Who am I living for?
Note: Text in bold italics is Anna's narration, text in plain italics is her thought process.
WARNING: There are some scenes towards the end of the chapter that some readers may find upsetting or distressing, read at your own risk. By reading it you accept any consequences that may arise as a result of doing so.
Disclaimer: I own none of the original characters, story lines or Narnia itself (don't I wish!), they belong to the man himself; CS Lewis. I do however own Anna, she's mine!
Song suggestion: Who am I living for?-Katy Perry
It's amazing how quickly someone's life can change...
"Not fast enough, Anna!"
"Those legs are not straight!"
Like every previous attempt before, I landed on the firm, hard mat next to the balance beam I had just fallen off. Despite an hour or so of practise, I could never regain my footing when landing on that last jump. Then again, a forward aerial wasn't exactly the easiest move to perform when you'd only just returned to training. Needless to say, Claire, my coach, hadn't been going easy on me.
I'd been a gymnast since I was around 6. I was forever climbing trees and jumping around, so my mum decided to send me to gymnastics in the hope that it would rid me of all my never ending outbursts of energy. If anything, it only encouraged me.
At first I was as bad as every other beginner before me. But after about a year, I began to show promise. I was able to pick up new techniques and steps quicker than my colleagues, and even some of the older girls ahead of me. I advanced steadily and now at 16 years old I was regarded by many as one of the best in the field, further reinforced by my securing a place to compete in the 2012 Olympics.
Breathing heavily from the exertion, I glanced up to find Claire extending her hand towards me and I took it gratefully. Surveying me like a hunter would it's prey, she finally took pity on me.
"Showers. That's enough for today."
Her way of saying "I'm disappointed". At that she turned on her heel and walked to her office on the other side of the studio, leaving me to stand alone in the middle of it as I watched her go. As her office door closed with a click of finality, I made my way to the changing rooms.
It was already dark outside when I left the studio. Typical of every January in Ireland, it was also bitterly cold and I buried my hands in the pockets of my jacket in an attempt to keep them warm. I was later than normal tonight, and I had a dauntingly large pile of revision and homework to get through. Groaning inwardly at the thought of another study session until three in the morning, I quickened my pace.
How one seemingly insignificant decision can lead to that change...
The first mistake I made was walking down that side street; the general rule in my area being to never enter it after dark. But I was tired, and it was a much quicker route home. After hesitating at the entrance and checking there were no suspicious characters loitering around, I ran to the exit.
My luck ended when I reached the open road again.
Slamming into a much taller and broader figure, my heart almost stopped when I realised who I'd run in to. Danny Bradley and his two friends glared down at me, his eyes in particular holding a glint of malicious pleasure. Bradley and his gang were notorious for their trouble making, and were not people you would want to associate yourself with unless you wanted to go to prison or had a death wish.
"What's the hurry, little girl?" he asked softly, earning a few sniggers from his henchmen. But I could hear the unspoken threat in his voice, challenging me to make one wrong move; to just try and cross him. My heart had now accelerated to an impossibly fast rhythm, and it took all I had not to bolt from the scene, knowing I would only be chased until I was caught like a rabbit in the trap.
Bradley took a step towards me, and I responded by stepping back from him. An amused grin spread on his face, having found his latest victim to play his games with. He continued his advance towards me until before I knew it, I was backed against the cold, hard stone wall with no way out.
"So, little girl, I'll ask again. What's the hurry?" he questioned calmly, leaning closer and boxing me in by placing his hands on the wall either side of my head. I could only stare at the ground, too afraid to do anything else.
"I see," he said in that same even tone, almost as if we were discussing the weather. Drawing away from the wall, he regarded me for a brief moment before speaking to his two cronies.
"Search her bag," he said sharply, his change of tone making me jump slightly. Bradley didn't miss this, and as one of the other boys yanked my bag from my back when I offered no resistance, his serene tone returned.
"Don't worry little girl, I'm not going to hurt you."
I didn't fail to pick up on the unspoken 'Yet.' that should have been included at the end of that sentence.
"Nothing here Danny 'cept a towel, a pair of shoes and some slutty looking bit of clothing," the tallest one spoke up, holding up my purple leotard for the other two to see.
That same amused grin broke out on his face before he spoke to me again, "Enjoy playing dress up, do we?" I knew he was mocking me, but I remained silent and offered no reply.
How that change could affect your life so much...
He regarded me for a few short seconds before continuing.
"You don't say much, do you little girl?" Bradley straightened up and I saw him grope in the pockets of his jeans for something. I recognised the hilt of a small blade and my eyes widened in terror and panic.
"Perhaps this will change your mind."
