1. Thought

     I’m sitting on the bus when I remember.  In an instant I’m on my feet, squeezing my way past the kids sitting half in the aisle, half in their seats.  We’d been let out of class early for once, so the bus driver isn’t here yet.  If I run, I might be able to make it back before he leaves.  I rush down the steps and race to the doors, my backpack thumping me in the back with every stride.  I hate running.  In all my books, a race against time is dramatic and awesome.  In reality, not so much.  I get tired, hot, and sweaty.

     So I imagine something better.  The sound of my feet crunching the parking lot gravel becomes the thundering beats of horses churning the dirt.  I ride at the front of a vast army, leading the way to an ancient castle where a magical book waits to be retrieved.  The horses’ speed gets me to the drawbridge in no time.  But as I dismount and wait for the heavy wooden door to open, someone shoulders past me.  Fantasy abruptly fades back to reality.  A guy from my grade – Nick, I think – glances at me as he pulls open the school door.  The look says he clearly thinks I’m crazy, standing in front of a door and doing nothing.  I sigh as I follow him in.  So much for something better.

     I head to my locker, spin the dial, pull.  And pull again.  I spin the numbers slower.  Pull.  Even slower.  Pull.  Snail speed.  Pull.  Click.  Finally!  I swear I was cursed as a child to always have bad luck with locks!  I grab the book I forgot and dash outside.  Just in time to see my bus driving away without me.

     Correction: I seem to have been cursed to always have bad luck with everything!  But I guess there’s not much I can do about that.  Sadly, magic words that lift curses only exist in my imagination.

     I sit down and throw my backpack to the side.  Now what?  My parents already hate that I “spend all day with my head in the clouds”.  If I called them to come pick me up, last night’s argument would repeat all over again.  I barely survived it; I can’t go through another one.  I’d surely have all my books trashed this time, and of course my “useless” imagination would be blamed for being late.  I can’t even hide any more of them; I’ve filled all my secret hiding places.

     Okay, I’ve convinced myself.  I’m not going to call my parents.  It looks like I’m walking.  Except that’s not a perfectly lovely choice either.  If I’m going to get home before my parents, I’m going to have to take a short cut through the forest.  I don’t trust that forest.  I got lost in there once when I was little and wandered for hours.  Obviously I was found and came out okay, but I like imagining adventures, not being in them.  So I’d prefer any other short cut over the woods, but lucky me, there is only one short cut.  Like I said, I’m cursed.

     I tuck my book safely into my backpack, swing it over my shoulder, and start walking.  The entrance to the forest path is less than a minute’s walk from the school, so I find myself in front of it much sooner than I would have liked.  It’s a sunny summer day, but of course the trees have to live only in shadow.  I take a deep breath; prepare myself to enter.  The air grows cool and still.  I can’t feel any wind, but the leaves twist and dance to its whispered words.  I get the impression that the world is waiting, though for what, I have no idea.

     What am I even thinking?  The world can’t wait for something.  I’m letting my imagination run away on me.  Shaking my head, I focus on the trees – the ordinary trees – that line the path I’m following.  I can’t let my thoughts wander, because then my mind will go where I don’t want it to go.  To control it, to avoid unnerving ideas, I have to create something calming.  I need to use imagination to stop imagination.

     I think I just successfully confused myself.  But I’ll try it anyway.  Let’s see…the trees can be the secret homes of tiny, friendly fairies.  Each one has their own unique set of wings, with a certain color and design.  They cling to leaves, branches, and tree trunks.  They fill the air all around me and cast multicolored shades over everything.  The sight is foreign, but beautiful.  Their skin is dark, like rich soil freshly dug, while their short hair and eyes are as pale as white sunlight…just like the girl standing on the path ahead of me.  I stop walking and stare.

     Minus the wings, she looks exactly – and I mean exactly – like the fairies I had just imagined.  “Um, who are you?” I ask.

     “I am Queen of the Fairies,” she replies seriously.  My mouth drops open in a most unflattering way.  Sure, she looks like a fairy, but I’m not crazy.  I know they aren’t real.  This has to be some kind of prank.  The girl – fairy? – continues.  “And you are?”

     “Huh?”  I’m still having trouble getting past her first comment.

     “I asked your name,” she repeats.

     “Oh, um, I’m Lila.”  I must look – and sound – like an idiot right now.  She stares at me for a long moment.  And then she bursts out laughing.

     “You should see the look on your face. Priceless!”  My cheeks burn.  I hate being embarrassed.  Hate, hate, hate it.  I have to say, I am a little relieved though.  I can say it’s just some crazy coincidence that I meet a girl who looks like one of my imagined fairies and then introduces herself as Queen of the Fairies.  Okay, a really, really, really crazy coincidence.  But I have to believe that.  Otherwise I’d have to call myself crazy.

