Zaraphilla

By Jackson McCormick

art by Julianna Blacey

 “I want to show you something.”

     Those were the words that would change the life of John Baxter forever. They were spoken by John’s present lady of interest—a young woman with the far less biblical name of Zara—on their third but first official date. But I’ll get back to that when I’m done giving extraneous details about our protagonists.

     John Baxter was a twenty-two-year-old (soon to be twenty-three-year-old) suburban shitstain with a boring job and an ever-increasing, poorly compiled collection of fantasy novels that took up far too much of his room for him to feel like a proper adult. He and I are actually quite similar in that regard, though I like to think my tastes are a bit more refined, given that John likes to read dull authors who I won’t call out by name because they aren’t dead yet while I prefer the masterful works of Tolkien, Gaiman and that guy who wrote The Name of the Wind.

     Anyway. John, like most male protagonists, was quite the romantic but with just the perfect amount of social awkwardness to make his love life the kind of thing worth writing about. Zara, on the other hand, was not awkward at all, if you take ‘not awkward at all’ to mean ‘even more awkward than John but with an outgoing personality that made up for her awkwardness.’

     Zara enjoyed many things including music, theater, art and the like. She wore flowers in her hair when she felt like it and went bird-watching on the weekends. She rode her bike daily, argued with strangers about the validity of ethics and spent most of her Friday nights crying alone over empty bottles of bourbon. But there was something about her that neither John, nor anyone really, knew about her.

     Zara was secretly a badass fairy queen.

     That’s right, you heard me. A badass fairy queen. Why? Because why not. This is my story. Go away.

     You see, Zara’s full name was Zaraphilla and she ruled the otherworldly Queendom of Faraan, where she had had nearly all her heart desired. The one thing she hadn’t had, however, was true love. Thus, she used her sorcery to phase into our world in order to find her soulmate. I know, right? I’m a sap. Sorry about that.

     This is the part where I probably lose a few readers because this is the part where I reveal that John Baxter, in all of his boring awkward shitstain-y glory, was in fact Zaraphilla’s one true love. That’s the kind of story this is going to be. It’s only fair to tell you now. If you’re not into this kind of thing, please stop reading and go cry about it on your blog or something. Goodbye.

     For the rest of you, I must warn you that this story does not have a happy ending. I’m making this up as I go, so I don’t know what that ending will be exactly, but I know that it isn’t going to be happy because I’m currently feeling like a vindictive little shit. It’s nothing personal, it’s just how I do things.

*

     “I want to show you something,” Zara said as she nestled deeper into John’s embrace.

     John could hardly believe how perfectly the night had progressed. Literally. It had gone so well that he was having trouble conceiving that such a thing was actually possible—especially considering the fact that absolutely none of it had gone according to plan thus far.

     The night had begun at a local coffee house (as they so often do) where John had originally intended to be charming and witty but had ultimately fallen over all of his attempts at meaningful conversation, becoming content to stare sadly into the black abyss of his beverage. Much to his surprise, however, Zara had taken his hand in hers in the midst of this thirty-second existential crisis and John had looked up from his coffee to see Zara’s playful shimmering eyes gazing at him with what seemed to be something resembling affection.

     From that point on, conversation was easy. They bantered back and forth in such a way that my conscience forbids me from sharing it with you, as it would likely make you vomit.

     After leaving the coffee house, they wandered arm in arm to various romantic locations, one of which was a photo booth where they shared their first perfectly imperfect kiss and another of which was a lighthouse on a hill where the pair looked dreamily into the night sky. Now, they stood together on a pier overlooking the loveliness of the still, moonlit ocean, Zara’s head buried into John’s chest, arms wrapped snugly around one another.

     John found himself unable to say anything, for fear that he would ruin this perfect moment.

     Zara pulled her head back to look into his eyes. “I want to show you something,” she said again. “Something very beautiful. Something very…special to me.”

     “What is it?” John asked as he kissed her forehead and began stroking her hair.

     “Home. But I’ll have to steal you in order to take you there.”

     “I don’t follow.” He continued kissing her, swimming in bliss for the first time in years.

