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To Find a Fairy Tale
Once upon a time, in a far away land . . . that’s how fairy tales are supposed to start. My story – I bet if I covered my ears and hummed a sparkly little melody, if I took a step back and squinted my eyes and peered at it through eyelids squeezed shut just the right amount to warp the reality in front of me a tiny bit – I bet I could make it sound, look, become like a fairy tale.
Once upon a time, in a reality far, far from this one, everyone was there. They were all right there next to me, with those same smiles eternally plastered on their faces, and I was certain that we were all genuinely happy. Because what’s not to be happy about when everybody whitens their teeth just so they can spend all their time smiling, without anyone knowing they smoke too many cigarettes?
A naïve little princess perfectly content in her own, sheltered castle; that was me.
But then one day whatever happiness I’d know had been brutally ripped from my grasp when I was kidnapped by a sadistic king with evil intentions, torn from the lukewarm embraces of the ones I loved and thrust into the arena where everyone wasn’t there anymore. Where I watched the fear that drove the others to madness, saw the humanity slip from their eyes as crimson stains dampened the dust at their feet. It was a horrible, twisted survival game we were playing; one that terrified me down to the very fiber of my bones as I watched the gruesome battles rage around me. So I ran, and I hid, cowering away from it all as I listened to the number of screams growing fewer and fewer each day.
Just waiting. Surely, someone would rescue me from this game before it broke me like it was breaking all the others, before it stained my hands a shade of scarlet that I would never be able to wash away. Any second a prince would appear and whisk me away from this nightmare, because that’s how fairy tales work.
But no one came. And inch by inch, the fairy tale began slipping away.
And then the flood came, and I was swept away from that awful place, back to the salty piers and fishing nets that I had always known, and everyone was happy, just like they had always been. Except they must have stopped whitening their teeth, because the big, pink-lipped smiles that surrounded me didn’t seem to be the same picture of unconditional cheerfulness that I had always seen before.
However, despite my notion that it was all over, even the torrent of water that had carried me away from the bloodbaths hadn’t been enough to purge the earth of the reddish scars they left behind, and the ghosts that drifted from them came for me at night, stabbing at my chest and clawing at my face, hissing at me that they’d have their revenge as their bloodcurdling screams perfectly replicated the ones in my memory. When I woke up I would cry out for someone to protect me. Anyone.
But still no one came. I reached for my fairy tale, and it turned to smoke in my grasp. Laughter darkened to sobs.
Eventually the white-cloaked sorcerers came for me, and they locked me in this tower from which my only view is of the mournful sun as it abandons the world behind the horizon; sunrise is lost to me here.
It was because of the screaming, they said, because screams are better suited for places where nobody has to listen to them. And they’re right. Because the screams come much more often here. And they aren’t just in my head anymore. They come from me, piercing the memories, stabbing at them over and over until finally they shatter into little pieces that become embedded in my brain as they rain down around me. Only then, with the spell broken, can I finally allow the quiet to set in on me yet again.
It was this place that did this to me. I wasn’t like this before. I was haunted. Scared. Lonely beyond compare. But not mad. Trapping me here with no one but ghosts, it’s these four walls that drove me crazy, pushed me to the brink of insanity.
Before, I screamed only from fear. But here, I scream because I have to.
My toes peer over the edge of a precipice, and even as I begin to lose my balance, still as I teeter back and forth, no one comes. I see my fairy tale, almost completely lost to the colorless walls that imprison me, and as I watch the last wisps of it begin to evaporate I don’t stretch my hand toward it.
Once upon a time, when I was small, I spilled red paint on the floor of my mother’s house, and she beat me. Sobbing silently to myself I tried to fix it, to make it up to her, to regain my mother’s sheet-white smile. But it wouldn’t come off since I didn’t think to use soap, so in an attempt to hide the ugliness of the stain I emptied an entire jar of the beautiful silver glitter that had been my only Christmas present onto it, and when I showed it to my mother she beat me harder. I had never understood why before, but I’m starting to realize my mistake. Because no matter how much you dump on the imperfections, the glitter will eventually blow away. And then, artificial beauty gone, the stain will look all the uglier for it.
So as I lean, eyes closed, over the edge of the abyss, I let the fairy tale die.
There’s nothing left for me here now, so I let myself tip forward toward the sunset, and give myself to gravity.
But I’m not falling. My eyes burst open as I’m jerked down off my window ledge and back into the white-washed world that’s become my only reality. I stumble once and trip into someone’s chest as they grip me protectively by the wrist. Then they take a step back, and I turn my gaze up to meet that of the only person that’s ever come to visit me. I find myself face to face with a handsome, bronze-haired man, and I search his sea green eyes in wonder as they stare back at me with a look that’s filled with gentle compassion and sorrowful empathy all at once.
It’s a look that’s so foreign to me, so unexpected, and so strangely kind that suddenly there are tears welling up in my eyes and I don’t know why.
“I couldn’t let you do it,” the man tells me quietly. His voice is full of some emotion that I can’t name, but it’s gentle and friendly and relieved and it sends a warm sort of feeling spreading through me that feels more blissful than anything I’ve ever experienced.
“Who are you?” I whisper. He still hasn’t let go of my wrist.
“Finnick Odair,” he tells me in the same gentle voice.
“How do you know me?”
“Someone told me about you.” Finally he releases his grip on my wrist, taking me by the shoulders and tenderly drawing me to him, wrapping his big, strong arms around me as if to shield me from everything bad in the world. He’s warm.
“Why are you here?” I ask slowly, quietly, both so that I don’t completely lose control of my emotions as I speak the words, and so that I don’t offend him, don’t cause him to withdraw his wonderfully comforting embrace. It’s been so long since I talked to anyone; much less felt another person’s touch. And his is so warm.
“I’m here because I understand,” he whispers as he squeezes me tighter. “I’m here to tell you, Annie Cresta, that you aren’t alone anymore.”
And for some reason, I’m certain that he does understand.
Then he lets me go, and all I want is to touch him again. So when he extends his hand to me I reach for it without a second’s hesitation, and it doesn’t dissolve when I touch it. It’s as firm and warm and comforting as ever, and I know that I never want to let go of it. He gives my hand a reassuring squeeze as if to say “I promise I won’t let go,” and then he speaks five words that I never in a billion years thought anyone would ever say to me.
“Let’s get out of here.”
I nod, and then we’re running through the white hallways, past white-coated people that no longer look like evil sorcerers to me, ignoring their shouts as we burst through glass doors and keep right on running. Away from the direction that my dirty glass window faced, toward a new beginning.
And as the pink sunrise splashes gentle rays of morning light onto our smiling faces, I know that, finally, my prince has come for me. And I wouldn’t trade this reality for all the fantasies in the world.
I’ve found my fairy tale at last.