Raven's Pen

Writing, Reading, and Ruminating

Category: Short Stories

Flash Fiction: “49”

June, 12, 2016.

Remembered, always and forever.

 49

Ashes fall from the sky—only, it is rain cold enough to match heartache.

Gold: the color of a tie around a young man’s neck

Blue: a shade of eyes staring upward.

Red: the color of blood pouring across a glitter-speckled floor.

The world could be sleeping- listless in a haze caused by deafening noise.

They could be sleeping, fallen across legs and arms, a cacophony of a thousand words for silence.

How could anyone be so still?

A cell phone rings somewhere underneath a fallen coat, splattered by spilled drinks and tinted with crimson, barely dry. A hole mars the sleeve; an almost perfect circle ripped at the edge.

The world is shouting, but ringing phones deafen cries. Batteries have not lost their voice- the empty songs that used to remind laughing hands of a perfect sunset or a first love blend together.

Are you safe?

When are you coming home?

How could anyone explain that the answer is never?

Flowers line the sidewalk in front of a theatre, candles burn with wax dripping in rivulets immortalized, rainbows decorate the sides of buildings, but they do not bring back the dead.

Mourners cry. Some say that each life lost was just another death, but 49 are not just one. 49 is the number of a small plane, it is a birthday party or a gathering of friends spanning two houses.

49.

It is too great a number—people killed for their love.

Tipping, one by one.

Hands clutch cracking chests; streaks line the floor now.

Maybe, just maybe, if eyes beg enough, memories will thicken into lifelines for the dead.

Foreheads disappear underneath thick bags, backs bending underneath their weight.

These flowers may be trampled tomorrow; bleeding onto tear stained sidewalks. Whispering: human lives are just as fragile as sheets of ice created by wind.

The living link arms to last against the storm, knees clenched underneath swaying bodies.

Life: an act of rebellion.

 

Copyright © 2017 ravenspen.com

All rights reserved.

Short Pieces Week: Not This Title

This story of based off of the prompt by blackflamingo777. I know that this is extremely late in coming. I actually wrote two versions of the story and realized that the first one needed an entirely different beginning. Hence the delay and a second version.

Not This Title

What have you lost down the gaping hole where your heart used to be?

Greetings are pretty standard around here.

Alright, I should back up: my name is Joyce; I am somewhere between thirteen and twenty; I live in a tiny town at the edge of Nebraska; I despise ketchup and fish; and my life is defined by what people say about me.

To be honest, I think everyone’s life is defined by what people say unless they have to sense to not let it bother them. But that’s beside the point.

People say a lot of things about me; and most of them are not very nice. It doesn’t bother me as much as some people want it to. I guess you could say that I have a way of letting things roll off of me. It’s a skill that comes in handy.

I suppose you’re wondering what I meant by the sentence I started with…. I used to be known as the flower girl around school. It’s not because I’m always happy or because I dress I bright colors. I’m neither of those. It’s because I earned a reputation as one of the worst kids in school a few years ago. Apparently people wanted to give me an ironic nickname that they knew I would hate.

Anyway, the other people in my small group of friends say that I earned my nickname because I’ve broken more hearts in school than most of the popular kids. They might be right. Tearing people’s hearts apart was never something that I wanted to do; I played with dolls and wished that I was a princess like everyone else when I was little. I even convinced some of my schoolteachers to call me Snow White for a few months when I was six.

The first heart I broke was that of one of my best friends. She moved out of town for a few years, and then she came back with a new set of ideals and an entirely now idea of who her friends should be. I didn’t intend on breaking her heart, but I think it was inevitable.

She spent a few weeks with my group of friends, and then one of the popular girls offered her a place in their gang. She accepted and spent a few months as an armrest, before deciding that she wanted to rejoin my friends and I. The popular kids had blamed us for every single thing that went wrong in their lives since their new recruit joined them, and we were tired of it. We said no and I told my former best friend that I never wanted to see her again.

Her family moved out of town a few weeks later and we have not talked since.

I only know I hurt her because one of my other friends saw her a couple of weeks later and confirmed my suspicions.

I suppose you could say that things picked up after that. So, there I was. I had the newly anointed nickname of the flower girl, and school was finally becoming interesting. I admit that I had fun for a few months. But things quickly went downhill.

There are very few things that can destroy assumptions the way a divorce can. After my parents decided to move into their own houses and keep their conversations to themselves, the nickname ‘flower girl’ became my way of holding onto things. I turned heartbreaking into a bit of a profession. And I am pleased to say that I was quite good at it.

A profession such as that can only last for so long before people catch on. And catch on they did. My business of breaking hearts quickly fell down the stairs. But I had other things to do and it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. Until one day when a new kid caught my attention.

Let me make one thing very clear: I am not a slut. I dislike romanticism and relationships don’t interest me. I fell in love with someone in middle school, and I decided not to make the same mistake again. Thankfully, it was a few years before I started high school and I quickly got over it. Actually, the person I fell in love with back then is now one of my best friends. And he is entirely gay; which is good because I don’t have any interest in him and we came have strange conversations without anything becoming too awkward. But I’m getting off topic.

I knew I was in trouble when that new kid walked into the room. I started a conversation over lunch and things went relatively well from there. We became compatriots and the new kid became part of my group of friends.

Don’t waste your breath asking the question I know you have: I was not falling in love again. But I desperately wanted to be good friends. I could see and this new kid and I having sleepovers and gossiping about what was said in school the week before. I could see us walking down the street and joking about all of the things we saw. And those images were so tempting.

Unfortunately, my reputation of breaking the hearts of ‘could-have-been-lovers’ had spread to friends. Despite the group of friends I had, people at school seemed to think that anyone who joined my group of friends would end up with a broken heart before the most popular girl in school could flip her hair over her shoulder.

Naturally, the morally correct people in school warned the new kid about me. My perfect visions of friendship fell down the stairs far more quickly than my career in breaking hearts had.

The new kid and I dodged each other for a few weeks, but a meeting was inevitable. I can’t stand leaving things alone when I know that something needs to be done. I snuck a note into the new kid’s backpack with instructions to meet me at the coffee shop after school.

I waited for about an hour before the new kid walked through the door. We sat across the table from each other and had a polite conversation. I tried to dispel the new kid’s beliefs about me and was as honest as I have ever been.

I thought things were going extraordinarily well until I walked into school the next day. The new kid had not only explained everything to the most popular group of kids on school, but the new kid had been ostentatious enough to record our conversation at the coffee shop and put it in front of the loudspeaker. Well… things could not be the same after that.

I am going to skip forward a few miserable months: my friends repeatedly tried to convince me that the school was now a battlefield and we needed to launch our own attack. I refused and tried to stay as far away from the new kid as possible.

Unfortunately for me, the new kid finally decided to believe what I had said at the coffee shop and wanted to become friends again. After what had happened with my former best friend those years earlier, I was slightly tempted. But I knew that it would be a bad decision and I said no.

If high school was a battlefield before, it was now a galaxy of burning comets crashing into each other. That might be an overdramatic image; but seriously, have you ever been in high school?

I had started a war. Even the teachers were swept into it. This was not a war of people ignoring each other in the hallways, or even a war of bullies tormenting each other. This was a war that encompassed the entire school. I was right in the middle of a mob of 479 kids, and I was the one the blame for all of it. Actually, I think that the new kid was the one who started it. The entire issue could have been resolved with a simple agreement.

