Another Time, Another Place
A bitter wind blew a stinging rain across the empty night sky. As the storm raged, Jaycee stood alone in a sprawling field. She was staring into the night with only her trusted staff to keep her company. Though she knew it would be wise to find shelter from the elements, Jaycee had no real desire to come in out of the pouring rain.
“Jaycee!” shouted someone.
Not sure if she had actually heard her name, Jaycee remained focused on the sky. But to put her increasingly curious mind at ease, she began scanning the area. What Jaycee found was a man and woman hurrying to her. Jaycee had no idea who the strangers were, but it was evident that they knew who she was.
“We’ve been looking everywhere for you,” said the woman, wrapping a blanket around Jaycee. “You could have caught your death of cold.”
“We feared the worst had happened to you,” said the man.
Jaycee was confused by the kindness being shown to her, but it was much appreciated, so she did nothing to stop it.
“Come,” insisted the woman, taking Jaycee by the hand and leading her away. “We need to get you out of this rain.”
“Where are we going?” asked Jaycee.
“We’re taking you home,” replied the man. “Where else would we take you?”
Jaycee said nothing more and allowed the couple to take her. It seemed odd to her, though, to feel so comfortable around strangers.
Jaycee was escorted into the couple’s home and seated near the fire. She was then given a bowl of steaming broth. Jaycee was hesitant to eat at first but was so numb and famished that any fears she had would have to be ignored. The broth worked to warm Jaycee’s body as she sipped it through her quivering lips.
Jaycee noticed the couple was staring at her, so she decided to say something to end the uncomfortable silence. “I wish I had something to give you as payment for your hospitality,” she said, “but I’m afraid I don’t have any money.”
The man and woman began laughing.
“Why would we have our own daughter pay for food?” asked the man.
Jaycee’s eyes bulged after hearing what had been said. “Daughter?” she asked. It was at that moment when Jaycee’s breathing became sporadic. She held on for as long as she could but the room began to spin out of control, causing Jaycee to lose consciousness.
Feeling more like she had blinked than received a full night’s rest, Jaycee woke the next morning. She found herself in bed in another unfamiliar room. The first thing Jaycee did after waking was open the shutters and let in some light. The newly risen sun was shining brightly and the sky was a perfect shade of blue.
Jaycee noticed a doll lying on a nearby chair. She picked it up and began inspecting it. The doll was a simple little plaything made out of cloth with a stitched on face. As Jaycee stared at it, she felt she had seen the doll before but was unsure where.
* * *
The vision of her younger self came flooding into Jaycee’s mind. She was running through a field of flowers toward a woman in the distance. The woman had long brown hair that flowed like water in the breeze.
“Here I come, momma!” shouted Jaycee.
The woman turned around to show her daughter her smiling face.
* * *
Jaycee dropped the doll back on the chair, bringing an end to the vision. Not sure as to what had just happened, Jaycee felt it best to leave it alone and be on her way. She retrieved her staff and immediately exited the room.
Upon entering the front of the house, Jaycee encountered the couple. They looked delighted to see Jaycee.
“It’s good to see you’re up,” said the man. “Are you feeling better?”
“Yes, thank you,” said Jaycee.
“Would you like something to eat?” asked the woman.
“No,” replied Jaycee. “I have to get going now.” She then bowed. “Thank you for what you’ve done for me. Please accept my humble gratitude.” Wanting the ordeal to be done with, Jaycee quickly made her way to the front door. Before making her way out, though, Jaycee would be asked a question that would keep her from leaving.
“Where are you going?” asked the woman.
Jaycee halted her departure to ponder the question. She was sure the answer would come to her, but as hard as she tried, Jaycee was unable to remember where she was going or what she had to do. “I don’t know,” she replied.
The woman led the confused girl to her chair at the table. “Please, Jaycee,” she said, “sit down and let me get you something to eat. You’ve been through so much recently. You still need more time to rest.”
