After forever, p.1
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       After Forever, p.1

           Krystal George
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After Forever
After Forever

  An Indie Author Anthology of Modern Fairytales

  Compiled By:

  Krystal George

  Featuring Stories From:

  Krystal George

  Heather Kirchhoff

  Kate Marie Robbins

  S. Cu ‘Anam Policar

  Kim Stevens

  Cindy Bartolotta

  Twinkle (Sugandha) Varshney

  Amanda Alberson

  Illustrated by: Cheryl Casey Ramirez

  www.CCRBookCoverDesigns.com

  Each story was edited by its individual author and formatted by Krystal George

  For all of the Readers – This is a compilation of stories written for you…

  Thank you for all of your dedication and continued support of what we do!

  Table of Contents:

  Come Wake Me Up Krystal George

  Beastly Heather Kirchhoff

  Cinder Kate Marie Robbins

  Puss in the Bone of Riches S Cu ‘Anam Policar

  Day and Night Kim Stevens

  Destiny Cindy Bartolotta

  Trapped Twinkle (Sugandha) Varshney

  Cinder and Ella Amanda Alberson

  Seeing Red Krystal George

  Come Wake Me Up

  Krystal George

  ©2014 by Krystal George

  “You’re late.”

  I cringed at the disgust in the voice and smiled sheepishly. “I’m sorry. I missed the bus and had to wait for the next one.”

  “You do realize why you are here, don’t you Aurora?”

  “Rory,” I corrected her before she glared at me from beneath wire framed glasses. “I-I mean, y-yes of course I do.”

  She consulted the clipboard that was in her hands. “This isn’t some after school program that you signed up for, Aurora,” she emphasized, “you were ordered by the courts to be here and I expect you to be here on time.”

  I gulped. “Yes ma’am.”

  I looked around the brightly lit corridor and squinted my eyes against the blare of florescent lights. I hated places like this. Even though it wasn’t a hospital, the stench of old bodies and weak bladders was pungent.

  Assisted living… this was my punishment.

  “Now I’m just going to have you do some cleaning. After a few days we may work up to something more suitable.”

  She spun on her heel and I hurried to keep up with her. “Yes ma’am,” I answered again.

  She stopped so suddenly that I almost ran right into her rigid back. “You can call me Miss Merriweather.”

  “Yes ma’am,” she narrowed her eyes and I gulped again, “I mean, yes Miss Merriweather.”

  She began walking again and I practically had to run after her. I was short as it was, so following her tall statuesque figure was not an easy task. We came to a small janitor’s closet at the end of the hall. There were little carts full of cleaning supplies squeezed in there. I jumped when a small plump figure emerged from behind one of them.

  “I’ll go ahead and leave you with Mallie then. She’ll get your supplies and show you the rounds.”

  I nodded.

  The plump woman waited until Miss Merriweather walked away and then let out a deep breath. “That woman unsettles me,” she admitted sheepishly before holding out her hand for me to shake.

  I smiled, unsure if it would be rude to agree with her or rude not to. “I’m Aurora Woods, but everybody calls me Rory.”

  She shook my hand and then wiped hers on her torn blue jeans. “You can call me Mallie.”

  “That’s an unusual name,” I commented, “is it short for something?”

  She smiled and although it was friendly, it still sent shivers up my spine. “Yes.” No other explanation, just the short answer.

  I watched as she squeezed her way through the carts and out into the hallway pulling one with her. The smell of bleach was so strong that my eyes began to water. Rags spilled from a bucket with steaming water and the handle of a mop tipped forward and knocked me on the head.

  “You’ll get use to the cart.” She grabbed the mop handle and secured it back upright in its holder. “So, what are you in for?”

  “Um…” I began, but suddenly found myself at a loss of words. It was so stupid really, but the judge hadn’t thought so. “I, uh…” I stuttered.

  She held up a hand stopping me. “Never mind. I don’t want to know.”

  Holding back a fresh wave of tears, I nodded. I had done what I had needed to do… and I was being punished for it. It wasn’t fair and still there was nothing I could do about it.

  Mallie walked down the hall and opened a door. The smell of stale coffee and urine assaulted us. There was an elderly man sitting in a rocking chair. That, his bed and a small dresser were the only pieces of furniture in the entire room. It was depressing, really. With him sitting and staring at the wall as if he were seeing images that only he could see. There was a blank expression on his face and I had the overwhelming urge to soothe him somehow.

  “This is Mr. Butler. He’s been with us for a few years now.” She threw a blanket over his lap and tucked it into the sides of his chair. “He doesn’t talk much.”

