By Amanda Pizzolatto
“Gather around girls, gather around! It’s story time!” Aunt Nancy, the headmistress of the orphanage, sat down in her usual chair, the rocking chair set in the corner next to the fireplace. She picked up her sewing while she waited for the girls to get situated. The girls ranged from five to sixteen at the moment, and the older ones were helping the younger ones sit down. “Everyone ready?” asked Aunt Nancy. She eyed at one girl in particular, eleven-year-old Rita Root. Rita was a bit of a rambunctious child and could be disruptive once she got that mischievous glint in her dark brown eyes. Right now there didn’t seem to be a particular glint in her eyes and her black coils flowed freely around her shoulders. She smiled sweetly when she noticed the eyes of the headmistress on her.
“No mischief tonight, Aunt Nancy.”
Aunt Nancy nodded slowly. “Alright then.” She turned to the other girls. “All ready?”
“Ready, Aunt Nancy!” camed the chorus.
Aunt Nancy smiled. “Wonderful.” Her fingers began sewing while she rocked. “Now, what shall it be tonight? An old favorite or a brand new story?”
“Old!” called out several voices.
“New!” called out the rest, Rita’s voice being the loudest.
“Raise your hand if you want a new story.” Several hands shot up. Aunt Nancy counted them quietly. “Well, it looks like we have a couple more for new tonight. New it is then.”
“Rita’s holding up both her hands!” whined a little girl named Tiffany.
Aunt Nancy chuckled. “I know, I didn’t count it. Even without her second hand, there are more people who want a new story tonight. You may put your hands down now.” Rita grinned as she lowered her hands, but Tiffany huffed and shot Rita a glare.
“So, a new story, now let me see . . . ah yes. I haven’t told you this one. A long time ago, right before the genies fixed the portal problem, a young boy went into a portal and found himself on another world.”
“Obviously,” muttered Tiffany.
“Sh!” said Rita before turning her shining eyes back to Aunt Nancy.
Aunt Nancy chuckled softly. “Yes, one would find themselves on a different world after going through a portal. Anyways, this boy found that above the sky, there were sea creatures swimming around!” The girls gasped and leaned in closer. Aunt Nancy grinned as her fingers flew faster over her sewing. “That’s right, the boy could see fish and whale-like creatures, shark-like creatures, and creatures with some of the longest necks he had ever seen swimming around above the sky. The boy went exploring, and found that the place he was at had a dome around it, kind of like a snow globe.”
The girls gasped. “He really was in the ocean!” exclaimed several voices.
Aunt Nancy chuckled. “That he definitely was. The boy decided to explore some more. Were there any people living here, under the sea? What kind of people were living here? Did they ever go to the surface?”
“Did they?” asked the girls.
“Sh,” said Aunt Nancy, “and let me finish the story. The boy explored this snowglobe-like domain, but he didn’t come across any animals or any people for many miles. He began to wonder if he was all alone on that snowglobe island, for as he explored more, an island it most certainly was. The boy explored some more and found some houses, but there was no one inside.”
The girls gasped.
“Almost like a ghost town,” whispered Rita, excitement gleaming in her eyes.
“It does seem like that, doesn’t?” said Aunt Nancy mysteriously with a little smirk. “The boy kept going and seeing more and more houses, eventually finding himself in a city.”
“An abandoned city!” said Rita, her enthusiasm and excitement bubbling to the top.
“An abandoned city, or so he thought,” said Aunt Nancy with a smirk. The girls let out soft gasps. “There was someone there, quite a few people, in fact, and animals. But he didn’t realize that’s what they were at first because he thought they were statues, they were standing so still and it didn’t look or sound like they were breathing. Their eyes were closed too, but again, he didn’t realize that at first. Plus, the peoples of that world were animals that could stand and move like humans with three pairs of wings and two sets of eyes.”
The girls gasped. One of the smallest ones scooted closer to one of the older ones. “That sounds scary.”
“Oh darling, they’re only scary so they can scare away the bad creatures of the universe. You see, they’re kind of like angels; their job is to watch over the universe. And like the angels there are nine choirs, if you will, each one based on a different animal; lion, dragon, eagle, unicorn, turtle, elephant, moose, salamander, and wolf.”
