“The boy had always thought the world was small, just like himself. But when he escaped the wretched lair that was his home, his world expanded. It became bigger than he could ever imagine! And so, the small boy embarked on an adventure into this big, new world, with a desire to discover what Fate had kept locked away from him for so many years.”
Steady. Steady… NOW!
Like a tiger pouncing on its victim, Nathan threw himself over the possum. The possum’s eyes widened in fear as it realized Nathan’s malicious intent. The stake glittered in the sun before it was driven right through its heart. The last thing that went through the possum’s mind before experiencing the ecstasy of death, was the delicious meal it was now robbed of, safely stored in its burrow. And it also cursed itself for being gluttonous enough to search for food in broad daylight. Nathan neither cursed nor regretted anything, as he was quite pleased with the meal he had procured for Nana and himself.
Nana sprung up from behind the rock where she’d hidden. That’d been the only way to subdue her vibrating from excitement, and Nathan was afraid she would drill herself her own, little burrow if kept going. And he didn’t want her to scare off the poor, fat possum.
“You got it! You got it!” she squealed.
She twirled and skipped around the possum’s dead body. Nathan swore, that if someone had seen this five years ago, it would look like the sickest, edgiest ritual ever.
“Keep it down, or you’re going to resurrect it,” he chuckled.
But this just sparked her passion, and she continued on vigorously. Nana truly was something special.
“The boy traveled far and wide in this big, new world. However, it was not at all how he imagined it. There was no one. No one wanted to talk to him, no one wanted to see him, no one wanted to love him. But one day, the boy came across a castle, with terrible monsters guarding the highest of its towers. The boy snuck past the monsters, to find the most beautiful princess he’d ever seen. He saved her from the monsters and vowed to be her knight. But trust was a privilege the princess didn’t grant whomever. He would have to prove himself by taking her on a journey to find her real parents.”
Nana pouted, as the grilled possum hadn’t lived up to her expectations. Nathan figured it was the Skittles from last night that had spoiled her too much. She shouldn’t get too accustomed to luxury like that. Not with the life they were living right now.
“It’s too chewy,” she sulked.
“Good, then your jaw is getting some exercise,” Nathan retorted.
Nana shot him a killer glare as she slowly took another bite. It would however have been more intimidating if she didn’t chew for a full minute before swallowing. She had this weird delusion that she could be frightening whenever she wanted. But this tall girl couldn’t have scared even a fly.
The possum had proved to be quite a substantial meal. If gluttony had ever been incarnated as a possum, it would have been this one. Nathan rubbed his belly satisfied and pulled out a map. Nana popped up right next to him.
“Are we there yet,” she groaned.
“Nah, but we’re getting there. Step by step, mile by mile and groan by groan,” he smiled to her.
Nana was not amused.
“The boy and the princess came upon the cabin of a wizard, hidden deep within the forest. He was concocting many different types of potions, all of them bubbling all around his sanctum. He said he was selling them to nobles, that they were quite an exquisite item. The boy recognized some from his own castle. The wizard was a peculiar man, but so many wizards are, he spoke to unseen phantoms and was frightened by ghosts only seen by the naked eye. But he scared the ghosts off with his magic wand. He offered the boy and the princess a map that would lead them to her parents, who was living in a land far, far away. And so, the boy and the princess thanked the wizard and embarked on the journey to the land far, far off.”
“WE’RE NOT GOING THERE. WE’RE GONNA FIND MY PARENTS!”
Nana cried, and screamed, sobbed and squealed. She was having another fit. Again. She tried running from the clearing and into the unknown, but a tiny rock would prove to be the demise of her plans. Her body made impact with the ground, and all her emotions came out in a single, powerful burst.
“WHY DO WE HAVE TO GO THERE? I WANT TO SEE MY PARENTS!”
Nathan squatted down beside her and helped her get back on to her feet. Her eyes were puffy and red from the tears. But Nathan couldn’t restrain the little smile that escaped his lips. There was something about this girl that gave him hope. Perhaps it was her childlike sense of wonder. Or something else.
“If we don’t want to starve, we’re going to have to loot a shop. There aren’t more dumb possums around, and who knows, maybe we’ll find some more Skittles?” he comforted.
At the prospect of the delicious marvel that was candy, her mood took a huge swing.
“It won’t take long?” she sniffled.
“It won’t take long. Just don’t get eye contact with anybody, and I’ll handle the rest,” Nathan smiled.
Just as quickly as the emotions had come, they evaporated, and Nana continued to skip towards the city they were on the outskirt of.
One day. One day, he would have the courage to tell her. But not today.
