Followed Down the Rabbit Hole
It had been almost a year and a half since John had seen Catherine. A year and a half since he, his younger brother Kyle, and their neighbors Catherine, and her younger sister Lena, had accidentally, or, rather not so accidentally, fallen through a portal to The Other Side of the Grass.
They were the first four Gifted Ones. A year and a half ago they were transported to a different world where they met a winged lion named Avion, a blacksmith named Ray, and a enraged wizard named Rehamdeshant.
For each of the four elements, lightning, fire, earth, water, there were two Gifted Ones, one boy and one girl. For the elements to be stable however lightning’s power must be limited, at least that is what Avion had told them. Of course Rehamdeshant disagreed. He believed that lightning should have most of the power, if not all of it. Most of the citizens of The Other Side of the Grass agreed with Avion; however a select few sided with Reham.
Now, in the chaos that followed, it became the duty of The Gifted Ones to keep the elements balanced and to end the war once and for all
John was now fifteen and in his sophomore year of high school. He had lots of friends and good grades, what could he possibly want more at this point? However John was not happy.
This particular Tuesday, John opened his locker and sighed. “Are you thinking about her again?” Kestina, his phoenix who he had befriended in The Other Side of the Grass asked. Right now she was the size of a mouse and sat comfortably on John’s shoulder. No one on this side of the grass besides John and the other seven Gifted Ones could see her.
John nodded as he pulled a few books out of his locker for last period. “Well don’t worry, you’ll see her soon enough.” Kestina smiled at him, her bright red feathers glowing in the harsh florescent light.
“How do you know?” John asked suspiciously. “We have been waiting for a year and a half, they aren’t going to call us back, or maybe they only called Catherine and Lena back. I don’t know, but it could be years before they ask for me and Catherine at the same time again.”
“Trust me, when the time is right you will all be back in the Other Side of the Grass.” Kestina assured him as he walked down the crowded hallway to history class. He sighed as he approached the door to his classroom and reluctantly entered, knowing that today would just be another day when almost everyone he saw thought he was an ordinary teenager.
Lena had been waiting for this day for weeks. Finally she was going to be able to prove to everyone at Boulder Junior High School that she wasn’t just another pretty face. Lena could feel the anticipation in the room, soaring high above what it was on a normal school day. That was because today was dodge ball day. Lena Risterra was one of the most popular girls at Boulder Junior High school. But despite her participation on the girls track team, she was not regarded as a very athletic girl. She was one of the fastest sprinters in the state for her age group and she also excelled in jumping competitions, including the long jump and high jump. Today Lena was going to be able to prove to everyone just how athletic she was, because today she was going to win the school wide dodge ball competition.
The rules were simple; the last person left won the crown. There were no calls against head shots or foul play, and once you were out, you were done. It reminded Lena of fighting in The Other Side of the Grass. There was no referee to call Augustus out if he went for a cheap shot, so to her this was no different.
Lena got into her track starting position behind the line, knowing she had the advantage of training on her side. She waited patiently as the foam balls were placed on the center line. After what felt like eternity, the whistle sounded and everyone bolted to the center to retrieve the foam balls. As usual Lena beat everyone to the line. She grabbed three of the precious balls and dashed backward three feet so she would have time to react to an incoming ball. Within the first minuet, half of her competition was gone, hit in the fray and sent to sit on the bleachers. Lena wouldn’t end up there, she refused to do so. There was nothing that could convince her to give up the crown, nothing that could stop her.
She would become princess of the dodge ball court.
As Lena glanced at the bleachers, Kenny, one of the most athletic boys in school saw his opportunity. He threw a foam ball as he could at Lena’s stomach. Lena however was not ready to be out, but there were balls everywhere. Unluckily for her there were only five members left on her team, including her, and nine on the opposing team. Even worse was that the majority of them were helping Kenny in an endless attempt to get her thrown out of the game.
Suddenly everything was in slow motion, Lena could see the ball Kenny was throwing right in front of her and his friends’ balls coming at her to the left and right of that one. In addition to that, there was a ball at her knee height coming directly under Kenny’s. There was almost no way out.
Almost, though, was enough for Lena.
