The Beginning - Prologue
More and more recently, I'd begun to feel like a woman on fire.
Not in a sense that I'm shouting in victory, winning several games of something in a row and exclaiming that I'm on fire. I mean on fire. In the scalding hot pan as someone tips me forward, drowning me in spirits and setting me ablaze.
My skin scalds as I make my way through life, trying just to put out the flames before they consume me.
The last few nights I'd had weird dreams. These were dreams of a place I thought maybe I recognized, or perhaps just somewhere I'd dreamt up from a book I read long ago.
In either case, I wasn't the sort of girl to dream about fairytales. I was the girl who had to work hard every night after school. I was the sort of girl who busted her butt cleaning up around the house so that the Janes would consider helping me with college tuition money. I was the girl who helped her pregnant foster mom get her young foster sister off to school before running to her own bus stop which was just a little further down the road. I was a hard worker, not a princess in a fairytale or a damsel in distress.
My body began to compress into the mattress and my spine straightened out. My back was so sore from the shift I'd just worked. It was one in the morning and I had to be up at six for school, and then do it all over the next day. Maybe tonight I'd welcome the dreams about the castle, every now and then I needed an escape.
Nonetheless, the moment my eyes shut and my brain stopped racing the dream came to me again.
I'd spent the better part of my childhood sitting in this very same college lecture hall where the lights were dim and the air smelled of must no matter who came to sit here. And believe me when I say many have come to sit here, I should know. I've watched the Fae flounce into the room and take their seats and I've watched orcs stumble in. I'd watched elves with their elven cohorts take a secluded seat and I'd seen centaurs with other misfit species, giggling and giddy for the first day. I came into this lecture hall every semester to hear the opening speech of this class. The opening speech was the same time after time, consistency was key. The class was "Intro to Magics" and it was nothing more than a basic skills seminar, the first of many.
Dust billowed through the lights that streamed in onto center stage where she'd soon take her place. I followed her around and listened to her opening speech more times than I can or could ever count but today felt like hearing it fall upon virgin ears because it was directed to me amongst others who would be my classmates.
Elegantly, Mafalda Winters levitated from somewhere unseen up above with very little effort. That was how she'd always done it, a show of power as she floated down from the rafters. My childish joy was impossible to contain, I smiled with glee as she began her spiel.
"Good morning and hello." She began politely and the class repeated it, myself included with no pronouns tacked onto the end. Her lilted voice soothes my ears, my heart starting to slow down. I hadn't even noticed it pounding away in my chest.
"Hello." I muttered under my breath as though she was new to me.
She straightens up and looks directly at me in the front row before beginning her pace, "Today is the start of something you'll never hold or sell or touch," She licks her lips mid sentence, pausing as though she's nervous and I fear she might be, "You'll never encounter it with any of your senses but it is a gift beyond any other. Today I give you knowledge."
Flaring out her hand and rolling her wrist so that her palm faces upward her hand sparks with a slowly glowing brighter flame that nestles itself between her fingers as she wields it.
"Knowledge is a fickle beast," She tells us all and I nod, this being the part that I've committed to memory, "It is fed on the daily by every sentence you speak or hear. And, of course, it grows."
Exaggerating, the flame in her palm grows larger, "Here you will learn a special breed of knowledge, you will learn magical knowledge. Here you will learn to take your gifts and let them flourish. Let them burn."
My heart swells as she says this and she smiles right at me, "Welcome to FernWood, School for the Magically Gifted."
There are deafening cheers all around as the energy of the room pulsates and glows. The college hall grows bright the way it always does at this time and I clap just like I had every time up until today, up until my eighth birthday when I could finally be a student. I'd dreamed of the moment when I'd learn how to utilize my powers for so long. Everyone who knew me knew that fact.
And now came my favorite part as she rolled out the blackboard.
"Class, please form a line. You all get to glimpse into your future." A smile tugs at the corners of her lips and she allows it to form, watching as we each step up to tell her our fate.
"I see myself," A girl with hair the color of fresh ginger says, "And I'm graduating top of my class!"
We all smile and clap for her as she grows red, realizing how loudly she'd informed us all of that fact. Nonetheless, she's celebrated for what she sees.
"I look forward to that day." Mafalda bows to the girl and she takes her seat once more.
From my spot at the back of the line, I see everyone cycle through, nervous beforehand and then relieved and smiling after they've seen a little taste. Although I've had this advantage of growing up here in this lecture hall I'd never been given the chance to look in the mirror. That's what it was, after all, it was a fun glamour disguising a gazing mirror as a blackboard.
The boy in front of me obnoxiously shouts, "I'm gonna win the lottery!"
"Congratulations." Mafalda says with a polite smile and finally it was my turn. My palms grow sweaty as I step up to look. I'd waited for this moment, too, for as long as I could remember.
