Swirls of color passed by the window, and the hands turned on the dash board clock while Kessen and her father said nothing. They were, on their way to Cleveland, headed north on Rt. 77. Kessen's grandfather was in the hospital, and no one expected him to make it. They had been in the car for half an hour when Kessen realized that even if she had wanted to talk to her father she wouldn't have known what to say. She wondered how she could possibly console him when his father was dieing. Kessen was trying to understand, but the silence was getting to her. She felt it making the air inside the cab heavier. Kessen felt it pressing down on her; yet, she couldn't seem to find the right words to break it. Finally, she decided to divert her attention to her much loved pass time: daydreaming.

They had started the trip while it was still dark, and the early morning sparkle of beauty had just started washing over the land. First, the sky began to lighten. The dark outline of the mountains stood in stark contrast to the pastel sky. Then as the light touched the trees the late autumn leaves flamed with color. Yellows, oranges, and reds showed with blazing brightness. Kessen began to imagine it as a magical wood. Her eyes started to lose focus. It all became a soft blur, and she was off into her own world.

Kessen saw the elves that lived in the trees. Their clothes were made of the red and yellow leaves. They leapt out of the branches revealing themselves to her. As they fell they seemed to float on the air and tumble like the falling leaves. They were beautiful: all willowy and delicate featured. Their hair was long and flowed behind them in the same autumn colors. The one closest to her raised his hand and waved to her. Kessen smiled and waved back. They seemed to beckon her to join them. Then they were past the trees and back into farmland. Kessen's smile faded.

Kessen watched a barn with a faded advertisement for "Mail Pouch" tobacco painted on it as it moved past her window. The barn made her think of her dad. They were both old and a little too raw for Kessen's taste. She looked over at her father. He was hunched over the wheel. His face was set in a grimace as usually. Kessen cracked a smile when she realized her Dad usually looked like he had just smelled a fart. Kessen resented her father. He had separated from her mom six months earlier, but he had stopped talking to Kessen at lest two years before that. Joe King was an old fashioned guy. He didn't think fathers needed to be close to their teenage children. "Once you become friends with your kid they lose all respect for ya," he had once told his soon to be ex-wife within earshot of Kessen. Joe didn't understand that Kessen wanted the father back she'd had as a five-year-old. She needed the father who called her his, "sidekick". Kessen felt like he was punishing her with his silence. All she had done was grow up.

At thirteen Kessen thought she was old enough to make up her own mind. She had told her mother she didn't want to go with her father to the deathbed of a man she had only met once. Her mother had insisted she go. "You may never get to see your grandfather again, Kessen. You need to go no matter how much you can't stand your father right now."

Kessen hated his silences. She didn't think they had to be all buddy-buddy, but he could at lest acknowledge her existence. Kessen tried to understand his silence but couldn't. She thought he was, "wallowing in self-pity", as her mother would say. Kessen wondered if he realized the whole grandfather mess affected her too. Kessen realized she had been glairing at him for a little to long when Joe sensed her staring at him and looked over at her from under the bill of his "John Deere" hat.

He got a soft look on his face for a moment, and Kessen thought he might actually say something. Joe quickly focused his attention back on the road. Joe used to tell her how much she looked like her mother. Kessen wondered if now that they were getting a divorce he didn't admire that quality in her. Maybe, if she looked like someone else it wouldn't be so hard for him to talk to her. Kessen was a pretty girl. Her long chestnut hair framed her face with curls. She had glasses, braces, and was rather thin. She was awkward like most kids her age, but Kessen knew her father considered her beautiful or at lest he used to. As the light grew brighter they drove through a deep trench cut through a hill. The rock was cut long ago to make way for man's highway. The layers of strata showed red clay and black earth. Kessen started to drift off again. Deep beneath the earth she saw a hidden city. Monsters lived there. They were predators. The kind that crept up to the surface at night and dragged the innocent back to their layer. Kessen saw their white skin and large eyes. She saw their sharp teeth yellowed by human blood. Kessen winced at her own vivid imagination. She blinked, and again the world was flying past her window.

