Vivid green eyes burnt like emerald embers left a glow in a diminishing fire. A boy, looking about fifteen, lay sprawled across the bone white sand, listening to sounds of imagined waves lapping against a shore. His entire body was covered with dried blood and dirt. A blonde mess of hair, just as filthy, dangled over his eyes like curtains, parted so his right eye could peek through.
He stretched his bare feet toward the envisioned water. He could almost believe that the sensation of salty water spreading over his flesh was real. The singe of pain followed by numbing release was welcomed, as long as he could feel again. A smile flickered swiftly across his lips and vanished the following moment. He could not, would not smile here. Tattered khaki pants hugged his slim waist. He wore no shirt. A thin scar went through the left side of his lip, starting at his left nostril and slicing through both lips to an inch above his chin. It was white meaning it had been received some while ago. The boy sighed, eyes still examining the sky above. Not a star was in sight. Dark billows of cloud encumbered every visible piece of the sky, preventing even the moon from shining through.
“It’s time,” a voice like chocolate, milky smooth and sweet, whispered from behind.
The boy didn’t move, but simply closed his eyes. “How can it be time? The phoenix has not risen and spread its light across the sky. I have at least an hour before its time.”
The woman to whom the voice belonged gave a tender laugh. “My dearest Andrew, I am not talking about the petty everyday beckoning. Child, it’s the time,” smiled. “A girl is arriving. She will take your place, but Andrew there is still much to know before she comes.”
Andrew struggled to his feet. The moment he stood the ocean waves disappeared. His green eyes gazed over the endless desert and sighed. He turned facing the woman. “Andy. Like I’ve told you everyday for the past three years, my name is Andy.”
The woman gave another laugh. “Andrew is more fitting here.”
She placed an arm over his shoulder and led him toward the expanding forest behind. Vines dangled down the moss covered trees. The darkness was scarcely illuminated by an eerie green light. The pair was unaffected and remained so as they continued through the trees.
“You remember Rebecca.”
It was a statement, not a question. Andrew remained silent. She had called herself, Becca and encouraged him to do likewise. She had beautiful blue eyes to match her dazzling face. Her smile had been sweet and her voice kind. Yes, he remembered Becca.
“Then you know what you must do.”
“Yes,” Andrew nodded thoughtfully. “But certainly not like this,” he remarked waving his hands at his unkempt state.
The woman paused in her step, studying the boy’s condition.
“No,” she agreed, “certainly not.”
They continued walking. Andrew dropped fixed his eyes on the ground consumed with another thought.
“And I should like to borrow, Bwyn,” he added hesitantly.
The woman nodded, “Yes, yes, Bwyn you shall have.”
“And Typhon?” Hope was steadily amassing in his demeanor.
“No,” she answered sternly, dissolving his confidence at once. “Only Bwyn.”
He nodded solemnly, “Yes, only Bwyn.”
She brought him to a path he hadn’t seen before. He was perplexed. Andrew was convinced that he had explored every crevice of the forest. Not one leaf had escaped his eager eyes. He was sure, and yet he knew, as they continued on this path, that he had never been here before. The woman nudged him on. The further they walked the darker everything became until visibility faded altogether. Andrew felt the woman’s touch on his back and continued onward. The path ended abruptly and a clearing came into view. The path had become an overhang, rising above the clearing. In the exact center was a lake, black as oil. A light blue fog hovered over the opaque waters seemingly emitting their own bizarre glow.
“Jump in,” the woman breathed. “The waters are deep and refreshing. I’ll meet you at the forest’s edge.”
Andrew turned to face her, and she was gone. He quickly stripped his body of its scanty rags. Then, taking in a deep breath, he ran to the rock face’s edge and cleared it, diving headlong into the waters. Upon impact, Andrew realized his perceptions on a thick syrupy feel were wrong. The water was the same as a normal lake, except clearer and deeper. When he opened his eyes, Andrew could see for limitless fathoms below him. It had to be bottomless.
