If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard.
Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz
"You would like this necklace," declared the shopkeeper, dangling a locket before Kassie's face. "This necklace is magical, you see. Anyone who wears it will instantly become invisible, and the invisibility doesn't wear off. You could be invisible forever- so long as you keep the necklace on."
"I don't know," Kassie replied thoughtfully. The necklace was ridiculously ugly, and while Kassie supposed no one would see the necklace while she was invisible, she still wanted a piece of jewelry that was slightly more attractive. Maybe she should just make an invisible necklace for herself.
That would be cheating, though. Kassie could make food and furniture and other boring things, but in the case of magical goods for quests, Kassie was supposed to make coins and buy from the shopkeepers. Some people really got kicks from dreaming up fancy spells, and Kassie was supposed to support them with her business, even though anyone who really needed money could just materialize a couple of coins with only a small bit of effort.
"Come, now," the shopkeeper insisted. "You never know when invisibility might come in handy. Why, tomorrow you could decide you need to spy on a corrupt king. Or, five minutes from now, an army could invade, and you would need a magic invisibility spell in order to hide."
Kassie wasn't particularly convinced, but the shopkeeper seemed so desperate to make a sale, she supposed she might as well humor him. "All right, I'll buy it," she declared, reaching for her wallet.
"Very well, ma'am," the shopkeeper responded cheerfully. "And, if you don't mind my asking, have you chosen a new name yet?"
"Not yet," Kassie replied, unwilling to get into another debate about the importance of changing her name. During week she'd lived at Utopia, seemingly everyone there had learned of the newcomer, and had inquired about the adventures she intended to participate in, and what her new name should be.
Kassie cursed under her breath as she realized she was unable to find her wallet. She hadn't really put that much stuff in her purse, why should everything be so difficult to find?
She paused in her search through her purse, however, as a strange sight caught her eye. She looked up, and saw fire streaking through the sky. As the vision caught her attention, it caught that of all the others assembled in the marketplace as well. People began to scream and run.
The invisible necklace forgotten, Kassie fled from the shopkeeper's stand. She pushed her way through the crowds of people until she reached an open meadow area. The meadow hadn't existed a few short hours earlier, but it was convenient for the upcoming showdown, and Kassie had willed it to exist.
She stood in the meadow, her long hair and the folds of her skirt whipping about in the wind dramatically. Ordinarily, Kassie didn't wear her hair down loose, nor did she dress in dresses, but on that day, Kassie craved the dramatic, and she put showmanship above practicality.
After a moment, a dragon landed on the ground before Kassie. The creature was as big as a house, and its scales were such dark green as to nearly be black. Its angry roar shook the cave around Utopia, and its eyes swirled red, red as the blood of the innocents the dragon would have killed had this bout taken place in the real world.
The dragon opened its mouth to blow torrents of fire at Kassie, but with only the smallest bit of effort, she created a shield around herself to withstand the inferno. In irritation that it couldn't kill its opponent, the dragon lashed its tail against the ground, causing the whole meadow to tremble.
Unconcerned, Kassie thrust her hands forward, and waves of fire flew toward the dragon. These fires didn't hurt the beast, however. It spit fire once more, and the flames mingled in the air, illuminating the battle for miles around.
Realizing she would need to use more than simple magic- and deciding some physical fighting would be more interesting anyway- Kassie ran over the now scorched grass and lifted her hand toward the sky. Lighting tore from the cave ceiling, and a sword appeared in the girl's outstretched hand.
A moment later, the dragon's hideous head cut through the air, its mouth open and its teeth gleaming. Kassie ducked out of its outstretched jaws, and rolled, missing death by mere feet.
When Kassie faced the dragon once more, a storm swirled above, and lightning flashed at the corners of her vision. The dragon stretched out its wings to fly away, but a sudden gust of wind knocked it to the ground again. The dragon roared, and Kassie was forced to drop her sword and hold her hands to her ears to muffle the deafening scream.
A moment later, the dragon was after her again, and with no time to retrieve her fallen weapon, Kassie fled. A moment later, the dragon's foot rested on Kassie's body, and no matter how hard she squirmed, she couldn't twist free.
