Red Candy-Star Heart

She is born on the highest mountain peak in the world, just below a burning red star. When she is old enough to know the names of things, but still young enough to imagine things as they aren’t, she looks up into the night sky and sees the star as if she is seeing it for the first time. She mistakes it for candy. No, she swears it’s candy. She can’t believe she’s never realized it before. But now she can’t stop thinking about it. Her mouth waters for it. She eats nothing and survives only on red candy-star dreams. And she can’t stop wondering; What does it taste like? Does it taste like cherries? Like strawberries or raspberries? Dried cranberries or goji berries? Maybe a berry she’s never heard of before? She wonders if it’s poisonous. Or maybe it tastes like blood. And maybe blood is just a hot, sticky-sweet syrup. Maybe the inside of that candy-star is a sweet sparkling wine. Maybe it’s coated with red sugar dust, or cinnamon. She can’t stop thinking about it. She has to know, has to. So one night while everyone is fast asleep, she sneaks out into the darkness and jumps and reaches, and reaches and jumps, until she is finally able to wrap her fist around her candy-star and bring it down to earth. It burns her hand on the way down. She tolerates it, barely thinks anything of the fact that candy doesn’t burn, shouldn’t burn. All she can think of is the sweetness. All she can do is heed her own desire. So she brings it to her lips, slowly parting them; her teeth ache with longing. Her tongue tingles, her fingertips too. The star is smaller than her palm but larger than the coins she trades for sugar and spice. She bites into it, thinking that this will be the moment where every juicy red apple, licorice and sucking candy pales in comparison. She thinks about it so much and so hard that she doesn’t even remember to chew slowly, or savor, and before she knows it she’s swallowed her red candy-star and can’t for the life of her tell you what it tasted like. All she knows is that it burned on the way down, somehow got stuck in her heart and giving it a sort of erratic beat and glow. So maybe she didn’t get the thrill of the taste like she wanted, but she now has a glowing red candy-star heart to show for it and maybe one day she’ll be able to take it out, break it apart like peppermint bark, and share it with the world.

Dream A Little Dream Of Me

She took a wrong turn somewhere and found herself at the door to a funhouse. The kind full of wonky mirrors and doors beckoning to be opened. There was no sign that said to enter at your own peril. or to not enter at all. So she took that as a sign to simply go ahead and enter. The lights flickered weakly to life the moment she stepped inside, like fire flies on their last breath. When the door closed behind her she heard a soft click. It was subtle but undeniable, and she knew there was no turning back. This house was larger on the inside than it was on the outside—the kind of thing she probably should have expected. It was full of long, narrow corridors, flanked on both sides by numberless rooms full of nightmares and wonders. The very same that always appeared in her dreams—rooms full of messy beds, abandoned playthings and unswept floors. The odd thing was, though, that these rooms had no doors. It made her a bit uneasy, to think of all the things that could enter and leave at leisure. Of all the hands that could reach out and grab her. The hallways were slightly crooked, the carpet a faded forest green and the floors uneven. As she made her way up one way and then down another she could feel the tug of something sinister pulling her farther and farther down the line. Her heart rang like a warning bell inside her chest, but Curiosity was her middle name and she just couldn’t leave until she’d seen what was inside every room. Even though she knew the last room at the end of the hall—the only one with a door—would be her Last. Somehow she also knew that the room at the end of every hall was one and the same, and that it was just the House’s way of having a little fun. Of giving false hope. The illusion of choice. The promise of something evil behind Door #1 but perhaps something good behind Door #2. She peaked inside each room as she went, holding her breath so as not to disturb any grumpy monsters or sleeping dust bunnies. Everything had once been lived in, played with, loved. Everything was now forsaken, forgotten, uncared for. Everything now had that faint mocking gleam of ice cream, sunshine and sparkling delight, but everything was now too dusty to inhale or savor. Every color of every wall, rug and blanket was now just an echo of how bright things used to be. But even so, she could still feel it—how good things had once been. How pink, yellow, green, blue and white things had been—so clean and ready for life. How everyone had laughed, how the piano had played, the tea and sugar stirred, and the stories passed along a neat little conveyor belt of timeless imagination. She probably could have made a home out of any one of these rooms—if she had really wanted. But she just kept moving along, poking her head through each doorless doorway until she realized something odd. She wasn’t getting any closer to the Last Room at the end of the hall. It was almost as if the hallway was playing a trick on her, extending itself into infinity as she kept accepting its crooked invitation. She stopped dead in her tracks and looked. Stared as hard as she could as far down as she could. And it was as if, the door was there but then it wasn’t, and the lights were on but then they weren’t, and the house was laughing but then it wasn’t; and it was like she wasn’t dreaming—but then it was like she was.

