Once upon a time . . .

What if I told you there was a mermaid princess with long magic hair, the color of spun gold, a princess who fell in love and stayed there.  Perhaps her eyes were the color of the water she swam in, or perhaps they were the color of the sunlight that hit the surface.  Perhaps she had sisters; many, many sisters.  It all ends up the same.  

What if she had a child, a daughter, sweet as summer and hair as black as night . . . just like her father, the princess’s husband.  Her husband, who could have been anyone, it wouldn’t matter.  He was kind, he was good, and he was loved dearly.

What if I told you it was her husband the prince that was cursed, taken somewhere far away and held in enchanted sleep; and what if the princess cut off her magical hair in exchange for legs so she could go find him, walking barefoot for miles, even though every step felt like a path of broken glass.

What if this was a story about a man fighting through his nightmares to wake up and find his way home.  

What if this was a story about a little mermaid girl with hair as black as the ocean depths, and the thief who stole her away from her mother’s side.  

What if this was a story about a mischievous boy who never grew up, and how he snuck a mermaid princess into a ball so she can hold the kingdom’s dark prince at knife point, demanding to know where her husband had gone. 

And what if I told you this was a story about a wife and a mother, who cut her hair and walked on blades; who chased will o’ wisps and held a dark prince by the throat; who fought until her hands became the knives she walked on, and who outsmarted the sphinx who stood between her and her husband.

This could be a story about any one of them alone, but it’s so much better when it’s about them all.

They say it was true love’s kiss, and no curse stood a chance against them.  They say he was waiting at the threshold of the binding curse, nightmares in a trail of puddles behind him.  They say it like it was easy, like anyone would do it for love.  Like theirs was the story of many.

I half believe it.

They say the prince’s cry for his daughter still echoes through the crypt walls.  That even the sphinx, realizing he was tricked, didn’t dare leave his cave for decades in their wake.  

They say it went like this: like awakened dragon blood and sharp teeth and siren calls, like forged steel, stone daggers, and shadows that quaked at the scene.  It was like this: two parents who wouldn’t stop until they held their child once again; and a thief who was once granted three wishes and used them all to keep his life as he gave up the child he stole.

They say it ended like this: happily ever after.  Reunions and laughter and the journey home.  They don’t specify anything more, and perhaps they don’t need to.

For once, I believe them.

Happily ever after.  The end.

Returning Hero

The air is rich and sweet here, and oh, how I’ve missed it.  This land, this glen, it has a way of tethering to the heart and holding strong no matter the distance such a heart wanders, forever pulling until it returns.  Thick moss carpets the ground, turning even the most jagged stone into something smooth and soft.  Slender white trees poke through the ground, growing tall and bending towards each other.  They tangle their branches into intertwined fingers, holding each other like lovers.

My hands are empty, but a phantom touch still haunts them.

A narrow stream tumbles through my path, splitting in the presence of a small mossy boulder and winding onwards; searching, curious, and ever moving no matter how it must split to do so.  My feet are heavy, sinking into the spongy ground.  How light they used to be.

Throaty cries fill the air, black feathers and gleaming eyes and the settling rustle of crows landing around me.  They remember me, recognize me, even after everything.  The light touch of talons grip my shoulder as one lands beside my ear.  I don’t have to look to know it’s Shella, already preening my hair and tucking it away from my face.

After all this time.

I never stopped thinking about them.  This place.

Home.

My hands open and close, like a gasping fish caught on land.  I’m not sure what to do with them anymore.

 I’m thinking about what I have seen; but then again, when am I not.  Stone and fire, steel and destruction, ice and marble.  Heavy mists, ripped sails, blinding light. Sea monsters.  Mad men.  Countless hands outstretched.

I’d taken those hands.  One by one.  The calluses they gave me still remain.  Some even stayed, followed me, stood at my side.  I think pieces of me stayed in their palms.

I think of all the villains I’ve fought, and the one who died in my arms. Of how my blood screamed in rage, and yet I set it aside and told the dying man of soft moss and sweet air, for his doom had already been set and I’d had full enough of the poison that choked me and consumed him.

