For the next installment of Best of 2014, we’re taking a short jaunt back to November. We published a story that felt overly simplistic at first, but as we read on, we discovered it had some real emotion hidden underneath. It was a perfect example of how authors can use all sorts of styles and tones to make us think about the human condition.
By Mary DeSantis
I felt it when Devron’s dream became real.
His shout pierced the air like the green of leaves against the sky’s blue. His footsteps pounded up the stairs. He burst into the kitchen and swept me off my feet, spinning me as if I were a princess. When he set me down, our lips met for the longest moment.
“I’ve done it, Lynd,” he said a time later. “I’ve made the drink. We can travel the world as who we want, what we want. We can see it all.”
His eyes sparkled like diamond-studded stars. This was everything to him, and thus, it was everything to me. He’d worked for so long and with such fervor.
And finally, his success was ours.
I snuggled into his embrace and rested my cheek against his chest. His warmth cocooned me. Tomorrow, we would become something else.
But, too, we would always remain us.
For a year we drank pink.
We became fairies. We danced on flowers. We kissed under the stars. We shimmered in the heat of noon.
One night, Devron took me under his wing and flew us to a garden with a crystal blue pool at its center. The surface stretched for what, in our tiny bodies, seemed miles. The moon shone, full and bright. A bird skimmed the water before lifting into the sky, and the light danced over the ripples until they shimmered like silver dust.
He pulled me into his arms and knelt, scooping the sparkling liquid into our hands. “Forever, the purity of the moonlit lake will unite us.”
The water flowed through our fingers. My heart swelled with all he meant to me, and I kissed him.
It would be forever.
For a year we drank violet.
We became unicorns. We drank from mountain streams. We chased each other over hills. We tossed our heads with the perfection of life.
One day, Devron led me to a pure green meadow. The sun burned bright overhead. Russet brown deer ran through the tall grass. The breeze fluttered in lazy patterns, carrying the scent of summer flowers.
We sat at the center of it all. He laid his head across the back of my neck. His breath stirred my mane and sent shivers down my spine. He placed his leg so a tall, orange flower stood between our hooves. “Forever,” he said in the language of beasts, “the bloom of a sunlit flower will know our love and keep it safe.”
My heart swelled until an orchestra’s melody filled my being. I nestled as close to him as I could. A long sigh of contentment slipped from my lips.
He said forever.
For a year we drank blue.
We became merpeople. We frolicked in the surf. We rode waves taller than any tree or mountain. We raced the whitecaps to shore.
One night, many moons after our arrival, Devron swam with me to a grotto. He’d decorated the rocks with plants that sparkled and swayed in the deep-sea currents. Tiny yellow and silver fish swam in schools from one gathering of kelp to another. He pulled me to a patch of sand at the center and curled his tail around me.
“I love you,” he said in the language of the ocean.
“I love you, too.” But my voice shook. The visions of sparkling plants and silver fish wavered.
“Lynd?” He tightened his embrace. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” I fought the sorrow that rose like the tide. It was his dream, our dream. I wanted it as much as him.
“It’s beautiful here.”
He rested his cheek atop my head. “It is.” He plucked some of the shining plant from one of the lower decorations. “Forever, the light of the deep will hear our heartbeats as one and know how we are meant to be together.”
I closed my eyes. My heart swelled.
I wanted forever, after all.
For a year we drank green.
We became elves. We jumped in the rain. We swung from tree to tree, laughing like children. We basked in starlight and dusk.
We joined our new kind.
One sunlit afternoon, Devron led me to a grove of wide-leafed trees. Elves sat high in the branches, tossing small sticks upon the ones below. Those on the ground played gambling games with seeds and bark.
Dev took my hand and laced our fingers together. “They are ours, Lynd.”
I watched the elves. True, we looked like them. They smiled. They laughed. They were alive like us.
But we were not them.
“No.” My protest came choked. It wasn’t right, but nor could I say what was amiss. “Dev, this … isn’t where we belong.”
His eyes were storm clouds. The flex of gold in their gray depths flashed and spun. And then he was himself again. “But they could be. Come see.” He dragged me.
I played the games. I tossed the sticks from above. I spoke with them. I pretended to laugh, to smile. I wore a mask for Dev’s sake.
One night Devron went with them. I stayed behind, cradled by the soft leaves. The sky shone a royal blue. The moon hung high, its silver light dancing through the branches above. I breathed, the evening breeze swirling through my lungs like ethereal ice, and closed my eyes.
I saw home. I saw the kitchen, the counters covered with the rainbow bottles of our making. I saw the yard, so small when compared to the gardens and meadows and ocean.
I remembered our bed. I remembered the softness of the blankets. They were not the leaves, but they were ours. I remembered Dev’s arms, so warm and secure. I missed them. I wanted, needed them back. It was time, time to say goodbye.
Shouts echoed in the distance.
I swung from my perch and landed, feather light, at the base of my tree. Devron and his new friends dashed into the cover of the canopy. He raced to my side and embraced me. He kissed me, strong and passionate. My insides flowed like water, like when we had first been together.
He broke away with a sly grin and held open the pack on his shoulder. Inside, gold and silver winked in what moonlight reached the forest floor.
“Won,” Dev said. “Or taken.” He plucked a golden nugget from the bag and held it out to me. “For you, Lynd. What we could never have before.”
I stared at the nugget as if it meant me harm. Won … or taken. My liquid insides hardened into immovable stone. “Stolen, you mean?”
“Only some,” Devron said. He pushed the nugget toward me. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
I recoiled. The weight of his actions sat heavy in me. “You would never have stolen for me before.”