Begin at the Beginning

The King told her to “Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop”, so that’s exactly what she did. Or tried to do. But at the time she didn’t realize it was a maze, and also a spiral. She thought it was just a straight line, a circle, or a diamond. Any kind of shape at all that was just one path. One dimension. Where you couldn’t get lost tracing its straightforward line. Where there were only two directions: forward and backward. Ahead and behind. This way and that. She didn’t realize it was a lush green maze. A beautiful spiraling staircase. She didn’t realize that it wasn’t all lush and green either though. She didn’t know that in some places the roses were dying. That in others people had never smelled or heard of a rose before. And in others still, that they were illegal for their thorns. She thought that when the King said “end” and “stop” that there would only be one End, one Stop. But there were many Ends, which meant many Beginnings too. And there were many Stops along the way. Some of those stops actually were to smell the roses, but the majority of them were not.

She stopped for many things. Some she wanted and some she did not. She stopped for sweets and poison, for fond memories and nightmares. She stopped for refreshments, naps and lectures. She stopped to lose some and to win some. To live out a dream and come back down to earth. She stopped for balloons and sailboats and gardens. For bridges, fountains, sculptures and birds nesting in strange places. She stopped for a swim and she stopped to drown. For the Moon and its best friend the Sun and all of Saturn’s moons and rings. To pass a note to a friend, to light a candle and accidentally burn everything to the ground, to proofread, to run away, to apologize. She stopped for ice palaces and stone fortresses. For trolls, witches, beggars, giants, ghosts and wise old men. She stopped for pennies, wishes, bad jokes and sarcasm. For spring and summer, for melting snowmen and baking gingerbread men. She stopped and started so many times that she began to wonder if she was actually a train, or a never-ending book—if it was another End or Beginning that would be coming up next. And then she stopped and realized that they were very much the same thing.

So she turned to the King and stomped her foot, accusing him of trickery. But the King just winked and said to her one of her favorite things in the world:

“The universe is made up of stories, not of atoms.”

(“And you are no exception.”)

And so for now, for a while anyway, she was satisfied with that.

The Girl on the Train

It’s a late night train ride home and I’m pretending to listen to music. But really my phone died an hour ago, and I’m just listening to the silence between the steel tracks. And to the stories between the silence. The ones left behind by lovers and losers, old men with nowhere to go and women wishing for a better home. Stories too heavy to carry up concrete steps and out into the tainted city air breathed by angels, demons and pigeons alike. Stories left behind in sadness, relief or bitterness. I think about leaving my own story behind but there’s still so much more that needs to happen. Leaving it behind now would be careless. And lazy. It hardly weighs more than a tiny pebble full of air. I could fit a hundred copies into my pocket, that’s how light and thin and young it is. That’s how much further it has to go. So I turn back to the music that’s not really playing instead—until a girl gets on the train.

She looks about my age and like she’s scheduled to fall off the cliff of Functionally Drunk any moment now. I can smell it on her like perfume gone wrong when she collapses next to me; a slinky who’s lost its bounce and rainbow coloring. She’s all rusty and silver now. No, not silver. Grey. Like a whisky bottle full of rain but you drink it anyway because who cares. Or you drank everything else. Or you don’t even notice the difference anymore. I might notice though. One of them might feed my soul, the other one might kill me.

I think about moving but that would be rude. She might notice. Drunk people are unpredictable people. And unpredictable people either love you a lot or hate you even more. Especially girls. So I stay where I am, and just keep playing make believe with my headphones.

“I saw a ghost once.”

I could pretend not to hear her. I could pretend to be listening to the loudest rock music in the world. But I’m already taking out my earbuds and turning my head.

“What?” I ask.

“Well, not me. M-my baby sister… we were in the kitchen. She kept telling me not to be scared. ’Don’t be scared’,” she says in a soft baby voice. “’Don’t be scared, Abby.’ K-kept… looking over there. Like she could see something! I didn’t see anything!”