As Jaycee sat at the table, many things began racing through her mind. But the question of why she was unable to remember where she was going was the most puzzling. “Where am I supposed to be?” she thought. “I know I’m looking for someone . . . but who?”
After having breakfast, Jaycee went back to the room where she had spent the night. She sat on the bed and stared blankly at the wall, trying to think of what it was she was supposed to be doing. A knock broke her concentration. The door opened and in entered the woman. “I’m not bothering you, am I?” she asked.
“No,” replied Jaycee. “I was just thinking.”
“Well, I was thinking maybe you’d like to go outside. It’s such a lovely day. It would be a shame to waste it cooped up inside.”
“Outside?” asked Jaycee. “Some fresh air might help me think more clearly,” she thought. Jaycee decided she would take the woman’s advice. As she made her way to the door, though, another question was asked.
“Why are you taking that with you?” asked the woman, referring to Jaycee’s staff.
Jaycee looked at her staff and wondered the same thing. She had no idea as to why she was always carrying around such a thing. She had no desire to fight with anyone, so it seemed odd that she was always carrying a weapon.
“I don’t remember ever seeing you with that before yesterday.” said the woman. “Where did you get such a thing?”
Once again, Jaycee was sure she had the answer to the question just asked, but as hard as she tried, she was unable to come up with it at that moment. “Where did I get this from?” she asked herself, staring at the staff, which was unfamiliar to her.
“Leave it behind. You have no need for it here.”
“Uh, right,” said Jaycee, placing her staff against the wall.
Once outside, Jaycee settled into a swing that hung from a tree off to the side of the house. As far as Jaycee was concerned, everything was perfect. But for some reason, that worried her immensely.
As Jaycee swung herself, she got high enough to see over a slope in the distance. Just beyond it was the field of flowers Jaycee had seen in her vision.
Removing herself from the swing, Jaycee rushed to the field. The aroma was near intoxicating and the vibrant colors were mesmerizing. At the center of the field Jaycee spotted a flower of a rich shade of purple. Even surrounded by so many other beautiful flowers, it stood out. It was unlike any flower Jaycee had ever before seen. Jaycee knelt before it, and when she did, another strange vision stole its way into her troubled mind.
* * *
A young Jaycee ran to her mother when she entered their home. Cradled in her mother’s apron was an array of different colored flowers. Taking her seat at the table, Jaycee’s mother then began sorting through them.
“They smell really good,” said Jaycee, whose nose was so close to the flowers that it was on the verge of sinking into them.
“I hope you’re not thinking of eating them.”
“I won’t,” replied Jaycee.
Jaycee’s mother sorted through the flowers and picked out one of a deep shade of purple. “This is a very special flower, my dear little Jaycee,” she said. “This flower never used to grow in our field. But on the day you were born, the first one appeared.”
“It’s pretty,” said Jaycee.
Jaycee’s mother placed the flower in her daughter’s hair. “There,” she said, “now it’s even prettier.” Jaycee’s mother then lost herself in her daughter’s smiling face. “If I ask you to make me a promise, do you think you can keep it?”
“I can keep a promise.”
“Every time you see one of these flowers, can you remember that mamma and papa love you very much?” asked Jaycee’s mother.
Jaycee nodded. “I can do that. It’ll be easy.”
Jaycee’s mother picked her up and placed her in her lap. “Oh, my dear little Jaycee,” she said, embracing her daughter. “Always stay true to who you are. Never let anything get in the way of what we’ve taught you.”
“Mamma,” said Jaycee. “I’m sitting on the flowers.”
“Oh, my dear little Jaycee,” said her mother, tears welling up in her eyes. “There will always be more flowers.”
* * *
Night had fallen and Jaycee had returned to her room. She sat on her bed and stared blankly at the doll resting on its chair. Hoping she might receive an answer to the question of what her visions were, Jaycee went to it.