Lena pushed herself off the ground with her right foot and spun herself sideways with her left. Now she was parallel with the ground soaring between the four dodge balls. Lena landed in time to grab a dodge ball that was rolling at her feet and hit one of Kenny’s friends square in the face.
“Dude, was that a scissor kicks, you know without the kick?” He asked in awe as he walked off the court. Lena just smiled and looked back at Kenny and his friend, both of them quickly took a few steps back. She smirked slightly, she’d been working on that move for months. Not for dodgeball of course, but for fighting in The Other Side of The Grass.
Soon it was down to just Lena and Kenny. One of them would be the champion, and Lena knew it was going to be her. Kenny was growing tired; Lena however had only just begun. Endurance training for a year and a half had really helped her. She wanted to be physically ready the next time she went to The Other Side of the Grass and it looked like all her hard work was going to pay off before she even slipped through the potal. As Kenny and her locked eyes Lena pulled the sweat from her brow with her powers. A few balls were thrown but the face off continued.
Then all of a sudden Lena felt it; the one thing that she would give up the dodge ball crown for. She glanced down at her silver starfish bracelet as it vibrated softly.
They were calling her back to The Other Side of the Grass.
Nothing mattered more to Lena than returning, not even the school wide dodge ball competition. This is why when her bracelet started its second round of vibrations she smiled and dashed out of the gym door. No one was fast enough to catch her, before anyone had realized what had happened, Lena was on the other side of the school, opening the portal in the janitor’s closet.
Standing in the dim light of the single bulb inside of the cluttered janitor’s closet, Lena pressed gently on the starfish clasp of her bracelet. Trying her best to ignore powerful smell of bleach, she closed her eyes and moved her hands in circular motions that overlapped each other while thinking ‘open’. A green dot appeared on the closet floor. Lena peeked, just to see it's splendid green color, then continued the motions as the dot expanded into a great circular, swirling, portal. When Lena had finished opening the portal she smiled to herself and though I’m going home. Then she jumped into the portal, it closed quickly behind her bright blonde locks.
Kyle was sitting at his desk in his room studying for his history test the next day. The area surrounding him was covered in books and notes that he had taken out to study with. Kyle tried so hard but somehow he couldn’t remember the French revolution at all. For the fourth time in a row Kyle didn’t remember the name of the king that was executed. “Larry, Lester, Lenny” Kyle raked his brain. “I miss Lenny.” he sighed recalling the first creature in The Other Side of the Grass that he had met. “I hate this!” Kyle exclaimed as he pushed all of his books to the floor. “I’m tired of school and homework and chores. I’m tired of acting like every other eleven year old boy, because I’m not.” He announced in a frustrated tone to no one besides himself.
As Kyle raged on about being stuck on earth without anyone but John around who knew his secret. He held his hand above the potted plant he kept on his window sill and moved it upward, making the plant grow from two inches to a foot in a split second. Kyle gazed longingly at the side of the white colonial next door and wished Catherine and Lena could still be fund living inside. He missed having the girls around to talk to. John was helpful but he knew that his days would be much better with Lena at his side as he walked the halls of the middle school. He even missed Catherine, as controlling as she sometimes was, she was always game for making fun of the fairies. Something John would sometimes resist because of his past affections toward the fire fairy Selena.
Just then as Kyle was recalling all of the good times he had had in The Other Side of the Grass, as he had done thousands of times since he returned, he felt a faint vibration. Looking down at his left arm Kyle saw his silver bracelet vibrating softly against his skin. Kyle smiled and jumped up quickly. Without a second thought he began to open the portal by pressing his tree shaped claps gently while thinking ‘open’ then making the arm motions that Kestina had taught John and him.
When the portal stopped expanding Kyle stood at the edge and said quietly to himself “Finally, I’m going back to where I’m the history.” With that Kyle jumped into the great swirling portal, already excited for the journey ahead.
John ran down the field as fast as he could, dodging player after player until he dove into the end zone just as the buzzer went off. John’s team had won the game and was now going to play offs. John sighed and relief washed over is sore and exhausted muscles.
