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The River of Benei has always been a favorite of mine. Well, I call it Benei. Mostly because it sounds cool. It didn’t have a name, because I was the only one who had and ever will come here.
I drift along the green water, listing to the rustle of leaves, and the ripple of water. Peaceful. That was the word. No distractions of the real world.
Behind me a gurgle of water catches my attention. I slowly shift, to look at the noise maker. A naiad smiles at me from the edge of the boat, melting back into the water before reappearing at the front of the kayak. I move forward onto my knees, careful to stay balanced.
I had never seen a nymph before, but one appearing didn’t surprise me in the least.
She waves her hand, moving away slowly. I wave back, but the sudden motion disturbs my kayak, plunging me into the water before I can react. I thrash around the freezing water, trying to get a sense of up and down.
Hands grab my ankles, pulling me further down. I smack them away, but it does no good. You can’t smack away something made of water. I used to think it was smart that naiads could use their beauty to lead humans to their death. It’s not that cool when it’s your death.
My lungs burn from lack of oxygen; my eyes lose sight of the light of the sun. I give a final kick, and close my eyes.
I wake up trying to kick away naiads that weren’t there and cough up water that wasn’t in my lungs.
My class surrounds me, whispering. I sit there dumbly, staring at their shoes. Some people have no fashion sense when it comes to shoes, I think. Which is hypocrisy since I’m wearing off brand sandals at the current moment.
I turn over onto my stomach, too embarrassed to get up. I moan.
“I think she’s dying…” whispers a boy, Nate, I think.
“Should we get the nurse?” Donna.
“Mr. Gibbs is getting her.”
I roll my eyes, and sit up. With the astonishment of many. “I’m not dead, you idiots.”
I stand up and grab my brother’s old Panic! At the Disco backpack, that I now use for school.
“We should really get you to the nurse, Tazewell. You passed out and hit the floor hard” Mutters some guy. So, that’s why I was sore. Not from drowning, from falling.
I sigh, looking at everyone in the class. “It’s fine guys. Medical condition, that’s all,” I tell them, then lie. “I forgot my medicine. I’ll run home and get it.”
They argued that I shouldn’t be left alone. Since when were they so caring? Did they think they would get attention for helping me?
I lied, saying I was going straight to the nurse. As soon as I walk out the door I break into a run, straight out the doors, and into the woods that surround Princeton High, where I attend school.
I run and run and run for 5 minutes until I reach my destination. A shack, no bigger than a large closet. The Shack. My shack. No one would find me here.
I collapse in front of the structure, lying on my back, looking at the blue sky.
At school, I cringe. That stupid mythology book that we read was literally the death of me. I can’t let my mind slip like that. I was rarely conscious anymore.
Hours passed and I forced myself to keep a blank mind. If no spark of color, no imagination at all, creeps into my mind I will remain conscious. Of course, that is nearly impossible.
The sun still burns high in the sky by the time I am discovered. A platinum blonde crosses her legs beside me.
“You good?” She asks softly.
I shake my head. “What are they saying about me?”
“Supposedly you’re diabetic.”
“Good. That’s good.”
I sit up and look at her.
Emma Whitton. Perfect Emma. With her perfect curls, and her perfect denim blue eyes. Her glowing, clear skin, and pink cheeks. Her contagious smile. She was too perfect. I wanted to uglify her. She made me sick sometimes.
But she wasn’t just Perfect Emma. She was Faithful Emma. Staying with me since Kindergarten. Sometimes I thought she did it out of pity. The poor girl with a single mom, and a dead brother. But she was too kind for that. She helped everyone, loved everyone, and would give away all her money to someone else if she could.
She was one of the two people, excluding my mom, who knew of my condition. If you could call it that. She has kept me grounded in the real world.
Emma cocked her head “Where did you go?” This was her usual phrase to ask what I had dreamt about.
“The river. From the mythology story that we’re reading in class.” I look at her, terrified. “I died. The naiads drowned me.”
She threw back her head of curls and laughed. I scowled at her for being so cruel.
“I’m sorry,” she said, wiping her eyes. “It’s just, not every day does someone tell you how they died.”
I stood up, raising my arms in exasperation. “How can you be so heartless?” I question her. “It was so real. I died.”
“But it wasn’t real,” she assured me.
“It didn’t feel like that when I was drowning!”
Emma shook her head. “Listen, I get it. But you’ll always wake up, and you’ll always be fine.”
