17:18 minutes

Dark mysterious woodlands surrounded the reflecting waters. The afternoon sun baked on the warm radiating stone.

Crystal and Gideon sat on a marble bench beside the estate’s smooth reflecting pond. A peaceful autumn day, the air hardly stirring. Cool air refreshed the senses. Gideon drank in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Looking at beautiful Crystal, he admired her calm serenity. He wondered if he could ever express his secret love for her.

A tear trickled over her cheek and hung jiggling on her trembling chin. Gideon touched the drop, brought it to his lips, and kissed it off. Crystal faked a weak smile and sobbing lost her composure. She threw herself on his strong shoulder weeping.

“I didn’t mean to,” she wailed.

“You didn’t mean to what – What? Tell me?” Gideon pled with a worried voice.

“I went out,” she sniffed, wiping her eyes on her sleeve.

“Out? Out of the magic realm?” he asked amazed.

Crystal stared at the brown ground and nodded her head. More tears began streaming down her wet face.

“Please. Don’t tell anyone. Promise me,” she begged.

“Why did you do it Chris?” he said.

Crystal sat up and straightened her skirt and shawl.

“It’s a long story,” she replied, “If you like I will tell it to you. I’ll give you a bit now and more later. But you must listen to the whole story – or I won’t tell you any of it at all.”

Gideon shrugged.

“Alright. I’ll listen to your entire story – provided we get something to eat soon. I have a feeling I’ll starve to death before you finish.”

She smiled. She felt better. Gideon’s not condemning her for breaking the rules was reassuring

They talked while walking. The stone path led to a multicolored Persian-style villa on the hilltop. Crystal’s taffeta skirt made funny swishing noises as she moved and they laughed. Life was still good

The majestic river bordered by distant mountains opened a pastoral view. The breathtaking wide-open landscape emerged from the trees. They stopped to admire the picturesque beauty of it all.

“So, how does this mystery story start?” asked Gideon.

“It starts in the garden behind the mansion. You know my favorite spot where the white roses grow.”

“Ah, yes. Are you sure you didn’t imagine you took a trip?” asked Gideon.

“No. This is very real. Wait and hear.”

She paused to remember, as they started walking again.

“Sitting near the frostbitten white roses, I noticed something colorful flopping about amid the fallen white petals. I stood up and as I got closer, the colored blotch spoke with a whistling voice.

“Pretty girl. Cut the string.”

“It kept repeating that over and over. It was a large parrot all bound up in kite string. A regular mess. Imagine a tropical bird in these northern parts. So, I took him out of the flowers and untangled him.”

“Didn’t he bite you or claw or do something vicious?” asked Gideon

“No. Not at all. He was a friendly fellow. Very bright and witty. He said the funniest things. But, I suppose I wish I’d never met him. He talked me into leaving the magic realm and breaking the rule.”

“Chris, be serious. A parrot mesmerizes you into doing something crazy?” Gideon said in disbelief.

“Gid, he was very bright. He said he needed my help. Little by little, we moved closer to the boundary. I told him I couldn’t cross the boundary. But he made it sound as if I didn’t, the entire region would be in grave danger. And maybe it was.”

“You must cross. Pretty girl,” said the Parrot.

“Honest, I can’t. It’s forbidden,” said Crystal.

“Cross. Cross. The world lost,” replied the Parrot.

“What do you mean a lost world?”

“Magic sky. All die.”

“You mean everyone will die if I don’t cross the boundary?”

“Aye, matey. Pieces of eight.”

“Why should I trust some silly bird?”

“Pluck feather.”

“That’s going to explain it? It’ll hurt.”

“Aye, matey. Walk the plank. Pluck.”

Gripping a feather, Crystal closed her eyes and yanked.

The Parrot squawked and disappeared.

Crystal stood holding the feather with a quizzical look. She heard a swoop behind her. Without warning, a Giant Eagle snatched her up.

Crystal screamed.

“Fear not, fair maiden,” soothed the Eagle, “I am mighty and will not drop a small person.”

“You talk too?” shouted Crystal, as the scenery whizzed by.

“I talk superbly, my dear.”

“Have you also always been so egotistical?”

“I prefer the word “strong”. It has a more masculine quality. Don’t you think?”

“Did this parrot feather bring you here?” asked Crystal, in the wind.

“Yes. That wimpy Parrot is the one who protects my identity from the world. Someday I’ll be rid of the puny bird.”

They were soaring higher and higher.

“If the Parrot is so weak, how can he protect someone as strong as you Eagle?”

“People like him. They think he is amusing. I frighten people. They think I am a killer. Which of course I can be. But only when somebody doesn’t do things as I like it.”

Crystal began to shake a little.

“See even you are afraid,” said the Eagle scowling.

“I’m getting cold,” pretended Crystal.

“I am the powerful one. I am the protector. I am the steely one,” recited the Eagle.

“Yes. Of course you are. But, I am getting dizzy from the height. Do you think we can go down now?”

“Weakness. I loathe weakness. I prey on weakness. It is my delicious cuisine.”

Crystal was shaking more now. She knew she had lots of weaknesses. She cringed thinking about digesting in the Eagle’s stomach.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“We are going to the magic sky. But, now pluck a feather. Choose a small one, please. I am very proud of my feathers.”

Once again, Crystal grabbed a feather and pulled. The Eagle disappeared.

“Help me!” shouted Crystal as she parachuted down on the eagle feather. Plump! She landed near a river. A beautiful Swan circled in the flow.

“Welcome, Crystal,” said the Swan, “You are now in the land of dreams.”

“Why am I here?” said Crystal.

