Authors: Katie Jennings
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Contemporary
Breath of Air
FIRST OF THE DRYAD QUARTET
Copyright © 2011 Katie Jennings
All rights reserved.
And it seems to me from the dreary night,
I am going up there to a world of light,
Away from the world and the tempest so wild,
There, I am sure, I’ll be somebody’s child.
Her name was Capri, and she was Air.
She was eighteen, and for the first time since she could remember, she was home.
Home was not in Virginia, where she had simply floated through life like a leaf on a faint breeze. No; home was here, on this floating Eden with its larger than life trees and glorious meadows that were in a constant state of spring. Home was in the elegant stone castle, with its rising towers and glittering windows. It was, to a girl who had always had luminous and extraordinary dreams, nothing short of a fairytale. And if she quietly thought herself to be something of a princess, then it was for her to revel in. No one had to know.
An orphaned girl was bound to dream of being a princess at some point in her life. Especially an orphaned girl who had no past.
But all was not well. The dark dreams that had plagued her since childhood, since that one night so long ago, had begun to resurface with astonishing clarity. The dreams where she hides under the cover of jasmine flowers, listening with trembling fear while a woman screams and dies, and cruel laughter rings out into the crackling air.
♦ ♦ ♦
March 8th, 2010
Today was a special day. At least, she supposed that normal people with normal families would consider today to be special. Didn’t most people celebrate their birthdays with loved ones and friends? Maybe open some presents, blow out a handful of colorful candles adorning a sugary chocolate cake. Most people probably took the fact that birthdays existed for granted. It was just something that happened every year. Something to be excited over, but still something very normal. Yes, that was how most people must feel.
Capri Summers had never known a normal birthday, at least not from what she could remember. She supposed that perhaps before she had been brought to the orphanage, she must have had a family. Maybe she had even had parents who celebrated her birthday with her. She might have even eaten cake once or twice, and blown out those silly candles. If she had, it was a memory long gone by now.
The truth of it was, she had no idea who her parents had been, or where she had been born. Her earliest memories were of living at the orphanage in Richmond, which had been her home for as long as she could remember.
Now she was finally eighteen and legally an adult, and free of the orphanage for good. For the first time in her life, she could venture out into the world and actually try to be somebody.
And, seeing as today was her first official birthday as an adult, Capri figured she would treat herself to a slice of pie at the local diner. Maybe she would even ask the waitress for a candle to blow out. Why the heck not?
As she walked along the wet sidewalk, dampened from misty rain that had fallen the night before, Capri felt the odd and unfamiliar sensation of freedom. She could go wherever she wanted, be whoever she wanted to be. She was not entirely fond of the person she had become, a kind of mild ghost drifting through life with no real passion or goals. It had been hard for her to find the motivation to do much more than drift, so she had never really set down roots or committed to much of anything. All she had achieved thus far was a basic high school education and a job as a library page. Not much to build off of, really, though she supposed it was at least a start. And for a girl who had no beginning, a start was as good as it was going to get.
Most of the children she’d grown up with at the orphanage had had a reason to be there, and a story to go along with it. Maybe their parents had died in a tragic car accident, or their mother was single and sixteen, unable to take care of them. Capri had no reason, and no story. All she had were recurring nightmares so outrageous that she had long been convinced that she had made it all up.
How could she explain that she had vivid dreams about an enormous castle with ivy crawling up its massive stone walls? And of a courtyard, flanked on all sides by abundant flowery plants with butterflies that float freely on a warm and gentle breeze? Of a woman’s laughter, musical and sweet, just like the jasmine flowers that surround her, star shaped and smelling like heaven?
And how could she rationally explain the darkness that seems to swallow up the paradise in one greedy gulp, and the screams echoing as rough hands lift her away? Away from all sound, all light, all being.
Stole her. That was what she had always realized when she woke up from the dream. She had been stolen from that paradise.
As she had matured, she had confessed of this dream to countless psychologists, explaining how it recurred several times a month, and that it never varied. And over the years, she had come to accept their explanations that it was simply a childish fantasy projecting her fears and denial over being abandoned. Not that they ever referred to her as being abandoned, but she knew that that was what she was.
Fifteen years ago, with no explanation, she had been found in the middle of a dark alleyway by a rough and tumble rookie cop, who had brought her to the orphanage until the Richmond Police could locate her family. Since no one had ever come to claim her, the police had eventually considered it a lost cause. Capri had given up hope long ago that she would ever find out who she was or why she had been left in that alleyway on that balmy July night. The only information the police could get out of her was her first name. Since she didn’t seem to know her last name, she had been given the surname Summers, in honor of the month she was found.
She stopped in front of the diner, her hand pausing as she reached for the handle of the door. She stared at her reflection in the sparkling clean glass, took in the long, pale blonde hair and guileless gray eyes set in an oval shaped face with soft planes, and had the sharp realization that despite being eighteen, she still felt like a child. She was a child, and she was completely and utterly alone.
