Return to FernWood - Chapter 3
The crisp air burns my nose as I jog again this morning. I had to run to meet up with Ethan as always. The bright fall light of the forest streams through, burning my eyes as I run a little quicker, giving a cursory glance at my watch to see that I was running a little late. Ethan would wait, I hoped.
As I jogged up and huffed in greeting he gives me a warm smile, taking my backpack from me as my chest heaves up and down. I take two puffs of my emergency inhaler, something I'd had to do more of lately. My body had begun to feel weak all the time as of lately, and it wasn't just the asthma. I'd been having heart and lung problems ever since I was young, some doctors I've gone to even suggested the two were related.
My medical issues were yet another taxing expense that the Jane's had to pay attention to, and even quite possibly another reason they fostered me instead of adopting me. They needed the tax checks to get by. Adopting me would only be money out of their pockets.
In some ways I felt like a stray cat that they'd taken in.
"Everything alright?" Ethan asks, his mouth taut with worry. "You've had to use that a lot lately."
I nod. "I think everything's fine."
"Parker." Ethan rolls his eyes at me. "I'll take you to a clinic if you need me to. I know you're only worried about the cost."
"I couldn't ask you to do that." I inform him and he begins to protest as the bus rumbles along.
"And I couldn't live with myself if anything happened to you." Ethan tells me before adding, "Consider it. Papa and dad would be happy to cover the bill, you're like a daughter to them."
"Man they just love adopting kids." I joke with him and he smirks.
We meander onto the bus and I practically collapse into my seat, slamming my head against the back. Ethan shakes his head at me and Astryd stands up, helping me into her solo two seater and then sitting beside me to give support. This was the second time that Ethan and Astryd had to help me like this. The last time was last year before I underwent a series of experimental surgeries to fix my symptoms, one of which going so far as to replace a valve of my heart. I still bear the scar on my chest, frequently covering it with makeup.
Being a freshman in high school and undergoing open heart surgery is certainly a difficult thing.
We pull up at the school and Astryd stands slowly, pulling her shoulder away from underneath my head. "Are you gonna be alright to walk to class?"
I nod and part ways with them both to head to class. Obviously they're reluctant to let me go but I assure them that someone would help me if I collapsed. Griffin watches as I stumble to my seat and then lower myself weakly into my desk, laying my head onto my desk.
"Parker?" He asks and leans over, going so far as to open one of my eyes with his thumb. "Your lips, they're blue." He observes with shock in his voice. His lips quiver as he says this. He mutters, almost so low that I can't hear it, "I've gotta get you back there... For more reasons than one."
"What?" I ask, lifting my head slowly. I touch my lips and find they're cold.
Griffin shakes his head while standing and then does something unexpected; he wraps his arms around me and pulls me into a hug. My head rushes and a warmth flows through me once more. I raise an eyebrow in confusion.
He sits back down at his seat and gulps loudly. "See me after class. I need to talk to you."
"About?" I ask, thinking, what just happened?
"A lot, actually," He tells me, "But I think I'll only have enough time for the footnotes version."
Sitting back down at his desk he clutches his chest almost dramatically. He removes what looks to be ibuprofen from his book bag and takes a few, dry swallowing. I can only wonder what he was feeling, perhaps confused at his own actions. I would be.
As we sit through class together I can hardly think. My heart beats rapidly in my chest although it feels like it's struggling. My mind drifts to all the conversations with doctors that called me a medical miracle and warned me that us miracles didn't always live long. I had to reflect on my life and take a good look at whether or not I was proud of the life I'd lived to this point.
A cough rips through my abdomen, burning my throat as it comes out. My hand is ever so slightly red speckled and my chest feels like a weight was pressing down on it, cracking my ribs.
The class bell finally rings and I stand carefully before rushing towards the nurses office.
"Parker wait up!" Griffin shouts but I continue to persevere to the nurses office. He was the one who noticed my blue lips, he should understand of all people.
"Sorry! Nurses await!" I shout back as he catches up to a point where he wraps his arms around my waist, dragging me into the janitors closet that lies just a few feet from the nurses office.
I remove my inhaler frantically from my pocket, taking another two puffs and feeling my heart rate quicken even more.
Griffin places his hands against my cheeks and a flood of calm flushes through me.
"I need you to trust me." He tells me before placing a finger to his lips and turning the light off in the storage closet. My heart continues to speed up, feeling as though it may beat out of my chest.
