The Hardest Decision in Life
Haley’s inspiring courage and strength
Laughter bubbled from my lips. I didn’t know Abraham would have a sense of humor. “What would you do if I said I wanted to see the unicorns?”
“I’d take you to see them. They’re just on the valley’s other side right now.”
My grin evaporated, and my eyes rounded. “Wait. You’re serious? Unicorns are real?”
“Of course, they’re real, Haley. Did you think man made them up? The best myths and legends are based on versions of reality.”
I chuckled again. “If only I could tell my mom about them. She picked the unicorn as the symbol for my charity. Well, it was my favorite stuffed animal when I was seven, so that might have influenced her decision. Plus, the unicorn is a symbol of a promise. Yes, I’d like to see them.”
Just as promised, Abraham led me to where the unicorns played. He waved at them, and they came prancing over to greet us. Like everything else here, light shone from within them. Mirroring the shape and size of horses from Earth, their coat shades ranged from pink to iridescent pearl, and they each sported a long, spiraling horn from the center of their foreheads.
Greetings and joy at meeting me entered my mind. The unicorns spoke with me telepathically. More than anything, I wanted to jump on the beautiful steed in front of me and ride away. But Abraham mentioned more things for me to see that tantalized my curiosity.
“Another time,” Aaliyah said, the soft hairs from her muzzle tickling my palm. As one, the unicorns turned and pranced away. Their graceful forms effortlessly flowed across the meadow, reminding me of colorful ribbons blowing in the breeze.
I sighed. Childlike delight ran through me at seeing the beautiful creatures. If only I could tell my mom the truth about them. I imagined her mouth hanging open in disbelief if I could have one more opportunity to talk with her.
“Are you ready to go? We could wait longer, but I happen to know that another group of people is assembling for their first flying lessons. It’s something everyone talks about, and we flock to see them at every opportunity.” Abraham grinned, his eyes mischievously shining.
What was he not saying? His expression piqued my curiosity. “Sure, let’s go. It sounds like fun.” I don’t know if the flying lessons were nearby or if Abraham managed to translate us, but in almost no distance at all, the scenery completely shifted, and a vast crowd surrounded us.
Without counting, I guessed about a dozen people exited a ruby-walled building across from us, their faces beaming with excitement and their robes shining brightly white, sparkling as they walked. A thrill of anticipation raced up my spine, increasing in intensity with the crowd’s voices raising. Many pointed out their acquaintances, calling out well-wishes followed by raucous laughter.
The flight students paired off, and I counted fourteen of them. The first pair started running, their steps getting longer with each stride. Almost as soon as it started, they no longer used the ground but flew into the air—for about three seconds. They crashed to the ground, rolling gracefully in summersaults where the grass cushioned them and rolled along with them. The team jumped up, gave each other a high five, and jogged back to the other flyers, waiting their next turn at the line’s end they formed.
The onlookers cheered and laughed. They called out for the next pair to try, ready for more entertainment. As if encouraged by the audience, two more flyers complied. Only, these two didn’t run; they jumped straight up into the air. With more grace than I’d ever witnessed before, they flew in parallel loops. I didn’t know such maneuvers were possible, but the show ended almost as fast as it began with a midair collision and an immediate fall to the grass. Gasping in anticipation of the thud, I clapped excitedly when the ground acted as a trampoline and shot them back to their feet with the grace of trapeze artists.
No flyer made it very far, but their techniques varied according to their personal delights. I laughed and clapped with the best of them. When the show ended, I wanted to try my hand at flying.
Abraham grasped my elbow and steered us away from the crowd. I looked up at him, my mind racing with possibilities. “That was amazing. When can I get into that class?”
“Anyone can attend at any time. But right now, you have an appointment.” His hand patted my arm.
“Really? With who?”
Rather than answer, Abraham reached up and grabbed a copper-colored fruit from a pear tree overhead and held it out to me. “Eat this; you’ll need the strength it provides.”
My hand shot up to accept the gift, but then his words registered. Why would I need strength? What was coming? Should I change my mind about going? My steps slowed as my doubts increased. Yet Abraham’s hold on my arm propelled me forward.
If I didn’t have a choice in the matter, then I would follow Abraham’s sage advice. I lifted the fruit to my mouth, biting the tender flesh and sucking hastily at the flowing juices. If I never ate another thing, this fruit would satisfy me for a lifetime. Energy surged through my body, every nerve invigorated, every sense heightened.