It was at times like this when adrenaline was pumping through his veins that he could almost feel the pull to the place where he truly belonged, The Other Side of the Grass. It was for this reason that when John felt a vibration on his left wrist he thought nothing of it. It happened quite often when he was thinking about it. However he knew there was almost no chance that his bracelet was truly vibrating, he always checked it anyway, just to make sure. As he stared down at his silver flame bracelet he could have sworn it was moving slightly. He reached down with his right hand and touched it slightly. He hadn’t been imagining it, the bracelet was truly vibrating. John smiled to himself and glanced at the rest of his football team, celebrating in the center of the field. Instead of jogging over to meet them John turned and ran. He ran off the field and jumped the fence, running right into the woods that surrounded the football field. He heard the flapping of wings and noticed that Kestina had caught up with him.
“I assume I was correct this morning when I said that we would be called back.” Kestina smiled. John returned the smile and skidded to a stop. Here he took off his pads and hid them behind a large tree. Kestina tossed him a pair of shorts and a t-shirt she had been carrying for him for after the game and he quickly changed. She then tossed him his sword. “I thought I should come prepared, just a feeling I got this morning.” She laughed. John sighed and began to open the portal. Kestina had taught him and Kyle how. He just thought 'open' as he was creating a circle with his arms. Slowly the green swirling portal began to open in front of him until it was large enough for Kestina and him to jump through. John looked around one last time, imagining how much better The Other Side of the Grass was. Then he jumped into the portal and Kestina followed him through.
Catherine Risterra hadn’t made any friends in the year and a half she had attended Bolder Junior High. Now a freshman in the local high school, Catherine was smart, but not extremely; athletic, but didn’t participate in any sports except for lacrosse. She didn’t talk to anyone if she could help it and those who she had spoken to still had no idea whatsoever of who she was. The only thing people knew about her was that she had moved from the east coast. Not because she had told them so, but because she had a certain air to her that almost screamed it. Everything about her screamed it. The way she dressed, the seriousness that was etched in her face, it just wasn’t meant for the laid back society that was the western United States.
All of her classmates found something off about her, something that convinced them to leave her to her solitude. Even teachers noted something about Catherine. Though she was almost completely silent in class she was exceedingly confident and found herself to almost always be right. She went to school often enough, though a few teachers noticed a pattern in her absences.
She often did not attend school during a thunderstorm.
Most of the teachers who noticed this certain pattern however dismissed it as a fear of thunderstorms and let it go without mention. She was already a peculiar girl; they didn’t think it necessary to point out any more abnormalities.
Michel Pascarella, a sophomore at Boulder Public High School, however was not a person who enjoyed letting things go. He knew there was something off about Catherine, more than the other students suggested. He had asked several of his fellow students why they avoided her. They told Michael that they felt a chill when she was around them. A few people in her grade claimed she was the devil, or maybe a witch. However Michael did not believe it, he didn’t even feel the chill so many students had claimed they felt around her.
Sometimes in the hall he would brush her shoulder with his, just to give himself the calming feeling that came with contact with her. At first Michael suspected maybe he had feelings for her, but that was impossible. Michael Pascarella was the most popular person in Boulder Public High School, he exceeded at everything he did, giving off an essence of power and accomplishment to all that met him.
Michael was right, he did not like Catherine but the other students were wrong. Still the chill that Catherine gave the other students was completely real. Catherine was not a witch or the Devil. However, she was extremely powerful, and she knew it.
Catherine Risterra was one for the eight Gifted Ones, and she wore the bracelet every day on her left arm to prove it.
Catherine scratched her head and looked up at the clock. She had twenty minutes left in her math test. She had studied so hard, and yet for some reason she couldn’t seem to get the fourth problem. She pulled another piece of scrap paper from under her test and began the problem over again.
“You forgot to divide by 74.” A familiar voice whispered in her ear.
Catherine shook her head “Vartines you can’t help me during a test, it’s not fair. Not everyone has an invisible dragon on their shoulder.”
Vartines shrugged, his sleek black wings extending as he leapt from Catherine’s shoulder and landed on her desk. He looked up at her with his big yellow eyes. “Are you sure you don’t want help? Your parents are going to be mad if you don’t get higher than an 85 on this math test.” He asked.
“Of course I’m sure!” Catherine whispered hoarsely at her four inch tall dragon. She wished that they could leave right now and fly away. All it would take would be to walk right out of the building and press her bracelet, returning Vartines to his full size, at least ten feet tall.
“I know what you’re thinking.” Vartines looked sad. “I miss The Other Side of the Grass too. But don’t worry; Avion will call for us when the time is right.”
