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Fantasticoe 2001 -  10th Anniversary Issue


The Silver Ring

Trina Koppang

My father always told me to reach for the stars. I could do anything I put my mind to. My mother always said I needed to keep my feet on the ground and be practical. This started when I was eight. Eight-year-olds are not supposed to be practical. Especially when it comes to career goals. Now that I'm older though, my dreams haven't changed. I'm still reaching for the stars. The moon to be precise. I have always wanted to see the stars, be among them. An astronaut for NASA.

If my mother has her way, the only stars I'll ever see will be those on the silver screen. And even then, it's touch-and-go with her. Tonight I'm going to see "October Skies," about an astronaut. As soon as I heard about it, I knew I had to see it.

As I ran down the stairs to wait for my ride, I felt this sense of foreboding. That could have something to do with the fact that, when I looked over the railing, I could see my mother's brown eyes glaring at me from the living room that the stairs lead into. This time she didn't even wait for me to say anything. She just let it fly.

"And just where do you think you're going, young lady? I thought we discussed this already. You are not going out on Friday nights unless there is a responsible adult accompanying you. And Jenna does not count as a responsible adult, even if she is eighteen."

"What are you so afraid of mom? That I'll leave you like dad did? He left me too you know!" Tears began to well up in my eyes. She always does this to me. When I talk about going to see movies she acts like it's no big deal and I can go, but as soon as I actually try to leave the house, she goes crazy. I know nobody said that life was fair, but this is beyond just not being fair. This is to the point of psychotic!

Her nasally voice broke back into my train of thought, "Don't you dare take that tone of voice with me, Aubra Joy McOwen! You are acting like a spoiled brat! I have bent over backwards to give you things that you didn't even deserve! Ever since your father died I have slaved to feed you, clothe you, and keep a roof over your head. All that I ask in return is a little respect for my rules, including this one."

"Mom I am not going to die! I am seventeen years old, and you treat me like I'm ten! It happened almost two years ago. Don't you think that you're overreacting just a little bit?"

"No, and since you obviously do, you can go think about it in your room!" Her voice held the cool calm collected practicality it always has, with just enough edge to make it cold and heartless.

"How can you do this to me? I have no life! You want me to be just as miserable as you are, and I hate it! For that matter I hate you and this place too! I wish we had never come to this dinky little town. It was bad enough that dad died, but then we had to move in the middle of my sophomore year of high school too. I had to make all new friends, and because I can't go anywhere or do anything, I don't have friends. I have a friend. Singular! Even you have the women from church that you hang out with! I have Jenna and I can't even hang out with her! I wish I were…I wish…" I was so mad I couldn't even think straight. "I don't know what I wish, but as long as it got me far away from you I'd be happy!"

"Well, we both know you won't be going anywhere for a while, since you're grounded." She was nasty enough to sound happy about it.

I could not believe I was grounded. I have never in my life been grounded, and now I am stuck in the pastel-pink prison that my mother calls my bedroom. Pink is the most disgusting color ever created, but as soon as we moved in, we just had to purchase pink everything. Pink pillows, pink paint, even a second-hand pink comforter with a coffee stain on one side. The only thing that we didn't have to buy was the carpeting, which was already a plush pale pink. The kind of pink you would find in a five-year-old's room. It was sickening.

The only things that weren't pink in my room were the ceiling, and the baseboards, both of which were white, along with the antique letter desk I fixed up with my dad. It is a really pretty oak desk, with the flap that comes down to be used as a work surface. We bought it at a garage sale the summer I turned thirteen from some old lady who said that it had belonged to her when she was my age. When we bought it, there was this hideous puke green paint covering all but one corner of it. In that corner the paint had chipped away enough to see all of the layers of paint that had been put on before it, as well as the original wood color. Fixing up the desk was our summer project that year. My dad and I always had summer projects, be it making birdhouses or fixing up his newest antique car. The first thing my mom said when we brought the desk home is that it was a piece of junk, and we should have been more practical and bought something useful. She hasn't changed since then, though she did have to admit that the desk was beautiful once we stripped away the old paint and dirt caused by years of use. I love that desk. It is one of the only things that I have that I worked on with my dad. All of the cars got sold, and the birdhouses stayed behind when we moved.

