Sarah Everett was always a strange child. Those who liked her would say she was a true individual, that she marched to the beat of her own slightly off-key drum. Those who didn’t like her had less savoury words for the burgeoning eccentric, but she did her best to ignore their words on her good days and content herself with late-night musings on the perfect comeback on her bad ones. After all, it wasn’t her critics’ fault they were boring any more than it was her fault she felt compelled to curtsy to the squirrels or ask the trees permission before resting in their branches. Yes, Sarah was a grade-A, 100 percent, dyed-in-the-wool weirdo. And proud! But something was still missing.
The only problem, of course, with marching to the beat of your own drum is that very rarely can you find someone to march along with you. And Sarah, for all her strange ways, was in general very quiet, very reserved, and very, very lonely. So as years turned over into years, she grew better at pretending to be boring. She gave the squirrels only a knowing nod, and she learned the right places to laugh and needle and demand answers about the boys and clothes and TV shows that seemed so very important to her peers. She made friends. She grew up some. And most of all, she ached.
It wasn’t that her life was bad, on the contrary-she had a loving family. Friends who if they did not understand her, at least liked her company and the face she put on for them. Good grades, food to eat, a nice house-everything a person should ever want to make them happy. Yet still, despite all that, something always felt as though it were missing. She would wake from a dream with the feeling that here, in this world, was not where she belonged. Rather, she felt wherever or whatever she had just awoken from, dancing just beyond reach of waking memory, was the place she ought to be. Yet her childhood years went by and no shadow tapped at her window, no rabbit led her down into the earth, no friendly wind whisked her away, and every closet she opened had a disappointingly solid backing. Still, for all her trying to push it down, to grow up, to accept the real world, a deep part of her still believed. And she feared very much, that it always would.
One night as she was lying in bed, not so very different from the many drearily ordinary nights that had come before it, Sarah felt the old longing come on with a vengeance. Come on Sarah, enough with that. She tried to admonish herself. You’ve got that double-date tomorrow, maybe you could just try being excited about that? She turned first one way, then the other, trying to get comfortable and most of all to get her mind to just quiet down for once. It was less than obliging.
With an aggravated groan, she flicked on the lamp by her bed and sat up. Rubbing her eyes against the bright light, she stumbled down the hall to the bathroom. After flicking some water on her face, she stared long and hard at her reflection. “Alright Sarah.” She told herself gravely. “You are going on a hot date tomorrow with your best friend and you are going to be excited about something real. For. Once.” She glared at herself a moment before groaning and resting her head on the mirror. Who was she kidding? No matter how hard she tried, when her brain got in one of these moods things in this world-the real world, she tried to insist-just didn’t excite her as much as she knew they should. What was wrong with her? She shambled back down to her bedroom dejectedly. She looked longingly out the window.
Don’t do it. She told herself. You’ll just be more disappointed. She shut her eyes tight and opened them again. Don’t do it. She thought, as she walked towards the window. She leaned against the cool glass and stared out into the night. Don’t-“I believe.” She whispered. A moment, and nothing happened “I believe.” She pleaded. “Please. Please, I believe.” One last time, despairingly. “I believe…” After a moment, she let out a pent-up breath. Who am I kidding. She thought to herself. This is all there is-there’s no magic escape and I’d be too old even if there were. She curled herself into a ball as she lay down to sleep. At least, she thought, half-begging her subconscious, at least in my dreams, let me go there.
Not much later, she awoke with a start. The room was much colder than it had been, and a glance around the room showed why- the window was open. What the- Sarah went stock still and her mind started racing. Was someone in her house? In her room, right now? She looked around frantically, looking for signs of an intruder while trying to stay as still as possible. Maybe they hadn’t noticed her. Maybe she’d opened the window in her sleep. Maybe-she swallowed a scream, not daring to let it escape her throat. A hulking figure stood in the corner. No, not a figure…it turned to reveal bright glowing eyes. A shadow.
Before she could so much as stand and give one of her squirrel-famous curtsies, the shadow was on her, lifting her by the arms and flying out the window. “I’m dreaming.” Sarah laughed madly. “I have to be dreaming.” Her heart felt like it was soaring- she loved the dreams where she flew.
But something felt…off. She was very sure hours had passed, and it seemed as though she was flitting in and out of being awake- but surely that wouldn’t be the case if she were dreaming? She didn’t know how much time had passed when she was woken very roughly by the scraping of her legs against a tree canopy. “Ouch, hey!” She called to the shadow. If it heard her, it didn’t answer. “Be careful, please!” In response, it let go. Sarah screamed as she fell through the night, the last thing she recalled before a blank mind the gritty feeling of sand beneath her legs.