The one thing he remembered as clear as day and the one thing he would never forget no matter how many years passed in the strict progression of the hell they lived in: her face. Somehow so long ago that little face was so familiar to him, as if he had known her for a lifetime. And his lifetime had only begun…
In the beginning. It was the way all things started, after all. Biblically the world began with those three words; and in little Medora’s world it all started at that very same moment: the beginning. She had only heard those words a handful of times in her life, usually under her grandparents’ careful guidance. And with those three words the new creation was born. A new world, a new life away from the pain of her old one. It was the only escape this neglected child would receive from the pain of her reality, and unknown to her, she wasn’t alone in this new realm. Because always, from the moment her imagination brought the place she knew as Dream World to life, he was waiting.
He remembered watching her, still a disembodied spirit waiting to be formed, as she closed her eyes and magically made her dream a reality. She wished for light and a honey-colored sun appeared in the newborn sky. She dreamed of the oceans that up until that moment her five-year-old eyes had only seen in picture books, and instantly she stood upon a golden sand beach, watching the perfumed azure waters advance toward her feet and retreat in the same manner. The sound of the water crashing against the nearby rocks was calming, and the spirit that hovered over the scene awaiting the natural progression of events longed to touch the warmth of the sand, to experience the sensation of water for the first time. But that would soon come. Give this little creature a measure of patience. After all, he knew she needed him.
The tiny child squealed with delight as she ran with reckless fascination toward the dangerous waves, her first experience with an ocean she had only seen in pictures. The spirit was concerned, but what could he do? He was incorporeal, crying out to her with a voice that had no substance. But the small one managed to avoid any true danger, flitting along the shallow pools that crept up the shoreline. She laughed, severing the serenity that surrounded her. And he loved the way her voice sounded as it was carried on the wind, mingled with the air that made up his current existence. Soon, he reminded himself, soon she will think of me. And I will begin.
The child sat on the beach for the longest time, staring up at the violet hues that now made up the skyline. And she was happy. For the first time in her life she was truly happy. Even though he was as new as the sky and the cool waters he knew instinctively this was her first taste of true happiness. From the first moment he laid eyes on her he knew she was a wretched soul. And now all she needed from him was love, a distinct change from the odious woman who created her. He became what she wanted, right down to the physical appearance he took from the memories of a small and torn photograph of a man she understood to be her father. That man was the missing link to her contentment, so the spirit was fashioned into the man who stood beside her. And that was the first likeness he would claim when she gave him a physical form. That young man in a tiny black and white picture would be the first person she would create in her new Dream Land. And she would call him Jack.
“Jack, do you think I can create something other than the beach and the forest?” Medora asked him as they picked strawberries from an obliging field. He smiled at the tenacity of this small being who, only four weeks ago, had started on her journey into her own special world of make believe. And as he looked out into the blank space that had yet to be filled by any structures or landscape, he knew that if any person were capable, it would be his Medora.
“Well princess, I believe that would be a fine idea. We need something new in our little paradise, don’t we? After all, enchanted forests and cerulean oceans are all well and good, but there’s always room for expansion.” Jack replied, putting his hand on her head.
“What does ‘cerulean’ mean?” She asked, stumbling over the new word with the ability of speech that living a short life of five years could afford.
Jack looked at her with curiosity. She had created him, that was certain, so his knowledge should be constrained to the limits of her immature mind. But he had taken on a life separate from her, becoming the adult she desired while living by his one tenet which kept him in her service, if for no other reason to always see a smile on her face. He sat on the grass and extended his legs, knowing now all too well it was his young charge’s favorite place to sit. She sat on his shins, looking out at the strange little animals they had managed to invent together. “The word means ‘blue’. It’s just a fancy way of saying it. And if you want to make the world bigger I think we’re more than capable of doing that. But the world is starting to get too big for the both of us to manage, don’t you think? We might want to consider creating more people, perhaps more guardians like myself.” The truth was, whenever Medora returned to her other world, Jack was lonely. He wanted others to help him manage the everyday boredom that threatened to overwhelm him. After all, little Medora’s world traveled at a much slower pace. He only got to see her every other day. And soon she would be going to school, which meant her trips would be shorter and less frequent. He wanted somebody to talk to when his best little friend was nowhere to be found.