He smiled and began swimming upward. He broke the surface and swam t o the shore, not surprised to find a pair of fresh khakis on the shore. He pulled them on quickly, closed his eyes and shook his head, shaking the excess water from his hair. Opening his eyes, Andrew found that he was at the forest’s edge. The woman was working her magic. All his cuts and scrapes had vanished; all save for the scar on his lip.
He saw the woman and jogged over to her. He scanned the desert for what the woman was referring to. His eyes locked onto a lone figure wandering aimlessly.
The woman smiled, again placing her hand on his shoulder. She smiled, “Then you know what you must do.”
The boy nodded and began sprinting toward the roaming figure, his blonde hair whipping backward. The forest had dissipated as soon as soon as he left. He smiled as the figure came more into view. It was a girl. The woman had been right. Her wavy brown hair fell past her shoulders. He pulled to a stop in front of her, studying her milky brown eyes.
She gave him a curious look. “You have no shirt.”
The boy’s smile widened and he shook his head. “No,” he laughed. “Hot day out today. Welcome. My name is Andrew, but you can call me Andy. You’re going to like it here.”
“Mine is Alison, but Allie would be fine, too.”
They held each other’s stare.
“Will you go on a walk with me?” Andy asked, holding out his arm for her to take.
“Sure,” she smiled, taking his arm.
They walked in silence, seemingly content.
“What is this place?” The silence was broken by her.
The boy sighed, “A place where imagination becomes reality,” he smiled. “Dreams come true.”
“Dreams?” She trailed off thoughtfully.
He pulled her onward. “I want to show you something, or rather some one. Is that okay?”
The girl nodded. Andy smiled and stuck his thumb and middle finger into his mouth and let out a shrill whistle. A caw echoed in reply. He glanced at Alison out of the corner of his eye. She was going to like this.
Alison peered up at the sky using her hand for a visor. She couldn’t see anything at first, but then a shadow appeared blocking out a part of the sun. The figure circled as it descended and gradually grew larger and larger. At first, Alison thought it must be a hawk with the circling swoop and the caw, but it was much too huge to be so. Alison took a step backward. The creature landed, back paws hitting the ground first, followed by its front claws. The girl let out an audible gasp and clung to Andy’s side.
“Impossible,” she whispered.
“Alison meet Bwyn. Bwyn, Alison.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” the creature laughed.
“But you’re a…a…”
“A what missy?”
“This isn’t Alice in Wonderland! Griffin’s don’t exist!”
For that was what this creature was – a hawk from head to chest with the golden backside of a lion. The Griffin sat back on it’s hind legs and cocked his head at Alison.
“We don’t? I look pretty real to myself, if I do say so, myself,” Bwyn smiled.
“Dreams…” Alison repeated softly.
Andy turned to her. She couldn’t think like that. “Do you want to ride?”
“Yes,” Andy glowed with delight. “It’s quite fun.”
“I’ve flown countless times and haven’t lost a limb yet.”
Alison laughed softly. “Okay then.”
The children climbed on Bwyn’s back; Andy at the front and Alison at back, her arms secured around his stomach.
“Ready?” He asked.
“Yes,” she replied breathless.
“Hear that, Bwyn? Let’s fly!”
Without hesitation Bwyn launched himself into the sky.
They flew a stead hour through endless desert, laughing and talking amongst themselves, when Alison shouted unexpectedly.
“Look!” she cried.
A patch of green came into sight. Bwyn and Andrew exchanged a knowing look. It was a large forest, out of place with the surrounding terrain. Bwyn landed at the forest edge. Andy slid off the griffin’s back and then turned to help Alison. She trotted a few paces ahead and Bwyn looked at Andrew with forlorn eyes.
“Is that the look you gave Rebecca?” Andrew whispered.
“Yes,” Bwyn answered.
“And did it change her mind?”
“So do you honestly think it will have any affect on me?”
“I hope so. With all my being I do.”
Andrew smiled, “Goodbye old friend.”