I admit that I am the reason why it escalated so quickly. But even that blame could be parceled out. For the sake of time, I’m not going to try and hand the blame to anyone else in my group of friends. I was to blame. I was entirely, completely, at fault.

The war lasted for what was left of the semester and picked up again after summer break. It ended when the principle finally stepped in and had police officers posted in each of the classrooms. Even then, another war was rumbling underneath the floors.

Everyone could hear it, but the hallways were silent until the police officers decided to leave and everything appeared to be normal.

Well, normal is the last thing the next many months were. What had been a war fought only on the school campus became a secret network linking the houses of every student. Cryptic letters were left on doors; candy correlating to each faction of the school was left on enemies’ doorsteps. And I was the golden apple that would win the race.

The extraordinary thing is that no one outside of the high school students seemed to notice that a war was happening around them.

This stage of the war lasted for a few weeks, and there was a new thing to worry about each day. Letters that contained threats regarding gum and tacks on chairs disguised in homework questions became trip wires in hallways and fake blood smeared across bedroom windows.

Pages from diaries were copied and left in school lockers; people would even steal small amounts of acid or other dangerous materials from the science labs and bake it into brownies that were left on chairs. It is not long before threats became actual actions.

No one was poisoned; but it was impossible to have a conversation with anyone without hearing about an increasingly dangerous prank that had occurred the night before. I continued to try to stay out of most of it, but that was impossible when I would find one thing or another waiting on my windowsill when I went home.

The threats passed through the hallways in school started to fade. And then people started to disappear. Everyone who was a student knew the names of all of the culprits; but we were at war. Parents started to call the school to say that so-and-so never came home the day before, the police started to look around, and the war continued on.

The rate that people disappeared grew and the police station appointed policemen to areas around the school and bus stops. Of course, it never did anything because the perpetrators of disappearances were the students themselves. I will not point to anyone; and I most certainly will not tell you if I was involved in any of the kidnappings.

I can tell you that the police started to see me as a source of information. One of my friends disappeared and I was pulled into the principal’s office almost every day to speak with one detective or another.

A few weeks later, one of the girls that had been kidnapped by a rather potent faction of students was found dead. Let me tell you that no one at school was surprised. And anyone who might have been didn’t show it. We were fighting a war and everyone knew that someone was going to die. The only questions were who and when.

We had a who, a when, and a funeral. Parents and teachers started to freak out and the school became more silent than it had ever been. The detective’s stopped talking to me as often as they had. And my friends and I finally began to plan a way to end the war.

To be clear: my group of ‘friends’ had expanded exponentially as everyone in school chose their sides. There were about forty of us by then; and we knew that it was finally time to make a move that would shock everyone else.

So that is what we did. Our plan was probably the worst tactic that we could have come up with. We rigged the school with various booby traps from the early days of the war; we made a map with all of our enemies’ houses and separated them into sections of attack; and then we broke the one unspoken rule of our war: never get any adults involved.

By this time, everyone knew where the kidnapping victims were. But no one had directly attacked any of those places for fear of starting something that they couldn’t control. We threw that fear away and quickly taught each other how to pick basic locks and build conveniently sized bombs.

The plan was relatively simple: each of us would be assigned to a different section on each of our maps. The first stage in our plan involved kidnapping one of our teachers without revealing who we were and leaving pages from one of the diaries that was copied when the war started. The second and third stages were combined: we would leave a small smoke bomb at each of our enemies’ houses, and then we would attack all of the buildings with kidnap victims at the same time. We never came up with a forth stage for the plan, but we really should have.

The first and second stages went as well as we could expect them to. The third created utter chaos.

It turned out that we were not the only ones with a plan to end the war, and everyone seemed to have slightly similar plans. Either that or no one had ever learned the true definition of ‘hero’.

What resulted was a fight between everyone at school. By the time the sun rose the next morning, everyone who supposed to be at school was fighting in one of the hidden battlegrounds in town. Parents found the smoke bombs in front of their children’s windows and the police walked into the school to find hundreds of booby traps.

My friends and I were spread across the many battlegrounds, but we still had a teacher locked in an old van in the parking lot of a graveyard. As the sun continued to rise, everyone in the war tried to find as many secret places to fight as possible. Maybe it was a realization that swept across all of us, or maybe it was the sheer ridiculousness of what we were doing, but the battlefields slowly grew quiet.

My friends and I had tried to come up with as many alternate plans as we could. One of the smallest kids in our faction tied a note to our teacher and called 911. The police found our teacher with the note and the phone that they friend had used, and the new kid who had officially started to war stood up to end it.

Everyone gave their speeches, fingers were lifted, and the entire school decided to return to the high school campus and keep our mouths shut. The next few hours were soaked with each tears to fill the school hallways. The police spent the next few weeks trying to uncover what had happened, but they were never able to.

School returned to what it used to be. Mostly.

My nickname of flower girl was dropped after one of my friends secretly told everyone in school what my plan had been.

So, there it is. Was it the story you expected to hear? I hope not. You must be in deep shit if it was.

I should tell you that I left most of what happened out. I might get around to telling someone everything that happened at some point, but I honestly don’t see a reason to right now. And I think it’s better if no one outside of school knows.

Despite the fact that the social circles in school went back to what they used to be, no one could walk down the hallways without joking about everything that had happened. No one’s view on life was the same. Over the course of the war each of us had gone from being whatever-we-were-labeled to pranksters, bullies, gang members, criminals, fighters, and back again. And no one could be the same.

Everyone pretended all right, but whispers continued to move across the classrooms.

I am not sure about anyone else, but I know that I started to see everything in my life differently. And I earned a new nickname. I will not repeat it here because it has become a slogan for the entire war, but I will tell you that the sentence that I started with is something that I now hear at least once a day.

Those who hate me use it as an insult; and those who are friends use it as a serious joke that always brings a round of laughter.

Copyright © 2016 ravenspen.com

All rights reserved.

Short Pieces Week: The Girl of the Reeds

This piece is based off of SparrowSoaring’s prompt from the second day of SPW. It took me a while to finish it, despite its length, it was a challenge because I rarely write in past-tense. However, I think I like the way it turned out!

The Girl of the Reeds

The glass globe pulsed as she picked it up. It burned her hand, and she flung it as far away from her as she could. A red light swirled across the surface of the globe as it spun through the air and she jumped to her feet to follow. She crashed through the trees and shoved branches to the side as the globe spun faster. It fell off of the side of the cliff and she followed it with a yell that echoed across the canyon.

Her wings snapped open behind her and yanked her into an updraft. She yelled again and snapped the globe out of the air in front of her. It did not take long for her to coast down to the bottom of the canyon. She raced her shadow to her home in the underbrush and giggled as she set the globe on her lap.

She grew older in that one moment: her hands became wrinkled with age and her wings sagged behind her. She rubbed her fingers across the surface of the globe and muttered to herself.

The setting sun turned the globe a dusty pink. She held it up to her face with trembling hands. The globe glowed as the sun sank out of sight. The reed roof of her house cast shadows on her hundred-year-old face. She set the globe down next to her and prepared a small meal with inching fingers.

She collapsed underneath the weight of the night and stared at a colony of fireflies across the canyon. The world would turn and change without her.

