There were four things that Logan Brown knew for sure. One was that he was twenty-four years old. That was evidenced by his driver's license issued by the state of Massachusetts. The next was that Carly loved him. He didn't know why; he just knew that she did. The third was that he had become depressed when his twin sister, Laurie, died of leukemia three years ago. She was Logan's everything and now she was gone.
The last thing that Logan knew, as he gazed out the bar window in the middle of the afternoon, was that it was autumn. The various shades of orange, yellow and red leaves were slowly falling from the trees, indicating to Logan that fall was upon him. He had once read that autumn signified a time for transition and change. Three autumns had come and gone since Laurie's passing and Logan's state of depression had not altered the slightest bit.
"Harry, I'll have another beer," Logan said to the bartender. It was two o'clock in the afternoon and Logan was already four beers deep.
"Sure thing, kid," Harry replied. "So what's new?"
"Same old," Logan muttered. Just then, his phone rang. "Hey, Car. What's going on?"
"Nothing. What are you doing?" she asked with the same enthusiasm that she always displayed.
"Just talking to Harry," Logan told her.
Carly was silent for a second and Logan knew that she disapproved of him drinking so early in the day. "All right, well, in that case, I'm gonna come meet up with you," she declared.
"Sounds good," Logan replied. "I'll see you in a bit." Logan put his phone back in his pocket and took a sip of his fresh, foamy beer.
"Carly?" Harry asked, verifying who the caller was.
"Yeah. She'll be here in a few minutes. Can you make her a screwdriver with that berry-flavored vodka? She likes that," Logan said.
As expected, as soon as Harry finished mixing the drink, Carly walked through the door. Her chestnut brown hair cascaded down her back and her green eyes sparkled when she saw Logan.
"Hi, sweetie," Carly said as she kissed Logan's cheek and sat down next to him. "Hi, Harry!"
"How are you, Carly?" Harry asked as he handed her the drink.
"I'm good," she answered with a smile on her face.
"You're out of work early," Logan noted. "Did you take a half day?"
Carly sipped her drink through a tiny straw and nodded. "What have you been up to all day?"
Logan cringed. He had woken up at noon and immediately drove to the bar, but he didn't want to tell Carly that. "Um... I ran a few errands and then headed over here," he lied.
Carly looked into his eyes and Logan knew that he wasn't fooling her. She knew him all too well, a result of being best friends with someone for six years. But Logan knew that Carly wanted more than just friendship from him. She wanted a relationship and a life together, something that was a possibility before Laurie died. But then he became depressed and knew that if he dated Carly, he would drag her down into his misery.
I'm quicksand, he thought.
Yet Carly stood by his side through it all. She was there when he walked into his first college class. She was there when he and his family got the call from Laurie's doctor about her diagnosis. She was there the following night when he nearly drank himself to death. She was there when they buried Laurie. She was there when he overdosed on painkillers. Carly was there through it all and refused to give up on Logan, no matter how badly he crashed.
"Remember when you, me and Laurie went to Miami for Spring Break our freshman year?" Logan asked Carly.
"How could I forget? I think we were drunk the entire duration of the trip!"
"Except when we went to the zoo," he reminded her.
"Oh, yeah... Laurie wanted to see the white tiger they had there and insisted that we go."
Logan smiled. "She was so happy. I think she stood there for a full hour, staring at it."
"Don't you remember? You and I went to find something to eat and when we got back, she was still standing in front of the exhibit."
Logan's smile faded. "Why couldn't I have been the one to get leukemia? Laurie was such a good person. She didn't deserve to die," he cried.
"No, Logan, she didn't deserve that. But you wouldn't have deserved it either," Carly consoled him.
Thirteen beers later, Logan was ready to go home.
"Let me drive you back," Carly recommended. "I only had the one drink."
"I'm fine," Logan told her.
"I know, but I would just feel better if you let me take you home," she pleaded as she reached out for his arm.
Logan pulled away. "No, Carly. Stop!" he shouted.
Carly looked hurt. Her small face scrunched up and Logan could see that she was fighting back tears. He knew that she was just trying to help, but when was she going to realize that he was beyond help?
Logan stormed out of the bar and into the parking lot. After fidgeting with his keys, he finally was able to get into his car. As he drove home, he thought about how his life had fallen apart.