I squint at him in the dark, praying for an answer as to what was going on.
My heart beats faster, I'm afraid that he may try to hurt me or touch me and I knew I'd be powerless to stop him if he did.
The answer I got was a light that emanated from his palm. At first it was practically nothing, almost the flame of a tea candle swaying there before me. But as time grew as did it. His hand was eventually engulfed in what looked like fire, illuminating the entire room.
My memories flicker like the flame, a distant memory burning in someplace far that my mind can't reach.
"But, how..." I cough out, my knees beginning the buckle.
"Do you remember a place called FernWood?" He asks and my right ear pops and crackles like the feeling you get as you're launched skyward in an airplane. It rings and burns, almost more than the sensation in my chest.
"No." I tell him firmly, but knowing somewhere in my heart that I did. That I must've.
"Pain in your ear?" He asks and I nod, still staring at the flame between us.
I finally look him in his pale eyes that glow yellowish red in the light and I try to remember. "Does this FernWood place have anything to do with how I'm feeling?"
"I need to get you back there." He tells me, "It happens to the best of us."
I feel a little better to know these things even if I didn't know what he was talking about. He extinguishes the flame before wrapping his arms around my weak and tired body. A sensation of being here in this world one moment and drifting away into a void the next washes over my body like a wave. It feels like sudden paralysis or getting hit by a wave of water. He screams something to me in the darkness that I can't quite comprehend and it feels just like being held underwater.
I can't breathe. My lungs fill with a void that I can't come out of. And then, all at once I'm ushered from the void, pulled out and flung onto the forest floor. I breathe shallowly and it rattles in my lungs.
"Never let go again," He almost reprimands me, "Teleporting is tricky stuff."
I raise an eyebrow as I look around the familiar forest that surrounds me. The crisp autumn air fills my fatigue riddled body. I could recognize a few of the trees, the most noticeable one being a huge oak tree that I carved my name into three years ago.I felt the sensation of death creeping into my veins.
I cough again, tears welling in my eyes as I explain breathlessly, "I didn't know I let go."
Griffin crouches beside me, gazing deep into my eyes.
"You have ten minutes," Griffin tells me, "Pack your life up."
I look at him with a gasp to accompany the shock plastered upon my face, "You expect me to leave my life behind?"
"You aren't gonna have a life if I don't get your heart beating again." Griffin says before gesturing for me to leave. I can't even fathom what he said enough to question.
Nausea comes in waves as the after effect of the teleportation. Only now does that bit of information sink in.
I enter the decrepit house that I'd spent a better part of my life in. No one is home, not Lily from school, not the Jane's from work, and I shouldn't have been there. I should've been sitting in second, possibly third, period thinking about being here. At home. I should've been longing for this place, not standing in it.
Ten minutes? How was that enough time to say goodbye?
Glancing around the downstairs I shuffled across carpet for the feeling. I looked around, my heart swelling in my chest from the emotion that this place overwhelmed me with. I wasn't always so emotional, but the idea of leaving definitely had that effect.
Entering my room, the familiar scent of Georgia peach body mist and a familiar must assaulted my nostrils. The calming dim lights and baby pink walls reminded me how they were always there for me. The open window with it's view of my forest- I'd once called it PJ Forest when I was younger- welcomed me to stay longer. I had to go, I bargain.
I threw things haphazardly into an old, blue suitcase covered in patches that I found lying around my room. I was no longer as ready to leave as I was before. In fact, I was terrified and hesitant to leave because I knew my family would miss me.
I looked around my room with a bittersweet smile and as I surveyed my belongings. My room was a mess with clothing strewn everywhere and all about, but my bookshelves were organized neatly. I owned a small library that I was quite proud of and I decide to take my three favorite books with me. I hoped that someone would feed my fish while I was gone. I had three distinctively different fish named George, Charles, and Swimmy. Needless to say one of those names was not like the others.
I pack up a few good shirts and some nice pants to wear. I also brought a skirt, a teddy bear that I'd owned as long as I could remember, and a jar of coins that I had collected over the years. When I finally felt like I was ready to go, I laced up my shoes, pulled up the handle on my suitcase, and walked out of the door. My suitcase screeched and lurched behind me as I rolled it over sticks and stones. Thankfully my house wasn't too far from where I need to be, where Griffin awaited.
Along with two others?