“Once upon a time, there was a very small boy in a very big world. The boy was lonely, the boy was sad, the boy was all alone. His mother, the queen, had been whisked away by an evil sorcerer, never to be seen again. The boy was to be king someday, the heir to the throne. But his conduct was of no prince the kingdom had ever seen before. The king tried desperately to raise the manners he so desired, but the prince refused. All the prince ever wanted, was someone who understood. Someone by his side. A friend.”
Days turned into weeks, and yet, no progress seemed to be made. With each step, Nathan realized that the lines on the map didn’t shrink, but rather expanded. And the lack of food the last couple of days was angrily expressed by his growling stomach.
“Oh, I think I hear a monster harboring within you!” Nana giggled.
Nathan sent her a skewered smile.
“A new plot for your fairytale?” he asked.
“Haha! No silly, I can’t add a new story ‘till the previous one is done,” she winked.
No, of course she couldn’t. Nathan had always found a way to keep his hope sparked, but the last couple of days, the depressing reality was slowly starting to extinguish that flame. Some nights…he regretted not putting up with it. Some nights…he regretted not enduring it. Some nights…he regretted having run away from home.
And some nights, he’d woken up to see Nana scribbling away, as if she didn’t have a care in the world, and his hope was reborn again.
“One very lonely night, as the boy and the princess had set up camp underneath the setting night sky, the boy had drifted away to a nearby forest. The princess had followed; her curiosity piqued. Deep within, looking across a pond, glistening in the moon’s marvel, her knight stood, tears trickling down his handsome face. He’d removed his shirt, and all his battle wounds were revealed to the princess. He’d fought so many battles, and although they had all seemed for naught, the boy still stood here, proving that they hadn’t been lost. His spirit wasn’t defeated. And that night, was when the princess truly trusted her knight.”
Nana was performing a soliloquy she’d composed herself in front of the crackling campfire. It wasn’t complicated, it wasn’t extravagant, but it was thoroughly enjoyable and fun to watch. Just as he’d come to expect of her. Depth and complexity were concepts he could never anticipate from Nana, despite her age. But just this evening, he couldn’t quite focus on the squashing, hot mess she was making of herself in desperate attempts to liven up the same monologue she’d performed before.
No, Nathan’s mind was preoccupied with the same question that lingered at the back of his head every morning he rose.
“Should I tell her? And when?”
A conundrum without any solution. Despite only being a teenager, he found himself making harder decisions than any adult he’d ever met. But he wasn’t just necessarily afraid of confronting Nana, but also her fantasy that had kept this horrific reality from burying him alive. It had almost destroyed him once, and he wished no such fate upon anyone. Except maybe…his father.
“The end. Wasn’t that great!?” Nana declared triumphantly with a bow.
“Yes, yes it was. Just like last time,” Nathan smiled melanchollicaly.
“What!? What do you mean last time? This wasn’t the same, how dare you?” she accused.
But her accusation missed, as once again, Nathan found himself pondering the dilemma that had no correct answer. He would just have to find out for himself.
“Some nights, the princess found herself not being able to sleep. She somehow missed the comfort of her tall tower, the familiarity of it. Now, everywhere they traveled was the great unknown, a darkness from which she couldn’t see the light. But then the princess remembered the monsters guarding her. The things they had spewed, a dictionary of grotesqueries. And the many knights she’d thought had come to save her. But they were nothing but as monstrous as the monsters keeping her locked up. For every new knight, a petal of her rose fell, never to sprout again. And just as it was about to wilt away, a true knight in shining, white armor came. And so, the princess endured this new life, because unlike her flower, she had a chance to sprout anew.”
Nathan checked the map one more time. Nope. Just as the previous attempts had proven, there was nothing out of the ordinary. Meaning that they had arrived at their destination. But however Nathan looked at it, it was impossible for this to be the end of their journey.
“Oh, it’s so pretty here!” Nana shouted from a rusted monkey bar.
“Nana, are you sure about this spot?” Nathan posed as he stared intently on the map, hoping there might have been some mistake.
With a horribly coordinated swing, she swung herself off, barely landing on her feet, yet still lifted herself like she’d won the Olympics for her performance.
“Of course it is! I remember it! I studied it so many times in my room, what, do you think I’m wrong?” she smirked.
This lodged a ball of lead in Nathan’s stomach, and he found it difficult to breathe properly. If she was right…then that meant she was wrong.
“Nana, this is a theme park…,” he gently started.
“Yeah, duh! It even has a fairytale theming! I love fairytales, don’t you? Although, I feel like I’ve seen some of these things before,” she said, skipping towards a nearby plastic forest with gnomes and other magical creatures made of stone.
It…it had come to this.
“Nana, what did it say on the map you found in ‘the castle’?” Nathan hesitantly asked.