There was a time when he was motivated to do great things. Throughout his school years, he was consistently on the honor roll. When he was in high school, he was voted senior class president and was the varsity football quarterback. With Laurie by his side as vice president and captain of the cheerleading squad, they ruled the school. He enrolled in college to pursue a degree in political science and to obtain a minor in psychology while Laurie majored in non-profit management. She wanted to make the world a better place through charity work.
But then Laurie got sick and nothing mattered anymore. When she died, Logan wanted to die, too. Laurie had it all and had done so much good, but for what purpose? What was the point in living to achieve success if it could so easily be taken away?
Logan continued driving and continued thinking. He should have been focusing his attention to the road, but his mind drifted to Carly. When Logan walked into World Politics, he immediately seated himself next to the prettiest girl in the class.
"Is this seat taken?" he had asked her.
"It is," she stated, nodding her head. As Logan began to walk away, she called after him, "By you."
Logan turned around and laughed. Not only was this girl cute, but she was funny, too. A few weeks went by and Logan gathered the courage to ask Carly out, but was sadly disappointed when she told him that she had a boyfriend.
Months passed and the two became the best of friends. Carly began to realize that her feelings for Logan were much stronger than the feelings she had for her boyfriend, so she broke up with him... two days before Laurie was diagnosed. Carly was the only thing that could make Logan happy after that, but how could he be cheerful when something so tragic was going on?
Logan snapped his attention back to driving. He realized he was veering into the lane next to him and needed to focus. The next thing Logan knew, a squirrel ran across the street, causing Logan to swerve onto the median and into a tree. He slammed his head on the steering wheel and then everything went black.
"Please don't yell," Logan heard a voice say. He looked around, but no one was there. No one, that is, except the squirrel.
"Now I'm hearing things!" Logan exclaimed as he threw his hands up in frustration. "And where are my clothes?"
"I'm not sure, but I know where to find you some."
Logan's head snapped around at the squirrel. "I'm losing my mind," he said aloud to himself. "For a second there, I thought the squirrel just spoke."
"I did," he said. "I'm Bill." The squirrel extended his tiny paw in Logan's direction as he erupted in a fit of laughter.
"Oh, I get it. I'm dreaming," Logan declared. "Ok, Bill. I'm Logan," he said as he shook the squirrel's paw.
"It's nice to meet you, Logan. And you're not dreaming. Well, not exactly."
"Says the talking rat."
"I'm not a rat!" Bill exclaimed indignantly. "And if you call me that again, I won't be so inclined to help you."
"Oh, you're here to help me?" Logan asked in a belittling tone. "Ok, Bill. So if I'm 'not exactly' dreaming, what am I doing then?"
"You're in a different state of consciousness, Logan. When your head hit the steering wheel of your car, you slipped into a coma," Bill informed Logan. "Now, you're threatened to remain in that state unless a wise action is taken."
"What do you mean 'a wise action?'" Logan asked, taking in all of the information he was being given.
"That I am not sure. All I know is that I'm supposed to help you on your journey. Oh! And to give you this." Bill presented Logan with a shiny, gold key attached to a matching gold chain.
Logan inspected the key before inquiring, "What is this a key to?"
"Again, I'm not sure, but I know that it unlocks a secret."
"Well, who gave you the key?" Logan was growing more and more puzzled and more and more impatient.
"I'm sorry, but this information I am not permitted to tell you. If you successfully complete your journey, you will find out then," Bill told him.
Logan took a deep breath and looked around. He didn't know where he was, but he wanted to go home. "Alright, Bill. I'm going to go along with all of this because I'm naked and in need of clothes and you're talking and telling me that I'm really in a coma. So, I'm thinking that my only real choice here is to follow your lead."
"Well, that's good," Bill verified. "Come with me."
Logan, more perplexed than ever, followed his new friend, the talking squirrel named Bill. As he looked around at his surroundings, he realized that he was in a lush forest. Other squirrels jumped from tree to tree and into tiny houses. Birds sang as they flew freely in the sky and rabbits hopped along the ground and into holes.
"Bill, where are we exactly?" Logan inquired.
"Welcome to the Kingdom of Paradoxica!" Bill exclaimed.
Bill smiled. "Yes. So named after the term reflecting a person's surprise at observing an astonishing phenomenon."
Logan looked around. This was as unexpected an occurrence as he could have ever fathomed. "May I ask where we're going?"
"I'm taking you to Frank," Bill told him matter-of-factly.
"Is Frank a squirrel, too?" Logan asked, assuming him to be correct.
"No, no! Frank is an elephant."
Logan stopped walking. "An elephant?"