I sit on a covered log, half swallowed by the ground.  I touch the moss that creeps over rotting wood.  There was once a time I’d enjoyed the feel of it beneath my fingertips.  I still feel the sensation, but my mind only thinks of the howling wind in a red-stone canyon far, far away.

I have come home ruined, hoping to find an echo of myself I seem to have left behind.  Black feathered heads tilt to the side, watching me through watery black eyes.  I hear their occasional caws, but they are mixed with shouts and windstorms and a voice screaming my name. 

Some wounds don’t have a magic cure.  Most, in fact.  I’ve really only seen a magic cure twice in my life, the cost of which was steep.  There are no shortcuts, not even in fantastical things.

Some griefs you must sit with until they ease from the stomach, the gut, the chest. But they cannot always be this way.  Like lead on my heart.  Like the sky on my shoulders.

Patience. Say the crows. The time will come

Shella nips my ear to be sure I hear her. Every time has its place.  

I cannot settle, but I start to.  My fingers jump from moss to clothes to crumbling wood.  My heart tries to remember how to not skip over beats.  My eyes are burning from the strain of the horizon, but they do not protest long when I close them.

I am home. 

The air is sweet, and thick moss carpets the ground; it has a way of crawling over everything given enough time, taking even the most jagged of souls and softening their edges.

Fairies

“Roger, come on! Mum says you have to go with me.”

I sometimes wonder how this started. The insistent tugging on my arm whenever the moon rises full and bright. I look down at my sister, already dressed for bed with a sweater pulled over top. Her voice is urgent, afraid she’ll miss it because I move so slow. 

“I can’t take you anywhere without shoes, silly.”

She dashes off, yelling for me to come on. I stand from the dinner table, sighing as I look at the clock. Homework is done, but I can’t go read my book until this is over and Cadence is in bed. Or perhaps the moonlight is strong enough to read by. I take along just in case. 

It’s a short walk to the gardens, and Cadence pulls me the entire way.  My long legs have nothing against her excitement and determination. It’s going to cost me an arm someday, if she doesn’t slow down. I don’t think she will. 

She doesn’t want to miss the fairies.

A light breeze brushes over the gardens, causing them to sway in shades of blue and silver. There are arbors and benches and little bridges for crossing over trickling streams, crickets and wind chimes and the occasional sleepy night bug that crashes into my face mid-flight. We don’t always go to the same spot, and I have no idea what directs Credence to each place, but tonight we end up amongst bushes of blooming white evening flowers.

There’s a bench there, too. I sit there, under an awning, young vines just beginning to climb their way up the sides. “Are they here yet?” I ask. 

“Sush!” She holds an urgent finger to her lips. “You’ll scare them away.”

I shrug and open my book, listening to her move around the bushes as I begin to read. 

I’ve never seen the fairies. Not even when she points them out. Still, I say hello to them when she does; she just looks so expectant of my acknowledgment, and anyway, it’s polite. I wonder sometimes if I could have seen them when I was younger. Of course, I hadn’t had someone to take me to see them, what with dad working nights and mum’s principal of never going near the gardens herself. And I’d never known to look until Credence begged to go see them.

After some time, my eyes wandered from the pages, trailing after my sister instead. It was as if we were in different realities, overlapped and paper thin. Me, sitting in the gardens not far from home; and her, playing with fairies in the dancing moonlight far, far away. 

Far, but still close by me, because she couldn’t come otherwise. It was a strange thing, the way the fairies could pull their world so close to ours so Credence could join their play. I watched her run in circles, and then break off to come straight to me. “Do you see them?” She’s pointing to the air above her. 

I don’t think it’s something I’d ever share with another person—how much I wish I could say yes. Instead I smile and say “Hello”, imagining a small spark of light in the air, on the other side of whatever barrier stands between worlds. I look back at Credence, and with all my might I hope she never has to lose this. She’s looking at the air, grinning at what I cannot see, her eyes darting with its movements until she is looking right above me.

