The Land of Stories: Gleefully Ever After

Once Upon a Time

In which we’ve got one more part for the storybook…


“Of all the ways we’ve traveled since we got here, I think that was my favorite,” Chris said, as he and Darren stepped out of their Cheermaid-drawn clamshell and onto the riverbank. “Thanks, girls.”

The Cheermaids waved goodbye and disappeared back down the river toward the sea, while Chris and Darren continued their journey on foot. It was dusk by the time they reached the outskirts of the Thornbush Pit.

“This is it,” Chris said excitedly. “Once we find the saber from the deepest sea, we’ll have everything we need for the Wishing Spell, and we can finally go home.”

“Yeah,” Darren responded, sounding strangely subdued. “But we’d better wait for morning, don’t you think? It’s going to be too dark for us to see anything down there.”

“I guess you’re right. How about you make a fire, and I’ll scope this place out. That pit has to be over a mile across. I wanna see if I can find an easy way down into it.”

Darren nodded his agreement, and Chris set off around the edge of the Thornbush Pit. It was even more massive than he’d imagined, as if someone had taken the Grand Canyon and filled it to the brim with brambles. The long, sharp thorns on the dead brush looked daunting enough, but the way the living vines slithered about like snakes in search of prey was truly horrifying.

It took Chris nearly an hour to complete his circuit of the pit. By the time he returned to his starting point, darkness had fully fallen. Darren had succeeded in building a campfire, and was now sitting with his back to Chris, a short distance away. He was strumming the womandolin, and singing a song Chris didn’t recognize.

"The End" never seemed like it was good enough
Two little words seemed too small
I turned the page to find a blank one
As if the ones before never really happened at all

Chris quietly drew a little closer, not wanting to interrupt the song.

But what about the love, what about the old obsessions
We fell into when they were new?
What about the late at night heartfelt confessions?
The things we tried, the tears we cried
Well they seem to hide away

There was a plaintive quality to Darren’s voice that Chris found oddly compelling.

I got one more part for the storybook
One more road that I should've took
One more thing that used to have my heart
I got one more place in my memory
Where I wish with every part of me
I could go back, go back to the start

As Chris listened, entranced, he found himself wondering who the original artist for this song was.

I know it's too far down
And much too high to climb
But why can't we bring it on back
To once upon a time?

Darren had such an amazing repertoire, he seemed to be able to pull out a song he knew to fit any occasion.

Here we are, standing at the finish line
And I swear it's like we came a million miles
And if I take one more step I will forget the rivers we've crossed
Our happy ending will be lost if we say goodbye

Chris felt a sudden, sharp pang as the reality of those words struck him.

What about the way our fable wasn't fiction?
It was real to you, it was real to me
So what about this lovely contradiction
We were never sure of what we were
But we knew we could never be

This song was starting to hit much too close to home.

And now I got one more part for the storybook
One more road that I should've took
One more thing that used to have my heart
I got one more place in my memory
Where I wish with every part of me
I could go back, go back to the start

The passion in Darren’s voice made all of the little hairs on Chris’s body stand on end.

But I know it's too far down
And much too high to climb
Why can't we bring it on back to once upon a time?

Suddenly a terrifying thought occurred to Chris. What if this wasn’t just a crush?

But what about the way our fable wasn't fiction?
It was real to you, it was real to me
So what about the ups and downs and all the lessons?
The things we learned, the stones we turned
Well, that bridge has burned away

What if he was actually falling for Darren?

And now it's just one more part for the storybook
One more road that I should've took
One more thing that used to have my heart

What if he was setting himself up to get his heart broken, and to lose one of his best friends in the process?

Yeah, I know it's too far down
And much too high to climb
Oh, I just wish we could bring it on back
To that once upon a time

Chris gave himself a mental shake. He knew that his friendship with Darren was something precious, and he didn’t want to fuck it up – literally or figuratively.

Na na na na na na na na na
Na na na na na
Na na na na na na na na na…

As Chris stepped forward into the firelight, Darren allowed his song to trail off. “Oh, I didn’t realize you were back.”

“That was beautiful. Who’s it by?”

Darren hesitated for a moment, and there was something tentative in his voice when he answered. “It’s mine, actually… The idea’s been kicking around in my head for the past couple of days, and now that I’ve got an instrument I thought I’d work on it a little bit.”

“Wow. I’d tell you that you’re really talented, but I wouldn’t want your head to get any bigger than it already is. It would look too out of proportion with your hobbit-sized body,” Chris said, his attempt at humor sounding awkward in his own ears.

Darren grinned at him, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes.

Oh, god, Chris thought, I’ve just now realized how I feel about him, and I’m already making things uncomfortable between us. Act normal, act normal, act normal… Shit! I can’t remember how I normally act…

While Chris was internally berating himself, Darren placed the womandolin in the little case Brittany had given him and rose to his feet, muttering something about needing to stretch his legs. Before Chris could respond, Darren had left the circle of firelight.

Chris let out a sigh. He didn’t like the idea of Darren wandering around in the dark on his own, especially so near the Thornbush Pit. But he reminded himself that Darren was wearing one of the magic shell necklaces that Brittany had given them, which, in addition to protecting him from the vines, would also provide a little light.

Chris wrapped himself in the woolen blanket and lay down by the fire, staring up at the stars. His mind was reeling, leaving him feeling dizzy and sick to his stomach. Were these feelings he was having for Darren real?

Although he was living in a fairy tale world, Chris just couldn’t imagine this journey ending with a “happily ever after.” And part of him wished that it didn’t have to end at all.

Chris knew, though, that he had to get back home. Home to Brian, to his family, to his friends, to his career – to a life that was, in many ways, just as magical as the one he was experiencing here. That had to be his first priority. Once he was back in the real world, there would be plenty of time for him to figure out how he truly felt about Darren.

Hoping that whatever awkwardness he’d created would have blown over by morning, Chris closed his eyes, and, though he didn’t expect to, soon fell asleep.


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