Lila’s Wand, an Illustrated Short Story
My challenge for the month was a creative one – to write and publish a short story. It was a true experiment as I’ve never shared any creative writing, much less produced an accompanying photo essay before.
But that’s exactly what I did this month, and today, in lieu of a post, I’m sharing it with you. Do leave me a comment, forward it along and share it if you like it! Enjoy!
A Short Story, by Rosanna Casper
There wasn’t a breeze in the air the day Camila found the wand. The sun beat down on the yard where she and her friends played after school let out. Although it was only a little after three o’clock in the afternoon, the girls were already listless. They didn’t want to play their usual games or talk about their usual subjects. They sat on the grass under a cloudless sky, picking daisy weeds and dandelions and tossing them aside. Their shirts stuck to their skin like plastic bags and sweat dripped down their scalps and under their arms and behind their knees. The heat had become so intense that a wipe of an arm to the forehead provided little relief.
Sadie finally spoke. “It’s too hot. Let’s go inside.” She stood up and gestured to her friends to follow, but Camila and Ellen remained seated.
Ellen frowned. “And face Eric? I’d rather boil.”
“Me too,” agreed Camila, not wanting to endure a minute of Ellen’s brother and any of his awful friends. Not that Ellen’s house was a terrible place. Camila enjoyed her afternoons there, and she quite liked Mrs. Austin too, who always made sure to set out new toys to play with and something delicious to eat and drink on the kitchen table, like homemade banana bread or yogurt and berries alongside a pitcher of freshly squeezed lemonade that she poured into little pink cups with colorful straws.
There weren’t any treats and games and new toys at her house. No home cooked meals to enjoy as a family, at least not since her father left. “There’s no time,” her mother said curtly one evening when Camila asked for something other than the usual canned peas and microwave meatballs. “You’re lucky that you even have something to eat,” she added before sending her to her room without dinner. Camila had wanted to point out that there was always time for television with her new boyfriend, but she dared not open her mouth. She’d learned to keep to herself, answer only when spoken to, and never, ever question her mother’s word.
Sadie sat down. “Fine. What do you want to do then?”
“Well,” said Ellen hesitantly, “we can go cool off in the creek.”
“Ooh the creek!” said Sadie, her eyes lighting up at the suggestion.
“But we’re not supposed to go there,” said Camila.
“We’ll go in for a minute and come right back. My mom will never know,” Ellen reassured.
Camila stole a glance in the direction of the creek and looked back to meet her friends’ hopeful grins. It was a very appealing proposal and if they were quick enough, Ellen’s mother would never know.
No sooner had she agreed than the girls stripped off their socks and shoes and set off for the creek that trickled in the woods behind the yard.
It was hardly a creek anymore thanks to the droughts. Only a few inches of water remained, covering a patchwork of stones, rocks, and mud, but it was just enough to submerge small pairs of feet and offer a bit of relief from the weather.
So welcome was the cool water and shade on their skin that one minute turned into two, then five, and before long, Ellen had concocted a plan to remain in the creek without being found out by her mother, who busied herself in the house with laundry and dinner and dishes.
“You go to the yard first, Camila, then Sadie, then me,” Ellen instructed her friends, who nodded obediently. “And make sure you’re really loud and that my Mom sees you.”
Sadie returned from her trip to the yard proudly holding a red rubber ball that she had spotted by the swing set. She tossed it to Camila, who threw it to Ellen. It was a short lived game of catch for it took but a minute for Ellen to lob the ball so high and so far that it landed clear on the other side of the bank, and quickly rolled out of sight.
Camila, who stood at the far side of the creek, scurried up the bank to retrieve it, but her gaze fell upon a large, grassy meadow scattered with yellow flowers and trees that had pink and lavender leaves sitting atop thick trunks like giant eggshells. At the bottom of the hill stood a great forest that, while she couldn’t be certain, appeared to have glitter floating above the treetops. The sight was so curious in appearance yet so beautiful that Camila thought she must surely be looking into a storybook or a fairytale world; this place couldn’t possibly exist in her drab little town.