Once again I dreamt of the moon, while spread out on my slightly musty-smelling second-hand comforter. What it would be like to actually go there, to experience almost no gravity? Of course I've read about it, but that isn't the same as experiencing it myself. Would it be hard to walk there? What do moon rocks really look like? How big are the craters that cover the moon, and are there caves in the craters, or are they just big smooth dents, like a golf ball has? Imagining myself on the moon gave me tingles in my spine. I wanted it so bad I could taste it. And smell it. And…

The smell of early blossoms after a spring rain brought me out of daydream. A warm breeze blew across my face, and chills ran up and down my spine. In the middle of winter in Minnesota, there is no way that I would have my window open. Even if I did, the breeze would be anything but warm and definitely would not be bringing the smells of new flowers with it. I started talking to myself, telling myself I was nuts. You have an over-active imagination Aubra. You always have. Now get over it. That was not the answer I was looking for, though it did comfort me a little. The comfort was replaced by wonder when I saw her.

Sitting on the old (pink-covered) trunk that was perpetually at the foot of my bed was the most beautiful woman I had seen. She had an ever-changing aura of dancing light around her. Silvery highlights laced the ice blue hair that surrounded her face, moving with a life of its own. Her skin tone was made of such pale pinks and peaches that they were almost white in coloring. The woman's eyes were the same frosted blue color of her hair with flecks of sea green in them, and her lips matched the silver highlights in her long tresses. The garment she wore constantly changed colors from a light peach to the pale pink color of my room, lavender to the green of her eyes, sunshine yellow to the blue of her hair. The robe shimmered as if the Northern Lights had been captured by the fabric. I was speechless. I pinched myself, trying to wake up from this dream. But dreams don't involve touch and scent. This did.

"You're not dreaming, dear, and you aren't imagining things either," she said smiling. Her voice was like the chiming of bells echoing off the walls of the Grand Canyon. I sat up, gape-mouthed. I felt like the brother in Mary Poppins when she told him "You're not a codfish Michael," in order to make him stop staring and close his mouth. The advice didn't work for me. I couldn't help it. She was gorgeous.

"How did you get in here? And who are you?" I stammered, surprised that I even had enough wits about me to ask. I still didn't believe she was there. It was just not possible.

"I heard your wish, and I came. I am the keeper of wishes. You may call me Aurora."

"What wish?"

"Didn't you wish you could be somewhere else? Anywhere else?"

"Well yeah, but…" I tried to explain that I was just mad when I said it, but she continued before I had a chance to.

"I have something for you. A silver ring. Twist it once around your finger, and it will take you anywhere you want to be."

"Anywhere? Could I go to the moon?"

"Anywhere," she stated firmly. "Just twist it once clockwise around your finger, imagine where you want to be, and the ring will take you there. To return you must twist it counter-clockwise three times, and in moments you will be back in your bedroom."

"Um…ok." I was a little unsure now whether or not this was what I really wanted, but since she had already decided that I should have the ring, I figured I might as well try it out.

"You must be warned first, that if you lose the ring, or if it gets stolen, the only way you can return is by finding it again. If you are unable to do so, you will never see your family or friends again."

"Never?" I asked, looking around my room. Pictures of my old friends, my family, and Jenna were plastered on my walls.

"Never. Remember, you have been warned."

I felt that same warm breeze and when I looked back at the trunk, the air shimmered as a remembrance to where she had been.

"Aurora, wait! Where's the ring?"

Her voice came floating back to me on the last breath of that wind, "Look in your desk. There's a hidden drawer in the main drawer. Reach in, and you will find it there."

I looked around the desk drawer for a few minutes before I found the trick panel. It was very well concealed, and when my dad and I refinished the desk, neither of us noticed it. Feeling around for the latch, I heard as well as felt the click when the panel came loose. There was the ring, on a bed of blue velvet. The ring was big enough to circle my finger twice if it were a straight piece of metal, but when I tried it on, it fit perfectly on my index finger. I nervously fiddled with it for a few seconds, getting used to the feel of the metal and the idea of leaving something I had known all my life.

Squeezing my eyes shut as tightly as I could, I twisted the silver circle around my finger exactly once, all the while thinking I wish to go to the moon. My dream was finally coming true, and suddenly I felt sick to my stomach. Like I was on a tire swing again, and being spun around way too fast, or in the middle of a whirlpool and unable to swim out of it.

When the feeling ended, I opened my eyes again, thankful to still have a full stomach. Taking a deep breath, I realized that breathing should not have been possible. I didn't have a pressurized suit, and yet I was breathing. And the vacuum of space wasn't affecting me in any way. I don't know what happened between earth and the moon, but whatever it was, I'm glad it happened, because I would be dead if it hadn't.