She pressed her face into the dirt as feathers fell from her wings. She was a thousand years old by the time the clocks in nearby towns struck midnight; but she grew younger with each hour that reached into the morning.

She was six by the time the sun rose. The globe lay next to her on the faded grass floor of her house. She shook her newly feathered wings and took off into the cold air. A down drift swept her forward as soon as she reached the edge of the canyon.

Her bare feet landed on the dusty ground and she stared toward the west. The tops of skyscrapers were barely visible above an outline of trees miles from the other side of the canyon. She folded her wings against her back and started to run. She did not stop until she was gasping for breath and her cheeks were red.

She climbed an old oak at the edge of a narrow dirt road and hid herself among the browning leaves. A muddy antique truck rumbled down the road and stopped underneath her hiding place.

The man that climbed out was half-bald with the beginnings of a mustache. He limped around the truck and pulled a thin wire cage out of the bed. The bird inside it flapped in fear and the man cooed to it. He placed the cage at the bottom of the tree and went back to the bed of the truck to unload the rest of the cages.

The base of the oak was surrounded by the time the man was done. He brushed his hands across the front of his overalls and nodded to himself as he carefully undid the latches for each of the cages.

He stepped back as the birds started to explore their new worlds. Dust was swept off of the ground as the birds took off and the silent desert became a rough concert.

The man watched for a moment before climbing back into his sputtering truck and driving away.

She waited until he was gone to climb out of the oak tree. The birds were already gone; she walked back to the edge of the canyon with her wings creating trails in the dust behind her.

She dangled her legs off of the edge of the canyon and pulled an oversized blanket across her to hide her wings. A thousand years is a long time to live. She was twenty again by the time the sun way halfway across the sky and tourists started to arrive. They laughed and argued and took pictures and started into the canyon. She always found their clean cars and bright clothes comical.

They always stared into the canyon as though they were looking into the past and wondering if it was going to stuck them up. She supposed that maybe it would. The tourists always left before sunset. They always missed the most beautiful parts of the day. But they never had enough time to look into the canyon for long. They always had a plane to catch or a party to go to or a motel bar that would close just before they reached it.

They never stayed for long; and she would find herself back where she started to previous day. The only difference would be the empty cages left at the base of an old oak tree a marathon away.

Copyright © 2016 ravenspen.com

All rights reserved.

Short Pieces Week: Light in the Window

This is my short story for yesterday’s prompt… short stories have always confounded me, but I actually had a lot of fun writing this. Hopefully you will have fun reading it as well.

Light in the Window

The train station is almost too crowded to think. The click of suitcase wheels echo across the room along with half finished conversations. A woman with a sick son cuts in front of us. We smile at them, but they do not seem to notice. We shrug to each other as we climb onto platform five. The train is ten minutes late; or so says the billboard.

I drape my coat over my arm; the train is late again. I swore I would not complain. They keep changing the billboard to say that will arrive in ten minutes. But anyone knows something is wrong when they have been standing around for close to an hour. Something must have happened on the tracks. I am going to be late again.

A train horn blows behind us. We try not to move and are momentarily deaf. We keep our hands close as a crowd swells around us. We have to keep our heads down. We try not to hold onto each other. For once, we can be thankful that no one ever seems to see us.

You would think people would plan ahead. My phone rings and I try not to shriek as I yank it open. Candice’s shrill voice is even worse when I am listening through a phone’s speaker. I tap my foot and keep track of time as she berates me for a full five minutes. She can complain and threaten me as much as she wants, but everyone knows that she needs me. My specialized skills are entirely irreplaceable. And she has the sense to recognize that.

The billboard has not changed. Our hands become clammy as we try not to wring them in worry. We cannot be late. We have the sense to know that no good will come of showing up even a moment late. They do not trust us with cell phones. It will be our fault if we show up later than expected. The ten minutes listed on the billboard revert back to fifteen and we want to throw up.

I snap the cell phone shut. I do not want to think about Candice. My briefcase feels far too heavy, but I do not dare to set it down. Damn these trains, it is like the entire world wants me to fail.

We move closer to each other and clamp our hands together. We do not want to think about what will happen when we arrive at our destination. We do not want to think of anything at all. We do not have a choice; the thin threads that tie us together cannot stand the snip of a large pair of scissors. No matter what we do, scissors will always be in front of us.

I was supposed to be at the office twenty minutes ago. These damn trains. The people here should at least try to be honest. I suspect that the train will not arrive for another half-hour. If only I had another way of getting to the office. This transportation system is far too simple for such a large town.

We do not know what we will do. We are late again. We cannot come up with an excuse. No one will believe us if we say that the train was late. The train station is buzzing, but platform five stays still. People shuffle their feet and a child cries out in front of us. We try to stare straight ahead and hope that it will make us invincible.

The train finally arrives and I jostle my way into the right car. I take a seat by the window and hold onto the briefcase with both hands. My phone buzzes in my pocket and I curse the invention of such a ridiculous device. Candice starts yelling at me as soon as I answer. I ignore her pitched tone and nod along to the horrible elevator music dripping down from the ceiling.

We breathe a sigh of relief as the train arrives and we hurry to the last row of seats. We press our clenched hands together. The train car is silent. Attendants stand in the entrance to the next car. We keep our heads down and try to move as little as possible. We would whisper if we could, but even our breathing sounds too loud.

A man toward the front of the car breaks into a coughing fit. An attendant hands me a cup of water. I scowl as the briefcase starts to slip off of my lap. The water spills across the front of my shirt as I grab onto the briefcase and yank it back. The attendant immediately flies toward me and thrusts napkins into my hands. I begrudgingly wipe the water off of my shirt and try not to wince at the cold. For once, I wish that the train had been later than it was.

We move our feet in impatience. We stop as a couple in homespun clothes look in our direction. We try to be silent and still. We will not cause a riot.

My assigned car is larger than most on the train. I am part of a majority, and thank all the things that be for that fact. It may be the second to last train car, but it is by far the best cared for. Most of the people surrounding me are only here because of their grandparents’ decisions. Everyone is in their respected cars because of their origins.

We do not have choices to make. We wish that the train had never arrived. Perhaps we could have left platform five and found a different place to work. We wish that we could make different decisions than our grandparents; and we wish they had had a choice. We do not have the right to wish. But we do anyway.

All of these damn people. All of them are sitting in their cushioned seats without an inkling of how lucky they are. A simple life would be too much for most of them. They just want their gold platters and their damn briefcases.

We hold our breath as the train stops. The door opens and we scurry into the train station. The wooden platforms underneath each door are rotted and speckled from the chemicals in the occasional rain. We thank our ancestors for the clear day and make sure to hold onto each other.

An attendant bids me farewell as I climb off of the train. The briefcase feels like a bomb in my hand. God, what I would give for a moment to actually look at the city. The train station is far busier than I am used to. It is a good thing that I already know where I am going. Any traveller would be lost in the fray. I yank the briefcase to my hip as I climb to the skyscraper stairway. I wish I could avoid the passages that will take me to my employer.

We follow a woman with a toddler to the stairs. Our legs are aching by the time we reach the first landing. At least the staircase is quiet. The skyscrapers reach high above us. The city is large enough that no one ever touches the ground. We try to comfort each other even though we know that we will not be able to. We keep our hands together and move slowly.

