By Elizabeth Mercier (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)
Tucked away in what appeared to be a simple minded little girl, visions of what could be flashed across Riley’s eyes. Though she usually spent the day with her nose hidden away behind the hardcover of a story, her mother told her they had something to do that morning. Riley could never get absorbed in the abnormally large books that engulfed her mother’s shelf, so she grabbed a few off of her own. She followed Mother to the car and settled herself in, getting comfortable and beginning the first story for the car ride ahead. Riley got lost in her books instead of daydreaming or falling asleep like most children her age. She loved the idea of taking each character’s place in space, underwater, or in Neverland. When the little girl looked up again, the sky was dark and everything outside of the window was unrecognizable.
The car jolted to a stop, and Mother stepped out, encouraging her daughter to follow. When Riley did, she didn’t want anything more than to find herself back in the comfortable surroundings of the car. Mother kept speeding up, winding around trees and not seeming to care that her perfect shoes were now covered in mud and wet grass. It looked as if Mother was aimlessly guiding her through the unfamiliar surroundings, until she stopped at something that looked like a shed. The only difference between this door and any ordinary shed was that this door lead through the dirt and past what Riley could see.
Riley watched courisly as her mother used all of her strength to pry open the rotting door. In the same condition as the shed, questionably unsafe steps lead to what laid beneath it. Like a lost puppy, the child followed her mother, cautiously watching every step she took.
“Mommy, what is this? Where are you taking us?” she asked, her voice shaking and quiet.
“I can’t tell you yet, honey. This will help you; help us all.” Mother replied gently.
The two emerged into a world of green and beauty. The ground beneath them seemed to have never been touched by human feet, and sunlight flickered through the immense branches hovering above. A sense of relief and love filled Riley’s chest, making her surroundings feel safe even if they were unknown. The earth around her was as perfect and dreamy as the stories she loved getting lost in, and the darkness of the previous woods disappeared. When Riley looked back to find her mother, she was gone. Being alone in a perfect world didn’t bother or frighten her, she was happy to be left to her own devices.
Weaving in and out of the mass amount of trees, she stumbled upon findings she didn’t understand. There were walls made of straw that didn’t seem to have anything on the other side or a purpose. Riley stayed at the wall for less than a few minutes before continuing to saunter among the woods again. This time, she came across faceless figures, walking seemingly with a purpose. Like the world around her, the figures didn’t frighten Riley, instead intrigued her.
“Have you seen my mother?” Riley asked each one. None stopped to answer her, they only continued down the invisible path to an unknown destination. In defeat, the little girl settled herself under a tree, losing the motivation she previously had. Before her appeared creatures such as gnomes, fairies, and groups of what looked like miniature people to Riley emerging from the trunk. They were quite small compared to the figures she had seen before. Similar to the stories she had read before, the creatures introduced themselves kindly and played games with her. They span in circles and played games of pretend, growing tired, and bored quickly like most little girls tend to do.
When her eyes closed and opened again, the former untouched ground beneath her morphed to a rugged, gray carpet. Looking to her left, the faceless figures now were sitting comfortably in chairs, one of them being her own mother. In her hands, she held the same small creatures, but they were now stuffed with cotton and had glass eyes. Posters filled the wall next to her, with words like “mental health” and “self help” spread neatly across them. There was a glass window on the other wall, and Riley wondered what or who might be on the other side, relating it to the straw wall she was just near. “Why was it there?” she asked herself. It seemed familiar to her.
“Riley Madison? Hi, I’m Dr. Williams, I can take you now,” claimed an older woman, emerging from a door in the corner. Mother stood up and walked towards the doctor, leaving muddy footprints behind her, encouraging little Riley to follow in them.