Do you remember how the trees used to whisper to us? In the summer time, free from school and homework and responsibilities, we used to run outside, to the park or to a neighbor’s house or to our own backyards, and the trees used to rustle in the wind, chanting soft invitations to us. “Climb us,” they said. And we did.

Do you remember that? I do.

Do you remember how magical the world felt then? We read books about talking lions or about dragons and we believed, really believed, that there was such a thing. That somewhere in the world there might really be short people called hobbits, or that once upon a time there were princesses and castles and monsters to be slain. That magicians could cast spells and that out there in the greater world there was both mystery and danger, but we didn’t feel afraid. We felt alive.

In those days, you would look out your front door and you didn’t just see a sidewalk, a street, your mom’s car or the mailbox your dad installed with a distinct lean to the left. You saw the sky. You saw the grass with its infinite shades of green, vibrant colors bursting across the lawn. You saw a pulsing energy spread across your entire field of vision, like the universe was breathing right there in front of you. You saw raw possibility and you saw life.

These days it’s all about responsibility. The have-to’s and should-not’s. Where did the wonder go? Don’t you ever ask yourself that? The magic—did it just dissipate?

And it’s not that the dog or the kids or the job, the car, the leaky radiator, the project for your boss, the promise you made to lose ten pounds—it’s not that these things don’t matter. They do. But somewhere in the mess of what you have come to call the “real world” you forgot all about the things you used to believe in.

We called it “make believe”, and isn’t that ironic? No one made you believe, but you did believe. You believed Santa Claus was real, even that one Christmas after your older cousin tried to spoil your fun by telling you “the truth”. You believed in the tooth fairy, even when your dad woke you in mid-switch-a-roo, tooth in one hand and dollar bill in the other. You believed in Neverland, even though Peter Pan was just a movie. You believed in magic, even as your mind began to grow up and the so-called rational part of your brain began to dismiss this particular belief as childish.

Even now, you want to believe again. You can admit it to me. We both know it’s true. You want to believe.

Don’t you remember?

I’m sure you do. You probably even remember me, the magical voice inside you. The kid within the kid. The part of you that still believes in old world mysteries and secrets that unlock the magic in your everyday world.

Come on, now. You remember me, don’t you?

*Written for the 500 Club.

I sat in the waiting room with Darren, my legs crossed and tucked underneath me. I think it’s some sort of defense mechanism—reverting to a more child-like posture because I felt vulnerable, that kind of shit. In better days, Darren would have been quick to point it out and advise me as to the psychological significance of it. I couldn’t wait for him to be done with Intro to Psych.

He was there because I was there and I was there because of my mom.

He saw this as a two-fer: a fascinating opportunity to be close to a real-life case-study and the chance to woo me by playing the part of the supportive male friend, all at the same time. I was just too exhausted to tell him to fuck off, so he came.

He sat down next to me and flipped the end of my ponytail, a particularly annoying habit of his. I scowled. He smiled sheepishly.

“She’s going to be fine,” he said.

I glared at him. I was in no mood for anyone to be blowing sunshine up my ass. He didn’t seem to get the hint though and playfully nudged me while leaning in conspiratorially and whispering, “I mean it, Kourtney. She’s going to be just fine. You’ll see. I have a—”

“A what, Darren? A sixth sense? Jesus.”

“Okay, okay,” he said. He rose from his seat, looked back at me with a pathetic, please-ask-me-not-to-go look on his face and then shuffled off toward the vending area. I should have told him to let me come alone. He would have put up a fight and I would have had to endure the agonizing wait for information by myself, but there are worse things.

I don’t know why I let her talk me into living with her. One semester, she said. Just one. I’m a junior now. She’s no more mature, no more grown-up than she was when she left me with my grandmother on my fifth birthday so she could try her hand at cocktail waitressing in Reno. The biggest difference is that she’s graduated from the small time to bigger, badder, meaner, messer, harder things.

These days it’s snow.

Call it whatever you want. Blow, coke, c, nose candy. It all means the same thing. Cocaine.

I got home from study group to find her strung out, laying in a puddle of her own vomit in the middle of the goddam living room floor. There was a dimebag on the coffee table next to what had recently been 4 or 5 lines of coke. She’d been smoking and sniffing. She barely had a pulse.

Snow. It sounds so pure, so natural, so wonderful. Children play in it. It feeds rivers. It is a beautiful thing.

But that’s what she does, my mother. She perverts the beautiful, profanes the sacred. It’s what she’s best at. My curse is that I cannot bring myself to just let her die alone.

I knew Darren was right, knew she would pull through. And she did. This was just the first of many storms. And it would be a long, brutal winter.

*Written for the 500 Club.

My mind is reeling. That sickly dizzying feeling crashes over me again and I wretch, heaving. But my feet don’t stop.

It hardly makes any sense to me. I don’t know what’s going on, don’t know why it’s happening. He was so insistent, though. He told me to run. “Run away with ya’self,” he said. “Run into them woods and keep on ‘a runnin’ until one of us gits ya or ya git away.”

I had met these bizarre instructions with a blank stare.

“Time’s a tickin’,” he said through a toothy grin and then he laughed, a hacking guffaw, his big belly rolling under his too-tight shirt and his whole frame rocking back and forth until tears formed at the corners of his eyes. He patted his gun absently and that’s when I decided to run.

That was some time ago. At least I think it was. It feels like it was hours ago, though it couldn’t have been. The sun is still high in the sky.

My back is soaked, my shirt clinging to me. My temples ache with lack of water. My feet have blisters, I can feel them. With each step I imagine them expanding until they grow so large and tender, so full that they will pop right there in my shoes, the juice inside them absorbing into my socks.

To my right and some distance back I hear the laugh. It’s hearty. Happy. It chills me to my bones.

I was just asking for directions, for crying out loud. Just stopping to ask where I was. I was lost. I didn’t see the gun until he had me cornered with it. I didn’t understand when he shoved me into his truck. I still don’t know when or why he called the others, but I can hear them, their dogs barking, their footfalls in the brush. They are coming.

And I run.

Up ahead there is a small creek bed. It is nearly dry, only a sliver of a stream weaving its way along the broken path that once ran much deeper. I imagine water, hoping that in seeing it, in wanting it, it might somehow appear.

I make it to the edge of the creek when I hear a sound, a twig breaking, a stone crunching, some other such woodsy indicator, and it is alarmingly close. I turn to my left abruptly and there he is. The bastard with his gun. He has it leveled on me.

“Knew you’d come to the creek,” he says. He was smiling but there was no joy in the smile.

I raised my hands. “Please,” I say. “I don’t know what this is about, but please. There is no reason to be rash.” My breath is winded. I struggle to speak in smooth sentences.

“Rash?” he says. “I ain’t bein’ rash. I been plannin’ this for a while, mister. Just ease on down to the ground.”

I kneel. He flips the safety. Oh God, I think.

Run.

*Written for the 500 Club.