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To Live or To Die

By A. J. Benson All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy

The Choice: How It Began...

To Live or To Die

THE CHOICE: How it began…

It was time to decide. She stood on top of the stones at the highest point of the old bridge and looked down. The stones of the medieval structure were jagged and broken. The icy water was a long way down. The fall would surely end it all. The 10-year-old looked at the woods of her grandfather's property and the rare blanket of pearlescent snow covering the banks. A hint of sunlight shone momentarily through the grey clouds upon the shimmering banks. Rhian had spent her summers on those banks, splashing along the creek, playing with imaginary pixies and nymphs. With her clammy palm, she wiped away yet another tear from her blotchy face. There would be no more summers.

No one would miss her. She had switched schools at the beginning of Christmas break because she had been expelled from the last one for getting in too many fights. Her teachers had called her sensitive, but it was not intended as a compliment. It was simply their way of saying that she was too emotional and impulsive. She had no friends there. When she had first mentioned her magical friends from her grandfather’s house, at the start of the school year, other girls had called her crazy, and the names Round-the-bend Rhian and Delirious Driscoll stuck. Unlike those at school, Gramps had delighted in her, but he had passed in the fall. Her father had told her the following morning. It was November 1st, a date forever imprinted on her memory. She had been given no time to grieve, though. Her father had sent her off on the school bus that morning, as if nothing had happened. The word father did not even seem to apply. He had always worked a lot, and since mum’s fatal car accident in April, he worked even more hours and had been even more distant (if that were possible). Although she had clothes on her back and food on the table, she felt abandoned. He would come home late from work and snap because the dishes weren't caught up or the floor needed to be swept. Some days were even worse. He would retreat to the den without saying anything at all. It was almost unbearable. He didn’t understand that she needed his affection. Rhian was certain her father blamed her for her mother's death last spring. Her mum had reached into the backseat to help clean up a shake Rhian had spilled and smashed into the back of a truck at 60 miles per hour. Rhian felt the weight of that guilt every day. The counselor she was seeing weekly did not help. Rhian did not trust the woman with those black beady eyes. There was something almost inhuman about her. Rhian had no one in whom to confide.

As she considered how alone in the world she was, her sky blue eyes clouded over and brimmed with tears. Straggly blond curls fell over her face, and she did not bother to push them aside, as she looked at the black and white picture of her mother inside her locket. The tarnished brass necklace had been a gift from her grandfather for her tenth birthday and inside were inscribed the words, "Don't let the magic die." He had told her that one day she would understand. Here, on her last day, she still did not.

On the final day of school each year, Rhian would come to her grandfather's farm to stay for the summer. When she arrived, he would take her shopping for three new outfits in the small town’s only clothing store. He always said that three was a magical number and would wink at her as he paid. The new clothes made Rhian feel like a princess as she stared at her reflection in the river that ran along the back of the farm. The River Fae is where she had met the nymphs who would look up at her from the water, and where the pixies, with their pointy ears and leaf shaped wings, would admire their own reflections and see hers too. There were nymphs in the trees and the sky, as well. She could always talk with them as the wind rustled their leaves or make faces back at the girl in the clouds. Of course, they were all imaginary, but they were her only friends. Last summer, they seemed to share her grief but also provided some light-hearted relief. When she went home in August, she had tried to convince her father that they might be real, but he had yelled at her and sent her to her room calling her “crazy just like mum.” Somehow, Rhian took comfort in the comparison. Her grandfather, though, had tried to smooth things over and explained that not everyone could see them. Her father did not see eye to eye with gramps and had taken her back to the beady-eyed counselor after that fight. The counselor had called the pixies and nymphs nothing but "imaginary friends" and told her father not to worry.