Kessen looked around the inside of the cab. Everyone in the family referred to her Dad's truck as the, "Rattling Rattrap." Joe had owned it for many years, and every new part that broke he adapted to. He put his arm out the window to signal. He had to push the gas in an exact rhythm and hold the key down for several minutes to start it. In the windshield was a long winding crack that Joe had to hunch down to see around. Kessen thought the truck was nasty. It smelled like mildew and diesel fuel. Joe was a mechanic for a trucking company, and always smelled like diesel. The ashtray overflowed with Camel butts and wads of Spearmint gum. The floorboard was the worst part in Kessen's opinion. It was rusted and thin. In one small spot next to the door you could see right through it. Kessen watch the blacktop wiz by frighteningly close to her feet. To distance herself she looked back out the window. The world was full of light, and the dew was burning off the grass. Kessen saw little tendrils of steam rising from the pastures. Cows or maybe sheep, she wasn't sure, were small black dots in the distance. There wasn't much to look at in the farmland. They passed the occasional barn or white farmhouse. Kessen was staring at the darker, shadowy green of the woods when a very large manicured lawn appeared. At a distance was a huge mansion. It was the only estate in the area. The walls where different shades of brown stone. The wood trim was painted white, and there was a large tower on the left side. Kessen found it lovely, the kind of place she dreamed off.

Kessen saw herself as a princess in the tower. The room was made of stone large and cold with only a single cathedral window trimmed in gold. As Kessen approached the window she could see her reflection through the glass against the morning sky. She had long flowing hair and a jeweled tiara. Her beautifully ornate gown fit snuggly against a more womanly body then she currently possessed. The princess was locked there by a spell her wicked father put on the tower. A hero would save her. She just had to wile away the long hours until his arrival looking out her gilded window. A black smudge obscured her vision. Kessen blinked and turned to look out the back window. Her father had passed an SUV like it was sitting still, and she was pretty sure it was not. Kessen looked over at the speedometer. They were going eighty. As they passed the next speed-limit sign she noted it read sixty-five. Great, she thought, now he'll get a ticket and be in an even better mood.

They had moved farther north, and all the trees seemed to have lost their leaves. The only color in the woods was the evergreens. They stood chubby and awkward next to their skeletal brethren. In a small groove Kessen saw a lone tree that hadn't lost its foliage. It sparkled yellow as the dew on the leaves caught the sunlight. While they were driving by a breeze caused a shower of gold to fall. Kessen saw the tree in the magic wood, but this wood way dying. All the trees reached up, clawing their gnarled fingers at the sky. In the center of the wood lay the golden oak. The enchanted tree could bring life back to the land if only a hero was so bold as to quest for it. Kessen could see the hero. He was all muscles and leather. His sword was drawn ready to fight the unseen threat that protected the tree. He was handsome, square jawed, and rugged.

Something bright red caught her attention. Kessen looked up to see a billboard that read, "Adult Video Store. Buy One Get One Free." She started giggling. For some reason Kessen thought a sale at a sex store was hilarious. Joe noticed Kessen's mirth and looked over at her hazarding half a smile. When Kessen saw him smirk she thought he was making fun of her. She quickly looked away. Kessen folded her arms across her chest and stuck out her low lip. It was a habit from childhood she hadn't given up. Joe looked back at the road. Kessen could tell he was annoyed. He gave a grunt and pulled out his cigarettes. Now for the second hand cancer, Kessen thought. She heard him crack the window. Thanks, Dad. That will really help, she mentally quipped. Kessen was at the prefect age for mastering sarcasm.

Kessen wished he would turn on the radio, but Joe said it distracted him. Kessen decided she would write. It was another of her favorite pass times. She pulled her notebook out of the bag on the seat separating her and Joe. She started to write down her thoughts. They were jumbled and fragmented. She complained about her father and the trip. Then she started writing about her fantasy world. She felt she belonged there with the elves, heroes, and monsters. Kessen thought that in her fantasies she could tell the villains from the heroes. In her own life she never knew whom to trust. She had trusted her Dad and that had only hurt her. In third grade Kessen had wrote an essay in which she explained why he was her "hero." Kessen had thought he would always be the man who protected her. Her fantasy world was the only place she could go to escape. Kessen wrote on the lined pages of her notebook in the large loopy cursive of an adolescent girl that, "As a kid in a broken home it is just my way to survive." Kessen wished she could really live in her dreams.

Feeling too depressed to continue with her introspection Kessen looked up to find that the light had drained out of the world. The sky was a mass of undulating thunderheads. Above her Kessen saw a red tailed hawk. It was the only bit of color in the gray clouds. It soared throw the sky with such ease. Kessen pressed her face to the window and looked back as the truck drove faster then the bird could fly. As it became a speck in the distance Kessen could feel the wind beneath her as she road the back of a giant hawk. Her hair wiped around her face. Her cloths flapped trying to tare away from her body. Kessen held on tight to the bird. She could feel its smooth feathers beneath her palms. Then the bird cawed, but it was more like a high pitch squeal.

Kessen realized the sound was in the car. Joe had turned on the windshield wipers, and there wasn't quite enough rain for them to move smoothly. The drops were slating on the windshield slowly. Then the rain picked up speed. Soon a blurry torrent of water was cascading down the windshield. The wipers couldn't keep up with it, and Kessen wondered how her Dad could see the road. She tried looking out the window, but she could see nothing beyond the wall of water. Joe didn't slow down, and Kessen was getting scared.

