In a little house in a little neighborhood, there lived a little family of three.
There we see darling mother, always in her floral dresses of pink and blue and orange hues, taking little strides as she took care of the little chores-
And father dearest too, with his cup of coffee and cream, his little newspaper in hand, taking little sips as he read out loud the tidbits of the day.
But of course, who can forget Zach? And if you ever happen to visit their home on a cloudy afternoon, you might hear him in his room, so full of cheer, zooming and swooshing and zapping and laughing with all his might.
Little Zach was a boy of ten, plump and cheeky as a little boy of ten can be, and in their house he played the part of the giddy son very well. "He was like any other child his age," mom and dad would say with a clap. Zach walked and talked like others did, smiled and sneezed as the boys in the neighborhood, and his eyes glowed with the bright cheer of any fine son of a fine little family.
It must be said however that little Zach was different from the other kids in a not-so-little way. For one, he was a bit more jittery, and he always seemed so excited even when, to everyone else, there was nothing to be so excited about. Sometimes he would even talk and play when nobody else was around - a peculiar thing indeed!
Of course there was always someone there, little Zach would say, but nobody really believed any of it. It was just his imagination, and who else could believe it but him? Nobody else could see the fairy sisters Lily and Juniper, with their flowing ruby locks braided with roses; or the knight Sir Lucas atop his mighty dragon, shield and spear sparkling; nor the little girl Aria, his favorite among that fantastic roster of characters. And even if nobody believed they were there, they always kept the boy company. To little Zach, they were as real as his cheeky. Well, everybody could see his grin at least!
The adults thought this was rather strange of course - adults always find it strange when children see the marvelous - seeing a boy like Zach spend so much time on his own with strange characters that only he could see. "But then again," they recited among themselves, "He is just a growing boy with a growing imagination!" After all, little Zach still did what all the other kids do: he played with friends, attended school, kept away from strangers, and everything else you would expect boys to do. So they let it be for now, thinking it was no concern, and Zach's imagination continued to bubble.
Day in and day out, things for little Zach went on with nothing out of the ordinary, though you could say that the boy's days were not quite ordinary at all!
Every morning he would greet Sir Lucas and the dragon - who both kept watch over the sleeping Zach by his bedside every night - with a cheerful salute before heading downstairs to say hello to his parents and have a hearty breakfast. There he would tell them about how the noble knight had fended off the awful monsters that would try to creep into his room the night before with his mighty spear, and how his dragon would blow the rest away with a flap of its great big wings. Ah, mornings were always so thrilling for little Zach weren't they? The day was still to begin but already there was so much action. It was no wonder he was always so excited!
After sharing biscuits and kisses with mom and dad, he would put on his uniform and walk to school. He would have Aria by his side, and they would giggle all the way. Little Zach would pass by the houses of his classmates as he skipped merrily along the pavement, and sometimes those classmates would join in and skip alongside him. Aria would be a little quieter then, but she would still be smiling, because nothing made her happier than seeing him with his friends-or so Zach would always say. After all, who knew her better than Zach? None, you would think, because no-one else but he could see the little girl beside him. But she was definitely there, don't you worry!
School would also be quite a treat for Little Zach. He was a lively student and the teachers adored him for his bright ideas, but he would always say that he could not take all of the credit: after all, the fairies Lily and Amy would always be right there, tickling each-other and dancing around in circles on his table, ready to whisper a thought or two for the boy to tell. Nobody else could see the silly fairy sisters, but he would still say that some of those ideas came from them-not all of course, because he was a smart boy too-because he knew that it was always good to be honest. Honesty didn't always mean people would believe it though, and they certainly didn't believe there was anything else besides little Zach. But that certainly didn't stop him from being distracted when Lily or Amy started buzzing around with their bright leafy wings. Poor Zach was always the only one getting distracted, those pesky fairies!
This would be Little Zach's schedule from sunrise until sunset, and he would skip merrily down the same path when it was time to go home. Aria would be by his side as usual, and with her the boy would talk all about his wonderful day.
"You'll always be here with me, right Aria?" Little Zach would sometimes ask, just before they said their goodbyes.
"Of course," the girl would always answer. "As long as you're around, I'll be here right with you!"
And so the next day, and the day after that, it would be the same routine, and Little Zach was perfectly content. All was well in his little world!
Unfortunately, as time went by, things started to go wrong for Little Zach. As the weeks became months, everyone began noticing strange changes in the plump and cheeky ten-year-old. Suddenly, it was no longer as exciting for Little Zach as it used to be.
Little by little he would stop speaking to his parents in the morning. He would no longer tell them about the dragon or Sir Lucas, and he would barely speak to them at all during breakfast. On other days he would not even go downstairs or come out to eat, and instead mom and dad would just hear him talking to himself inside. There was still action in the mornings with his bedside heroes, but now it seemed that all he wanted to do was stay there and watch his friends fight off the monsters.
When he would go to school, he would no longer be skipping and asking his classmates to join him. Instead Little Zach would ignore them entirely, and would not answer when they called out to him on the road. He would just talk to Aria, who would still be at his side as they walked. The little girl no longer needed to keep quiet now because nobody was there to interrupt them-but her smiles slowly turned into frowns. Still, all Little Zach wanted now was for her to be there with him, and Aria no longer saw him with his friends. He would be seen walking down the street in all his lonesome, seeming to speak to nobody else but the wind.
Things turned oddly gloomy even the classroom. Little Zach would no longer share his ideas or answer whenever the teacher tried to call for him, and even when the teacher did get his attention Zach would become angry and just ignore it completely. Instead he would be busy with Lily and Amy, laughing on his own as he watched them play on the table and fly around the room. It was a confusing sight for everyone present.
