Once upon a time—a story always begins. The same four words that captures a child’s curiosity upon utterance—the opening to many stories, folklore, and legends. Alas, there was one beginning that commenced differently. It was a beginning that came forth once every five-hundred years—a beginning that repeated itself over, and over, and over again. For upon its very first once upon a time, there would never be an end—a fictional happily ever after that ceased to exist.
I was twelve-years-young when my mother told me the story. It began as a tale of a great adventure, where the hero traversed the golden dunes in the North Desert in search of the Fountain of Youth. It was said that beneath the great sea of sand was a cave—one that would rise above the earth when a mortal, worthy of its gift, should stumble upon it. And, like every other story, the hero had been worthy since birth. Still, it took the hero thirty-seven years to face his destiny—he had just turned sixty when he uncovered his calling.
It was a fateful evening when the ground shuddered and groaned. A rocky chamber emerged before the hero’s aging eyes, striking him in wonder and awe. It’s iron-grey accents, disparate to the surrounding topography, revealed a winding hollow that descended into the earth. And, the hero had no reservations. He strode into the mouth of the colossal chamber, leaving the world at the foot of the cave.
As the uneven and slippery path led him into the abyss, the hero soon found himself out of light’s reach. But in that darkness, where the hero thought of assembling a torch, he heard a disembodied voice—it asked a simple question with a deep resonance that reverberated through his bones.
“What do you seek?” The ghostly echoes of the question sent a shiver down his spine.
‘What do I seek?’ the hero thought to himself. The answer was easy. The hero had long sought for one thing and one thing alone—it was the reason for his quest, and it was the very thing the cave was said to offer. So the hero replied, “I seek what you promised.”
Just as the hero uttered those words, the cave trembled. And almost immediately, the hero hesitated—should he stay or should he run for his life? Then realising how he had wasted many years for that very moment, the hero stood his ground. And at the resolution, the trembling ceased.
Silence and darkness reigned. A nothingness prolonged—seemingly perpetual to warrant a response. But before a word left the hero’s lips, a faint light flickered in the hollow up ahead. It drew nearer and nearer, until the hero could see its very form—a ball of light akin to the sun.
Again, the hero was uncertain—should he embrace the fiery orb or step out of its way? Was it the gift he had longed for or a curse of death? The hero chose to remain. And as he closed his eyes in expectation of the magical light, the hero felt a warm sensation entering his chest. The comforting heat extended to every inch of his body. Then, it dissipated—its heat lifting from his being as a cold draft stirred around him. As the gift was dispensed, the voice returned.
“You will live for a thousand years, and a thousand more. Never will you meet death.”
Thus, the end of the story—the closure that every mother offered as she tucked her children to sleep. Alas, that wasn’t the end. I would know, as I went on the same adventure, only to discover that the story never ended there.
Unlike the hero, I wandered a few years short of twenty. I thought myself lucky—having not to spend another night in the soulless desert as a mortal. But as I uttered the words of the hero and embraced the gift, I came upon the part of the story that diverged. Oh, how I had hoped for a warm and comforting sensation in my being. Oh, if only the legend was true. Alas, the gift was a curse.
As soon as the fiery orb nestled in my chest, an eruption of raging heat burst forth. A searing sensation scorched my skin from the inside out. And before my very eyes, ash rose from my being. I thought I was dying—I felt myself die. To my dismay, I was still alive. When the pain eventually ceased, I could no longer feel my body. The only sensation that remained was an unending fire that stirred within.
“You will live for a thousand years, and a thousand more. Never will you meet death,” the voice said.
It was too late then. I would have renounced the gift but I had lost my voice. No longer was I mortal. I had become the sun. And I was destined to grace the skies for all of eternity—to live as a mythical creature that would be reborn in its own ashes over, and over, and over again. Thus… once upon a time, at every quincentenary, my story continues.
12 Genre Months © 2020 by Jeyna Grace. All rights reserved.
(Click HERE for the list of stories in this writing challenge.)