Now, the problem with Amber’s foster-parents is that they were just too small-minded to the world in which they resided. You see, Theodore just wanted to make his Mazel pleased, and supported his family by working. However, with Mazel, her life mostly revolved around her job and appearance. And when they weren’t at work, they spent their free time with each other alone, going out and often bringing friends to adult parties and demos at gatherings. Although they did value their children, the time that they spent with them was often limited, and Amber was left to babysit the siblings. Theodore and Mazel didn’t dream of a land of mystery and enchantment, inhabited by dragons, pirates, mermaids and other eerie, undiscovered beings. If it was ever suggested, they would simply laugh it off, as do most adults. Because with most grown-ups, their reality hovers around possessions and work, entertainment and friends and families.
Even children, like Amber’s foster sister Meadow, longed to grow up admired and as a famous fashion designer, walking in the footsteps of her mother, having fun and living in luxury. Luckily for the youngest, Jackson, he was not yet poisoned by the common, boring everyday views of others. Every so often, he came along with Amber in her journeys to the forest, playing pirates with rough, flaking sticks as swords, camouflaging in mossy beds coated with pastel flowers, and playing tigers with Marcel. He was fascinated by the fairy tales Amber had told him; of Peter Pan’s Neverland, of princes bravely battling dragons and witches.
“I still think the Princesses rather petty though,” Amber commented, after reciting Sleeping Beauty. “They squeal at the littlest thing, talk to animals like babies when they’ve braved more in one day than they have in their entire lives, acting so gormless and suck up to the poor princes who just happen to have met them.”
Jackson laughed, his golden-brown locks flopping at his forehead.
“But Belle wasn’t afraid!”
Amber shrugged and nodded.
“Fair enough. Belle, at least, had the desire to have a more adventurous life. And she didn’t throw herself at the prince - though that might have something to do with his being transformed into a beast,” she said, smiling. Jackson roared at Marcel, acting out his own mini-beast, and soon they were rolling around the floor, grass-stains smeared on his cheek and shorts, and shadowing some of Marcel’s shaggy grey-white fur.
Mazel sighed, eyes wide in exasperation when they came back.
“For heaven’s sake, what do you two look like? Jackson, darling, what have you done to your new shorts? And your face! Honestly, Amber, can you never do anything normal with your siblings? It’s not a good example, you know, romping around in those woods. You’ll end up hurting yourselves, and I’m the one that has to pay for new clothes.” She picked Jackson up, dusting the hidden leaves and moss from his hair.
“He was having fun. He’s only little!”
“And you are a young adult, so you’re going to need to learn to mature. Why not join an extra-curricular club, like your sister? At least then you’ll be doing something useful.”
But Amber had no intention at all in joining an after-school club, to be mocked and questioned, or in the middle of some sort of wild eraser-flicking game. She preferred to sit alone, drawing in her sketch pad undisturbed, perfectly content with her own company. She did have one friend at school, though; a girl with black-dyed messy hair to her waist that she was forever pushing impatiently out of her hazel eyes or untangling them from her glasses. Her name was Leanna, who might be likened to as an emo, since she usually wore complete black outfits. She had a black rabbit at her house too, called Bonnie, and although she often seemed upset or in a daze, she was a good-humoured and good-natured young lady. She and Amber would often sit in a back corner of the classroom at independent reading or free periods, illustrating scenes from tales and sketching their own creatures, whispering quietly amongst themselves. They had met in the forest, where Marcel had bolted off to smell and judge the dark girl walking the opposite way. Amber had to forcefully pull him off her.
“Sorry, he gets over-excited sometimes.”
The girl smiled a little, meeting her eyes.
“No worries. My aunt has a dog just like him, so I’m used to it.”
“You look similar. Do you go to Greatachre High?”
The girl nodded.
“Yep. I’m Leanna.”
And so they got to know each other, as you do, and became close friends, sharing thoughts and ideas on mystical things and adventures and stories. They were sometimes mocked at school, since they didn’t really communicate with others and seemed “weird”, but Amber defended them easily, and so the two were usually left to it.
Mazel, of course, didn’t really approve.
“A nice girl, I suppose - good manners and everything - but isn’t she a bit too dark for you, Ambs? She seems quite quiet and spiritual if you ask me. Do you not have any other friends?”
“No, she’s great once you get to know her. And I don’t want any other friends, they’re all the same at school anyway.”