Medora looked a little nervous at this suggestion. “But Jack, what if they’re bad? What if I make a bad person like her? I don’t want them to hurt you. You are my best friend.”
He knew the “her” she referred to was her mother. Whatever that woman had done to her it made her terrified enough to run away from that reality to escape her. Jack smiled. “Well, little princess, I think we could figure out how to create the new people together. And we’ll start small, maybe one or two more? They can be the only other guardians of Dream Land, the people who help me watch over your world while you’re not here. And they’ll be good, because they come from you. After all, am I bad?” Medora shook her head. The thought of an evil Jack made her laugh. “Well then. I think we can manage to make two more good guys.”
“Um, can they be good girls?” Medora asked. “I want them to be nice ladies. I don’t want any other people like you. I wouldn’t like them.”
“Of course, little one. Whatever you wish. After all, why am I here? Do you remember?” Jack held his breath, waiting to hear the answer he knew she had memorized in the tiny recesses of her heart. It was the pact they made the day he was created, and he intended to stick to his part of the bargain.
“You are my Jack. You will be whatever I need whenever I need it. I will never be alone because you will always be there, always be watching me. And if I’m ever scared or sad all I have to do is look for you, and when I say your name you will appear.” Medora got to her feet and made her way to Jack’s side, wrapping her arms around his neck and hugging him with all her might. And he hugged her back, knowing that he was the closest thing the poor child had ever had for a father. He was her Jack. And he would always be what she needed.
Osmen was troubled. She didn’t want the new amusement park to disturb the sanctuary of the fields and the forests beyond. She hadn’t minded so much that a huge mountain had one day magically sprouted up in the distance, though the tremors from such an occurrence scared the dyalids half to death. It took her almost a day to calm them again; after all, they were such a skittish bunch. The purple animals were most unhappy when the entire world started shaking and trees suddenly began to suddenly uproot from the sheer force of the earthquakes. If Medora had been present during the sudden change in Dream Land Osmen might have been tempted to give the little miss a piece of her mind.
“I cannot have any changes like this happen again, Jack! My poor animals were so abysmal, some of them refused to eat for a week! I almost lost a tucatoo to starvation! Poor thing, he plucked every single one of his feathers from the stress!” Osmen stamped her foot, a clear sign she meant business. But Jack had grown quite accustomed to her outbursts.
“I spoke to the little miss about it. She wasn’t aware she had created the mountain. Her grandparents took her to the mountains to see the leaves falling and she thought the mountains were so beautiful it – well, it just happened. She might have been sleeping when she thought of it. Who knows? At any rate, we talked about things she can do to control sudden outbursts of creativity like that.”
Donla approached, catching the end of the conversation, but well aware of Osmen’s protestations, as she had been repeating them quite loudly since the mountain first appeared. “Tell me Jack. Do we have reason to be cautious from this point on? She is, after all, a little girl. Her mind is underdeveloped. If she sees something in that other world she likes, we could experience another incident, perhaps a return of the dinosaurs? Or pirates washing up on our shores? We must be prepared for anything. After all, the little miss rarely visits these days. And yet we still have evidence of her connection to us sprouting up all around us. First the new animals Osmen has had to attend to, then the ground opening up to reveal a mountain that extends to the heavens, and now…” Donla looked out to the expanse of forest that stood between the ocean and the recently erected mountain. Already there were signs of Medora’s influence as the trees began to disappear one by one. The space that had served as home to some of Dream Land’s more exotic birds was slowing vanishing, and the birds were migrating in droves to the woodlands that covered the elevations beyond.
