Marie had a very active imagination. More often than not, it would get her in trouble in class when she would be looking out the window rather than focusing on the chalkboard. She didn’t mind but she also couldn’t understand why they simply didn’t see the things did: the butterflies with prismatic wings, a flower that glittered as it bloomed in the sunlight, or the quiet hum of a song she never heard and yet somehow knew all at once.
The adults around her didn’t seem to understand and would frown at her quite often, her parents especially. She didn’t mind, not really. It just made what she saw her own little world and all the more special.
It was a lovely sunny day when their little troop made their way into the park. They were going to set up a little stand and try to sell cookies to raise money to attend camp that summer. Some of her classmates were standing around in a circle and talking to each other, one girl was helping because her mom was the troop leader, and Marie was busying herself by looking for dandelions. She had heard one of the older students at school mention that if a person could blow out a dandelion in one breath, they would get a wish.
Determined, it didn’t take any time for her to become completely immersed in her mission and she began to wander further from her troop in order to broaden her search. Soon, the chatter of her group faded away and the air became quiet as she walked further into the woods. Completely undeterred by the silence, she hummed to herself to fill the quiet air.
After a few more moments of intense focus, her green eyes brightened with excitement as she finally found the sought after dandelion, fully bloomed. Bending down to reach, the stem gave a satisfying snap and she held it carefully in her hand, bringing one hand up to shield the flower from any surprising winds. She didn’t want to lose her wish. Before she could focus on her wish, she suddenly went very still.
Due to her celebrating her find, she hadn’t noticed the large black boot that was just a few inches away from dandelion.
Her wide eyes slowly followed the boot up the long legs, past the arms crossed over the wide chest, to finally reaching the boy’s face. Her first coherent thought was that he was a very large person, even taller than her dad. His shoulders were wide and the battered leather jacket he was wearing was loose on his body, like it didn’t fit him properly. Marie relaxed after a moment, releasing that his eyes were closed and he was sleeping.
Holding her dandelion close, she tiptoed closer to him, her curiosity leading her as it always did. Tilting her head ever so slightly to the side, she studied him. His skin was darker than hers, as if he was outside all of the time, but that wasn’t the strangest part. There was some kind of marking on the right side of his face that started above his eyebrow and reached a little past his cheekbone. A tattoo? She shook her head, disagreeing with her first guess. It didn’t look like any tattoo she had ever seen. It was completely different. Special.
Then there was his hair. The top of his hair seemed to shine with a deep green color, not matching the rest of his messy hair that was black. What was also especially odd was where he was sleeping. He was sitting within a perfectly formed ring of mushrooms, a “Fairy Ring” according to her book at home. His back was against the tree, the mushrooms somehow not bent around him and his long legs didn’t reach outside of the ring either. Almost like it fit him perfectly.
“Didn’t anyone tell you it’s not polite to stare?”
Startled, Marie jumped at the sudden voice and promptly fell over onto her backside in her attempt to move. Dandelion still firmly in her hand, she backed away quickly. Breathing uneven, she looked at the boy with wide eyes, her heart beating hard within her chest due to the scare. He was smirking but his eyes were still closed.
“H-how did you know I was there?” she heard herself ask. He lazily opened his eyes to look at her and she was surprised that they were very bright. Almost like silver.
“I could hear you,” he answered with a shrug. “You were humming a little earlier, weren’t you?”
She nodded. “S-sorry, I didn’t know I was loud.”
“You weren’t.” He brought his arm up high to stretch out his back before relaxing against the tree again, bringing one leg closer so to rest his left arm out, and the other resting against his stomach, unmoving.
“Are you hurt?” she blurted out. This seemed to catch his attention and his eyes quickly found hers again, this time holding her gaze.
She didn’t know why she had asked but it felt like the right thing to do. It was hard to tell with his dark clothes but she had a feeling that something was wrong. His right leg was perfectly still even after stretching, like he meant to not move it at all just like with his arm on the same side. When she hurt her leg after jumping from the swings the year before, she was told to rest and not move it so that it could get better. Maybe it was like that?
“You’re pretty perceptive for a kid,” he said.
“Perceptive?” she repeated. She said the word carefully, so not to say it wrong.
“It means that you pay attention. Take notice,” he defined. “It’s a good thing.”
“I can go get a grown-up for you. Macy’s mom is a nurse,” she offered, getting back to her feet.
He gave a careless wave of his hand, the left one. “Don’t bother, I’ll be fine. Just need to rest a bit.”
