Sunflowers is a short story dredged up from my memories of being a little girl who spent a lot of time alone with my imagination and the nature around me. Originally the story was an introduction to an illustrated story but I decided to keep it as its own short story. This is a large sample of the story and falls into the dark fantasy category. –Bethalynne
The night never scared the little girl. She had no fear of the darkness. Things could be hidden in the dark and if one’s mind was strong enough you could trap those hidden things in that darkness so they could never touch you. In the darkness she could make herself appear six feet tall and so strong. And by her side was the dragon of her dreams, who spoke to her in a language only the two of them knew. With his talon hand firmly on her shoulder, she was the empress in this darkness.
The little girl was not so strong in the sunlight. In the unflinching stare of the sun she could see the shadow she cast. It was like a shameful reminder of how important and massive she was in the dark, while being so pathetically small in the light of day. At high noon she was barely four feet tall and her dragon could not exist within a place so warm and bright. During the day the little girl was quite afraid of everything because there were no true corners of the dark to lock her fears away in. In the light, no secrets can be kept.
For a moment the darkness of the dream lingered and her companion dragon was trying desperately to tell her something she needed to know. He was warning her about something in the sun…. something in the flowers…. but she could not hear him as there was another voice drowning him out. This new voice, quite alien and loud, with the lilt in its voice as though it were forever speaking in the form of a joke. A man’s voice? It was trying to get her attention.
“Time to wake up. Wake up!”
The little girl’s eyes snapped open and the flood of light from the day washed over her eyes…
The little girl tried to blink back the harsh glare of the sun. She always went to bed with her curtains drawn to avoid this. Typically her step-mother (who believed all souls should wake at six a.m. just like her) would have come in and opened the curtains. It was one of those small things that angered her about staying in her father’s new home. The little girl felt she had no rights of her own and everything she was meant to do had to conform to the rules and designs of her father’s new wife. It wasn’t that she disliked her step-mother, quite the contrary. She just wished she had the same small measure of control over her everyday like she did back home with her mother. Here… she couldn’t even dose off on the couch without her step-mother treating it like a capital offense.
For a few moments the agitation over the sunlight and her equal irritation over the thought of her step-mother slipping into her room and opening the curtains as she slept kept her from dwelling too much on the last moments of her dreaming. It wasn’t until she was climbing out of bed and making her way to the bathroom that a strange noise took her back moments to the dreaming.
The first time she could have dismissed this as a simple noise, but upon listening harder she distinctly heard her name called in the voice of that strange dream joker. Coolness found her over the very idea.
“I may have pretend friends but I do not hear voices that aren’t of my own creation. So you can simply go away now! I’m not listening.” She told the voice as she got out of her little pink bed.
The little girl made her way into the bathroom, brushing her teeth and feeling slightly vulnerable to being watched as she made water. But the voice left her be as she tended to her morning wake up duties.
She left the bathroom and headed for the kitchen. She knew it’d be empty in there. It was a Thursday, which meant her father and his wife were at work and they trusted her to be by herself. Most of the people in her life trusted her to be alone, or at least this is what they said. Sometimes she worried they simply didn’t care if she was alone. This was part of the reason she disliked the sunlight. It made the emptiness of life around her quite glaring and apparent.
Cereal was had while cartoons were watched. Keira made a habit out of sitting in the living room in the morning, with her bowl of food in her lap and the television on very loudly. Each one of these things was strictly forbidden in this house and her small feeling of victory was had by disobeying. With the food gone and the cartoons much too juvenile in the morning for her taste, she cleaned up after herself, put on shorts and a peasant top and headed into the backyard to play for awhile.
Playtime for the make-believe obsessed is a brilliant time. Keira had a kingdom for herself that she moved through every day. In the Day Kingdom her dragon companion lent his voice unseen, but if she focused real hard she could almost feel his thorny hand on her shoulder. She had a castle made from spare wood and her father’s awkward hands. It was not pretty in the light, but her eyes were able to reshape it in her mind. Some place between the mind and the eye it became something massive, antique and perfect. She even had an addition to her kingdom, somewhat of a summer cottage that came in the form of a giant cardboard box that originally held the house’s new freezer. After two window squares cut out of it and a flippy door carved in between them, Keira and her loyal subjects had a beautiful garden decorated retreat when the castle became too hot.