Eagerly I looked around, soaking up the sight of the moon like a plant soaks up water. I was in the middle of a gray plain of dust and rock, and on the horizon I could see the earth setting, taking the place of the sun. The mass of blue, green and white swirls stood out sharply in this place of drab, gray rock. It was simply breathtaking. The beauty of our planet astonished me. Turning slowly, carefully to my left, while getting the feel of the difference in gravity, I continued to take in my surroundings.

An amazing sight jumped out at me. There was a city on the moon. The tall towers shot up from the horizon looking like extremely large silver spirals, almost like gigantic drill bits. The architecture of the city was incredible. The spires of giant drill-bit buildings shot up what must have been hundreds of feet. Shorter buildings in the shape of pyramids were a dull black color, and the only way I could see them from my vantage point was by noticing where the line of stars should have been and wasn't. Still more towers appeared to be off-center quartz crystals with six sides coming to a point at the top. These crystal-like buildings refracted the light from the sun, flooding the city in rainbow-colored light.

And then it struck me that there shouldn't be a city on the moon, should there? The only way to find out was to explore, so I started walking.

Getting to the city proved harder than I imagined. While the plain looked flat enough, it was littered with gray rock strewn about at random. Not only that, but there was a crater between me and the city. It turns out that they aren't one big smooth surface, like I had hoped, but inside each crater are a lot of pock marks from where other objects must have hit the moon. I had to be very careful navigating the sides of the crater because of how steep they were. One wrong move and I could have fallen or severely twisted my ankle. Finally I gave up trying to climb down. Instead, I reverted to the five-year-old that my mother is convinced lives inside of me. I turned around, sat down, and slid down the rest of the way on my bottom. It was a bit bumpy, but a lot of fun. At least the reduced gravity and the built-up dust made the landings nice and soft. Walking across the crater was also difficult, until I learned that skipping was a lot more fun and a lot easier. I covered about twice the distance I would have covered walking in the same amount of time. Of course, skipping was a bit of a challenge, not being exactly sure where I would land. But after the first few tries, I learned how to judge the distance to make sure that I wouldn't land on my feet the wrong way.

After skipping a few times, I thought I might try a cartwheel. That was fun, except for the fact that I landed on my head. It's really hard to judge speed and distance in a lighter gravity that what you are used to. The somersault I tried went much better. When going head-over-heels on the moon, it is definitely a good idea to keep your body on the ground. After the fun, it was time to start skipping across the crater again.

The most difficult part of navigating myself to the city was climbing up the opposite wall of the crater. The pockmarks made somewhat decent hand and footholds, but towards the top of the wall, I was climbing a completely vertical surface. I leapt for the top, forcing my legs to push off against the crumbly rock. My body scraped against the side of the crater. Fingers scrabbling for handholds, I prayed that I would be able to stop my body before I completely passed the edge of the crater, only to come down and impale it on the vertical rocks that marked the end of a crater and the beginning of gray plain.

I didn't know that there would be a slight curvature of rock hanging over the crater. Before I was able to think too much about missing a handhold, my waist hit the rock. The star-studded sky whirled into black and gray. I came to a stop as the top half of my body folded itself over the edge, the air in my chest forced out of me with a hissing noise. Thankful to be alive, and unable to get up, I lay there for what must have been several minutes. My arms ached with the strain of bruised muscles being forced to work at pulling my body completely over the ledge. Rolling over on my back to rest once again, the sky was beautiful.

I remember when I was little, I always thought that stars were giant diamonds in the sky. My mom had a pair of diamond earrings, and I loved it when she would wear them. I remember asking "Mommy, did you have to steal those from the star people?" Back then it was cute for me to ask those questions.

She would just shake her head and laugh, lovingly saying, "No darling. They were a present from your daddy."

That would, of course, send me on a mission to find daddy. "Daddy, did you have to steal mommy's earrings from the star people?"

He indulged me, saying they were a gift from the star people. He got them because he had saved their world from the evil shadow of the planets.

I still think of that every time my mom wears those earrings, but I don't think she remembers.

Getting ready to start on my journey once again, my vision was blocked by a black cloth of some sort. Searing pain caused a bright flash of white. Then: nothing.

