This story is by Vanessa V Kilmer and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
My mother slammed the door shut, slid the bolt into place, and locked me in the dark attic.
“I never wanted children,” I heard her yell to my Oma. “She’s so loud and always gets dirty. She’s an embarrassment.”
I banged my small fists on the aged wood, splinters bit into the flesh of my hands. I kicked at the barrier; my toes throbbed, sharp stabs along my foot. I stomped. I screamed at the top of my lungs, but no one came to let me out.
The chill, damp room in the ancient farmhouse raised goosebumps on my fevered skin. The old stones of the walls, thick gray slabs quarried from the Alps, kept out the light. Clashes of thunder ricocheted around me, and vibrations danced through the oaken floors. My senses damped down. My focus narrowed to the thin layer between me and the air around my body. The massive weight of the building pressed down on me. I held out my hands and reached through the dismal space to hold it back. A sharp pinch pierced my chest, my heart wiggled in my throat, and my lungs seized up.
My eight-year-old mind conjured up monsters with sharp teeth and long hooks. Foul creatures hid in the murky shadows. They thirsted to punish me for annoying the adults on the other side of the door.
A chill draft brushed along the back of my neck, the breath of some long-dead resident of the building. An ancient mountain man with a warty nose, and long white hair, whispered gruff moans in my ear. His rough, never-ending beard wrapped around my throat. I fell to my knees, clawed at my neck, and wheezed through strangled windpipes.
Tiny, many-legged critters scratched around me. Their bright peepers burst in pinpricks and flashed in my tear-raw eyes. They crawled through my pores; their barbed legs itched the underside of my skin. I rubbed my arms and legs and slapped at the torturing insects.
The Tatzelwurm from the salt caves high above the valley slithered through the cracks in the shutters that covered the glassless windows. Cold wormed its way into the room. The serpent’s talons clicked along the hardwood floor, tap, tap, tapping closer to me. I condensed into a small ball for protection. The sharp tang of mold and slime seeped into my nostrils and coated my tongue. I bit my lips to keep my whimpers inside. Frozen, I waited for the beast to devour me.
Gentle fingers caressed my left cheek. I raised my head and looked into the luminous eyes of an angel. He folded me in his lap, his wings and arms hugged my small form. I floated as if in a pool of water, cradled in warmth and velvet softness. He sang to me, a gentle lull-a-bye hum. His whispered assurances; he would always be with me to soothe away my terrors. Stars twinkled behind my eyelids. I breathed a belly full of air and sighed.
I played counting games with my guardian. He showed me the boundless infinity of numbers that took away the stagnation and burden of time. We built castles and palaces with turrets, spiral stairways, copper mirrors, and crystal chandeliers. I fed the blue bull that saved a fortress on a hill from invasion and siege. I led it across the parapets, showed the enemy that we had plenty of food until they gave up, and went home. We cheered despite our hunger.
Gnomes showed me how to blend in with my background. The trick was to slow your breaths and not blink. I listened in on wondrous tales: battles in frozen Russia, reindeer hunts on snow-covered tundra, and weapons wrapped in tattered clothing tossed into raging rivers.
My angel introduced me to the old man who lived in the loft. The spirit of his memories lived on. He loved frothy ale and his wife’s warm, brown bread. He herded cows into mountain pastures in bright, sunny summer days to munch on chamomile blossoms. I followed him as he wound his way higher and higher along rocky ridges littered with Edelweiss flowers. He brought the cotton-like blooms home as gifts for his daughters.
Butterflies danced around me, their wings kissed my nose and eyelashes. They sprinkled their fairy dust on my hair. I flitted from daisies to poppies to clover and supped on sweet nectar.
I pet the dragon. My fear evaporated in my growing acquaintance with him. His scales glittered in pinks and corals and reminded me of the walls of the salt mines. He nosed me up on his back, and we flew over bronze deserts, white-capped oceans, and thick forests.
We crashed to earth, and the dragon scurried away with a roar as the door opened. My Oma convinced my mother to let me out of my punishment. A rectangle of illumination stretched out before me, along with my mother’s hand.
I remembered my mother’s words.
I remembered my worlds.
I shook my head. I didn’t want to go.