     “Actually, that’s all you’ll need to do,” she said, stopping his lips with her fingers. “Follow.” She stood on her toes and kissed him on the cheek. “Will you come with me?”

     “I’ll go anywhere with you,” he said, lost in her eyes.

     She smiled at him, deviously, but sweetly. “Are you sure? It might be dangerous.”

     “Steal me,” he said.

     Zara took two steps backward, taking his hands in hers. She stared at him awhile, her head tilted slightly, her eyes full of mischief. Then, she took off running toward the end of the pier, pulling John along with her. Before he knew what was happening, she leapt off the edge into the black water with John close behind her.

*

First interlude.

     I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you since the other night and, to be honest, it’s really irritating. Before I met you I had finally gotten to the point where I could have lived the rest of my life completely independently. Now, regardless of whatever ends up happening with us, I don’t think I can. I’ve never met anyone like you. I’ve never met anyone who simply accepts me for who I am. I’ve never met anyone who is so thoroughly my equal. And that scares me. I’ve never been so scared of anything in my life. But I suppose I’ve also never been so excited either.

     I’m afraid I’m going to push you away. I’m afraid you’re going to push me away. I’m afraid that you’ll wake up one morning and decide that you no longer have any interest in me. I’m afraid that you’ll meet someone handsomer and wealthier and more charming than I am. I’m afraid that you’re not as afraid as I am. I’m afraid that I’m falling for you too quickly.

     I’m afraid of the fact that you’re probably in the perfect position to ruin me if you wanted to and that all I can do at this point is ride it out, hoping for the best.

     I’m an idiot for writing all of this down. You’re probably going to think that I’m really clingy and weird, if not completely psychotic or worse, stereotypical. I shouldn’t be telling you these things. I shouldn’t be telling anyone these things. Then again it’s currently really late and I’m tired as hell so maybe that’s making me more emotional than normal. I guess I can use that as an excuse.

     This is the most pathetic goddamn thing I’ve ever written.

*

     When John opened his eyes, he found himself on warm white sand. A cool breeze tousled his hair as he stood and the gentle sound of crashing waves brought a peace over him that he hadn’t known in three years, twenty-six days and thirty-three minutes. He felt so peaceful, in fact, that he didn’t even cry out with terror as he realized he had been magically transported into an entirely new world.

     The shoreline stretched on endlessly, a calm sapphire ocean on one side and an everlasting field of golden-brown grass on the other. There were mountains in the distance, shrouded by clouds, and a forest nestled just below them. Unfortunately, John didn’t have much time to enjoy the view before shit started hitting the fan.

     Approaching swiftly was a pack of burly axe-wielding creatures with green skin, black beady eyes, protruding ivory tusks and snouts reminiscent of a pig’s. To make matters worse, they all wore black top hats and incredibly tacky old-fashioned suits with ascots snugly hanging from their throats.

     And as if all of that weren’t horrible enough, each and every one of them had a neck-beard.

     Had John not been too terrified to speak he might have exclaimed something along the lines of, “Sacred knickers of Mother Teresa! What the hell are those things?!”

     The beasts raised their axes and charged, howling guttural war cries. Luckily for John, however, I haven’t decided to kill him off yet.

     Just before they delivered John to a grizzly fate, a blue flash swathed its way across the line of advancing pig-men. Each of them collapsed, blood oozing from wounds freshly cut below their neck-beards. John stood gawking in disbelief, then let out a solitary scream as a bit of black blood got onto his peacoat. After a brief moment of mourning for the $200 he’d spent on the coat, he looked up to see Zara standing before him, smiling almost innocently.

     “Sorry about that,” she said. “Should have gotten here sooner.”

     She wiped pig-man blood from an intricately designed blade with a silver handle depicting a dragon spreading its wings. Instead of the very normal hipster outfit she’d been wearing before she was now adorned in an elegant dark blue dress with silver embroidery. A tiara decorated with sapphires rested atop her head and coming out of her back, spread wide on either side of her, was a pair of sparkling butterfly-like wings.

     “Holy shit,” John said.

     He instantly regretted that he hadn’t thought of something more clever to say.