“What is it that I’m supposed to know?” asked Jaycee, picking up the doll. “What are you trying to tell me?” Not receiving the answers that she so desperately wanted, Jaycee grew angry. “Tell me what you want me to know.” Much to her surprise, Jaycee found her hands now wrapped around the doll’s neck. Realizing this, Jaycee let go of the doll, allowing it to fall back onto the chair.
“What’s happening to me?”
The doll had fallen into a position where its arm was pointing at Jaycee’s staff. Believing it to be no mere coincidence, she reached for her weapon, but for reasons even Jaycee was unsure about, pulled back. Mustering her courage, Jaycee took hold of her weapon.
* * *
Jaycee, now a young lady of twelve years, was in the forest marveling at the bright pink cherry blossoms blooming on the trees.
With a staff in hand, James arrived. He cleared his throat to make his presence known.
When Jaycee turned to face him, James presented her with the gift. “This is for you,” he said, unable to look Jaycee in the eye.
Having such a thing happen prompted Jaycee to blush. “Thank you,” she said, accepting the staff. “But why are you giving this to me?”
“I know how you don’t like handling a sword. And you’ve had difficulty with arrows, so I thought you would benefit from a new weapon.” James briefly met eyes with Jaycee but immediately looked away again. “The staff is a weapon that should suit you.”
“Why is that?”
“Well, a staff may not look like a very powerful weapon, but it has amazing strength,” said James. “It may not be a strength that everyone can see, but it’s there.”
* * *
Jaycee fell to her knees and her eyes began to glimmer with budding tears. “James,” she said. “He’s who I’m looking for. With him, that’s where I’m supposed to be. How, how could I have forgotten him?”
Large portions of the walls suddenly began to disappear and scorch marks appeared on what remained. The roof then vanished, displaying the empty night sky. It was just as Jaycee remembered her home looking after it was set ablaze all those years ago.
The doll that only moments ago had been in her room was now lying in the hall. It, too, was charred black.
Directing her uneasy attention to her parents’ room, Jaycee timidly made her way down the hall. As she grew nearer, her advance became much slower. Jaycee’s hesitancy stemmed from her fear of what might be waiting for her.
A trembling Jaycee opened the bedroom door. Shock consumed her upon seeing two figures lying under a blood-soaked sheet on the bed. Jaycee had been expecting the worst and the worst was what she discovered.
The sight proved too much for Jaycee, who immediately fled from the house.
Jaycee’s frantic escape led her to the field of flowers. Being in such a state of hysteria, she tripped on her own feet and fell to the ground. It was shortly thereafter when she began vomiting uncontrollably.
A steady rain then began to fall.
When Jaycee stood, she found the flowers gone. In their place, thousands of wooden crosses, stretching as far as the eye could see.
“What is this?”
“All of these belong to us,” said a girl’s voice.
Jaycee turned in the direction of the voice and was aghast when she discovered a younger version of herself standing only feet away. “This can’t be,” gasped Jaycee. The younger Jaycee was staring with utter discontent at her older counterpart.
“There’s one for each day that’s passed since we realized our life was no longer worth living,” said the younger Jaycee.
“I never said that,” said Jaycee. “I’ve never said my life wasn’t worth living.”
“We didn’t have to say it,” said another younger Jaycee. “It’s how we feel.”
“All we ever wanted was to be back with mamma and papa,” said the first younger Jaycee. “The more we think about them, the more we want to be with them.”
“We can’t continue to live like this,” said another younger Jaycee. “It’s wrong to push others away because of our selfish belief that we deserve to be alone.”
“What does all this mean?” asked Jaycee.
“It’s your fault,” said the first younger Jaycee. “It’s your fault we’re like this.”
“Being alone for so long made us distance ourselves from those who tried to get close to us,” said another younger Jaycee. “We’ve accepted being alone. We’ve grown to take comfort in it. It’s what we know, it’s where no one can hurt us.”
“Being around others makes us uncomfortable,” said another younger Jaycee.
