“And so, he began the long trek to find someone who he could love and who could love him back.”
I close the book and sigh. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it over and over. It’s my favourite one. It’s about a lonely, cursed prince who tries to find someone who’ll love him. The end of the book is the beginning of a long journey he is about to take, but there is no more afterwards. I always long for more.
I reach up and put the book back in its spot on the shelf. My bedroom is crammed with bookshelves full of books. I love reading very, very much. Especially fantasy novels and fairy tales, because they let me escape into a different world. I would love to read all day. Or even better, go to the fantasy worlds in the pages of those books and live there forever. But I can’t.
I sigh again. It’s Monday morning. The start of another dreary week of school. I plod down the hallway and into the kitchen, then grab a piece of bread from the fridge and put it into the toaster. My mum is just stepping out of the front door, about to leave for work. She sees me and turns around.
“Be good at school, ok, Sophia?”
“Yeah, ok, Mum. Love you.” The bread pops out of the toaster. I take out a block of butter from the fridge and begin to spread it on the toast. Patches of butter melt into golden puddles, which are quickly absorbed by the crispy warm bread.
“Take your umbrella when you walk. The weather forecast said it’d rain this morning.”
Mum waves. I wave back. She shuts the front door behind her, gets into the car parked in the driveway and drives off. I crunch through my toast quickly then take my lunchbox from its place in the pantry and put in a packet of biscuits and a sandwich.
I head back to my room. My dad is in the study beside it, tapping away at a keyboard with two computer screens filled with code staring at him. He works from home, so he doesn’t have to bother with getting to and from school/work everyday like the rest of us do. I also have a younger brother, who goes to the same school as me. I haven’t seen him at all this morning; he’s going to be late if he doesn’t hurry up. But that’s not my business.
“Morning, Dad,” I call out as I walk by.
He turns around and waves. “Morning, darling.”
A pile of tattered textbooks sits on my desk. I pick them up and stuff them into my schoolbag. I hate textbooks; filled with facts and no space for imagination at all. I put my lunchbox in as well then head back down the hallway.
A chilly wind caresses my body when I step out the front door, making me shiver. The sky is dark and overcast, filled with fat grey clouds that promise rain. I close the door behind me and open up my umbrella. I hunch under it and watch the pavement under my feet as I walk. The concrete is cracked, little shoots of withered yellow grass growing out of them. Streaks of mud run down the slight slope of the driveway.
I reach the end of the driveway and turn into the street. The drain on the side of the road is clogged with all sorts of debris, from cigarette butts to unidentifiable pieces of plastic. Acrid water from last night’s rain swirls sluggishly around the rubbish. A lone car roars down the street, sending up a little spray of brown sludge. Puddles of mud lie on all surfaces. The small brown leaves of the widely spaced trees that line the street droop and drip water.
I reach the mouth of my street and emerge out onto the main road. It’s louder here than on the street, with cars swooshing past in both directions. The first drops of rain come down, pattering onto my umbrella. I hold it closer to my head and shiver. But as I reach the traffic lights that lead to the other side of the road where my school sits, I notice that something seems to be not quite right. Though it is raining harder now, the air around me seems to be not so drearily grey, but lighter and fresher. The pavement seems to be glowing. I raise my head and squint in confusion. Descending from the sky are little pink and purple droplets of something that glows with ethereal light. It doesn’t seem to be rain. I squint harder and realise the droplets are –
They could not be taller than a fingernail. Skin all shades of tan, from white as snow to yellow as sand to black as ebony, with skirts made of tiny petals of either pink or purple that expose much of their thighs and match the colour of their eyes and hair. Each one holds a tiny wand that sparkles with ethereal brilliance. One lands on the tip of my finger. I stare at it in wonder. Snowy skin, eyes shiny like amethysts, untied lavender hair that flows down her back in waves, skirt made of tiny lilac petals. She waves her wand and all the freckles and scars on my hand disappear, baby skin in their place. She waves her wand again and I feel all the pimples of puberty vanish from my face.
Meanwhile, more fairies float down from the sky. They land on everything: the houses, the trees, the pavement, the cars, other pedestrians. Some do not land at all, but continue to float and fly. They wave their wands and rays of white light streak out. They suck away all the dust and grey and make the air clean once more. Overhead, the clouds part to reveal a stunning blue sky that I haven’t seen for a very long time. Radiant sunlight gushes down onto the land. The clogged drains on the side of the road turn into glittering streams filled with clear, sparkling water and tiny fish.