Catherine sighed and turned back to the fourth problem on her math test, this time she was going to remember to divide by 74. But just as she was about to push enter on her calculator she felt it, the soft vibration on her left wrist. It couldn’t be. Catherine thought. She didn’t dare even hope that it was her bracelet; too many times she had imagined the vibration. She wouldn’t let herself look. For the first time however the vibration didn’t stop when Catherine told herself it was just her imagination. Slowly she turned her head away from her paper and to her left wrist. To her delight, the bracelet was actually vibrating. Catherine nearly leapt out of her seat. She flipped her test over grabbed the bathroom pass and sprinted down the corridor with Vartines trailing her.
Michael was at the water fountain when he heard the pounding of running feet. Catherine came around the corner, sprinting down the hall. Michael saw the shadow that was always on her shoulder, gliding around right behind her. This time he was going to ask her. Michael followed Catherine as she went into the girl’s bathroom next to the water fountain. Not thinking twice before opened the door. He saw her standing in the center of the bathroom. It seemed as though she was speaking to the shadow, though Michael knew that couldn’t be the case.
Catherine rounded the corner and was only a few feet from the bathroom where she planned to open the portal. No one ever went in this bathroom because it wasn’t as nice as the one just inside the other hallway. She thought it would be safe to open the portal here where she wouldn’t be seen. She passed Michael Pascarella as she ran past the water fountain. He always seemed to look at her funny. Vartines thought that he had a knack for always looking him right in the eyes even though he was invisible. But that was all Catherine thought of it, a knack, nothing worth noticing. He was no one, but she, she was someone, maybe not here but in The Other Side of the Grass she was definitely someone.
Catherine sprinted into the bathroom and began opening the portal the moment she got in there. She whispered quickly to Vartines halfway through. “I’m so excited I could almost die!” Vartines chuckled and Catherine continued to open the portal. She moved her arms in a circular motion and the green swirling portal continued to widen at her feet. She smiled when she was done a feeling of accomplishment and excitement rushed through her. Then she jumped in, feet first into the portal.
Michael saw a green swirling circle begin to grow at Catherine’s feet, at first he thought he was just imagining it but after he thought he heard Catherine whispering to the shadow it began to grow rapidly. Catherine stopped moving her hands about it a peculiar circular pattern when the green swirling circle got to be about three feet across. Then she looked at it for a moment and jumped into it. Catherine disappeared into the green swirling circle and Michael was overcome with shock. He ran to where Catherine had been standing and jumped into the circle as well, not thinking twice about how this could affect his day, and his life.
Catherine landed hard on the ground, a little better than her last trip to The Other Side of the Grass however. But she quickly changed her mind about that when she felt someone land on top of her. “Lena, if that is you then get off of me; if it’s John or Kyle then get off then give me a hug.” Catherine laughed. The person who had fallen on top of her rolled off and she pushed herself up and turned around, expecting to see her sister or one of her friends. Instead she was greeted by an unpleasant surprise. The person who had landed on top of her was not her sister, Lena; it was also not John or Kyle; it was Michael Pascarella, his black hair ruffled in the breeze.
“You have got to be kidding me!” Catherine exclaimed. This was going to make her day a lot more complicated than it needed to be.
Vartines laughed “This would happen to you.”
Michael looked at Vartines, who was perched on Catherine’s shoulder. “Is that a…?” Michael was stopped mid-sentence by his amazement.
“Yes, I’m a dragon and my name is Vartines, nice to formally meet you Michael.” Vartines smiled at him, showing off his sharp teeth, even though he was only a few inches tall he was still rather frightening.
“Don’t tell him too much Vartines; we have to get him to Avion so that he can clean up this whole mess. He’s got to have a mind wiping ritual or something in that giant book of his.” Catherine crossed her arms. “Come on Michael we are bringing you home.”
“What are you talking about? Where are we? How did we get here from school?” Michael began asking questions.
“Shut up and follow me and I’ll tell you everything.” Catherine insisted as she began walking through the open field they always seemed to land on when they came to The Other Side of the Grass.
Catherine walked and talked to Vartines who was still perched on her shoulder. They talked about The Other Side of the Grass in hushed voices, making Michael, who was trailing a few feet behind them, feel excluded.