I didn't realize who was facing off against Griffin until the one figure pulled down their hood and blue locks spilled out into the open. I'd forgotten that Ethan worked up at the front office during his first three periods as a co-op position, he must've seen me get dragged into the janitors closet on the security cameras. How would I explain to them what was going on? Did I need to? I didn't think I should. Of course there was no time to reason that as Griffin took out a wand with flourish and pointed it at Ethan.
"It'll be a shame to erase your memories of Parker, but I assure you it's for your own good!" Griffin shouts and Ethan's body relaxes. I see his shoulders go down when he realizes it isn't a knife.
When we were younger we'd done karate together, Ethan and I. This of course is relevant as I quit at green belt and Ethan now possesses a black belt. Doing an in to out kick, Ethan swiftly snaps the wand right in half and my heart drops into my stomach. That could be a problem.
Griffin stares at his once beautiful mahogany wand which now is held together limply at its center by just a few splinters.
He sighs. "You're buying me a new one when we get to FernWood, Parker doesn't have time for your feelings to get in the way."
"Get to where?" Ethan asks as I walk up and Griffin grabs my hands. He uses me to tie a human knot around both Astryd and Ethan who're scream out in alarm as we teleport again. The void welcomes me back and my stomach drops into my shoes.
This time wind rushes through my scalp and displaces every hair on my head, throwing a chill straight down my spine. It feels like a million needles prick at every inch of skin on my body.
As we land- or appear- I drop to my knees and my luggage falls on top of me. Astryd and Ethan cry out as they hit the ground too. My stomach feels like it stretches between worlds, like an artisan bread maker kneads it.
"What just happened?" Ethan asks and as I look over to him his eyes are rolling forward from the back of his skull.
"Teleportation." Griffin informs him before adding, "And no, you never get used to it, but you do build up a tolerance."
A train screams in the background far away and chugs along beside us. Looking out in the distance I see nothing more than a lake still covered in morning fog that rolls over its gentle waves.
"A lake?" I ask and Griffin nods. He puts two fingers together and into his mouth, letting out a high pitched whistle that rings through my head.
"Come on, Erigor doesn't like to wait." Griffin informs as as he all attempt to get up and move along. I find that I feel stronger by this lake, somehow.
We walk down to the small dock that the lake has and then one by one file into the canoe that bobs on its waters. Griffin helps us each into the boat before entering himself.
"And what exactly is an Erigor?" Astryd asks and Griffin chuckles.
"It's just his name." He says with a laugh.
I look over the boats side and into the murky lake waters as I see a shadow beneath the water. The water glows in its presence, lightening so much that I can see it's features. The skin grey and speckled, the fins that covers it's monstrous body, and of course an eye that peers at me as it rolls sideways in the water to grab ahold of a rope with it's mouth. Erigor was a beautiful monster, his eyes that appeared to hold the galaxy itself.
We near the edge of the lake and my body tenses. It's a miracle as the forest and the lake and everything else fade away into a clear and open ocean before our very eyes.
"So that's an Erigor." I comment from the back of the boat, my mouth staying ajar long after the words left my lips.
He wastes no time gaining speed, dragging the boat across the waters after what I had to say. We approach a mist and as we dive beneath it there are sparkles left clinging to my skin. A smile works its way onto my face despite how impossibly weak everything felt. It was like a stroke on both sides.
And then I really felt as though I was having a stroke as we approached the island. On the West side of the island there was all towns and marketplaces as far as the eyes could see. To the East was the school itself, perched high above all else that there was on this island. My eyes feasted on every part of the island, taking in the sights and the sounds, the scaly seagulls up above and the salty sea water smell that invaded my nostrils from below.
The sun setting glimmered on the water as my heart soared with the sights of what he'd called FernWood. Looking at it then my mind couldn't quite retain the image of much, it felt as though a tapeworm in my brain guzzled up the images each time I remembered any details.
I felt the warmth return to my face and the weight lift from off my chest.
"Parker?" Griffin asks, looking back at me. My eyes are gradually opening up wider, my eyelids no longer heavy.
"Yes?" I ask and he grins.
"How're you feeling?" He asks and I nod.
I tell him confidently, "Better than I've ever felt."
