Once upon a time, in a land far away from ours, but not quite as far as you might expect, there was The Village. The Village was a normal village, filled with all sorts of shops and buildings and the characters that worked in them. There was the florist with her big, wide hat and big, wide eyes who sold beautifully colored and delightfully scented flowers; the teacher with her crisp words of discipline for wayward children and fondness for only the brightest red apples; and the baker with his big belly laugh and his vast array of delicious foods; to name just a few of the villagers. Like all the people of The Village, they had the habit of wearing their hearts on their sleeves for all to see. This was a curious habit, but one tolerated by outsiders. This habit was not enough to set The Village apart.
Most of the villagers did not care to look, to see, to wonder about why they were so different from people outside of The Village. They worked in the fields and guildhalls, took lessons in the schoolhouse, and celebrated in the taverns, content to live apart from the wide, open world beyond. But in this Village, there was one little girl who could not help herself as, spurred on by the eager-eyed bear spirit within her, she looked, and saw, and wondered.
It was a hot and humid day when the bear spirit first opened its bleary eyes within her, wincing at the brightness of day after so long a sleep. Jumping from puddle to puddle leftover by the previous night’s rainfall, the girl felt a sudden urge to see the freshly picked flowers. One to always follow a whimsy, she obeyed her heart’s command.
She looked at the flowers artfully arrayed in the florist’s stand, peering closely as each dewy petal caught the sunlight and dazzled with happy hue. A smile curved her lips as she breathed in the light and cheerful scents. Sneezing and brushing pollen off her nose, the little girl straightened, and…stopped. Breath caught in her throat, she hid back behind the stand, peeking through the reds, oranges, and purples to see the florist approach. The familiar big, wide eyes under the big, wide hat were somehow…faded. Dull eyes, with only the slightest tint of sea green to designate an iris. The little girl looked closer at the woman’s long, flowing hair of weak sunshine, bleached as if sunlight and fire had been drained from each strand.
Stepping out from behind the flower stand, the little girl walked slowly down the street, looking, really looking, at the villagers around her. She saw that all of them were the same. Young, old, girl, boy—all were peculiarly pale compared to the vibrant and lively flowers she had seen. Pausing over a large puddle, the little girl looked at her own light skin, pale sky eyes, and cloud of hair. Holding a hand to her chest, she felt the deep, disturbed rumbling within.
The following morning at the schoolhouse, the little girl saw how the gleaming red apples on the teacher’s desk carved out clear space for themselves. Vibrant and defiant, these apples knew where they began and where they ended. Looking at the teacher and the other young children, the little girl saw that they, somehow, did not. Curiously blurred around the edges, each looked barely held together, as if all of their original sharp features had been sandpapered down to soft curves that scarcely defined them.
The little girl looked down at her own pale arms folded on the wooden desk and imagined them gently, softly drifting apart. Feeling a shiver run through her, she crossed her arms in front of her chest and rubbed them briskly, needing some assurance that she was here in this space, that she existed. The heart on her sleeve pounded. With her mind’s ear, she heard a slight whimpering within, and felt fear. Ignoring her teacher’s disgruntled calls, the little girl walked, and then ran from the classroom.
Stumbling through the streets, she blindly made her way from alley to alley until the scent of freshly baked honey rolls cleared her mind. She knew the jolly baker would be able to make her smile. As she approached, a quivering sob, harsh and choked, broke the air. She paused, then padded softly and silently to peer around the back entrance of the baker’s shop. Deep in the shadows made from drawn curtains, she saw him, the big man sitting on the little stool. She saw the flour on his hands, and apron, and forehead, from where he had wiped away the sweat from his brow. She saw the tear-tracks on his cheeks. When he straightened slightly, looking blankly around his shop, she saw his eyes.
She wondered at the vivid, ocean blue, which welled with sadness and pain and a little bit of freedom. She thought she had never seen such a pretty blue. The red of the heart on his sleeve flared bright and true, and the little girl felt eager eyes opening within her. Suddenly, the baker straightened at the sound of an approaching customer. Wiping away tears with his apron, the baker erased all expression from his face. The little girl saw his eyes shut down and fade back to a dull gray, as the heart on his sleeve pulsed once more before dimming. The baker practiced a cheerful smile before the empty room before summoning his characteristic belly laugh as he walked out to greet the customer. Unheard over the sound of his laughter, a slight crack punctuated the air. Witnessed only by a little girl, a small piece of the heart on his sleeve broke off and vanished.
Deep growling shook the little girl’s chest. Placing a hand there, she closed her eyes and let the tears fall. Oh, she thought. The growling waned and a sad whining took its place. I know, she sighed. As the tears stopped and dried on her cheeks, the little girl made her lonely way through streets that appeared foreign to her, in a Village that no longer felt like home. Wandering restlessly, and hardly aware of her surroundings, the little girl found herself in an unexplored part of The Village, at the foot of steps to a charming stone cottage. Weary and with aching heart, the little girl felt a sudden rush of dizziness overtake her. Over the sound of her heart pounding, she vaguely heard a door creak open and steps approach. As if in a dream, the little girl found herself falling slowly. The last thing she remembered were warm arms around her, the pretty blue of the sky overhead, and a faint scent of lavender.
In The Village, people knew outsiders did not care to visit their town. But none of the villagers understood why. If one cared to look, to really see, one would notice the reasons.
If one cared to look, to really see, one would notice the signs.
If one cared to look…but then no one cared to look. Non-looking was the way of life for the people of The Village. But things were about to change in a way that would force sight into villagers’ eyes and feeling into their fingers. Things were about to change, all because of a bear maiden and the boy magician who loved her.