There's a place for us

A time and place for us

Hold my hand

And we're halfway there

Hold my hand and I'll take you there

-"Somewhere" West Side Story

----

Kassie sighed. Life, at times, seemed so monotonous. Every day, it was the same thing. She woke up at an obscenely early hour, and left for school before the sun had even dragged itself from its rest beneath the horizon.

She would walk from class to class. She would talk with her friends about television shows and gossip and nothing of import, and she would complete her homework about quantum physics and Shakespeare and abnormal psychology and all those things that had nothing to do with her life.

Every day, Kassie would groan about the slop served for lunch, even though she never imagined doing anything to improve the meals. What did it matter if lunch was better anyway? Everything seemed so pointless.

Kassie liked reading comic books and novels involving magic or science fiction. She liked stories that were too outrageous to be true, in which the hero or heroine fought battles for the fate of all of existence. In those stories, the characters always represented something greater than themselves. The situations were exactly the sort of fantastic situations Kassie imagined in her own life.

Kassie liked to fantasize about escaping from her own life and entering magical worlds akin to those she read about and dreamed about. She imagined that one day, a portal to another world would open outside her front door, and by stepping into it, Kassie could escape the ordinary world of ordinary physics and laws and normality.

Whenever she had a writing assignment in English class, Kassie would bring those fantasies to life through her writing. She wrote of perfectly ordinary teenaged girls who discovered magic powers or thrilling legacies.

In her stories, Kassie's characters always found themselves caught up in a swirl of excitement. They would use their newfound powers to save the world or to save lives, and they would find meaning in the worlds of elves or aliens. Writing stories wasn't enough of an outlet for Kassie, however, who continued to live the same, dreary life, despite her wishes otherwise.

She was a member of the choir for the upcoming production of West Side Story. Her favorite song was "Somewhere," a duet sang by the main characters.

Kassie knew the song was meant to be a love ballad, but she'd never thought of it that way. She twisted the lyrics to fit her own life. Somewhere, there was a place for her where she was accepted, where she was special, and where excitement awaited at every turn.

The more Kassie imagined this magical place just for her, the more detailed it became in her mind.

When Kassie arrived in the magical place, she would be accepted and loved, and more importantly, needed. In this place, Kassie would learn ancient secrets and would use her brain and brawn to save lives and alter the course of history. Each day would be utterly unlike the one before it, and she would never find herself bored of the monotony as she was in the real world.

The inhabitants of the magical world would be people like Kassie, people who had been dissatisfied with what the real world had to offer. There would be other young people like Kassie who had dreamed of something more, and adults who had escaped from the machine of working day in and day out.

There would be the elderly, who society had deemed useless. In Kassie's world, the elderly would be respected and revered, and they would tell the young ones secrets that would help them save the world.

In this world inspired by a song, Kassie would always be happy, but life would be far from perfect. Perfection was boring.

Kassie's world would constantly be threatened by invasion or natural disaster, and only Kassie's efforts would save the lives of those she loved. In her fantasies, Kassie was as much a hero as the characters she read about and idolized. Often, she even had super powers.

In the end, though, Kassie's fantasies were nothing more than fantasies, and the song "Somewhere" wasn't a secret key to another world, but only a love ballad from the high school musical.

After play practice, Kassie always came home in a bitter mood. Her parents didn't understand her longing for a more romantic life. Her mom worried that bullies picked on Kassie, while her father always assumed she was having "female troubles."

During her evenings, Kassie would sit at her computer and type fantastic stories on her word processor. Even her stories had begun to grown monotonous, however. They always featured young women strikingly like Kassie who escaped from their lives and responsibilities for magic.

Kassie needed to escape from her life, and even her stories didn't provide her with the escape she needed. The corridors of her mind could only lead her so far from the real world before she needed to return.

At night, even Kassie's dreams pointed out the wonderful excitement Kassie missed by living in the rational, real world. She dreamt she was a spy or an assassin or a sorceress or an alien princess, and excitement swirled around her. Each morning when she awoke, Kassie regretted that her dreams had to end.