Erigor pulls up beside a lengthy and ornate dock that extended far into the sea, giving him plenty of stopping time. Griffin hops out quickly and gracefully, extending a hand to Ethan. He pulls Ethan onto the dock aggressively while using a more gently approach with assisting Astryd out. When he helps me out, he uses both arms and instructs Ethan to grab my suitcase.
"We'll visit Ms. Winters first to lift the memory spell and then I'll take you home." Griffin instructs and I nod happily.
"I think I can walk on my own." I tell him, feeling so much stronger than I had even just minutes prior. Griffin nods in understanding and walks on ahead with Ethan and Astryd, discussing their rooming situation. Both of them would be given dorms in the school, assuming their presence was accepted.
I watch all that is around me closely, noticing a few other boats that pull in beside Erigor and on the other side of the dock. Magical creatures hop out and head towards the town. I wondered if there were others who would be showing up late for the semester.
Up ahead I started to see more mythical beings, like a small crowd of giggling faeries that flew past us, all of which were about a foot tall. For reference, faeries are typically larger than the average pixie but a half a foot smaller than a dwarf. When I looked back into the water I was shocked and somewhat delighted to see mermaids- or what I thought to be mermaids- jumping up and down giddily in the water. Their tails propelled them out of the clear blue waters and then splashed around happily wriggling in the air for moments at a time before plunging back down again. And repeat. It reminded me of videos I'd seen of pods of dolphins.
Griffin turned to see me not following them and his eyes grew wide as he saw me next to the water. One of the mermaids stopped as her pod continued on and she got extremely close to me. I gave her a smile and a playful wave which she returned. I wondered if mermaids could speak with humans.
She was stunning with her teal locks flowing down her back and her tail flicked back and forth in the water as she held onto the dock beside where I crouched.
The mermaid held out her hand for me and I slowly reached over my own, only to be nearly tackled by Griffin. The mermaid was startled and gave a hiss to reveal she had incredibly sharp teeth almost like a piranhas teeth.
"Ew!" I shouted in shock, amazed I'd nearly touched that. Her beauty rotted away instantly once Griffin scared her. "What's wrong with these mermaids?"
"Well, for starters, that was not a mermaid. The water between here and the main land is polluted by them, Smiling MerFolks, nasty creatures. They're mermaids of a sort, but they should be called Mercannibals for crying out loud! They draw you underwater with their beauty and charm and then their whole mouth widens and sucks the blood and other nasty innards from your body." Griffin said as though the name of them left a foul taste in his mouth. He obviously hated them.
"Mermaids are also quite vicious, but in more of a rude and snobbish way." Griffin says. "I've got a friend who's half mermaid, you'll see. They can be rude."
"Half mermaid?" I ask, wondering what part of the fish is left over once you have a half mermaid. Mermaids are half fish, so therefore a half mermaid would only be a quarter fish.
Griffin nods and says, "You'd never know until you saw the gills. That or his abilities during swim team practice."
I follow beside Griffin as we step off the gigantic dock and onto a rustic cobblestone path that winds and weaves through a marketplace and then a town. To our right is a gondola with a sign instructing us how to use it to get to FernWood. We all climb aboard, Griffin operating the gondola.
It lurches forward quickly, clinging to it's ropes and dragging itself up to a clifftop where the castle is surrounded by forest on one side and a plunging cliff with a waterfall that ended into the sea on the other. My memories of the dock are already fleeting and so I look forward to Ms. Winters removing the memory spell that plagues my mind. I already forget the name of where we were. Fern, I think, unable to remember the second part.
Griffin hops out first again and helps us all out, giving a cautionary, "Watch your step," to each of us. He claps Ethan on the back when he steps out. I think, and this is just a theory, that there was some resentment being harbored over him breaking Griffins wand.
From where the gondola drops us off it's another ten minute hike through scenic flowery trails that one of which happens to travel directly- and narrowly- over one of the three waterfalls that cascaded from FernWoods hill top.
And as we finally arrive on sight it takes all my willpower not to touch the ornate brickwork, clearly done by hand, on the outside of the castle. Each shrub was skillfully and thoughtfully placed along the perimeter, as was each brick in the wall and every stained glass window. The building itself was art.
"A fun fact about the architecture," Griffin tells us, "There's at least fifty miles more of the school beneath the cliff, descending far down into the waters that the cliff is high above. Some of the classrooms are even underwater, protected by magic."
I raise an eyebrow at the fact and Griffin nods.