“That’s not true!” exclaimed Jaycee. “I know that I need others.”
“If not for our need to push others away, then . . .” said the first younger Jaycee.
“Then what?” asked Jaycee.
“Then James would still be alive.”
The breath escaped from Jaycee’s lungs and an intense pain struck the pit of her stomach. “It’s not true,” she said, shaking her head. “You’re lying.” Jaycee then shared an uncomfortably long silence with the younger versions of herself. “James is still alive,” she said. “I know he is. Isn’t he?” Another unsettling silence then ensued.
“James is still alive,” said another younger Jaycee. “No thanks to you.”
More copies of her younger self began appearing. Before long, there were too many to count, all with eyes fixed coldly on Jaycee.
“There’s room for one more,” said one of the younger Jaycees. “There’s always been room for one more.”
“You don’t have a choice,” said another younger Jaycee. “This is where you belong. There’s no use fighting it. Give your life away.”
“No,” said Jaycee. “I don’t belong here.”
“But you don’t know how to survive around others,” said another younger Jaycee. “The only person you’re safe around is yourself. All you need is yourself. That’s all you’ve ever needed. So stop telling yourself that you deserve anything different.”
“You’re wrong,” said Jaycee.
“Then why do you keep pushing people away?” asked another younger Jaycee.
“Because . . . I don’t want to get hurt again,” said Jaycee. “I thought if I pushed others away, then I would never get hurt again. That’s why I shut everyone out, because I can’t stand the pain. But pushing others away only made the pain worse.”
“That’s why you belong here,” said one of the younger Jaycees. “Because you’re one of us. Every one of us is a part of you.”
“No, I’m not like you,” said Jaycee.
“You are,” said another younger Jaycee. “Whether you admit it or not.”
At that moment, every younger version of Jaycee began speaking. They all had different things to say, making their messages impossible to understand.
Jaycee covered her ears. “Stop it!” she screamed. The voices only became more battering after Jaycee’s plea. “Please!” Not able to endure the torture any longer, Jaycee fell to her knees and shut her eyes. “Please stop!”
The voices came to an immediate halt, prompting Jaycee to open her eyes. She found there was no longer a plethora of wooden crosses or younger versions of herself. Jaycee was once again surrounded by flowers.
“Jaycee!” shouted her false mother.
Jaycee looked to find her false parents standing before their home, which looked to have never been ravaged by fire.
“Please, Jaycee, come back!” shouted her false father. Though he and his wife were created only for the purpose of deception, there was nothing deceitful about the way they felt about Jaycee. In their hearts, she truly was their daughter.
“I don’t belong here,” Jaycee told herself. “This isn’t real!” she shouted.
“This is real!” shouted Jaycee’s false mother.
“It’s not!” shouted Jaycee. “This is just a dream,” she said in a voice only she could hear. “A person can’t live in a dream. No matter how perfect it is.”
“Please, Jaycee, we love you!” cried her false mother.
“We need you!” shouted her false father.
“I’m sorry,” whispered Jaycee, turning her back.
“Jaycee!” shouted her false mother.
“Please understand,” whispered Jaycee. She knew the two were unable to hear her but still said what was on her mind. “It would be wrong for me to love you.”
A streak of lightning flashed across the sky, followed by a burst of thunder so loud that it sounded as if the sky had just been ripped open.
Jaycee felt the two deserved to at least see her face, so she turned to face them. Standing behind Jaycee’s false parents was Shadow Kahn. In his hand was the Sword of Hell. “Behind you!” shouted Jaycee.
The two did nothing but close their eyes and lower their heads.
“What are you doing?” shouted Jaycee. “Run!”
Shadow Kahn raised his sword. “No!” screamed Jaycee. The plea fell upon deaf ears as Shadow Kahn slashed Jaycee’s false father across the back, sending him falling to the ground. He then did the same to Jaycee’s false mother.