Just as I was about to retort, a shout came from nearby. And a frantic boy of our age runs past, then backtracks and stops in front of us.
“I—” he panted, “Heard…that you…passed out…in class.” His chocolate colored skin glinted with sweat.
I roll my eyes. I’m tired of everyone being so interested in my spells of unconsciousness, even if it is Ranger, who is the only other person who knows what really happened. I walk away, crossing my legs in front of a pond made by the rain. Emma explains how I died to Ranger in the background.
My colored, ‘red hot flame hair’, as Ranger calls it, burns back at me. Emma had taken me to a hair stylist for my birthday because she could afford that kind of stuff. I absolutely love it; it makes me look like a goddess of fire. Especially when I flip my hair.
I shake my mane of wavy flames and set my hair ablaze. Definitely a fire goddess. I feel a hand on my shoulder, but it’s too late. I’ve begun to slip again.
I feel the now familiar sensation of switching from reality to the abstract of my imagination. My body is plunged into what can only be described as water and fire combined. My lungs burn as I breath it in. Invisible hands snatch me from the burning liquid, and sets me down, but when I look up all around is rock and lava.
I immediately notice my different clothes. My body is draped in a long, strapless, black chiffon dress, mermaid style. The only reason I know the dress styles and fabric is because Emma always made me accompany her when she shopped. My feet are bare, and my hair is curled. And despite the environment, I was cool, almost cold.
I turn to a structure carved into the rock walls. From where I stand a path is carved, swirling round to the high doors of the castle. It feels so familiar, like I’ve been here a million times, when truthfully, I had never seen it once in my dream life.
There is always a door. A door that will lead me out of my dream. Sometimes it’s an actual, physical exit. Sometimes it’s death.
And as I turn to the palace of rock, seeking the exit, and shout of agony comes from behind me. I freeze. No human, has ever been in my fantasies. Yes, creatures. Animals. Never, people.
I spin on my heel, and am greeted with Ranger. His clothes had changed to white blazer and slacks, with a glittery black tie. He had discarded the blazer to be saved from the heat, which obviously affected him, unlike me, and was now desperately trying to avoid the molten lava that was creeping up around him.
That’s not possible. He couldn’t be here. He had to be a mirage or a…anything! That couldn’t be Ranger. I can’t bring people into my mind. Can I? I shake my head, not bothering with those details right now.
A tingling sensation crawls up my arm, from my hand. I follow the pull, like a magnetic connection, raising my hand in the direction of the magma that was singeing his shoes. Save him, whispers a voice in my head. I raise my other arm, and with a flick of my hands the lava recedes. Ranger promptly faints, dropping from the heat.
I want to sock him for his untimely check out of his body. I give up, because everyone else probably thinks that too about me.
Unfortunately, unlike what just happened, I didn’t seem to have boy levitating powers. So, I lift him up from under his arms and lug him up to the doors. I heave open the doors, and a blinding light surrounds us.
There are two things that go through your mind when you fall from the sky:
I just fell from the sky.
Ow, that hurt.
You don’t think those things in particular order, it’s all kinda mixed in there. Its, naturally, all very unpleasant.
I sit up and stretch my neck. After falling for the second time, I am getting sore. I look over to find Ranger lying lifelessly in a heap.
A high pitched sob comes from behind me, and a teenage girl tackles me to the ground. I cough as Emma sits on my chest, a hand raised as if about to slap me.
“Whoa, chill!” I say, shoving her off me, consider she weighs nothing.
“You! You disappeared! And so did Ranger!” She cried. “Where did you go? I was so worried and scared!”
That was a good question. And one I couldn’t answer.
“And WHAT are you wearing?” She continued. “Where did you go?”
I look down, expecting my hoodie and sneakers, but instead finding my dress.
“HOLY CRAP,” I scream. That hoodie was my brother’s. I had worn it whenever I could since the day he died. If I lost it…
My phone buzzes in my backpack, and I abandon the hectic Emma to rummage in my backpack. She continues baraiding me with questions that I cannot answer.
I glace at my phone, scrolling through the texts.
Mama: R U Picking me up 2day?
I drop my head and groan. I need to pick up my mom from work. And I left my truck at school.
I quickly text back, grab my backpack and run off.
“What about Ranger?!” Emma calls off me.
I call back over my shoulder. “He should wake up soon!”