“I cannot tell you an answer,” said the kindly Swan, “You must look inside yourself. Then you will find meaning.”

“Oh,” said Crystal, “But, the Parrot said there is a danger to the earth.”

“Yes. Well. Never trust everything a parrot says. Deceptive tricky birds,” said the Swan.

“Then how can I trust you?” asked Crystal.

“I am a Swan. Transformed from an ugly duckling to what you see now. I am genuine and proven. Protected by royal decree. I always speak the truth even when it is painful. That is why I also hide behind the Parrot’s funny protection. People fear the truth. Some get angry. But, others are very kind.”

“So what is the purpose of three birds, an Eagle, and a Swan, protected by a Parrot? It all seems so mysterious,” asked Crystal.

“It is the way of life and survival. So sad, but true,” sighed the Swan.

“How can I get home?” asked Crystal.

“You must… “

“Pluck a feather,” interrupted Crystal.

“Very good child. You learn fast. Goodbye.”

Crystal and Gideon sat before the evening fireplace. Watching the reddening clouds over the river. Gideon finished his last bite of cake.

“So. Then like magic you reappear back in the Rose Garden, I suppose?” asked Gideon.

“Gid, I know it sounds like I dozed off and had a dream. But, I promise it’s true,” replied Crystal.

“It’s too bad you don’t have some proof – like those feathers you plucked.”

“But, I do. Here they are in my purse,” said Crystal rummaging through her handbag. She produced the feathers one at a time from the purse, laying them side-by-side. The Parrot. The Eagle. And the Swan. Gideon stared in disbelief.

“It’s incredible,” he whistled, picking them up one at a time.

“Do you suppose there’s still some magic in them?” he asked.

“What do you mean – magic?” asked Crystal.

“What if you took all three feathers and held them together in one fist like this? Do you think … “

A glowing aura began to throb in the room. Rugs and lamps floated bobbing about in thin air. A low rumbling rattle started near the floor and began working its way up the walls, louder and louder.

“Gid! You’ll destroy the house. Stop,” shouted Crystal.

“I can’t separate the feathers. It’s like they’ve become one.”

Crystal grabbed Gideon’s hand and pried at his clenched fingers. A strange glow began to flow up their hands through their arms and into their bodies. A sudden silence fell over the room. Crystal and Gideon sat motionless staring into each other’s eyes. Their eyes glowed in ghost-like light.

“Gid, I feel very strange,” whispered Crystal.

“Me too. What’s happening to us?”

“I think I love you Gid,” said Crystal in a hushed tone.

“I love you too Chris.”

“Integration … unity of the feathers brings power. Empowered to feel love,” said Crystal.

“Can you feel the influence of it?” said Gideon.

“Yes. Giving and receiving. How long will this glorious feeling last?” asked Crystal.

As if in answer, the three melting feathers disappeared. The room returned to normal. The glow faded.

“How do you feel Chris?” asked Gideon.

“I feel good … fine. And you?”

“I feel warm inside.”

“I guess the feeling will stay for awhile then.”

They walked to the broad veranda. They watched wondrous sunset colors bounce across the river. The red twilight disappeared in growing mountain shadow. Silent, they sat together holding hands, thinking about their magical discovery.

Crystal and Gideon discovered a secret world. A world few know. Yet, all desire. The world of self-acceptance and faith. The feathery union unlocked this hidden inner power. Self-discovery always waiting like a knickknack on an old shelf. Thundering ready to explode when finally empowered. Their eyes open to the beauty around them. Love. The power of nature. Peace. Inner strength – and weakness.

A loud booming undulated, swirling round the stone porch startling Gideon and Crystal. A voice.

“Who has gone out of the realm and used magic without permission?” said the overpowering Voice.

Crystal’s face blanched overcome with shaking fear.

“I have gone out of the realm,” she whispered terrified of the consequence.

“And, I have used the magic of the feathers,” said Gideon as he searched for the voice with his eyes.

Crystal trembling sobbed a gasp at this confession. She never meant to endanger Gideon.

“You both transgressed the Law. You must pay the price,” boomed the Voice.

Two Angels of Death with shrouded faces materialized out of the darkness. They stood menacing on the porch, one on each side of Gideon and Crystal.

“The punishment will be death, but only one need die. You choose,” commanded the Voice.

Crystal and Gideon stared into each other’s teary eyes. For a long silence, they said nothing and motioned nothing. But during the nothingness, deep communications washed between them.

“Choose now!” demanded the Voice.

“We would choose life together. So if it is to be death, we choose death together,” said Crystal with determination.

The Black Angel of Death closest to Crystal threw down his scythe. Its long curved blade shattered on the stone with a crash. The other powerful Reaper drew back his death weapon high over Gideon’s head. Crystal shrieked and threw herself against Gideon. Her small arm outstretched as if to deflect the bloody hand of Death. She begged mercy for her budding love.

“Hold!” commanded the Voice, “Death will not be necessary.”

Both Reapers and their instruments of Death vanished into the darkness.

“A strong love like yours is a rare thing. From where does it come?” questioned the Voice.

“We discovered our true selves. We embrace ourselves and are then empowered to embrace each other without fear,” replied Gideon.

While nodding in agreement, Crystal hugged Gideon and rested her head on his chest.

“Then when will you marry?” asked the Voice again.

They gazed into each other’s happy eyes again.

“Very soon I think,” said Gideon.

“Maybe sooner than that,” said Crystal.

“Very good,” said the fading Voice.

Crystal and Gideon stared out into the starry night sky. The moon was rising, big and full. Their moonlight silhouettes joined, as one, during the warmth of a long kiss.