All his classmates watched him curiously. Now it looked like all he wanted to do was be distracted by the antics of the fairy sisters. Nothing else interested him.
When mom and dad heard all these stories about how he would always keep to himself and shut everyone else away, they started to become very worried. They tried to talk to him, asking with all the tone worried parents can muster if there was anything wrong, but the once excitable and cheery Little Zach would not answer even to them. Instead he would stay very quiet, with the strangest look in his eyes, and then he would just run back upstairs and lock himself in the room. They could still hear him zooming and swooshing and zapping, but it somehow felt like they had lost their happy little boy.
When Little Zach's parents no longer knew what else to do, they called in a doctor to take a closer look at the problem. Dressed all in white, the doctor would visit for a time and would watch the boy very closely, and he would listen very carefully.
After a while, he sat down to think and then gave them a sad answer: "Little Zach has become trapped in his little world," the doctor told them. "He has become bored with everything else around him, and now he refuses to leave the world he has made with his imaginary friends."
The parents, distressed and afraid for their son, asked for a solution.
"You must have him take these," the doctor said, giving them a small jar of medicine for Little Zach to drink. "With this, his imaginary friends will go away and he will come out of his little world - and hopefully, back to us."
So mom and dad did as they were told, and Little Zach drank the medicines every day.
In a few days, things began to change again for Little Zach. One morning he woke up and saw that Sir Lucas and Adler the dragon were moving towards the open window, not by his bedside as they usually were. There were no more monsters either.
"Where are you going?" He asked them. "Aren't you going to stay and protect me from the monsters?"
"Everything is safe now," came the noble knight's reply. "You do not need us to protect you anymore. We have to leave now, but it will all be alright."
Little Zach was very sad to hear this, but there was no choice. He saluted them one last time, and watched with tears in his eyes as the dragon carried Sir Lucas out through the window and into the clouds. There would be no more stories of heroism, but at least now he was eating breakfast and talking to mom and dad in the mornings again.
In another few days, things changed again. Little Zach was sitting at his table in the classroom and talking to the fairies sisters Lily and Amy, but they were not as giddy or as playful as they used to be. Even their ruby locks seemed so much duller now.
"What's wrong, Lily?" He asked the first fairy. "Why are you both so quiet?"
"We cannot play with you anymore, and we will have to go in a little while," Amy said, answering for her sister who had then already begun to cry. "But you will have more fun even if we're not around anymore. We will miss you."
Little Zach was very sad to hear this, but again there was no choice. The fairies kissed him on both cheeks one last time, and they flew out of the classroom, the breeze lifting them from under their leafy wings. There will be no more whispers of clever answers or the noise of silly antics, but at least now he was having fun in class again.
Yet another few days went by, and again something changed. As he was walking home from school with Aria by his side - there would be no skipping that evening - he noticed that her eyes were shut and that she was not paying much attention to him.
"What's wrong, Aria?" Little Zach asked, when suddenly he remembered how Sir Lucas and the fairy sisters Lily and Amy had also left him. He was frightened now; what if this meant his favorite friend would have to leave too him too?
"Are you going to go away?" The boy asked as tears ran down his little cheeks. "You said you always be right here with me."
"Zach, you know I want to stay, but I have to go now," Aria explained to him. But you could see that she was crying too.
"We always had so much fun together," Little Zach said, still hoping that his favorite friend would change her mind. "Why can't you stay? Everyone else left me already."
"No, that's not true," She told him. "You still have your mom, your dad, your friends, and all the others. As long as you're around, they'll be right here with you."
Then Little Zach realized something, and at that moment he felt the strangest sensation. He had become so fixed in his own world with his friends that he had forgotten about everyone else. "Oh dear," He wondered aloud. "They must be so worried now!"
"I want you to always be happy," Aria said as she gave him a big hug. He hugged back as tight as he could. "I will see you again soon. I promise."
Little Zach held his friend's hands again for the last time, and letting go, Aria started to walk away. He watched for a while as his favorite friend went away, staying even after she had disappeared from view, before finally going inside. He felt so very alone.
After a day or two however, he started to feel better again. He was again the plump and cheeky as a little boy of ten that they all knew and loved, and everyone was happy again. Little Zach understood now why his friends had to leave: he was concentrating so much on being with them that he had forgotten all about everyone else. But now he knew, and he was no longer stuck in his little world-now he had a big world now, a world he shared with everybody!
Years went by and Zach grew up as all boys and girls did, and very soon there was nothing left of the cheeky little boy of ten. He was a grown man with his own family, and they lived peacefully in another little house, away from the care of mom and dad.
As he sat on his chair in the front yard, watching the breeze kick up the dried leaves, he looked up to the afternoon sky and smiled. He was thinking about his old friends, wondering if Sir Lucas was still locked in battle with the monsters atop that great dragon, or if Lily and Amy were still braiding their hair with buttercups and bluebells. Then he thought about her, his favorite friend…
"I found a flower!" A little girl shouted from across the garden, her sweet voice pulling yanking him away from his daydreams. He turned to her and smiled brightly as she ran towards him, a fresh rose from the garden stuck in her hair. Zach seemed old enough to be the girl's father dearest, but who knew? Ah, only he!
"Hello there!" She announced, giggling as she jumped on his lap and put her arms around him. He suddenly remembers, more vividly now, and the memories of her from so long ago rush back to him with all the colors of the evening skies he walked under with her all those years ago.
Little Zach - not so little now - embraced the girl tight, and with a kiss to her forehead whispered, "Welcome back… Aria."