A short story, in honor of Halloween... Written for English, so it's probably a bit out of my style.
Wanderings, Wonderings, and Wishes
The Story of CharlotteWhen Charlie was five years old, she discovered, to her intense dissatisfaction, that she was, in fact, not like most girls her age.
Take recess, for example. When the other girls were playing ponies or running away from a boy, shrieking and giggling wildly, Charlie would be sitting on a lovely, squishy patch of clover beside a large fountain overflowing with water and choking on thousands of shimmering pennies.
The fountain was quite possibly Charlie's favorite part of school, not because it was grand or ornate or any such things, but because of the hundreds of thousands of wishes it held. When she was sure no one was looking – which no one ever was, of course – she would dip her hand in the not-quite-sanitary water and let the dreams of so many people dance around her fingertips.
So she sat beside her fountain, with its pennies and wishes and time-less-ness, and wondered about many things. One of her favorite subjects was Ms. Tripp.
Charlie's teacher was a young woman – around thirty, she supposed – who always seemed to be smiling, vividly white teeth between bright red lips. Most of the girls in class simply adored Ms. Tripp; she had long, golden hair and a bright, always excited voice that rarely had an angry tone. Charlie, however, simply could not find it in her five year old heart to like the woman at all, and this made the girl curious.
Of course, there were plenty of people she didn't like – the class clown, Robert, for example – but she had reasons for disliking these people. As for Ms. Tripp, Charlie could only assume it had something to do with the way she drummed her fake, bright red nails on Charlie's desk when she walked by, or the way she always seemed to ignore Charlie if she ever got up the courage to raise her hand in class – although it must be granted that she did, in fact, sit in the very back of the room.
Some days, Charlie would wonder about Skitten. These were days that the tiny black cat with large, understanding eyes and a little slip of a pink tongue would keep her company by the fountain, often curling up by Charlie's knee and taking a leisurely nap in the afternoon sun's generous supply of heat. The kitten had been coming every so often for as long as Charlie could remember, though perhaps not always during recess, and she felt a certain profound affection for the small creature, no doubt a stray, taking refuge in the only quiet part of the playground.
Watching Skitten with a vague fondness and reaching over to softly stroke the animal between its ears, she wondered about its life outside of recess – if it had other friends somewhere, or maybe another favorite place to nap. She wondered if it felt the same comfortable, strange sensation of contentedness as she did when they sat together by the fountain. She wondered if it knew that it was lapping up the dreams of generations when it jumped lightly onto the fountain's wall for a quick drink.
There were other days when she wandered in her wondering, skipping from subject to subject like some daydream dancer. Often brought about by a curious discovery in some book or another, these were, perhaps, the best days of all, because these were the days when she found new things. Charlie, with all the curiosity of a newborn and all the determination of a scholar, loved to discover, to learn, to really think about a question and then find the answer, or to look at her answer and appoint a question.
Yet, in spite of her fervent love of reading and discovering, it was several years after she had entered school before she saw the word "family," and wondered what it meant. The concept was strange, in Charlie's opinion; to have people that you spent almost all of your time with, parents to give you things and siblings to argue with, grandparents to see on holidays and cousins to claim as best friends. It seemed to Charlie to be a small universe built within these people – "relatives," the books said, in their friendly and never-condescending manner – where not only were you noticed, accepted, and cared for, but where you were "loved" – another unfamiliar word that she somehow knew the meaning of, even though she could not recall ever studying it before – in spite of your shortcomings, even because of your shortcomings. With a deep sigh of wistfulness, Charlie spent the weeks following her discovery thinking about this wonderful, marvelous word, representation of a facet in life she didn't have.
Of course, it was only a matter of time before Charlie began to wonder that beautiful, never-answered question, why? Now that she knew the word for it, she could find little bits of family everywhere. The women who came to pick up some of her classmates after school, the men who came to read to the class sometimes, the students who resembled each other and spent countless hours fighting over silly little things – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters; the more Charlie unearthed from her books about families, the more she realized that everyone seemed to possess this glorious idea except her. Did she have a family somewhere, too, waiting for her to come home, wondering where she's been, worried and talking weekly to the policeman in charge of searching for her? And if so, where could they be, and how did she manage to lose them in the first place?
These questions puzzled Charlie, and very soon, she refused to wonder about anything else. The girl became obsessed, and started staying out by her fountain past recess and past the time when everyone went home, falling asleep with one finger dipped barely into the fountain's dream-filled depths and another holding Skitten close to her – the kitten had begun to spend most of her time by the fountain, as well, or maybe she never left the fountain at all, and had just been waiting for Charlie to do the same.
It was while she slept, in an awkward, half-sitting position that she found most comfortable, that Charlie began to see flashes of things; shiny, decorated boxes, topped with ribbons and bows, was the first. It was soon followed by a tree covered with lights and tinsel, a large field blanketed in fresh snow, a small house nestled comfortably at the very edge of a great forest, a room with green and purple walls, a soft, small bed adorned lavishly with pillows, dark red hair pulled into a messy bun, brown eyes twinkling merrily. Charlie would wake confused, heart beating wildly, painfully, as if to escape her ribcage and fly back to the dreams that had awakened it – it was the first time she ever noticed the presence of her heart.