Candice will have a fit when I finally arrive at the office. At least the briefcase I am carrying guarantees my safety. For the moment at least. I am moving slower than usual. But I refuse to pick up my pace. Footsteps climb the stairs behind me. I look over my shoulder as I reach the next landing.

We try to keep our distance from the person in front of us. But our shoes make too much noise for us to go unnoticed. The person in front of us meets our eyes and we no longer know where we are.

The people behind me stare right back. I try to think of something to say, but it would be pointless anyway. They are probably workers for one of the houses on the upper levels of skyscrapers. I stop as they continue to climb forward without loosing eye contact. They seem too young to be caught up in the lines around them, but their worried eyes tell a different story. And yet, their joined hands prove that they still have the ability to cling onto the world.

The person in front of us stops walking. We stop when we are on the last step before the landing. The person clutches a shiny brown briefcase and turns to the door on the other side of the landing. We hold our breath for a moment before following. The person grips onto the door as though it is the cause of a lifetime of pain.

The two people follow me. I pull open the door and push it to the side. The two people stand behind me as I step out of their way. I wait for them.

We stare at the door and wonder why it is being held open. We step through it after a far-too-long moment. The person with the briefcase follows us into the narrow hallway on the other side of the threshold. The door swings closed and we cannot keep our heads down as we watch the person with the briefcase across from us.

I stare at the two people who are waiting for me to make a move. I shrug to them after a moment and turn away. I look over my shoulder to see them turn in the opposite direction. They walk in step with each other. Their hands are clenched together tightly enough that they could be on the desk of a ship in the rotation of a hurricane and not break apart.

We look over our shoulders when we are sure that the person with the briefcase is not watching us. The briefcase is still shiny. It seems to weigh the person down like a ship’s anchor. It seems to be just as heavy as an anchor. The person with the briefcase is determined enough not to let go. Our joined hands keep us in place as we stare. We turn back to the hallway and wonder why our feet no longer seem to be slogging forward at the pace of a river stone.

Copyright © 2016 ravenspen.com

All rights reserved.

Short Story: The Girl of Rivel Visits Fairyland

It is rare that I write short stories, especially of this sort, but I had a lot of fun with this one!

I hope you enjoy reading it!

The Girl of Rivel Visits Fairyland

The snow falls thickly. Kara scowls at the frosted windowpane and stomps one of her feet on the floor, “Why does it have to snow today?” Her father drops a box onto the kitchen table, “Well Kara, it is the holiday season.”

Kara continues to scowl as she turns around, “That doesn’t mean that we should be stuck inside because of some ridiculous snow!” Her father gives her a sideways look, “You’re not stuck inside Kara; you could run out and play if you wanted to.” She slumps into her chair at the table, “But it isn’t fair, I wanted it to be sunny today. That way I could ride into town with the Sommers.”

Her father pulls a pie plate out of the box, “You could still go outside Kara, and see if the Sommers want help with their Christmas decorations. You had fun helping them last year, remember?” She sinks lower into the chair, “I don’t want to have anything to do with Christmas this year. In fact, I don’t want to have anything to do with any of the holidays. I just want it to be summer again.”

She stomps out of the room before her father can come up with a response; and politely tell her that she was complaining about summer from January through September.

Kara flops down on her bed and tries to ignore the happy shouts of the children across the road. She crosses her arms over her chest with a scowl, “This is not fair!” But her bedroom walls do not answer and she grits her teeth together. She gets up with an exasperated sigh and stomps over to her window, “This isn’t fair at all; I want it to be summer! I would do anything for it to be summer again!”

“Anything can be a dangerous word you know.”

She jumps at the unexpected voice and stammers for words, “Who- what- h-how did you…” A small woman in a long white dress peels herself off of Kara’s bed, “Well, you know, you did say anything Kara.” Kara stumbles backwards and wonders if her eyes are going to jump out of her head and run around the room “H-how do you know my name? Are you an angel?”

The woman raises an eyebrow, “An angel? Goodness no! The word ‘angel’ would imply that I am better than someone else; no Kara, I am simply someone.” Kara crosses her arms over her chest, “But everybody is someone. That doesn’t make any sense.”

The woman shakes her head and smiles, “It only makes sense if you allow it to Kara.” Kars scowls, “What are you doing in my bedroom?” The woman’s smile widens, “Now that is the right question Kara; what am I doing in your bedroom indeed? I am here because you said that you would do anything; and I happen to be an expert in anything. Where do you want to go? I can take you anywhere that you wish to be.”

Kara opens her mouth to argue, before realizing that she truly does want to be somewhere else, “I- I want to go to a place where it is always summer; no, wait… I want to go to fairyland.”

Her words are prouder than she intended, but they seem to fit remarkably well; and she rejoices in the fact that she has chosen the one place that most girls her age wish to be.

The woman studies her for a moment and sighs, “Alright, whatever you wish. Grab my hand and hold on tightly; this will be a rocky journey” Kara does as the woman asked before she can talk herself out of it. She holds back a shriek as the room rocks, and then she is floating in darkness.

She can still feel the woman’s hand in her own, but she cannot see anything. She tries to gulp back her fear as they float forwards; and then down and down. They float until she is sure that an entire day has passed. And she wishes that she could do something, anything to pull her out of her boredom.

She starts to wish that she was back in her kitchen and watching her father make dough for dinner rolls. But her wish does not change anything as they continue to drop downwards. Her feet finally land on something hard, and the woman steps into view as the pitch dark blackness fades. She finds herself standing in a forest of trees with candy cane trunks and sugar leaves.

The woman sighs again as Kara looks around, “Well, here we are Kara. Everything else is up to you now; but you should know that you simply have to call for me twice and I will bring you back home when you are ready. There are a few times that I may not hear you, but those are rare enough.”

The woman lets go of her hand and steps back; Kara is so engrossed in the trees around her that she does not understand the woman’s words until she is alone. Kara jumps and clenches her hands in fear, “Wait, what do you mean? What happens if I can’t call you?”

But the woman does not answer even though Kara wishes until her teeth ache. She gulps and looks around again as she resigns herself to the fact that she is alone, “Well… if I’m stuck here, I might as well try to explore.”

She shoves her hands into the pockets of her pants as she starts walking and hopes that she is going in the right direction; whatever the right direction might be.

She starts to shiver as a glowing sun heads toward the horizon, “I should have brought a coat.” Somehow, talking makes the candy trees seem less frightening. She swallows thickly as she tries to list all of the reasons why she should have brought a coat, “I could wrap it around myself to stay warm; I could use it as a blanket or a pillow if I need to sleep; I could use it as a bag in case I need to pick candy apples; I could cover my rabbit with it, if I had a rabbit…” She trails off before she can start listing all of the reasons why she should have asked her parents for a rabbit as a present.

The candy forest becomes darker and darker; and she stumbles on with her teeth chattering from the cold, “M-maybe I sh-should have thought of b-bringing a h-hat too.” She stops walking as her legs start to ache. And she settles down at the base of a tree to wrap her arms around herself, “W-why did I ever choose to come t-to fairyland; this place doesn’t seem like fairyland at all.”

Her words seem to even more true once they are spoken and she realizes that she is entirely alone. She chokes back a sob as she wonders what a fairyland is without any fairies. She should be surrounded by fairies right now; there should be a feast with all sorts of wonderful things and dancing and pixie dust and unicorns and…”

She trails off again as sobs break out of her. Why oh why did I want to see fairyland? But maybe she is not in fairyland at all… maybe she ended up in the wrong place. Her face brightens as she remembers that she could simply ask the woman in white to bring her back home; but she sags back down to the ground as she realizes that she does not know how.