At these words the knife was pressed against my side, and I had to lean against the wall to prevent myself from sinking to the ground. It was well known that Bradley was very short tempered and tricky to deal with at the best of times. I knew I needed to tread carefully.
It was then that Bradley's other friend chose to speak, doing what I was unable to do myself. "Danny mate, don't do that, she's just a kid," he pleaded. I finally looked up, and saw concern etched on the boys face. I realised he was only around my age, maybe having just turned 17.
"Shut it David, little girls should learn to respect their elders." Bradley silenced him with a glare over his shoulder.
I barely paid attention to that last bit, as it had now been diverted to a growing expanse of brilliant white light at the end of the alleyway that was slowly but surely advancing upon us. The strange thing was neither Bradley nor the other two boys had seemed to notice. They did, however, notice my staring at what probably to them was simply the bottom of the street.
Bradley had now returned his attention back to me, but I didn't even spare him a glance. My eyes were firmly focused on the strange white light. Why couldn't the other three see it? I wondered as Bradley proceeded to shout in my face in a fruitless attempt to regain my attention. I wasn't even remotely interested in him anymore.
I barely registered the shout David gave as Bradley plunged the small knife into me, or the pain that laced up my side from the wound. My gaze was still firmly locked on the light that could only have been a few feet away. As the blade was pulled from my side and Bradley's gang ran for it (David needing to be dragged away by the other two kicking and screaming) I noticed something move in the light. It didn't take much longer for the light to engulf me entirely and a very large, familiar golden lion to emerge from the light.
Even your very existence...
"Greetings, young one."
That impossibly rich and deep voice, smoother than silk and simply irresistible, addressed me and I sank to my knees with my head bowed. My hand flew to my side where a stab wound should have been profusely bleeding and causing me great pain, but to my surprise I could feel no gaping hole and my hand was clean of any blood that should have stained it. I stared down at the offending hand, wondering if this was simply a crazy dream as a result of the attack and I was now just in shock.
"Rise, my child, for there is much to discuss," Aslan continued, his amber gaze never leaving my form.
I stood and came face to face with the Great Lion, hesitating for a moment before choosing to speak, "Aslan..." I began slowly, not sure how to ask what I was thinking.
He seemed to pick up on this though, and encouraged me to continue, "Speak your mind, daughter."
Taking a deep breath, I quickly asked the first and most obvious question that had come to my mind.
"Am I dead?"
Aslan gave a soft chuckle before replying, "Yes and no, dear one."
I just gave the lion a look of confusion and surprise, not entirely sure how to respond. I didn't need to, as it was soon explained to me.
"While you did die in your world, you did not die in all of them," Aslan explained cryptically. As if I wasn't confused enough. "I have seen your love for Narnia, Anna, and it is quite unlike any that I have seen before. In fact, it is one to rival CS Lewis' passion. And there are very few, if any, who can match the love an author has for his or her own creation."
I could now only stare open mouthed at the Great Cat. While I was aware that I had a strong love for stories like Narnia (and a few other supposedly 'imaginary' worlds) I didn't think it had been quite to this extent. Either that or I must have somehow hit my head really hard.
"So, what exactly are you saying Aslan?" I questioned, still not sure as to what he was alluding to.
"I'm saying," Aslan laughed, "that I would like to give you the opportunity to go to Narnia."
If I had been shocked before, I was completely stunned now.
"Me?" I squeaked, still rather uncertain as to whether or not this was all a dream.
"Yes, you," Aslan clarified gently. "You shall accompany the Pevensies on their first journey. The events of what I believe to be called 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' in your world? Or if you would prefer, you may continue on to the afterlife."
I knew which one I preferred.
"Narnia, Aslan," I almost pleaded, "I want to go to Narnia."
Aslan nodded. "However, I will warn you that you must not under any circumstances reveal what will happen to anyone or interfere, otherwise the story could become seriously compromised. Can you promise you will not speak of any events you have any knowledge of?"
I could only nod in silent agreement.
The Great Lion seemed to smile at me before speaking his parting words, "Then Narnia it shall be, my child."
No sooner had the words left the Lion's mouth, my vision immediately went black before I awoke to find myself lying at the bottom of a tree in a vast snow covered wood. Slowly rising to my feet, I leaned against the tree trunk for support as I was still a little dazed.
Footsteps approached from behind me and I turned to see a strikingly familiar entourage of four children and a beaver approaching.
This is not happening.
Thinking there was nothing else for it, I stepped in to the parties line of vision. They all came to an abrupt stop when they spotted me.
After a tense silence, Peter took a small step forward before addressing me, "Are you lost?" he asked tentatively.
You have no idea, Peter. You really don't.
And how much that change can affect those around you.