She could see the speedometer read ninety. Oh, God, she thought, he's going to kill us. Kessen knew her father was just trying to get to the hospital before his father passed on, but he was acting crazy. She was startled when she heard Joe bark, "Shit!" The truck was sliding sideways. Kessen had heard of it before: hydro-something. It was when the tires were gliding on top the wet road. She gripped her notebook to her chest and closed her eyes.

Kessen concentrated on her imagination. She saw her hero with the square jaw. He had her in his arms carrying her to safety. Somewhere in the distance she heard scrapping, screaming, and tires squealing. She heard the sound of metal crumpling like a fist full of foil, but that was all fare away. Then there was silence. Her hero sat her on her feet. He was smiling and looking into her eyes. Kessen no longer felt like she was in a dream. She felt the cobblestones beneath the thin leather soles of her slippers. She felt the weight of the many yards of fabric that made up her gown. She felt the breeze on her face and the sun warming her long hair. She could smell horses and sawdust. "Your home princess" said the hero as he bowed down before her. Kessen could see behind him a courtyard full of subjects all bowing to her. Kessen smiled and was very happy.

* * * *

Days later in her hospital bed Kessen lay as still as a statue. It took someone with a keen eye to see the slight rise and fall of her chest. Her face was scratched and bruised from the wreck but some how she looked at peace. Her hair spilled over the pillow in perfect waves. She looks more like her mother every day, Joe thought. Her glasses were lost in the crash, but she wouldn't look like herself even with the glasses. Joe hadn't seen her look so...the only word he could think of was, peaceful, in ages. Her parents had been worried about her for some time. She hadn't reacted to the separation well, but then all teens were moody. Joe had mentioned to Kessen's mother, Jill, how sad Kessen always looked. Looking at her in the hospital bed there was so much he wished he could say, so much he wished he could do.

Kessen's doctor stood just outside the doorway to her room. He cleared his throat to get Joes attention. As Joe walked out to meet him he took a long look this Dr. Vex. He was balding and the surface of his head reflected the florescent lights. Joe didn't trust him. Just because you ware a white coat don't mean you know everything, he thought. Joe also noticed when he reached the doorway that Jill was sitting across the hall in the only available chair clutching her purse in her lap as if she were afraid it might get away.

"So, there's no change?" Joe's arm hung in a sling, and his expression could barely be seen through all the cuts on his face. Jill raised her head expectantly. Her eyes were bloodshot, and her checks were puffy from crying.

"No, Mr. King, she hasn't regained consciousness. We have treated her other injuries but there was nothing that would cause the catatonic state. I called in the psychiatrist, and he mentioned that in some cases of schizophrenia patients have suffered catatonia."

"You think she's nuts?" Joe's mouth was agape. It had obviously never occurred to him that the cause could be mental. "Well, how could you tell with her like that? Don't you have to do tests or something?" A whimpering noise came from across the hall. Mrs. King was sobbing into her purse. Both men's heads turned at the noise, and they shared a concerned look for the poor woman.

"Sir, if you'd let me finish. We have run some tests. In her state all we could do was look at her brain function, and that is not conclusive to a lack of all metal illness. We used magnetic resonance imaging to look at the makeup of your daughter's brain. You are very lucky because we are the only hospital in the county that has the capability. Patients with schizophrenia have specific abnormalities in the brain. You daughter has none of these; thus, we could rule out schizophrenia."

"So, you're saying she isn't nuts? Then what are you trying to tell us? My wife is in a wreck," this warranted a sharp look from Mrs. King, and an end to her crying. "We want answers, Now!" Joe's face was flushed, and he stepped closer to the doctor with his one good hand in a fist. The doctor stepped back and cleared his throat nervously.

"What I'm trying to tell you is that we have no idea why your daughter is in this state." The doctor let out a sigh and handed Joe some papers. "You're going to have to start thinking about long term care."

Joe stepped towards the doctor and looked him in the eye. "If it's money you don't have to worry about that. I'd sell my soul for that little girl. I could damn sure get enough for anything you would need to do."

"Sir, I assure you we have done all we can do for your daughter." With his baldhead bowed in defeat the doctor walked away. Joe looked at his wife. Her face was wet with fresh tears and her eyes were searching his for some kind of hope. Joe walked to Kessen's bedside. He bent and kissed her on the forehead.

"Don't worry, Princess. I'll never give up on you." Kessen heard those words spoken by her hero.

All text and images copyright ©2004-2007, Aimee Nance. All rights reserved.