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Fantasticoe 1996

So It Shall Be

by Brian Collier

     On one clear, early summer night, with a thin, thumbnail moon emerging in the darkening sky, in one of our nation's fine state parks, a young man named Jack made a discovery of great fascination. This discovery was of a wondrous place where magical abilities could be bestowed upon a person, and the laws of reality were allowed to slip by the imaginative mind, if one only truly believed. This is the story of that discovery.

     Jack sat between the two of them, the youngest, but only as far as time was concerned. All three looked proudly on the campfire in front of them, at their growing creation. Matt and Sid were a year ahead of him at seventeen, but the two were his best friends in high school.

     "Damn, that's getting hot! Let's scoot the cot back," Jack said standing up from the faded green, canvas cot all three were sitting on. Matt and Sid stood too, pulling their seat back from the dancing flames.

     Matt looked at both of them, tall and lanky, slowly swiveling his head, eyes peeled open with that nutty expression on his face. Then he thrust his arms triumphantly in the air screaming, "I AM THE FIRE GOD!!!" up to the heavens, before the fire, leaping up a good three feet from its base.

     "Shut up, man," Sid interrupted. "If I hadn't been here, that fire would still be sputtering on the ground." The smirk on his face was one both Jack and Matt knew to be quite familiar. He shook his crew-cut head at Matt. The three had grown up in the same neighborhood together and knew each other well.

     Matt's glorious celebration fell to the ground. Disappointed, feigning total humiliation, Matt pretended to be hurt to his very soul by Sid's reply. Softly he uttered, "Yeah, whatever," eyes downcast, sinking back into the cot.

Jack remained standing and walked over to the park bench a few yards away, out of the heat and glow of the fire. Here the refreshing, June night reached him, cooling away the heat of their conflagration that stayed on his skinny, bare legs. Quiet tonight, he leaned back against the bench, breathing deeply, gazing up through the rustling hum of branches and leaves, up into the sky's expanse. Jack loved it out here- Lake Argyle State Park, the middle of Nowhere, Illinois. The thick pine forests and empty weed fields isolated the place from everything. Out here was its own natural world, untouched by the frustration, the confusion of being a teenager. All Jack could do here was lay back and wonder up at the clear, starry sky, let his imagination wander. He could lose himself in the magic of the place.

     The late spring air was getting cold. Goose bumps rippled through the skin and hair of his forearms, and his natural reaction was to shove his hands into the pockets of his ragged, cut-off shorts. A thin slip of paper brushed against fingertips as he did this. Pulling the object from his pocket for inspection, Jack remembered eating at the Oriental Express, a Chinese fast food joint, a few nights before, and recognized it as a fortune from a fortune cookie. Not remembering its message, he held it up now before him in the moonlight. The words "if you believe it, so it shall be" were printed in small, simple lower-case letters. He held the paper in front of him for some time, something about the message absorbed his thoughts. Not realizing that minutes had passed, the strong scent of roasting hog flesh broke his trance.

     "Jack," called Matt, "you want a dog?"

     "No, man. You know I can't stand those things. I don't see how you guys can eat that garbage," replied Jack, and he truly disliked the idea of eating mysterious, pink, pig parts. "I think I'm gonna' go take a walk to the cliffs," he said retrieving a sweatshirt from his backpack and pulling it over his head and shoulders.

     "See ya'," called Matt. Jack walking off on his own wasn't unusual. He was just kind of an unusual guy, and Matt and Sid had gotten used to it. Even when he was younger, he seemed to look at things differently. He was the kid who, for show-and-tell, would bring in a simple, round pebble and create some far-fetched story about how it came from some magical castle in the clouds. In school he didn't have very many friends -- his weirdness scared away most. This caused him to keep to himself, and he never really developed much self-confidence. So in a way, Matt and Sid might have felt a little obligated.

     Jack walked carefully in the dark through the winding trail leading from their site up to the narrow blacktop road. Tree cover over the trail hid the starlight, causing him to take steps cautiously, aware of the roots and the rough surface below, so as not to trip. As he moved further from the site and the campfire, he began to notice the sights and sounds of the forest better. His night vision had settled in, and he could now see the golden flecks -- fireflies floating around him. He emerged from the trail, out into the road that encircled the lake, the night glow falling on him again. As he made his way down the road the sounds of the forest sang to him. The crickets croaking chorus, a whippoorwill's whirling high pitch, that hum of the wind in the trees, and the long, questioning hoot of an owl all rang out, layering each other in sound through the night air. Jack looked down at his hand and noticed he still held the fortune between his fingers. He put it back in his pocket.

     The cliffs weren't terribly high. Just a few steep sheets of rock and some large boulders over-looking the lake, about twenty feet below. Jack fished there with Matt and Sid quite a bit, but all the lake ever seemed to give up were schools of tiny bluegill. He turned off the blacktop onto the gravel road leading down to the cliffs. Small rocks and pebbles shifted coarsely beneath his Nikes, as he walked the gradual incline, nearing his destination.