Delicately, the dragon lifted the warrior between its claws, careful not to squish her. Kassie found herself looking into the eye of the dragon as it examined her, apparently weighing whether such a small morsel was worth eating.
Seeing an opportunity and not bothering to weigh her options, Kassie kicked as hard and as far as she could. Her feet connected with the dragon's pupil, and in a spasm of pain, the dragon dropped the girl.
Although she fell almost a hundred feet, Kassie still landed aright and began running to find the sword she'd abandoned. As she ran, she reflected that the entire sequence with the eye and falling might have been too much to believe, but she would come up with something equally suspenseful but not as far fetched for her next adventure.
Seizing her sword, Kassie spun around to face the dragon again. Now feral and vengeful, the dragon galloped forward, eager to finish the fight before it was hurt again. As the dragon approached, Kassie thrust her sword upward, driving all her strength behind the thrust.
Blood rained on the ground, and Kassie knew she had pierced the heart. The dragon's run abruptly ended, and it staggered a few times.
Too late, Kassie realized her error, and turned around to flee. The dragon's final steps, however, were erratic, and no matter how she tried to escape, she constantly found herself in its shadow. As the dragon finally fell to its death, Kassie screamed once before the crushing tons came to a rest on her small frame.
Those few Utopians who had remained to watch the fight slowly approached the hill. "Is she all right?" someone asked. The words might as well have been scripted.
"I don't know how she could have escaped," replied another voice.
Then, a triumphant call of, "Look, there!" Together, all those gathered looked to see Kassie climb to the top of the carcass, her miraculously retrieved sword cleaned and in her hands.
Yes, the end required a suspension of logic, but Kassie had always loved stories in which the hero seemed to have died, only to appear at the very end triumphant. Kassie had no explanation for how she could have been squished under the dragon, then had emerged triumphant and alive, but the nice thing about Utopia was that nobody demanded an explanation. They just accepted the adventure.
Even though Utopia had no mayor, Kassie had created one for her fantasy come to life. The pudgy man in a suit approached to declare, "Oh, Dragon slayer! You have saved us all."
With a bit of pride, Kassie smiled, then agreed, "I know."
"We must thank you some how," the mayor cried. "We will erect a statue in your honor, a hundred feet tall!"
"There's no need for that," Kassie replied. She swelled under the mayor's praise, even though she'd already written his lines in her mind. "I didn't do this for glory; I did what I did because it was right."
The mayor nodded, understanding. "At least tell us your name," he implored.
"Yes, tell us!" called another voice from the crowd.
Kassie smiled. The people in the crowds were real, and their words were their own. Certainly, they could play along with Kassie's idea, but she could never be sure what they would add.
"My name is Kassie," she said, placing careful emphasis on her own name to make it sound dramatic.
She'd been hoping for cheers, but instead, the crowd as a whole groaned in disappointment. A moment later, the sword, the dragon, and the meadow all evaporated, and Kassie found herself once more in the marketplace, where the shopkeeper with the necklace blinked in surprise.
"What?" Kassie demanded, looking around confused. "What did I do?"
One of the men who had been watching, whose name Kassie knew was Wizard, complained, "Kassie? Still? I thought you would have come up with a better name by now!"
"It's only been a week," Kassie defended.
"But you've saved us all from doom three times this week," countered another girl while Wizard walked away, shaking his head in irritation. "We keep waiting for the dramatic revelation of a new name at the end, but it's always the same thing. Next time you save us all, have a better name."
The crowd dispersed, seemingly angry. Kassie sighed, and glanced to her side to see that Orchid had been among the spectators. When Orchid caught Kassie's glance, she stepped forward to walk side by side with her friend.
"What about your necklace?" the shopkeeper called as the two walked away, but Kassie ignored him.
"Why is this name thing such a big deal?" Kassie asked rhetorically as she and Orchid turned down the street that led to her house.
"It's what it symbolizes," Orchid explained for what must have been the thousandth time since Kassie had arrived in Utopia.
"Who cares about symbols?" Kassie snapped in response. "I'm not going to forget about my old life; I'll always remember how it has shaped me. Why shouldn't my name be a reminder of where I come from?"