One important day began just as monotonously as every other day had. She awoke from a dream about troll armies to a dark, boring bedroom, and wished she could go to sleep just for ten more minutes and resolve the wildly exciting dream.

Kassie took great care to look nice for school. Who knew when she might catch the eye of a rebel prince in disguise and thus begin a wild, torrid romance?

When she stepped outside, Kassie scanned the skies for alien space ships or winged horses. She didn't really believe she would ever see such things, but so long as she clung to the dying hope that someday her life would be more interesting, she could get through the day.

During physics, Kassie listened with half an ear to her teacher, imagining she might someday take the things she learned to disarm a bomb or to build a space ship. Her teacher continued to mumble about nomenclature and the naming of elements, and Kassie returned to drawing pictures in her notebook.

During English, Kassie flipped through her copy of A Midsummer Night's Dream to read the scenes involving fairies. She imagined that she was actually the child of two fairies who had been sent away for protection from a usurper's plot. Someday, the people she'd always imagined to be her parents would reveal that Kassie was adopted, and she would begin a quest to reclaim her throne.

"Kassie?" asked her teacher, startling her from her thoughts. "Could you pick up reading from where Amanda left off?"

Kassie shook her delusions from her mind. "What? Oh. Uh, what page are we on?"

During rehearsal after school, Kassie smiled and dreamed while the leads practiced "Somewhere." She imagined her magical world again, and saw thousands of people who had left behind lives similar to her own to find something more. Hand in hand, these people stood together and sang the tune, beckoning Kassie.

When the dream finished, Kassie drove home. The trip was without incident.

That evening, Kassie began to write a story about a girl who learned the language of dragons and helped bring the magical creatures back into the real world so that everyone could have a bit of magic in their lives. She didn't finish the story, because halfway through she remembered that she'd already written a story with a very similar plot.

That night, Kassie dreamed that one of her friends at school had become a serial killer. Using her detective skills, Kassie hunted down clues, and learned the horrifying truth mere minutes before her friend went after her.

Kassie ran down hallways that twisted and turned and never ended while her friend chased after her, brandishing a gun that she wouldn't shoot. Kassie tried to hide, but no matter how creative she was with her hiding places, her friend always knew exactly where to look, and soon, Kassie was sprinting away again, always staying a good distance ahead but never quite escaping.

The dream wasn't a nightmare. On the contrary, Kassie laughed in her dream overjoyed at the excitement she'd never quite experienced.

After a moment, Kassie sat up straight in her bed, wide-awake. A pinprick of light hovered before her, dancing on the air like a magical jewel. Certain that she was still asleep, Kassie reached forward in amazement.

When her finger brushed the jeweled light, it expanded in the flash of an eye to engulf her. Kassie couldn't even cry out, but she found herself quite suddenly in a tunnel made of white rock. It was utterly empty, and light seemed to shine all around even though Kassie could see no source.

This place looked like the sort Kassie might have created in one of her stories.

Fearlessly, Kassie strode forward, certain that if she walked long and far enough, she would find answers. Soon enough, she found herself in a giant cavern, overlooking a city of rock.

People walked in and out of caverns. Bright cloths hung over entry ways to provide the inhabitants with a bit of privacy. The people themselves wore clothes of all cuts and styles.

They came from all over the world, Kassie could tell just by examining the multitude of skin colors and facial features and clothing styles. People of all ages smiled at one another.

Without even wondering, Kassie knew what this peaceful Utopia was. This place was a dream come true, and Kassie knew that this was anything but a dream.

This was the world Kassie had created, the magical place that she'd based up on the song "Somewhere."

Kassie stepped over the edge, and although there was nothing to support her weight, Kassie walked upon the air. She didn't fly or soar, although Kassie was certain she could do that, too, if she wanted. She only walked above the cavern, looking down at the people who didn't seem to notice her.

Kassie sighed and imagined a great burden had been lifted from her shoulders. No longer was she bound by the real world, and never again would she suffer through the boredom of a normal life. She wouldn't be crushed under the constant rotation of school and home, not so long as this magical world was open to her.