     The girl’s laughter dies down, but she continues to grin at me.  Now that I for sure know it was a prank and not real, I start to get angry.  My hands tighten into fists.  “Congratulations, you successfully pranked me. Now do you want to tell me just who you are exactly?”  The words come out sounding strangled, I’m that annoyed.  Her smile vanishes, leaving her with a look of surprise.

     “Hey, I didn’t mean to upset you. It was just a harmless joke, that’s all.”  I push past her and walk away.

     “Harmless to you, maybe,” I say.  This time a note of pain replaces the sound of anger in my voice.

     “I’m sorry; I really didn’t mean it.”  She pauses as if waiting for a response.  I don’t give her one.  “My name is Rya?”  She phrases it like a question, like she’s asking whether knowing her name will make me stop.  As if I care now.  I keep walking.  “Hey!”  A hand grabs my arm, and the girl spins me around to face her.

     “What?” I snarl.  If she’s fazed at all by my tone, she doesn’t show it.

     “I apologized – twice – and I answered your previous question. What more do you want?” she says.  She looks and sounds completely bewildered.  How clueless can this girl get?

     “Look, I’ll make it simple for you. I want you to leave me alone.”  I try to tug my arm free, but her grip is strong.  “And let me go.”

     She ignores my statement.  “I’m really, truly, honestly sorry. I would never have teased you if I had known it would hurt you. Now will you stay?

     The incredulous look on my face alerts her – finally! – to my answer being no.  For whatever reason, I actually believe her words, but I still want to get away from her.  There’s something very strange about her.  She shakes her head in defeat and releases my arm.  “Apparently I don’t know humans as well as I used to.”

     Great.  I was already walking away, and then she has to go and say that.  As well as being imaginative, I’m also an extremely curious person.  I turn back with a sigh.  “Are you saying you’re not human?”

     “Of course,” Rya says. “I’m a Thought.”

     Well, that certainly wasn’t expected.  “A Thought?” I ask, eyebrows raised.  I’m not sure I believe this isn’t just another prank.  She looks serious, but come on.  A Thought?

     “A Thought is a being that is drawn to those with a powerful imagination. Yours is the strongest I’ve encountered in a very long time,” Rya explains.  There’s so many questions I could ask about that statement, but I go for the first one that enters my head.

     “If you’re not a human, but a ‘Thought’, then why do you look like a human?”  I make quotation marks in the air with my fingers.  Maybe I can trip her up, confuse her or at least upset her, and get her to admit all of this is a joke.

     “I don’t have much fun these days, so when I discovered your thoughts were of fairies with dark skin and pale hair and eyes, I took on that form to make a joke,” Rya explains matter-of-factly. “Thoughts don’t have a normal form. We feed off the thoughts of those we’re around and take a form based on what they’re thinking.”

     If this is a joke, this is a very elaborate, very messed up joke.  Or maybe it isn’t one.  Maybe my imagination has finally gone crazy, and I’m losing my mind.  My parents have always warned me about being too imaginative.  I can only guess at what new ways they could find to say they disapprove if they saw me right now, but I do know they certainly would disapprove.  My dad would have his typical ‘I’m disappointed in you’ face on, while my mom would be aiming her poison-darted words at me.  She always knows just how to hurt me.

     Rya interrupts my train of thought.  “I can prove it to you. I can make you believe.”  There’s a crazy glint in her eyes.  And then her eyes change.  The pale shade, apparently straight from my imagination, shifts into a bright blue.  Her hair grows longer and turns brown, while her skin lightens and adopts a slight tan.  When her face begins to change, I suddenly know who she’s becoming: my mom.  She’s turning into my mom!

     My eyes widen, adrenaline-laced horror rushing through my veins.  I back away, and then turn and run.  I just saw a girl read my thoughts and transform into my mom!  Except she’s not a girl.  She’s – it’s – a living nightmare.  An unearthly shriek sounds behind me.  Apparently it isn’t happy I left.  I risk a quick look back.  The Thought is running hard, twisting my mom’s face into an unrecognizable mask of fury.  I’d be glad the thing doesn’t look like my mom anymore, if it wasn’t like that because it’s angry and chasing me.  I’ve never run this fast in my life.

     If Thoughts are drawn to imagination, I need to stop picturing the different things it could do to me.  I know next to nothing about it; it could do anything – or everything.  But how do I stop imagining?  It’s second nature to me; as easy to do and as hard to stop as breathing.  The only thing I can focus on is the many ways everything could go wrong.

     I could trip, and it would get me.  My body could run out of energy, and it would get me.  It could simply catch up, and it would get me.  Fresh jolts of fear stab through me with every thought, nearly paralyzing my body.  You know those nightmares where you run from something, and it’s so terrifying your body feels like lead and you can barely move?  I’m living one.

