Carriages and bicycles filled the busy cobblestone street, and vendors stood on the sidewalk selling their wares. The smell of freshly baked bread wafted through the air from the nearby bakery, and the sound of a train's whistle could be heard in the distance.
A young girl stepped out of a stagecoach and gasped in awe of what was Cobbletown. She wore a white button down shirt and plain tan breeches, along with tall, brown engineer boots. Her hair was a brown-gold color, and an aviator cap with goggles rested on her head.
She wandered down the road, barely watching where she was going. I can't believe I'm finally here, on my own. I've waited so long to start a new life for myself. Although she only had the clothes on her back, a little money, and a few belongings she had fit into her leather messenger bag, a sense of optimism surrounded her. It was spring, a time for new beginnings, and this was Cobbletown, a place of success. They'll never find me here.
The girl stepped up onto the sidewalk and entered the bakery, the little bell on the door ringing as she did so. At first she thought no one was there, but then she heard the clattering of pots and pans in a back room. She stared longingly at breads, cakes, pastries and more through the glass of the counter as she waited for the shopkeeper.
The banging in the back continued, and the girl barely heard the tinkling of the bell on the door. She turned to see a tall, lean and muscular man with black hair, a thick moustache, and small, dark eyes. He wore overalls and clunky boots, and his shirt sleeves were rolled up.
"Well, hello," he said, taking a seat at a small, round table. "You must be new around here. What's your name?"
"Amelia," she answered. "How could you tell I'm new to this city? Do I look too much like a tourist?"
"Nah," he said, waving a hand. "Anyone who comes to Anna's Bakery is either a regular, or they're new, because her baking is so good they just keep coming back for more. And since I've never seen you before, I figured you were new. It's nice to meet you Amelia. I'm Bernhard." He offered a large, meaty hand and Amelia shook it.
"It's nice to meet you too, Bernhard." She pulled out a chair and had a seat at the table with him.
"So, what brings you to Cobbletown?"
"I wanted to start a new life for myself, an independent one, and Cobbletown seemed like the place to do it."
Bernhard's eyebrows lifted in surprise. "That it is, but you're here all alone? You seem a bit young to be on your own. Do you have a place to stay?"
Amelia shrugged. "I'm older than I look. I don't have a place at the moment, but I'll find one."
"Very confident," Bernhard noted. "I've seen many young people come to this town. Confidence keeps some alive in this city, and destroys others. Just be careful, and whatever you do, stay away from Wind Country."
"What's that?" Amelia loved adventure, even danger, and Bernhard had just gotten her curious.
The man leaned in closer. "That's what they call the maple forest east of here, because of the strong winds that blow there. It's a beautiful place, but ever-changing, and full of strange creatures. You would be wise to especially look out for the Shisa."
"I've never heard of that before. What's a Shisa?"
"It's a monster that lives in that forest. Looks like a cross between a lion and a dog, or so I've been told. It guards the forest."
"Well, that's a good thing, isn't it?"
Bernhard shook its head. "It does its job too well. The beast won't let anyone come anywhere near the forest, or it eats 'em."
A short, middle-age woman came bursting out of the back room, panting. She wiped her hands on her apron and straightened the bandana on her head, and then pushed aside a stray lock of strawberry-blonde hair.
"I'm sorry," she panted. "I'm babysitting my nephew today." A boy of about five years old came out of the back room, his face sticky with some type of dessert.
"Hello, Anna," said Bernhard. "This is Amelia. She's new to Cobbletown." He waved his hand in her direction.
"Welcome. Glad to have you here," Anna said.
"I was just talking to this girl," Bernhard told Anna. "She doesn't have a place to stay yet."
"Oh, dear. Another one? I'd let you stay in my home above the bakery, but I've already got a boarder in the spare room. Sorry."
"Oh," Amelia said. "Thanks anyway." She was just beginning to get worried about where she might live.
"Wait!" Anna said suddenly. "I just thought of something. I'll bet Mario's got some extra space above that pet shop of his, or at least in the loft of the barn."
Bernhard grunted. "He's my narrow-minded coward of a brother."
"Be quiet, Bernhard. There is nothing wrong with your brother." Anna turned back to look at Amelia. "Mario owns a pet store not far from here. Nice family. Ton of kids, though. He'll probably pay you to keep an eye on them every now and then."
"Sounds good," Amelia lied. She couldn't stand little kids. Partially why she'd left home was to avoid taking care of her numerous little siblings. "Where's the shop at?"
"Here, I'll draw you a map," Anna offered. She grabbed a napkin and pen out of the pocket of her apron and scrawled out a drawing of a few streets and buildings. "The square with the X on it is the bakery, and the square that's circled is Mario's Pet Shop." She handed it to Amelia and said, "Sorry. I'm not much of an artist."
Amelia studied it, then put it into her messenger bag. Anna's right when she says she's not much of an artist. I hope I can find the place. "Well, I guess I'll be going. Thank you! It was nice meeting both of you!"
Bernhard waved and Anna called, "Good luck!"
Amelia pulled out the napkin again and studied the map Anna had drawn. This makes absolutely no sense. She tried to follow the path of the map, but it only led to some little café. Maybe it was meant to be read this way. She turned the map another way, and once again tried to follow it. This time it led to a bicycle shop. I might try to get an apprenticeship here later, but not what I'm looking for right now.