"I'll go find Winters." Griffin tells me as the image of the castle before me becomes blurry. I can't even look at this place, how was this a part of my past? "Don't touch the building, by the way, the memory spell will only get worse with contact."
Spell? I think, already beginning to forget.
Just moments later the door comes slamming open, a stoic faced woman with flowing locks, white from old age, and piercing amber eyes stares me down. She's fuming obviously despite the emotionless front she attempts to keep. Griffin comes running out before her, almost grovelling at her feet as he attempts to stop her from coming closer to me. Did she mean me harm?
"How could you bring her here?" Mafalda Winters hisses and Griffin attempts to explain himself. I wince, it seemed I may have come here for nothing.
Griffin bears his teeth and says, "Because you refused to."
"And her Magicless friends?" She gestures to Astryd and Ethan behind me, "You're lucky I don't expel you!"
Griffin raises his broken wand that was limp in the center, held together by splinters. "I didn't have much of a choice. The blue one broke my wand."
Ethan steps forward in front of me, Astryd following.
"My apologies, ma'am," Ethan chokes out, looking up at the castle in amazement, "I thought he was trying to kidnap my friend for impure reasons."
Mafalda rolls her eyes.
"To be fair," Astryd argues, "His story was kind of unbelievable." She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and I remain behind the two of them, silent in the affair.
"Silence." Mafalda tells the two of them, "Parker, come forward please."
My steps crunch against the leaves that litter the ground, the sound of the gulls gliding over the sea ringing in my ear. Wind rushes over my scalp while Mafalda steps towards me, too. We meet in the middle and she taps my breastbone with her wand, a warmth filling me as she does so.
"Remember." She commands and the memories flood back. Not everything, unfortunately, but I remember this place. I remember it's halls and it's dorms. I remember the classes and the smell of must that filled the lecture halls. I vaguely recall her speech, only one part standing out to me. It rings in my ears, "Let them burn."
A craving for knowledge wells inside me. The years of learning I'd missed, every opportunity slipped away with my age. I was angry, at myself and at her for not letting me continue here. And most of all, I was angry that she let me go. I was angry that I ended up in the foster care system because of her. I remembered it all.
Griffin looks at me expectantly and I nod, refusing to say a word to Mafalda.
"Take her home, Griffin." Mafalda instructs as darkness begins to fall faster around us. The two torches out front on either side of the doors light up on their own. "You two," She gestures to Astryd and Ethan, "Come with me. I'll find a dorm for you."
I look to Griffin as my knees buckle beneath me, feeling what felt like the weight of the world slipping onto me. I stare off into the distance at the water, the waterfalls rushing reaching my ears. All I can think of is how much I'd missed out on.
"You think a lot." Griffin observes, snapping me out of my thoughts.
"It's a habit." I inform him and he nods, not quite understanding, though.
He asks me, "Why do you do that?"
My only response being, "When you grow up in the foster care system, thinking is your best friend. You are your best friend."
Griffin nods, the understanding finally there. He wraps an arm around me, I wrap one around his neck and in one fluid motion he swoops me up into a bridal style carry. I lay my head against his chest, listening to his heart beating like a drum. It beats rhythmically and gently, sounding as though it could stop at any moment which was a horrifying thought.
He carries me for what feels like forever over cobblestones walkways and gravelled ground. His footsteps grow shakier as he walks through an area of dirt that's just a cup of water away of from being mud.
We finally arrive at a quaint cottage, secluded from all the other houses and nestled away in a patch of woods that extends from a great forest.
My eyelids grow heavy and weary, tired of staying open. I hear a door creak wide open and a raspy voice drum up a conversation. "Griffin, dear," It starts, "I heard you went to the Magicless world from Sal next door. Bring me back anything?" Then a gasp resounds. I try to open my eyes but I'm far too tired to do such.
"No, but I did bring you this." He raises me slightly and I try again to open my eyes. I open them just a crack and stare at the woman before me. She was short and on the heavier side with grey locks and kind brown eyes that looked like warm chocolate. My eyes fluttered shut again.
"Put her in the spare bedroom, it'll be hers." The woman instructs and then adds, "And be sure to find my healing crystals for me."
"Yes, Grams." Griffin says with a slight jolly lilt to his voice. He moves quickly through the house before setting me down on a cushy bed. My body sinks into it, the exhaustion of the day finally catching up and resting upon my chest. I sink into a dreamless sleep what felt like only moments later.