She explored the winding deer trails on their small plot of property, tracked the creek all the way to the pond it came from, and all the way to where it disappeared in the neighbor’s grass. She would return with scraped knees and elbows, and knots of twigs or leaves in her hair, but she would be bursting with smiles and exhausted.
One day, as her mother washed the soiled dishes in the sink, Ophelia ran deep into the woods, entranced by the mystery of a deer-trail that wound up the slope of the great mountain behind her house. Usually Ophelia stayed on the close side of the stream, but today was special. She hopped over the stream, spattering some mud on her shoes, and took off up the mountain. All her stains and smears would be forgiven today.
Today was her birthday.
When she reached the top, exultant at the distances she had traveled, she discovered a grove of pine trees that engulfed her. She was six whole years of grandiose dreams and stories and saw magic and delight in the felled, moss-covered trunks and wide, shady branches. She knew that once this was a palace, and those logs had been part of a great big throne, and that if she climbed that pine she could see her house from up in the clouds.
Ophelia stood in awe of her surroundings, and the tiniest smile painted its way across her round little face.
“What beautiful hair you have, child.”
“Thank you.” Ophelia responded from habit. She turned quickly to see a beautiful lady among the pines. At first she may have been startled, but the Lady was so lovely, and smiled so sweetly that after the briefest moment it no longer seemed to matter.
Ophelia’s little lips parted in wonder at the flowing vestments this lady wore. They were made of starlight and spider web, flowing like waves and they floated just off of the ground like rain clouds. Her hair was flaxen and gold like Rapunzel, and her face was slender and elegant. If this had been a palace, then surely this was the princess.
“It is the color of honey and caramel.” The lady continued. She approached as if she was floating.
“Thank you. Mommy says it is golden brown.” Ophelia spun some of her hair between her fingers proudly.
“That is very true; but she doesn’t say it right.” The beautiful lady reached out a slender, elegant hand and gently ran her fingers through Ophelia’s hair with a sigh.
“Thank you.” Ophelia liked this lady. She was nice. And she was so pretty. “You are so pretty. What’s your name?”
The lady smiled and it was like the sun was shining. “You may call me Lady Una, Ophelia.”
Ophelia clapped her hands excitedly. “How did you know MY name?”
Lady Una laughed, like a thousand Christmas bells, and tiny wind chimes playing music in the air. “I remember beautiful names of beautiful children, Ophelia.”
Ophelia knew this was magic.
She sat when she was beckoned to, and the Lady Una played with her hair, dotting it with spring flowers and dewdrops until it glistened like a rainbow in her hands. As the Lady worked, single strands of Ophelia’s hair fluttered to the forest floor, mingling with the plants and leaves there, as if being collected by the winds.
They sat and Ophelia let her legs dangle off of the fallen mossy log, and the Lady told her stories of a place called Arcadia, her homeland. She told Ophelia about the glimmering ivory towers with fluttering banners, the creatures that roamed the streets selling colorful wares, and of the other children who lived and played there for eternity.
“I would like to see Arcadia.” Ophelia mused. She sighed as her mind wandered to the fairy tales she had imagined.
The Lady Una moved in and whispered to Ophelia then, and her breath was like strawberries and honey, sweet and cool like a spring breeze. “You can always come to Arcadia, my dear Ophelia. Would you like to?”
Ophelia’s face burst at the seams. Her joy seemed to rival the fullest of moons and brightest of stars. “Can I really go? Would my mom say okay?”
Lady Una embraced Ophelia, and it felt like the light of the sun and the tickle of fresh grass on her bare arms. She was warm and soft like a blanket in winter, and she smelled of lilac and lavender blossoming in her mother’s garden.
“Your mother already told me, Ophelia! That is why I am here! You are to come away with me to Arcadia!”
Ophelia returned the hug with the enthusiasm of having just received a most wonderful gift. “Oh Thank you, Lady Una! When can we go? I want to see Arcadia!”
Lady Una smoothed Ophelia’s hair and sighed contentedly. “We go now, my dear. Right this instant.”
Ophelia was released from the embrace, and looked back down the mighty mountain towards her home. “I have to get all my stuff. And my toothbrush, and say goodbye to my dog, and –“
Lady Una’s slender finger touched Ophelia’s lips and the little girl was silent, having forgotten what it was she was going to say. “But you already have what you need, dearest. And you already said your goodbyes.”
“Oh. I know. I did say goodbye.” Ophelia grinned brightly at Lady Una. The spell broke upon her like the gentle caress of a wave, and all doubts were lost. A sigh breezed through the sweeping pine branches and whispers chattered in the branches beyond the grove.
The great lady rose to her feet and offered the little girl her hand. Ophelia giggled with the thrill that only children know, and clasped it eagerly. Lady Una gazed down at the child and began to walk deeper into the pines, and as they did, great brier hedges rose around them, encompassed them, and whisked them away. As they faded from view, the sticks and flowers with Ophelia’s hair interwoven within began to move and rise and walk like a girl.
Ophelia’s mother finished the dishes and regarded the time. She wiped her hands clean on a rag, and turned to call her daughter in from outside. Ophelia’s brother had already come back inside.
However, when she turned to the window, she found that Ophelia was already approaching the house, a handful of wildflowers clasped in her hands. Ophelia’s mother smiled. That girl was always finding something to bring home.
The Ophelia that approached walked with the gait of a child, looked as if it was a child, and laughed like all children. However, beneath the magic of the Glamour that painted it as a real living girl, there was naught but a doll bound of sticks and vines, dusted with thistle-seeds and dotted with rose petals, woven together with strands of honey-brown hair.
When the doll approached Ophelia’s mother it gave her the flowers and embraced her as if no change had occurred. And Ophelia’s mother told it to go wash up for dinner. They were having Ophelia’s favorite dish.
“Happy Birthday, sweetie.” Ophelia’s mother kissed the doll of sticks on the forehead and sent her on her way, content to arrange the bouquet of wildflowers while her daughter got ready for dinner.
Rommel, the German Shepherd and protector of the house, was sitting beneath the table. He watched the golem enter the room with a weariness in his eyes. At first, he growled a warning at the creature until his eyes locked with it. As the doll left the room, it smiled, and its eyes sent hoarfrost down the canine’s spine. A shining malice gleamed there, green as cut jade and less alive than glass.
Rommel whimpered until he was shushed and he was sure he was being ignored, and then resigned himself with a fearful harumph.
His child was gone, and a monster had come in her place.