“Well?” she asks, and I know the fairy has said something to me. I’m staring blankly at her, wondering how I’m ever going to break it to her that I am at least a whole world away. Maybe more. I think she misinterprets the words I’m about to say as she leans in close. “It’s just fairy dust. It isn’t scary.”

I give her another smile and forget my confession. “Sure. Dust away.”

Credence starts giggling, and I suppose that means I’m getting dusted. A tiny hope inside me makes me look around the gardens, looking for a sparkle, a streak of light, the faintest sound of a fairy playing amongst the evening flowers. I don’t feel anything falling onto my head and shoulders, though Credence certainly sees something. She grabs my hand excitedly and then waves goodbye to the gardens; or perhaps, I suspect, to the somethings that fly in them. “It’s time to go.” she says.

And so we go.

The gardens fade into slumber as a cloud passes in front of the moon. I catch myself glancing over my shoulder as we leave, my arm slowly but surely getting pulled off. 

Home is a strange place by the time we get back, soft and sleepy and extremely present. I hadn’t thought my mind was elsewhere until the sound of our front door shutting behind me yanked it from there. It was time to get ready for bed, to set down my book, to prepare for the coming day.

I don’t remember those tasks being so foreign to me. 

I stop in front of the bathroom mirror, toothbrush hanging loose in one hand. I’m not quite remembering what to do with it. Perhaps the barrier between worlds will soften for me, and maybe it already has. Just a little bit. There’s a restlessness growing inside my ribs. Perhaps someday I may still see more worlds than just this one. 

I really think I might.

For in my reflection, there’s the faintest shimmer of sparkling dust in my hair.

Dear Friend,

Hello dear friend,

What to say after years between us, silently lapping away time like waves upon sand.  

I’ve missed you.

I’ve thought about you nearly every day, wondering what you’re up to, wondering why we don’t talk anymore.  Of course, it’s a two-way wonder.  When did I stop asking how your day has been?  They say people drift together and apart, but I didn’t realize it would be so quiet.  I didn’t think it would be us.

Do you remember . . . 

This is what we have now, memories of when we were inseparable and curious; when we thought there was no one who could possibly understand, except each other.  Hands held tightly, a tether between us, and a little braver for it.  When the world was so, so big and yet much smaller than it is now.

We were so young.

And we knew it.  We thought these years would be the best of our lives, wild and colorful and carefree, and we tried to make it so.  Laughter in the grocery store, late nights and whispered secrets, quoting movies in goofy voices.  We were so young, and we didn’t know what to do with the stress and deadlines and change.  It was trembling ground, and we were learning to walk.

It was

Pulling courage from each other because the self-checkout was closed.

It was

Shaking voices whispering our hidden fears in the dead of night.

It was

Insecurities and terrible coping skills and words locked up in our brains to rot, and the only thing we did right was tell each other so that we weren’t alone.

I’m doing fine,

I’m realizing we aren’t ever going to have life figured out, but we do learn more and more how to live it.  I have changed so much since those memories of the past, and so have you.  Our interests are no longer all the same.  I’m not quite sure what to talk about anymore; what I’m doing now is easy enough to say, but it’s strange for you to not know every step I took to get here.

It’s strange for friendships to grow and change with us.

How are you?

Really, truly.  Time and change and distance has come for us, but I still hold that pinky-promise we made at one in the morning.  

I’m here for you, even though you no longer fear talking to the grocery clerk.  Our friendship remains, even though it is no longer us against the strange, unknown world.

It is different, talking like this.  Like we haven’t been talking every day.  Like we haven’t seen each other in a while.  This is a new chapter.

But not the last one.

Yours forever,

You’re still stuck with me, pal.  Forever and ever.

Dreams

Grayscale Photo of White Flowers

I think I lose people every time I wake up.

Sometimes people ask me if I am a morning person, and I am quick to assure them that I am not. The rest I keep to myself.  It is a strange thing to explain.