All around me, pedestrians and car drivers alike have stopped in their tracks, staring up at the sky with mouths agape. The fairy on my fingertip smiles up at me and flies off. I gape after it in fascination and awe.
After the fairies come flying unicorns. Dazzlingly white fur that glows with ethereal light. Seeds shower down from their huge green wings and land on the pavement, the road, the cars, the houses, me. Trees and grass sprout up before my eyes and flowers erupt on every surface. Vines shoot up and over the road, creating a green tunnel. The traffic light poles morph into trees and the lights transform into giant flowers.
A thought crosses my mind. Might something be happening to my books back home? I turn on my heel and start running back the way I came. The road is covered in soft, ankle-high grass that is like a velvet carpet underfoot. It is lined on either side with streams and tall leafy trees. The houses look cosier, like cottages. The front yards I run past are all filled with many types of colourful flowers and pink and purple toadstools. More flying unicorns sprinkle more seeds across the land while others fan the trees and grass, prompting them to grow even faster. Some have landed while others continue to fly. Fairies continue to float down from the sky in a glittering rain.
I reach my house. Two gingerbread men stands on either side, who bow and smile as I approach. I smile back in wonderment then hastily unlock the front door and barge inside.
My little brother is standing beside the doorway, rubbing his eyes in bewilderment and peering at the scene outside through the window next to the door.
“What’s happening, sis?” he asks.
“I don’t know, but I’m loving it!” I yell over my shoulder as I race down the hallway and burst into my room.
Fairies have opened the window and are streaming inside. They land on every surface: my bed, the desk, the bookshelves, the books. They wave their wands and my favourite characters start emerging from the books. A girl in a flowing green dress with long wavy brown hair and hazel eyes climbs out of a book in one of the bottom shelves. She gives me a hug then sits down on my bed. I recognise her as the princess of one of my fairy tales. An old witch with a hunched back and misty eyes totters out of one of the middle shelves. She smiles at me through her crooked teeth then hobbles out of my room towards the kitchen. Three cats, black, grey and white, leap out of the top shelf. They jump onto my bed and curl there contentedly. A whole tribe of squirrels leaps down after them and run around my feet, squeaking loudly. A fat rabbit with floppy ears waddles out of the bottom shelf and plops itself down in front of me. He begins to nibble my toes.
My room is full to the brim. I stare at the characters in wonder and disbelief. I reach down and pat the rabbit. His chocolate brown fur is smooth and sleek under my fingers. He nibbles my hand in response. I turn around to look at the girl in the green dress. She has taken a book from one of the shelves and is reading it in concentration. On sensing me watching her, she looks up and smiles sweetly at me before going back to the book.
Sunshine streams in through the window on the wall beside my bed. I lean across it to look outside. The fairy rain is just as heavy as before. I smile. How wrong the weather forecast was. The fairies already here have gathered on toadstools and trees and are building tiny cottages using twigs and leaves, presumably for them to live in.
I turn back around and there is a handsome prince standing in front of me. Chiselled cheekbones, startlingly blue eyes shiny and bright as ice, trussed up brown hair that sticks in all directions. My heart almost stops beating. He is even more beautiful than what I imagined from the words on the page. He extends his hand with a small smile and my heart swoops.
Just as I am about to take it, a beeping noise reaches my ears. It starts to tug me out of the warm fairy tale world I have found myself in. I resist furiously, trying to stay put even as all the characters in the room, including my prince, take on a ghostly look and become pale and see-through. Then my eyes open.
I am lying in bed. The room is dim. On the desk beside my bed, the alarm clock is beeping. I extend a hand and shut it off. The prince has vanished, as have all the other fairy tale characters. My books stand still and silent upon the shelves, the worlds and people within them confined to the pages once more. Outside, the sky is once more grey and overcast with no sign of blue to be seen. The backyard is devoid of life except for yellow, short-cropped grass and a sad crow pecking around. The air is polluted and grey. Everything is back to normal.
I sigh and get out of bed. The start of another normal day. The warmth of the dream lingers, but it rapidly leaks away, like warm water trickling from cupped hands, the coldness of reality taking its place. The yearning in my heart calls out stronger and more unbearable than ever before. I sigh in frustration and longing.
How I wish it wasn’t only a dream.