I’m already wishing she had boarded a different car. Because I don’t do well with ghost stories. Because there has to be someone else on this train who lives for them. Because I don’t want to take this story to bed with me. But she’s looking at me with this need in her eyes that I so dearly recognize. This need to be heard and believed. And I don’t know what else. Saved? Reassured? Absolved?

She’s doing that thing people do when they’re trying so desperately to shut down and dig themselves a hole, while also reaching up and out for help, releasing a thousand tears in the process. Like a thousand tiny bats finally given permission by the setting sun to burst from their cave. Like she’s being pulled in both directions, and doesn’t know where it’s safer to go. Into the earth or into the sky. So she sort of just stays where she is, bobbing miserably like a rotten red apple.

“I didn’t see anything!” she swears. “If I had seen something… I would’ve… I didn’t see anything!” she cries. Like I don’t believe her. Like I’m about to accuse her of something.

“Oh. O-okay.” I’m feeling so uneasy but so glued to my seat. “So… what happened?”

“She disappeared, the next day.” Her head and voice both droop into a wilted whisper.

“Who? The ghost?”

“N-no…” She looks up at me again. Begging me with her eyes to connect the dots that she’s probably so tired of carrying everywhere with her. Of connecting, disconnecting, then reconnecting again every day. There’s probably hundreds of thousands of them. So heavy in her pockets. They probably weigh a ton.

“Oh.” I say, completely stunned. “Your—. And you think—.“ I can’t even get the words out of my mouth, it’s so sad. It’s all suddenly so sadly unbelievable and unexplainable. I don’t want to believe it. But I do. For some reason I do. And before I know it I’m riding the train with her to her stop. And she’s asking me if I believe her and I’m nodding my head yes. Then she’s asking if I believe her baby sister. And somehow I know that believing her isn’t nearly as important as believing in her baby sister. So I’m nodding my head again, yes. And I’m taking some of those heavy dots from her pockets and placing them in mine. I feel them knocking against my pebble full of air, and it almost bursts. And even though I don’t know the whole story, and even though it’s so unfinished—and even though I know I should be more skeptical about these things—when I get off the train I carry it up the stairs with me. I take it out into the tainted city air where it can breathe with the rest of us. And then once I’m home, I take it reluctantly to bed.

Goldilocks

Do you know the story of Goldilocks? Do you know she spent most of her waking hours trying to find something that felt just right? Do you know that by the end of her life, her fingertips were both so burnt and so frost bitten that—had this not been a fairytale—everyone would say that both existing simultaneously on the same spot of skin is impossible. Do you know that she searched for light when there was too much darkness? All consuming and bittersweet. And that she craved the darkness when there was too much light? All warm and bright and inviting. Do you know that she was never satisfied? And that this dissatisfaction shriveled up her heart until she finally died of what the doctors called Rotted Heart. Do you know that Goldilocks lived more in the past, and more in the future, than she ever did in the present moment?

The Present Moment was a stranger to her. A peculiar lanky fellow that lurked in the shadows with a gold tipped cane. The Present Moment had so much trouble keeping himself afoot. And when he limped to her door and knocked, it never felt quite right. Goldilocks would send him away, always running back to the familiar embrace of the past, or propelling herself into the waiting arms of the future. Because this present moment was never what she wanted it to be. It was just a thin slice of crusty old bread in between a thick slice of gooey nostalgia and an even thicker, gooier slice of possibility.

Do you know that Goldilocks ate ice cream that was either melted into a pink soup, or frozen into a block of ice? Do you know that her tea was always too hot or too cold, and that by the end of her life there were more shattered teacups on the kitchen floor than there were grey hairs on her head. And that’s only because Goldilocks could never get her hair to look just right. She never had a perfect hair day. It was either too frizzy or too flat. Too long or too short. Too limp or too curly. And so by the end of her life she had ripped out more hairs from her head than there are stars in the sky.

Do you know that Goldilocks was actually an escaped mental patient, or at least that’s what everyone at her funeral said. And that when she broke into the cottage of The Three Bears she was really just hoping to be eaten alive. Because it would give her peace of mind. Because she didn’t know where else to find it. Goldilocks would never have to make another decision again. Would never have to feel the pull of desire and the push of regret. Nor the dizzying extremes of a pendulum that never stopped swinging. She would never have to feel too young or too old. Too pretty or too ugly. Too eager or too apathetic. Too kind or too mean. She could just rest in the earth while the flowers bloomed above her. But she never smelled quite right to the bears, and so they never bothered sinking their teeth into her.

