Prompt: There is a secret parallel world which can only be entered by children under 16 years old. How do they keep the place secret despite social media, smartphones etc.?

Part One

There is a saying in my country – “break Arkansa rules and you tear the world apart.” I always thought it was something our parents told us so we would pass the message on to the visiting children. I didn’t know that I would witness Arkansas’s downfall myself – be the propagator of it, in fact.

When the dragons were very small and I was beginning to help out around the stables, a boy came to visit. I could tell he was from the other world: he had that starved look about him. Not starved of food or love or shelter, oh no. Starved of magic. He was looking around at everything, his eyes darting – taking it all in. There was a mixture of fear and awe in them which I saw in most kids who came through the Doorway.

I ushered him close and asked him his name – Nathan – supplied him mine – Aria – and asked if he wanted to help me tend to the dragons – yes, please.

I handed him a bottle of milk and we walked to the stables, chatting as we did so. He seemed nice enough, though a little shy. But you should have seen him with the dragons. They were usually fairly cautious creatures; hell, I would be too if my mother abandoned me and I was left to fend for myself so young. But all three of them toddled up to Nathan and when he knelt down, they found a way to perch on him. The green one I’ve taken to calling Nagassi even managed to flap its wings enough to land on his shoulder. Nagassi puffed little smoke clouds onto Nathan’s cheek as if to warm him.

He handled the dragons so carefully that I thought they would never listen to his commands, but still he managed to wrap Nagassi in her blanket (a task which has left deep cuts on my own hands) and hold her in his arms so he could feed her milk. I looked on, dumbfounded, as I fed one of the other dragons. He seemed dumbfounded and mesmerised himself; he hardly took his eyes off Nagassi.

Afterwards, we played in the woods nearby, playing hide and seek with the wood spirits and the wind. He visited each day after that and slowly our games became more adult; more intimate. Funny dating a man from another world. He knew nothing about Arkansa kisses – thought it weird when I dragged my tongue over his teeth. I had to explain that there was a myth in Arkansa where a group of people lulled their victims into a false sense of security by dating them, then they drugged them and pulled out their teeth while they were sleeping to sell to an apparently thriving market. So letting someone kiss you Arkansa style was the ultimate portrayal of trust.

But one day he visited and he seemed crestfallen. Said that he had heard a whisper on the wind that he would no longer be able to pass through the Doorway once he turned 16 – two days away. Having heard nothing of this (I thought their world was only made up of young folk), I asked around while he tended to the now-teenage dragons and found out it was true.

“Don’t go.” I said to him that evening as our bodies wrapped around each other beside the fire in our clearing in the woods.

“But my family, my friends…” He trailed off. He acted as though he would not do it, but he stayed the night – something he had never done before. I could feel the heaviness of my heart and knew his would be feeling the same.

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