She had to see it up close.
Without thought or hesitation, Camila started running. She raced down the hill, through the tall blades of grass that scratched against her bare legs and past the funny looking trees. She wondered how such a wonderful place existed so close to where she played every afternoon, and why they had been forbidden to explore it. “You just never know what’s out there,” Mrs. Austin liked to say, but this hardly seemed like the type of place where monsters or witches lurked underground or deep in the woods.
Camila slowed as she approached the edge of the forest. The grass beneath her feet grew smooth, like a carpet of leaves and moss had been laid out for her, leading into a canopy of trees. White flowers dangled like vines from the tops of the branches, and butterflies and birds danced high above her. She followed the path, inhaling the sweet scent of peppermint and chocolate, and gently waved her hand in the air bringing it close to her face. She searched her palm for a speck of the glitter she’d seen from the top of the bank, but found none.
Just then, a pair of pink butterflies landed on her shoulder. Two more followed, yellow and orange this time, and sat atop her head. “That tickles!” Camila giggled, and she twirled in awe and delight as dozens of butterflies of the most marvelous colors and patterns swooped down and spiraled around her.
Then, the voices began.
Lila. Lila. Lila, they whispered.
Camila froze. The butterflies scattered. She stood and listened to voices that spoke a name her father used to call her; one that now, existed only in her head. Lila.
She thought of the night he had last called her Lila. He came into her bedroom, as always, to read her a story and kiss her good-night. After the story ended, he set the book down and sat quietly for a few minutes, thinking, and fidgeting with his fingers. He shifted towards her and pulled out a tiny wooden box. “This is a very special gift, Lila,” he said as he opened the box and handed her a circular blue stone that dangled from a thick silver chain. “Promise me you’ll always keep it close to you, and that you’ll never ever let anyone else see it.”
“What is it?” Camila asked, inspecting the large gem.
“It’s a sapphire circle. Sapphires are gemstones that belonged to the kings and queens of long ago. This necklace will protect you and keep you safe, so that you can always be strong and brave. Promise me that you’ll take care of it, and that you’ll always be strong and brave, okay?”
“And remember that I love you, Lila. So much and too much, forever and ever,” he said, kissing her gently on her forehead.
“I love you so much and too much forever and ever.”
In the morning, he was gone. He left no belongings behind. No clothes, no photos, no letter saying goodbye or I love you or I’ll see you again soon. Nothing for her mother, and nothing for her. Nothing, that is, but the necklace, which she kept tucked away in the small wooden box underneath her mattress.
Lila. Lila. Lila. Camila snapped out of her daydream.
This can’t be real, she thought. It has to be a dream, or perhaps she had slipped and hit her head as she made her way down the hill, just like Alice had done when she fell down the rabbit hole, or Dorothy when she woke up in the land of the munchkins. But everything about this place felt so real and so wonderful, and she didn’t get to see wonderful things like this very often.
“I’m here,” Camila answered in her bravest and strongest voice.
The whispers grew louder and travelled deeper into the forest. She followed them through the trees, so transfixed by the sounds that she barely noticed the jagged rocks and twigs crunching beneath her bare feet. At last, she arrived at a small clearing where a cluster of large stones stood in a perfect circle.
Camila climbed onto one of the stones, and waited. She waited for the voices to speak something other than her name, or for someone or something to appear; perhaps a fairy or a gentle witch to invite her for ice cream. Or maybe, she thought, her heart skipping a beat, her father was here in this forest, waiting for her.
But nothing was there. Only the voices chanting her name, over and over and over again. Lila. Lila. Lila. They came from all directions now, above her and below her, close by and far away and echoing through the forest.
“Hello?” she called again.
Tired of waiting and noticing a mild rumble in her belly, Camila turned to leave the stones. When she looked down, speckles of bright glittering blue appeared beneath her feet, slowly covering the rock, and spreading to the entire circle of stones. A sapphire circle, Camila thought as she marveled at the brilliant hues that suddenly surrounded her.
