Marena reached for her journal and pen before her eyes had opened fully, her body remembering the movement from habit. She rubbed away the last blur of sleep, took a breath, and began to write.
“A continuation,” she wrote. “I was young again, and still a faerie princess. Don’t know what this princess theme is about. None of the dream interpretations I’ve found on royalty really feel right. The forest was mine to guard in the dream. My family’s, that is. My parents were in the picture, but more in theory than in presence. I don’t have a clear recollection of their faces.”
She sighed and put the journal down, yawning. She’d always felt close to her dreams, as if they were trying to communicate something important to her, but recently they’d been strange. She had never had dreams that flowed night after night as if she were picking up a book again and finding her place.
“Honey, you okay?” Johann murmured, shifting to slide his arm over her.
“Yeah,” she said, though she didn’t feel it. “Just a dream,” she said, drifting back into sleep.
When she came to at the sound of her alarm clock she was even more perplexed. She flipped open her dream journal, wriggling upright and forming the words in her mind.
“It’s as if I’m remembering, not dreaming,” she was about to write, but her pen slipped away when her last page fell open.
“Whew,” Johann whistled, peering over her shoulder. “I had no idea you could draw like that. I thought you were writing in there. How did you get those colors?”
Marena stared at the picture mutely. It was a picture of her flying away from the consuming decay that had been creeping through her land, killing everything it touched. The clarity was photographic. She turned back a page and found that her words had disappeared there as well. Page after page, her book had filled with exact images of what she’d dreamed.
“That’s incredible,” Johan said, taking the book from her numb fingers and turning through it. “You’re amazing.”
Marena fell back against the headboard and closed her eyes, trying to keep the most recent dream from receding. It had been an explanation. After weeks of these dreams, this sense that something was drawing nearer… no, whatever it was, it had gone. She’d had such a sense of certainty. She pushed herself to relax, knowing what a bad idea it was after the alarm had been disabled.
“I need a few more minutes,” she murmured, snuggling back down. “Will you wake me up after you shower?”
She didn’t hear Johann’s answer. She was back in the forest, and young again. She fluttered near the border to the shadow world.
“I don’t understand why I have to leave,” she was insisting. “It’s my duty to defend this forest. I must stay, and fight!”
Belev, her parents’ closest adviser, gazed at her with the weight of sorrow in his gaze.
“Princess, this is a precaution. We would not ask this of you if we didn’t think it was our last hope. For all we know, what we’re sending you to is a worse fate.”
Her nurse, Amalin, clasped her hand. “This blight came from the shadow world,” she added. “Hide yourself well, child, so it doesn’t find you there.”
“We will come for you when it’s safe,” Belev promised. “Please. Go now. Make yourself seem a child of their world and lock your true nature deep. When we know our realm is safe again we will find you and bring you home.”
“Honey, honey you really have to get up now. We have to go in twenty minutes.” Johann’s voice dissolved the forest like a ripple on a pond’s reflection.
Marena gasped awake and rushed through her morning’s ablutions.
“What do you know of my life before Sarah took me in?” Marena asked her father that evening during their usual phone call.
“You haven’t asked about that for ages,” he said. “What brought this up?”
“I think…” she started, hesitating as she decided how much she wanted to say. “I’ve been remembering little snippets,” she said finally. “I’m trying to sort out fact from fantasy.”
He chuckled on the other end of the line. “Good luck with that,” he said.
“Ha ha,” Marena said dryly.
“Your imagination is unmatched, sweetheart,” he said. “That’s why we don’t know anything for certain. Oh sweetie,” he sighed, growing solemn. “You built an enviable fantasy world around yourself when you were young. It was a defense mechanism. A natural reaction for a child when faced with a world that hurts and doesn’t give you happy endings. You showed up on Sarah’s doorstep, convinced that you were a princess and that your subjects would come for you someday.”
Marena felt a chill.
“You were obstinate about it, too,” he said. “Even after you came to live with us. You insisted we return to Sarah’s once a week to leave a trail of wild flowers from the woods to her back porch. We let you have your fantasy. Everyone figured it was easier for you than whatever had really happened. The thing is, that other part… the really happened part… we never did find out. Sweetheart, if you’re having memories now, it’s a good thing. It’s a sign of healing. And I’m here if you want to talk about it, but if you’d rather talk to someone else I completely understand.”
“Thank you Daddy,” Marena said in barely more than a croak. “Listen, I need to get going. Thanks for talking.”
“Any time,” he said. “You give that sweet grand-daughter of mine a kiss for me, okay?”
“Always,” Marena said, finding the button to end the call.
After Bethany was in bed that night, Marena feigned a last minute errand. Instead of the store, though, she drove out to Sarah’s. Sarah had several acres of land at the edge of what had once been a large forest. Neighborhoods had eaten away at it through the years, but Sarah’s land remained much as it had been when Marena stumbled to her house, disoriented and afraid so many years before. She parked at the end of the driveway and walked, skirting outside the light cast by Sarah’s house and drifting along the path that she remembered peppering with flower petals in her youth. For some reason she’d remembered that as a game she and Sarah had played. She hadn’t kept the portion of the memory where it had been her idea.
The path ended at a great old oak. She stood staring into the shadows, wondering what she was doing. This was madness. Still, she couldn’t shake the sensation of being watched. It lent to the feeling that it was possible. That all of it was possible.
“I am Princess Marena,” she said quietly to the dark listening wood, “protector of this forest. I’ve been in hiding these long years, waiting for a time when the it was safe to return.”
