Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Opal stood at the center of an angry mob. Smudges of dirt covered her cheeks and tattered skirt. Her curly brown hair was flattened on one side. But it was the expression she wore that defined her; squinted eyes and a pouty lower lip which she now chewed as she thought. Her raised brow and distant stare revealed she was not paying attention to the kids laughing at her, the adults yelling at her, or Ms Clattenrot’s public scolding. She was lost in a puzzle; a mystery. Who was the odd man in the hat? Did he control those beasts or was he merely watching the show? Strange things happened to Opal but none as strange as this morning. While she often saw unexplainable things and imagined her drawings came to life, this attack was nothing she would ever have dreamed. Yet now, for once, there was evidence that could not be explained away by the adults in her life. The disappearance of an entire prize winning garden and a hole in the earth that led straight to hell were difficult for anyone to ignore.
The day began with the same routine as it always did for Opal and the children of the Clattenrot Foster home, though it was becoming more curious by the minute. Opal stood, as she often did, toward the back of the gaggle of children listening to Miss Clattenrot’s morning instructions. She pressed the toes of her right foot into the dusty soil and began to drag them in a graceful arc, leaving behind a curved trail. She slid her foot back and forth as she ignored Clattenrot’s lecture.
“The grounds will be impeccable. The lawns measured to precisely seven centimeters tall. And, put down your hand Ellis,” shouted Ms Clattenrot as she waved off the the question from the shortest and roundest of the boys.
“You will be issued rulers to verify the heights and I expect they will be returned to me clean and undamaged. Hand shears will be returned to the storage shed at Clattenrot Place, clean and oiled. If I fail to find your shears properly stored or a blade of grass exceeding seven centimeters, you will be spending the next three nights in the basement.” Clattenrot’s coarse voice echoed off the brick walls of the shops surrounding the Teaberry garden. A small bead of sweat hovered in the deep recess above her thin upper lip. Clattenrot’s eyes scanned the children for a sign of understanding when she caught Opal scratching at the soil.
“Is that clear?” she snarled to the children as she stepped toward Opal. “What do have today Miss van Gogh? Another masterpiece in the mud?”
Opal’s breath stopped and her eyes widened to the size of serving platters though she kept her gaze to the ground; avoiding Clattenrot’s stare. “Torchveil,” she murmured under her breath.
“What’s that? Speak up child, it’s rude to mutter.”
“My name is Torchveil,” shouted Opal. “Not van Gogh and not Lampshade. I’ve snipped hundreds of lawns. Snipped till my hands bled. I know what to do and I know --”
“Oh, you know what to do, do you? Well that is a surprise.” Ms Clattenrot’s mouth curled into a smile; a smile that would make a rhinoceros feel uneasy. The other children began to chuckle. Clattenrot encouraged them with a wave of her hand. “You, who have required assistance on every job I give you. You, Miss Lampshade, who has failed time and time again to complete your chores at Clattenrot Place. You know the instructions? Prove it Mona Lisa.” Clattenrot bent her twisted back down so her pointed nose nearly touched Opal’s. “Complete one garden today without any mishap and you can move out of the basement.”
A groan rose through the other children like a fog horn.
“Out of the basement for one night,” continued Ms Clattenrot.
Opal looked up from her etching in the soil. It resembled a wing drawn in sketches by DaVinci of flying machines. Her eyes met Clattenrot’s and for a moment she felt a bit of power move from her to the thin twisted body of her foster guardian; a power that she controlled. Though the feeling faded fast.
Clattenrot seemed to shudder for a moment as her shoulders pinched together. She then shook herself like a horse removing a fly from its snout and burnt her gaze back into Opal’s defiant stare.
“Mona Lisa is a painting, not an artist,” Opal shot.
“What?” stammered Clattenrot.
“I said, Mona Lisa is-” but Opal was cut off from speaking as her right ear blazed with the fire of a hard smack to the side of the head. The sound of Clattenrot’s open hand colliding with the side of Opal’s face rung through the garden like a warning bell.
“Know your place,” growled Ms Clattenrot keeping her hard gaze on Opal’s wounded expression before she turned to scowl at the other children, who immediately raised shears and rulers to the their sides with military precision. They scattered from the assembly area behind Ms Teaberry’s candle shop to their assigned gardens and yards.
Opal was left alone in the Teaberry rose garden with Ms Clattenrot.
“Are you ready for crumpets Clattle?” shouted the sweet voice of round Mrs Teaberry from the back door of her candle shop. For some odd reason, the kind old woman enjoyed Ms Clattenrot’s company and stuffed her with crumpets and tea while the children tended to the landscaping business.
“Coming Teabee,” Ms Clattenrot shouted back in a sickening falsetto. “I’ll be watching you, Lampshade,” she huffed as she marched away to stuff her face and gossip.
“No you won’t,” Opal muttered under her breath, turning her back to Clattenrot and her attention to the smell of roses. She tried to imagine herself rising above the garden on the drafts of sweet perfume with wings covered in rose petals. Up to a place where the ugliness of her life faded away and was replaced with green rolling hills, steep rocky cliffs and the cloud-like white froth of waves crashing into the shoreline. For a moment she could almost feel her feet lift from the ground and wings extend from her back.
But instead of flying above St Agnes, Opal instead dropped to her knees and began snipping the turf to the required height of seven centimeters. She looked up at the striking color of the rose bushes and perennials in full bloom and lost track of time as she crawled along like a dog with a pair of shears.
She had no idea how much time passed when she felt something small and hard strike her backside. Opal turned to see Tommy Braskins, the eldest of the boys at Clattenrot Place, standing at the garden gate.
“Oy you git. Wake up. Lunchtime.” Tommy surveyed the garden and curled his upper lip. “You’re not even half way though, Lampshade.” He shook his head in disgust. “We’ll be pickin’ up your slack again,” shouted Tommy as he turned and headed back out the gate.
Opal slumped sideways in the grass and surveyed the garden. It seemed different somehow; the roses less colorful and the perfume of the gladiolas had turned sour. As she fixated on the most spectacular bush at the center of the garden, a dark shadow darted through the far right edge of her view. She turned, but nothing was there. Then again there was movement just beyond that place in front to you, to the far far edges where you can’t quite see. Opal spun herself around in a circle and back to the center of the garden to find the prize-winning rosebush, scorched and dead.