But instantly my brows are knitted together and my lips are downturned as I gaze upon the board. I look to Mafalda, seeking guidance as always.
"I see you." I say with a frown and it's difficult to hide my disappointment.
"Doing what?" She inquires and my heartbeat quickens until I feel it in my throat.
"Nevermind," I say, "It isn't you."
"How do you know?" She urges and the entire class leans in to listen and whisper about the heated exchange in front of them. Sweat drenched my robes and my palms are clammy. I feel the distinct burn of tears welling in my eyes.
I finally stammer out, "Because you'd never hurt me."
Her eyes widen and fear is plastered on her delicate features. She waves someone over and whispers something to them before taking my head and leading me out of the room. I take one last glance, stalling, and trying to figure out what I'd just seen.
There's metal and rage in the eyes I see as I look at the other her in the blackboard. What had I done wrong? Why was I kneeling before her? And why did she have a sword? I didn't understand any of what I'd seen.
The click of her heels joined with the plodding of my flats on the marble flooring resonates down the lengthy hall. All the way down I see it lit by lanterns and the mahogany wood shines in the dull glow of early morning streaming in through nearby windows. It was early, as every first class had to be. It was the magic of morning becoming day that always made it more special.
We walked down a long hallway and passed by classes filled with children of all ages doing different activities. I peeked into a few classrooms and was fascinated by what they were learning and attempting to do. This would occupy my mind for the moment.
When I looked into the first classroom they were all gathered around something and when they parted just slightly, backing up from what it was, I saw that it was a hatching dragon egg. The dragon crawled out slowly, whipped its head back, and let out a small roar. My eyes felt like they were going to pop out of my skull from how large they got.
In the second classroom they were learning about potions. I still feel a little bad seeing how one girl looked over at me and got distracted, pouring in too much of some smelly substance into her potion which then in turn exploded. The Headmistress tugged on my arm so that I would not distract any more classrooms and then led me up a very large marble staircase.
"Parker, dear..." She smiled sweetly at me and I smiled up at her. My stomach twisted and turned in on itself, though. I felt ill.
We finally ascend the grand staircase which leads up to her office doors. I know them well, I'd played in that office since I was very young. Some of my earliest memories were here, in this school.
Which is why I did start to cry and scream when she walked me into her office, sat me down, and materialized a suitcase full of my belongings with a delicate snap; I didn't own much. I had a few robes that I assumed I'd leave behind, a sundress, a few spare pieces of change that I had collected over the years, a stuffed bear, and a locket that had a picture of a woman that I assumed was my mother in it. The woman in the locket had a million dollar smile that sparkled like dragons bounty, like a gleaming mountain of gold.
Whereas Mafalda's expression was forlorn, tired even.
"Parker," She explains, "FernWood just isn't safe any longer for you."
The dull ache of my heart starts to grow and fester, burning within.
"You'll be safer in the Magicless world, until I figure out what that vision meant. And then, I'll send for you," She holds out a well manicured pinky finger, "I pinky promise."
I take the pinky and tell her, "I know you'll keep your promise."
"I certainly will," She tells me and then adds, almost against her better judgement it would seem, "I made a promise to your mother a while ago that I would keep you safe and this is how. This is also why I have to send you away."
"So you did know my mom?" I ask, having not realized that for many years. Mafalda had never made a lot clear to me. Like Eredith, whom she never let me play with. And Grams, who she never let me go see despite her being my grandmother. Mafalda usually kept me all to herself. I even lived with Mafalda.
But Mafalda never let me call her mom.
"I did." She nods and looks at me with a tender expression, "And she was great just like you will be someday. But that's a story for another day, when you come back."
"Okay." Was all I had to say just as someone came to get my suitcase.
Mafalda pulls me into one second-to-last tender hug and gives me a bittersweet smile. "You'll be alright, my child. I'll make sure you're taken care of."
I'm silent as they walk me out of the front door, I'm silent as she hugs me goodbye, and I'm silent as they walk me to the car that will take me to the docks.
I remember thinking, But what about Eredith? And Grams? Will they be alright without me here?
"You're officially expelled, Parker Fern." Headmistress Mafalda tells me as I give her the last hug for a while, my memories already beginning to fade and crumble. I couldn't remember my room anymore, or the color of its walls.
I'd started to forget the information I'd learned during the lectures I sat in on.
I forgot completely what the flowers in the back garden looked like, and especially what they smelled like.
I wanted to leave before it was all gone.
So I stared back at Mafalda Winters one last time, admiring her beauty, and I vaguely remember telling her my goodbyes before fleeing. I forget the words I said, all that was left of them was the memory of my lips moving once they're said.
The moment I left the grounds, I forgot what the school looked like altogether. My beautiful memories of this place flew away like ashes in the wind.