THE QUEEN OF MAKE-BELIEVE (TEASER)

Dalia Sols has known Elsie’s House for Girls for all 15 years of her existence; it’s all she remembers. But who says what she remembers is real?

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Natalie McLaren

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Natalie McLaren, Eyes on Owls Section Editor

An eerily silent night in a dark forest. A soft wind blew through the brush of life rustling the leaves on the trees and the grass on the ground. A vibrant blue moon illuminated the woodland in the dead of the evening, refracting off of bushes and greenery to form unique light formations on the forest floor. The sky held a million stars, all of different shapes and sizes, watching over the area as time ticked on. The peace of the forest could not be replicated in the slightest, not even if one tried. The wildlife slept soundly in the forest, and the stillness of the woodland held anticipation of the unknown in its leafy fingers. But as the suspense increased, no movement followed. The woods were waiting for something, something big.

The tiniest crinkle of a leaf disrupted the quiet. The blades of grass lifted in survey and the trunks of the trees delicately turned to where the sound had come from. There were no more crinkles, no more leaves being pressed into the ground. The grass and woods resumed their places and relaxed at the returned silence.

Only to be interrupted again by a single breath.

Then another crinkle. The leaves were rustling in small talk, the blades of grass rising in uniform like a formation of well-trained soldiers. The forest was most certainly awake now. There would be no slumber until the intruder was taken care of.

The wind even paused in its pursuit through the greenery. Something had happened. Things were not the same as they were moments earlier.

Someone was there.

A flash of light. A figure had appeared amidst the trees. Cloaked in shimmering silver, the figure was still before the wood. The whole forest had gone still again but in shock. The figure lifted its head to the night to reveal their identity.

This figure was a woman.

The woman, with silvery blonde hair in a crown braid, fluttered her eyes at the forest around her. Her expression was dainty and wise, and years of wisdom hid behind her stormy gray eyes. Her lips were thin but shiny, and her skin was white as snow and softer than the lightest feather. The woman stood up straighter and held her round chin up to the moon, slightly lifting her arms to the side. A warm smile radiated through her face as she basked in the night light. One could notice that the silver she was cloaked in was a gown of some sort, the loose sleeves sparkling in the forest as they reached the tips of her wrists, sending the already unique lighting in the forest into even more diverse patterns than before. The bodice was slightly pleated at the neckline, and the skirt didn’t quite touch the forest floor. She stayed a few moments in that position before returning to an upright posture. And so, she started to gently walk.

As she strolled slowly but with purpose through the forest, the trees bent out of the way to clear a path, and the blades of grass almost bowed in reverence to her. The whole forest seemed to honor her very presence as she moved ever so gracefully through the woods. The moon subtly followed her like a spotlight. The fluidity of her body set the wind at peace and it rippled through the trees to swirl at the woman’s feet as she moved. The woman stopped moving for a second to bend down and let her hand touch the light gust. The breeze licked her palms and sent a whirl up her sleeves. A melodic sound came floating out of her mouth and into the forest but didn’t echo despite its volume. The forest seemed to like the sound because the leaves relaxed and the blades of grass started to gently sway. The wind started to whistle back to the trees to resume its path while the woman stood up again and continued to move through the forest.

She stopped under a clearing in the trees, holding a single willow tree standing ever so still in the night. Although there was a gentle breeze blowing through the rest of the forest, it stopped at the willow tree, and even the grass and leaves didn’t dare move. There stood a petite bench fit for two directly under the covering of brush from the willow tree, and the woman gracefully moved to sit. Once she was sitting, she swayed and hummed softly into the night. She closed her eyes and the forest moved with her as she relaxed in the night air.

A sudden crackle of grass, louder than each of the woman’s steps. The woman was clearly rattled as the crackles of the grass continued as forceful clomps got louder and rose above the gentle hum of the forest. The woman opened her eyes slightly and opened them farther as she noticed who was in front of her.

A man cloaked in blood-red armor stood fiercely before the woman seated at the bench. She rose in greeting. His piercing blue eyes had a purpose as they stared into the woman’s soul. The woman’s gaze went from utterly peaceful to disturbed and taken back. This man was here for a reason and wouldn’t leave without some sort of action.

The humming of the forest quieted until silent and the greenery stilled in their motion as the stare-down between the man and woman continued. Once the forest was still, the man spoke.

“You know why I am here, Fleurette.”

The man’s voice was coarse and rough, and it was in high contrast to the rest of his surroundings. The woman called Fleurette stiffened at the sound of her name.

“I do.” Her voice was soft and gentle, just like the rest of her. There was a slight shake to her tone, but it wasn’t noticeable to most. However, the man picked up on it.

“Ma cherie, I know this is hard, but we must. She cannot live like this any longer.”

Fleurette did not speak. The endearment left a flash of warmth in her pupils, but it faded as quickly as it had arisen. She stared into the man’s eyes with a blank look. She opened her mouth to respond, but it was unexpected.

“You must understand, Kino, I am nervous to do anything, you know we shouldn’t have had her, she isn’t like her brother.”

“No, but she is a gift to us, and you know that. We love her to pieces, and we would be hurting her if we kept her identity concealed.”

Fleurette was still before the man called Kino. Her body started to softly shake, and Fleurette crumpled to the bench. Kino gently walked over to her, sitting down next to her and wrapping her in an embrace. At his touch, she leaned into his strong arms, and time stopped long enough for the crystal clear affection to come breaking through the grief shared between the two lovers. When Fleurette and Kino parted, there were tears in her eyes and Kino kept an arm around her as she lightly wept. He gently kissed her forehead and hugged her close.

“You know it is the right thing to do.” Fleurette nodded between soft sniffles.

“I do, but it doesn’t make it easier.” Kino smiled grimly.

“No, it does not. You’re looking at what will happen to her when her true identity is revealed. It will change everything.” Fleurette sadly smiled up at him and nestled into the crook of Kino’s arm.

“Our shining child,” Fleurette said, clearly distressed.

“She is strong, ma cherie. She is very strong. 15 years of strength, grit, and beauty. She will do just fine. We will help her.” Kino’s lips brushed Fleurette’s forehead again. “And she will help us.” That made Fleurette smile.

“That is the hope.” She replied plainly. Kino rose, removing his arm from around Fleurette. She looked so small on the bench without him there, and she seemed to be silently pleading with him to stay.

“You know I cannot, Fleurette.” She nodded and used a sleeve to wipe away her tears. She rose to see him off. Kino kissed Fleurette on the lips and parted slightly to whisper something only audible to the attentive listeners.

“I am counting the seconds until we can be together again. How I long to be with you for eternity, ma cherie.”

Fleurette smiled. “And me as well Kino. You will always be the person I long for, day and night.” Kino couldn’t help himself. He swept Fleurette off her feet literally, and twirled her around in the air, before putting her down on the forest floor gently. With that, he blew her a kiss and clomped off into the distance before disappearing into the woodland. There was a spark of joy still left with Fleurette, even after he left. She giggled to herself and the forest rustled in small talk again. And as subtly as she left, her glistening image faded back into the night, and the forest was left to return to slumber.