It’s not that Goldilocks actually liked being this way. In fact, Goldilocks had tried very hard to change. To be different, happier, calmer, cooler, more put together. In the beginning, she had tried very hard. But almost every time she had invited The Present Moment to supper, he would only stay a little while. He would lean his cane against the table, but never quite moved his hand away from it. He would cross his good leg over his bad—as if he was truly settling in—only to uncross and cross them three dozen times before dessert was served. That is, if he even stayed long enough for dessert. It was only now and then that Goldilocks actually had his full and undivided attention. But even then his eyes wandered. His ears perked up at sounds that weren’t there. His fingers tapped relentlessly, impatiently, on the table. And he never even took off his coat. And so Goldilocks stopped inviting him for supper, because if she couldn’t learn how to live in the present moment from The Present himself, then she couldn’t learn it from anyone.

Alice in Wonderland Again

Alice invited herself to the Mad Hatter’s tea party by bribing two grave diggers with suspiciously large front teeth to dig a rabbit hole in the earth and then fell straight in. She wasn’t worried about being late; you can never be late to a tea party that never truly ends. It took her almost no time at all to reorient herself and locate the whereabouts of the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse. She simply followed the scent of sugar and madness. The long table, with all its empty cushioned chairs—just as she remembered it—was now covered in a pink and white checkered table cloth.

“We remembered how much you like pink, Alice.” The Mad Hatter said.

“You’re late!” cried the March Hare.

The dormouse was sleeping in his teapot, and Alice sat down. She stuck her tongue out at the March Hare, who took it as a compliment and blew her a kiss. Alice caught it and dropped it in her teacup. It turned into a lump of sugar that then quickly dissolved. She felt braver this time, being back in Wonderland. She wasn’t afraid of their madness anymore. She wasn’t confused or offended by it. In fact, she felt like a part of her had been slowly dying without it.

When Alice announced she’d be staying in Wonderland for a while, The White Rabbit offered her a spare room in his house as long as she promised not to grow big and wreck the whole thing again. Some days Alice didn’t get out of bed. Other days Alice spent her mornings befriending balloons with funny faces and funny voices, sent by the Mad Hatter as an invitation to tea. She spent evenings smoking hookah with the caterpillar, wondering how on earth he wasn’t confused about who he was as he kept changing from a caterpillar to a butterfly, and then back again. She suspected it was something in the tobacco, but then wondered why it hadn’t changed her at all. She even spent an afternoon helping Winnie the Pooh convince the bees that he really was, in fact, just a little black raincloud, until the Mad Hatter gingerly pointed out that “this is the wrong story, Alice! It doesn’t belong here! Go on and put it back where you found it!” And on very late nights, when Alice was much too troubled to sleep, she’d climb a tree and sit with the Cheshire Cat, and together they’d stare at the moon. She’d swing her legs back and forth aimlessly, happily—the way she did as a child when she was still much too small to touch the floor when sitting, her head empty of thoughts and full of wonder—until the moon, who was always staring back, started to complain of dizziness and asked if she would please stop.

One day in particular, Alice found herself witnessing the battle of Tweedledum and Tweedledee, until she grew so bored with the whole thing that she found herself drawing a sheep for The Little Prince, who wasn’t at all interested in taking bets on who would win. He did, however, ask Alice if she thought his rose needed painting. Alice told him that it didn’t. That it was a lovely rose. The loveliest rose in the world. But she said this quietly so the Queen wouldn’t hear, because in Wonderland the Queen’s roses were the best roses. But then the Mad Hatter—this time not so gingerly and with a glint of warning in his eyes—pointed out that this story also did not belong here, and to put it back where she found it. Alice apologized and quickly turned her undivided attention back to the battle, which in the end nobody won.