She curls back into a ball as gusts of wind sweep through the trees and make the sugar leaves rattle. But she does not seem to have a reason to stay where she is, and it only seems fair for her to stand up and start walking again. She does not know who it would be fair to since she is alone; but fair is fair.

She curls her hands into tight fists as she starts walking again. She hopes and prays that she will run into a town or a village. Or even a single house. Her feet seem to be walking forward on their own as the glowing sun starts to rise again, and she rubs her eyes. She stumbles onto a road as the sugar tree forest suddenly ends and spits her out.

The road is covered in dark asphalt; she jumps back and forth from one foot to the other as it burns her bare toes. She cannot contain her joy as she sees a gate ahead of her with hundreds of chimneys peeking above it. The candy tree forest moves farther away from the road as fields with grains of all kinds take the trees’ place. She stops as she sees a small man with dirt smeared across his face chopping cornstalks into piles.

She waves to him with a grin, but he barely glances at her and she feels her stomach sinking. What kind of fairy is not happy? She scowls as she heads toward the gates and stops suddenly as they loom above her. They are made out of dark strands of licorice that have been woven together and hung from pretzel poles; and she takes a deep breath as she steps forward and knocks.

The gates slowly open; she stands in shock as she stares at the dark web of streets in front of her. Dirty cobblestones cover the ground and reach toward the doors of houses and shops with half covered windows; people walk to and fro with worn baskets on their arms or bags slung across their shoulders.

Kara moves forward as the gates start to close and she stares at the dirty and patched clothing of the people around her. Everyone seems to be about her height; but they do not look like fairies at all. No one is smiling and there is no music or dancing or feasts. Everything is simply dreary and dark. If she is standing in fairyland; then it must not be the right fairyland. Perhaps there is more than one fairyland and she has ended up in the wrong place.

She takes a deep breath as she hurries into a crowd and plucks at the sleeve of a woman with a covered basket, “Excuse me, where am I?” The woman looks at her blankly, “Yureve; the biggest, the best city of all. The town of joy where everyone dances and sings.”

The woman keeps walking and Kara scurries to the side as a flood of people hurry toward her. Something is wrong; this is not fairyland at all. But maybe it is… what has happened? This town seems to be opposite of joy, and no one seems to notice each other. Everyone seems to be walking purposely without knowing where they are going; no one shakes hands or stops to talk. And everyone avoids each other without looking up.

Kara tries to swallow the sour taste in her mouth as she plunges back into the streets and allows herself to be swept into the crowd. If she is standing in front of a mystery, she might as well try to figure it out.

The crowd of people grows larger as it she is swept through the streets. The cobblestones slowly open up to a large square with a decorated platform. Kara finds herself standing in the middle of the crowd as everyone faces the platform and the square becomes unnaturally silent. A thin woman in a long dress and a patched coat climbs up to the platform and approaches the edge.

The woman opens her mouth a few times before speaking, “My great citizens of Yureve, today is a celebration; we have finally caught the thieves that have been wrecking our city. And today is the day that they will face the justice they deserve.” The woman’s words are flat and her voice is filled with sorrow, but she smiles a large smile and people lift their hands in agreement.

The woman steps to the side as a line of prisoners are marched onto the platform with chains running from their arms and legs. The woman’s smile grows wider, “Rejoice citizens of Yureve! This is the day that our streets become safer and our minds are brought back home! Rejoice citizens: it is time! Rejoice for the execution that we are about to behold!”

Kara shivers and starts to back up, but she bumps into a small man behind her. He does not seem to notice her, and she turns around in a tight circle as the entire crowd seems to become a field of stone figures with grins on their faces as they stare at the platform.

The only people who do not seem to be dreaming or sleepwalking is the line of chained prisoners. Kara swallows as she stares at them; they should do something. They should plead for their lives or break the spell everyone in the town seems to be under.

But they do not do anything. They barely move as sharp blades are lowered down to the sides of the platform from the sky and slide toward each other in a giant arc. The prisoner’s heads tumble to the ground before they can speak, and the head of the woman who was announcing follows a second later.

Kara lets out a shriek as blood spills across the platform. The crowd turns in one giant wave and sweeps her back down the streets. She scrambles toward the first shop that she sees and throws herself inside as sobs break out of her.

This cannot be fairyland; a place where everyone moves at the same time and no one talks or smiles unless there is an execution is not fairyland. A place like this must be the opposite of fairyland. She hides behind a shelf covered in candles and rocks herself back and forth.

Where is she? She cries until she cannot cry anymore. She leaves the empty store just as a pale woman walks inside with a torn bag in her arms. Kara stares at her feet as she hurries down the street and toward the center of the city. There must be someone who is not sleepwalking. There must be someone who can tell her where she is and how to get back home.

She stops as she finds herself standing in a second eerily silent square. Laughter soon comes through the door of a large building on the other side of the cobblestones. The noise makes her jump, and she bites her lip as she heads toward it. The door opens as soon as she knocks; a long grey hallway stretches out in front of her with antique lights lining the ceiling.

She takes a deep breath as she starts walking. The hallway opens up to a large powder blue room with dark wooden benches lining the walls and chandeliers hanging down from the ceiling. A large desk stands in the middle of the room with a small man behind it, he grins at her as she walks toward him, “Welcome! Welcome traveller! If you are looking for room and board, I suggest the tavern on sixth street; and if you are looking for a meal, I suggest the quaint place on first street with the green awning. Otherwise, you could always try one of the other taverns for lodging and one of the other restaurants for a meal. Everything is perfectly suited to a traveller like you. And if you are looking for entertainment, I have many places that I can suggest. How may I help you?”

He does not seem to take a breath between the time that he starts talking and the time that he finishes. She clenches her hands by her sides, “I-I was just wondering why everyone outside seems so sad?”

“Sad?” The man shakes his head with another grin, “I do not understand your meaning. This is Yureve; the city of great buildings, wonderful forests, quaint attractions, open places, happy dancing and singing, and all sorts of wonderful things. No one here has a reason to be sad.”

Kara opens her mouth to argue with him. But she is cut off as a small woman rushes into the room with a laugh, “You would not believe it Raph! The Vicereine called; she will be in town in two days with the Marquis!” Raph jumps to his feet, “We must announce it to the town! We must prepare for their entrance with flowers and thousands of jewels! There will be dancing and pardoning and the children will not have school! This is a wonderful day; this is a day to rejoice!”

Kara slowly backs away as the man continues to talk, and he jumps on top of the desk to dance from one end to the other. She finally reaches the doorway and flees back into the square. How could two people in one building believe that everything is wonderful when she saw an execution is the other square? How could anyone say that a city where no one seems to notice that they are alive is the happiest place on earth?

But she is not on earth; she is simply in a place, and it seems impossible for anyone to tell her where she is. There must be two versions of fairyland, and she must be in the worst one.

“Psst!” She jumps as a hand reaches up from a hole in between two cobblestones, “Psst! Girl outside! I can tell you where you are.” She gulps and bends down to look closer, “H-how did you know what I was thinking?” The hand grips the side of a cobblestone, “I didn’t, but you’re the first visitor who has been here in centuries.”