  I nodded. She handed me the mop and the bucket of soapy water and instructed me to mop his floor. It was like the white tiles you would find at a hospital and images of my mother crept into my mind. Seeing her huddled beneath the crisp white sheets with tubes in her arms had been heartbreaking. It wasn’t a memory I liked to dwell on, so I pushed it aside and set about fiercely cleaning the floors. When I was done, Mallie nodded her approval.

  We continued like this down the hallway. While I mopped the floors, she threw the trash, washed the windows and dusted what sparse furniture was there. We were productive, but with each new door that was opened and each new set of eyes I saw staring blankly out through the wrinkled flesh encasing them, a sadness began to engulf me. How sad it must be to live out your life in a place like this. It made me wonder about their families. What kind of monster would put these people away and forget about them?

  After a few hours my back was sore, my feet ached, and I was pretty sure a blister was beginning to form on two of my fingers. It was just about then that I noticed the door. All by itself in a small alcove off of the main hall was a beautiful carved wooden door. I was mesmerized by the intricacy of the detailed art work and stood staring at it for several moments.

  “This is our last stop,” Mallie said. “Then you’re done for the day.”

  I nodded, still curious about the out of place grandeur of the door, but ready to get this day over with. I still had another month of days just like this one to follow and I was eager to get home. I went to turn the doorknob, but it was locked.

  “Oh crap! I forgot to get the key from Miss Merriweather,” she said, slapping the side of her head. “I’ll be right back.”

  Nodding again, I watched her walk away in silence. What was so important that it needed such an elaborate door? And why did it need to be locked? Almost as if it had a will of its own, my hand reached out to try the knob again. With a soft click the knob turned and the door open without me even touching it. My breath caught.

  I pushed the door open hesitantly. It was dark in the room, but I could tell right away that it was different from the rest of them. It looked like something out of a fairytale. The furniture was ornate and old fashioned, but even my untrained eye could tell that it was expensive.

  “Hello?” I called tentatively. “I’m just here to clean your room.”

  I was answered with the steady beeping of medical equipment. There was a soft glow of lights coming from the screen and I gasped when I saw that there were tubes hooke
d up to it, connecting it to the body on the massive wooden bed. My mom’s sickened pallor swam back before my eyes, and I struggled to push away the image once more. When I did, I was shocked by what I saw.

  He was young. I was guessing close to my own seventeen years, and he was totally hot. But that wasn’t what shocked me. It was the instant recognition that had my throat tighten with emotion. Golden blond hair fell across his forehead and even the dimmed light couldn’t camouflage the tanned perfection of his skin. His eyes were closed, but I knew that they were the same golden hue as honey. My hand reached out as if to touch him, but I drew it back, embarrassed by my reaction.

  “I see you’ve found Phillip.”

  I jumped at the voice and turned an embarrassed face towards Miss Merriweather. “I’m sorry, I thought I was supposed to be cleaning and I… um…” I shrugged and backed away from the bed, not sure what to say.

  To my surprise, she smiled. “You are. Mallie had asked me to unlock the door for you while she took care of something, but it looks as though it didn’t need to be unlocked after all.”

  I chewed on my lower lip, unsure if I should admit that the door had been locked at first. But what would she think? That I opened it myself by picking the lock? The truth – that it opened on its own? But then she’d think I was crazy. Doors didn’t just unlock themselves.

  “I thought that this was an old age home,” I blurted out after a few moments of awkward silence.

  She laughed softly and it softened her entire face, making her look both younger and friendlier somehow. “Phillip is a special case. He’s been here for a few months now.” I could feel her eyes on me while I studied him. A few months… that’s when… “He’s in a coma.” She said, interrupting my thoughts.

  “That’s so sad,” I told her, meaning it. “What happened to him?”

  Her expression hardened again. “I think that you should stick to what you came here to do.” When I stared at her blankly her mouth slid into a thin tight-lipped smile. “Clean,” she said before turning and leaving me to stare after her.

  After a few lost moments I looked back toward the bed and sighed. Maybe I was losing my mind. The stress of the past few months had been wearing on me… maybe I had finally cracked… gone mental… checked out of reality.

  “Get a grip, Rory, just get this crap done and get out of here.” I said out loud.

  A louder beep from the machine had me jumping again. I looked at the monitor, but I had no idea what I was looking at. The figure on the bed, Philip, didn’t move or make a sound. He looked so peaceful, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him… feeling… NO! I didn’t know him and I had no feelings for him. I shook my head to clear it and returned to the task at hand.

  “I knew that you’d come.”

  “Am I that predictable?” I asked him, smiling.