She suddenly didn’t feel like eating any pie. Birthday or not, she didn’t think she could stomach it. She stalked away from the diner, digging her hands deep into the pockets of her black wool coat. Tears began to brim in her eyes, blurring her vision, so she quickly cut across the street towards the park. I just need a moment to myself, she thought as she hastily wiped at the tears with the palm of her hand. Just some time to adjust before I take the next step.
She headed over towards her favorite tree, with its branches that hung low to the ground over a lovely little pond still shivering with bits of ice.
There was no bench here, but soft green grass that was absorbed with moisture from the constant March rains. She tossed down her duffle bag that contained all of her worldly belongings, and reached in to dig out her only blanket. It was a faded brown and white plaid with a couple of holes in it, but it did the job. She spread it out under the tree, then plopped herself down upon it and hugged her knees to her chest. Her head fell down as the tears began to fall freely. She tried desperately to control the strength of the sobs that wracked her body, and to keep as silent as possible. No one needed to know she was upset. It was a park after all, and it was the middle of the day.
After a few minutes she felt the rawness that always accompanied tears begin to assault her throat and chest. She sniffled as she wiped her face dry with her sleeve, then sighed deeply as she stared ahead of her at the pond.
She could see two middle aged women in the distance jogging along the cement path, their laughter drifting over the water. A man and a young boy played catch in the grass several yards away, the father calling out encouragement to his son as a broad smile graced his face.
Oh, how amazing it must be to have a father, Capri thought sadly. To have someone big and strong to protect you, to look out for you. Someone who loved you unconditionally and unequivocally.
Deciding that she had wallowed in enough self pity for one day, Capri reached into her bag for her latest library book,
. She’d read it several times before, but it still remained one of her favorites. Perhaps because she likened herself to young Jane, the lonely orphan who finds home and love with the temperamental Mr. Rochester.
As she opened the book and began to read, Capri let herself drift beyond her own life and into the pages of the story. That was her favorite thing about reading: the fact that you could lose yourself in a different life, become someone else for a short time. She could discover what it was like to be intelligent and witty like Elizabeth Bennett, or volatile and mischievous like Catherine Earnshaw. Even the guileless Jane Eyre possessed so much strength in the face of adversity that Capri was always struck blind with envy.
She had never really thought herself to be any of those things. She wasn’t really brave, and she certainly was not very witty. Perhaps she was intelligent, given that she did above average in school, but she had yet to discover what to do with it. For now, she would content herself with reading about other people’s triumphs and adventures, and hope that one day she would find the strength to be more than just an abandoned orphan.
An hour or so passed, and the sun began its descent towards nightfall. Capri set her book aside, marking her spot with her favorite blue bird bookmark. She gazed out at the expanse of grass beyond the pond in front of her, and watched as people came and went throughout the park.
She watched as a couple of small black birds chased each other in midair, flirting as birds do while they darted in and out between the trees. Capri had always loved birds. She figured that if reincarnation existed, then she would love to come back as a bird. How simple life was when all you had to do to get out of a bad situation was to spread your wings and fly.
One of the birds flew down towards her, landing in the grass a few feet away from where she sat. It stared at her curiously, as if gauging whether she was a predator or not. After a few seconds with Capri sitting very still, the bird began to happily pick at the grass for seeds or small bugs to eat.
Yes, how simple life could be.
Biting her lip tentatively, Capri slowly reached out her right arm, her fingers extended, towards the bird. She focused all her thoughts on the tiny animal, and suddenly, it stopped eating. It stood up straight and looked right at her, its tiny black eyes unmoving.
She pictured the bird lifting its right wing and spreading its feathers, and watched with silent glee as it seemed to do as she commanded. The bird tilted its head slightly as she imagined it lifting its left wing. The bird did as it was told, as though it were a puppet being controlled by strings. It stood, regally to Capri’s mind, with its wings spread out and its black feathers capturing the fading sunlight so they seemed an almost iridescent purple and blue.
She had never known why she could control birds, but it had been something she had discovered as a young child playing outside in the orphanage courtyard. She had seen a hummingbird flitting around one of the white rose bushes, and she had sat watching it with admiration, enjoying its erratic movements. Then, she had imagined it flying over and perching on her finger so she could pet it, and miraculously it did just that. It had nearly scared her half to death at the time, but when she realized that she could control it, she was mystified by her gift. It had seemed too crazy to tell anyone, and so she had kept it to herself all these years. She rarely did it anymore, but since she was feeling down it served well to cheer her up.
Capri had also discovered at a young age that she could make leaves twirl in the breeze, and if she thought about it hard enough, she had once caused the wind to shift directions during a massive rainstorm.
It was undoubtedly the most interesting thing about her, and yet it was also a source of dark embarrassment. This just made her even further from normal, as if the nightmares hadn’t been bad enough. But, on a day like today, she felt she couldn’t care less if people knew her secret. Maybe she should just pray that someone would see her, just so she wouldn’t have to hide it anymore. Maybe there was even an explanation for why she could manipulate birds and control wind, despite the hours of research she herself had spent in the library on her off time. Yes, how wonderful it would be to have someone see and understand, and provide her with an explanation.