The hand pulls back and she bends down to press her eye against the open space, but it is too dark for her to see anything, “Who are you?” “I’m the last person who came here. Now I’m just like everyone else.” She catches sight of a dark shape and pulls back, “What happened here?”

“The same thing that happens everywhere else; or maybe it was something completely different. If you come and find me, I can help you get back home. But it won’t be easy.” She jumps, “I-I want to go back home. But- but how can I find you? You’re underground.”

The hand reaches back up and scratches against the cobblestones, “No, I’m in a prison. If you find me and break me out, I’ll take you back home. You’re world is my world too, and I have been waiting a long time for someone to come here.” She gulps, “I-I don’t-“ “I can’t tell you anything else right now. But I will once you find me.” The hand pulls back again and she drops to the ground to search for it. What if whoever it is can actually take her back home? She should at least try; breaking someone out of a prison in a city where everyone is sleepwalking should not be that hard.

She gets back to her feet and starts walking across the square; she just needs to find the prison. The streets are empty as she walks without knowing where she is going. The glowing sun is starting to dip below the horizon again as she heads toward the city gates. She shivers and wraps her arms around herself; but they are torn away from her body as someone grabs her and yanks a bag over her head.

She screams, but it is cut off as a knee hits her in the stomach. She looses track of her feet as she is hauled forwards and then down. Someone tosses her to the side and she hits a hard floor. The bag is yanked off of her head and a door shuts with a clang. Her face presses against a dirty blanket as she tries to stay as still as possible.

“So… it looks like it was pretty easy for you to find me; although, being caught wasn’t exactly the best idea.” The familiar voice pulls her to her feet, and she scowls as the small, suffocating room that she finds herself in, “I didn’t want to be caught.”

“Well, now you have been. You might as well try to make the best out of a bad situation. You might be here for centuries you know.” She draws herself up as high as possible, “People don’t live for centuries, and I don’t intend on spending my entire life in this box.” She stomps her foot on the ground for emphasis and winces at the pain.

The familiar voice laughs, “Time works differently around here. I was nineteen when I left my home, and I’ve been here for centuries but I’ve hardly aged. You spend a few days here and you realize that you might be able to live forever if they don’t kill you first. They’re paranoid about spies and you look a bit too much like one.”

Kara shivers, “I-I don’t like the idea of dying. I-I don’t want my head to be chopped off.” The voice is silent for a moment, “Well, you might not have much of a choice unless you can escape. I’ve tried every way that I can think of, but you might be able to have more success. Take me with you when you leave, will you?”

She nods even though she knows whoever it is cannot see her, “Wh-what is your name?” “I’m Ndidi, or Nee if you want to shorten it. Nice to meet you.” Kara shivers again and sinks against the wall, “Wh-what should I do?” Ndidi sighs, “Well, you need to find a way out… if you want to, of course. But I recommend trying. Wasting time easily becomes a habit around here; just ask me, I spent the entire morning reciting all of the names I know that start with the letter K. Does your name start with K? I’m getting tired of the list I have.”

She gulps, “Kara; My name’s Kara.” Ndidi sighs again, “Great, now I have another name to add to my list. Kara, Kara, Kara. No, I don’t think that I’ll forget your name anytime soon. That’s going to be a shame when you leave. I won’t be able to forget you no matter how hard I try… that’s another reason for you to take me with you. If you’re able to find a way to escape that is.”

She wraps her arms around herself, “Won’t they just let us go eventually?” “Humph, I’ve been here for centuries Kara; do you think that they’re planning on letting me go anytime soon? No, and that’s something that I can be sure of. Doubly sure, triply sure.”

She falls asleep when Ndidi does not say anything else, and she wakes up again with her teeth chattering, “N-Ndidi, a-are you still th-there?” Something rustles on the other side of the wall she is pressed against, “Where else would I be? Of course, I’m still here. What do you want?”

She swallows, “I-I think I might have an idea.” Ndidi snorts, “That’s good; you might want to get on with it though. The longer you stay here without doing anything, the easier it will be to stay forever.” She gets to her feet and shakes her head; she does not want to stay in a box forever. But the truth is that she does not have a plan. Maybe it would be easier if she did; but she already feels like she will never be able to see anything outside of her tiny dark box again. No one would even need to lock the door; she would be happy to stay right where she is until she keels over.

She shakes her head and walks to the door; it seems impossible that it would be open. But what if it is? What if she can simply walk out and find Ndidi and return home? What if there is a simple solution to everything, and fairyland truly is a happy place?

No, she is thinking of ridiculous things. The door could not be unlocked. But what if it is; oh, what if it is? She turns away from the door, before turning back and yanking on the handle. But it does not move no matter how hard she yanks on it. Perhaps she truly will be trapped forever.

She needs a way out more than she has ever needed anything else in her life. She needs a way out, and the door must open. It must. She grabs onto the doorknob and yanks back as hard as she can while she turns it; it must be open. It will be open. It has to be open.

She tumbles out of the room as hinges creak and the door cracks open. The hallway on the other side is dark and damp with old lights lining the walls and packed dirt forming the floor. She gulps as she rushes to the door on her left before she can wonder if it is open as well. She presses her face against the edge of the door, “Ndidi? Are you in there?” Ndidi sighs, “Where else would I be Kara?”

Her hands fumble as she yanks on the door and it slowly creaks open; bright eyes look back at her and Ndidi stumbles out of the room, “Ah, so you finally found a way out after all. I was wondering when you were planning on putting your idea to use. Come on, we need to get out of here before the alarm is turned on.” She gulps as the lights flicker and Ndidi grabs onto her hand, “Wh-what alarm?”

A sharp buzz cuts into the walls and Ndidi yanks her into a run, “That alarm. Come on- hurry! We need to get to the gate before morning if we want to get out of the city anytime in the next few days.”

She reluctantly follows. Ndidi yanks her down another hallway and up a flight of stairs that continues on and on until she can hardly feel her legs. Both of them are gasping for breath when they reach the top; and Ndidi yanks her onto a street and through a rough doorway, “Wait here for a moment Kara. I’ll be right back. This used to be my house, but I’m not sure what it looks like now.”

She gulps as Ndidi lets go of her. Something rustles, and she shivers as she wraps her arms around herself. A lamp flickers as Ndidi walks back to her with a burning candle, “Shh Kara, we need to be quiet. The person who is living here now is asleep upstairs; I’ll try to find some food and clothes for us, but we can’t spend the night.”

She opens to her mouth to ask where they will spend the rest of the night, but her words come out in a squeak as she sees Ndidi’s face. Thin iridescent scales line two thirds of Ndidi’s face and neck, before surrounding bright eyes with large pupils. Ndidi stares back at her, “I think I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like when people see me; but at least you haven’t started running away yet.”

She gulps and stumbles back a step, her shin bumps into something hard and a crash rings through the room. Ndidi grabs onto her arm and hauls her out of the house as they hear someone yell, “Who is there?” She can barely catch her breath before Ndidi is dragging her down the street and into a narrow alleyway to hide, “Well, it looks like we’ll have to steal food and clothes from a different place.”

She pulls away from Ndidi and gasps for breath, “Wh-what are you? You’re- you’re not human.” Ndidi shakes its head, “No, I’m not human. But I used to be a long time ago. You see, everything that has happened here has one very simple explanation. But you’re going to have to listen for a moment.”