"It just doesn't work that way," Orchid replied.
Kassie found the answer very unsatisfactory, and she mused, "I could never pick a new name anyway. I mean, what one word can define me? My mood is always changing and my self-perception is always changing, and if I ever did choose a name for myself, it probably wouldn't be fitting five minutes later."
"Then your name could be ironic," Orchid suggested. "Names that don't fit the person are just as interesting as those that do, and they're far more rare."
"You're missing the point," Kassie complained. "My problem isn't that I can't think of a good name. My problem is that I don't think I should name myself. People don't choose their own names; their parents choose them for them."
"The people of Utopia choose their own names," Orchid responded.
"But don't you realize that's unnatural?" Kassie demanded. "I can't just sit down and say 'from now on I want to be this person.' Especially after I've been Kassie for all my life."
"You have to change your name," Orchid insisted. "That's the way things are done here."
"What are you going to do?" Kassie asked, genuinely curious although her voice was confrontational. "Will you throw me out?"
Orchid didn't answer for a long moment, and Kassie wondered if she didn't know. Finally, she said, "Nobody will accept you. You'll be an outsider."
"I can handle that," Kassie said, but she grew silent a moment later as she reflected on her earlier words. Suddenly, she cried, "Orchid! You! You were the first person I met when I came here. You could give me my new name!"
"What? No!" Orchid responded.
"Why not?" Kassie asked. "You say I need a new name, and if I'm unwilling to name myself, why can't you?"
"Because that's not the way things are done," Orchid replied.
Unable to contain herself any longer, Kassie burst, "Who cares how things are done? If I was just satisfied with the way things are, I would have never needed to come to Utopia anyway."
Her face grimly serious, Orchid paused to face Kassie. "Your new name is a symbol," she said. "It means that you have evolved as a person, and that you've let go of your old life. It's a very personal thing. If I picked out a name for you, it would loose all its meaning."
"It wouldn't have any meaning anyway!" Kassie reminded her friend. "The only reason I would change my name is because everyone else thinks I should."
Orchid shook her head, they gestured to Kassie's house, which loomed behind them. "I don't feel like talking about this any more," she said.
Kassie grimaced, then said, "Whatever. Just leave me in peace and I'll think about everything."
Orchid disappeared in a shower of glitter, and Kassie stepped past the spot where her friend had been. She walked into her house, then paced back and forth in a rage. She was sick of everyone telling her what she had to do. She was sick of defending her choice to keep her old name.
She needed something to do. Kassie needed to work off her rage. She thought of walking down the hallway to the right and working out in a personal gym, but decided that no matter how long she lifted weights, her thoughts would make her remain angry. She needed a distraction that would take her mind off of everything else.
An escape first appeared in the corner of her imagination, and Kassie quickly imagined it into being. A goblin appeared in front of her door on the left-hand side, holding a young boy in its grasp.
The goblin cackled, then declared, "If you ever want to see this little fellow alive again, you'd better come after him." A moment later, the creature and the boy had both disappeared through the slightly open door.
Kassie wasted no time, but threw herself into the fantasy. She dove after the goblin, and found that the door opened not into her bedroom, but into a frightening-looking cave lined with medieval torches.
During her time in Utopia, Kassie had learned that the best adventures were those with a lot of suspense. Ordinarily, she might have spent fifteen or twenty minutes wandering through the hallways, fearing she was lost and that her efforts had been in vain. That day, however, Kassie had no intentions of drawing the adventure out. True, she'd created it as a distraction, but she wasn't distracted enough to enjoy a long, harrowing walk through winding corridors.
Barely five minutes passed before Kassie emerged in the goblin's lair. She found the boy tied up above a bubbling geyser of lava, and the goblin waiting for a fight.
Kassie strode forward, anticipating her living punching bag with glee. The goblin grinned, showing off his sharp teeth, then said, "You can fight me, but if you don't save the boy in time, he'll fall into all that molten rock."
Kassie paid little heed to the goblin's words. After all, she'd created the scenario; she knew what she had to do.