  It was the same place. Almost like a castle, the stone walls shimmered in the moonlight. He was sitting on the edge of a fountain in the middle of a luscious garden. The moon muted the colors of the flowers that surrounded us and I wondered what they would look like in the sunlight. There was a magic in their beauty, but in the sun… they would be intoxicating.

  “No, not predictable, but a guy can hope, right?” He held out his hands to me and I went to him. His skin felt warm against mine and we twined the fingers of both hands together.

  I laughed. “I’m sure you have plenty of girls to occupy your time.”

  He shrugged. “Maybe. But you’re the one I want.”

  I blushed and was thankful for the dark night, hoping that the moon didn’t show my embarrassment. It wasn’t that I didn’t want him to think of me in that way, it was just that I wasn’t used to it. The guys at my school didn’t look at me that way. They saw my tattered book bag, naked face, and charity clothes and then kept looking past me.

  “You deserve better than me,” I whispered with my head hanging low and my eyes focused on my beat up tennis shoes. “I’m practically a criminal.”

  “Do you believe in fairytales?”

  I looked up at him then. “What do you mean?” I asked, not sure where this conversation was heading.

  “Peter Pan – was he a criminal when he was stealing from the rich to give to the poor?”

  I laughed softly. “Depends on who you’re asking.”

  He put his hand under my chin and lifted my face to his. “I’m asking you.”

  “He was a hero.” I answered.

  His lips drew closer to mine and I could feel the warmth of his breath. My heart sped up as I waited in anticipation. He had never kissed me before. “You’re a hero,” he said. Then he kissed me and it was the most perfect moment – rivaling any fairytale I had ever read.

  “But why do you have to go Rory?”

  I sighed and ruffled Artie’s already messy hair. “You know why. It’s only for a few more weeks. Then I’ll be done.”

  He grabbed hold of Bella’s hand and the two of them walked in my friend Marcie’s house. She smiled sympathetically in my direction before pushing her thick glasses back up her nose. “They’ll get over it.”

  I smiled and shrugged, “sometimes I’m not so sure.”

  She put her arm around my shoulders and walked me down the sidewalk toward the bus. “They’re kids, they will forget all about this.”

  “I hope that you’re right.”

  “I’m always right.”

  I laughed and then waved before turning and walking toward the bus stop.

  It had been a few weeks since I had started my community service at the assisted living home. During those weeks, the dreams had begun to come every night. Before then, they had just sporadic. Now, with each passing moment the desperation in my interactions with Phillip was becoming a living entity. One that I was pretty certain was a sure sign of losing my mind. I was falling in love with a dream… with an idea… with the hope that there was some truth in it all.

  The bus pulled to a stop a few minutes after I got there and I slipped wearily into a seat towards the back. The dreams had definitely cut into my rest. There were circles beginning to form under my eyes, I couldn’t stop yawning, and my brain pretty much felt like someone had turned it to mush. I was lucky that Miss Merriweather had kept me strictly as part of the clean-up crew. I wouldn’t have been able to handle anything else. Especially once I added school and my siblings on top of everything else.

  It’s funny, because even though I was tired and felt like my thoughts were dredging through my swampy brain, when I was with Phillip it was the only time I truly felt… alive. It was the only time I could really be me and not have to worry about anything else. There was a freedom in that and I couldn’t help feeling grateful for the illusion.

  Shaking myself from my thoughts and trying not to fall asleep, I picked up a discarded newspaper that someone had left behind. I didn’t have to look long before a headline caught my attention. It was a story about a family that had gone missing. There was no trace of them and the authorities had no leads, but a reward was being offered for anyone who had information.

  “Sad, isn’t it?”

  I hadn’t even noticed the ladies sitting behind me, looking over my shoulder.

  “It seems like such a waste for such a wealthy family to just disappear.”

  “I bet that they disappeared because they were wealthy.”

  “Now Florine, money isn’t evil, it’s what is done with it that can be evil.”

  One of the ladies tsked. “That’s your opinion Fawn.”

  “I’m sorry, did you two want to look at this?” I asked them.

  Two sets of friendly eyes twinkled back at me. “Oh no, dear,” the one I thought was Fawn said. “You are going to need that.”

  I raised my eyebrows. “I think I’m okay.”

  The other one, Florine, shook her head and sat back in her seat, “I think that there is probably something in there that you can use.” She looked over at the other lady and p
ut the tip of her index finger against her lips. “Try page thirteen.”

  Fawn shivered. “What a terribly unlucky number.”

  “Oh poppycock! Luck has to do with the person, not the number.” Florine looked at me then and smile sweetly. “I think that luck has finally found you.”