Soon, he will have nothing to worry about. Jumping will make the pain stop. It would be better to leave behind the nymphs and pixies and maybe see gramps and mum, than alive with no friends and a father who hates me, Rhian thought as she tore her gaze from the locket and peered along the banks for some hint of her friends. There was no movement but a frantic breeze pushing brown leaves in erratic directions. Her eyes found no imaginary friends, and she considered her decision again. To live or to die? Her father had not always been this way. Her mother's death had dealt him a serious blow as it had Rhian. She understood the heartache more so now, with gramps gone too. A deep sob welled up in her as she thought about the past year. She transferred her gaze away from her grandfather's woods and back to the river. The water crashed noisily over the boulders below. She took a ragged breath and closed her eyes, sliding her feet towards the moss-covered edge. The bitter north wind pushed on her and caused her to sway.

"Don't jump, young one," she thought she heard a voice whisper from the bank of the River Fae. Startled, Rhian opened her eyes, and cried out, "Who’s there?" No voice responded but snow began to fall and a breeze blew the flakes and old brown leaves hither and yon in a dance. The snow was cold in the air, but didn't feel cold at all as it hit her cheeks. “No!” she yelled. “No more fantasy! No more imaginary friends!” She shook off the hope that someone could have called out. I just need to end it.  She closed her eyes as she waited for just the right moment to jump. Then Rhian felt a sudden gust of wind hit her and she lost her balance. Down she tumbled through the air toward the frigid waters and the jagged rocks. She wished she had hugged her father one last time, even if he didn't know why, and she wondered whether this was the right decision at all. She imagined, for a moment, the crash to end the pain, but it did not come. Falling took longer than she expected. She opened her eyes to see the water approach.

Instead, she found herself suspended in mid-air with sparkling dust floating all about her. Above her were three pixies who had prevented her from smashing into the rocks. As they gently laid her on the bank, Rhian took a long look at the three tiny creatures. Just as they were last summer in the reflection on the banks of the river, they were as tiny as butterflies, humanlike but with pointy ears and beautiful eyes in vibrant shades, one with violet like the early spring flowers, one with green like mid-summer grasses, and one with golden hues like crisp autumn leaves. She realized, though, that while these were relatives or perhaps even the same ones with whom she had shared a reflection during the summers, they were no longer care free. They had an anxiety, even an anger, about them. "You have never spoken to me before, though. I… I thought you weren't real," she whispered. They responded with an incomprehensible high-pitched chatter that unsettled Rhian while they reeled about her, seemingly chastising her.

The voice that had told her not to jump spoke again, this time from behind her, and Rhian whirled around. It came from a beautiful teenage girl with white hair and sad, dark grey eyes who was wrapped in clouds for clothes and who began to explain. "Pixies cannot speak, at least not in any tongue known to the race of men. I was the one to call to you. You and this body you use are far too precious to throw away. Your father needs you. The world needs you." Holding the cloud girl’s hand was a younger girl, with a melancholy expression and soulful brown eyes, dressed in a top and skirt of dried leaves. She nodded in agreement. Above them hovered an old but beautiful woman, who could barely be seen for the transparency of her form. “Do you not recognize us?”

 "You remind me of some… some friends, but that is not possible. So, tell me who you are." Rhian insisted. The cloud nymph smiled and told her, “I am Nephelai, a protector of the earth and a water bearer to plants and trees. It is the job of my kind to bring the water of life to those who need it. This is my cousin, Daphne, a dryad, or tree nymph you might call her. Her kind brings the gifts of peace, protection, and prophecy to the world. Last, but not least, this is Zephyrina who is a wind spirit. She and her sisters give us all a gentle push in the right direction when we need it. She provided the breeze that nudged you from your freefall and into the pixie dust. You have indeed met me before, Rhian Driscoll. You and I have been playing at the water’s edge, making funny faces at one another, for years."