In the center of the circle, amidst a flurry of glitter that now enveloped the entire clearing, stood a flower, a magnificent single bloom that sprouted into hundreds of petals of the most radiant shades of blue.
Camila leapt off the stone to get a closer look at the flower. She crouched down and hovered her hand next to the stem, hesitant to touch it for she sensed magic coming from close by. She lowered her hands to feel the soft soil and leaves around the stem, uncertain of what to do next. Should she touch the flower or pick a petal? Could it be poisonous? Was this flower meant for her?
Just then, her fingers touched something hard in the ground. The voices stopped. A gust of cool wind blew. Camila shivered. She dug and wrestled the heavy wooden object from the ground, only to be overcome with searing pain shooting through her body, like thousands of needles piercing her skin.
Camila dropped the stick and ran. She sprinted as quickly as her short legs would carry her away from the stones. But the voices returned and chased her through the woods, Lila, Lila, Lila.
She thought now of her friends. How worried they must be, and angry too. She shuddered to think of what her mother would say upon learning what she’d done. She ran faster. If she made it back to the creek quickly enough, nobody would be upset. She’d spend all afternoon in the hot yard. She’d return home without her afternoon snack. She’d even go inside and let Eric throw spit balls at her and stick gum in her hair. As long as everything could be normal again.
When she reached the edge of the forest, something took hold of her feet, sending her tumbling to the ground. Camila squeezed her eyes shut, pulled her legs up against her chest, and waited for whatever monster or witch or child-eating-bear that had grabbed at her to appear. When none came, she opened her eyes and sat up.
Gone were the white flower vines, the dancing birds and butterflies, and the blanket of leaves and moss. The smell of peppermint and chocolate was replaced with the dusty, dry scent of a brown, barren forest. She turned to look at the meadow and the trees and the hill leading up to the creek, no longer curious and beautiful, but sandy and overgrown. A dream, Camila thought. Of course, it was just a silly dream.
But just as she was about to leave the forest, there, not more than a few inches away from where she sat, lay the wooden stick. Camila gasped in disbelief. Could it really be a magic wand?
She leaned in to examine the dark piece of wood, noticing the delicate and smooth surface that fanned out into a thick base. Ever so slowly, Camila reached the tip of her finger out to touch it.
Jolt. Buzz. Cold.
She quickly withdrew her hand, but shook her fingers out and took a deep breath. The wand was meant for her, she was certain of it. It had led her to the butterflies and the stones and the flower, and it had followed her to the edge of the forest. But why the touch of something that belonged to her would cause such pain, she could not understand, and she wouldn’t for many years to come.
Again, Camila reached out, this time placing two fingers on the stick and braced herself for the shock.
Finally, Camila determinedly grabbed hold of the stick and clenched her palm around its base, allowing the hurt and cold to course through her body. She gripped tighter. The prickles of pain subsided until there was nothing but the feel of wood upon her skin. She stood up and set off for the creek.
Camila breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Ellen and Sadie casually collecting sticks and stones by the bank.
“Hurry up, Camila, pass the ball,” yelled Ellen upon seeing her friend.
The ball. Camila had forgotten all about it. She clutched her wand, turned her back to her friends, and closed her eyes. With all of her energy, Camila willed the red rubber ball to appear in her hand.
“Here Ellen, catch,” Camila said. And tucking the wand underneath her shirt, she broke out into a sly grin. “Let’s go inside and find Eric.”
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Notes & Acknowledgements
A big thank you to Amy Beim for taking such beautiful photos and allowing me to mess with them on photoshop. Thanks to the very talented Jackie Asuncion for critiquing an early (translation: terrible) draft of my story and being kind about it, and to the three semi-cooperative five year olds who braved the June heat for this photo-shoot.
Contrary to the description, they wear shoes in the creek and the forest because, well, the creek was disgusting and the forest full of sharp and scratchy leaves that elicited multiple complaints and threats to quit from my protagonist.
Finally a shout out to the editors on Fiverr.com (JeannieWrites, FiveStarLit & Anzabee) and graphic designers Omar Ochoa and Micael Nussbaumer on Upwork.com who helped pull all of the pieces together.