  The bus began to slow to a stop and I stood up, anxious to get away. It wasn’t that they scared me or anything like that. They seemed harmless and sweet enough. It’s just that the whole situation seemed peculiar.

  “Well this is my stop.” I held out the paper again. “Are you sure you don’t want this?”

  They nodded at the same time. “Take it,” Fawn said, “somewhere in there is bound to be a happy ending.”

  I folded it and put it in my shoulder bag. “I don’t believe in happy endings.”

  Before they could say anything, I turned and hurried down the steps to the pavement. When I looked back up at the bus, their faces were staring down at me with amused expressions. I waved lamely toward them and their eyes sparkled in the afternoon sunlight for just a moment before the bus pulled away and drove off.

  “Well that was strange.” I said out loud.

  It was just a few blocks to the assisted living facility and I hurried toward it, eager to get the work done… and if I was honest with myself, I was eager to see Phillip too. It was hard to separate the Phillip in my dreams with the flesh and blood stranger lying in that bed. I wanted it to be real, but I knew that it was all my imagination; that some glitch in my brain had created the illusion that I actually had someone as amazing as he was who really cared about me.

  The reality was that no one really cared about me. At least not in the way I needed them to. With my mom still sick and my brother and sister counting on me to take care of them, I hadn’t always made the best choices. If I had, I wouldn’t be hurrying toward an afternoon full of bedpans and soapy mop water. It was my job to take care of things now, not fantasize about someone else taking care of me.

  My strengthened resolve lasted until I walked through the doors of the assisted living place. It was quiet; eerily quiet. There were no nurses bustling about, no patrons staring blanking out from wheelchairs, no staff… no one. I looked up at the clock and saw that I was about ten minutes early… but still. This was creepy.

  “Hello? Is anyone here?” I called out through the halls. Nothing.

  I rubbed my arms absently against the goose bumps that were starting to pop up. A shiver worked its way up my spine and I looked behind me, hoping to see someone. Still nothing. I was afraid to look into the rooms that I was walking by. There was an unexplainable fear taking hold of me and I couldn’t shake the feeling of dread that was snaking its way through my bones.

  Phillip.

  His name rang through my brain and I began walking toward his door more and more quickly until I was running down the halls. The sound of my shoes hitting the tile was deafening in the otherwise silence of the building. I didn’t know what was going on. The only thought running through my head was that I had to get to him. I had to make sure that he was still here… that he was real.

  When I finally stood before his door, my heart beating from exertion, I was suddenly not sure I wanted to open it. If he wasn’t there, I would have to admit that something terrible had happened. Even if he was, I’d have to admit that something wasn’t right. Businesses weren’t run this way. People didn’t just disappear… buildings weren’t just left empty.

  Closing my eyes and taking a deep breath, I reached forward and turned the knob. Surprisingly, it turned and the door swung open. What I saw on the other side was something from a nightmare. Mallie, with her arms extended over her head and sparks flying between her fingers, stood over Phillip with an evil grin on her face.

  A scream tore from my throat and her attention shifted from him to me. “I won’t let you have him.” She said sweetly.

  Before I could ask her what she meant, she threw her arms down toward me and the blast of energy she sent my way knocked me off of my feet. Her malicious laughter was the last sound I heard before blackness took me.

  “Time is running out.”

  Tears welled in my eyes. “Why would you say that?”

  We were inside the house this time. I couldn’t remember ever having been in here before, but I knew instinctively that we were in his bedroom. He was lying on a huge four poster bed and I was sitting next to him, his hand tucked protectively in mine. Even in the dim light from a few candles, I could tell that he was ill. There was a pallor to his skin that hadn’t been there before. Dark circles framed his honey toned eyes, and a sheen of sweat covered his face.

  “Because it’s true,” he said sadly. “If you don’t find me soon, I’ll be lost forever.”

  I shook my head, confused. “I don’t understand. How can I find you when we are already together?”

  He brought my hand to his lips and I could feel the fever burning on his skin. “You have to find me in the other place… the other world. It’s only there that we can truly be together forever.”

  I gulped back fresh tears. “I don’t like the other place. Bad things happen there. I’m… different… there.” I lowered my eyes and let the tears fall freely. “You won’t love me there.”

  “I’ll love you anywhere Rory.”

  I looked up, hopeful, “but you don’t know what I’ve done.”

  “Yes I do, I told you – you’re a hero.”

  I shook my head. “The other you. You don’t know what I’ve done. I’m ashamed.”

  He laughed softly. “I’ll understand – I promise. I can help you. I can take care of you… all of you.”