*

     I’m making a narrative choice. I’ve decided that the unhappy ending to this story will be related to the fact that John Baxter is, in fact, not Zaraphilla’s true love after all. Originally I was going to kill one of them off or something but I like this direction better. I’m sorry to go back on my word. This is currently a fear of mine that I feel I need to confront.

     Zara led John by the hand carefully through open fields toward the forest. So far she had explained her true identity and that the two of them were currently in Faraan, Zara’s domain. John was having a bit of trouble grasping what was going on.

     “Wait, hold on,” John said. “You’ve been a fairy queen this whole time?”

     “Well don’t act so surprised, dear,” Zara said. “It’s not like I didn’t imply it from the get go.”

     “I’m pretty sure you actually didn’t.”

     “Maybe you just weren’t paying attention.”

     “I’m pretty sure that’s not the case.”

     “I’m pretty sure you’ve been staring at my tits at least twenty-five percent of the time we’ve been hanging out so I’m going to go ahead and call bullshit on that one.”

     “I…wait…what?”

     She swung around, then stopped, pulling him into an unexpected, passionate kiss. John slowly moved his hands across her back, though he couldn’t manage to fully embrace her before she pulled away.

     “It’s really very simple, my dear,” Zara said. “This is Faraan. Faraan is my Queendom. I’ve ruled it for thousands of years but I left because after dating literally everyone in the realm I realized that my one true love was not here so I went to your world to try and find him. I found you. I liked you. So I stole you. With your consent, in case you forgot.”
     “I didn’t expect any of this,” John said, scarcely able to contain his joy at being chosen by her.

     She smiled knowingly. “Don’t be so dramatic, darling. Come. My house isn’t far from here.”

     “You have a house?” John asked. “As in, a normal house? No grandiose palace or marzipan castle?”

     She stopped and turned on him again, this time with ferocity. “Don’t you dare ever bring up marzipan in my presence ever again,” she said, wagging her finger in front of his face.

     John stiffened. “Sorry.”

     Another smile, another kiss, and they were off toward the trees once again.

*

     After a long trek that really isn’t worth describing to you, they arrived at Zara’s home in the woods. It rested in the center of a clearing covered in sunlight, built into a massive twisting tree that rose majestically toward the sky, with a round red door waiting to be opened at its base.

     “This is my house, obviously,” Zara said. “I conduct all of my business from here. Or at least I did before I left.”

     “Who has been in charge while you’ve been away? And by the way, what the hell were those weird-ass pig things that attacked me earlier?”

     “To answer your first question, my Uncle Hallek. I’ll answer your second question at a more appropriate time.” Her voice sounded worried at this, though not enough to be alarming. As they approached, a booming masculine voice came out of nowhere.

     “Queen Zaraphilla!” the voice said. “You’ve returned!”

     “Hello, Home!” Zara said. “How are you?”

     “I’m well, I’m well. It’s been so long! Nearly two decades! Where have you been all this time?”

     “I told you, Home, I went to the land of the mortal people to find my one true love.”

     “Ah, yes! Yes, I remember that now! Who is this then?”

     John shuffled uncomfortably. “I…uh…”

     “This is John,” Zara said, clutching his arm. “He’s my one true love, I think.”

     “John? What a peculiar name he has! Aha! Splendid! Come inside and have a cup of tea, then.”

     Reluctantly, John followed an exuberant Zara into the talking treehouse. Once inside, he realized how magical her world truly was. Instead of the Bag End-esque interior he’d been expecting, John was greeted by an endless, secret grove of trees with glowing, neon white leaves and black trunks. The sky above was dark but bright specks of stars so fully filled it that it might as well not have been night at all. Bluebirds fluttered from branch to branch and white flowers blossomed at the bases of the trees.

     Zara turned to face him and held out her arms, a warm smile coloring her face. “Just the way I left it, though I’ve been considering remodeling while I’ve been away. Nothing major, of course. Perhaps a rushing river for the sake of dynamism. What do you think?”

     “That would be perfect,” John said, awe-struck and falling even deeper in love. It was in that moment, in fact, that he realized he was falling in love in the first place.

