The Never by Kristina Circelli
Genre: Fantasy for 18+
“Out of nothing, we create something.”
Arianna has spent her entire life being called a dreamer, an artist who created a world no one else can see. And for her entire life, she has taken the medication that keeps that world – and the one who brought her there – at bay.
Now an adult, Arianna reawakens that part of herself kept locked away in the darkest corners of her mind. When she hides her medicine from her fiancé’s ever-watchful eye, he returns – the shadow in the night who collects her for an adventure known only in her fantasies.
But something is different about this world called The Never. It is no longer the cheerful place filled with light and laughter that she knew as a child. Now, the sea creatures drag their visitors into the depths of murky waters. The natives battle to the death against the tribe of children. And the pirates, led by the feared captain called The Hunter, seek out Arianna for their own sinister plans.
As Arianna goes deeper into The Never, she discovers just what her connection to the land means – and must choose between her life rooted in reality, and the world where anything is possible.
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Chapter 4 – No Longer a Child
She saw him off, making earnest promises to always remember her medication, putting on the happiest face she could manage until his car disappeared down the driveway. Lily the puppy pulled on her new leash, eager to explore her surroundings. Although the sun was setting, Arianna allowed the dog to pull her into the woods, taking her on an evening stroll before they settled in for the night. Lily sniffed at the plants as she passed them, pouncing on flickering shadows and barking at nonexistent figures.
Arianna laughed softly as she watched the puppy play, giving her plenty of room on the leash to wander and explore. She’d always wanted a dog as a child, only to be told by her mother that animals were dirty and not meant to be kept as pets. The refusal only fueled her desire, as did the promises that maybe, if she was good and took her medicine, then a puppy would one day be hers to hold and cherish.
The sun slipped below the horizon, casting the woods in shadows. Arianna glanced over her shoulder and was comforted by the glow of lights in the cabin not too far in the distance. She tried not to wander too far from home at night, knowing what dangers lurked in a forest of heavy brush and wildlife. John didn’t like her strolling through the woods at dark – or during the day, for that matter – so she tried not to upset him by staying close to home.
“A gift of life, to keep death at bay.”
Arianna turned about, searching for the familiar voice. She saw only night and darkness instead. Her heart beat wildly, both at the surprise intrusion and the possibilities of what the voice’s return may mean. “What…what death?”
“Death of love, of heart, of soul.”
She took in a deep breath, grip tightening on the leash. She wanted to see the figure’s face, needed to see it. Lily sensed her new owner’s hesitation and barked once, taking a stance at her master’s feet. “Who are you?” Arianna asked, narrowing her eyes.
“You know who I am. You have known me since you were a child.”
“I knew a child as a child. You sound like a man.” She felt a brush of fingers against her neck, as though a hand was pulling her hair back. She turned but saw only empty air.
“I have watched you, Arianna of the Stars. I have watched you, dreamed with you, grown up with you.”
Lily pulled at the leash and scratched at Arianna’s ankles, eager to get away from whatever was agitating her master. Arianna let the leash slip through her fingers, not noticing the dog as she ran back for the cabin on four wobbly legs and waited on the back steps, whimpering quietly.
Free to wander on her own, the enraptured woman began to walk, slowly passing tree after tree. Her hands grazed over tree trunks, eyes grazed over leaves and shrubs. Moonlight streamed in through the canopy, creating a white glow that softened the night setting. “Who are you?” Her repeated question traveled a light breeze, laughter echoing back at her.
“I am the one you dream of, the one you seek.”
She saw something then, an outline moving through the trees. The figure was watching her, moving with her. If she looked hard enough, she could almost see a face, eyes. Not bright eyes, but seeking, piercing nonetheless. “Who are you?”
Those eyes, dark green and ever watchful, latched on to hers. They followed her as they walked, peering around leaf and branch, staring through the moonlight. “I am the dream. I am the reality,” he answered, voice like a secret spoken in hushed whispers. “I am the eternal. I am the forgotten.” They moved closer together in the woods, yet still at a distance. “I am the always. I am the never.”
