The girl sang while she worked. Not any particular song, but just words that she strung together herself like pearls on a necklace. She had always enjoyed singing, but never did so around others, only when she was alone.
Once she had sung in front of the mother at the orphanage. That was the first layer of scars on her little palms. But now, there was no one to berate her, no one to hurt her. So the words flowed out of her mouth like water through a stream, crystal clear and life-giving.
She had decided to try to make herself a house in the grove of fruit trees. At first, she simply lay a pile of sticks against a tree, but she soon figured out that it was not a good idea. Then she tried leaning sticks against each other, forming a triangular shape she could crawl under, but that too did not work very well.
But, as the girl sang and worked, she noticed something peculiar. The trees around her seemed to be bending downwards, for now, she could reach the low hanging fruit. Likewise, the vines and ferns and toadstools that made up the forest she was in had begun to creep around her.
She paused in her singing a moment and looked around. The short smiling creatures had stuck around, they all crowded around her, some bringing her sticks to add to her house, others bringing her more fruit, but there were other animals too. The deer with the too fine necks had come to watch her, so too had a couple of the stubby mushroom men. Also, there were large turtles with houses on their backs that tiny mice scurried in and out of and birds with long draping feathers that flowed behind them as they flew. And beings made entirely of light. And even a few dogs as black as pitch with eyes that glowed brightly as if they were ignited by flames that seemed oddly familiar.
They all watched her.
She turned back to her pitiful little house and began to sing again, but this time she imagined what she wanted it to look like, she imagined what she wanted the vines and the trees to do. She sang with all of the happiness she felt and, to her delight, the plants obeyed.
The vines grew up and around the sticks she had collected, holding them in place. The trees bent and twisted together, joining up to the vines and sticks, forming a roof. Soon she had a living house, made entirely of the plants of the forest.
She jumped for joy at the magic she had done. She went inside her little home and lay down on the bed of moss that had been made for her. The ivy vines that flowered with tiny blue stars twinkled with a dim light and it made her green home look like the night sky. Her ceiling was decorated with the multitude of fruits from the tree and the whole thing just made her want to burst with joy.
As she lay on her mossy bed, she thought of the children still left at the orphanage. If only they could see her now. They had been so cruel to her over the years, but surprisingly, she held no anger towards them. They were children just like herself. With no family or home to call their own, having never been shown love, how could anyone expect them to show love themselves?
She sat up, reaching to her ceiling to pick a piece of fruit, one of the purple kind, and as she ate it she wished she could share it with those sad children. The ones that were like herself. The ones that didn’t belong. The sad ones. The lonely and the weak and the unloved. The ones that went through their lives like they were no more than shadows.
There were no shadows in this place. If the children came here with her they could be happy too.
The girl picked apart the purple skinned fruit, its flesh was creamy-white and had a soft fibrous consistency, similar to sweet bread. She lay her head back down on the pillow and thought about how lucky she was. How brave she was to escape.
She must have drifted off to sleep for a time. Sleep used to be such a frightening thing, full of unknowns and nightmares and untrustworthies skulking about the orphanage at night.
Sometimes at the orphanage, children would die in their sleep, the little ones mostly. They would go to bed and just never wake up.
Some children would cry out and scream in their sleep. Night terrors the sisters called it. The girl even remembered, once or twice or maybe more, children disappearing. They would be in their beds after supper and then when the girl awoke, their beds would be empty. No one would speak of them again as if they had never even existed and the girl had just imagined them.
As she lay in a half sleep, half waking moment, she wondered if that is how the other children felt about her.
Sleep was such an easy thing now, as natural as breathing or eating. She would simply lay down and close her eyes and sleep would come.
But as she lay on her mossy bed, fruit in hand but almost dropping it to the floor, she thought she must be dreaming, for, in the doorway of her new tree home, she could see the shape of the dragon lady.
But, even though she had seen some strange things in this place, she knew that dragons definitely did not exist. She had to have been dreaming. This creature was too beautiful to be real.
The girl felt so sleepy. She could barely open her eyes, but every time she managed to open them just a crack the dragon lady with bright green scales and ebony horns curling from the top of her head, her long elegant face and fire hair, was still standing at the door.
Just as she started to think that maybe this was not a dream at all, the girl heard a deep growl and the dragon lady turned and fled, forked tail cracking the air like a whip.
The noise of the growl startled the girl and she sprang up from her mossy bed. If the dragon lady had been real she was gone, but in her place stood a tremendous black dog. It was similar to those that had been watching her work but easily four times the size.
Even with its head lowered, it still towered over the girl. Its fiery eyes glowed brightly in the dim light of inside and it walked towards the girl slowly.
The girl stumbled backward onto her bed and backed up onto the wall. There was nowhere she could run to. The doorway was completely blocked by the massive bulk of the animal.
All the girl could do was close her eyes and pray that her death would be quick.