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Castle in the Woods
Samantha Addams sat on her doorstep, clutching a crumpled piece of paper. She looked down at the red marks covering the page and sighed. Another day, another fail. Sam pushed her long, auburn hair out of her face and tugged her bangs. She stared back down at her test and sighed nervously, worried about how her parents would react to yet another bad grade.
“Well, at some point I’m going to have to face them,” Sam said to herself. She stood up shakily and pushed the door to the house open. As she walked to the dining room, an overwhelming aroma of spices filled the air. Samantha sat down at the front of the table and looked at the meal her mother had spent hours preparing. Pot roast. Her favorite. Soon, Sam’s mother entered the room.
“Samantha, there you are!” her mother beamed and kneeled down to give Sam a quick kiss on the cheek.
“Yeah, I just got home,” Sam lied. Really, she’d been on the front porch contemplating how she would explain to her parents that she’d failed her math test… Again.
“Just in time, too. School was alright? Hungry for dinner?”
“It was okay,” Sam sighed. “And I’m not too hungry, which is fine because it means more for you and Father!”
“This is why I love you, my darling.”
Samantha grabbed a fork as everyone sat down and grabbed a small plate of roast. Sam loved roast, but she had no appetite tonight. When she looked up, her mother stared down at her, worried.
“Ah, Samantha! How was your day?” Sam’s father asked as he came into the room.
“All I’ll say is, it was not a good one,” Sam pouted and crossed her arms. Her father ignored her. Sam knew he hated it when she acted like a baby, and she hoped that he wouldn’t remember to ask her about the math test.
“So, any news of this drought ending? People at the church are praying it will go away. If it continues, Rochdale won’t survive. We’re so small and we get no help… we rely on rainfall for crops,” her father said, changing the subject. Sam and her mother nodded thoughtfully, but the truth was, neither of them really cared for the subject. They just wanted it to be over.
“I’ve been hoping it will go away. It’s affecting my cooking... Oh!” Sam’s mother began. “Sam, dear, how was your math test?”
Sam dropped her fork in shock. Mother remembered? She thought to herself. What am I going to do now? She slowly picked the fork up and pushed her plate away. When Sam glanced up again, her parents were staring at her expectantly.
“It didn’t go so well. Actually, it went horribly. I… um… Well, you see, I studied so, so hard, but I still, uh, failed…?” Sam stuttered. Her voice got lighter and lighter until she could barely even hear herself. Her father slammed his fist down on the table.
“You mean to tell me that you failed? Samantha Addams, you failed another math test? You know how much I put into giving you a proper education. Not many girls are as lucky as you are, and you come and tell me that you FAILED?! How dare you.”
“I’m sorry, Father, but I was too busy working on my fairy—”
“WORKING ON YOUR FAIRY TALE? Samantha, get out of that stupid little world inside your head, because that’s all it is! In your head! And imagination is not going to get you ANYWHERE in this world. Do you know how lucky you are to get an education? I ought to just take you out of school!”
Sam gasped and choked back tears. She pushed her chair away from the table and ran outside. She collapsed on a boulder overlooking the forest, sobbing. She prayed that the fairies would come and take her away to the world she was certain existed. She smiled and little by little, the tears stopped falling.
Sam sat back up on the rock and looked out at the forest. Most of it was browned and dead from the drought that had been going on for about six months. It scared her. In fact, it terrified her.
The paths of the forest could barely be seen, even through the dead branches. She heard a howl and shuddered. The woods were not an appealing place, especially with the darkness that surrounded it. Sam quickly inched away from the edge of the rock and looked up at the puffy clouds.
Something seemed different. She scanned the horizon and a huge silhouette emerged in front of her. As her eyes adjusted, the silhouette became turrets and towers, bridges and walls. The walls were a cream color, and the cone-shaped roofs were a gorgeous baby blue. She narrowed her eyes. A castle! How had she never seen this before? Sam could not believe it. She blinked. Still there. Blinked again. The castle did not stir. She must have spent most of the night staring up in awe at the beautiful castle. Finally, she decided it was probably a good time to go inside.
The floorboards creaked as she tiptoed into her bedroom. As Sam settled in for the night, she dreamt of the castle and what could be in it.
Samantha dreamt about the castle all day long in school. She laid on her desk and thought about what could be there. Fairies? Mermaids? Nymphs? The only thing that jolted her awake was the twenty kids screaming and yelling when the lunch bell rang.
“LUNCH!” a boy shouted into Sam’s ears, and she jumped.
“Watch it!” Sam yelled back.
Suddenly, Sam had an inkling of an idea. What if she showed everyone the beautiful castle in the forest? A smile grew on her face and she called everyone over.
“I want to show you guys something!” she bellowed. “It’s a castle in the middle of the forest that I found last night! Everyone follow me!”
Sam started walking across the town over to her house. At first, only a couple of children trailed behind her but as they realized that she was leaving the school grounds, a larger group followed. Soon, teachers and parents were chasing after the children, trying to herd them back to the school. As Sam reached her house, her mother came running out.
“Sam, what do you think you are doing?” she screamed over the racket and tried to stop kids from trampling over her beautiful collection of flowers, from hydrangeas to roses. Sam ignored her and led everyone to the huge boulder at the edge of her backyard.