So goes the summer life of a small child. Lost in pretend, lost in the uncomplicated passing of time in any way the child saw fit. Today Keira took on the Sun King and tried to bring his kingdom down by the power of her paper-doll soldiers and a rain dance she was sure would make the clouds appear. Alas, her rain dance mojo was not strong enough on this day, and her paper soldiers could not defend against the stray breezes the Sun King set upon them. Soon Keira took to the safety of her lop-sided wooden house and lay on a blanket inside. She wove long reeds together as she had a one sided conversation with her dragon.
“Why don’t you ever go play in the sunflower field Keira?”
The voice again. Keira slowly put her green weaving down and sat up. Never had her shadows and dragon been so far away from her. It made her afraid. The voice didn’t seem to want this, for it abandoned the direct question and instead attempted to address her fears.
“Don’t be afraid! Never be afraid of me! I am nothing to fear. I am just a voice that has long since lost the body it once belonged to.”
“What happened to your body?” She asked.
“Time. I wanted to live forever and some people can get the knack for it. I could not, at least not completely. After awhile all that was organic me just fell dry and blew away. Now there is only my thoughts and my voice, both terribly hard to get others to acknowledge. But you! I bet you can see a lot of things other people can’t!”
The joking tone in its voice had receded a little bit so Keira didn’t feel as though it were poking fun at her in some way. It was being very complimentary and friendly, something lonely little girls who don’t get so bothered by disembodied voices tend to like. She relaxed a bit, letting her fingers go back to their weaving as she talked to the invisible person.
“I can see and hear a lot of things. ”
“Like what? Tell me!”
“I can see the people who live in the Weeping Willow trees behind the house. I can hear what the tiny baby frogs say to one another when they come up from the swampy water down the road. I know that bees have their own language and that they have a queen that looks nothing like the ones they show on those nature shows. No! She looks more like a tall and thin fairy all dressed in black and yellow stripes with this big headdress that covers her eyes. And….”
Keira found that once she started to divulge the secrets of her day world that it wasn’t quite as scary as she’d always thought it to be. More than that, she liked being able to tell someone else all the things that went on around her. It made her think that perhaps it wasn’t that she was actually afraid of the daylight, but more upset to be alone in it so often.
She rattled on for an hour and the voice egged her on. She finally stopped when her stomach was starting to rumble a little. Breakfast was some time back and there was a handsome egg salad sandwich made by her step-mother just waiting for her in the fridge. She stood up and scooted through the little door in her wood hut.
“I need to go eat. I’ll be back soon and we can talk more!”
“I might not be here.”
The little girl stopped, turning around and trying to focus on where the voice seemed to come from. “Why not? I won’t be long!”
The voice suddenly sounded sad. It sounded more womanly when sad.
“Before I met you Keira I was very lonely and looking for someone who could hear me. I looked long and hard and found someone not far from here who could hear me as you can. Only that person was not nice like you are. They didn’t want to talk with me, but instead wanted to catch me, keep me as though I were some fantastical pet.”
“But you’re just a voice and thoughts, how can they keep you?”
“There are ways to bind anyone Keira, to bind anything. It is a magic woman. She knows many things secret things about the world. She has all that is left of me bound to a jar in her home. One night, after talking to her for so long I came to trust her. She asked to see the last place I ever sat and felt the earth. So I showed her. She took the dirt from that place and put it in her jar and said these strange words and that jar has been my home ever since.”
The little girl’s eyes grew large and terrified, the very idea was appalling to her. She had thought this creature to be truly free. Free to roam like a thought butterfly all over the planet, maybe even space. But instead it was trapped in a dirt jar by some creepy woman.
“How can you be here then?”
“When she is out or asleep, or whatever causes her mind to be distracted, I can slip away for a little while. I don’t know how much longer I have and one of these times she’ll realize what I’m doing and she’ll snuff me into that jar for good. I need help.”
“How can I help?”
“I cannot tell you. You just need to go into the sunflower fields and work your way through.”
“Down a through a corn husk door little one…”
The voice said no more and Keira found herself looking towards the dirt ground below. She saw two perfect imprints of long slender feet in the dirt. She carefully stepped around them and came to look upon a small impression in the ground. A space of three by three feet had been dug out perhaps a foot into the ground. Atop of it lay a very tightly woven looking mat made of dried up cornhusk. A small bit of corn was tied to the side of the woven mat, altering its appearance to seem more like a door.
