Owl Eyes: A Fairy Tale
I shot up from the bed, screaming, and scrambling backwards before falling off the mattress onto the planked wood floor. A boy crouched next to me with his elbows balanced on his knees and his chin resting against his palms. He wore an old, light blue shirt that was much too large for his small frame. A piece of hay stuck up from the mop of brown hair on his head.
“Jack!” Liana called from the kitchen. “Don’t wake Nora.”
“Too late,” the boy called back.
“Who are you?” I pressed my hand to my chest to keep my heart in place. “Why were you watching me sleep?”
“I wasn’t watching you sleep,” the boy said. “Peter and me just got back from the Market, and I got up here and found you on my mattress.”
“Your—” I sputtered. I took a deep breath and tried to inhale the motherwort from the candle. “This is my bed.”
“Well, no one said it was yours, did they? I claimed this bed when I got here, and no one made a peep.” He crossed his arms and looked at the floor. “They were probably too worried if you were okay to care about where I was sleeping. You looked pretty rotten.”
“I was sick,” I said, staking my spot on the mattress again.
“No, I mean you actually looked like you’d rotted. Your skin was all black. Are you sure you’re not a spirit who’s talking to me now?”
I grabbed his arm and pressed my palm to his. “No spirit,” I said. “I’m here.”
He grinned. I shoved him on the floor.
“I’m Jack,” he said as he picked himself up.
“Are you Greta and Peter’s daughter?”
“No.” I regretted the words as soon as they came out of my mouth. They were true, but I chewed them like a lie. “I mean yes. Sort of.”
“How are you only ‘sort of’ their daughter?”
“I mean, yes, I’m their daughter. They’re just not my real parents. My real parents are dead. Or gone. Or something. My mother is dead.” I was rambling. I pulled the candle closer to the mattress, hearing Greta’s voice in my ear warning me that the flame could catch the straw on fire. I didn’t care. I lowered my face and breathed in.
“Does your ma’s spirit ever talk to you?” Jack asked.
“What?” I stared at him. “That’s stupid. How old are you that you still think that can happen?”
“I’m thirteen.” Defensiveness crept into his voice. “And I only asked because I can talk to my pa anytime I want to. Or at least I could when we lived in the Vale. His spirit lives in the river there.”
Sir Alcander had hired a crazy person to work in the kitchen house.
“No, he doesn’t.”
“He does so! I’ll show you sometime, and you’ll see.”
I flopped back down on the mattress and rolled over so I was facing away from him, pulling the candle to the other side with me. I could feel Jack watching me.
“Your ma is nice,” I said, still not facing him.
“Thanks. I think so too.” There, finally, was something we agreed on. “I’m going to bed now. You can keep your spot. I didn’t want it anyway.” I peeked over my shoulder. Jack lay down on a new mattress I hadn’t noticed next to the wall.
“Thanks,” I said. In the dim light of the candle, his eyes looked almost gold. I smiled.
“It’s all right,” he said. “I can sleep almost anywhere as long as I’ve got enough space. I don’t like feeling closed up in small places.” The dark room pulsed behind me. “Me neither.”
Now we had two things in common.