     With a carefree wave of Zara’s hand, a river appeared out of nowhere, directly under John’s feet. He didn’t have enough time to say “Oh shit!” before he fell into it. Surprisingly, however, the water was perfectly warm and ran gently past him, soothingly so. Zara laughed and leapt into the water with him. She swam over, then guided him by the hand to a small rise where they could sit together in the river.

     “Don’t worry about your clothes,” she said. “They’ll dry off the instant we get out of here.”

     “And here I was thinking we were going to take them off.”

     She patted him firmly on the shoulder. “We’re not there yet, buddy.” After a swift kiss on his cheek, she grabbed his hands and pulled his arms around her. John held on for dear life, irrationally afraid that if he didn’t she might float away.

     Little did he know that his fears, ultimately, would prove to not be so irrational as he hoped.

     They sat there awhile—sometimes talking, mostly in silence—enjoying the warmth of one another, looking at the manifested beauty of Zara’s imagination. On a whim, he leaned in to bite her ear, then once again looked up to see her playful shimmering eyes gazing at him with what seemed to be something resembling affection.

     “This is crazy,” she said, “but I think I’m already in love with you.”

     John was helpless to stop the stupid, annoying, entirely unfounded grin that spread across his face as he said, “I love you too.”

*

Second interlude.

     I’m sorry but I have to stop again. I don’t know why but I just have to. I can’t take this anymore. I hate everything about this story so far. I hate sitting here alone in my room wasting my time writing it. This was supposed to distract me—to make me forget about you until you came home. Now I’m pretty sure it’s doing the complete opposite of that.

     I want to go hang out with my friends but I’m too afraid to text them. I didn’t even say goodbye to any of them when I left the party. Well, that’s not entirely true. I said goodbye to Jessica. That’s beside the point, though. Actually, I don’t really know what the point I’m trying to make is.

     If you could go ahead and stop being so wonderful that would be really great. Thanks. Bye.

*

     Zara had left John to his own devices for a bit, as she needed to catch up with her Uncle—who apparently lived in her basement and never came out—regarding the events that had transpired in her absence. John was now lying on his back, still in Zara’s magical treehouse, looking up at the stars while his three most prominent personality traits argued amongst one another.

     Romantic John: “I’ve never felt so wonderful in my whole life…”

     Pragmatic John: “You’re being a fucking idiot, Romantic John.”

     Romantic John: “Screw you, man! I’m in love!”

     Pragmatic John: “Jesus Christ. You know how ridiculous you sound, right?”

     Apathetic John: “Who cares. It doesn’t matter anyway.”

     Pragmatic John: “Has it even occurred to you that you knew this woman for literally one week before all of this happened?”

     Romantic John: “So? True love is a thing, Pragmatic John! Haven’t you ever read The Princess Bride?”

     Pragmatic John: “No. And neither have you.”

     Romantic John: “That’s not the point!”

     Apathetic John: “There is no point.”

     Just as things were really heating up, Zara returned. John sat up, thankful for the interruption, though his internal argument was far from finished. He smiled at her but she didn’t smile back. Instead, she threw a sheathed broadsword toward him, which John failed to catch but quickly picked up.

     “What’s this?” John asked.

     “It’s a sword. You know, the kind that cuts things.”

     “I worded that question wrong. Why are you giving me a sword?”

     Zara grinned. “Because you’re going to need it. You and I are going on an adventure.”

*

     Moments later, Zara and John were, quite literally, flying into the west. Upon leaving her house, Zara had grabbed John by the hand and taken off, leaving John flailing with the wind behind her, barely able to keep hold of his new broadsword.

     “WHERE EXACTLY ARE WE GOING?” John shouted, desperate to be heard over the rushing winds.

     “WEST!”
     “YES, YOU SAID THAT. WHAT’S IN THE WEST?”

     “FARAAN CITY! IT’S UNDER ATTACK!”

     “UNDER ATTACK? WAIT…WHAT?!”

     “REMEMBER THOSE PIG DUDES THAT ATTACKED YOU EARLIER?”

     “NO. I’D COMPLELETY FORGOTTEN.”

