I like the orphanage. It was like a magical home in the outskirts of the forest, a safe place for lost children. But I'm not lost. Somewhere, there is someone waiting for me.
I clutch the doll tighter in my arms. I look around. I'm in a completely white room, bland and boring. So I like to pretend it's magical. Outside the room is a gleaming castle, ready to whisk me away. It's easy to forget that we're the only people in the universe with a bit of imagination.
The two other kids in my room are strange. One is a girl frantically clawing at her dress, and the other is a boy rocking in the corner. The girl's name is Cinderella, I think...
"Hi, Cinderella!" I wave at her. She pauses in her neverending task.
She whispers, "My name's Ellie..." I think she looks more like a Cinderella, though. A torn up, patchy dress, and a shy voice. Perfect for a secret princess.
"Can you pretty please read the clipboards next to our beds? I wanna know what they say so badly!" I ask her, clamping my hands together.
The girl sighs, "You ask me that almost every day." She looks at me strangely and starts reciting like she actually does read them every day.
"Alice White. Age seven. Seems to have developed a case of amnesia, can't seem to form new memories. Appeared lost in the forest, taken in on January second... Alice, do I really have to read all of them? There's never anything new."
I nod, even know I don't understand the jumble of words, her voice sounded pretty enough to soothe me to sleep. She moves over to her clipboard, a weird look in her eyes.
"Ellie Hart. Age thirteen. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to the note left with her. Suffers from delusions of grandeur. Taken in on October tenth."
"What's a schizophrenia?" I question her. She shrugs and moves on.
She starts again, "Samuel Walker. Age ten. Not sure if he has a condition, but seems to display social withdrawal. Was willfully placed in the home."
"Can you teach me how to read someday, Aurora?" I ask her.
The girl laughs. "Ellie. And I don't see the point in teaching you how to read."
I stick my tongue out at her. "I see lotsa points in you teaching me how to read! I'll be able to read whole books!" I pick up a few fairy tales.
"Like this one, it has a sleeping princess on the cover!"
Rapunzel groans. "It's called Sleeping Beauty. I've read it to you a million times, you really don't remember?"
"Aw, come on! Pretty please," I beg, "with sprinkles on top!" I add at the end, to convince her. She takes the book out of my hands and stares at my dress for a few seconds.
"Your dress. It's velvet." Her eyes sparkle for a moment. I stare in wonder, as far as I know, she's never like this. "I used to wear a dress like this, but the velvet felt like it was burning my skin off..." Her hand runs down the sleeve of my dress. "But on you, it's so lovely to feel... I'm glad this one didn't get ripped up..."
The boy looks up, still rocking. Even if just for a moment, he pays attention. Even if he couldn't make a single bit of eye contact, I still feel his stare on my back. It sends shivers down my spine. The girl, however, is still feeling the dress.
"Somebody's been ripping up the dresses. I tell them not to, but they don't listen. I don't get any respect around here." She mumbles to herself, the same motion of up and down against my velvet dress.
"Ariel, don't you wanna read the book to me?" I plead, and she seems to jump.
She smiles, a satisfied grin. "It's Ellie. And sure, I'm in a good mood."
"Once upon a time..." And with that starting line, I finally close my eyes. Such a beautiful voice, it was a real shame that only us three hear it...
Someone is shaking me awake, it isn't that girl's hands though because she's in her corner of the room. It's a strange lady, wearing a white dress. I don't think I've ever seen her before.
"How was your sleep, Alice?" She talks to me like she knows me.
"It was good... I don't remember my dream, but it could've been anything! Like a dragon, or a queen..." She isn't listening. The lady is merely turning over an orange bottle in her hands, staring intently.
"Do you remember my name?" she asks in a polite tone.
"No, I don't..." No matter how much I try, names never would come to me. This lady just makes me feel shame for that, I don't really like it, the feeling of shame. "Unless it's Miss Lady?"
She writes down something, and it's moments like these where I wish I could read.
"Tell me a story, Alice. Any kind," the lady requests. I think long and hard on that, I didn't have much in my head to tell.
I start with, "There was once a little girl, with golden pigtails. She was lost in the forest." I whisper the last word like it was a dangerous secret. "She came across a home, with three spirits inside!"
The lady nods, intrigue in her eyes. "So the spirits give her three gifts, to help her on her journey. One was a glimmering stone, the next was a glass bottle with twine wrapped around it... The last was a pouch, with the warning of, 'If you open this before you reach your home, there will be terrible consequences.' Then the girl..." It seems like that's all I can come up with. What happened after that? I don't know.
"Is that all you can remember of the story?" she asks. I nod in return. "Well, Alice, I have a surprise for you." I look up at her, clapping.
I jump around, saying, "What is it? Oh, please don't make me guess!"
She hands me a bag, closed shut by a string tie. "It's the pouch from your story. Open it up." I shake my head.
"But miss, didn't you hear the warning?" I question her. She laughs.
"Alice, this is your home. There's no need to fear spirits here." I hesitate, but the curiosity fuels me so! She unties the string for me, and a bottle is inside. "It's to help you remember, Alice. And if you remember, we can find your home."
The warning rings in my head, but if it works, a home would be near. She opens the bottle and hands me a strange green circle from it. Almost like what was inside the jar labeled 'candies.'
"I'll take one with you. Don't be afraid, be a fearsome knight." She takes out one of her own tablets and swallows it in one gulp.
I try to, but it feels like I might choke on it. She hands me a glass of water and reminds me to take my time.
Finally, it goes down, after two glasses of water. The lady smiles.
"See? Was that so hard?" She reaches out to hug me, but she's interrupted by the sudden crash of me into the ground. I almost can't believe it myself, the pain only comes after I process what just happened.
She's afraid, I'm afraid too. Before I can even call for help, everything goes black.