The castle glistened in the distance, and Sam pointed at it. “Right there! It’s the big building with creams and blues and spirals all over it!”
A silence fell over the children as they searched for it.
Finally, someone shouted, “There’s no castle, Samantha!”
Children began to protest again and everyone started shouting.
“What’s wrong with you!”
“She ought to be taken away!”
Sam’s happiness dissipated as anger washed over her.
“I’m not the crazy one, you are! There is a castle there, and if you can’t see it, then you’re the insane one!” she screamed. She jumped off the rock and stormed through the sea of people. She pushed children over as she stomped her way into her bedroom.
Crashing onto the bed, Sam squealed angrily, wondering why no one could see the castle. She hoped that her parents wouldn’t listen to the remarks of the upset children. No, of course they won’t. They wouldn’t betray me like that. Sam thought.
Boy, was she wrong.
Sam sat out on the rock overlooking the forest, staring at the beautiful castle. She closed her eyes and opened them, checking to see if she really was crazy, if there really wasn’t a castle, but as far as Sam could see, there was.
They must be blind if they can’t see this huge castle, Sam thought. There was nothing for the eye to see for miles and miles unless people were interested in ugly, dry forests. The blue castle stood out in a forest of brown.
“Sam, honey, would you come inside? We need to talk to you!” Sam’s mother called, and Sam pried her eyes away from the horizon. She ran into the house and flung herself onto a dining chair. Her mother and father were both sitting on one end of the table, and an old man sat on the other. He had a bald head, except for two strips of grey hair on both sides of his scalp. The skin on his face sagged, and he wore tiny circular glasses.
“Who are you?” Sam asked, and pointed a finger at the elder.
“Hello, I’m Dr. Graham and I specialize in mental illness. I’ve dealt with many children in my lifetime. Children just like you, pretty lady,” he said.
“Okay…” Sam replied.
“Now, is it alright if I ask you a few questions about yourself?”
“Wonderful. Samantha, how old are you?”
“I’m ten, almost eleven.”
“Perfect. Parents, does she have severe mood swings?”
“Sometimes,” Sam’s mother said and looked down at her fingers.
“Often?” Dr. Graham asked.
“Almost daily,” her father cut in, staring at the doctor. His mouth was pressed into a thin line and his face was red, as if he had just been working out.
“And this castle?” Dr. Graham asked, and took out a pen and paper.
“She talks about it constantly.”
“Because it exists!” Sam yelled and stomped her foot on the ground. Dr. Graham sighed and wrote something down.
“What? What are you writing?” she asked and tried to look over at the paper, but Dr. Graham pulled it away.
“Sam, how do you feel about living elsewhere? There’s a town not too far from here with a building that houses children just like you. You’ll be in very good care, and your parents will come visit you often. You don’t even have to do any math!”
Sam looked at her parents, who were smiling sadly. “What?” she asked again, weakly.
“Honey, he wants you to live in a home for children,” her mother sighed. Sam stared blankly at him.
“Why don’t you just go to bed?” Sam heard her mother ask. “It’s late.”
Sam nodded and rose from her seat. She slowly ascended upstairs as the conversation began again.
“She’s not in a good state, but I don’t want to lose her,” Sam’s mother said. “Would she ever forgive us?”
Sam stopped and sat on the stairs.
“Calm down, Victoria. You’re not going to lose her. She needs help. If she stays here, her condition will only worsen. I’ve dealt with these cases before, and I know that she must go to the hospital. She’s insane, Victoria,” Dr. Graham said. Sam’s mother sniffled.
No, Sam thought to herself, they can’t take me away. I’m not insane. There really is a castle…. Right? She shook her head. Sam floated to her room, and more uneasy thoughts flooded her brain.
I’m not insane. There is a castle. They can’t send me away. How could my parents do this? How could they betray me like this? No. Just go to sleep. It’ll be better in the morning.
As the raging thoughts in her head quieted down, Sam drifted off to sleep.
“Honeybun, wake up, it’s time to go.”
Sam’s mother shook her awake, and her eyes opened wide. She beamed at her mother and got dressed, preparing for a normal day. She looked out at the sky through her window, where the sun burned brightly. On days like this, there seemed there would be no end to the drought plaguing Rochdale.
But something was wrong. A car was parked in the driveway, and two tall men in suits and glasses stepped out. The flag on the car was not that of Rochdale’s, and this scared her. Almost as much as the forest surrounding the castle.
“Mother, what is that car for?” Sam asked.
“Remember that nice doctor we talked to yesterday? And how he recommended you go stay at Trinity Psychiatric Home? Er… the place where there’s no math?” Mother replied uneasily.
“You still think I’m insane? I’m not and I don’t want to go anywhere!” Sam screamed and darted out of her room. Her mother tried to grab her and pull her back but Sam was too fast.
“SAMANTHA!” she cried and hurried down the stairs.
In no time at all Sam was on the rock overlooking the huge forest and the castle. I’m done being scared of this forest. I can’t go to some mental center. I’m not crazy. I’d rather die than go there. Lightning sliced through the sky and there was a low rumble in the distance.
Sam looked back at Rochdale, and then out to the castle. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and began running. As she ran towards the forest, away from the town and the parents that had betrayed her, gentle drops of water fell on Sam’s tear-streaked face. It had finally begun to rain again.