Perhaps it was all a dream, a figment of my imagination boiled from the fevered heat of adolescent hormones and loneliness. Mentally and intellectually, I accept that it might have been, viewed from the calm perspective of one twenty years older. But in my heart, I don't think that it was. The clarity of my memory and the warmth of the emotions bound up by that memory convince me it all really happened to me.
Whatever experience it was, it certainly opened my eyes to an entire world, a world hitherto unimagined, a world of female sexuality and erotica. It took me a little while to discover what form my reaction to that exposure would take. The shape and curves of Xanthia's face and body were so etched on my memory that it awakened a dormant artistic talent within me. I found that drawing helped to assuage the pain in my heart. I ceased my walks in the garden and the woods, and remained in my bedroom, covering any piece of paper I could find with scribbles and sketches.
At first, I hid - or even destroyed - my hesitant attempts to recreate her form in pencil or crayon. At about that time, the school appointed a new Art teacher - a very enthusiastic young woman – and after a while I felt confident enough to show her some of my most treasured pieces. She looked at my crumpled papers for a long time, smiling, tears not quite forming in the corners of her eyes. Then she took me by the hand and said, "These are good, really very good. You have a wonderful talent. You must use it."
Over the next year or two, she gently encouraged me to broaden my artistic interests from a narrow focus on the female form. I started drawing from life: people of all shapes and size, animals and birds and insects, landscapes and scenery, and still life compositions of all kinds. Later, I took up painting in watercolors and, later, in oils - not entirely satisfactorily, I have to say - just so that I could try and capture something of Xanthia's glorious form in color on paper or canvas.
Pushed by the teacher, and to the bemusement of my parents, I managed to win a place in a prestigious art college in a big city. As well as an opportunity to polish my talents, I was more-or-less forced to meet people, people with whom I had something in common - unlike my parents or my brother. I was drawn out of my shell and thrown into a social whirl. For a time, I lived a wild and free life, indulging in parties and pot, dancing and drinking, as well as a series of affairs and liaisons - with men as well as women - that would have shocked the gossips back home.
But it was not all partying 'till dawn. While at the college, I evolved the artistic style that would eventually make me moderately famous: faeries with butterfly wings and diaphanous dresses, in a variety of romantic rural settings. The world beyond my immediate experience has, it seems, appreciated my little talents. My paintings and drawings have attracted a certain interest from the public for a decade or more now, and it makes be smile when I hear epithets such as: "so real" and "almost as if they were drawn from life."
And, for the more exotic collectors, the more open-minded of my fans, I have produced certain limited editions. If you know where to go, you can acquire prints and posters of Xanthia in more erotic poses: naked and aroused, her eyes flashing, her breasts uncovered, and her nipples taut and dark. And, perhaps, one of my most famous images: my darling Xanthia with her legs apart, her fingers separating her lips and penetrating herself with the wonderful phallus that she had produced out of thin air at the moment of my great need.
After college, I spent many years traveling the world, always with sketchbook and pencils to hand, always ready to capture a lovely flower or a beautiful child, the rough brown bark of a tree bole or the delicate blue veins of an exposed breast. During that time, I experienced many places and cultures, and indeed, many different people, and gained a degree of wisdom and maturity that would have seemed impossible to my childhood self.
I now once again live at Zana House, tending the gardens and trying to keep the old place in a reasonable state of repair. I was able to buy out my brother's share of the property, after my parents died and we were jointly left the place in their wills. I still have money, enough to live on with a degree of ease, from my paintings and commissions, and royalties on their reproduction on posters and placemats and bric-a-brac for the tourists.
The old walled garden is now a carefully-tended plot, producing plentiful fruit and vegetables in season. It is a tribute to my father's dedicated pursuit of the perfect country residence and, in later years, to a succession of young men and women who have worked on the land. The wall itself has been carefully repaired and re-pointed, and the breach where once I passed through blocked up – except for a hole only just large enough to look through. I have never seen the faerie circle in all the times I checked and, these days, I have given up even looking.
But my own life has been both full and fulfilling. For many years, at my side has been a woman who, although not exactly like my dearest Xanthia, is sufficiently similar that the more perspicacious of our visitors have remarked upon the similarity between her face and the one I have so lovingly, and so frequently, depicted in paintings and illustrations, and which now decorates plates and postcards everywhere.
Still, I do miss the faeries at the bottom of the garden.
A Note on Names in A World Beyond
Xanthia means "yellow" and is an old - and now rather unusual - name for girls. It is also the name for a genus of moth - flying creatures which only come out at night.
A Zana is a kind of good fairy that lives in the woods in Romania. It is also a colloquial word for a cute, good-looking girl.
If you have enjoyed this story, why not explore the other stories in the Fantasy and Science Fiction collection?