Ria did not know when it was exactly that she had started seeing monsters.
Kindergarten, or maybe before. That day she had almost choked to death on a grape after making eye contact with a ten-legged dog, or maybe the night she’d realized that the things shining out from the darkness were not stars, but rather small, beady eyes, looking and searching for… something.
Or perhaps she had always known, in some way, that the world she saw was not the same as those around her. That the funny passing creatures that made her laugh so hard were not visible to the passerby’s who skirted around her with strange looks. Sometimes, she thought, she preferred the monsters to those cruel stares; sometimes, she felt like she belonged more with them than the race that was supposed to be her own. And how she despised the word “monsters”. She preferred to call them creatures, because monsters they were not; or, at the very least, the ones she had encountered were not.
Despite their continued and inexplicable presence in her life, the creatures had never approached her, had never tried to engage in any sort of conversation. She herself had tried to reach out at first, running after a faerie for a few feet only to turn a corner and find nothing but an empty alleyway, only the slightest remnants of a shiny, glimmering dust floating in the air to convince her she was not dreaming.
She had tried speaking of the creatures to those around her, but no one seemed to be willing to listen. The other kids at the orphanage simply mocked her, called her all kinds of names and stayed as far away as they could when they were not beating or draining her. She did not mind that so much, for she could excuse their ignorance. They were, after all, only children, as was she. But the adults, that behavior she could not forget, could not comprehend.
The headmistress of the Institute for Lost Children, a woman who had been praised for her warmth and compassion by newspaper after newspaper, who had been glorified and won awards for her charity, who had topped the charts at humanitarian of the year, had given Ria nothing but pain and distress over the 17 years she had been in her care. The schoolteachers who were meant to be her coaches, her mentors, had turned their backs on her, one after the other, as they discovered all her “quirks and irregularities”, as they had like to call them. Eventually, she had managed to reach a point of self-acceptance where those words did not bother her as much anymore, but she could not forget the sting of betrayal and hurt she felt every time someone in whom she had seen potential walked out of her life.
She had never heard of someone being entirely, completely alone, and yet at times she wondered if it were possible for her to be different in that too. No mother, no father to call her own - she had no memories of a parental figure ever appearing in her life, only a sense of emptiness that filled her heart with pain that felt much too old and tried to be her own. No friend who would dare approach her, the strange girl who saw ghosts or creatures or just _weird_ things. No one in the world who knew her greatest fears, who wanted to be there to wipe away her tears and hold her when she cried, laugh with her when she laughed, smile and shout together as they discovered the wonders of life. But whenever she came to the conclusion that she was alone, one of her creatures always showed up on the edges of her vision to remind her that perhaps she was not.
There were worse things in the world, she thought, than to be given the chance, the opportunity to live differently than others. So despair she did not, for she hated to think that she would waste her life mourning the things she could not, and would most probably never, have.
That is not to say that she was content with her situation, or even accepting of it. She felt trapped between two world, neither of which she understood, neither of which seemed welcoming to her, and so it was inevitable that when the time came for her to make a decision, she did not know where her torn and mangled heart most wanted to take her. In fact, she did not think she would ever get to make such a choice, that she would ever be burdened or gifted with such a possibility.
But even the greatest and most perceptive minds, they say, can sometimes fail to see what the future will bring, even if the keys to its path lie right in front of their shining, monster-seeing eyes.
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