Once more, Kassie ignored all the rules of what made a good story and simply pandered to her own needs. Rather than draw out her battle with the goblin to make it something epic, she stood her ground and rained punch after punch on the goblin's face. Her creation obliged her desires by standing still and taking each punch until she was too tired to fight anymore. Then, he fell backwards and stayed on the ground, unconscious or maybe dead.
All she had to do was save the little boy. Even though Kassie's fight with the goblin had been decisively quick, he was still on the verge of dying, because the character in distress was always saved at the last minute.
Kassie walked toward the lake of lava that the boy hung over, then stopped thoughtfully. She didn't really want to waste her energy saving the boy, and why should she? With the power of her mind, she could just set him safe on the ground anyway, although that wouldn't make for much of an adventure.
Which of her adventures had really excited her of late anyway, though? Oh, sure, she liked to show off her creativity for the other people of Utopia, but when was the last time Kassie had really enjoyed one of these fantasies?
The fact of the matter was that all her imaginary brave deeds had lost their appeal all too quickly. What was the point of embarking on a quest if she already knew how it would all turn out? These adventures weren't real, and they offered no better chance for thrills than the books she'd read back home.
In fact, come to think of it, her books had been more thrilling than these adventures. Sure, she'd never come face-to-face with a dragon while reading, but at least she'd never known what would happen next, either. When she created her own adventures, all suspense was lost because she knew exactly what would happen, move by move.
She didn't need to rescue the little boy, because the little boy would never get hurt. She could stand and watch him for an hour, but the goblin's trap would never drop him into the lava because Kassie had already planned out a story line in which she rescued the little boy.
Even if the boy did die, what then? He was nothing, just a fictional character and no more real than the characters she'd written into her stories back home. Whether he lived or died, at the end of the adventure, he'd cease to exist anyway.
With a jolt, Kassie realized that although she'd come to Utopia to find meaning, everything she'd done since her arrival had been completely meaningless.
As a reminder of what she'd been doing, the boy, tied high above the lava, called, "Please, help me!"
Kassie wouldn't be swayed by the imaginary character's plea. She'd created him to sound plaintive, so that his struggles would be heart breaking. His plight wasn't quite so heart wrenching when Kassie remembered how she'd made him what he was.
With a sigh, Kassie turned away, and the lava, the cave, the boy and the goblin all disappeared. She was in her room again, but it wasn't really her room. Back home, her room had held objects with great sentimental value: gifts from friends, souvenirs from trips with her family, and photographs.
Kassie sat on her bed and tried to create a framed picture of her parents, but she couldn't. All she could muster was an empty frame.
Then, Kassie knew what she had to do.
Night never really fell on Utopia, and the market never emptied, but for the sake of her final adventure, Kassie cleared the world of all light and sound temporarily. She crept through the deserted streets until she reached the rock wall, then soared to the top, pausing by the tunnel by which she'd entered Utopia seven days before.
After she landed, a familiar voice asked, "What do you think you're doing?"
Kassie turned around and saw Orchid glaring at her. "I'm leaving," Kassie answered simply. "You and I both know I don't really belong here."
Enigmatically, Orchid smiled, then faded away into the shadows. Kassie continued her trek.
The tunnel before her seemed to wind on forever, and Kassie could not shorten the trip. She feared to anyway, as she wasn't quite certain if this would work.
Just when Kassie began to fear that she could never escape, a bright light flashed all around her, and she found herself in her old bed back home once more. Her alarm clock beeped incessantly.
Kassie shut it off, and climbed out of bed. She wandered into the kitchen, where her mom and dad were both already awake. Her mom made coffee while her dad read the newspaper, and neither asked where Kassie had been all week. Was it possible that they hadn't noticed her absence?
Feeling somewhat like Ebenezer Scrooge, Kassie asked, "What day is today?"
"It's Monday and you have school, so go take your shower before you're late," her mother replied without looking up.
Kassie wandered back into the bathroom. Had no time passed? Had her week in Utopia only been a few short hours at home? Or had it all only been a dream?
As the water began to fall on her, Kassie smiled and realized she was a different person than she had been before she'd left the real world. If Utopia had only been a dream, it had been an effective one.