Catherine’s excitement grew when they neared The Forest of Faces. Taking a right at the sign and going into the grove of fall colored trees. “Hey Lenny!” Catherine exclaimed when she approached the great oak tree.
“Catherine, you’re back! I thought I would be seeing you in a little bit, your sister, John and Kyle all passed through here just a little bit ago. It’s been a while since I’ve seen you.” Lenny exclaimed when he saw Catherine. Michael’s jaw dropped open when he saw the tree, how on earth could a tree have a face, and talk?
“Yeah I know! A year and a half is a really long time, I’m just glad to be back now.” Catherine sighed.
“Oh Catherine, you haven’t been gone a year and a half, you have been gone thirty years.” Lenny laughed at her.
Catherine’s soaring mood suddenly crashed a burned. “What?” She asked flatly. “How could it have been thirty years here and only a year and a half up there?”
Lenny shrugged “Didn’t you know that time passes differently here than in your world?”
Catherine shook her head “No I didn’t but I guess that’s all right, I mean at least you’re still here.” She smiled.
“I will be for a while, now go, have some fun, and beat up Reham for me or something.” Lenny nodded for Catherine to keep going through the forest, the red and orange leaves that scattered the ground crunched under her feet as she walked.
“Left to Lembes Right to Riches!” The tree behind Lenny shouted.
Catherine smiled, for the first time she was not extremely annoyed as the trees rang out their song. Probably because she had missed The Other Side of the Grass so much that even the tress, neither their singing nor the fact that she had been gone for thirty years could ruin her mood. Except of course Rehamdeshant, she definitely did not miss him, the evil wizard who wanted her and her friends dead; he was not the person she would want to meet right now.
“Catherine the gifted one! Catherine the gifted one!” The trees cheered as she turned left, toward the Lembes River.
Michael was enjoying himself now on this journey, he was sure that he was either dreaming or completely insane. There were talking trees and dragons, it couldn’t possibly be real!
“Here we are.” Catherine smiled as she pulled off her leather boots. She jumped into the river and began to wade across to the other side.
Michael looked at the muddy river. “You can’t be serious! I am not getting back to school all soaking wet! Isn’t there a bridge or something?”
Catherine laughed from where she stood in the water halfway across the river. “Of course not, it’s the Lembes!”
Michael frowned “Well could we walk around it or something?”
Catherine rolled her eyes “If you want to walk across the continent just so you don’t get your jeans wet then fine by me, but I’m going.” She continued across.
Michael sighed and took off his shoes. He began wading across the river. “It’s freezing!” He shouted as the water got up to his waist.
Catherine crossed her arms as she stood on the grass dripping wet “Well it’s not bath water, that’s for sure!”
When Michael reached the other side of the river he was sopping wet. But Catherine didn’t seem to mind being soaked, nor did she seem to care that Michael was now too.
After wading through the river they didn’t go much farther until they passed a weeping willow tree that to Michael’s delight was not actually crying. They then came out of a grove of trees and too the edge of a cliff that overlooked a giant castle sitting on cliffs above the ocean.
It was the most beautiful thing Michael had ever seen in his entire life. The sun seemed to make the whole castle glow when it reflected off the bright blue ocean. His amazement was interrupted by Catherine however.
“I totally forgot about the cliff.” Catherine sighed. “I didn’t want to have to make you carry him.” Catherine told Vartines. “But I guess we have no choice.” Catherine pressed her bracelet with her right hand and thought to make Vartines go back to his full size. Then she turned to Michel who was staring off at the castle. “Come on, get on, we are going to the castle.” She ordered.
Michael didn’t know how the dragon had gotten that big so quickly but he didn’t think that now was the time to argue with Catherine, she looked very angry. So he did as he was told and climbed up the dragon’s back with Catherine’s help. Catherine climbed up and sat in front of him. She didn’t even say anything to him but somehow the dragon knew that they were ready to go. He jumped from the cliff into the air. For a moment it was if they were all going to fall to their death off of the cliff but then they swooped out of the dive and soared into the air.
Michael loved the ride. He wanted it to last longer, but at the same time he was rather hesitant. He did wish however that he would be able to fly on the dragon again, maybe when Catherine wasn’t so angry.