Rhian suddenly remembered why she had come to the river. "Why did you stop me?” Rhian demanded as a fresh tear rolled down her cheek. “I do not want to live in this world. It has no peace, no protection for me, only loneliness." Nephelai reached over, gently pushed some blond curls aside, and caught the tear. As the pixies gathered near the cloud nymph, their light reflected brilliantly off the new fallen snow and excited noises came from them. Nephelai offered them the tear from Rhian's cheek. "The magic you were given is potent, child, and your tear will make powerful pixie dust," the cloud nymph explained. “They can use that dust to help push back the darkness growing in the world and to find their sisters. They are angry with you for trying to destroy that precious gift. You do not want to anger the pixies, my dear. No one wants to anger the pixies. Your tear will calm them, for now.”

"You want to die and yet the world needs you," Daphne chimed in, her clothes rustling noisily as she rested a gentle hand on Rhian's shoulder and looked her in the eyes. "You were given a gift. You are a Seer. It is the job of the Seers to interact with the race of men on behalf of the magical creatures they encounter. Your sight and belief in our existence strengthens us. Without Seers, our own power wanes. Without your acknowledgement, the rain," and she reached out a bark covered hand to catch the falling flakes, "the snow, they do not fall where the earth needs them. Trees and flowers do not bloom but wither and die. It is the magic of the Seers that helps us to bring life-giving water and to extend protection to those in need. Your mother was a Seer, as was your grandfather. From beyond the veil, he called to you. While the life of a Seer can be difficult, Seers, if they choose to use their sight for good rather than evil, can help us to keep the darkness at bay."

Rhian looked around her. The snow was falling harder now, but it was not the least bit cold. The pixie dust on her skin no longer sparkled, but her pale hands still glowed. Her tattered, gray skirt had transformed to a vibrant green, swishy one, just like the one gramps had promised her the next time he saw her. Accepting the truth in their words, she asked, "How can I go back to my father, though? He hates me." She took a deep breath and then another. Each one made her feel stronger and a little less confident of the reason for her father’s distance. She felt a mild breeze wrap around her shoulders as Zephyrina explained, "You must choose to go back. A wise witch once told me, ‘Do not waste your magic by misusing it or throwing it away. It is a gift to be treasured for the good of those in our world.’ Sharing magic, for those who have been given the gift, must be a choice. Your father needs you. He needs the protection and peace which your magic can offer him. It must be your choice, though." With those words, the pixies disappeared and the nymphs slid away, Daphne into a laurel tree, Nephelai into the gray clouds above, and Zephyrina into the wind along the River Fae.

Encouraged and growing more certain of her new decision, Rhian walked through the woods to town and boarded a bus home. As the forest faded and the city loomed large, she considered how much her father must be hurting since her mother’s death and how upset he must have been to have found her good-bye note on the table this morning. It is the first time that she realized how much he must be struggling too. Gramps and Rhian had been the only family he had left.

When she arrived, her father was sitting in the living room with his head in his hands, her note on the table in front of him. Rhian braced herself for his angry words, but they never came. His voice was quiet and trembling. Eyes red and swollen from crying, he dropped to his knees and threw his arms around his little girl. "I thought I had lost you. We already lost mum and gramps. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you, too," he sobbed. A few moments passed, and he called the police to let them know she had come home. He hugged her again, and with a weary smile asked, "Have I ever told you that you have your mum’s eyes? Beautiful, sky blue eyes. Let me show you something."

He went to his desk and opened the top drawer. He pulled out an old pewter frame. "It's time for you to have this picture. It’s your gramps and your mum when she was about your age. I have wanted to give this to you for months, but I didn't want to make you sadder than you already were." He wiped away a tear from his tired face, and his daughter felt one roll down her own, but for the first time in a long while, it was a happy tear. The frame held a picture of her grandfather as a young man with a tired smile and a young girl with sky blue eyes and blond curly locks. The young girl was wearing a vibrant yellow, swishy skirt, and they were standing on the old stone bridge. It was snowing, and a shimmering blanket covered the banks of the River Fae. Behind them, Rhian could see Daphne's arm waving with the branches of a laurel tree which was bending in Zephyrina’s breeze and, in the distance, Nephelai's face could be made out in the clouds. Rhian read the words inscribed across the bottom of the frame, "The Magic Lives" and finally, she understood.

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