So time went on. Alice drank her tea, took long walks in the Tulgey Wood, and celebrated many, many unbirthdays. But one day, while Alice was feeling particularly bored and in need of a different sort of adventure, she found herself admiring Dorothy’s ruby slippers, and asked if she could try them on. Just to see if they’d fit and sparkle as much on her feet. And then she found herself romping with Max and the Wild Things through the great maze, getting lost and found again and again. But it wasn’t until she went flying with Peter Pan one night across the skies of Wonderland, while drawing additional stars into the sky with Harold’s purple crayon, that The Mad Hatter stepped forward from the shadows and told Alice that she must leave.

”But why?” Alice asked.

“You are destroying Wonderland. You cannot bring wild things into a mad world. You cannot bring other stories into Wonderland without slowly erasing our story. You are putting everyone here in danger, and—I’m afraid—are going mad.”

“But we’re all mad here!” Alice protested. “And I don’t want to leave.”

The Mad Hatter shook his head. “You must; it’s time. Your madness is not our madness. Your madness will kill us all.” He paused. “And,” he added, plucking the purple crayon from her hand, “Wonderland has enough stars.”

Alice frowned and looked around her. She loved Wonderland. It was her favorite place in the whole world, but she didn’t want to be the cause of its demise. She didn’t want to be the reason why Wonderland might no longer exist. She loved everything and everyone here. And it was for this very reason that Alice drank her last cup of tea, curtsied goodbye to the Queen of Hearts—and the flowers who had grown to really admire her petals—, buttered her last watch, and left Wonderland.

“You’ll be back, Alice,” promised The Cheshire Cat who had suddenly appeared, curled up in a ball, on top of the Mad Hatter’s hat. “You’ll be back when you’re ready.”

Shadow Puppet Girl

Shadow Puppet Girl flies in through my open window and kneels by my bedside. She shakes me awake and says she’s here for a visit and doesn’t stop poking at my ribs until I finally get out of bed. She smells like spring flowers dying slowly. It’s dark in my bedroom but I can still see her so distinctly from everything else. She is one color only, the color of shadow. I ask her who she is and where she comes from, and she tells me she is the shadow of my past. Of every memory and heartache and wound. I ask her why she is only one color then, and shouldn’t she also be red? The color of heartbreak and blood and rage? Shadow Puppet Girl points a blaming finger straight at me. Tells me that all my wounds cast the same dark shadow on the wall of the world, and that she can only be what I project. I feel bad about this so I get dressed. Put on a pair of overalls, braid my hair, and ask Shadow Puppet Girl to take me back to my childhood. We travel back to the age when I had the most stuffed animals, and together we rip out the hearts of every single one of them and I make Shadow Puppet Girl a dress from the soft red threads of my childhood. I ask her if she’ll leave me alone now, if she’ll let me sleep in peace. But Shadow Puppet Girl is too busy twirling around and around in her new pretty red dress and doesn’t hear a word I say.

Red

Little Red Riding Hood walks through the forest because she is bored. She wants the wolf to find her. She buys the brightest red cloak she can afford and turns into a lighthouse. She stands at the highest point in the forest and lets her red light shine until the wolves come home. There are many of them. Some want to eat her, others want to play. Some want to lead her back to the safety of her village. But there is one wolf she is waiting for, the one that will ask her to stay and live among them. She waits the longest for him, in the wind and the rain and the scorching heat. She waits through every season and every phase of the moon. She waits day in and day out and sees every color there is to see in the sky. She watches flowers bloom and die at her feet, befriends baby animals who grow and age and say goodbye. She learns about the darkness and its army of shadows. She meets Dusk and Dawn, and they become her king and queen. She stands and waits as grass grows around her, each blade a story to tell of the waiting game she plays. And even the trees begin to whisper, their crisp leafy voices carrying words of courage, doubt, insanity and love throughout the forest. Some even reach the ears of the villagers, but Little Red Riding Hood doesn’t budge. Not even when her grandmother’s plea is carried back to her on the wind. “Don’t you remember? Don’t you remember what they did to me?” But Little Red Riding Hood doesn’t care. Little Red Riding Hood grows sick with waiting. She turns into a volcano and when she erupts she becomes a red firework in the sky, and instead of howling at the moon, the wolves now howl at her.

Time

Time wore a green cloak that shimmered like the sea, like the sun losing and finding itself between the trees and their leaves. One day Time came to a place where a certain girl lived; he sat down at her table and said, “I’d like to begin.”

So she first poured him a cup of tea and then one for herself. And this time—instead of everything happening all at once or not at all—everything happened slowly; one sip after the other as Time settled back with a sigh.

