“I hate you!”
Elain slammed her bedroom door so hard one of the papers taped to the outside came undone and slid halfway under the door. She was too angry to pick it up. She heard her mother’s footsteps stop right outside her bedroom. The paper moved and Elain stepped on it to prevent her mother from picking it up and putting it back on her door. It was stupid, she knew, but it felt good to be angry, to rebel, to impede her mother from doing something, even if it was something as mundane as picking up one of Elain’s old drawings.
The paper ripped. Elain heard her mother gasp as she released the paper.
“Elain Marie,” her mother said sternly, “I have had enough of this disrespectful behavior. You will stay in your room for the rest of the night.”
“Good!” Elain yelled at the door, but her mother’s footsteps were already growing fainter.
She picked her foot off the pink construction paper on the floor. It was faded from time spent in the sun, and now crinkled, scuffed and torn, but she recognized it. It was cut in the shape of a heart. She pulled it through the slit between the floor and her door and turned it over. Stick figures in crayon hugged one another, she and her mother. Elain tossed it across her room and watched it flutter to the floor as she walked over to her bed.
Another drawing was taped to her headboard. It was a picture, of better quality, being more recent, of herself, her sister and her mother all walking home from the ice cream shop, stupid smiles on their faces and ice cream cones in their hands.
Angrily, Elain ripped the picture down and remembered with a shudder why it had been taped there. The wooden carving of the stag stared back at her. Turning her back quickly on the soulful stare of the nightmare-inducing creature her great-grandfather had carved, Elain let herself fall to her mattress; it bounced beneath her as she stared at the ceiling.
It wasn’t her fault. Her mother was so unfair to be angry with her. It wasn’t like she meant for her sister to fall and scrape her knee. Kyra was always dragging behind. Did she really have to watch her every moment? Because that just wasn’t fair. It’s not like Elian even wanted her to come along, and it was hard enough to get to play with those girls anyway without her little sister having to tag along.
No, it wasn’t fair for her mother to be mad at her. She should be thanking her for begging to have Kyra invited in the first place!
Now she was grounded from playing with her friends for a whole week! All because Kyra whined and stomped.
All that whining worked for her. Her parents loved Kyra more anyway. Well, maybe Elain would run away. Then they’d be sorry. Then they’d know how much of a help she really was. Then they’d realize how badly they treated her. But she would be gone, and they’d have to live with their misery.
Angry tears streamed down Elain’s face, some drying to her cheeks. She wiped them away and sat up. That’s just what she was going to do. Later tonight, when they were sleeping, she’d slip out the back and run away. She got up and grabbed her backpack, ridding it of homework, she packed her most needed possessions. Then she tucked her bag under her bed and pretended to sleep.
Elain opened her eyes. Moonlight spilled in through her bedroom window and onto her face. She’d fallen asleep! Scrambling to her feet she stopped and listened. Sometimes the old house made strange noises in the night, but this was different.
Tap, tap, tap.
Elain turned toward the window.
Tap, tap, tap.
Her eyes grew wide. There was something moving in the moonlight, casting a huge shadow onto her bed. The shadow of a man. Elain’s bedroom was on the second floor, there was no reasonable explanation for a man to be standing on her windowsill, and yet there was the shadow of one. She rubber her eyes, and to her surprise, the shadow was gone.
Elain walked over to the window and looked out. She saw nothing on the quiet streets below. She opened the window and peered down. The night air was cool, but comfortable, like summer lingering into fall. She looked to the side; the rose of Sharon bush grew to the side of her window, but wasn’t tall enough to cast a shadow. She looked to the other side. The ivy. That had to be what cast the shadow. It must have blown in the breeze over her window and she thought it looked like a man.
Relieved, Elain closed the window and turned back toward her bed. She was wide awake now, time to follow through with her plan to run away. Perhaps she could stay in the garage unnoticed for a time.
Leaning against the window she looked at her bed, her own shadow spread across the unmade covers, but something strange seemed to be growing from her head! Elain turned to see if the ivy blew in front of her window again, but it didn’t. Looking back, she noticed that the growth was not part of her shadow at all, nor was it even a growth. It was a man. A very small, ugly man.
“Who are you?” Elain asked, jumping away from the window and her bed.
“Is that how you greet guests? My, what a strange place I’ve come to.” The little man removed his red cap and scratched his head.
“Guests! Guests are typically invited. I don’t recall inviting you.”
“You did. I mean you still wish to go to Runaway, don’t you?”
“You certainly are the repetitive type.” The little man jumped from the bed and walked toward her. He must have only reached her kneecap in height.
Elain twisted her lips. “I must be dreaming.”
“It was your wish, to show your family how sorry they would be if you were gone, wasn’t it?”
“I—well I suppose,”
“Then, Toadstool at your service.”
“I thought we were done with that.”
“Done with what?”
“Would you like to come to Runaway or not?” The little man sighed. “To show your family a thing or two about missing you.” Toadstool leaned on Elain’s backpack and twirled his red cap over his finger.
“How do I get there?”
“Ah!” Toadstool stood straight, snapped his cap on his head and bowed. “I thought you’d never ask.” He reached up to grab Elain’s wrist and towed her to the window. “We’ll be taking a wyvern. Best way to travel such a distance.”
“I am dreaming.” Elain said as she stared at the scaled tail dangling in front of her window.
Toadstool lifted the window with ease and stepped onto the sill. “Going up?” He extended his hand.
“But how will I get back?”
Toadstool bowed his head and shook it, and stepped back under the window. “Those who go to Runaway never wish to go back.”
“Because they get what they asked for.”
“But what if I don’t?”
“You will.” Toadstool’s smile was suddenly frightening.
“And what’s that?”
“Your family will see how awful they were to drive you away. They’ll miss you terribly.”
“Then, I’d want to come back, and tell them I’m all right.”
Toadstool’s eyes narrowed for a moment, and Elain shrank away from him. “I will not be going with you and your wyvern,” she said.
“I think you will.”
“You can’t take me!”
“Yes, I can!” Toadstool reached for her, but a growl resounding behind Elain caused the little man to jump back.
Elain was afraid to move.
“You cannot take who does not want to be taken, Toadstool.” A voice said softly after the growl had faded.
“She does want—"
The growl cut him off again. Elain saw a light surrounding her from behind and fear kept her from turning toward it. Toadstool shied from the light, holding a bony arm up to his eyes. He skittered back and grabbed the wyvern’s tail. The beast shrieked as it flew away, the little man clinging to it.
Elain was alone with the creature now. She turned, slowly, toward it.
It was not what she’d expected at all. It wasn’t a huge roaring creature like a lion or leopard. Instead, it was slender, tall and white. A stag. To think a frail, peaceful creature was capable of such a growl made Elain shudder.
“You are wise to have denied his invitation. There is no returning from Runaway. The Redcap would have taken your spirit and left your shell of a body for your family.”
“I would have died?” Elain felt a shiver deep in her heart.
The stag nodded and at once Elain recognized its soulful eyes.
“It’s you, isn’t it? The deer from my bed?”
“It was good that you uncovered me tonight. How am I supposed to protect you from your dreams when you keep me hidden?”
“You protect me?”
“Of course, Fawn. Not all dreams are safe.”
“Neither are all wishes.”