There was once a young woman named Zlata hailing from a far away land. A land that was neither real nor unreal. This land of origin was a blissful safe haven, and was all that she knew—she knew nothing of the parallel world that lay beyond her enclosed paradise, the world that we consider to be “real”.
Zlata’s paradise smelled like freshly cut grass and cow manure. It felt like soft hills, morning dew, and tattered fabric. Gentle sunlight would shine through white lace curtains. Paint would crumble off the outsides of cottages. Swallows would fly overhead, perch on electrical wires, and build nests in cottage roofs. Nettles would sting your shins when you walked through tall grass, but you’d forgive them because their bites were good for your health. Red currents would grow off bushes, sour and tangy but just sweet enough to be a treat. Children would call to each other through open windows, inviting each other to play make believe. When it rained, it was safe and cozy indoors. The power went out quite easily, but a fire stove would be lit for warmth and families would tell fairy tales and sing together to pass the time, the hush of the rain acting as soft instrumental accompaniment. The day after the rain passed, you would wake up at dawn to go mushroom hunting in the woods (you had to go at dawn to find the mushrooms, before your neighbors picked them all). You would pass by tiny moss huts built against the sides of trees by forest gnomes, and stop to talk to baby frogs no bigger than your thumb. If you were very lucky, a few wild blueberries would grow just off the path and you would enjoy a rare delicacy. After filling a basket (or two or three) with mushrooms of many shapes and sizes and colors (but never the ones that were red with white specks, despite how beautiful they looked), you would take them home and an old, wise grandmother from a nearby cottage would sort through your pickings making sure you kept only the edible ones, and for the next few days you would eat nothing but breaded and fried mushrooms with tartar sauce, mushrooms scrambled with eggs, and creamy mushroom soup. You would not grow tired of eating mushrooms because you found them yourself and they were yours, so eating them filled your tummy with pride. In the evening, the windows would stay open to let in a soothing night breeze. Along with the breeze, moths would fly in to visit, but it was okay because you’d just catch them gently and let them out in the morning. Black and white footage of folk singers on variety shows would glow on the TV late into the night. When all the lights went out, it was so dark that the world might as well have disappeared if it weren’t for the sounds of crickets and occasional dogs barking. You would lie in bed bubbling with excitement until sleep overtook excitement and drifted you off into dreams. Days melted together. There were no weeks, no months, no years, and time did not exist.
Zlata loved her home dearly. But the longer she lived in paradise, the colder it grew. She had so much love for the people and world around her, and so much love for her family, yet she was always somewhat alone. As much as she searched and tried, Zlata could make no deep connections with the people in her world. Something was missing, so emptiness grew. Despite the beauty and tranquility in her paradise, Zlata grew lonely and she longed for someone to share it with.
After years of battling with herself, Zlata decided it was time to embark on a journey—to seek out the depth she felt was missing in her life. She left with a heavy heart—her parents cried in fear that she would not return, and her neighbors shook their heads in disbelief that she would willingly leave paradise. But she was hopeful that a new place would bring new connection and new happiness.
She travelled for seven years through time and space, through realms near and far. It was all a haze—she would float a while through the in-between, periodically coming to a halt to take in the scenery and meet someone new, and go back to floating and spinning once again. Finally, one day Zlata stopped in our world—our plane of reality. She stopped, and waited for the haze to take her back again, but it did not. She stopped and couldn’t seem to travel anymore, so she settled. Her arrival was quite disorienting at first. There were no hills, no forest, no swallows overhead. The power rarely went out, but it felt much colder when it rained, and no mushrooms grew the next day. The people were very different. They spoke, thought, and loved very differently than the people in Zlata’s paradise. And when Zlata would tell them where she came from, they would gasp in horror. From what they had heard, Zlata’s blissful homeland was a dark and dangerous place of scarcity and suffering. They painted her home into a twisted, frightening image so vivid that she nearly began believe it. But luckily, she kept the true version of her home safely locked away in a magic orb, protecting her memories from being tarnished by their fear.
While in our land, Zlata bore a child. This child was a one-of-a-kind creature, glistening with magic from their mother’s paradise while also possessing qualities of our land. They were blessed with the wonders of both worlds, but were always half alien in both of them. Zlata named her child after a beautiful plant containing magical and medicinal qualities that grew in her land—Alopexi.
Alopexi grew up physically in our world, but spiritually in Zlata’s. In the day, they went to school and played with the other children. They did their best to play the children’s games—tag and hopscotch and hide-and-go-seek—but their feet didn’t run quite like the other children’s, so they often fell behind. When they mentioned something from Zlata’s world, the children did not understand. They asked Alopexi questions that they could not answer, and they noticed that the light hit Alopexi’s eyes a little differently. The other children quickly grew impatient when waiting for Alopexi to catch up in their games, so eventually Alopexi ended up alone. But they did not mind, because they befriended the ants and the beetles that lived in the cracks of the asphalt. They sat with them in the corners of the playground, building them little moss huts just like the ones the forest gnomes made. The bugs could not speak or hear, but they listened and understood. In their company, Alopexi did not mind the poking and the jeering of the human children, and they did not mind the solitude because they weren’t really alone.
