? How are you feeling? Well, there's no time for this. We have to leave, we have to go now before that wizard does something else. Come on, I don't know where we're going, but we've got to go somewhere, anywhere but here."
She just stood there, and did not seem even interested, much less afraid. "Katrina, come on!
She looked up at me, finally, and said, "I don't want to go with you. You're the reason I ended up here in the first place. If you weren't so selfish and ignorant to what I had to say, I never would have had to go through all this."
I looked up at her, with a terrible pain reflecting in my eyes. "But, Katrina. .I.. you're my best friend. You're my family. I need you. I died for you. I did this all for you. Are you just going to deny me? Are you just going to end things here, like this?"
She spoke the next few words with such ease that I almost believed our years of friendship meant nothing to her. "I'm sorry, but you're no longer a part of my life."
I froze. My eyes fell to the ground. The pain of those few words was too awful to describe. Those words pierced my heart like a sharp sword, and hurt me ten times, one hundred times more than falling off that cliff. My heart felt empty, alone, betrayed. I remembered that the fairy said the minute our hands touched, and we both wanted the same thing, we would disappear to the land of dreams. I figured that even though she was under some sort of spell, that deep within her heart she knew what she wanted, so I touched her hand.
We stood there for a long time, and nothing happened. We did not move from that spot, we Just stood there, looking away from each other. I realized then that we both didn't want the same thing, that things had changed, and that we had become different. I had nothing else left to do, so I began to cry. A single tear dropped from my eye, running slowly down my cheek and falling to the ground. With this tear, this tiny droplet of water, I poured out a part of my spirit. The ice cracked as this little lear fell, and then the ice began to melt. Soon, I could see the castle dissolve into nothing. The wizard and the dragon disappeared along with their kingdom, and it seemed that Katrina had also.
I just stood there I couldn't cry, I couldn't do anything. I had a rush of feelings flow through my body, and I can't explain exactly what it was that I was feeling, but I think I felt almost every emotion that I can think of I was angry and sad and relieved and confused and nervous and happy and unsure and every other emotion that a human can possibly feel. I just stood there, as emotion surged through me in a giant wave that almost overtook me.
Then I looked up to the sky, as I had so many times before, to see if my star was up there, to see if my wish had come true. That's when I saw it, I saw my star, but it was already falling, and Katrina was riding it. Katrina was in the sky, on my star, on my wish! It was too hard to believe, and I couldn't understand what it meant. I yelled things to her, I screamed; I don't remember exactly what it was that I said, hut I remember that she didn't answer me. She just waved at me as if I hadn't said anything. I wanted desperately for her to hear me, for her to answer me, but she never did. My heart sank as I watched her pass me and fade off into the distance.
Then I felt the ground below me begin to shake, and then it moved from beneath me. I was falling again, and I had that dreaded feeling that I'd had the first time I fell, that feeling where I knew I was going to die. I knew that I was going to hit solid ground hard, and I was going to feel reality. I just kept falling and falling though, and it almost seemed as though there was no end. I just continued moving downward, faster and faster, and I could see no signs of stopping. It seemed as though I had fallen into a bottomless pit, maybe a black hole in some unknown galaxy.
Then I felt myself landing on something solid, but it didn't hurt. I was afraid to open my eyes, afraid of where I may have ended up, but I finally did. I was lying on my bed, my pillow wet with tears and my chest dripping with sweat. Then I tore open my window and stuck my head out, looking up at the sky. Sure enough, I could not find my star, and I finally knew why my star had fallen so quickly: my wish had been answered, although I could not understand it right away.
I had life exactly how it was before I graduated from elementary school: in my memories and in my dreams. I had that special friendship that Katrina and I have always had: buried deep within my heart where I wiII hold it and cherish it forever. Katrina's ride has shown me that wishes always come true, and that friendships last forever, but sometimes we have to look a little farther past what we can see, we have to look beyond reality in order to grasp what is truly real.
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