She reluctantly nods in consent and moves closer to the wall, “If- if you show me how to get back home.” Ndidi nods again, “We have a deal. This place used to be fairyland; but a mean joker cursed it and now no one knows where they are.” She gulps and finds herself drawn forwards, “But you know how it happened right? You know how to fix it?”

Ndidi sighs, “No one knows how to fix it, and anyone who might was swallowed by the joker’s spell. As for me, I was here before fairyland was cursed. I went home for a few months; fairyland changed only a few weeks after I returned. I was normal until a few days before I was thrown in prison. I’m not sure what happened, but I know that this is what I’ll continue to be. You can imagine how the way I look now wouldn’t help me in a human world. There used to be so many strange people here that no one cared if I was different; but it seems that some things always end up changing. Soon fairyland will disappear forever.”

She clenches her fists and shakes her head, “But there must be a way to change it back. There must be a way to make sure that fairyland does not disappear.” Ndidi draws a long breath, “Well… maybe it would be possible for me to remember a way. I used to know much more than I do now. But you might not be able to return home; you’ll have to make a choice: either you decide that retuning home is the most important thing, or you decide to try to do something that no one has ever managed.”

She opens her mouth to answer, but she snaps it shut again as she realizes that she does not know what to say. Ndidi looks up at the sky, “You don’t have to decide right now; if there’s even a decision to make. Before we talk anymore; I haven’t been this hungry for a long time. And you look conspicuous in those clothes. I think I might have an idea of where we could steal what we need; just follow me and try to be quiet.”

She reluctantly follows Ndidi down the alleyway and from shadow to shadow. They creep forwards and she presses a hand over her heart to try and quiet it. What is she supposed to do? She wants to return home. Oh how much she wants to return home.

But fairyland should not be allowed to fade away; and what if she can save it? Will she give up on her own life to try and save fairyland?

Ndidi tells her to wait as they crouch underneath a windowsill. She hides her hands in her pockets as they shake; she is only ten years old, she should not have to make choices like this. How is she possibly supposed to decide what is important to her? She barely knows what she wants to do the next day.

She can plan things for years in the future; but she can barely decide what she wants to have for breakfast. She should not have to decide between returning home and trying to save fairyland. But… maybe she does not have to make a decision at all. Maybe it does not have anything to do with what is important to her. Maybe the only question is what is the right thing to do?

She stands up as Ndidi sneaks out of the house and tosses a dress to her, “Here; put this on.” Ndidi turns around as she yanks off her top layer of clothing and pulls on the patched dress; it hangs down to her ankles and swallows her in fabric. Ndidi nods with approval, “It’ll work, for now at least. Now we can work on getting you back home.”

She straightens up as far as she can, “I’m not going home.” Ndidi stops and narrows its eyes, “You want to stay? Even though you know that you might never be able to return home again?” She nods and clenches her hands, “I’m going to stay. And I don’t care what you say; I’m going to do the right thing. I want to save fairyland.”

Ndidi stares at her in silence for a moment before chuckling, “Well, it looks like you have more spirit than anyone else who’s come here. Alright, I’ll help you if I can.” Kara turns around as Ndidi changes into different clothes and tosses a cheese sandwich to her. She eats it in two bites and Ndidi grabs her hand, “Come on, I might have an idea; but we’ll have to move quickly because no one will ignore the fact that two prisoners escaped. Especially when one of those prisoners is a foreign girl.”

Kara gulps as Ndidi leads her down the streets and toward the gate. She gasps as Ndidi pulls her into a narrow building that is entirely filled with books. Books line the walls and form dusty piles on the floor; they climb up to the ceiling and cling to flimsy shelves. Her shoes become gray with fallen plaster as Ndidi leads her in between the mountainous stacks, “I think there might be something helpful here. If only I can find it.”

She starts coughing as they stop. Ndidi rummages through one of the piles, “It must be here somewhere; I know I hid something here a few centuries ago, or maybe it was the librarian. Either way, it must be here somewhere.” She covers her nose with one hand, “What are you looking for?”

Ndidi moves to the next pile and spreads the books across the floor, “A book; a book of magic to be exact.” Kara stifles another cough, “But I don’t know how to do magic.” Ndidi lets out a contented sigh and picks up a thin book with a blank cover, “You will soon enough.”

Ndidi grabs her arm and pulls her deeper into the building, “Magic is a matter of association. You might not know how to do spells; but fairyland was cursed with a spell and someone needs to do a spell to break it.” She gulps and skips to keep up with Ndidi, “So… you know which spell we need to use?”

Ndidi stops and motions her closer, “Not yet; in fact, I don’t even think that I can do whatever spell you need. You’re the one who wants to save fairyland; and you’re the one who will need to do the spell. I might be able to figure out what it is. But you should know that I’ve been a prisoner for centuries and I’ll probably be caught again. You can escape because people might not remember you and you’re small enough to hide. Either way, whoever does the spell must believe in it with every fiber of their mind.”

She gulps, “Otherwise… Otherwise it won’t work?” Ndidi flips through the book and holds it out to her, “You should keep this with you; it’s almost morning and I think they’ll be looking for us soon.” She wraps her hands around it, “I-I don’t know what to do with it.”

Ndidi sighs, “Bah, you know enough. And anything that you don’t know you’ll learn.” Ndidi grabs onto her arm again and leads her out of the building; she digs her feet into the ground, “You’re- you’re not leaving are you? You said you’d help me.” Ndidi shakes its head, “I’ve been here long enough to know that I can’t stay free; but you can. The prison’s a mind game, and you already have the makings of a magician. I can’t help you learn the spell you need because magic is between the person doing it and their beliefs.”

She gulps and shakes her head, “But… but I don’t know where to go.” Ndidi smiles a fish smile, ‘That’s easy, you need to go to the center of fairyland. That’s where magic is the strongest. Now, I need to go before they find us.” Ndidi turns to leave and she briefly wraps her arms around Ndidi’s scaly body. It seems strange that she would become attached to a fish-scaled human so quickly; but she feels entirely alone as Ndidi walks away and disappears behind the corner of a building.

She bites her lip and tightens her grip on the thin book. She did not think things through as well as she should have. She did not expect Ndidi to leave her alone without showing her how to save fairyland first. She stomps her foot on the ground; she does not know how to do magic. She does not even know what magic is.

She is a foreigner; she does not know what the center of fairyland is. She grits her teeth as she hides behind a trashcan and opens the thin book. Thin cursive fills the center of each page; the words are lopsided and close enough that they seem to string themselves together. Her face wrinkles as she stares at the open pages, “How am I possibly supposed to use this?”

She expects Ndidi to answer; and she snaps the book shut in the silence, “Right; I’ll just have to figure everything out on my own then.” She starts to throw the book away, before shoving it into a large pocket in the side of her stolen dress. Who knows when it might be helpful. She frowns as she starts walking and wishes that she had more to eat.

Someone said that Yureve is the best city of fairyland, but no one seems to notice where they are or even what they are doing. How can she possibly find the center of fairyland when she cannot ask anyone and expect an honest answer?

She scowls as she starts walking toward the gate and slips through. What is magic anyway? She starts walking down the asphalt road with the candy forest on her right. Maybe she should have simply decided to return home. But she is trying to do the right thing; and the right thing is always the best thing to do, right? It must be. She believes it is.

