I tossed my textbook in my bag and picked it up. Then I went downstairs.

“Mum, I’m going to school.” I yelled.

“What about breakfast?” my mother called out from the kitchen.

“No time.” I said.

I stopped in front of the hallway mirror and checked to make sure I looked okay. Hair a little tousled, parted sideways in an attempt to make it look better. Sort of frazzled. Lips not pink enough, not big enough. Small eyes, short eyelashes and dark circles. Horrible skin, sick-looking complexion.

Oh, how I hate my face, I thought.

I shuffled out the door, purposely dragging my feet on the ground. School wasn’t far away, and I usually walked to it. I went to the end of the street and turned a corner. Then I stopped. There was an alley between the shops, and this I ducked into. I hoped, prayed, fervently that no one had seen me. Get used to this, stop fretting, a voice echoed in my head. I walked to the fence at the end of the alley and tossed my bag over it. Then I climbed it myself and jumped down on the other side. Picking up my bag, I walked out onto the street. An ordinary kid going to school on an ordinary day. I delighted in my little secret. I imagined a group of anguished-looking people surrounding me.

“Please, please tell us your secret because we must, oh we MUST, know!” they’d say.

And I would answer gleefully, “Oh, I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you!”

I tripped on a crack in the sidewalk. A blood drop squeezed out from a cut on my chin. I cursed the sidewalk, got up clumsily and began walking again. I could see another alley close by. My pace quickened. I reached the alley and stopped for a minute before strolling ahead. I had realized an old lady, in the cake shop opposite, had spied me.  I walked on till she wasn’t looking anymore and then ran back, into the alley. I crouched behind a garbage container in the alley. A basement window, just large enough for a person, opened. I crawled through and fell onto sacks of old hay.

Shrew was already there. And, of course, Gnome never left.

“Hey-y, Wraith’s here.” Shrew drawled.

Gnome mumbled something.

“What’d you say? Shrew asked softly.

That was what I liked about Shrew, she was never too quick. Not when speaking, not when thinking.

“I said, ‘Welcome to this Hell-Hole’!” Gnome said loudly.

Shrew made a face, and then turned to me.

“How’d you get that cut?” she asked.

“Fell on the sidewalk.”

Shrew shook her head sadly and said, “Don’tcha like this world better?”

“That’s why I’m back, right?”

“Damn sidewalks. Don’t what they’re good for.” Gnome said gruffly.

“Gnome, you swear too much.” I said.

“I don’t!”

“You do.”

I slid off the hay sacks. Gnome turned to Shrew.

“Do I ******* well swear a lot?” he demanded.

Shrew made her ‘I’m-thinking-hard’ face.

“No-o. I don’t rightly remember. But you have a big nose!” she said and began giggling.

Gnome frowned and sat down on the floor.

“It’s time.” he mumbled.

“It’s time!” Shrew cried and flopped on to the floor beside him.

I crawled to them. Gnome began digging the earthen floor of the cave. Then he brought up a small tinderbox.

“Ready?” he asked.

No answer.

Carefully, he lifted the lid. A cloud of white powder rose and then settled. He took out three little pouches and gave two to us.

“Remember the rules. You will not be able to come back until this finishes. Keep yourself safe.” Gnome instructed.

We nodded, and each of us took a little powder from our pouches.

It began almost immediately.

I knew I was being transported, being taken away. A strange sensation began in my body, but then everything stopped. I was vaguely aware of Gnome trying to reach out to me.

And then I was gone. Or maybe, I arrived. I could hardly see in the dark. There was light coming in from the other end.

I tried to find my weapon. My hand touched a hard object. My sword, I thought, relieved. I began walking towards the light.

Suddenly, I was standing in the middle of a large pasture. But something was wrong. The animals of this world were grotesque, but that wasn’t it. There was something here that shouldn’t be, and something that should be, was missing. I heard a twig crack. I turned.

A boy was looking at me. He was tall and ghostly thin. Stretched, almost. He should not be here, I thought. I couldn’t see him clearly; there was a mist about him. I opened my mouth to speak, but he disappeared in to the trees. I swallowed.

I knew that forest. No one ever went in or out of it. But I knew that I had to follow him. But I knew that I had to follow him. I tried to jump across a river that bordered the forest. The face of a demon loomed before my eyes and I was thrown back onto the ground.

I had suspected this would happen. That my fears had been confirmed did not give me any relief. I brandished my sword in front of the demon, only to find that it was actually a bone. I screamed and dropped it.

The sky turned red and purplish-crimson clouds began welling up. All sounds, except a stormy roar, ceased. I tried to scramble away, but the demon was gaining.

Suddenly, someone pulled me away from the demon’s jaws. I recognized the large nose.

“Gnome? Gnome, how’d you get so tall?” I asked.