     “DON’T BE AN ASS! ANYWAY, WHILE I WAS AWAY THEY DECLARED WAR ON US APPARENTLY. THEY’RE CALLED THE NAVAAK. THEIR KING HAS KIND OF A THING FOR ME SO HE INVADES EVERY COUPLE OF CENTURIES TO TRY AND KIDNAP ME. DON’T WORRY, THEY’VE NEVER EVEN BREACHED THE GATES. IT’S REALLY NOT THAT BIG OF A DEAL!”

     “NOT THAT BIG OF A DEAL?!”

     Before John could continue, Zara shot directly downward. As they broke through the clouds Faraan City came into view. It was massive and circular, spiraling gradually upward from the base of a hill. In the center was a towering palace with white walls and blue rooftops. It was the kind of thing you’d see in a Disney movie, probably.

     “Damn,” John said.

     “WHAT’D YOU SAY?!”

     “NOTHING!”

     “OKAY!”

     Outside of the city was a huge black spot which John quickly figured out was an army of top hat-wearing navaak. Cannon fire erupted from beyond their ranks as well as from the city’s walls.

     “HOLD ON!” Zara shouted. She banked left then downward, plummeting toward a large courtyard behind the city’s main gate. When they hit the ground, John failed to land on his feet. Thankfully for him, and the narrative, he hadn’t broken any bones.

     He stood, shaking off the dizziness, then looked to Zara just in time to see her flick her wrist and instantly replace the dress she’d been wearing with a dark blue double-breasted military frock coat with gold trim coupled with blue trousers and a pair of long, black boots.

     “Oh my God,” John said quietly to himself. “She is the one…”

     Zara’s eyes found him shortly thereafter. “Ah, John! You’re alive! How wonderful!” She waved her wrist toward him, clothing him in an outfit almost identical to hers, if a bit less extravagant. John could scarcely contain his totally irrational joy.

     “Queen Zaraphilla!” A man-fairy in an even less extravagant military frock coat soared down from the walls to meet them. “Thank God you’re here.”

     “What’s the situation, General?” Zara said with a voice more powerful than John had ever heard before.

     “The navaak have been shelling us for hours,” the General said. “No casualties so far but with these new guns of theirs I’m not sure we can actually hold out this time.”

     “Not to worry, General. I have a plan. Oh, also, this is John,” she said, grabbing him by the arm again with a sudden smile. “We’re dating.”

     John blushed.

     “I see,” the General said uncertainly. “Well, whatever you’re going to do you’d best do it quickly, Your Majesty.” With that, he returned to his post on the wall and continued barking orders.

     Zara turned to John with a grave expression. “I need you to promise me something.”

     “What is it?”

     “I’m about to do something incredibly dangerous. I need you to promise me, no matter what, even if I’m about to get brutally hacked to bits, that you won’t intervene.”

     “What the hell are you going to do?!”

     “John,” she said, her eyes furious, “promise me.”

     After a moment of grim hesitation John finally said, “I promise.”

     “Good.” She stood on her toes and kissed him passionately, then pulled away and soared over the walls.

     John ran up the ramparts to get a view of what was happening. He made it there just in time to see Zara landing right in front of the gates. The cannon fire stopped, the navaak backed away and a solitary figure came forth from within their ranks.

     “That’s their King,” the General said to John. “Mendock.”

     Mendock looked nothing like the navaak. In fact, he looked entirely human, apart from the wings that came out from his back.

     “He’s a fairy person,” John said.

     “Indeed he is,” the General said.

     Mendock wore a black crown and a foppish three piece suit—a black coat, black pants and a crimson vest. His hair was a shaggy mess of blonde and his eyes, as far as John could tell, were amber. He was tall, but not that tall. He was well-built, but not muscular. All in all, he didn’t seem that impressive but somehow carried a majestic air about him that John couldn’t help but slightly admire.

     “Zaraphilla,” he said. His voice was deep and, surprisingly, not creepy at all. “How are you, my dear?”

     This choice of words infuriated John, though he couldn’t figure out whether it was because Mendock had just referred to his one true love as ‘my dear’ or because the bastard somehow managed to be the most charming motherfucker John had ever encountered.

     Zara was not charmed in the slightest. At least, she didn’t show it if she was. I’m not going to tell you whether she really was or not because ambiguity is fun.

     “You fucking asshole,” Zara said. “How dare you attack Faraan when you knew that I was away!”