“You’re going to have to learn to be patient now,” he said to her. “You’ll have to let your tea cool before drinking it.”

She stared down at her cup and saw that it was steaming, but Time was drinking his like he needed no time at all for things to cool down, or come together, or mend. Time was immune to time. To wanting and waiting. He didn’t need to wait for the right moment, his pockets were full of all the moments in the world, bottomless and sparkling.

“But what about love?” the girl asked. Time leaned forward, the corners of his mouth perking up in an almost-smile, the way the moon can be almost full in the sky—but isn’t.

“You’ll have to wait for that too,” he answered with a twinkle of eternity in his eye. A twinkle that she could have sworn was love.

From that day on Time had a place at her table, and a cup with his name on it. Nobody else was allowed to drink from Time’s cup. It sat there hot and steaming, fresh and ready, waiting for just the right moment in time. The girl never knew exactly when or if he’d show up, some days he did and some days he didn’t. But in the end he always did and they’d chat and whisper about this and that, and she gradually learned to sip her tea with patience. He’d tell her jokes about Time walking into bars and brothels, churches and monasteries, about blondes and donkeys and elephants. His pockets were endlessly full of punchlines, and he was never full but never hungry. He was as content with one bite to eat as he was with many. But still he came again and again, and drank and ate and made her choke with laughter.

This went on for quite some time, and eventually, one sunny spring morning, the girl realized that she was in love with Time. Could a person do such a thing? Could a girl really fall in love with Time? Would the universe ever permit such a thing? Was it a crime? The girl kept this secret to herself, daring only to take it from its hiding place in the dead of night when she knew everyone would be fast asleep and Time would not be coming for tea until at least the following day.

But one day, one week, Time stopped showing up. Time just wasn’t there anymore. The girl kept his cup at his place at the table in hopes that he would come. That he had just been delayed or maybe there had been some emergency at the center of the cosmos in need of immediate attention. But the more she hoped and prayed, the more futile her silent begging became, until one night she did not beg at all. She just went as quiet as the dead, and the sound of her heart breaking was deafening.

Then, suddenly, one day out of the blue Time showed up! Time showed up out of nowhere and she was so relieved and excited and bewildered, and her heart soared and plummeted in her chest like a bird trying to dive for both a pearl and a star simultaneously.

“Where have you been! Where have you been, Time? I thought I’d never see you again!” She wanted so badly to rush into his arms.

Time—not needing time at all to learn and know all there is to be known, knowing exactly how she felt about him—raised a gentle hand to silence her chatter and stop her dead in her tracks. “You can’t fall in love with an illusion.” He said it so matter-of-factly, so much like an adult lecturing a child on the ways of the world for the very first time, that it almost cut through her bones and crushed her.

“But…” She went into a mute kind of panic. Her eyes darting back and forth like a mouse with no escape. She knew he was right, she had never really thought about it before—probably because she didn’t want to. “There must be a way!”

Time just bowed his head. “There isn’t.”

The girl looked at him then, really looked at him and studied him. His heart was breaking too. “But you’re Time! You can have anything you want without waiting! Why can’t you then have me?”

Time sighed. “Because,” he said, “the same rules don’t apply for you. If it was just me in my own world that would be one thing. But this is me, in your world, and I must abide by your rules.”

“So take me to your world then!” The girl insisted. She insisted so loudly and stomped her foot so hard that the earth shook.

“I can’t,” said Time. “You are far too real of a thing to live in a world of illusions.”

“But the tea!” She pointed out. “Why could you drink the tea without waiting? The tea is in my world too!”

“The tea is not a real thing. The tea doesn’t have a heart… a heart that loves me.” He sighed. “There are rules. It would take far too long to explain everything to you, and it would only break your heart further.”

The girl tried to be brave. She tried hard to hold back her tears, to stand tall and strong like an oak but then, as Time bid her farewell, she crumbled.

