When I was little, I always heard stories of your world—of its inhabitants. At one point, I even feared that a creature lay in waiting beneath my bed. But as I grew older, the magic of those stories disappeared. They became simple children's stories. I stopped believing… until I met you.
I assumed everything would return to normal once I came back to my world. The same routines would be repeated as if I had never disappeared. I truly thought I could go on living here remembering what had taken palce only as a distant dream, but I can't. I can't forget you no matter how hard I try.
I need to get back to you. Where are you now? Are you safe? God, I hope you are. If anything happened to you-
No. Everything will be all right. We will have a happy ending. We will… won't we?
Bright flames hissed in the old-fashioned forge, dancing to the steady rhythm of the pounding hammer. With each strike, the iron chunk came closer to its final shape.
Beads of sweat gathered on my brow. I swiftly wiped them away with my bare forearm before they could begin their descent. The action was repeated constantly while I worked. The combination of the fire, pounding, and the summer sun streaming in from the workshop's large open entrance resulted in an almost unbearable temperature.
"You ready to go?"
I jolted at the sound of the unexpected voice. My hand stilled in mid-air. Whirling around, I found a young man of my age leaning casually against one side of the doorframe.
Andrew. I grinned.
"I didn't hear you come in," I said, setting down my tool.
The blond shrugged. "With the way you were going, I'm not surprised."
"Yeah. We just got in a batch of new orders. It's been a busy morning."
I removed my heavy gloves and tossed them onto a nearby table. Then I picked up an iron blade I had completed a few hours ago. By now, the metal piece was touchable and I carefully ran my fingers across it, checking for any imperfections.
"So, are you ready or what?" Andrew questioned after a moment of silence had elapsed.
"You said you'd play with us today," he replied, revealing a worn rugby ball.
"When did I say that?"
"Last week, remember?" He tossed the ball in the air. "When you told us you couldn't play, you said you'd make up for it by playing 'next week'. Well, guess what? It's next week."
I vaguely remembered the event in question.
"So, are you coming?" My friend asked once again.
"Maybe later," I told him, continuing to study the iron.
Something seemed wrong with it, but I couldn't quite figure out what it was. I kept rotating the heavy item settled in my palm. Searching for anything remotely incorrect. I grimaced when I felt a slight uneveness to its surface. It was barely noticeble, but it drove me crazy. I made a mental note to fix it as soon as possible.
"Come on, Endy," Andrew pleaded. "All work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy. Or was it Jack? It's one of those, right?"
I laughed inwardly at his confused demeanor. You could always count on Drew for a good laugh.
"Never mind," he said with a shake of his head. "We'll just make him an Endymion for now, because if you stay cooped up in here all the time, you will become that boy."
His words somewhat agitated me, but I chose to ignore them. "I've got loads of work to do for Garron. Maybe tomorrow, alright?"
"For crying out loud, you make the man sound like a slave driver. He's your guardian, not your employer."
"I owe him a lot," I stubbornly replied. "He took me in after… well you know what." I avoided elaborating further. I didn't need another miserable trip down memory lane. "I'm just trying to help him out with his business."
Andrew sighed. "I know that, but I also know that Mr. Garron wants you to have more fun. Come on, just one day. Do it for an old friend."
"Fine." I finally gave in, realizing he wasn't going to leave me alone otherwise. If he stayed around all day, I wouldn't get any work done anyway. "Just give me a few minutes to clean up and let Garron know that I'm leaving."
The blond smirked, gloating at his victory. I groaned.
- - -
"I see. Well, it's nice to see you playing with the boys agin, Endymion. Just be sure to be back in time for dinner. Look at me, I sound like an old woman. Just be back before dark." Garron laughed cheerfully as puffed his pipe. His spirit and strength was that of a lively young man, but his greying hair revealed his true age.
"Thanks, Garron. Don't worry about the metalwork. I'll be sure to get more done when I return."
"My boy, you work too hard. Go have fun. That's an order."
I grinned. "Yes, sir."
"We should get going," Andrew finally spoke up. "It was nice to see you again, Mr. Garron."
"Same to you, Andrew. You should come around more often, and bring the rest of the boys with you next time."
"I'll see you later then, Garron. Take care of yourself, old man," I joked, walking towards the door.