“I’d just really like it if you had some good, normal association - like the lovely young girls you see Meadow inviting.” Mazel looked up, brows knitted. “What do you think, Theo?”
Theodore sipped his black coffee, putting down his Guardian newspaper.
“Well, she seems nice to me, and it's good that she has a friend to talk to. I do see your point though. Still, it seems fine to me.”
“But all you two do is fantasize over fairy tales and goodness knows what else. Can’t you just do something a little more-”
“More what? We enjoy talking about it. You just want me to be a carbon-copy of Meadow, don’t you? I don’t know why you bothered adopting me.”
“Don’t you take that tone with me, young lady! For crying out loud, I try my best to get you a good education, nice clothes, and bring you up in a good environment - learn to make the most of it! You aren’t a little child anymore - you’re sixteen years old, Amber! And you won’t get any younger!”
“You don’t need to be young to think in a different way.”
“Different is one word for it. I’m just saying this for your benefit, Ambs, because when you have to go to work and all you do is zone out and daydream, or sketch- what are they, fairytale animals? - be assured that someone else will break it to you, and not in the patient way that I am.”
“How would you even know?” Amber questioned, scowling defiantly. “I bet you’ve never been creative when it comes to other realities and possibilities. All you care about is fashion!”
Theo tutted. “That’s enough now, please Amber. Now make yourself useful and go and do your homework upstairs or something, there’s a good girl.”
So she did go upstairs, but only to climb back down again - carefully, of course - down the stairs, fetching her flashlight and book. She looked in on Marcel, but he was fast asleep, tired out from his long walk earlier. So, she left him locked in her room, shutting the door carefully and putting the spare keys back in the plant pot in the drive. Then she ran off into the woods, its trees and splashes of nature illuminated by the softly glowing moonlight. But this time, her normal path was blocked by a large, fallen tree. Amber sighed, rolling her eyes impatiently.
“This is just like a reprise of Beauty and the Beast,” she murmured to herself with a small scoff, going the other way. But she was confident in her doings, and ran forwards, snatching down leaves from the hanging branches and jumping over rocks and stumps.
Rain began to come pattering down from the skies, and Amber pulled up the hood of her maroon hoodie, tightening the white laces on either side of her neck. Lightning started flashing every so often, and thunder clapped and boomed, rumbling through the trees and green-stained bushes’ leaves. She was not afraid and didn’t turn back the way she came - she’d only get told off for running off or get a nagging even if they didn’t find out. Even so, she bit down on her bottom lip, hazel eyes roaming about the darkened forest floors, the sky quite hidden by the trees’ shadows, limply hanging leaves and sturdy branches. But she kept on walking - feeling something that could only really be described as a kind of pull to keep moving. And so she did, onward, for quite a long period of time - until her legs started weighing her down and her feet ached in her Converse high-tops. In the end, she slumped down against a trees deep, long muddy-brown trunk, catching her breath and resting for a minute or so, not looking up from the darkened mossy ground.
But when Amber did finally look up, her brows furrowed, eyes squinting in awareness and curiosity.
Up the hill a little, she could make up some sort of shadow... as if it were some sort of vine and ivy ridden... bridge.Amber stumbled back on her feet and searched for her flashlight, refusing to tear her gaze from the faint, faraway silhouette. She flicked it on, and its bright white light ran effortlessly across the forest trunks and floor. She held it up to eye level, and sure enough, the bridge was there and quite real - somewhat old and frail-looking, but it was there all the same, about a mile or so away. She ran towards it, engaged and eager, coming closer to the darkened sight.
Now, if any other child, teenager, adult or person at all were to see this, it would be quite probable that they would get as far away from it as possible, not carefully step onto it. The ground below grew lower and lower as Amber kept sneaking forwards carefully, wonder overtaking her mindset yet again. She reached to about two-thirds of the way until she halted, her attention caught by what sounded faintly like a snapping of twigs and branches, shuffling across mossy beds and leaves. Amber’s eyes darted around her, but nothing was there. She still couldn’t quite shrug off the feeling, and her breath and pulse quickened... but she kept on going.
Suddenly, she felt a throbbing blast to her head - as if a heavy club had been swung at her - and she collapsed in pain and dizziness at the foot of the foggy end and opening of the other side of the rickety bridge. The dimmed leaves and bushes around her blurred, and pitch-black darkness overtook her as she fell unconscious.