Marie frowned as she looked back and forth between the stranger and the path back to her troop. Making up her mind, she moved so that she was sitting closer to the boy but remained outside of the circle of mushrooms, not wanting to accidentally step on them. He noticed her new position and raised an eyebrow.
“What’s your name anyway?”
“Marie,” she answered simply. Her gaze was lowered for a moment, lost in her own thoughts for a moment. When she decided, she looked back up at him.
“Here. You can have my wish.”
The boy’s eyes widened in surprise as she held out the dandelion to him. His features softened after a moment and he gave a small smile.
“That’s very kind of you…” his cleared his throat when his voice started to waver, “…but it’s your wish. I wouldn’t want to take it from you.”
Marie shuffled closer, the plant still held out toward him. “You’re not taking it, I’m giving it to you. It’s different, don’t you know?”
He gave a soft laugh at her insistence and agreed to her terms, gingerly sitting up further.
As he reached out with his left, the other still awkwardly still against his stomach, something began to glow softly from his hand.
“What’s that?” awed Marie. She watched as the glow flickered, almost like a tiny white flame.
The boy had gone so still at the sight, Marie thought he was frozen for a moment. Then he slowly brought his hand back, staring intently all the while. After a moment, he gave a small smile and used his still hand to tug something off his finger. He held his hand opened to her and she could see the large set ring sitting in the middle of his wide palm and it continue to glow with a soft white light.
“It’s like a star…” she whispered in amazement. She had never seen something so beautiful before. It looked so small in the boy’s hand but it seemed so big all at once. It continued to glow, flickering like before, now giving off flecks of gold and she hardly dared to breathe as she watched, completely content.
“Here. Now we’re even.”
Marie’s ponytail flew when she looked up at him so quickly. She looked between him and the ring, stunned.
“I-I can’t take your ring,” she stammered. “It’s yours!”
His laugh was interrupted by a rough cough, but he was still giving a smile when he recovered, even though the corner of his mouth had a smudge of red.
“A wish…is just as important as a ring…” he explained, wheezing. “Besides…this ring will do you more good…than me…”
Very hesitantly, Marie gave him the dandelion, placing the stem between his fingers and he easily set the ring in her hand and her small fingers closed over it.
It was cool to the touch, she noticed, like water in her hand. The glow continued and peeked through her fingers in little rays.
Seemingly satisfied, the boy leaned back against the tree with a deep breath and closed his eyes again, the dandelion held loosely between his fingers. Marie had dozens of questions she wanted to ask but she decided to wait. He looked so tired.
The air was quiet once more as the two simply sat in the grass, the boy dozing off and the girl studying her newfound ring as she laid down as well. She knew that she had to head back to her group before the troop leader began to worry, but she couldn’t explain why staying near the boy felt like the best thing to do in that moment.
Rolling onto her back, Marie held up the ring to the sky and closed one eye so to look through it as if it was a telescope. She gasped softly as the sky through the ring’s perspective was swirling with dark purple clouds. Opening both eyes, she was able to see the difference between the regular grey sky and the circle of purple she could see through the ring. Her amazement suddenly changed to concern when she saw that the grey clouds were starting to move quickly and she felt the wind pick up and turn cold, the long grass rustling at the disturbance. There was a crack of lightning exploding from the purple sky and the bolts reached out in to the grey and she lowered the ring in fright.
Even without the ring, she could still see the deep violet clouds darkening overhead, the unnatural color staining the rest of the sky. The hairs on the back of her neck were standing as she turned back to the boy, only to see him already on his feet. His right arm was hanging oddly at his side but she was suddenly aware of just how small she was next to him, completely engulfed in his wake.
“You need to get out of here. Now.”
Her fear only spiked at his low voice and the severity. She scrambled to her feet and took one last look at the boy. The wind was whipping his long jacket and his hair while his silver eyes flashed as he glared at the sky. The ring of mushrooms that had once been a pristine circle were now withered and black, as if they had been dead for ages.
Silver eyes found her and his deep voice seem to make her very bones shake.
She wasn’t even aware of her body as she began to sprint, running blindly toward what she hoped was the direction of her troop. The sky continued to darken, shifting from the dark purple to an eerie pitch black and the wind was now howling, threatening to knock her over with its strength. The clouds continued to cyclone and thunder began to crash like waves, rattling her teeth and she clamped her hands over her ears to try and block out the sound. Suddenly, the ground beneath her feet gave an abrupt lurch, sending her somersaulting.
Dizzy, it took her a moment to gather her bearings, blinking to try and straighten out her vision.
“Why hello there.”