"Old man?" Garron gasped in mock outrage. "Who are you calling 'old man,' little boy?"
I chuckled and turned to Andrew. "So where is everyone meeting?" I asked.
"At the base of one tree hill."
"One tree hill, you say?" I turned back around at the doorway when I heard Garron's deep voice.
Andrew nodded. "Why yes, sir."
"Back over by the glades? The bluebells?"
Andrew nodded once again sending Garron into deep thought. A frown crept onto his lips.
"What's wrong?" I asked, my brow creased.
The older man seemed to snap out his trance with my words. He shook his head. "It's nothing. Just be careful, and no matter what happens do not enter those glades."
- - -
Everyone in town knew what and where one tree hill was. A large mound dotted with a lone tree, it was an unmistakable feature amidst the seemingly endless fields of flowers.
By the time we arrived at the designated meeting place, a crowd of ten was already there. They had all gathered in a circle around the shortest boy, listening intently to what appeared to be a riveting tale.
Tristan, a dark-haired teen on the outer edge of the ring, glanced in our direction and grinned. "You finally made it!" He said, patting me on the back as a teacher would to a child who had been on his best behavior. "It's good to see you again, Endy. I see that Drew did a good job."
"You expected anything less?" Andrew questioned.
"Of course not, oh great one," Tristan replied jokingly.
We all smirked.
"So what's up?" I asked, eyeing the rest of the group.
"Harry's telling a story about one of his friends. Apparently he saw a young girl under a tree who was interested in him."
I chuckled. "A walking chick magnet."
"Yeah, but apparently he didn't return the girl's affections. The boy left, and by the end of the day, he was really sick."
I shifted my gaze towards the primary storyteller. His brown eyes were wide as he captivated his audience. "The doctors couldn't help him. They had no idea what was wrong with him. He just kept getting sicker as time passed so the family asked a lady who lived in a small village outside of town to heal their only son. Rumor had it that when her own child came down with a strange illness, her prayers for the power to heal were granted. At first she refused, not wanting to exploit her miraculous power, but the family begged her. They told her they would pay her well. The lady refused to accept pay but decided to help anyway. Her powers worked, and the boy was healed.
"About a week later a young girl had the same thing happen to her, except this time it was a boy under the tree. Like before, no one else could see the stranger. They all just thought she was talking to herself. The doctors couldn't identify what had made her ill, and the girl claimed it was the boy under the tree. Her family refused to get help as the other boy did, because they thought magic was the work of the devil. The girl died a month later."
"That's so weird," one of the guys mumbled.
"And cool," another one piped.
I rolled my blue eyes. "That's so fake."
The boy, who had been speaking, glared at me. "No, it's not."
"Come on," I reasoned, "like some crazy, love-deprived idiots under trees would really cause some kids to be sick. And a healer lady? Geez, you guys, have had way too many bedtime stories."
"But, I know it's real! I saw it! I saw her heal Dusty!"
The eyes of our spectators bugged out.
"It was Dusty? Dustin Harrington?"
"Man, I knew that kid was hiding something."
"All right, everyone calm down," Andrew commanded. "Let's talk about this some other time. There's good weather today, and we came out here to play not to bicker like five year-olds."
I nodded in agreement and muttered an apology.
"Okay, let's go!" My blond friend shouted, tossing up his rugby ball.
- - -
"Over here, Endy! I'm wide open!"
My eyes searched the chaotic field for the player to whom the voice belonged. The second I found Tristan my eyes locked onto him, only occasionally straying to scan for approaching opponents.
Impulsively I dodged an incoming tackle to my right before barely evading another to my left. As I ran, I kept the lemon-shaped ball tucked safely underneath my arm, and the rough breeze created by my rapid dashes provided a refuge of coolness for my perspiring body.
"Endymion, I'm open!" Tristan called once more.
Slowing my pace, I spanned the ball in my hand and extended my arm back. Then I brought it forward again. Just as I was about to release the ball from my hold, I was charged by three opposing players at the same time.
I was instantly knocked down, but the ball was still launched into the air. The four of us watched from the ground as it barreled towards my teammate. I held my breath. It came closer and closer to him. It was almost in his grasp.
Then it flew right over his head, missing his highest reach by a good meter and a half.