“That was then.” He replaced the nugget in the bag and stepped toward me. “This is now. I love you, Lynd.” He shook the sack. “Don’t you see that?”
I batted the bag away. This was not love. “This is not us. I think we should stop drinking from the bottles.”
His eyes mimicked the thunder storm again. “No. I can be so much more for you this way.”
“But I want the old you back.”
He dropped the bag and gathered me in his arms. He held me as if I might break. “I love you. I want what’s best for you. This is better than we ever had, and I won’t give it up.” He kissed my forehead. “It will be like this forever.”
My heart’s beat was pain. Try as I might, I could not speak.
This could not be forever.
I set aside the bottles.
Devron did not.
For a year he drank red.
He became a vampire. By light he slept in our bedroom, the drapes pulled against the sunlight. By dark he stalked the world, a predator.
And by day, I watched, heartbroken.
Every evening he spoke. The words changed, but the meaning stayed the same. “Come with me, Lynd. The thrill, the power — it’s all worth it.”
And I didn’t sleep.
I tossed and turned, cried and shouted. How could he do this? How could he leave me?
One night, I followed. I broke into his workroom and stole the red. Perhaps our time with the elves taught me something. I drank.
My body changed.
I grew fangs. I grew claws. Bloodlust came to life in my belly. The hunger sent me into the night without protest.
I killed. I fed. I kept my distance from Devron and let the need consume me.
The sun rose, and the thirst relented. I staggered home to stand outside my closed bedroom door. I stared at the white surface. Silently, I flung every insult I knew, but the barrier held. Devron remained untouched. Every night he went. Every night he reveled.
I never followed again.
And every morning he returned, eyes red and skin pale. He fell into my arms. His lungs didn’t breathe, and his heart didn’t beat.
Still, I held him.
I cradled his head, and silent tears fell from my eyes. I remembered the garden and the meadow and the ocean, and I wished him back.
He didn’t come.
He woke in my arms, ripped from my grasp, and staggered into the bedroom.
Alone, I went to the kitchen and stared at the red bottles that lined the counter, one a day to feed Devron’s addiction. At the end of the year, I readied a bin for the reds. The pinks, violets, blues, and greens sat in bins that I couldn’t bear to throw away. They were memories of happier times. Times of forever.
For a year he drank black.
He became a zombie. He wandered our home, silent and aloof. When his zombie friends came, he shuffled out the door, a dangerous glint in his eyes.
He never asked me to join him.
I never offered.
I waited by the door for him to return. He shambled inside and collapsed into my embrace. He groaned, an inhuman sound. It was no language, but still, there were words. He told me of the joy, the ecstasy of killing. He slept in my arms, and silent tears poured down my face. What had he become?
Later, he woke, pulled free of me, and curled on the floor. He watched the wall with dead, frozen eyes. He didn’t move, didn’t breathe.
I watched the collection of black bottles on the counter. It started small and, like all those before it, grew into a monster. At the end of the year, I filled a bin with them and placed it beside the others. I still could not throw them away.
“Dearly beloved. We are gathered here to mourn the passing of Devron Frill.”
I sat in the front row of the church, my eyes dry as deserts. The day passed in a haze. I said my final goodbyes. I climbed the hill to his final resting place. I watched as they lowered him into the ground.
What happened to forever?
I sat in my dark bedroom. The curtains remained closed from his time with the red. I couldn’t bring myself to open them. The blackness in my heart called to the bottles. I refused.
He promised me forever.
I stumbled into the kitchen. The bins sat where I left them. Pink, violet, blue, green, red, black. I watched them. I waited for them to explain, to apologize, to give him back to me.
I broke into his workroom. Glass and plastic littered every surface. Colors winked from every corner. The machine he used to make the drinks sat dormant. No liquid swirled. No lights flashed. There was nothing here. I turned to leave.
Gold caught my eye. A single bottle sat high on a forgotten shelf. I climbed the stepladder and brought it down. Dreams scrawled across its side in tangled calligraphy.
I returned to the bins. They still had him. They kept him from me. They held every wish I’d ever made, everything I ever wanted for us. They stole from me as I had from him, as he had for me. They took my dreams.
Dreams. I held up the gold bottle. That was it. I could get him back. They’d taken him, yes.
But not forever.
I brought the bottles to his grave, and by the silver light of the moon, I began. I dug and placed, worked and waited. Night turned to day. A moonlit pool became a meadow. A meadow became the ocean. My creation grew. Bottles formed a circle, their colors a pattern of years passed. Stories flowed from their lips. Memories filled the air. Still I worked.
When it was done, I brought the gold to the hilltop and stood at the center. Every bit of us hummed in that one place. My hopes and dreams pulsed like a new heartbeat. This was it. We would be together.
I uncorked the gold and held it aloft. “To forever.” And I drank.
The bottle tumbled from my grasp. My legs grew together. My arms rose above my head. Branches sprouted from my fingers and reached for the sky. Roots stretched from my feet and buried into the earth. The sun warmed me. The earth’s water sated my thirst.
He was there, around me. His essence entwined with mine. We saw the pool, the meadow, the ocean. It was everything and more.
“I love you.”
It was forever.
Mary DeSantis grew up in New England and now lives in North Carolina, where she misses trees and snow. The change has allowed her to realize her beach addiction, though, and that she must never live on the ocean if she wants to get anything done. Mary has a B.A. in Psychology from Merrimack College and an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. When not writing or at the beach, she can be found hanging with friends, reading, or learning to fight dragons. She can he found on Twitter: @desantismt