Waking up was painful. Bright lights surrounded my head, causing the throbbing to intensify. Moaning and groaning I tried turning to the side, only to find that I was strapped into position. The lights dimmed enough for me to see, and I think I mumbled "thank you" to whoever it was that had turned the lights down, but I'm not sure.

The next couple of hours are hazy in my mind. The one thing I remember clearly are faceted crystalline hands removing my clothing.

Finally awake, though still a bit groggy, I learned what the crystal-like hands belonged to. Short figures, no more than three feet in height, surrounded me: about five of them, all told. Although made of a crystal substance, they did not refract the light onto the floor, but instead reflected the light inside of their bodies in miniature rainbows. The figures were human in shape, but with no visible features to distinguish them by, though they seemed able enough to distinguish among themselves. Each emitted his own light, each with a different color, blinking in some sort of code that I assumed was their form of communication. I decided to name them for their colors: Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Purple.

"What are you?" The thickly accented English came in a voice that sang like a water-filled wineglass when the edge is rubbed. The sound came from Red.

When he started talking, I flipped out. "What are you? Where am I? How do you know my language?" As I became completely aware of what had happened to me, I became almost hysterical. "And where are my clothes? Why have you taken them from me? I want them back now! The ring! Where's the ring you took? You thieves! Give it back!" I had to get that ring back from them.

Blue answered, "We are the Talis. We have examined you. We read the energy from your brain. That is how we can communicate with you."

"Where are my clothes? And the silver ring? Where's the silver ring? Can I have them back now?" Fear filled my mind realizing that if they chose to, they could refuse to return the ring to me.

"We have them safely stored in a locker. Glatry will get them for you." Glatry, apparently the one with the green light, scurried off on his little legs to where I presume the lockers were kept. Red continued, "I am Fascin, the oldest of the Talis. We are sorry for the discomfort that we caused you. We meant no harm. Now will you please answer our question? What are you?"

"A human. From Earth. My name is Aubra," I stammered out, surprised that they were so calm still.

Blue introduced himself next saying, " Welcome to our city Aubra. My name is Gyron. I hope you will be comfortable here. We are a peaceful race. We wish that no disruptions to the peace arrive with you."

"I don't mean to give you any problems, but I am curious about you. Are you the ones who made this beautiful city of crystal and light?"

"Yes. I am Tannah. We feed off of the colored light created by the large crystals you saw in the city." The yellow one spoke that time, releasing the straps that kept me on the table. When I looked around for Purple, it wasn't there. It must have slipped out when the rest of them were introducing themselves.

"Where is Glatry? Shouldn't he be back by now?" I was worried about the ring, and not knowing where exactly it was or if it was even safe, made me worry more.

"I am here. Here are your clothes. I am sorry but the ring was not there. But I do not remember delivering a ring to the lockers when we removed your clothing. Perhaps it was lost earlier." Glatry appeared through a doorway that I had not noticed before.

"What?!" I could not believe what I was hearing. "I have to get that ring back. The magic in the ring is what transported me here, and it's the only way I can get back home! Where could it be?"

"We do not know. It may still be on the North Plain, where we found you. Perhaps it fell off during your trek through the crater," Gyron offered. "We will take you there to look for it. Perhaps there was a surveillance team on that part of the plain today. They would be able to tell us if a ring was found there."

"Surveillance team? Like guards? I thought you were a peaceful people." I hate confusion, but that was all I could feel.

"We are. The surveillance teams insure our safety and the safety of our property. This is how we knew where to find you," explained Fascin. "Get dressed, and then follow me. I will take you to them."

"Thank you." It was all I could say. I was in shock after finding out about the ring. I tried to dress quickly, but my hands were shaking from nerves. I couldn't stop thinking about the ring. Maybe I should have listened more closely to Aurora's warning.

Fascin and Gyron lead me to a group of pure white horses, and gave me the largest one that they could find. Most of the horses were smaller than earth's breeds, although they were all larger than ponies. The thing that got to me was the crystal horn protruding from their sleek white foreheads. It, like the bodies of the Talis, reflected light inside of the crystal, instead of refracting the light. They were riding Unicorns!

I was in awe of these animals, but I was also scared. I had never been horseback riding in my life, and now I was about to get on the back of a large animal and ride about the moon. The thought was a little scary. But almost as if it sensed my nervousness, the Unicorn I was sitting on turned its head to me and nudged my leg, as if to reassure me. Stroking the sleek white hair in front of me, I calmed down a bit. I focused on the repetitive action to get my mind off of the ring. I didn't notice when she started moving, but that beautiful creature had somehow started. The ride was smooth and actually relaxed the muscles in my body that had become tense after hearing the news about the ring.