Alopexi grew up surrounded by the ways of our world, but Zlata shielded them and immersed them in the magic of her world as much as possible—she made sure that her world’s magic would be passed down to them. Every day when Alopexi returned from school, Zlata would open the orb’s magic to them. Zlata’s orb became Alopexi’s playground. The orb allowed Zlata to create a finite circle where the wonders of her home became real even in our dimension. Zlata and Alopexi would each touch their left palm to the orb together, and it would glow a soft amber. Glistening mirages of Zlata’s memories would appear in front of their eyes—little swallows fluttered above Alopexi and landed on their fingertips. Mushrooms and nettles and wild blueberries sprouted from the carpet. The soft sound of rain rang through the room and blended with a crackling stove and echoes of cheerful singing. The barking dogs came by to play, and so did the forest gnomes. Time stopped and flew all at once while the orb was glowing, but as soon as it stopped, time would fall back into the patterns of our world. Thanks to this portal created by the orb, Alopexi came to know Zlata’s home as their own. When in the sanctuary of the orb, Alopexi glowed and glistened amber just like Zlata’s memories. The magic in them that came from her world shined brighter than ever, and they were whole. But when away from the orb, this magic dimmed and they lived in a muted form. Even from a very young age, they felt the dimming and they didn’t like it. It made them feel cold. So they longed for their mother’s magical land, and dreamed of returning there one day. The more Alopexi felt at home in the orb, the more they felt like an alien in our world. Their desire to return to the land in the orb grew stronger and stronger until it was unbearable. They begged Zlata to take them home, and Zlata promised that one day, when Alopexi was older, they would.
Early in their childhood, Alopexi moved between our world and the world in the orb quite seamlessly. They were innocent and didn’t fully grasp the differences in themself in and outside of the orb. But as they got older, they began to resent the way our world dulled and drained their powers, and strange things began to happen. The split between the worldly self and the orb self grew larger and larger—the orb self glowed more and more vividly, and the worldly self turned more and more gray. Their orb self stopped being able to recognize their worldly self and vice versa. Coming in and out of the orb’s circle began to give them headaches. Zlata was puzzled, but hoped that they would grow out of it. However, time only made things worse. As the years went on, the headaches intensified and began to be accompanied by a growing sense of disorientation. Soon, the disorientation grew into spells of partial or complete amnesia.
Alopexi was afraid. They did not know what was happening, as when they left the orb, they were forgetting the home in it for longer and longer periods of time. They would be going about their regular life in our world, until they stumbled upon something that jolted them into a memory of Zlata’s world. The sudden memories were shocking, and began causing Alopexi more and more distress. Zlata watched this happen and grew increasingly worried and frantic. She desperately wanted to help her child but had no idea how, and she couldn’t help but feel intense guilt since she believed that she was the cause of her child’s misery.
The stronger the spells of amnesia grew, the more Alopexi distanced themself from Zlata. They did not want to remember anymore, because remembering hurt. Both Zlata and Alopexi felt the heartache of the loss of their relationship, and both felt helpless to fix it.
Alopexi reached a point when they were living in disguise nearly full time. During this period, their depression grew as they further isolated themself—both from Zlata and from those around them in our world. The longer they were away from the orb, the grayer they grew, and the more cryptically calm they appeared, until they closed their eyes and fell into a cold, empty, and dreamless sleep. Zlata tried and tried in vain to shake them awake. She held the orb in her left palm and pressed Alopexi’s lifeless left palm to it as firmly as she could, but the orb would not glow. It remained as gray as Alopexi was.
Zlata had nothing left to do, so she wept, filling the orb with her tears. The orb filled to the brim and her tears ran dry and she was left empty. In a fit of grief and despair, she thrust the orb onto the floor, shattering it into a million pieces.
When the orb shattered, Alopexi’s mask of grey shattered along with it. The amber glow suddenly flooded back to them, and the lifeless grey form they had locked themself into for so many years was gone forever. Their powers flooded back, and so did their memories. Bright gold flames engulfed their body and they screamed in agony. They were overwhelmed with every sensation and every emotion imaginable—for when the orb shattered, every memory, every morsel of magic, and every essence of home that it held was absorbed into them. When the flames burnt out, they gasped for air until their breath returned. Then they fled. They ran and ran as far as they could with no direction, running anywhere in attempt to escape the unbearable weight of everything they absorbed. They ran, and Zlata was left paralyzed and alone—without her child and without her orb, and without any way to connect to the home she had left so far away.