Soon, she found herself falling into waking dreams where she could smell something sweet baking, taste the sharp tang of lemonade, hear a clear voice singing a softly beautiful song, feel a large hand grasping her own comfortingly. Somehow these daydreams were even more intense than the nightdreams, and she would come to with a start, often finding tears slipping silently, mournfully down her cheeks and into Skitten's fur.
Before long Charlie could piece together a life from her visions. They had lived somewhere far from here, in a tiny but comfortable house just big enough for two and a half people, with a backyard that never ended. Her mother was a tall, self-assured woman, with a voice that Charlie thought an angel must have given her, who was always talking, explaining and questioning, painting pictures with her words, sometimes slipping into a cheerful melody, and other times falling into a secretive whisper. Her father was even taller, with a low voice and a charming smile, always taking Charlie to new places and making her try new things on her own, standing in the background supportively, holding her mother's hand.
Her obsession reached new heights, and whenever Charlie found herself awake – which was becoming less and less often – she would sneak into the school's library, grabbing as many books as her small arms could carry and rushing back out to her fountain to read-read-read all that she could about families, missing and lonely children, anything that might tell her why she was here, beside a fountain brimming with wishes, her only friend a kitten – who had been in her dreams, as well, just as small as ever and even smaller, a playmate in place of the sibling she knew she would never get – anything to that might explain why she wasn't there, in the small house with her small family in an always getting bigger world.
One morning when the sun shone brightly, even as ominous black clouds shot across the sky and gusts of wind whipped her hair into her eyes, driving Skitten to crouch warily beside her, claws extended and hair raised, Charlie awoke to discover that her fountain had been emptied of its shiny, copper wishes and a sign reading
ALL DONATIONS GO TO SUPPORTING RESEARCH OF
Charlie didn't bother to read the rest of the sign, instead staring into the now dull, clouded water in confusion. Why would they take the dreams of so many people away? It seemed a strange and pointless idea, to put this fountain here for collecting and storing penny-wishes, only to come and empty it out one morning with no warning.
Suddenly, a thought occurred to Charlie. Perhaps – the words flew through her head, her heart pounding frantically with new-found hope – perhaps they had taken the dreams to be made real, the wishes to be granted, the prayers to be answered. Perhaps they were not stealing away the pennies, but empowering them, instilling them with a bit more magic, and returning them to their owners in the form of that new toy, that scholarship, that perfect job, that or this or another happiness. Perhaps there was a chance...
Her eyes danced, skipping and doubling-back and racing off again, searching-searching-searching for – There! A bit of shine, caught in the last few sun-rays before the great star accepted its defeat at the hand of the heavy, dark clouds that loomed silently overhead, now completely obscuring the sky. The first droplet of water landed on Charlie's cheek, coldly sliding across her cheek, and she knew she had to do it now.
Skitten meowed loudly and worriedly, digging its claws into her shirt and the skin beneath it. Charlie hissed in pain and quickly pulled the kitten off, ignoring its now almost-screaming cries and setting it on the ground by the fountain. She took off across the playground, sliding the last few steps and blinking tears or rain or something else out of her eyes and falling to her knees, digging in the pebbles and finally grasping it – a cold, shiny bit of silver. She frowned, thinking quickly and glancing around once more as lightening flashed overhead, before deciding that a dime would work as well anything in holding her wish, surely.
Scrambling to her feet and clutching her hope in both hands against her beating-beating-beating heart, Charlie raced back to the fountain, dodging wildly flying swings with no passengers, stumbling over branches and pits that reached greedily to pull her down. She paused for a moment when she realized that Skitten was no longer there, waiting for her, but decided that the tiny creature must have taken refuge under a nearby tree, and that she would find her in a minute.
She turned around, putting her back to the fountain as she had seen countless wishers do, and closed her eyes tightly, wishing-hoping-praying-wishing-hoping-praying as her heart beat an unsteady and frenzied rhythm against her ribs. Finally, with a deep breath, she tossed the bit of shiny wish-hope-prayer over her shoulder.The next morning, on her day off, a tired but curious Ms. Tripp drove out to the elementary school an hour or two after sunrise.
The storm had certainly taken its toll. The jungle gym was mangled, swings hung half off of their sets – even a few of the classroom windows had been shattered by flying debris. She glanced over to the edge of the campus, where it was no longer playground so much as empty grass that desperately needed to be cut,, now filled with broken branches no doubt torn off a nearby tree by the severe wind of yesterday's tornado. Finally, her eyes came to rest on a large pile of rubble, pieces of broken concrete with the rare metal bit sticking out. It would have to be cleared away before the students returned on Monday, of course.
The destruction of the fountain could not have been more timely. The administration had contacted some charity program, and they had come to collect all the change in the fountain two days ago. And the relic had been scheduled for demolition next weekend, anyway; parents had called in requesting its removal after they heard the stories their children told. Most students believed the old thing to be haunted by the ghost of some little girl who had died in the area years ago. They said you could still hear her crying quietly, humming some bit of melody, with the occasional meow thrown in from her alleged pet.
Ms. Tripp shivered, before laughing at herself. What a silly idea.