Not straight through, but down through the voice had said. Keira reached for the small corn doorknob and pulled it instead of turning it. The woven door came open easily to reveal a space below that looked neither quite like a room that had been dug into the dirt, nor like a room being given access from a strange door actually much farther away. It was more like a mirror surface that was reflecting a room behind her. She could see her own reflection placing her within this room. When she turned to look behind her, expecting to see that room, there was nothing but the tall sunflowers gently moving with the wind.
“The refection is a ghost.”
This was a woman’s voice, very different from the masculine voice that had been leading her through the sunflower patch. The woman’s voice was strong, confident though it still carried a lingering trace of something aged and crumbling.
The little girl peered through the looking glass in the dirt till her eyes found a woman’s form in the corner shadows of the room. She was startled when the woman moved quite suddenly. Till that point the little girl’s reflection had been the only thing in there to move. She looked behind her again expecting to see the woman in a shadow of a sunflower.
“I told you, the reflection is a ghost. You will only know this place, experience it as a product of your own reflection within it. The room itself has been gone a very long time, and this is my last refuge within it. One day, when this glass in the dirt breaks I will be truly gone. Or worse…”
“What could be worse than that?”
“That is an ending my little one, not such a bad fate. Worse is when this looking glass does not break, but instead gets crushed underneath the earth above and it becomes lost underground like a dead body. This ghost will remain, but there will be no one to see it. I will simply remain here, no longer on your side of the reflection at all, but still enough of me trapped on the opposite side to linger in this world.”
The horror of this could not quite register with the little girl’s thoughts. Time and mortality were not things she had experienced, the concept of forever was too great a thing for her to master. But she could feel the fear of such a fate coming off the unseen woman. She could sense that being a ghost in the glass was already a hard thing to contend with.
“Can I see you?” The little girl asked.
The glass shimmered and the room within it moved as a whole. The little girl leaned back a little, trying to figure out why it seemed the dusty and antique decorated room within the glass moved. Then it occurred to her. The room now moved slowly, rhythmically. It was like it was breathing.
The woman stood and slowly came from her shadows. “I did not ask you here” she said quietly as she moved into the light. The little girl felt her breath catch in her throat…
The woman was tall and strongly built. There seemed a mesh like fabric that clung to her skin and over top of it many different little beaded and jeweled belts. Atop her head was an elaborate crown that made the little girl think of a pharaoh’s headdress and a ram’s horns at the same time. She moved slowly, delicately for her strong appearance. Keira’s eyes moved over the elaborate tattoos at the woman’s wrists, eventually down to the ones at her ankles until she spied the ungiving looking boots that came to a point like ballet slippers.
“I did not ask you here,” the woman said again. “Perhaps you should be more curious who would ask such a young thing to a place like this. To be witness to creatures such as myself. I am but a ghost in a dead reflection, left in the very spot my temple used to be. I am mostly forgotten. Below your feet, buried deep, is my dead world and all those who worshipped me there. And though I am but a reflection, I am still the most powerful thing your tiny little eyes have ever witnessed.”
The woman lurched forward so fast that Keira’s eyes could not register the entire series of movements. The woman was at first in the back of the room and then she was at the surface of the looking glass and her face was terribly large and menacing. Her hand punched through the reflection and came to be on the living side with Keira. The little girl found herself crying out and falling back as the tattooed and living hand on one side of the glass crashed through and showed to be so old on the other side that the very white and paper thin skin clung tightly to every single bone and tendon.
“I would close the door.” The first voice again.
Keira came forward enough to grab the door and bring it back down over the hole, but not before the ghostly fingers gently made contact with her skin. Her mind raged at the touch. All her own thoughts were gone and she instead was in a very old place watching a group of people lay sunflowers and strange dolls (made of corncobs and corn husks) at the foot of this woman. It felt like time before time. The one thing that touched her, that became very clear to her was that this was a malice of old and to know it, to worship it meant one would know the weary of suffering, even when in the creature’s graces. Then she was back to the present. The door closed.
“Why would you show me such an evil thing?”
“I showed you nothing, I simply pointed out something interesting in the dirt. Your curiosity is your own. Like Adam who blamed Eve, when he knew damn well he was making his own decision at the time.”
Reprinted here by permission of the author.