She listened, but the dark woods only listened back. She heaved a sigh that was halfway to a laugh. What had she expected? She turned, wondering if it was too late to knock on Sarah’s door and give her a hug.
“Is it true?” a voice asked from the shadows.
“She has the fiery hair,” said another voice. “Princess Marena had the hair of fires and sunsets, it’s said.”
“Why would she come home now?” asked a third voice. “Where has she been all this time?”
“I say it’s another trick from the shadow world,” replied one of the voices that had spoken already.
Marena whipped back around and tried to peer into the shadows without success.
“My parents,” she said breathlessly. “Are they…”
Silence was her answer.
“What about Belev and Amalin?” she asked.
“They were going to find me again when it was safe,” she continued, stepping further into the gloom. “When the blight had been conquer…”
The world had changed. The oak tree was the same, but color and scent infused her senses. The proportions of the world had shifted, and hovering before her were three faerie, each with a scowl darker than the next.
“King Belev you mean,” said the one to the left. “None are permitted to enter from the shadow world. This is your only warning. Turn back now.”
Marena took in the sickly trees and knew that the blight had not been conquered. And if Belev had become king then there was no more need to ask of her parents. Everything had gone wrong.
“I need to speak with King Belev,” she insisted. “At once.”
Johann would have teased her for her bossy tone. She nearly smiled, except that the faerie before her didn’t seem in the mood to take that well.
“Do none of you remember me?” she asked when none of them moved.
And how would they? She’d been so young when she’d left, and after all these years had only just remembered, herself. She gazed again at the trees. This wasn’t right.
“How is it that the trees are so sickly here, but in the shadow world they look fine?” she asked.
This caused the three sentries to share a look.
“Told you,” the one on the right muttered. “I know what I saw.”
“Could be shadow world trickery,” the one in the middle said from the corner of his mouth, as if that would keep Marena from hearing.
“The shadow world isn’t as bad as you think,” Marena said. “There are kind and unkind people there, just as here.”
The sentries exchanged another glance.
“The thing is,” said the sentry on the right, “a lot changed since Belev became king. “He promised he could save us from the blight, and with the whole royal family disappeared, we didn’t have many other options.”
“Except he didn’t save us from anything,” said the one in the middle. “Everything got worse.”
“It’s good to have you back,” said the one on the left.
“Will you take me to Belev?” Marena asked.
“Right this way, Princess,” said the one on the right, and she followed them.
The palace she had small memories of no longer gleamed with inner light. It sat dark and cold against the night sky. She found Belev in the throne room, her father’s crown upon his head. Belev took one look at her long auburn hair before calling for guards. Marena’s three sentries surrounded her, keeping Belev’s guards at bay.
“Hear her out first,” said one. “Princess Marena has returned to us.”
“Belev, what happened?” Marena asked, though she could see the answer in his eyes. Defensive eyes. Greedy eyes. “They trusted you,” she snarled. “I trusted you. Was this blight your doing all along? Did you bring this sickness to our land just to take power?” Belev’s eyes flared wide for a second and Marena had her answer.
“This is a witch from the shadow world,” Belev said to his guards. “Kill her and her protectors at once.”
His guards hesitated.
“You didn’t answer the princess’s question,” said one of the guards.
The others turned to their king to hear his answer as well.
“Do as you’re told!” Belev shouted, adjusting the heavy crown.
Emboldened by the guards’ inactivity, Marena stepped forward. “I imagine that crown has never fit you quite right,” she said, remembering more of her locked memories with every step. “That’s because it was made for my bloodline. The elements that live in us nurture our world. The fire that you can see by our hair. The water that you see in our eyes. The wind that gives our voices a special quality. The earth that kisses spots across our skin. You had jewelers fitting my father’s crown with a special gift when the blight came. His health wasn’t good for a while, and he was too weak to fight properly. I was young. Too young to understand deceit. When you sent me away, I went. These long years I’ve been waiting for you to come for me. To reunite me with my parents!”
She had nearly reached Belev, who was backing away and calling to guards who did not come. Marena snatched the crown from Belev’s head and felt a burst of heat shoot through the center of her the moment it touched her skin.
“Do you see that?” she heard one of her sentries whisper.
Her eyes were on the cowering Belev, though, so she did not see.
“It’s receding,” said one of the guards. “After all these years. The blight is fading away.”
The days that followed were challenging. It took Marena’s best negotiating powers to be allowed to return to her family in the realm her people called the shadow world. It took much more skill to convince Johann to bring Bethany and follow Marena into the forest at twilight, when the doors between worlds open wider. It took no negotiating or convincing when it came to Bethany, however, who was thrilled to discover herself a faerie princess.
The healing took time, particularly because Marena discovered that her relationship to her family’s crowns took practice. She found that her mother’s crown suited her a little better, and with it, she sent health and growth across her forest. She established regular visits to Sarah’s house, where she found that her people had already begun to leave gifts to the woman who had taken her in. And to the parents who had raised her, where even more lavish gifts appeared without warning.
Eventually, though, her forest was magnificent and full, as was a beautifully illustrated book a little girl purchased from a garage sale. On the cover was written, simply, “Dream Journal.”
Written by W. C. McClure. This may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. This is a work of fiction. None of the characters or events depicted are meant to represent anyone or anything this side of dreams. Comments are welcome at http://www.farsideofdreams.com. Oh, and please help support this indie author by telling your friends about this short story blog and buying W. C. McClure’s books http://www.wcmcclure.com. Thanks for reading!