  It was too good to be true so I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to ruin what little time we had left together. Instead, I crawled all the way into his bed and lay down next to him. He held me like that for what seemed like hours. Murmuring promises into my ear and wiping the tears that continued to fall. I was so scared to lose him, that even the fever raging between us wasn’t enough to stop the chills that wracked through my body.

  “Aurora… Aurora! Wake up!”

  Cold water splashed on my face and I sputtered and flailed my arms as I struggled to sit up. Bright light assaulted my eyes when I opened them and I squeezed them shut. I tried to push whatever was holding on to me away, but my whole body ached. It was like my bones had shattered and then put themselves back together with pieces missing. I hurt… bad.

  “She’s fine, give her some space, Mallie.”

  My eyes flew open when I heard the name and my heart sputtered with fear. Her eyes looked into mine with malice and I wondered briefly why I had never noticed the evil that shined through them. I would have screamed then, but there was something wrong with my voice. I opened my mouth and moved it to form the words and sounds I wanted… but nothing happened.

  “I think that she is in shock,” Miss Merriweather said.

  For a second, when she looked at me, I was reminded of the two ladies from the bus. The warmth and goodness had radiated from them… just as it did now… from her. How could I have been so wrong about everything? I wanted to apologize, explain what I now knew was truth, but I couldn’t. My voice had been taken from me, stripped away so I couldn’t expose what I had seen.

  Things happened quickly then. I was lifted to a wheelchair – one much like those the other residents were trapped in. My body ached and cracked much like I would imagine an older person’s would. Then I saw my face in the mirror and I wasn’t even surprised by what I saw. A blank expression staring out of a wrinkled face. My body felt old because it was old.

  “Now Aurora, how did you even get out of your room?” Mallie asked nastily as she wheeled me into one of the rooms that I was pretty sure had been vacant before. “I guess that we are going to have to put everyone on lockdown again.”

  Right, I thought, so we can’t escape and expose this place for what it really was… something out of a nightmare. My dream came b
ack to me and I could still feel Phillip’s arms wrapped around me. He had tried to tell me that we were running out of time. Had he meant this? Somehow I didn’t think that this was all of it.

  She spread the newspaper from earlier on my lap. “I thought you might be interested in this.”

  It was turned to the page about the family who had disappeared and there, staring back at me through the black and white photo was Phillip. I tried to pick it up to look at it closer, but it fell through my stiff and cracking fingers and pages scattered across the floor. Mallie laughed at my complete helplessness while she walked out of my room.

  The next few hours were the worst of my life. Visions of my brother and sister vied for prominence in my thoughts against visions of my mother. The truth was, when she had gotten sick, there was no one to work and no money to come in. So I had done what I had needed to do. I stole. Food, money, toothpaste. Whatever those kids had needed, I had gotten for them. Phillip called me a hero… the judge had called me a criminal.

  Now, with me tucked away in this body and this place, I couldn’t help wondering what was happening to them and how they were managing without me. I knew that Marcie and her family would care for them. At least until my mom was released from the hospital… if she was released…. But that didn’t ease my fears or the desperation I felt trying to choke me.

  Then, one morning after a night of restless sleeping, something amazing happened. Just as the morning sun began to rise and throw my room into a rainbow of pinks, oranges, and yellows, my body began to tingle and come to life. I threw the covers off of my bed and ran to the mirror. My own normal face stared back at me.

  Heart practically beating through my chest, I tried opening my door. It opened. I took a deep breath to give myself courage, certain that I would run right into Mallie. I was wrong. It was like I was in another place completely. I was inside my dream. Only instead of seeing Phillip outside of this stone mansion, I was greeted by the faces of hundreds of people.

  One of the ladies from the bus smiled sweetly at me from a few feet away. “Welcome Rory, we knew you’d come.”

  “Is this a dream?”

  She shook her head and a few of the other people chuckled. “No. This is our home.”

  “I don’t understand.”

  She walked forward and put her arm around my shoulder. “We are under a magic spell that keeps us trapped in an almost paralyzed state. You are the only person who can save us.”

  I backed away from her. “No. You’ve got the wrong person.”

  The other lady from the bus moved forward from the crowd. “No, Rory, we don’t. Phillip chose you to be our hero. He believes in you… and so do we.” She gestured to the crowd and I began to see familiar faces and features on faces. Every person whose room I had been cleaning for weeks now, was here. Just like me, they were all trapped. This couldn’t be real. Things like this didn’t happen in real life.

  I gulped. “I don’t know what to do.”

  She walked me to the front door of the castle like mansion. “You will.”