I had never seen Gnome so clearly before. I couldn’t help noticing that he looked very handsome.

“I told you to keep yourself safe.” he said abruptly and began walking away.

“Gnome, don’t go!” I cried out.

He stopped.

“I have to find Shrew.” he said.

“But Gnome, I saw—” I began.

“Gnomie!” a soft voice exclaimed.

Shrew walked out from behind a large rock. The rock was so large, it touched the sky. The tip was pointy, so maybe it cut the sky. And maybe the sky had turned red because it was bleeding. There was certainly a lot of red stuff on the ground. No, the red stuff was actually flowers. Lots of them.

I turned my attention to Shrew. She certainly looked nothing like a Shrew. And she was standing to close to Gnome. My Gnome, not her’s.

I was about to tell her this when she said,

“Wraith, do you know what I saw? I do-o declare, it was the scariest thing! I–”

“This world is being destroyed, Shrew. And it wants her lifeblood.” Gnome interrupted, pointing to me.

“Me? Why me?” I said aghast.

They shrugged.

I knew why. I had lied to them about so much. Perhaps I had been hoping that by denying it, I could avert it. Shrew and Gnome thought they had come to this world first, but they were wrong. It was my world. I was the Guardian. It had begun when I started having visions, when I would fall into a trance and the portal leading to this world would open up.

But I betrayed it. An overwhelming sense of guilt washed over me.

“I’ll do it Gnome. My lifeblood. I’ll give it every drop I have, it’s my…” I said, looking at the ground intently.

Silence. Then,

“Have you gone out of your mind? Why the hell do you think I’m here?!” Gnome yelled.

He strode over, gripped my shoulders hard, and said through clenched teeth, “Don’t you dare do anything stupid like that!”

“You don’t understand, I–” I began.

“I do understand. Just what do you think of yourself?”

I began to get angry.

“Gnome, you stupid ass, I am the Guardian!” I yelled.

“And what do you think I am?” he snapped.

I stared at him. Suddenly, the world turned black. I was being thrown back to the Middle Space. I found myself sprawled on some of the hay sacks. Gnome was lying face down next to me, an arm thrown across my mid-riff. Shrew was leaning on to my other side. I got up clumsily.

“Gnome? Shrew?” I asked.

My ears must be malfunctioning, I can only hear garbled noises from my mouth, I thought. Gnome and Shrew began stirring.

“What happened?” Shrew asked in, a slightly more slurred way.

“Guardian…” Gnome mumbled.

I began putting away the little pouches.

“Wraith, you’re a Guardian.” he said slowly behind me. I nodded and said,

“So are you, remember?”

“I don’t remember anything.” Shrew moaned in a child-like tone.

Gnome was quiet.

“I have to go.” I said.

“Me too.” announced Shrew.

Gnome nodded. Shrew climbed the sack pile and scrambled through the window. I looked at Gnome for a few moments.

“Leave.” he said, and began burying the tinderbox.

“Will you be alright?” I asked.

“I’m always alright!” he grunted.

I climbed up the sack pile and scrambled through the window, like Shrew had.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I tossed and turned, but I knew that it wouldn’t be of any use. Finally, I got up and opened the window. The night air was unusually cold. I climbed out onto the ledge and jumped down. I survived the fall, but my body ached.

I ran to the corner and followed the route I had taken during the morning. There was a faint glow in the basement window. I knew it.

I opened the window and scrambled through. Gnome was in the center of the room, about to open the tinderbox.

“I…I…” he began.

Amazing, Gnome was never at loss for words, I thought.

“I know what you’re doing. You can’t. Your blood alone won’t quench its thirst. This is the price we have to pay Gnome, you know that.” I said.

Gnome looked crestfallen. I sat down next to him. He began lifting the lid gently.

“You two idiots really think everything’s going to be fine if you don’t take The Third with you?”

We looked up. Shrew was standing at the foot of the sack pile, her arms crossed.

She walked over to us and sat down.

“Besides, I love that world. And in case you didn’t know, you don’t really die. You just become a part of it and stay there forever and ever and ever.” she said dreamily.

I nodded and Gnome began to lift the lid again. Then he stopped.

“Who’s going to take our place?” he asked.

“…My brother. I have a baby brother. He will…” Shrew said sadly.

I wanted to look at her face, but the candle had gone out.

Gnome thrust a pouch into my hand.

“All of it. Nothing must remain behind, not one crystal.”

I took all the contents of the pouch.

It began happening very quickly now, much more quickly than I had ever experienced. My mind started becoming completely blank. I heard someone say,

“I love you.”

Who was it? Gnome? Shrew? Someone else? I couldn’t tell. I was gone in a second.

And So Ends Our Fairytale

N.B. This story was later published in Us Magazine.

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