Bill turned around and cocked his head as he looked at his immobile charge. "That's right. An elephant."
Logan shook his head in disbelief, but picked up his feet and chased after Bill once again. They continued their walk until they were out of the forest and in an open field filled with more houses. Logan could see in the distance an enormous house which he was sure belonged to Frank the elephant. Once they reached the structure, Logan realized how much larger the house was than he initially anticipated.
I guess it would have to be for an elephant to live in it, Logan thought.
When they arrived at the giant front door, Bill looked up at the doorbell that was high above him. Magically, he flew up and rang the bell, as Logan looked on, perplexed.
"Flying squirrel," Bill nodded in confirmation when he saw the surprised expression on Logan's face.
Suddenly, the ground began to shake. "Are there earthquakes in Paradoxica?" Logan yelled.
"No, no! That's Frank!" Bill answered as if Logan's question had been so absurd.
The shaking soon stopped and the front door creaked open. On the other side was a large, gray elephant.
"I've got Logan!" the tiny squirrel announced to his hefty companion.
"I've been waiting for you," Frank said as he extended his trunk towards Logan.
After inspecting the giant's long appendage and gazing down at his own, Logan extended his hand in return.
"I'm told you can help me acquire some clothes?" Logan asked, hopefully.
"I'm going to help you with a lot more than that," Frank proclaimed. "Please come inside."
Bill and Logan followed their elephant ally. As they walked through his house, Logan noticed how lavishly decorated the interior was. Logan recalled the dollhouse Laurie had growing up and noted that it looked just like that, only many times larger. Frank instructed them to seat themselves in the living room while he obtained something to dress Logan in.
"Frank is very wise," Bill told Logan.
"I thought elephants were forgetful."
Bill shook his head. "That's just an old wives' tale. It would benefit you to listen carefully to anything Frank tells you to do."
Logan was confused, but that no longer surprised him.
What part of any of this makes sense? He pondered.
Frank soon returned with a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. "This should fit."
Logan quickly threw the clothes on and was pleased that they were exactly his size. He thanked Frank who passed a shiny, red apple to him.
"No, thanks. I'm not really hungry," Logan stated.
"It would be in your best interest to eat the apple. I picked it this morning from the Tree of Knowledge so as to assist you along your journey."
What the hell! Logan thought as he grabbed the apple and shrugged. He took a bite and then casually asked, "So what do you know about this journey of mine?"
Frank looked thoughtfully at Logan. "One swallow does not make a summer."
Logan furrowed his brow. "I hate to be rude, as you've been very kind, but that doesn't answer my question."
"It will, my dear friend. It will."
"Well, when does this journey begin?" Logan inquired. He was anxious to get the answers he needed and get back to reality.
"It has already begun," Frank said.
No sooner did he finish speaking, did a bird fly through an open window in the living room.
"They're on their way!" the bird chirped as he flew sporadically around the room. "Daniel and his pack are on their way!"
"You need to get going," Frank calmly told Logan and Bill.
"Who is Daniel and who are you?" Logan asked the bird.
Frank explained that the bird's name was Marty and that he was another comrade of theirs. Daniel, on the other hand, was not a friend. He was the king of the rats who was banished from Paradoxica when he tried to take over the kingdom with the serpent.
"The serpent?" Logan inquired. "You don't mean...?"
"Yes, the serpent who tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden."
Horrified, Logan looked down at the half-eaten apple in his hands; the apple that had been picked from the Tree of Knowledge earlier that day.
"You tricked me!" he yelled as he ran out of the house and across the open field. Bill chased after him, but when he realized that his small legs were of no use, he flew above Logan and cut him off before he could get any further.
"Logan, stop!" Bill begged. "You haven't been tricked. I know this is hard, but you need to trust us. We can't help you unless you're willing to be helped!"
"Bill, be honest with me. Why is Daniel after you guys?" Logan asked as he breathed heavily, exhausted from running.
"He's not after us, Logan. He's after you. Daniel is seeking knowledge and you are the only one that possesses the type he is searching for."
Logan didn't understand. Since he was the only one who didn't seem to know what was going on, he couldn't comprehend what kind of knowledge he acquired that was being sought after. Logan looked around him at Paradoxica. It was truly a beautiful place and the inhabitants seemed quite content with their lives. But for as serene as it was in this magical kingdom, Logan wanted to be reunited with his family and Carly.
"I just want to go home," he cried.
"I know," Bill consoled him. "Time is running out. We must hurry before it's too late.
To be continued ...