"You! What are you doing?" a voice called. The voice had been speaking in Indian, and although Kassie didn't know a word of Indian, she recognized the words. She was certain that Indian was indeed the language spoken- and not the Indian language in terms of that of Native Americans, but Indian in that the speaker surely came from India.

Kassie shouldn't have understood or even known what language the other girl spoke. Such impossibilities were possible only in dreams and in places such as this.

"I'm sorry," Kassie said with no sorrow, turning back to see who had spoken. She saw a figure at the edge of the cliff she'd just stepped off of, but couldn't make out any features except that the speaker was clothed entirely in red. "I just wanted to see if I could do it."

The other speaker stepped off the cliff, and walked across the open air to meet Kassie. She saw that the person she spoke to was a Japanese girl of her own age. She wore red robes- Kassie wasn't sure what they were called- with golden dragons embroidered all over it. A red jewel twinkled from the middle of the other girl's forehead.

"You're Kassie," the girl observed with a smile.

"Yes, I am," Kassie agreed. She should not have been surprised that the other girl knew her name. After all, clearly Kassie was meant to stay in this place; she could not be complete without it, nor could the place be complete without her. Of course all the people had been waiting for her, and they knew her name.

Kassie peered into the other girl's face, but no matter how hard she looked, she couldn't discern the other girl's name. As if the other girl was able to read Kassie's thoughts (and maybe she was,) she said, "My name is Orchid."

"That's a pretty name," Kassie breathed.

"I picked it out myself," Orchid said before sharply turning around and walking back to the precipice.

As they strode back, Orchid explained, "I had another name back in the other world. I don't really like to talk about it here. When I left the other world, though, I started a new life here, and to represent the fact that I was a new person, I selected a new name for myself. I call myself Orchid because orchids are my favorite flower."

Kassie had never seen an orchid before, but she thought it best not to mention that, for the time being. Instead, she asked, "How long have you lived here?"

"Nearly a full year, now," Orchid replied. She wasn't ready to talk about that, though. Clearly, she was still reflecting on the importance of a name. "You're starting a new life her too, you know," she said. "Everyone who comes here selects a new name. You should, too."

Kassie considered the idea, but dismissed it after a moment. "I've always been Kassie all my life. I think I'll stick with my old name."

Orchid paused in her walk to turn and gape at Kassie. "You can't keep your old name!" she declared. "It connects you to the past, and the past is what we must let go of in order to move forward."

Curtly, Kassie asked, "Can't I be Kassie in the future?"

Orchid rolled her eyes, but didn't answer. Instead, she avoided the issue entirely, saying, "Sometimes, people have difficulties letting go of the past. You can think about your new name for a few weeks, but trust me, eventually you'll want to move on. Everyone does."

Kassie had never been much of a conformist, and she certainly wasn't going to change her name just because everyone else did. She and Orchid reached a bend in the path leading down to the city, and Orchid directed her, telling her which branch to follow.

As they continued to walk, Kassie turned the conversation away from her name and to the magical city beneath them. "What is this place called?" she asked.

Orchid smiled warmly, then said, "That is Utopia."

Kassie felt her breath catch in her throat as she asked, "The Utopia? Like in the book?"

Orchid laughed, then said, "Not exactly. The first people to ever come here called this place Utopia because it was so much like . . . Paradise. And it's true. Here in Utopia, all your dreams and imaginings can come true, if you truly want them to."

Kassie suspected she was beginning to understand what Orchid said, but she wasn't sure. "What do you mean?" she asked.

Orchid stopped, then turned to face Kassie. "Let's imagine I really want a turkey sandwich right now," she said. Orchid lifted her hand above her head, and when she lowered it again, a sliced turkey sandwich with lettuce sticking out over the edges rested on Orchid's hands.

"Anything we imagine and really want to happen does happen," Orchid declared. "But you don't need to be afraid, though. If you have a nightmare about getting chased by a ferocious bear, it won't come to life. This only happen here when people actually want them to happen. If I was bored, though, and wanted to get chased by a bear . . ."

Kassie jumped, and looked to some nearby bushes, which had just begun to rustle. Kassie doubted a bear could hide behind such small bushes, but in a Utopian city where all imaginings were possible, anything could have been hiding behind that bush.