Approaching the edge, leaving the tree cover, he looked over. The sight was grand. Lake Argyle's vast, glistening surface spread, encompassing his view. The stars and the sky reflected in the lake perfectly, and to Jack it was as if there were two infinite heavens- one above and one below him. He climbed down a ledge and sat on the dusty stone, just staring. He gazed up, searching deep into outer space for a while. Then he shifted, looking down into the lake's outer space. Right there on that cliff, Jack's thoughts could soar, not just out into space, but inwards as well, into his own life. Once inside, Lake Argyle State Park held no boundaries.

     The fortune in Jack's pocket kept returning to his thoughts. The words were so simple, yet sounded so powerful when he repeated them in his head. "If you believe it, so it shall be." The more he thought about it, there on the cliff between the two heavens, the more it seemed to make sense. Maybe he was tired, or his head was just a little foggy, but he believed those words. The magic of the park and the lake had won him over.

     Jack believed he could fly.

     He stood up on the ledge, looking directly below him. The dark water lapped against the jagged boulders and rock. He crouched slightly, took a deep breath, and then threw himself, arms spread, out over the lake, not a doubt in his mind. He arched through the air then began to dive, falling towards the water's surface. Five feet before impact, with the lake rushing up to meet him, he swooped outward, gliding over the still surface. He then rose upward, soaring to a silent height. The wind whipped around his clothes as he ascended and then leveled off a good distance from the ground. The lake and cliffs had shrunk beneath him, and everything quieted. Then the realization hit him. He was flying! But the weird thing was that it didn't really surprise him. He hadn't acted quickly, he had known what he was doing when he jumped from the cliff. And for some reason, on this night, he had known that he could fly. So he enjoyed it. A cool serenity surrounded him. The black horizon expanded around him. He could see the white smoke floating up from the campsite where Matt and Sid had probably moved on to roasting marshmallows. The air currents got chilly, and he decided to land, diving downward, accelerating towards the cliffs then straightening out as his feet touched the ground, running to a halt.

     He walked back down the gravel road hurriedly. The forest around him seemed even more alive than before; watching, moving, breathing. He turned onto the blacktop, back the way he came, smiling at the notion of revealing this new secret to his two friends. But knowing that they were both rational persons and, unfortunately, solidly attached to reality, he didn't think they would be able to share in his abilities. Still, he had to show somebody. Growing impatient, Jack got a running start and leaped into the air once more, coasting the length of the road, landing at the trail leading to their campsite. Stepping off the starlit road, enveloped by the darkening of the looming forest, he confidently strode through the bends and turns of the trail. Firelight illuminated the clearing ahead, and he returned to the site.

     The bag of marshmallows was melting on the ground, smoking black plastic, a little too close to the embers. Two branches, ends carved to a point and dripping gooey, charred remains, rested against the bench. The fire had died down a good foot or so, but still crackled and danced with life. Sid lay down on his back on the cot, hands clasped behind his head, and Matt was relieving himself onto a helpless bush on the edge of the site. Both turned their heads at Jack's entrance.

     "Hey, we saved you some 'mellows," Matt said, finishing and walking back to the fire. Then, slightly startled and not too concerned, he stated "oh, shit" as he looked on the steadily deforming marshmallow bag and then stomped it out.

     "Yeah," Jack replied sarcastically, "I'll pass." Then eagerly he added, "I found something you guys ought to see."

     "Oh yeah, what is it?" Sid asked sitting up on the cot.

     Jack believed he could hold fire.

     He stepped up to the warmth, reflecting the flames in his assured, shining eyes. Slowly he reached out with a steady arm, dipping his hand in the red-orange blaze. The heat ceased as the burning gas came in contact with his skin. He cupped his palm, and pulled his arm from the fire. A small flame, about five inches tall, swayed in his palm, throwing shadows on his face, and Jack laughed playfully. He tossed the flame up in the air, and it simply floated back down softly, feathery, into his hand.

Matt and Sid were wide-eyed, shocked, speechless. Blankly, they looked on at the flame bouncing in the air. Jaws limply dropped, and unsure eyes squinted.

     "I don't believe it," Sid stuttered hoarsely.

     "I do," Jack said softly to himself.

     Jack believed this night wouldn't end, not until he wished it so.

     That night spread out to last somewhere near a week, and the guys made the most of it before finally tiring. Another night like that never came again for Jack, though. Perhaps for that short time, on that tiny speck of the universe, the bindings of reality merely came unstrapped. As infinitely long as time is, and as infinitely huge as the universe is, one wouldn't be surprised to find that happen sometime or another...

     And Jack -- well, Jack just seemed to believe in himself a little more after that night.

Acknowledgments: I would gratefully like to thank the following people for the following reasons: Terry Heller for clarification and an experienced point of view, camping friends from back home for helping to provide those memorable nights, and Jed, the park ranger, for keeping Lake Argyle State Park in such good shape.

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Fantasticoe 1996