She was devastated. She thought she had finally found the love of her life, but it had been just a dirty trick and there was nothing she could do about it. But then one day, the girl learned of a witch that lived deep in the forest. This was not a good witch. She was a sneaky witch with selfish intentions up her sleeve, but the girl was desperate. So she went to her, begging her for a bit of magic that would allow her and Time to be together. The witch, being evil and having a black heart, and always looking for a chance to deceive, immediately jumped at the opportunity to help the poor girl. For whenever a spell of hers was cast, it kept her alive that much longer, and she wanted to live forever. So she gave the girl a spell to cast, told her to whisper it under the light of the next full moon and her and Time would be together. The girl, being foolish and much too in love, didn’t bother to ask questions. She simply took the scroll and ran, and waited very impatiently for the night of the full moon to arrive. And when it finally did, she ran out into the night and cast her spell.

The following morning she awoke as always to the sound of the grandfather clock ticking away by the fireplace, but today it sounded different. A little funny. A little deranged, a little mournful. The ticks were no longer strong and steady, but now frantic and sad. She went over to the clock to investigate, confused and wondering, studied its face and noticed how the hands of time were shaking.

“Why?” said a voice. “Why did you do it?”

The girl jumped. That voice. It was him! It was Time! It was coming from… the clock. Oh god! the girl thought. Oh no oh no oh no! “I- I- I didn’t know!” she cried.

“You didn’t ask! You didn’t think! I told you to have patience, that love would find you with patience! But you couldn’t wait, could you? I told you we couldn’t be together. And now…” The clock sagged with a heavy sigh of regret, “I knew I should have stayed away from you, but I couldn’t. I tried… and now… I’m trapped in here forever.”

The girl fell to her knees, sobbing and pleading for Time’s forgiveness, wanting nothing more than to undo what she had done. But Time said nothing. Time was now just a grandfather clock in the house of a girl who had loved him too much and too foolishly, and the evil witch, deep in the forest with her black heart still beating, got to live another day.

The Abandoned Express

There was once a girl who loved abandoned places and finding flowers growing in the most inhospitable environments. One of her favorite things in the world to see was a roller coaster eaten up by creeping vines of green. Whenever she would get sad or lonely, she would run away to some abandoned locale where she would befriend all the memories of a past long gone. She would weave them between her fingers like a spider weaving a web of the present from moments of the past. She would take in all the sounds of children laughing, music playing and adults bickering, and she would gather them up like daisies and weave new chains that she would then drape around the necks of lamp posts, door handles, rusty gates and tree branches.

She loved these places because they were full of emptiness. Because they were a gateway from one world to another. They were her playground and just in case there were no flowers yet growing, she would always don a floral printed dress, and if she ever came across a stranger with abandonment in their eyes and a pocketful of despair, she would pluck a flower from the skirt of her dress and tuck it behind their ear.

When she stepped foot into these places she found herself growing young again. She found herself shedding all of what humanity had pinned to her breast like a curse. Every banal and concrete affair of human existence would slither away like the ghost of a snake and she would feel lighter, less like a fleshy bag of blood and bones. Like she could knock on the door of any realm and enter free of admission.

One night—a particularly lonesome night—she packed a bag and hopped on The Abandoned Express. This train never stopped running and it had just one rule: only three people were permitted to get off at any particular stop—if you let too many people into an abandoned place, it would no longer be abandoned, and that simply wasn’t allowed. So they played it safe with this one and only rule. The point was that there should always be more memories and ghosts than living souls. So one night, she got on the train, took it to the seventh stop and got off.

This was her favorite place. This was the abandoned theme park with the roller coaster, the Ferris wheel whose seats had turned into giant flower pots, the funhouse that was now a birdhouse, and the merry-go-round full of rusty horses who seemed to watch you wherever you went. She loved the horses because she knew that she could trust them, tell them anything and that her secrets would always be safe. And tonight—on this very lonesome night—she had a lot to tell them. But when she got there she spotted a figure sitting atop one of the horses. He seemed as lifeless as the horses themselves, but as she approached him she realized that he was just like her. Very much alive and very much human. But she noticed something else too; there were vines creeping up his legs and arms, tying him down and intertwining his limbs with those of the horse.

“What’s happening to you?” she asked, her eyes wide with concern.

The stranger looked down at her, abandonment in his eyes and his pockets full of despair. “I was the fourth one to get off at this stop, I broke the rule. I didn’t listen. And now I’m going to die here.”

The girl, deeply saddened by this news, reached down her dress, plucked a white flower from the skirt, and tucked it behind his ear. And that’s when she realized why she loved abandoned places so much, because she could always leave. Because they were her playground and not her grave.