"Make it go away," Kassie pleaded.

Orchid shrugged, and a moment later, the rustling stopped. In an accusing voice, the Indian girl declared, "I thought you liked adventure and excitement. I thought that's why you came here."

"It is," Kassie assured her newest friend quickly. She didn't want Orchid to kick her out of Utopia because she wasn't brave or adventurous enough.

"I really do want to do brave, adventurous things," Kassie insisted. "I'm just not quite ready yet. I want to make sure I understand Utopia."

Orchid smiled as if she understood, then said, "Well, then, come on. The best way to understand Utopia is to meet its people."

They followed the path toward the bottom once more. Kassie suspected that the trip down didn't usually take this long, but she was all right with the extended walk. She had plenty of questions she wanted to ask before she and Orchid reached the city.

"How did you know I was like you?" Kassie asked, then paused. She really had no way of knowing Orchid craved excitement and adventure the same way she did. Maybe, Orchid had come to Utopia for an entirely different reason.

"You're here," Orchid answered. "Everyone here is like you and me."

Well, that answered that much, at least. Apparently, boredom with real life was a common trait among all the people of Utopia. Still, Kassie's main question was unanswered.

"What about before then?" she asked. "How did you know to bring me here in the first place."

Orchid looked taken aback for just a moment, then she recovered to reply, "I didn't bring you here."

"Then who did?" Kassie asked.

"You did," Orchid replied. "When you constantly longed for a life unlike your own, you sent a silent call out to the magical forces that make Utopia what it is. When you saw the light of opportunity dancing before you, you reached for it, and that was the only action that was necessary."

"So, there's no one here to make sure only the right people find this Paradise?" Kassie asked.

"We would never refuse our perfect city to anyone who truly wants to find it," Orchid answered.

"But, these people can do magical things!" Kassie protested. "What's to stop one person from using his magic to do harm to another person? I guess that would add a bit of excitement to life, but I wouldn't want to suddenly burst into flame because someone else doesn't like me."

"Our magic doesn't work that way," Orchid protested. "I can do whatever I want to myself with my magic, and you can do whatever you want to yourself, but I can't do anything to you unless you allow it."

"Are you sure about that?" Kassie asked.

"Well, I've never actually tried to hurt anyone," Orchid replied thoughtfully. "That's not the point, though. Utopia is a place of happiness and fulfillment. Nobody here would want to hurt you that badly, and if someone suddenly should decide he or she doesn't like you, there's no need to worry because nobody can be hurt in a perfect land."

"Unless I want to get hurt, right?" Kassie clarified. She didn't relish the idea of pain, but she also knew that unless her actions involved real risk, her stay in Utopia would be no more interesting than her dreams. Sure, she could escape into her fantasy and perform fantastic acts, but in the end, there would be nothing to show for it.

Orchid must have understood why Kassie asked about the potential to get hurt, for she answered, "Right. We even have hospitals in the city to give people time to recover and to reflect on their mistakes to that they can be stronger and better when they go out into the world again."

Kassie giggled, then sobered as a new possibility occurred to her. "Is it going to be hard for me to find this place again tomorrow night?"

"What do you mean?" Orchid asked.

"Well, this is a dream world, isn't it?" Kassie asked. "When I go to sleep tomorrow night, will I find myself here again, or will I have to search for Utopia? Or will I even have a chance tomorrow night? Will this dream only come once in a great while?"

"You don't understand," Orchid declared. "This isn't a dream, and you're not going back to an ordinary life in the morning. You'll stay in this land for the rest of your life, until you forget about all your failures in your old life."

Orchid's words served as an unpleasant shock to Kassie, who at some level had known this was real all along. She'd had no reason to think she would go back home, but she'd assumed it the moment she'd first arrived in the caves. "What about my mom and dad?" she asked. "They'll worry if I disappear."

For the first time since Kassie had arrived, Orchid's face became angry. "Forget your mom and dad!" she cried. "Forget your old life! It's nothing!"

Kassie wanted to ask why, but she feared Orchid would chide her again. She squeaked, "All right," then followed Orchid down the last few steps and into the underground, magical city of Utopia.