The Quest For Serentasia
Callie slammed her hand on the alarm clock on her bedside table, growled softly, pulled the covers over her head, and tried to escape quickly into the eight minutes and fifty-four seconds of potential sleep she had ahead of her. This was a hard part of her day, but it wasn’t the worst part. That would come later.
She had been in the middle of a dream when the music woke her up. She was riding on the back of a white unicorn, who was running through… what was it? A field? She couldn’t remember as she tried to get back to sleep, and she hoped that she would be able to pick up the dream where she had left off. She wanted to see where it was leading her, where the unicorn was going and why she was riding it. Callie had never even ridden a horse.
A few minutes later when the radio came on again, Callie turned the alarm off. It was no use, she would never be able to finish the dream. Instead, she sat up. She stood up, bare feet hitting a green plush carpet, and wiggled her toes. She hated wearing socks and shoes, and if she had her way she would never wear anything on her feet. She preferred to feel all the different textures of ground that the world had to offer her.
Stretching up to the sky, Callie yawned and looked up. Her ceiling was a pale blue, with a few clouds painted here and there. She had painted her whole room, a long-term project that she liked to work on a little bit almost every day. It was an enchanted fairyland all her own, complete with a meadow and forest, flowers of every color, fairies and butterflies and bright red mushrooms with white spots, and a rainbow arching across the wall over her bed. She had even turned the back of her door into the trunk of a redwood tree. She noted as she opened the door that the trunk could use a little more brown, but that would have to wait until after school.
In the shower, Callie thought hard about the dream. What came before her riding the unicorn? She had forgotten already. She couldn’t even remember what color the unicorn had been. Callie shampooed her hair, massaging in the rose scent. She had the complete set, which had also come with conditioner and body wash. Was it a black unicorn? Or white? No, she didn’t know.
It was hard to choose an outfit, despite that she didn’t care what the kids at school thought of her. She didn’t have any friends. She never spoke to anyone unless she absolutely had to, and even then it wasn’t very much. She liked being ignored, though, so she couldn’t wear anything that stuck out too much. Jeans, of course. Everyone at school wore jeans. Callie preferred floral print skirts, but she dare not wear them to school lest someone compliment her. She hated that, because then she had to utter the customary thanks. At least if someone ignored her, she didn’t have to respond. She added a plain t-shirt in a solid color and, reluctantly, sneakers.
Breakfast was another easy choice. She liked raisin bran, but only the kind where the raisins were dusted in sugar. She threw a fit if her mother ever bought the wrong brand by accident, and her mother would turn around and roll her eyes, muttering something about “teenagers these days” and ignoring the attitude. By this time Mrs. Placeholdername was used to it from her only child, and knew that Callie loved her and was just going through a phase.
At fifteen Callie couldn’t drive yet, and she would rather die than ride the bus. Besides, she didn’t live far from the school, just about two miles. She walked there in the morning, and ran or jogged home depending on her mood and the temperature. It was April and she was running about five minutes later than usual, so she started running, then slowed to a jog when she was sure she would have plenty of time to get to her seat in homeroom before the bell rang.
Today was an ordinary day. She got through it without notice. The only time she had to speak was when Mr. Panera called on her in History class to tell him where Uzbekistan was on the map. Callie knew it, of course. Ask her to do long division and she got confused, but she was good with geography. She didn’t understand why her classmates thought it was so hard. You just look at the map and remember what countries are where. She didn’t mind speaking up in class. The other kids knew she was smart, so they no longer made fun of her or called her a teacher’s pet.
At the end of the day, she walked to her locker. She was careful to walk in the center of the hallway, avoiding students at their lockers and walking to the bus, or to after school clubs and activities. Reaching her locker she saw the usual crowd. A popular girl had a locker two down from Callie, and always had several friends with her there. This time they didn’t seem to notice that they were in the way, and Callie had nowhere to be, so she walked past and headed for the door. When she got outside she was happier. She would stay long enough for everyone to leave and then go back in.
Callie sat in the grass next to a big rock. Nobody knew why the rock was there, if it had served some purpose once. For now it was just there, and provided some shade from the afternoon sun. Callie lay in the grass, the rock shading her face, and thought about the dream again. She once dreamed that the school was like a submarine, with no doors and just small round windows. In the dream she had tossed some burning papers in a window, and as she watched the flames she realized that the school, which in her dream was just the gym, was filled with bundles of cash like she saw in briefcases in movies, and the money was also on fire. That was a nice dream, though. She liked the thought of not having to go to school anymore. She didn’t mind the classes, she just wished that there were no other students.