     Maybe I’ve increased the distance between us.  I glance behind me.  And then I scream.  The Thought is inches away, fingers outstretched.   I push my body harder.  Air scrapes through my lungs.  My muscles burn.  I face ahead and strain to escape.  I can’t run while looking into eyes of terror.  The path curves abruptly.  I take the corner too sharp.  My feet slip on the loose dirt.  I crash to the ground.  Pain scrapes its way along my hands and knees.  Even before I’ve finished falling, I scramble to the nearest tree and press my back up against it.  I’m not sure why; I can’t escape.  Does it even matter why?  I mean, who really cares?  The Thought is only a few feet away.

     Well, at least I know now how it got me.  No more torturing myself with the unknowns.  Then again, I guess I still don’t know what it’s going to do to me.  I’ve read tons of fantasy and horror books, so there are a lot of options I know of.  But maybe I can figure out what it’ll do.  I steel myself and lift my gaze to meet its eyes.  What I see is a shock.  The Thought doesn’t look like my mom, or like the fury-twisted version of her either.

     It’s flickering from shape to shape, rotating through the creatures I’d been thinking of.  It barely finishes transforming into one before changing again.  Is it possible that I can control what it turns into?  I grin and fix an image of a tiny kitten in my mind.  I chuckle at the thought of its surprise.  But it doesn’t change.  Instead, a smile spreads across its shifting features, erasing mine.  Pure evil fills its face.  Chills chase each other down my spine.

     “Only negative emotions and thoughts affect me, silly human, so trying to defeat me…”  It steps closer, tilting its head to stare down at me.  Its voice thickens in anger.  “Now that’s a mistake.”

     I wince and look away.  I remember the last time I heard those words.  It was a painful day, but then again I’ve lived through a lot of painful days.  I was at school and saw a younger kid being teased.  I hate seeing people picked on so I went over and told the girl doing the teasing to stop.  She did stop bothering the kid, who ran off, and to this day I’ve never seen her bully him again.  But she has bullied me.  After the boy left, she started in on me.  I tried to defend myself, tried to stand up to her.  She just laughed at me, and then threatened me.  Her exact words were, “Are you seriously trying to stand up to me?”  When I nodded, her face hardened, and she told me, “Now that’s a mistake.”  Since that day, she’s made it her personal mission to make my life miserable.  That’s why I spend so much time imagining.  My life is miserable, so I pretend it’s better.

     I look back up at the Thought and realize I’m staring into my own face.  It never crossed my mind that it could turn into me.  But that doesn’t matter.  I’m past caring, and no matter what shape it’s in, it’ll still destroy me.  “Go ahead; do your worst. It can’t be much worse than what I’ve already been through,” I tell it.  But it doesn’t move.  Surprisingly, its face mirrors the pain I’m feeling and my expression.  Doesn’t it only feed off fear?  The more scared I am, the stronger it seems to get.  But it did say negative thoughts and emotions affect it.  Pain is a negative emotion, and it never said it’s only affected in a good way by negativity.  It is possible I actually can control it?  By remembering painful things?

     Hope sparks alive again inside me.  I was resigned to my fate a minute ago.  Now that I have a chance, something I can try to do…I don’t want to give up.  What I thought back there about my life being miserable – that’s not true.  Yes, I’m bullied, and yes, my parents don’t understand me, but I have so much more I want to do.  There are books I haven’t read yet, fantasies I haven’t imagined yet.  I want to go to university, get a job I love doing, and start my life.  It hasn’t really begun yet.

     But to do that, I have to relive all the painful things that have happened to me.


     The Thought has started to move again.  My hopeful thoughts must have reversed what my painful memory did to it.  It creeps forward and stretches out its hand.  I hurriedly think of all the cruel things that have ever been said to me.

     The Thought is closer now, fingers inches from my face.  It’s like I’m looking into a mirror, but seeing the evil version of myself.  I close my eyes to avoid its burning gaze and focus harder.  I visualize the bully, remember her words.  Remember the pain I felt, and still feel.

     “You’re a freak. You know that, right?”

     “Are you seriously going to waste your whole life by spending it in a fantasy? You’ll never amount to anything.”

     “Hey, look, there’s the freak.”

     “Be careful, everyone. You don’t want to make her mad. She might use her powers on you.”


     “Oh sorry, am I interrupting? Your imaginary friends must be very interesting to talk to.”


     The last word sounds louder.  My eyes snap open, tears coursing down my cheeks, but I return the Thought’s glare.  Parts of its body are fading away into nothing.  I’m not losing, not this time.  It can call me a freak all it wants.  It’ll just end up helping me.  I let the tears fall, let the sobs begin, let the pain grow.

     In moments, only the Thought’s face – my face – remains.  “Freak,” it whispers again.  And then it’s gone.

     I did it.  I defeated the Thought.  I start to laugh.  All the tension and terror flow out of me.  I sag against the tree.

     I stay there for a long time, just leaning against the tree, both laughing and crying.  I can hardly believe what happened to me.

     “Lila? We’re home. You can get out now.”  I flash back to reality.

     At least, that’s all what could have happened to me if I hadn’t changed my mind and called my parents after all.

     I told you before: I like imagining adventures, not being in them.

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