     Mendock grinned. “It’s good to see you too, darling.”

     “Yes, I’m sure it is. Now will you please do us all a favor and fuck off? I’ve had enough of your bullshit and I’m dating someone else now anyway.”

     At this, Mendock’s eyes narrowed. “Who?”

     Somehow knowing exactly where John was standing, Zara pointed directly at him. Mendock’s gaze shot sharply up at him. John waved awkwardly.

     Mendock drew his sword. “I challenge you, sir!”

     “Oh for fuck’s sake,” Zara said, her right hand massaging her temples in frustration. “You don’t get to challenge my boyfriend, Mendock!”

     Romantic John: “She called us her boyfriend!!!”

     Pragmatic John: “Ug…”

     Apathetic John: “Where are we?”

     “And why not?” Mendock demanded.

     “Because you’re in my domain, cockass! And I say you can’t!”

     “What say you, knave?” Mendock said, ignoring Zara and addressing John. “Will you fight me to the death in order to win the affections of this dear lady?”

     “THERE ARE NO AFFECTIONS FOR YOU TO POSSIBLY WIN, MENDOCK!”

     “WILL YOU FIGHT ME? OR NO?”

     Just before John was about to accept Mendock’s challenge, Zara drew her sword. “I’ve had just about enough of you, Mendock. We’re ending this now.”

     Mendock eyed her with what looked to be a combination of fervent hatred and undying admiration as he said, “So be it.”

     With that, Zara lunged forward. Steel met steel and bitter remarks met sarcastic comebacks as the two fought for dominance.

     “I can’t believe you’d settle for someone without wings,” Mendock said.

     “He might not have wings but at least he’s not a TOTAL DOUCHEBAG WITH A CROWN ON HIS HEAD INSTEAD OF A FEDORA!”

     “What in God’s name is a fedora?”

     “Nevermind.”

     Riposte. Counter-riposte. Counter-counter-riposte. For what seemed like hours the two nemeses battled one another until both the physical and emotional strain began to wear them down. John picked at his nails anxiously, biting his lip, praying internally that Zara would be okay. She made one last desperate charge, her blade pointed squarely at Mendock’s heart.

     For a moment it looked like she would make her mark. But at the last second he blocked the blow, then knocked her to the ground. Her sword flew from her hands, landing too far away for her to reach it in time. Mendock snickered as he rose his blade to deal the killing blow.

     Romantic John: “What do we do?! He’s going to kill her!”

     Pragmatic John: “You promised her you wouldn’t intervene.”

     Romantic John: “Piss on that! I’m not going to let her die!”

     Pragmatic John: “Don’t do it. She’ll never forgive you.”

     Romantic John: “I’m pretty sure she will, Pragmatic John. Haven’t you ever read—”

     Pragmatic John: “Romantic John, please. Please don’t. I’m serious. I’ve figured out why she made you make that promise. If you break it…”

     But John had no more time to argue with himself. In a craze, he made a running jump off of the wall, his sword raised high, plunging down toward Mendock. Before anyone knew what was happening, John landed directly on the bastard’s back, shoved the blade through his chest and then passed out as the pair hit the ground.

*

     As real world sensation began to return to him, John felt soft, warm sheets and a cool breeze blowing across his face. He opened his eyes to find himself in a small but royally decorated room. Mostly blue, of course. Zara was there, looking at an open window, still wearing her military uniform. Her arms were folded.

     “You broke a few bones but I healed them,” she said coldly.

     “Thank you.”

     “You also broke your promise.”

     “Good day to you too,” John said brightly, hoping to shrug off whatever foul mood she was in. It didn’t work. She looked down at her feet.

     “Faraan is safe from Mendock and the navaak forever because of you,” she said. “I suppose I should thank you for that.” She faced him then. “But I can’t bring myself to.”

     “I…um…what? Wait…God dammit…”

     “I should have known,” Zara said, her eyes now sympathetic. “I should have seen it in you sooner.”

     “Seen what? What the hell is the problem here?”