Sighs of relief flooded my ears while my three opponents stood. I frowned in disappointment.
"It was a good try, Endy," Andrew commented, his shirt stained with dirt from the dive he had taken to bring me down.
He extended a hand to help me to my feet I accepted.
"Yeah, but not good enough," I replied, disappointed in myself. Times like these, I hated being a perfectionist. "You had some fantastic defense though."
"Well, the best defense or offense in the world couldn't help us now," Tristan declared, walking towards us.
My eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "What's wrong?"
"We lost the ball," he informed us. "It's long gone, went deep into the bluebell glades. And well, we can't play without a ball. Sorry, Drew."
The blond shrugged. "It's okay. I can always get another one. I guess we'll have to call it a day though. Good game." He held out his hand for the customary shake, but I ignored it. Glancing past the clearing, I saw a cluster of blue specks. It didn't look too far.
"I can get it back," I volunteered. "It shouldn't be that hard."
The other boys glanced at me in shock.
"You don't need to," the short boy from earlier replied. "I have to go home soon anyway."
"Yeah, don't do it, man."
"Why not?" I asked curiously.
"It's a bluebell glade."
"I know that. What's your point?"
"Legend has it that they're guarded by faeries. Kids are sometimes captured, and adults are pixie-led until someone else finds them which could take forever," Andrew explained. "Besides, you heard Garron."
I shrugged, completely unconvinced of the dangers they claimed. "This is like the story again, isn't it? Look, I'm nineteen. I'm not exactly a little kid anymore. It'll only take a few minutes. It'll be back before you know it. Besides, I don't believe in faeries."
Famous last words.
- - -
Where the heck could that ball have gone? Surely, it couldn't have gone further than this.
By now the playing field was completely out of my view, but I continued my trek, determined to find the damned ball. Wild bluebells brushed against the back of my khakis, and thanks to the blazing sun, I felt like I had been searching for hours.
Why did I have to volunteer myself anyway? Heck, why did I even leave the workshop?
"Aghh!" I threw my head up to the sky and yelled as loudly as I could, venting all of my anger and frustrations.
"Stupid ball. Stupid sun. Stupid glades. Stupid me. Stupid, stupid me."
I kicked a sneakered foot into a random plant. I thought flowered fields were supposed to make you happy and carefree, not insanely pissed off. They always showed those crazy kids skipping through the fields of wheat or flowers on TV. Big smiles were always plastered to their faces. Probably had to glue them that way.
Garron wasn't going to like this one bit. No wonder I had never gone against his words before now. This was a disaster. I sighed as I recalled Andrew's explanation. Surely Garron, a grown man, didn't believe in faeries. It was perposterous!
Sighing, I brushed a large hand through my pitch black hair. I found the strands scorching from the sun's overwhelming kisses.
"Stupid sun. Stupid ball. Stupid summer. Stu-"
I cut my repetitive ranting short when I glimpsed an unusual movement out of the corner of my eye. I froze in place, forcing my breathing to calm.
It was just a little rodent, right? Couldn't be anything more… right?
Carefully, I rotated my head to the left. There was nothing there except for another cluster of bluebells.
A huge gush of air escaped from the confinement of my lungs. Regaining my composure, I returned to my hunt for Andrew's rugby ball.
As I sauntered through the glade, I laughed out loud. How could I, Endymion, become frozen so easily? It was uncanny! Good thing no one was around to see it.
I smiled to myself. For some reason, I felt a whole lot better.
Fresh breeze. Nicely scented flowers. What could possibly go wrong?
Suddenly, I saw it again, a quick flash of black. Spinning around, I expected to find nothing once again, but I witnessed yet another shady figure.
Maybe it was the heat. If I just looked straight forward and didn't glance out of the corner of my eye, it would just go away. Yes, yes. It would just go away.
I continued walking until my nose oddly began to itch. The sensation was instantly followed by a harsh sneeze which racketed my whole body. Funny, I could have sworn I had no allergies.
Instinctively, I blinked my eyes in an attempt to prevent the welling of tears. When I finally reopened them, I saw specks of glittery dust floating in the air. The longer I stared at them, the heavier my eyelids grew until they finally completely shut.
Then I saw and felt no more.