Bwyn nodded solemnly and leapt into the air, soaring as a griffin could. Andrew turned quickly and caught up to Alison.
“That was nice,” she reflected. Her eyes darted to the forest. “Can we go in yet?”
“Only a little farther,” Andy encouraged, taking her arm in his. “There’s a small indent in the forest where a small creek separates the sand from grass. It’s a clearing with trees towering on either side standing guard over the dirt path. Not a long path, you see, only a few steps really, and there lies her cabin. The caretaker of the forest.”
“The woman you talked about?”
“Yes, and she has a meal waiting for you. The best meal you shall ever taste.”
“Us you mean. A meal waiting for us.”
Andrew paused. “Yes, for us,” he lied.
A couple minutes later Andrew stopped. As Andrew had described there was a dip in the forest; a clearing with a cabin at its center.
“There,” Andrew spoke, shifting his hand from her arm to her lower back. He guided her forward. “Just step across the creek and head for the cabin.” He removed his hand, and she turned to him.
“Aren’t you coming?”
“I will, but you go ahead first and I’ll catch up. I have a few things I have to take care of first.”
“Oh,” Alison sighed. “Alright.”
He watched her go and was reminded of a similar conversation three years before…
”Are you sure?”
“Yeah. You go ahead and I’ll catch up.”
“Yeah. You go ahead and I’ll catch up.”
The younger version of himself grabbed her hand. She glanced at his hand or hers, curious.
“Thanks,” he had said.
“Don’t thank me,” she had replied, pulling her hand from him. “Please go before I change my mind.”
He had taken her words as sheer politeness, clueless as to how serious she really was. He had stepped across the creek and sneaked a glance behind. She was running, as fast and as hard as her body would allow her. Then a light materialized before her, and she vanished into the brightness. He had shaken it off attributing it to another one of the mysteries of this magical world. He had walked up to the door and knocked. The woman opened the door and welcomed him inside with open arms and a feast was waiting. A few minutes later Rebecca was forgotten. He was welcomed with open arms, and after he had eaten to his hearts content, he was given a nice warm bed. He woke up in chains. So the nightmare had begun…
Andrew blinked. Alison was just about to step over the creek. He couldn’t let her do that to herself!
“No!” He cried, sprinting forward. He caught a hold of her arm and pulled her back toward him. He whirled her around to face him. “I can’t let you do it! Dreams come true, yes, but so do nightmares. And the nightmares overshadow and dreams. It’s a horrible place!”
Alison gazed at him with wide eyes, “But you just said…”
“I know what I said. I wanted to escape, but I won’t let myself trick you into this dreadful place.”
“What should I do?”
“Yes,” he affirmed, pointing into the distance behind them. “Run as quick and as long as you can, and don’t look back. Please, before I change my mind.”
“Come with me!”
He gave a weak smile. “She wouldn’t let me. Her hold is too great, but she hasn’t dug her claws into you yet. So go. Run. Now!”
The girl took off, racing toward the horizon. Andrew smiled. Then unexpectedly his eyes opened in fright. An invisible force, like a noose, grabbed hold of his neck and dragged him to the desert floor. He began to gag and kick against the ground, and then abruptly stopped. He stared into the sky, a sudden calm washed over his face. His skin began to pale which made his piercing green eyes seem to glow. His blond hair fell over his left eye and he blinked before mustering up the strength to push himself onto his elbows. A shrill scream filled the air. Andrew’s skin shattered like glass, dry and cracked like the desert below, but he remained unmoved. Alison was free.
The invisible rope began dragging his body backward, through the creek and up the path toward the cabin, but his eyes still watched the girl’s running figure. Then a light appeared before the girl and, just like Rebecca before her, Alison dematerialized before his watchful eyes. He was hauled into the cabin and knocked against the wall. The woman was there. Her eyes lit with blazing with ire.
“You pathetic worm! How. Dare. You.”
Andrew closed his eyes, drowning her out. He didn’t care what happened to him. He had done the right thing and that was all that mattered.
