Suddenly a light appeared. It was the moon, shining brightly above me. But no longer full. This time it was only the first quarter, like the Cheshire cat was smiling down at me cheekily. Something poked at me, sharp and prickly. I looked down. I was perched on a tree branch, high above the ground. The tree trunk beside me was thick and sturdy, unlike its branches. I heard a voice coming from below me, calling to someone. I looked down and saw a boy balanced on a lower branch, calling down to someone coming up to the base of the tree. It was the young girl from the painting. Her short blonde hair bouncing as she walked. She had no scars on her face but was the same age as she was in the painting. Her green eyes were wide and cautious but not scared. Her face was smeared with dirt, as were her clothes.
She began to climb the tree, pulling herself up to the branch where the boy sat. He moved back so she could climb past him. He had claimed his place beside the tree trunk, very obviously above her in the ranks. I could tell now as she avoided eye contact that she was some sort of slave.
She struggled to stay balanced on her precarious place in the tree. Voices carried from somewhere else. I glanced around and noticed that we were up a tree outside the mansion I had been trapped in only moments ago. The mansion wasn't as decayed as I had seen it, it was well-cared for, the gardens below tended to, no over grown plants or broken statues. The mansion loomed high above the tree, casting a long shadow over it that evaporated partially in the moonlight. It was ominous, almost a threatening atmosphere.
I looked back down at the boy and the girl, she arranged her dress, torn in most places, with holes and loose threads, so that she could hide her bruised legs and torn stockings. The boy, however, lounged back against the tree, his clothes tidy, no tears or dirt at all. He was definitely a boy of the house, the son of the owner most likely.
I watched on as they started talking. "Why do you come up here?" The boy questioned the young girl, looking up and around at the sky, I flinched, hoping he didn't see me, but it seemed he didn't. The girl clung to the branch, fingers digging into the wood. She was comfortable up here, but not near the boy, I could feel her fear grow at being near him. Her hair was tangled, messy from working, although she was so young, probably a daughter of one of the maids.
"I-I come u-u-up here to th-think" she stuttered out. Stumbling over her words nervously.
"Think?" The boy scoffed at her, "what do you think about? You're a maid's daughter." The girl picked at her finger nails, looking up at the sky wistfully. A million points of scattered light blinked down at the girl.
"I think about running away, how to escape, where I would go when I do." The boy laughed at her smugly. "I wish on the stars that one day I will be free of this place." She looked down at her bare feet now, rubbing them together. They were dirty and scratched as well.
"Well you're too late." The young boy smiled triumphantly. The girl looked at him quizzically.
"Late? How am I late?" The girl seemed taken aback. "Why is he always picking on me?" I heard the girl's voice, but her lips didn't move, no one had spoken.
"Your stars are already dead, your wish is dead. All you're seeing is the ghost of the star's light." The girl rolled her eyes at the boy. "He thinks he's so smart, but he's just a stupid, spoilt boy. Mother was right!" I heard her voice again but not aloud, it was in my head, she speaking in my head.
"And how do you know this?" This time her lips moved and she spoke out loud.
"By the time the light from the stars reach us, they have died, become something else. They are millions of years away, and although light travels at a fast speed, it is still a very long time. Meaning the star has already died when we see it." The boy looked smug, satisfied with knowing more than the young girl. She crossed her arms, no longer unsteady on the branch, annoyed at the boy.
"And how do you know this?"
"My tutor told me, he knows very much about the world and the stars. Astronomy is his life, he studies the stars, the sun, the moon and everything else we see in the night sky. Most people ignore him and say he's crazy, but I disagree. He's special, intelligent and has taught me everything I know." The boy shuffled closer to the tree trunk, steadying himself. "I know more than you, dirty little servant girl" this time it was the boy's voice I heard, although his mouth didn't open. I was watching intently now, what was going to happen? They were both very agitated with each other, despite their young age. I could feel something pulsing in the air. Like a heartbeat, rapid and intense, as though someone was angry, adrenaline pumping through their veins, but it wasn't the children.
"Well what should I wish on then?" The girl was trying to stump the boy, find something that he didn't know and prove that he wasn't as smart as he thought, I could hear her thinking, trying to find a way to confuse him.
"You should wish on a nebula!"
"A nebula?" the girl asked. "Now he is definitely making fun of me" The girl was exasperated now, she thought the boy was making fun of her. The boy rolled his eyes, "Silly little girl, so stupid and simple"
"A nebula is a massive cloud of gas and dust out in space, in its centre is where the star usually forms. Therefore, if you wish on a nebula out in space, by the time your wish reaches the nebula, it will have formed into a star."