“Reality is what you want,” said Shadow Kahn. “So reality is what you shall have.” With that said, Shadow Kahn’s sword disappeared.
Jaycee began to shake as she stared wide-eyed at the scene. There was now only one thing on her mind. She tightened her grip on her staff, locked eyes with her opponent, then charged, ignoring any possible consequences.
Shadow Kahn did nothing but wait.
“You bastard!” exclaimed Jaycee, unleashing a powerful swing of her staff. Jaycee’s weapon slammed across Shadow Kahn’s face with more than enough force to render a normal man unconscious. However, Shadow Kahn was no normal man. All the attack accomplished was to force his head to jerk to the side.
With a strength Jaycee was unaware that she possessed, she took another swing. The attack was all for naught, however, as Shadow Kahn caught Jaycee’s staff. He then ripped it from her grasp and backhanded Jaycee across the face, sending her to the ground. In an act of utter degradation, Shadow Kahn tossed Jaycee’s staff back to her, showing her he was unconcerned by any aggression she might have remaining.
Rather than focusing on Shadow Kahn, Jaycee crawled to the motionless bodies of her false parents. She shook them, hoping they had somehow survived Shadow Kahn’s attack. There were no signs of life in either of them.
“How could you be so heartless?” asked a sobbing Jaycee.
“Are you about finished groveling?” asked Shadow Kahn.
“Why?” asked Jaycee.
“They failed me. I was left with no other choice.”
“They failed you?” asked Jaycee. “That’s why you did this?”
“Why do you care?” asked Shadow Kahn. “You said it yourself, those people were not your real parents. Nothing that you saw here was real. This was all just a world that I created for you. It was perfect, yet you still chose to reject it.”
“It wasn’t real.”
“It was real enough,” said Shadow Kahn.
“I never could have been happy in a place like this. Knowing that everything around me was nothing but a lie.”
“Do you know what people would give just for the chance to find happiness?” asked Shadow Kahn. “What does it matter if what they get is real or not?”
Jaycee stood back up. “You didn’t know them,” she said. Jaycee then looked Shadow Kahn in the eye. “You didn’t know them.”
“What?” asked Shadow Kahn.
“You didn’t know my parents,” said Jaycee. “That’s why the ones you created looked nothing like them. But everything else was just as it was when I was a girl. My home, the flowers, you even knew about the doll my mother made for me. How could you have known all this?” Jaycee then paused to continue to stare deeply into Shadow Kahn’s eyes.
It was evident that Shadow Kahn was growing uneasy.
“You couldn’t have known all this unless you had been to my home,” said Jaycee. “The only other way you could have known is if . . . I had told you.” It was at that moment when she realized something about Shadow Kahn’s eyes seemed familiar.
Shadow Kahn abruptly turned his back on Jaycee. “There are times when things are laid out so perfectly for us,” he said. “We should be careful not to let them slip through our fingers.” With that said, Shadow Kahn began his departure.
“Who . . .” Jaycee trailed off, unsure if she should ask her question. But realizing how important the question was, Jaycee asked it. “Who are you?”
Shadow Kahn stopped. “You will find out soon enough. But until that day comes, know this. Whenever you feel alone, whenever you long to be set free from your despair, remember that I gave you an opportunity to find happiness, but you wanted no part of it. You are the only one to blame for your solitude.” Shadow Kahn then continued on his way.
“You are going to spend the rest of your miserable life alone,” said Shadow Kahn in a voice loud enough that only he could hear. “I hope you enjoy it, because that is what you deserve.” He then faded away into the darkness.
Jaycee awoke to find herself nestled near a soothing fire inside a small cave. She wiped her tired eyes, then made her way to the entrance. A full moon was hovering high above, shining brightly enough to blanket the sleeping forest with shadows. With no other signs of life, Jaycee felt like she was the only person in the world.
A bitter wind caught Jaycee by surprise, sending a chill through her body. She held herself tightly and gazed at the pristine moon. “James,” she whispered. “Where are you?”