Something inside her mind clicked. Arianna paused between two trees, one hand on either trunk. She knew that name. In the farthest corners of her mind, she remembered, and the memory hardened in her gut. Oh yes, she knew, and wished that her mind wasn’t suddenly filled with recollections of salted shores and pale pink skies. “You are not The Never. The Never left me. The Never forsook me. The Never forgot me.”
“No,” came the soothing, reassuring croon. “The Never did not forget you. The Never could not reach you, Arianna of the Stars.”
“Stop calling me that,” Arianna snapped, taking a step back. “Stop pretending to be him. Tell me who you are.”
“I have told you. You must believe me”
She heard the desperation in his request, but ignored it and instead slipped a hand in her pocket. “Have it your way. I know how to get rid of you.” She swallowed the blue pill and he reacted fast, exploding into her line of vision and grabbing her wrist.
“What was that?” he demanded. “What did you take?”
Unable to respond, Arianna simply stared up at him. This was not the boy the remembered, the boy who spoke to her as a child and led her on exciting other-worldly adventures. This was a man, perhaps a year older than her, perhaps even a year or two younger. There was something innocent about his forest green, almond-shaped eyes, and yet, something very sinister in the way he pressed his full lips together in a knowing smirk. His jawline was strong, as were his cheekbones, strong enough to take one of many hits she suspected he was used to enduring, and maybe even encouraged.
He was tan, the tan of a man who spent his days in the sun, with wild hair the color of the setting sun. For the briefest of moments she longed to run her fingers through those thick locks, which hung down to his ears in messy strands. Bamboo pieces decorated his ears, pierced through twice in each.
His clothing, if that’s what it could be called, matched his eyes. His torso was wrapped in a soft, thin shirt that clung to his skin, with wide straps that crisscrossed at his shoulders to reveal finely toned muscle. The deep green of a material Arianna didn’t recognize covered his legs with leaf-shaped designs, ending just below the knees. He was barefoot, which only added to his mysterious aura. Strapped around his waist was a leather belt, with a dagger sheathed at his side.
Boy had most certainly become man.
“What did you take?” he asked again when she only gazed at him. His grip tightened on her wrist, causing her to wince.
“Um…just, just my medicine.”
“Medicine.” He said the word quietly, as though trying to understand it. Then he took her by the shoulders, almost too urgently. “Medicine! You must never take it again.”
Her brow furrowed. “I have to. It keeps me well.”
“No. You must never take it, my Arianna. It is why I could not find you for so long, why we could not be together.”
Arianna hesitated, savoring the feel of his rough hands on her bare skin. She had never known this figure in her dreams as a man, and was fascinated by the creature he had become. “We…we had adventures together, as children?”
He smiled, gently brushing back a strand of her hair. “Yes, we did. You cannot remember them all now, but you will. Promise me you will not take your medicine again. Promise me, and I will return tomorrow to show you what you have forgotten. We will fly from this place, and have our adventures again.”
An internal alarm was triggered, a familiar word, a familiar worry. Arianna ignored it and smiled up at him just before he faded into the night. “I promise.”
A lover of the written word since the time she first picked up a pen, Kristina Circelli shares her passion for fiction in her multi-genre novels.
Circelli is the author of several fiction books, including The Sour Orange Derby, a young adult novel about family and childhood imagination steeped in southern traditions; Beyond the Western Sun, Walk the Red Road, and Into the Shadow Realm of The Whisper Legacy, which centers on Native American cultures and the legends that come to life in the spirit realm; and The Helping Hands, a book that follows a gang of friends who rescue abused children.
Currently, Circelli works as a copywriter, author, book editor, and creative writing professor at the University of North Florida, where she received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in English. She resides in Florida, with her husband and two kittens.