Morning sunlight streaked in through my window, past the lace curtains and dust motes until it rested on my face, waking me from my dream. I rolled over in my bed, the heavy winter blanket warming my whole body. I cracked one eye open and glanced out the second story tower window across the room. Over our giant rose hedge on the far end of the garden, I could just see a layer of white snow covering distant hills. It was early December, and though we wouldn’t have snow until January, the higher altitude hills were much colder. Rising slowly from my bed, I glanced around my room. The smooth wooden desk sat in one corner against a window, my bed in the opposite corner. A large dresser, wardrobe, and mirror occupied another wall while art supplies shared the wall with the desk. I smiled and remembered how only a few years ago it had been dolls that took up that space. I had long since outgrown the children’s toys though, and I often wondered how long it would be before I got bored with colors and moved on to another hobby. I lost focus daydreaming while the sun slanted into my eyes again.
Coming back to reality, I stood, bare feet touching to cool stone floors. I took a look at myself in the mirror; waist-length straight, black hair in a braid fell down my back, while bright blue eyes stared back at me. My thin frame looked almost pitiful in the large nightgown. “Not enough meat on your bones!” the chef always told me, while stacking my plates with extra food that I never ate. I didn’t mind being little though; I could fit into small spaces while exploring much easier than anyone else could. It often came in handy on my many expeditions around the grounds.
Turning to my dresser, I sorted through my drawers looking for something to wear. Beautiful dresses that my aunt loved so much filled the bottom drawer, stacked neatly upon each other. Blue ones with polka dots, purple ones with stripes, yellow ones with flowers, all made of fine silk or satin with frills and lace that got in the way while running. I dug through a pile, finally deciding on red one, knee-length, with black and white lace garnishing the bottom, roses on the waist, and long sleeves for the cold weather. I pulled on fleece leggings and socks, and laced up a pair of brown leather boots. They were well-worn from adventures around the garden, but still nice enough to pass my aunts inspection. “A lady must always look her best,” she said almost every day at breakfast, assessing my choice of clothing before we began to eat. Thinking of the impending meal made my stomach growl, and I could almost imagine the succulent foods awaiting downstairs. Mouth watering a little, I quickly descended to the dining room.
Eggs from our chicken coops, bacon from our pigs, homemade biscuits and our own honey lay spread out on the long dining table. Silver utensils, a deep blue tablecloth, and white dishes rimmed with snowflake patterns adorned the table, setting a scene perfect for winter. A warm glass of milk sat at my seat, steam rising softly into the air. Soft, quiet music filled the room as a maid turned on the electric radio.
“Good morning Auntie,” I said, giving my aunt a gentle kiss on the cheek as I walked past. She was sitting at the head of the table, reading a book while waiting for me; she smiled and looked up, her black-framed reading glasses slipping down her nose. She took them off and closed her book.
“Good morning to you too, Ellis. Did you sleep well my dear?” She asked me.
“Yes ma’am. Though I had a strange dream again.”
“Care to share?” she asked as I walked around the table. I knew where this was going…
“Well, I dreamt that I was a butterfly. One of the big ones, with one black wing and one white wing. I think I was trying to fly beyond the hedge into the hills, but every time I tried our own rose thorns got in my way.” And three, two, one…
“Well well, good thing too! Beyond our home is a terrible, dangerous world with crowded filthy cities full of…”
“…wicked people who do wicked things.” I finished for her. “I know Auntie, it was only a dream.” I smiled and sat down at my end of the table, trying to ignore the little twinge of annoyance. She always did this, if ever I mentioned the outside world. I’d never even left the I served myself some breakfast and thanked the chef as he left the room. My aunt got some too, and we began to eat.
“After breakfast,” started my aunt. “I would like you to go work on the quilt we discussed last week, and after a while we’ll start lessons. Sebastian will be your tutor today though; I have my own work to do.”
“What subject today?” I inquired. Most weeks, my aunt would teach me literature, mathematics, Latin, and occasionally some science, though she did not particularly enjoy it. Sebastian, a scholarly man who lived at the estate, was a wonderful chemistry teacher though. On the days when my aunt didn’t teach me I managed to convince him to stray from the intended lessons and discuss elements and chemicals instead.