Here is what I do not tell them: the night haunts me with melancholic whimsy. Daytime plucks me away from the middle of a task; the details of my dream fast fading, leaving only the knowledge that something needed to be done, someone needed to be saved, and I had not the time to complete it.

I wonder if they—wherever they exist—wish for my return on every falling star. 

I lay in bed, sleepy-eyed and heavy, left with a faint impression of emotions that no longer fit in place.  Desires no longer clear.  Lives no longer lived.  I have been many things, most of which I no longer recall.

The early hours hold a strange loss for people and places that I have loved and forgot.  Perhaps that is why the words morning and mourning feel the same on my tongue. Bones and muscle remember what my memory does not. 

Sometimes, I manage to hold on to a moment before it fades.  It gleams in my hands like a fragment of stained glass; beautiful, but missing its context, its story.  Still, I gather them, like a collection of seashells empty of their inhibitors.  They hold memories only I could possibly know. 

I wonder about the people I knew when I was asleep.

Perhaps I will cross paths with them again, in another place, another time.  I might still see them, even if I do not recognize their face.  Even if I do not remember the connection we once had. I do not think they are forever gone.  Perhaps they will reappear in poetry, in games of make-believe, in the little stories I tell.  They could be in every imaginary friend that has grabbed my hand promising adventure. 

What if they broke through to find me, their heart pounding inside a cage of bones at the sound of my surprised voice, perhaps swallowing against a lump in their throat as I say ‘Oh, hello love.  Have we met?’

What if . . . I never really lose them?

Consider

Does it ever strike you, how the night is brighter when there’s snow on the ground.  How the darkness stretches from mid-afternoon to well into the morning, and yet the moon shines like a second sun, thinning the darkness into a silver midnight.

Does it ever strike you, how something so cold brightens the world.

The moon, I think, is to the sun what winter is to summer.  Cold and bright in silvers and blues, against warm and soft in golds and reds.  Think of how a candle flame stands out when alone in a snow-frosted window.  Think of how it looks to the moon looking in.

Life stands out in the contrast they create, and I am caught between the two.

Does it ever strike you, how yellow blends with orange and red.  How sunsets and flames and autumn leaves stick to your heart long after they’re gone, flickering and brilliant and changing, changing . . .

Does it ever strike you, how leaves slowly dying from cold can lead to such a beautiful sight.

I don’t think it strikes us often enough; and when it does, we are not patient to linger there.  What an odd fear we have against lovely things.  What a strange thing, how we want it all at once and then reject it wholly as too much.

Think of the muffled silence of a small snow-covered street.  Think of how different it feels to drive through it, like time has slipped away and left the streetlights glowing differently in its wake.

Think of the sound of bullfrogs, echoing across a still pond as dusk sets in, and how such noise can feel like peace.

Do so, and then think on this:

How beautiful the world is that we live in.

Words

Scribbles On Wall

Words have failed me.  They trip me up, twist and knot my tongue.  They’re complicated and tricky and altogether stubborn about leaving the mind.  I have a feeling, a sense, a melody faintly drifting through my head—soft as silk but tears like a spider’s web, and words are too clumsy a thing to bear it.

Yet words are all I have.

I have them, right?

Words have overwhelmed me.  They swarm my head like a nest of smoked hornets, searching for an exit too small to see with darting eyes.  There is buzzing, buzzing, and I think it started in my chest before rising to the space behind my eyes.  Every letter is scattered, each word rent asunder by the next trying to take its place.  Something is about to explode.  I’m just not sure how.  I’m not sure what.

I can’t reach the very words demanding to be taken.

Words have stolen me away.  They pounce on each thought and spin it into poetry, into metaphors, into essays never to be graded.  I am carried away, catching a spoken phrase and rearranging the words until I translate them into their best order.  I am running towards them.  My feet aren’t touching the ground.  Words alight upon everything I see, coloring the world into something vivid that only my own mind can hold.

Sorry, I didn’t hear the question beyond your usage of the word gossamer; I’m already far away on fairy wings in a chiffon sky.