  Just like that first day in the assisted living home, the door opened by itself. Mesmerized, I walked over the threshold and then jumped when the door slammed behind me. It was disconcerting to be alone after having so many eyes trained on me outside. I tried to open the door and go back out there… back to safety, but it wouldn’t budge.

  “Follow your heart Rory, and you’ll find the way.”

  I turned back toward the interior of the front room and found myself looking at Miss Merriweather. Only she didn’t look like the nurse I had met that first day. She looked… magical… youthful almost and beautiful.

  “Why didn’t you tell me the truth?”

  She smiled sadly, “you had to find it for yourself.”

  The only light in the room was from candles which threw shadows around the room that seemed to shift and shimmer ominously. “This is crazy.”

  “There is magic in everything, Rory, you just have to decide if you are going to embrace it or run from it.”

  I took a step forward, remembering how it had felt in Phillips arms. How I had never felt like I had belonged anywhere as much as I had belonged with him. Another few steps and I had passed her on my way to the stairs. When my foot was on the first step I turned back to her… but she was gone and I was once again alone.

  There was a heaviness in the air it weighed me down. With each step I took up, it threatened to bury me, but I pushed forward. If this was my destiny, I couldn’t back away from it. I had to find the courage and strength inside of me to do the right thing.

  When I finally reached the landing, a blast of frigid air took my breath away. It was freezing up here. The hallway was icy and my shoe slid on the slippery surface. My teeth started chattering and my lungs protested when I was finally able to inhale the chilled air. Still I moved forward. Slow, but steady.

  There were three doors in the hallway and I when I opened the first one, I almost lost all of my strength. My little sister was lying on a bed with her hands folded neatly over her chest. I ran to her, forgetting about the cold and ice and just before I got to her, a blast of energy threw me backwards.

  “Oh Bella,” I sobbed. “What has she done to you?”

  Almost as if she had been waiting for me to ask that question, Mallie appeared. Only she looked even more evil and frightening. “I will give you your sister right now if you leave this place and never come back.”

  Tears where streaming down my face, hot and steady, leaving a moist trail for the icy air to cling to. It was so tempting to accept her offer. It would be so easy to take my sister, my small innocent sister, and put this all behind me. But Phillips eyes swam before me, steady and strong, giving me the courage and motivation to move on.

  “I will defeat you,” I told her with a catch in my voice.

  She threw her head back and laughed. “You are a fool.”

  The room darkened and when I turned back to Bella – she was gone.

  Unwilling to leave any room unchecked, I moved back to the hallway and tried to turn the knob on the second door. The metal was so cold that my hand burned when I touched it. For a moment I thought that the delicate skin of my palm was stuck to it, but after a few seconds, I was able to turn it and the door creaked grudgingly open.

  It was Artie. Sweet, brave, and fearless Artie. Only it was worse than seeing Bella lying in that bed. Artie was awake. I couldn’t hear him, but it looked like he was screaming at me from across the room. His arms were restrained with what looked like old fashioned manacles above his head and even in the dimmed light, I could tell that they were rubbing the skin of his wrists raw from his movement.

  “Artie!” I screamed, but I couldn’t get to him. My feet were glued to the floor.

  He pulled and fought the chains, with his mouth open, screaming words that I couldn’t hear. It was worse… so much worse than Bella. With every second, my desperation grew more intense as I fought against the invisible force keeping me in place. Finally, after what seemed like hours, Mallie returned and I fell to my knees, free at last.

  I ran to my brother, but it was like a wall separated us. I couldn’t feel it, but I couldn’t move through it either. Nor, could I hear what he was still screaming at me with tears running down his own face. His lips were turning a scary blue from the cold and I could I feel my heart breaking in my chest.

  “I will release your brother if you take him and leave this place.” She smiled toward him, enjoying the pain that marred his face. “If you promise to never return.”

  I closed my eyes and buried my face in my arms. It was tempting. So very tempting – much more so than before because I could see the pain that he was feeling. I even imagined that I could feel what he felt and I rubbed absently at my wrists while the pain of my decision sunk in.

  “No.” I said – slightly more forcefully this time. I looked up at her, hatred blazing through my eyes from the depth of my soul. “You wi
ll not win. I will beat you.”

  She narrowed her eyes slightly before throwing her head back and laughing. “No.” She told me. “I will devour you.”

  Once again the room went dark and when I looked for Artie, he was gone. The only evidence that he had been there were the manacles still dangling from the wall. I shivered, noticing that the air had grown even cooler. The puffs of white my breath made in front of me were practically freezing into icy clouds. My bones were starting to groan and crack with each move that I made.