Confused, Marie turned around and she could only stare with wide eyes, her throat tight with fear and skin breaking out in goosebumps.
The sickly sweet voice belong to a woman. At least part of a woman. The upper half was indeed a woman with dark hair slicked back away from her face, but it was the lower half that was absolutely terrifying. Where her waist ended there weren’t a pair of legs, instead a thick scaly serpent body sprouted from her. As wide as a great oak tree, the large body seemed never ending as it unfurled and she rose to an impressive height.
A thin pink tongue flickered out from her lips as she smirked.
“Well, I could just eat you right up,” she hissed. “In fact…I think I will.”
The scream finally ripped free from her throat, loud and high. She broke out of her temporary paralysis and started to run again, this time going back the way she came. She couldn’t figure out how hard she was running since she felt absolutely weightless with adrenaline, like she could fly if she just pushed harder.
Her moment of light footed sprinting was brought to a crashing halt when she tripped over something unseen and was sent sprawling again. Whirling around, her vision was filled with green scales as the creature towered over, drowning her with its shadow. Sharp teeth glimmered as the creature grinned down at her, the tongue flickering out again.
A high pitch hiss sounded as it flicked its wrists, blood red talons bursting from its fingernails as it reared back before lunging for her, its mouth opened grotesquely wide so to snatch up the little girl.
“Tunnel vision was always an annoying feature of yours.”
Gasping, green eyes opened to see the boy standing before her with his right arm outstretched. He had grabbed the monster’s tongue and pulled her away from Marie, forcing it to look at him. She finally saw that his right side was completely darkened with blood, which explained why he didn’t move much earlier. And yet, there he was, standing up straight and tall, as if none of it bothered him.
He gave a sharp tug of the tongue that was wrapped around his bloodied arm and the thunder clapped again.
“Now…don’t you have something better to do than torment children?” he mocked, completely unbothered by the monster before him. “I’m sure your owner is missing you by now and you’re not even wearing a collar.”
Marie flinched as she heard movement just to her left and her face paled further as she witnessed the monster’s tail slither through the grass toward the boy, its end narrowing into a pristine point. She looked quickly back to the boy but he was still engaged with the other half. She tried to call out to warn him but her throat was too tight with fear and the words wouldn’t come out.
Suddenly, she felt something shaking. Looking down, she opened her hand to see the ring vibrating with some sort of energy, the light brighter than before. She hadn’t dropped it with her running, surprisingly. Picking up the ring, it was somehow still and shaking all at once in her grasp. Using both hands, she carefully brought the ring up and focused on the tail that was creeping even closer to the boy. Just like last time, she took a deep breath and closed one eye so to peer through the circle of the ring. She exhaled slowly as she locked on the now blade of a tail.
A beam of blinding white light burst forth from ring and blasted through the grass, trees, and the monster’s tail entirely.
The screech pierced the air as the monster reared back and the boy was forced to let go of it, turning toward the girl instead.
“Run!” he ordered. “Marie—run!!”
He threw his hand out with the palm facing her and a green light appeared, making her close her eyes as she was somehow pushed backwards.
When she opened her eyes again, she was back in the park’s main clearing and she could see her troop up ahead. They were scrambling around to gather their belongings as the rain fell, cold against her skin. Had it been raining earlier? She couldn’t recall. Thankfully, her body was moving on its own as she ran toward the familiar adults. The troop leader was hurrying toward her as well, her own face pale.
“Marie, where have you been? We’ve been worried sick—looking everywhere for you!” said the leader. Marie could only shake her head, her voice finally working, coming out as a croak.
“Please—there’s a boy—and a monster—we have to go help him—it’s going to hurt him!” she tried to explain, the words tumbling out of her mouth at once.
The troop leader already had her hand firmly around her arm as she pulled her along so to join the others back at the parked cars so to get out of the rain. Marie dug her heels into the ground, shaking her head as she protested.
“Please! We have to go back! He’s hurt—we have to help him!”
“What on earth are you going on about?” huffed the leader. “Come on now, we have to get out of this weather!”
“No! There’s a monster! The sky turned purple and then it was there! It was a woman but she was a giant snake too! Please she’s going to hurt him!”
“I swear, your mother is going to hear about this, Marie. You cannot go running off without telling anyone where you are!”
“But the monster--!”
“And to tell such ridiculous stories! I promise you, your mother and I are going to have a long talk about your imagination.”
As her protests fell on deaf ears, Marie couldn’t help but look over her shoulder at the now dark woods, the black and purple sky still overhead, and the ring remained tightly clenched within her hand.