Looking inside, Callie saw that the halls had cleared out. She went to her locker to drop off her history book (she would do her homework in homeroom the next school day, as she always did), and got out her sketch book. She had art class every other day, and she still had to do the work assigned the day before. She had to do a portrait from real life, not a picture. It didn’t have to be complete and perfect, but there had to be visible effort. She planned to ask her mother to sit for her. Luckily Callie’s backpack wasn’t too heavy. That would make the run home faster. It was Friday, so she had the whole weekend to do the little homework she had.
Callie’s feet hit the pavement. Left, right, left, right. She kept up a pretty good pace, and if she was social at all she would have made a great addition to the high school’s track and field team. Her legs were long and lean from years of practice. She had always enjoyed running. She loved that it kept her fit while letting her do it alone. She could focus on whatever was bothering her, or just think of something else to distract herself from life. Sometimes she thought about what she could work on in her bedroom’s mural.
Today she thought about the unicorn. It was just so odd. She never dreamed about a unicorn before. She hadn’t read about, heard about, or thought about a unicorn recently. Sometimes she dreamed about things that were on her mind lately, but not this time. She decided that in addition to touching up the redwood’s trunk, she would try to find a place on the wall for a unicorn.
The first thing Callie did when she got home was to check her door for intruders. Before leaving her room she always taped a hair at the bottom, from the wall to the door. If anyone opened her door the hair would break. Today the hair was still in place. She took down the tape as she entered… and smiled. This was the safest place in the world. She loved being in her room. There was nothing bad in her magical land, only good things. She went to the dresser to put her backpack on the hook that hung on the side of it, kicking off her shoes as she did so. Something moved in her peripheral vision but when she shifted her vision, all she saw was a red haired fairy child stopped midair. Her pastel pink wings stretched out as if keeping her aloft. Of course the painting wasn’t real, and yet… Callie thought the fairy had been an inch or so closer to the dresser before.
The paint palette was on the top of the dresser, along with every shade of paint Callie could get. She saved her allowance every week and whenever she needed paint she would take the money to the art supply store and spend an hour or two looking around and deciding on what she would get. She was happy her parents still bought her clothes, and she didn’t waste much money on music, movies, or any of the other frivolities her peers bought. Callie reached for the darkest brown she had, and something moved again. This time the fairy was definitely closer to the redwood on the door. Callie shook her head. Impossible.
Before she could let her mind keep playing tricks on her, Callie squirted out some of the paint and brought the palette and a brush to the door. She dipped the brush in the paint, blotted it on the palette, and reached it toward the tree. Just as it touched the tree, something strange happened. The tree seemed to shake, and Callie heard a deep voiced sneeze. Then a child’s giggle. She whipped around but the fairy was not by the dresser at all. Wide eyed, Callie searched and found that she was now peeking out of a bird nest that sat in a hallowed out part of the tree.
“No. Way.” Callie was sure that she must be imagining it. And yet… the wall by the dresser was definitely missing one freckled fairy. And the bird nest was occupied by… “Wait, where did she go? She was right there a second ago.” Another giggle and Callie realized the fairy was still in the nest, but she was hiding. Looking closer, she could see the top of the fairy’s head.
“Don’t worry, she’s just being bashful. Give her a minute, she’ll be back soon,” said a deep voice. The tree was moving, there was no question about that. There was no mouth, but that is where the voice was coming from… right? Callie opened the door, but there was nobody there. She closed the door again and heard a low groan. “Would you please stop that? I’m getting motion sickness. Trees aren’t used to moving that much, and I’ve been a tree for over two thousand years.”
“A tree?” Callie asked.
“Yes, a tree. A redwood to be exact, but I’m sure you know that. You painted me quite accurately, actually. Thank you.”
“Um, you’re welcome? …I guess.”
“Come now, child, no time for guessing. I have an important matter to discuss with you. It’s life or death, quite literally, and sadly I am referring to yours.”
“This will go a lot faster if you will kindly stop repeating everything I say, yes?” Callie nodded silently. “Very well then. I will try to give you as much information as I can, as quickly as possible. We have no time to waste.” He cleared his throat… or would have, if he had a throat. She wasn’t sure what exactly happened when he made that a-hem sound. “Oh by the way, my name is Quincy.”