  I moved slowly toward the hallway and paused when I saw my reflection staring back at me from a mirror. There were ice sickles dropping from stands of my hair and my eye lashes were frozen. My lips were a purplish blue and there were trails of ice where my tears had fallen.

  Forcing myself forward, I moved to the third door. The knob was hot. My skin sizzled when it touched it, such a contrast from the cold I was standing in. With extreme effort, I turned the knob. Heat blasted over me and I staggered backward a few steps. I had thought that any warmth would be appreciated after such cold, but I was wrong. It was like I was burning.

  A staircase loomed before me and I gritted my teeth against the burning air. My body protested the change in temperature, but I forced it on. There was a mantra repeating in my head. Right. Left. Right. Left. I forced first one foot and then the other up the endless stair case. I had to be climbing into a tower. There was no other explanation for the winding endless staircase. Toasted air blew past me, melting the ice in my hair and eyelashes. Sweat and water dripped down my face and shoulders making my clothing stick to my skin.

  Still I moved up. One step after another, I worked toward my destiny. I wouldn’t give up. I couldn’t give up. Just as I had refused to let my siblings starve, I refused to be the destruction of these people… of Phillip. I would save them.

  At first when my feet reached the landing of yet another staircase, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. Then I noticed the door. It was the same ornate wooden door from the assisted living home. I was sure of it.

  “Phillip,” I whispered, my throat damaged and dry from the heat.

  As soon as the name was uttered, fire sprang up in front of me, blocking my way. I reached out toward it, hoping that it was an illusion and then cried out loudly when my hand was scorched and burned from the unforgiving flame.

  I sunk to the floor, just out of reach from the fire, and leaned back against the wall. “I can’t do this,” I whispered to myself. “It will kill me for sure.”

  I wiped at my face, but in the heat my tears had disintegrated before they even left my eyes. It was then that I noticed my hand. The one that had been burned from the fire. It was healed. Rosy from the heat, but otherwise the skin was unmarred.

  Then I knew. I could do this. I pushed up against the wall and closed my eyes against the fear within me. Then I took a huge breath of air and took my first step into the flames.

  I wanted to move quickly. The flames licked at my clothes and skin burning them, devouring them, but the air was thick and movement was slow. I could smell the hair being singed from my head and face and body. It was an acrid disgusting smell. My vision was clouded with the smoke from my burning clothes and flesh, but still I forced myself forward.

  When I finally made it to the door, I knew that I didn’t have the strength to open it, so I fell forward and cried as the flames continued to chase me. The door flew open against my weight and I welcomed the cool air that greeted me. I lay there for seconds, minutes, hours… I wasn’t sure how long, just letting the air kiss away my burns and soothe my throat and skin.

  “Rory?”

  I froze. “Mom?” I whispered.

  It was my worst nightmare. The thing that I was so very ashamed of. I couldn’t bare the sight of my own mother. She wasn’t just sick… she had cancer… and I didn’t recognize her.

  I opened my eyes and realized that I was in her hospital room. Complete with her hydraulic bed and monitors beeping next to her. Tubes were hooked into her arm and an IV was dropping water and pain medicine into her veins. Her once beautiful long blond hair was almost completely gone. A few long out of place strands were clinging to her bald head giving her a sickly appearance. Dark circles surrounded her sunken in eyes and her normally golden skin was bleached white from the illness.

  “Come here baby, let me look at you,” she croaked.

  This wasn’t my mother. This had to be some sort of monster, some sort of scary illusion meant to break me. But I knew that it wasn’t… and I was ashamed of my disgust and fear of her. My mother… the woman who had rocked me to sleep and took care of me when I was sick and I couldn’t even look at her.

  Against my will, my feet moved me toward her. The smell of illness was thick in the air and I gagged against it. When my hand reached toward hers, I let the tears fall. I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to touch her. She disgusted me.

  “I need a kiss from my baby. One last kiss before I go,” she whispered.

  I closed my eyes and shook my head, aware that her grip had tightened on my hand and she was pulling me closer to her. “No…” I whispered. I kept moving toward her. “No, no, no.” I repeated. I was weak. Tears streamed down my cheeks once again. I could feel her hot breath on my cheek. “NO!” I screamed and ripped my hand from hers.

  I backed away from the bed. I opened my eyes and was unable to take my gaze away from hers. She was hurt. She was devastated. I forgot everything. Bella, Artie… Phillip. There was nothing but her and I was terrified.

  “Don’t you love me anymore?” She asked.