“That isn’t all Jack,” Osmen interjected, “whatever is going up in that space she keeps imagining is monstrous. It’s some sort of large track, but it has tall hills and frightening curves and it rounds back to where it began rather than leading anywhere, and I simply can’t imagine anyone taking a train on such a ridiculous mechanism such as that. What can she be thinking tearing down such beauty for that atrocity!”
“I believe it’s called a ‘roller coaster’. It’s meant to be a thrilling, fun attraction for people to ride to be frightened.” Jack had heard Medora describe the amusement park she had seen on the same trip with her grandparents. There had been some miraculous things there according to the wide-eyed little girl. There were swings that circled, sending its passengers flying high in the air before dipping back close to the ground, all while spinning round and round on a stationary base. There were small cars that ran on a track, making it possible for the little children to pretend to be grown men and women for the length of the half-mile track. But her favorite was the roller coaster. She was barely tall enough to ride it, but the thrill of holding tight to her grandpa as they plunged down the hills and slammed into the side of the coaster car as it banked around a sharp curve was the one thing she obsessed over. And as the image of the attraction took form in her dream world, Jack stood back and watched the wonder of the five-year-old imagination. And in the back of his mind he worried; just how long would she be content with only four people in her world? How long would it be before the park was filled with other children, how long before he was replaced with a long procession of people, all lined up to ride the magic train on the monstrous track? I will always be what you need me to be, princess, Jack thought to himself. Only please do not forget about me.
It was Medora’s sixth birthday. The villagers from the outlying villages all gathered for the occasion. Jack was in charge of making her special day extra special. He wasn’t assigned the job; he merely took it upon himself to make certain everything was perfect. The performers from the park all gathered around the main stage to talk about the progression of the huge show they planned to put on for the princess Medora. The fire breathers were happily going first, because as much as she loved to watch them perform, they frightened her a little. The tightrope walkers were second in the line-up, followed by the tall lady whose voice enchanted even the most savage beast. And last would be her favorite performers in the whole park, the ballerinas. Her Aunt Charlotte, on a break from college, had taken her to see Le Corsaire, the ballet that had inspired her first name. Medora had sit enraptured the entire time, never looking away from the graceful dancers who pirouetted across the stage, quite taken with the ballerina who played her beautiful counterpart. The next day a beautiful young lady wandered through the gates of the park, the same brown hair as Medora only pulled tightly in a bun on the top of her head. Her outfit was a shimmery blue, the very twin of the costume from the ballet. She knew only thing; that her entire purpose was to dance for the princess. And thus Michaela took her place as the prime entertainer in the park, and the featured performer at the birthday party, along with the other ballerinas who came after her.
The days were flying by now. Almost a year and a half had passed since Jack and Medora found each other in the newly formed Psitharis, and yet Medora had yet to age a year. It suited Jack fine; he didn’t want her growing too quickly. That long-ago fear still gnawed at the back of his mind, that eventually his little princess would grow up and forget about him. She was the closest thing to a daughter he would ever have, and he was determined never to let her go. Always, he reminded himself.
Her sixth birthday passed, with all the pomp and celebration the world inside her mind could muster. And as time passed the world grew more populated, filled with the smiles of joyous townsfolk and the laughter of little children. The three original guardians had long since separated. Donla made it her duty to protect the highest point of Dream Land, an enormous blue castle Medora had named her “Cerulean Palace.” Living in that castle were seven children, all appointed as the democratic counsel that governed Dream Land because, as Medora had succinctly pointed out, “You grown-ups wouldn’t run it the way a kid would.” Donla served as captain of the guard. At seven feet tall and as strong as any man that ever existed, it seemed only natural for her to watch over the entire world from the high elevation of the palace. Osmen had long disappeared, reverting into her world of nature and the animals that desperately needed her, making her home in the dark forests that protected her children, little fairies she had begged for and gotten from Medora herself. They helped her keep the natural order of the beautiful countryside that lie just west of the mountain. Every now and then a fairy would arrive in the dead of night, carrying a note from Osmen herself, reminding Jack to tell the princess “NO MORE CREATING!” But it was a moot demand, because after a while Medora seemed happy with the world she created, and adding anymore didn’t seem necessary. By the time her seventh birthday arrived the realm seemed all settled and calm, as if it had existed forever. And for most of the residents who could not remember how they originated this was the only truth there was. Their fathers lived on this land, as did their fathers’ fathers and so on. It was a crafted history, but it suited the people just fine to believe it. The only three who remembered for certain were the guardians, and perhaps seven children who never left their castle in the clouds.