Again and again, she tried to look at the map a new way and then follow it, but it never led to the pet shop, so she eventually resorted to wandering around, hoping to find it by chance. She thought of asking someone for directions, but then stopped. No! I came to this town to be independent. I'll find it eventually. But she was only getting more and more lost and the only thing she found was a mysterious brick wall and gate at the edge of town.
She started to go towards it, then stopped. I need to be looking for Mario, she reminded herself, and kept walking, her hope of finding the place nearly all gone. But it wasn't very long before she turned right back around and returned to the gate.
It was wooden, and its green paint was peeling a little. Its color stood out next to the red brick of the wall. Amelia reached for the ornate brass knob and turned. The door wouldn't open for a moment, so Amelia leaned as hard as she could against it, and it finally flew open. Amelia crossed the threshold of the gate and realized why the door had been so hard to open: the wind here was powerful. It must have been pushing against the gate.
Wind Country. All that Bernhard had told her earlier that day came back to her. She smiled and held her aviator cap tightly on her head to keep it from blowing away. "Wind Country," she said quietly to herself. Even the name felt magical to say.
Amelia walked out into a field of green-yellow grass that would have been as tall as she was if it hadn't been blown sideways by the wind. She twirled around, but stopped before she could get dizzy. No one was there to see her, but she blushed anyway, feeling childish. I'm an adult now, she reminded herself. She continued walking through the seemingly never-ending field. She wasn't sure of where she was going, but she felt a pull that she couldn't resist. It was just too beautiful here. The wind was cool, but not too cold, and the sun shone warm upon her.
She opened her messenger bag to put her cap and goggles away, but the napkin began to float away as she did so. She snatched at the air, trying to catch it, but it was too high. It was a bad map anyway. Who cares if I lost it? She then realized that her messenger bag was gone. Oh, great. It had all my money in it, my clothes, my aviator gear, my photographs, everything! The strap must have broken while I was chasing after that useless old drawing.
Amelia dropped onto her hands and knees and began to search for it in the grass, but it was nowhere to be found. Just perfect. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Suddenly… it didn't seem that important anymore. Everything was peaceful; the only sound was the rhythmic swish of wind on grass. She lied down on the ground and stayed there in a sort of half-sleep.
Amelia's eyes blinked open. She screamed as they focused and she saw a figure standing over her. She noticed a small, fallen tree branch, and reached for it to defend herself.
The young man who was standing there laughed and knelt down, stopping her hand with his. "Don't worry," he said. "I won't hurt you."
Amelia jerked her hand away quickly, then found herself relaxing once more. Who is this? He looked about Amelia's age, maybe a little older. He had black, windswept hair that shone in the sun, and his eyes were the same crisp blue as the sky. He wore a light blue shirt and black pants.
"Need help getting up?" he asked, reaching a hand out. His voice was much lighter and childish than she expected.
"No thank you," Amelia, replied. She immediately regretted it. He was very handsome, and only trying to be polite. She stood and brushed the grass off her breeches.
The young man smiled at her with a flash of gleaming white teeth. "I'm Sebastian. And you are?"
"Amelia. What are you doing here? Isn't this Wind Country?"
"Why, yes it is! And I live here. My castle's a little way's away from here. The question is: what are you doing here?"
Castle? Surely he's just trying to see how gullible I am. Or impress me. "I… got a little lost," she admitted to him. "I'm new to Cobbletown."
Sebastian raised his eyebrows, his hands on his hips. "Really now? That's interesting…" He rubbed his chin and appeared to be deep in thought. "Few people can find their way to Wind Country, especially when they're not even looking for it. There must be a reason you wound up here."
Amelia shook her head. "No, really, I was just wandering around town and found this gate. I guess my curiosity just got the better of me, and…"
"I don't doubt that you were lost. You look like the type that would get lost easily." Hey! "What I mean is, it must have been fate that brought you here."
Amelia rolled her eyes. "Mm-hm. Well, I come from a family that doesn't believe in fate. We believe in hard work and making a name for yourself, not relying on destiny."
"Of course, but there are some things we just can't explain as well…" The young man snapped with one hand, and a small violet flame appeared over his hand, flickering in the wind.
Amelia's eyes flung open with surprise, but then she narrowed them once more, crossing her arms. "Huh! You call that magic? That can be explained with the most simple of chemicals."
He clapped his hands together and the flame disappeared in a puff of smoke. "You're right. Why don't you come to my castle and I'll show you something you'll believe?" He seemed really excited at the thought, and grabbed her hand in his to lead her there.
She snatched her hand away quickly. "Um, thank you, but I've got to be getting back to town. I'm looking for a man named Mario, who runs a pet shop in town…"
The boy hung his head in disappointment. "Well, okay… see ya. Sorry if I scared you. I don't get visitors often. You know, with the Shisa and everything." He looked at her with his sapphire eyes and beautiful face. "But you will come back, right?"
"Oh, ah, sure," Amelia said, because she didn't know what else to say. She wanted to ask more about the Shisa, but she knew she had to get going. "Bye then." She ran off, completely forgetting about her bag
It took her a while, but she eventually found her way back to the gate and re-entered Cobbletown, where everything was just as real as it could be. She breathed a sigh of relief. She liked reality. She liked things you could touch, things you could explain.
And although she had lost Anna's map, somehow her feet led her to Mario's shop just the same. Maybe Sebastian was right about some things. Maybe she would visit him again.