As before, the scenery shifted with each step, as if our very motion caused the land to change. We rounded the small sandy hill, and Abraham stopped. Breath caught in my lungs at the sea spread out before us. I’d never witnessed anything so pure, bright, and vast as that expanse of water. A gentle breeze lifted the hair from my shoulders, the smell unrecognizably sweet and alluring, calling me forward. My voice came out barely above a whisper, “What is this place called?”
“The Crystal Sea.”
The name hardly did its beauty justice, yet it explained it perfectly. My foot slid gently down the sloping sand as if the sand itself hastened my way. Maybe it did. Everything here lived. I only stopped when the water lapped over my feet, seemingly flowing through my feet and purifying me. Dolphins jumped in the water only a few yards away from shore. I laughed at their antics. One dolphin called out to me as she stood balanced on her tail on the water’s surface.
“Come closer; I have something to show you.”
I stepped into the water, never distinguishing the difference between the water and my body. It flowed through me and around me as if it were always a part of me. Lifting my hands, I marveled at the sparkling drops dripping from me. Where they fell at the surface, they rippled over the water, pushing out a circle and leaving a gaping hole. Fascinated, I stared down, recognizing the landscape, buildings, and people as the life I left.
Playing out before me, I witnessed my funeral and the sadness my family faced so bravely. If only I could tell them that I lived, that I was whole and happy. Charlie went to live with Matt. They looked happy together.
Time sped as Matt ticked off one adventure after another from my bucket list. He put everything aside to honor my memory. If only we had more time together. We would have shared these memories. So much lost, yet I could experience so much more here on this world.
The dolphin chirped and dove into the water, collapsing the hole and ending my show. Even though I’d only been here for what seemed like a few minutes, I’d seen months, maybe years, of what my family did without me. They were finding their way; their painful wounds were healing. I contented myself with this miraculous glimpse at their lives.
I sighed and turned my gaze toward the horizon, searching for the dolphin to thank her for the unexpected and welcome gift. My attention riveted to a man walking toward me across the water’s surface as easily as if it were a frozen pond. But this was living, moving water, and he didn’t falter or sink. Now, I knew the vision from the dolphin merely occupied me until the scheduled meeting time with this remarkable man.
When he came close enough, I recognized him as my guardian. A thrill raced up my spine in anticipation of what he would say to me now. He might have needed to attend to another matter, but now he was here with me. What would I say to him, and what would he expect from me?
He stopped right in front of me and held out his hand. I took it, and immediately my body rose from the water until I stood on top of it alongside him. My clothes weren’t even wet, and the breeze brought the beautiful fragrance to dance around both of us.
“I trust Abraham, Aaliyah, and Annabelle have all kept you entertained?” He said, leading me toward the shore at a leisurely pace.
“Oh, I didn’t know her name. Yes, everything has been perfect. I just wish I could share all of this with my family.”
“That’s what I wanted to discuss with you.”
“My family? What about them?” Would my little excursions here cause them problems?
My guardian flung his arm across my shoulders and drew me closer to his side. I felt the rumble of his laughter through his ribcage, and I relaxed. We reached the beach, and my guardian sat on the shore. With one finger, he drew designs in the sand. Even as I watched, the individual grains moved to create more intricate designs around his simple one.
“You have a choice, you know,” he simply said.
“A choice? I don’t understand.”
“I can send you back to Earth, or you can stay here. The choice is up to you.”
“How? Annabelle just showed me the months that have passed and how my family has been coping with me being gone.”
“Annabelle showed you one possibility for your family’s future. But, if you chose to go home, a whole different future will happen instead.”
“Ah! I see.” The words came out without my realization. Did I want to go home where I was blind?
“That’s subject to change, as well,” he said to my unspoken thought. “How you are right now is how you will remain if I send you back to Earth.”
“So, let me make sure I get this right. You’re telling me that if I do go back, then I won’t be blind, and I won’t be dying of Batten disease?” There must be some trick to this decision. What wasn’t he telling me?
“There’s no trick and no cost. What I offer you is the chance to live your life as it should have been. You’ll be made whole and perfect as if you were never sick. You can return to your friends and family and live out your life without Batten disease.”
I bit my bottom lip and let my gaze flow over the Crystal Sea in front of me. I could hardly imagine my old life any different than doctor’s visits, tests, and trials. On this planet, I learned what it felt like to live free of suffering. Did I want to go back? Did I want to leave this fantastic world for a chance at a normal life on Earth?
I turned back to face my guardian. Seeing his radiant smile and loving eyes, I instantly made up my mind. “I want to go home.”
“So it shall be.”
Beeping resounded continually right next to my head, and someone held my hand. I opened my eyes to a strange room—the dreaded hospital. I shifted my head on the pillow and said, “Mom. I can see.”