When we reached the first outpost, something I hadn't noticed in my previous trek across the plain, Fascin and Gyron spoke briefly with the team's leader. They must have learned something about the ring, because when they turned to talk to me, the colors reflected inside of each of them sang with vibrancy and motion.

"The ring was here. One of our original research team members, Turig, came to claim it. According to Holin she returned to the city with the ring," Fascin declared.

"But then, why didn't we see Turig riding back to the research center?"

Gyron jumped in with an explanation. "We took the only route to and from the center when we came here. She must have sensed the magical properties of the ring and decided to use it for her own gain. I am sorry."

"Then we have to find her! I can't go back to earth if we don't! You have to help me find her. Please." I was desperate. I had to get home. I didn't miss my mom, but I missed my friends and the rest of my family. What would they do if I never returned?

"Come now. We will return to the city's surveillance headquarters. They will be able to tell us where Turig is."

The ride back to the city felt twice as long as the ride to the plain did. I just couldn't believe that I would never be able to see the earth up close again.

When we reached the headquarters, located in one of the spiral buildings, we were immediately lead to a viewing room. The team on the plain must have sent a message ahead of our small party. The viewing room had one completely white wall with another three walls that were black. From the ceiling hung a perfectly clear crystal that began to refract the light into shapes and patterns. It worked just like a movie projector, but the information that was read came from blue-tinted crystals. I later learned that these blue crystals were located in every room of every building, and recorded the events that took place in these rooms. The crystal recorders had to be changed with every cycle of the moon, but all of them were labeled and stored carefully for later viewing.

Surveillance HQ had all of the crystals from the city pulled in for us to view. It took what seemed like days to review all of the recording crystals in the city, even though Turig had only gotten the ring within the last three hours. I was beginning to give up hope of ever finding the ring again, when Gyron touched my shoulder and pointed at the screen. On it was a virtually abandoned pyramid structure. The only thing we could see was the backside of one very happy Talis. The ring glinted off of the finger that was held up. Then the figure disappeared. We had found Turig. Now we had to find out where she had gone.

We raced to the structure to find the surveillance team. The team consisted of only one Talis, because of how empty the building was. And even that one was more to keep young Talis from breaking in and defacing the property, than anything else. Apparently the Talis on duty had seen Turig, and seen her just disappear without her realizing it. He noticed that she was broadcasting about the sun, her favorite vacation spot. I didn't even know that Talis had that kind of travel available to them. All I had seen of travel were unicorns.

Like a gentleman, Gyron agreed to take me to the sun. I was nervous though. The ring is what made it safe for me to be on the moon.

"How can I go to the sun? The only reason I am alive here is because of the ring."

"The testing we did on you showed that you are capable of traveling anywhere. Climate does not affect you. We turned the heat in our testing cell up to the temperature of the sun, slowly of course, and you did not react. We cooled the cell to absolute zero, and again you did not react. You are able to travel anywhere you wish, including the sun. You have my word on this." Fascin's words amazed me. Humans capable of living anywhere? But I was able to do it, thanks to whatever the ring did to me.

"You must be careful on the sun though. The dragons of the sun dislike almost everyone, but there are only a few hundred who all live on one island. However, if they pick up a new scent, they will find you and try to destroy you."

"There are dragons on the sun?" This trip was getting weirder and weirder.

"Oh yes. How else could it get so hot? Come along, we must make the preparations now." Fascin explained more about the dragons as we walked towards the shuttle that would take us there.

Before I knew it, I was strapped into a padded seat just slightly too small for me. Gyron too, was ready to go.

The cabin of the shuttle was spotless and completely filled with strange instruments and dials. I couldn't read any of them, but the crew obviously could. After a few minutes, a red light began to flash. It went slowly at first, but then blinked faster and faster until the light just stayed on. As soon as the light steadied, the shuttle began to rumble. Then the stars turned into streaks of light, and I was getting motion sickness.

To be continued…

Acknowledgments: Thank you first of all to the class for giving me all sorts of ideas on how to make the story better. Mark Tawney and Desi Sickles in particular helped me out through their comments on what they would do if they found themselves in Aubra's situation. Thank you also to my roommate Renee Smithback for reading through several drafts of this story, as well as Sarah Brunker and Rachel Gearhart who let me bounce ideas off of them late at night.

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