“Then why were they staying underwater and sleeping?” asked Tiffany.
“I’ll get to that part of the story in a moment, but right now, the boy was exploring the city, fascinated by how beautiful it was and how peaceful with nary a sound but a gentle breeze blowing through the treetops. He walked to the center of the city. The tallest building in the whole city stood there surrounded by a beautiful garden. And right in front of that building stood a column on top of which stood an enormous emerald surrounded by several smaller emeralds. The boy took an emerald to look at it and the ground began to shake.” The girls gasped. “The boy quickly put the emerald back, and the shaking stopped. He paused for a moment to see if anything would happen, but nothing else seemed to change. He turned around, and one of the statues had moved!” A couple of the girls let out squeaks. “It was a wolf-headed one too and it was snarling.” Aunt Nancy cleared her throat before trying to deepen her voice to sound big. “‘Why did you touch that emerald?’ asked the wolf creature.” Aunt Nancy switched to a higher-pitched voice to mimic a young boy. “‘I-I’m sorry sir, I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to touch it. I’ve never been here before.’ The wolf creature seemed to soften a bit. ‘I am sorry if I frightened you. You are right, how could you have known? And you did put the emerald back. How did you get here?’ The boy explained that he had come through a portal from Alixandria and was only exploring. The wolf creature decided to take him on an official tour. That’s when the boy found out that everything he thought were statues were in fact other members of the wolf creature’s race and the native animals of the island. When they’re underwater, they hibernate as it is the closest thing to winter that they will ever experience. The island rises to the surface in the spring and sinks again in the late autumn. There are multiple islands, and some are on the surface now while others, like this one, are taking a break.” Aunt Nancy paused in her sewing to wave her finger. “Which further proves my point, you must get some rest. We’re not meant to be working hard all the time.” Her hands got back into the rhythm of sewing. “The wolf creature told the boy about the nine races that live on that world and all the animals as well as about the gem stones. Each stone that was placed on that column has power connected to the island, and also needed to rest, which was why the island shook when the boy took the emerald: it wasn’t done resting. Finally the wolf creature took the boy back to the portal and sent him home. And that, girls, is how we know about Islanra.”
“Oh!” the girls exclaimed.
Rita heaved a sigh. “I wish I could go on adventures, travel to other worlds.”
Tiffany huffed. “Of course you would. You wouldn’t stand still long enough to learn anything though!”
Rita stood up and placed her hands on her hips. “I would too!”
“Rita, Tiffany, it’s a little too close to bed to be fighting, don’t you think?” asked Aunt Nancy.
Rita sat down with a huff before both girls answered, “Yes, Aunt Nancy.”
“And speaking of, it is time for bed. You should head that way, I shall finish my sewing.”
“Aunt Nancy?” asked a little girl.
“How do you know so much?”
“Well, having an ancestor who, while a trickster, enjoyed hearing and telling stories certainly helps.” Aunt Nancy smiled and tapped her ear. “But really, I listened and paid attention to everything I could when I was growing up. And the older I got, the more I learned. When you get to my age, I’m sure you’ll know just as much as I do.”
Renee smiled. “Then I can’t wait to be as old as you are!”
Aunt Nancy held out her arms and scooped the girl up into a hug. “I can’t wait for that either. Now hurry along, you might have your own adventures tonight, in Dreamland.” The girls giggled as they got up and hurried towards their rooms. Only Rita stayed back, a soft pout on her face. “What is it Rita?”
“No offence Aunt Nancy, but I don’t want adventures just in Dreamland, I want real adventures to happen.”
“Ah, but see, you never know when these adventures might take place, so you had best be prepared. Like with this boy, it could happen when you least expect it and when you’re not looking for it.”
“Do you, so you think I could have an adventure?”
Aunt Nancy smiled. “Of all the girls here, I think you’re the most likely.”
Rita grinned. “I like that.” She dashed to Aunt Nancy and kissed her cheek. “Good night, Aunt Nancy.”
Aunt Nancy hugged her. “Good night dear, get as much training for adventures as you can tonight in Dreamland.”
Rita snickered. “Yes ma’am.” She bounded off to her bed.
Aunt Nancy sighed and chuckled. “Oh yes, you are the most likely to have an adventure, one that will be talked about for ages.”