The girl was asleep in the meadow, hidden by stalks of goldenrod under the slate sky. The tree made an atonal creaking song in the breeze, which was so gentle that it seemed the movement of the meadow was a result of its own respiration, breath rather than small shoves and pushes of the wind. There were no birds, no rabbits, nothing but girl and flowers, tree and sky. In her sleep she seemed peaceful, until, at a moment when one rogue strand of sunshine poured out from the teeniest crack in the metallic clouds and stole down towards the sleeping figure like it was Rapunzel’s braid reaching out for company, she seemed to shift in her sleep. The movement was subtle; her eyes under their lids slowly moved once, from the left side of her face which was resting on the ground, to the right, where that bit of sun had thought it a fun game to sneak up and lick her peaceful cheek. The cloud immediately noticed its infirmity, and in embarrassment quickly sealed the window through which the sunbeam had escaped; but it was too late, and the small sleeper’s fragile dream had shifted, as her eyes had done.
Miriam felt the shoes gripping her toes like a vise. She looked down, and realized that her feet were bound and disfigured, and the shoes were small steel boxes where her toes, bent and shaped like the hooves of horses, had been artfully trapped. She tried to take a step, and almost fell over from the shock of pain she felt. When her vision cleared, she saw a deep red slowly spreading up the bandages, from the steel boxes, past her impossibly arched insteps, all the way to her heels. She blinked, and saw that the bandages were somewhat porous, and the blood was rising from the cotton wrappings in little round droplets, so that her feet looked like they were covered in scaly skin, and she felt reptilian in more than one way.
She brought her gaze up from her feet, and found herself facing a red tree squirrel about the size of a horse. It was the perfect sample of its species, save for its gigantism. Had Miriam seen it from afar, she would have thought it lifted straight from the pages of the children’s encyclopedia that was in her room at home. She reached out a hand as though she were approaching a strange dog, palm facing skyward, her movement hesitant. The squirrel bit her, decidedly and without malice, but deeply. She felt her own blood squirt hotly out of her hand, felt it dripping down to the ground. She looked down to see it, and found ladybugs swarming on her bandaged feet, filling any spaces that her toes had left in the metal box-shoes, pouring outwards into an ever-expanding puddle around her.
When she looked up for a second time, the tree squirrel had turned into a young man; he wasn’t handsome, and his features were as dull as the pale skin that covered them. Her blood dripped from his chin, and the wound had smeared red in a sickle across his formerly colorless mouth. She smiled at him, carefully, as one does when uncertain and trying to make friends. He smiled back; in place of teeth white porcelain pearls lined his jaws, just like the ones she played dress-up with. Her blood dripped into his mouth, but somehow seemed to miss the pearls. She reached out her bloodied hand, and gently moved it across his face, painting it into a live thing. He had tears in the bottoms of his eyes. A ladybug crawled from her outstretched bloody finger onto his cheek, and drank a falling tear away. The ladybugs had swarmed up her body, and were walking down her arm in a very orderly and courteous line to his face; she couldn’t move now if she’d wanted to, but she didn’t want to. She couldn’t even feel the steel box shoes anymore. He laughed, sweetly, innocently, so that she opened her mouth to join him.
Her laugh was lost in the sea of goldenrod. The gray plain above her showed no sign that it was going to allow another beam of light to befriend her and cause her more mischief. She looked down around her, and wondered where the small puddle of blood in which she lay had come from, for the skin of her feet and hand was not broken. She coughed; something was caught in her throat. Gagging and retching just briefly, she managed to dislodge it and spat it into her hand. It was a single porcelain pearl, and before her waking eyes it became black and red, and the ladybug flew out into the meadow, searching for another thinking being aside from itself and the girl. It searched in vain.