     “You’re a hero.” Her eyes lingered longingly on him awhile longer, then she looked down again. “You can’t possibly be my true love. I was too hasty in bringing you here. And I’m so sorry for that…”

     “Zara, no,” John said, leaping out of bed and heading toward her. She backed away, holding out a hand to stop him. “Please don’t say that. I love you. I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone. I don’t know how or why but I just do! That has to mean something. That can’t just happen to someone for no reason.”

     “Please stop…,” she said, tears now falling from her eyes.

     “You’re amazing! You’re the most incredible, wonderful, kickass person I’ve ever met in my life! So what if I ended up killing that asshole for you? I couldn’t stand by and let him—”

     “I’m sending you back to the coast,” she said. “If you walk into the ocean you’ll wash back up in your homeworld. I’m sorry. This is how it has to be.”

     “NO!” John roared with a fury that shocked both of them. “After everything…all the fun we’ve had…all the joy we’ve already shared…you can’t just send me away…please don’t send me away…”

     To both Zara and John’s credit, neither of them averted their eyes. They stared at one another in complete heartbroken, loving, confused and wonderful silence until the Queen delivered her final decree.

     “You don’t understand.” Her voice quivered, almost timidly…but not quite. “You can’t rescue me, John Baxter. Not you, not anyone. No one can ever rescue me. That’s how things work around here. You broke your promise and now I have to pick up the pieces…”

     “What’s the big fucking deal?” John said, still in disbelief. Zara gently put a hand to his cheek. If he had known that this would be the last time he’d ever feel her touch he would have savored it far more than he did.

     “I love you,” she said, tears running down her face ceaselessly. “Goodbye.”

     With that, she flicked her wrist and John was suddenly transported several miles east back to the coast, landing on his ass. Slowly, he stood, then rose his head to the sky and shouted the only thing that stupid boys ever shout in situations like this.

     “WHAT THE FUCK?!?!”

*

Third interlude.

     Please don’t screw me up.

     Please don’t screw me up.

     I’m finally better.

     Please don’t screw me up.

*

     John sat alone on the beach, where he’d first arrived in Faraan. The sun hung high and lonesome in the sky as he stared emptily out at the still, sapphire blue ocean—stretching on in endless, melancholy silence. “I love you. Goodbye,” she’d said, daring him to leave her behind him and go back home to his own world. “I love you. Goodbye.”

     “I love you. Goodbye.”

     “Well if it’s all the same to you,” John said aloud to no one, “I’ve grown to quite like it here. I think I’ll stay. With or without you.”

     A part of him thought she might somehow hear him and, subsequently, answer him. But she didn’t. The only reply was the gentle crashing of waves and the distant singing of seagulls.

     A tear fell from his eye. Then another. Then another. Then another until he was weeping with his head in his hands. Not because this was how it always ended, even though it was. Not because she’d hurt him more than anyone that came before, even though she had. Not even because he knew he’d never love again, even though he wouldn’t.

     He wept because, for the first time in his life, he realized how beautiful the ocean was and how magical, how comforting, such loveliness could be.

     Suddenly, something landed at his feet. As he slowly rose his head, he heard the distinct, sweet melodies of chirping. His eyes refocused to see a little bird with blue feathers and a light brown chest staring back at him, singing. He wiped his tears away, though more continued to fall against his will.

     “Hello, little bird,” he said, holding out his hand.

     The bluebird then leapt joyfully into his palm, its playful shimmering eyes gazing at him with what seemed to be something resembling affection.

*

A final word.

     Our romance went about as well as I should have expected. It was wonderful for a few months, awful for a few weeks, and now it’s over. I wish I could say that I was hurt, or that I missed you, or that it was a good experience, but none of those things are true. The truth is, I never want to see you again. Not out of heartache or spite, but just because.

     Really, it feels like the only good thing that came out of our relationship was this story that I wrote for you. I don’t know if it’s actually any good, but I’m proud of it for some reason. I guess the sex we had was pretty great too. Yeah. Sure. Let’s go with that.

     I hope that you’re doing well. I hope that one day you find whatever it is that you need to feel happy and full and free. I hope you still read this story from time to time. I hope you still smile when you think about all the fun we had. I hope that you remember me fondly.

     I love you, goodbye.

     I love you, goodbye.

     I love you. Goodbye.

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