The first book I remember reading by myself was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I was in kindergarten. That spawned a lifelong love for the fantasy genre. I sought out fantasy books and video games like Dragon Age, Elder Scrolls, and Fable. My love for the escapism magical kingdoms and realms gave me was only amplified as my mom battled severe and debilitating epilepsy throughout my childhood and early teen years while also bringing me lifelong friendships.
I had a best friend named Lauren. We were inseparable most of the time, sans your typical teenage drama that led to ridiculous arguments. My dad and I played Fable together often, even if it was just me watching him play. I played it with Lauren one night and it became our thing. We were obsessed. We played it dozens of times, trying to make the most saintly and the most evil characters. We were heartbroken when Microsoft shut down Lion Head Studios (the creators of the series) as Fable Legends was in the beta testing phase. Years passed, and we continued to replay every single game and have intense conversations about the lore. It was comforting for us while my mom was sick and while her mom battled cancer for a second time. Once we got into our 20s, it was announced that the series was being rebooted! We were beyond stoked and became once again obsessed like we used to be. We would talk about where the game would fit in the timeline, our theories, our hopes, our anxiety about a new developer taking over. A trailer had been released, and we waited with bated breath for more information.
But more information didn’t come before Lauren died when we were 23.
She’s been gone for a year and a half now. Her 25th birthday is in a few weeks.
She had aggressive colon cancer. She fought hard until she couldn’t any longer. As grim as it is, I know she knew she was going to die. I think, unfortunately, we all knew. It was one of the worst days of my life, the day she died. I was working a new job, fresh out of training. I walked into my backroom and opened Facebook. Her sister had posted in her cancer journey page that she passed away the day before. I broke down. I fell to the ground. Our other best friend texted me, “Lauren died.” I called my mom sobbing. She cried with me. I got in my car and screamed. I screamed, and I screamed, and I screamed.
I had just finished The Oracle, and I wanted her to read it. I played Fable and watched play throughs of it to help me gain inspiration. We would talk about it while she got treatment. She wanted to get the PC versions of the games so she could play them when she was in the hospital. I thought she would love my book. I started writing it when we were 17 and she knew all about it. She should have read it. She should have lived. She didn’t deserve to die sick and frail in a hospital. But she did. She died.
I haven’t attempted to so much as turn on Fable. Every time I read an article about it I try to send it to her. But her phone finally shut off one day. It broke me and I felt a hollowness unlike any other. She would never see the game and she would never read my book. I would never be able to give her the escapism and comfort we both craved and lived off of during what we thought would be the darkest times of our lives.
I had a really hard time writing after she was gone. I couldn’t handle the thought of the fantasy genre without it being so directly related to her. I harbored a lot of guilt after her death because we weren’t as close as we used to be, but we were getting there again, and we hadn’t seen each other in years because we didn’t live in our hometown anymore. We always missed each other when we would come home to visit. She had been home and well enough to go out the weekend before I came back for a visit. We just barely missed each other. It was the last time any of our friends got to see her. Something about getting back into my genre—our genre—hurt.
I had my daughter in August of last year, almost exactly one month before the one-year anniversary of Lauren’s death. Lauren was known for her fiery red hair and brilliant blue eyes. My daughter was born with the very same. In my post-labor dazed state, I told my mom that and I cried.
Sometime around then, I learned to forgive myself for my shortcomings as a friend. I knew that I did nothing wrong and that our lack of seeing each other wasn’t from our lack of friendship or love. And now I had this beautiful, innocent, untouched by pain, and perfect baby with fiery red hair and brilliant blue eyes.
I started writing again. Finally working on finishing The Oracle’s sequel. I don’t like to base characters on real life people that I know, but Lauren will be the exception to that rule. I want to immortalize her memory within the genre we loved and bonded over so deeply. I want to give her the escapism of being immersed in a magical kingdom, even in death, even in spirit.
Death is a theme within The Chronicles of Keon as a series. The characters are all touched by it. The mess of loss is what leads them to where they are in the first book. They are dealing with the aftermath of loss and the anger that comes with it. Death can fuel you onto new adventures, onto new paths.
All of us that were touched by Lauren both in life and in death live a little harder for her. We pay more attention to the things she loved. We have stumbled through grief like a baby deer learning to walk. We’ve each found a way to commemorate her and to move along, but not on, in our lives as she would want us. If she knew we spent time crying over her and angry at ourselves and remorseful, she would laugh at us. She would call us babies. She would want us to talk about her quirks and her laughter, our inside jokes and the memories of the trouble we got into.
She would want me to write and never stop. She made me a notebook for my thirteenth birthday and told me to write my stories in it. She would be encouraging me to keep going, to quit procrastinating, to play Fable again. And for that, I will.
For Lauren Marie Harders.