  I tried to remember the person she used to be. The one before the cancer distorted her, but it was hard to do while I was facing her. Images flashed through my mind of days spent together, but it was like I was looking at two different people. I just couldn’t believe that she was the same person who had raised me.

  “I can’t do this,” I whispered, broken.

  Mallie reappeared. “I knew that you weren’t strong enough.” She laughed hideously.

  Then Florine and Fawn were standing before me, smiling down at where I had crumpled to the ground. “Luck has finally found you… all of your dreams are within your reach.”

  Then Miss Merriweather was before me, only she was smaller and a pair of shimmering wings were fluttering behind her, elevating her above the ground that I was lying on. “Follow your heart Aurora. You’re not a coward…”

  Artie and Bella replaced her. “You’re a hero.” They finished. “You’re our hero.”

  They all believed in me. They all needed me. They were all depending on me to be that person… to be that hero. Phillip took their place and I reached for him. My hand passed right through his image, but he smiled down at me.

  “I’ll love you anywhere Rory.”

  I stood up and walked toward my mother.

  “What are you doing?” Mallie asked, a hint of panic in her voice. “Don’t do that, look at her, she’s repelling.”

  I ignored her and took hold of my mom’s hand.

  “No, you’ll ruin everything. Leave this place. Take your brother and sister and go. We were fine without you.”

  I looked down into the eyes that looked just like mine and ignored everything else.

  “GET AWAY FROM HER!”

  Light exploded inside of me and love filled the places where shadows have been hiding. This was my mom. When the light cleared, it was like my perception had changed. No longer was I seeing her balding head, no longer was I looking into her sunken eyes, no longer were there tubes in her arm. It was my mom… the beautiful amazing mom that I had loved forever.

  “I love you,” I whispered to her before leaning down and pressing my lips to hers.

  The room began to spin. Mallie’s screams began to tear through the room and when I opened my eyes, I was looking into Phillips. He clung to me and me to him while the room spun and spun. There was nothing but the two of us.

  “Sl
eep, my love,” he whispered against my lips.

  I shook my head. “I don’t want to lose you.”

  He smiled. “You won’t. When this is all over, I’ll come wake you up.”

  Then the world turned black.

  “Rory! Rory!”

  I shook my head, trying to clear the sleep from my brain. I had been having the most magical dream. It was… it was…? I opened my eyes and blinked. I couldn’t remember what it was.

  “Rory!”

  I sat up in the hospital bed and stretched. “What Artie? I was sleeping.”

  But when I looked around for him, he wasn’t there. Instead a boy was standing next to my mother’s hospital bed. He was wearing pajama pants and a white t-shirt and I couldn’t help thinking he looked familiar somehow.

  “Who are you?” I blurted out.

  He turned and smiled at me. “I’m Phillip. I’m sorry to wake you, but I thought you should see this.”

  I stood up, confused but curious, and walked over to him. I gasped when I looked down at my mother. She was radiant. Her breathing was even, her hair was thicker, and her coloring had returned to normal.

  “How did this happen?”

  He shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve been sleeping.”

  Just then, doctors rushed in and someone pulled him from the room. I reached toward him, afraid that if he left I’d never see him again, but it was too late. He was gone.

  My mother was cured. The doctors said that she was in remission, but I knew that it would never come back. Something had happened that day… something… magical. And although I didn’t understand it, I didn’t question it… I just accepted that my life was different and that everything was going to be better.

  It was a few weeks after we had left the hospital and life started returning to normal that I saw him again. I was walking through the halls of school and he was just… there… waiting for me. He smiled when I saw him and I smiled back.

  “I’ve been looking for you.” He told me.

  “Yeah, things have been a little crazy since my mom got better.”

  “I got better too.”

  I frowned. “Were you sick?”

  He shrugged. “Not really… just sleeping.”

  “What woke you up?”

  He smiled and reached out to take my hand. “You did. I was dreaming of you. I know that sounds crazy, but something told me that if I didn’t wake up, I’d never see you again.”

  Our fingers intertwined and my heart sped up. It was crazy… just as crazy as my mom suddenly cured… and I knew… it was magic. It was like something out of a fairytale.

  “I dreamt of you too,” I whispered shyly, but I knew that it was true. That it was him I had been dreaming of when he woke me in the hospital.

  He leaned forward and kissed me. Tentatively at first, like he was afraid that I wasn’t real, but then he pulled me into his arms and our kiss deepened. “I’ll love you anywhere Rory… forever.”

  I smiled and pulled away from him so that I could look into his honey colored eyes. “I’ll love you too... always.”

  And we did… we lived and loved… happily ever after.

 
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