It was on Medora’s eighth birthday that Jack begin to notice a shift in the world, a change that proved to be rather unsettling for him. Some of the rides began to break, and he would enlist the help of some of the villagers to dismantle the rides and put them in the abandoned area behind the park. The ballerina began to forget her steps, and the performers complained about being treated the same as the other villagers when clearly they should be held at a higher standard. Jealousy was not a common occurrence in Dream Land, but neither was forgetfulness. And to top it all off, on one of Medora’s visits she decided to rename the entire world Psitharis. It was the name of a book she had learned about in school, and though she got the pronunciation all wrong nevertheless it was the name she wanted the new world to adopt. The park would remain Dream Land and nothing would change except for that. But despite that assurance everything seemed to be changing anyway. Medora didn’t seek Jack out every time she visited. Instead she opted to wander the grounds on her own, never announcing her arrival so Jack had no idea except through the other eagle-eyed villagers if it had been a day or a week or a month since she had shown up. He missed her terribly. The only little girl he would have considered to be his daughter and it seemed as if she had completely forgotten him. Even in his saddest moments, he remembered the promise he had made her so long ago: I will be whatever you need whenever you need it. That promise alone kept him going.
The last day anyone saw Jack alive was the last day anyone saw little Medora Parker roaming among the masses of Dream Land. She had spent the entire day having a wonderful time. By the time Jack found out she was back in Psitharis it was very late. He dashed out to the place her favorite spot, in front of the music box where Michaela performed; she wasn’t there. As he looked frantically for her he thought that perhaps he had let her down somehow. Maybe that’s why she stopped talking to him. Or perhaps it was just a sad reality that she was growing older and had outgrown the one person who used to be the only being in either of her worlds she would confide in. He had no idea, but he wanted to speak with her, even if she rejected him completely. At least he would know for sure what place he held in her heart. He finally caught a glimpse of her as she raced toward the exit. She was already leaving, preparing to return to that other place. He had to catch her before she left.
“Princess!” He ran after her, catching up to her as she ran past the front gate. “Princess, please! Stop for a moment!”
“Jack!” Medora was breathless, and the look on her face was one of pure panic. “Jack, I’ve waited too long. I have to get back. If I don’t get back, she’s going to hurt me!”
“Medora, please. I just want to know. Are you all right?” Jack just needed that reassurance that he had done nothing wrong. His entire existence depended on her happiness. All he knew was making himself the one person she needed the most. And for the past six months he had been denied the ability to do just that.
“Jack, I have to go!” Medora pleaded. “She’s going to be so mad at me!”
“All right, dearest one. Just promise me the next time I see you we will talk. I want to know you are all right. Please.” Jack knew she had to go but he had to be certain. Psitharis depended on her, and once upon a time she depended on him. Perhaps the other two guardians had moved on and busied themselves with other matters, but his vow to her was all he knew.
“Yes, of course. I’m – I’m sorry. I really have to go!” Medora tore away, running toward the shoreline before disappearing from sight. And as Jack turned to go, sadly reflecting on how he was no longer the most important person in her life, he spoke his vow once more to the space she once inhabited. “I swear to you princess. Whatever you need of me, that is what I’ll be. You will always be able to find me.” He waited in that space for days, for weeks for her to return. But she never came back. He sat on the shore every night waiting for her. And if he eventually noticed the ships on the horizon no one would ever know. In the months after Medora disappeared completely from Psitharis, after the hostile enemies destroyed the villages one by one and took the villagers as slaves, there was no one left to notice that Jack, the first and most loyal guardian, had quietly disappeared.