Alison’s eyes fluttered open, revealing blurry blobs that told nothing of where she was. She shut her eyes and tried again. This time as her brown eyes searched the room; clear images were brought into focus. There were machines and beds and everything was white.
Her eyes flickered to the source of the voice. The voice belonged to an older woman who she immediately knew to be her mother.
Her mother grabbed the arm of the man beside her and shook him awake. “It’s a miracle! Go tell the doctors!”
Her father’s eyes locked with hers and a smile danced across his lips. Then he trotted quickly through the door.
“Mom, where am I?”
“You’re in a St. James Hospital. You’ve been in a comma for almost a month now. The doctors didn’t give you any hope, but you just proved them wrong, sweetie.” Her mother gave a euphoric sigh, “We were only stopping by on our way to work. I should stay.”
“No, mom, you need to go to work,” Alison smiled, placing her hand on her mother’s soft cheek. “I’ll be awake when you get back. I promise.”
Her mother nodded and leaned over, kissing her on the forehead before disappearing through the door. Alison looked around. She was in a hospital ward of some kind. There were at least ten other beds, mostly empty. Only some had kids her own age, sleeping soundly. A nurse bustled in.
“It sure is some miracle, you waking up. You can call me Miss Sally. I’ll be around if you need me,” the woman gave a warm smile.
“Where am I? I mean, I know what hospital, but what kind of a place is this?”
“Coma ward,” Nurse Sally replied dolefully. “Don’t see many cases like yours around here. Such a shame, too! All these fine looking young boys and girls. Dreadful shame.”
“Can I walk around a bit, visit with the other kids, you know, alone?”
“Sure, sure. Just let me hook you up to one of these moveable IVs instead.”
The nurse worked efficiently and soon had Alison on her way.
“I’ll be back in an hour to check on you.”
Alison nodded and began walking to the occupied beds. The first patient she saw was a girl, only eight or nine from the looks of it.; brown hair like her own with such a solemn look on her face. She moved onto the next and the next until she reached the last bed. It was a boy. There was something about him that caught her eye and she moved closer to his side. A raggedy mess of blond hair fell just below his eyes. She batted it away from his forehead and continued examining him. Her eyes fell to his lips and she gasped. Timidly, she moved her hand forward and stroked the scar with her fingers.
“Andrew…” She whispered. She crawled up on the bed beside him. “You saved my life. You silly boy.”
She stared at him, not able to look away. Then finally she spoke again. She leaned over to his ear and whispered quietly, “Thank you.” Then, drawing back, she studied his face once more before bending forward and kissing him lightly on the lips.
An object hit the wall and Andrew’s eyes flashed open. The woman was there, glaring.
“You will suffer ten times more for this betrayal, you hear me? Andrew!”
A voice tickled his ear. “Thank you…” It whispered.
Andrew cocked his head and stared at the woman.
“You don’t have power over me anymore.”
The unexpectedness of the statement caught the woman off guard.
“What?” she spat.
Andrew struggled to his feet. The cracks on his face and chest began to melt back into his flesh, leaving smooth skin in their wake. A new power was drawing him, far more powerful than the woman’s. He could tell. His lips began to burn and he broke into intoxicating laughter. A smile spread across his face and his eyes shone with anticipation.
“You don’t own me,” he laughed and began jogging to the door, fading before the woman’s eyes even before he reached it.
Andrew’s eyes jerked open. The first things he noticed were the chocolaty brown eyes staring back into his own. Her name was on his lips before he even perceived it to be her.
“Andrew,” he corrected. “I think I’m ready to be called Andrew now.”
“It sounds older.”
“What year is on that calendar?”
Alison looked, “February 2009.”
“That means I’m sixteen. You?”
“See, I am older,” he smiled. “You saved me.”
He pushed himself up to kiss her, but found his arms weaker than expected and collapsed back on the bed.
“Better let me do that,” she giggled and kissed him on the lips.
Then both broke out in compulsive laughter. He could live with that.