Her feet kick up dust as she walks, maybe there is no such thing as the right decision. Maybe it is impossible to do the right thing. Does it even matter? She steps off of the road and curls up at the base of a candy cane tree with the book on her lap. She takes a deep breath as she opens it; she still cannot make sense of the words, but the book seems to grow heavier and heavier. She gasps as it starts to expand across her lap.

The pages grow thicker and wider, until the book drips off of her knees and onto the ground. She flips it open as it stops growing and her eyes widen. The letters have entirely rearranged themselves; they crawl across the pages and grow darker as she reads the first line.

Once a long time ago in a place that is now forgotten, there grew a tree; it had lived for a hundred years in the solitude of a deep meadow.

She moves to the next line, but the words fade before she can read them and the book snaps shut. It shrinks back to its tiny size; and she shoves it back into her pocket. What she is doing? What if she is looking for a tree? What if the center of fairyland does not exist? And how is she possibly supposed to use magic from a book that will not let her read it? She starts walking again and tries not to think about the life that she has left behind.

She cannot go back; or perhaps she can. But she truly wants to do the right thing. And the right thing is saving fairyland. If only she knew how. There must be a way… Ndidi said that she might be able to become a magician, and she most certainly needs to be one now. But how can anyone become a magician? She does not want to stay in this messed up version of fairyland forever.

Ndidi said that he had been in prison for centuries; how much time has passed since the woman in white brought her to fairyland? Is time the same in both places? And what if- what if it is not? What will happen when she returns home? But maybe she will never return home; maybe she is at the end of everything.

She lifts her chin as she continues to walk; no, she will find a way to save fairyland and she will find a way back home. She must. And anyone who tells her it is impossible is lying. They must be; otherwise she will not know what to believe in.

Ndidi told her that most of magic is belief; perhaps she truly can save fairyland if she learns quickly. But what is she supposed to believe in? And how is she possibly supposed to come up with a spell? Spells are supposed to be words that hold meaning, but she does not know the right words. She clenches her hands tighter, she will simply have to come up with the best thing that she can. Her feet ache as the sun starts to rise.

The problems that she used to complain about seem small compared to what is in front of her; and perhaps that is the point. Everything that you think is irrelevant becomes important when it is gone. Oh, how she wishes that she was not alone. If wishes are magic, maybe they can come true.

But wishes are still wishes; and she still does not know what magic is. She shakes her head, “I will figure this out. I will!” She stomps her feet on the ground, “And no one is going to stop me!” She expects someone to respond, but the road is silent. She shivers as she starts walking again and closes her eyes. She needs to find a way to the center of fairyland.

She starts to fall asleep as she walks and the sun dips toward the horizon. She stops as she thinks of the woman in white, “I would do anything to get to the center of fairyland.” She waits for a moment, but the woman in white does not come. It should work. She should carry me off and grant me my wish.

But Kara is still alone. She scowls as she starts walking again and pulls the book out of her pocket to wrap her arms around it, “I’m going to the center of fairyland!” She wraps those words around herself as though they are the only thing that can keep her alive. I will I will I will.

She stumbles backwards as dust gathers around her feet. A shriek is sucked out of her lungs as she is swept off of the ground and surrounded by a swirling cloud of dust. She gasps as she hits the ground and the dust sweeps away from her.

Dull grass buries itself in her clothes as she stands up and tries to brush the dirt off of herself. She stops as she realizes that she is standing in a meadow; maybe there is such a thing as magic. Or maybe she is simply dreaming… but she does not remember falling asleep. She was wishing that she would end up in the center of fairyland.

Maybe… maybe she truly is in the center of fairyland. Thorn bushes ring the center of the meadow in a thick dome. Kara gulps as she moves toward them and pulls at the first of the thorns. It reluctantly snaps off, and she drops it on the ground as she reaches for the next one.

Her hands are bloody and scratched by the time she finishes clearing a small tunnel through the thorns. She crawls to the center on her hands and knees and stops at the edge of a green pond. Leaves float across the top as she stands up and gapes at the tree that rises up from the center of the murky water.

Is this the center of fairyland? Does everything turn back to a tree? She shivers and wraps her arms around herself; what am I supposed to do? She walks to the very edge of the pond as she realizes that she wants to see what fairyland used to be like more than she thought. She already decided that she does not need to return home; will she have to make another impossible decision?

She wants to return home; but she is willing to let that go. She wants to do the right thing, but what is the right thing? Would she do anything to save fairyland if she could? Yes, she would; and that has to be the right thing. It has to be. But she does not know the right spell. She does not know any spells at all.

If a wish brought her to the center of fairyland, is a spell the same thing as a wish? She bites her tongue, I want fairyland to come back. She wants for something, anything, to happen. But the dome stays the same. Can she return home if she decides to? But she has to try her best to save fairyland; even if it is because she told Ndidi that she wanted to. And she meant it. Oh, she meant it more than she has meant most of the things that she has said in her life.

She cannot help but feel like she owes Ndidi more than she knows; and maybe saving fairyland will help Ndidi and everyone else be free. And maybe, just maybe, she will be able to return home.

But she still does not have a spell. And she cannot guess; or perhaps she can… perhaps she has the right to try. She clenches her hands and tries to dig her feet into the ground, “I want fairyland to come back because everyone here should be able to control their own lives and make their own choices-“ She stops and shakes her head; a spell is not the same thing as a reason.

She clenches her hands tighter, “Fairyland needs to come back. I’ll stay here forever if it’ll make fairyland come back; and maybe… maybe I’ll stop hoping that I can return home. If I’m willing to leave everything I used to know behind to bring back fairyland, fairyland can’t stay away. It has to come back. It has to.”

She breaks into tears and covers her face with her hands. She does not know what she is doing; how is she possibly supposed to come up with a spell? She is alone and she does not know what is going to happen; and the future seems to be the only thing that matters.

She needs a spell. And she needs one now. And then she will find a way to ask the woman in white to take her back home, and then… No, she should not think about what might not happen. She needs a spell. She needs a spell more than she has ever needed anything before. Everything else is irrelevant; it does not matter if she cannot return home, how could fairyland possibly become such a horrible place?

Fairyland is not supposed to have a prison underneath its streets. And fairyland is most certainly not supposed to have executions where everyone claps and returns to their sleepwalking chores without thinking. That is not a fairyland. And she wants the real fairyland back!

Her tears turn into sobs and she stomps her feet on the ground, “It’s not fair! It’s not fair at all!”

“Kara! Kara, you did it!” Kara jumps as the voice and peels her hands away from her face as she turns around. The woman in white smiles at her from the other side of a small thorn bush, “You did it Kara; you managed to change fairyland back. Everyone will have to find their way again, but now they have the choice to do so.”

Kara swallows and shakes her head, “B-but how? I-I just wished.” The woman in white’s smile turns into a grin, “A wish is more powerful than you know Kara. Now, do you want me to take you home?”

Kara nods and looks over at her shoulder at the tree before accepting the woman’s offered hand, “Yes; yes I want to go home. B-but will I be able to return again?” The woman in white nods, “You will have to decide. But that is not a matter for today; go home Kara, and decide what you will do from there.”

The woman in white leans closer as they are swept off of the ground, “Everyone has a choice you know.”

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