Words have evaded me.  Hidden, secret, whispering only in the in-between of wakefulness and sleep.  They’re playing with me, winking through cracked doors, a game of hide-and-seek I hadn’t agreed to.  Faint and wistful, slipping away like shadows from light.  I’m intrigued.  I’m curious.  I’m reaching for the closest ones, bright as gemstones in the setting sun, radiant and strange and intangible.

I am searching them out.

I am soothing them as they swarm my mind, untying the knots they give my tongue, gently pulling them into reality with a little piece of magic still intact.  They are not easy to write.  They do not like to be caught and made tangible.

But they are worth the struggle.

For what else could bind poetry to a page?

Will-O’-Wisp Coffee

It’s a day for turned up collars and hurried footsteps, strained of color and filled with the silent noise of clattering thoughts.  I can’t tell if it’s everyone or just me, but the air is too loud with pressing need, too still with expectation, too far away to reach, and too close to ignore.  

I need a cup of coffee. 

There’s a coffee shop at most street corners, but they are only just that.  Coffee shops.  

If, however, you turn down Fairy Ring Street and turn right into the alley between Oak Stump shop and Dancing Lights bookstore, you’ll find yourself stepping inside the Will-O’-Wisp Coffeehouse. 

I’m already stepping over the threshold.  The smell of freshly ground coffee with a hint of hazelnut and chocolate fills my head, already putting a damper to all the noise inside.  Just enough that I can read the menu without the words bouncing straight back out again.  

Fairy lights float overhead, a few of them lowering to settle in my hair.  They can always sense darkened and muddled places, and it is their nature to draw close and give them light, even if such places are in the mind and they can’t quite reach.  They are endearing and warm and lightweight, so that even the most fragile could bear them.  

So that even I, worn down by a crowded mind, could feel their light.

The menu is written in swirling calligraphy until you try to read it, and suddenly it’s in large printed letters that anyone could read.  There is black coffee roasted in dragon fire, and my best friend Kandy swears it fills her with the strength of a stone fortress.  I tried it once; all I felt was a bit straighter, a bit grounded, and a bit more ready to take on a week of little responsibilities that chip away until I’m bent to the ground.

There are steamers, flavored with the comfort of a crackling hearth, the peace of falling rain, the softness of down-feather beds, and the warmth of newly dried laundry. 

There are teas, steeped in the golden leaves of soothing rest, the emerald leaves of stable breathing, the silver leaves of gentle waking, and the obsidian leaves of strengthened systems.

And then there are the specialty coffees, mixed with steamed creams and a shot of something more.  These are my usual orders.  There’s shots of clarity, wakefulness, courage, patience, memory, forethought, and whimsy.  Up to two shots allowed per drink, any more than that and they can’t be held responsible for any bouts of hallucinations, excessive dancing, or sudden disappearances.

Today I order a double shot of clarity, with whipped dreams on top. The price is split as far as payment, with the majority of the cost standing in dollar amounts, but the tax is charged in secrets and rhymes, stories and daydreams, memories and laughter.  I place the bills on the counter and tell the cashier the dumbest pun I know.  I hadn’t realized I could recall one until now.

A fairy light drifts from my hair to chase the shadow under my hand.  I hear the sound of steaming cream, dripping coffee, and the soft chatter of others around me.  I sit down at a cherry wood table, vines of ivy wrapping up its legs.  

It’s a day for relaxed shoulders and a slowed pace, looking for shades of color and sorting through a scattering of thoughts.  I cannot bear everything at once.  I was not made to. 

It’s a day for a good cup of coffee. 

Attached

Grayscale Photo of Person Standing on Seashore

Don’t get too close.  My teacher has said it often enough that it pulses with my heartbeat. One is soundless, two are noticed, three rouses suspicion. It is not in your interest to get attached

I never tell her about pulling Kylie out of the flames, wrapping my arms to hide the burn scars.  Reckless, without thinking. 

Explore.  Gather information.

She doesn’t know how I traded that costly document so Rachel wouldn’t have to give up her dream.  Irresponsible, sentimental. 