"Wishes don't take time to reach stars." The girl laughed at the boy, "He knows nothing."
"No, but the star will have formed, but we just can't see it. Mostly the stars we see are dead." The boy was frustrated now, he didn't like being laughed at. I was starting to feel anxious. The anger was growing, the pulse gaining speed.
"But if not all the stars are dead yet, then how do you know the one I wish on will be dead?"
"Because you're a maid's daughter, and maid's daughter's don't get wishes. You're not worth anything." The girl's mouth opened in shock.
"That is mean. You should not be saying that!" The girl was furious, shuffling so that she could climb down from the tree.
"No!" The boy spoke sternly. "You must stay." The girl frowned at him, annoyed.
"Why?" She demanded.
"Because I am not finished with you." She sighed and rolled her eyes.
"What else is there?"
"Do you believe in God?"
"Of course! Everyone goes to Heaven! And God created the world, it his him we have to thank for our food and crops and good fortune." The girl nodded her head slightly as she spoke.
Voices drifted from inside, people were looking for the children, calling their names.
"Wrong! God didn't create everything, we evolved, our world was created by an explosion millions of years ago!" The girl burst into laughter.
"No God? Well then how was everything made if you're so smart?" She asked the boy sarcastically. He was young but his glare was intense. I began to worry about the girl. Was she pushing him too far?
"The universe was created by various explosions. Our galaxy, all these stars and planets, moons and suns were created by something called the Big Bang." The boy crossed his arms, intent on keeping the girl there, I wasn't sure why, maybe he was lonely. The girl seemed scared, afraid of the boy now, her sarcasm gone. "Why won't he let me go, I have chores to do, he knows this, why won't he let me go" I heard the girl's voice again, something had changed, something had gone wrong.
"What's the Big Bang then?" The girl was nervous, her voice shaky. Again, the boy rolled his eyes.
"Like I said, it was an explosion, we're not certain how it was created, but it was the beginning of our universe, our galaxy. It created our spiralling galaxy with a black hole in the centre, its gravitational pull holding us here."
"What is a galaxy?" I watched as the girl slowly shifted, speaking to distract the boy as she tried to figure out a way down.
"A galaxy is a giant cluster of planets, millions of light years across, full of space dust, energy, various particles of stuff, stars, moons and suns. Our galaxy is known as the Milky Way" the girl laughed nervously. The pulsing was becoming unbearable.
"Why is it called the Milky Way?" She moved around, turning to face the boy properly.
"Because the galaxy looks like someone has spilt milk across the sky."
"Oh," she laughed again, "that's funny."
"A little I guess," the boy allowed, "but religion is wrong on many levels. What do you think is at the centre of our Solar System?"
"Well, the priest at my church told my mother and I that the Earth, our planet is at the centre, that all the other planets revolve around our Earth."
"Wrong! The Earth isn't the centre, the sun is!" The boy was satisfied with proving her wrong, she was even more scared now after the boy shouted, her eyes looked around nervously. The voices grew closer, louder.
"But the sun is small, it can't be the centre" The girl turned again, preparing to jump onto the next branch. If the boy noticed he didn't say anything.
"The sun only appears small, it is really much larger than this Earth, hundreds of times larger."
"Oh, silly me" she laughed nervously again, she closed her eyes and started to lower herself.
"Stop!" shouted the boy, "You can come down this way, so you don't hurt yourself." I saw the corners of the boy's mouth twitch, as though fighting a smile.
"No!" I screamed, "Don't do it!" but the girl didn't hear me. She steadied herself on the branch and began to slide towards the boy. The boy stood, as if to let her pass, but then he lifted his foot and stomped it onto the tree branch. A loud CRACK! resonated through the night air. The tree branch snapped. Falling. The girl screamed, eyes widening as her body dropped through the air. She hit the ground with a solid thump. Parts of the tree fell around her, the branch had landed underneath her first, her body twisted awkwardly on top of it. I heard shouting and people ran outside
The boy spoke "Your wish is dead, your star is dead and now you're dead, filthy girl" The boy stood on the edge of the branch, he spat the words down at her, eyes full of hatred. My vision began to blur once again and I blacked out, unconscious.
The young boy and girl disappeared. I felt a tear run down my cheek. I felt something pressing against my back. Cold and hard. Wooden. I blinked my eyes open, slowly adjusting to the moonlight flowing through the open window. A cold breeze blew around the room, I shivered, goose bumps appearing on my skin.