Nana emerged once again; a unicorn teddy stuffed in her arms. It was missing an eye and a leg, symbolic of the same upkeep the park was lacking.
“I told you before, it said ‘The last place when we were happy’! Sooo, that means my parents got to be here! Come, maybe they’re by…,”
She put down the unicorn to read the faded map.
“…by the Enchanted Forest maybe! Come, Sir Nathan, let’s find them!”
It had always been so nice to live in this fairytale, but Nathan couldn’t fuel this disillusion any further. It was time, time to wake up.
“Nana, your parents aren’t here…” he began.
She stopped dead in her tracks and turned around, but her smile showed that she only believed this to be a jest.
“Of course they are! They have to be! And if not here, well, then we have a whole new adventure in front of us!” she cheered.
“They’re not here. No one would ever live in a theme park, Nana, let alone during these times.”
His voice carried a severity that even Nana could pick up on. And this was a battle, that wouldn’t just leave another bruise, but a deep wound that Nathan hoped could be healed.
“Then…then we’ll search somewhere else. But I’m sure they could be here! This is the last place when they were happy, they would surely come here during all of this! C’mon, let’s go to the forest, I want to search there first,” she nervously said while trying to drag Nathan by his arm.
But Nathan stood his ground, for the first time in forever. Yet, he couldn’t bring himself to directly face her. Not when he was about to do this.
“I know where they are Nana…and so do you,” Nathan continued.
Now, Nana’s smile was gone, replaced by worry and a frustrated sadness.
“If…if I knew, we would have traveled there already. They’re here, they got to be!”
“THEY’RE NOT!” Nathan suddenly burst out.
He’d never yelled at Nana before, but Nana’s childlike ignorance mixed with his exasperation of his negligence to confront her for so long, made a concoction that now exploded forth in anger.
And then, the tears came, from both Nana and him.
“How…how do you know? YOU DON’T KNOW,” she sobbed back.
“Your parents, just like my dad, are home. Home were we came from. Home where we ran away from. They aren’t monster Nana, they’re just shitty parents. Like my dad,” Nathan whispered between gritted teeth.
“NO! THEY WERE NOT MY PARENTS. MY PARENTS WOULDN’T DO THAT TO ME! THEY WOULDN’T LET THOSE MEN DO…DO WHAT THEY DID TO ME AND WATCH! PARENTS ARE SUPPOSED TO PROTECT ME, KEEP ME SAFE! THEY’RE NOT MY REAL PARENTS!”
“No one are sane anymore! We do things we don’t want to…to survive. Your parents were probably the same. Nobody could have known this would happ-”
“NO, I DON’T WANT TO HEAR EXCUSES. THEY’RE NOT MY PARENTS! THEY’RE NOT MY FAMILY!”
She suddenly sprang away from Nathan, her tears leaving a trail into the Enchanted Forest. Nathan could hear her sulking, and each sulk felt like a dagger stabbed into his heart. He couldn’t bring himself to follow her immediately, as he was crying himself. But he dried them eventually, because someone needed to act like an adult.
He followed the trail, arriving in a lake depleted of its water, with a lonely lily pad in the center, resting gently atop the muddy soil. There sat the lonely princess Nana, still crying. He quietly sat next to her, although Nana took up the entire lily pad, so he had to settle for the ground.
“W-why…why did they do this to me?” she cried.
“I…I don’t know. They probably have a million excuses and none of them are good. We deserve better Nana, both of us,” Nathan replied honestly.
She dried her tears as well.
“Will you ever do that to me, Nathan?”
Her eyes sparkled in the sun’s gleam.
She tried going for a hug, but Nathan had to rise to be able to embrace her. They squeezed together tightly, as Nana rose as well.
“We can be each other’s family from now,” he smiled.
Nana looked at him with such a newfound excitement, that he’d almost forgotten what they’d just been through. How many months he’d worry about this very moment, only for it to have turned out okay.
“Yes! I can be the little sister, and you can be my big brother!” she gleamed.
“Haha! Don’t you think that’s a bit weird? You’re older than me, remember? 12 years older in fact!” Nathan rebutted.
Nana ignored him and skipped back into the forest again. Nathan couldn’t contain a smile of his own. Even during these post-apocalyptic times, he had been able to find a happy ending. Nana truly was something special.
“And so, the knight’s and the princess’ journey came to an end. Yet, what they discovered was that this simply was the beginning. Even when the world had come to an end, and madness ravaged the Earth, they had been able to carve a new beginning for themselves, free of the monsters that haunted their past. And so, they ventured into this estranged, new world, with hopes in their hearts and dreams on the horizon. And they lived happily ever after.
Written by Tobias Klausen