If the group helps you with this goal, then stay with the group, but don’t get careless.

I don’t speak about when I got caught because I stayed behind for Denton; out in the open, suspicious and easily caught.  No gain to be had, no caution employed. 

Don’t get attached. 

We’ve really put our foot in it now.  Kylie is taken, held in the black fortress, surrounded by a city of enemies.  We need her back, we need her safe.

My teacher knows a few things about that dark place, and we would take whatever we could get.  It was a strange thing to introduce them to her.  I warned them to be on their best behavior, but still, we’re a mismatch of quirky people.  There’s only so much we could do.  I think, despite our best diplomatic efforts, we put her in a bit of shock.

Each of our questions were met with successively longer pauses, and increasingly hesitant answers.  Her gaze was burning a hole through my forehead as the minutes dragged on, but we needed her answers, and I was ready to throw everything else to the wind.  I stood tall and held her gaze, daring her to brush us off, cornering her into taking this seriously.

Eventually, there were no more questions she could answer, and she pulled me aside. 

With narrowed eyes, she asked me, “How close are you to them?”

One is soundless, two are noticed, three rouses suspicion.  It well may be our job to get involved, to have a finger reaching every corner, but not like this.  She was waiting for my other motive, my better reason to try this folly.

I looked straight into her eyes, which flamed like auburn fire, and said, “I’m not an idiot.  I know what I’m doing.”

The dark city now stretches before me, dark and jagged and filled with things that slit throats in the night.  Denton and Rachel are my only source of warmth in the face of this monstrosity. 

I didn’t tell my teacher a complete lie. 

I don’t know for sure that I’m not an idiot, though I like to think I’m decently smart.  Smart enough to have something of a plan.  Smart enough to have a decent chance. I know I spoke the truth when I told her I know what I’m doing.

We slip into the city, stepping light as air, eyes on the black fortress where Kylie is held.  Somewhere.  

I won’t return when this is over, no matter the outcome.  I’ve chosen my path.

I’m getting attached.

Sinking Heart

They say I have a heart condition.  Here I was thinking it was my bones. They have been so heavy.  I guess my ribcage knew it held a sick heart within, I guess my legs buckled from the news.  I suppose it’s all connected inside, and pieces of me are falling like dominoes.

They told me my condition isn’t rare at all, though often it’s mild enough to go unnoticed.  It will build up inside if one is exposed too frequently within a short timespan.  Build and build and then take the heart hostage.

They call it disappointment.

If I continue to be exposed, it will spread to my lungs, my gut, my brain.  I want to hope it won’t happen, but they’re warning me against trying to hope.  It’s too soon.  Too risky.  

I’m not sure what to do without it.

I’m shown a chart of how disappointment cuts and slices away at the heart, leaving little wounds that grow with time.  I think my energy is leaking out of them.  I think my condition is worse than I thought.  

They won’t tell me of a remedy.  I need to find one.

There’s a fog rolling in behind my eyes, blurring the horizon.  I want to ask for help, but they’re all backing away with apologetic eyes.  They think it’s contagious.  I think I believe them. I ask them for something, anything to hold on to.  They say something like that could make the condition worse.  I don’t have the energy to argue.  My heart isn’t pounding like it used to.

My hand flailed out in a dull panic, hitting something solid and holding on instinctively.  They said it could make things worse, but I don’t want to fall. In my mind, I imagine being pulled, like I am dangling off a cliff and someone has me by my wrist.  I don’t want to fall, but trying anything else seems like such draining work.  Anything helpful is in that rolling fog.

However.

I don’t want to fall.

My heart is sick, and I must be gentle with it.  My bones are weary, and I must find them rest.  My mind is lost in a fog, and I must spin for it a shining thread of hope.  

They warn me against it, but I’m willing to take the risk.  Light but strong like spider silk, I will spin hope until I am once again surrounded by its web. Without it I have no courage, without it I have no strength. If this thread is broken, I will spin another.  Again and again I will spin, for though a breaking thread hurts terribly, falling . . . 

Falling would kill me.