“Oh, I guess I’ll let him pick today.” I had won then. I smiled and finished drinking my milk. A butler came and cleared away all our plates into the kitchen, and I headed back upstairs while my aunt continued her reading. With quick fingers I could finish a quilt in no time, and well before lunch time mine was completed.
On silent feet, I crept down the stairs and through the kitchen to the back door. I wouldn’t be expected for lessons for a few more minutes, and I took the time to escape into the maze. The maze is what occupies most of our land. Miles and miles of rosebush corridors and arches and paths lead to fruit and vegetable gardens and ponds all over the land. Auntie only let me start exploring it on my own on my last birthday in November. She decided that thirteen was old enough to go out on my own, but by November it was too chilly to spend long out there, and it’s only been another cold dreary month since. I never liked November for a birthday; I’d much rather my birthday be in April. April is my favorite month of the year; that’s when all our roses start to bloom, and there are a lot of fresh vegetables being planted, and the whole estate lights up. Plus the rain; I love the rain.
Focusing back on where I was going, I stood for a moment while breeze picked up, cool and brisk, and energy coursed through my veins. I picked a random path through the vines and bushes and began to run. The ground fell away underneath me and I felt invincible, running and turning and going where the universe willed. I could hear Sebastian calling me, but the invincible part of me ignored him. I felt free out here, alone and unshakable in this garden. I soared past gardeners pruning plants up on ladders, trying to get them in good shape before the snow. Calling hello to them, I kept on running, eventually taking a wrong turn into a dead end; I turned around and started to go back to find a new path. Before I could stop myself though, I ran into someone, both of us tumbling to the ground. I knew every gardener by name, every single one – that had been a game of mine as a child – but this boy I did not recognize. He couldn’t have been much older than me, maybe a year or two. He had dark brown hair and bright green eyes that looked at me from under his white gardener hat. His tools lay on the ground next to him, splayed out where I had knocked them out of his hands. Both of us sat there a second, just staring. Finally, he managed to say in a quiet voice,
“Sorry miss! I didn’t see you there.” I tried to reply, but just ended up stuttering nonsense. Shaking my head I snapped out of it and stood up. I reached down to offer my hand, replying, “No, it was my fault. I shouldn’t run without looking where I’m headed.” He took my hand and I pulled him up. I brushed dirt of my dress while he gathered his tools. I looked at my shoes, at a loss for words. Thinking to introduce myself, I glanced up.
“I’m Ellis!” I blurted, a little louder than I should have, just before realizing he was gone. I felt my face turned bright red. I was being stupid, not paying attention like that. In the distance, I heard Sebastian call my name again. Startled, I headed back quickly. I hadn’t realized I’d been gone for nearly half an hour already. I was scolded for running off, but in the end all was well. The boy still nagged me though; I thought about him throughout the rest of the day, and even spaced out during dinner when my aunt asked me a question about my lesson. My face turned red again and I headed off to bed as soon as possible. I knew that I had to know his name if he lived here. Surely my aunt wouldn’t accept any new workers from the outside world, she hated them… but I could’ve sworn I’d never seen him before. I pondered this mystery for a while before slowly drifting off to sleep.
I dreamt about the butterfly again, though this time was a little different.
I was flying feeling my graceful two-colored wings move up and down, yearning for the hills, the open space, and the fresh air. The hedge approached up ahead, so I flew as high as I could. I thought’s I’d made it, but the thorns reached up to grab me. The roses bloomed a blood red color as I became entangled in their deadly vines. The hills faded to black nothingness as the thorns tore at my wings, leaving them full of holes, unable to escape. Just when I had given up hope resigned to let them entrap me, the boy appeared. His green eyes shone through the foliage as he reached his hand into the bush, and worked me free. I held me in his scratched hands, and lifted me up over the hedge. I spiraled to the ground, unable to fly, but finally free.
I woke up in a panic as I hit the ground, tangled in blankets. I was on the floor. I had fallen off of my bed while tossing and turning. Confused, my mind took several moments to take in the chain of events, and realize I was awake. I sighed and stood on shaky legs. I flattened out my blankets, and slid silently back under them. I rolled over, just as the moonlight struck my face, and fell back into a sweet dreamless sleep.