Tabitha did not know where she was, and she was very, very scared. The way home had never been this dark before, or this big. Everywhere she looked were unfamiliar buildings that rose up so high she couldn’t see the sky. Mommy had told her to come straight home, and she was a good girl, so she had, but somehow straight had become crooked and home had become something else.
The sidewalk was cold, like winter, but there was no snow on the ground, and though she could hear all the city people like they were right around the corner, whenever she ran towards them she found only another empty street.
All of the doors were locked, and there were no signs anywhere. She knew that if she could just find where she’d gotten lost that she could get back home and be safe as houses. Tabitha couldn’t find where she’d gotten lost, though. She couldn’t remember what she had done wrong at all, but she must have done something wrong because this was not where she was supposed to be.
After a very long while, Tabitha sat down on a bench on another empty street and began to cry. The tears were warm on her cheeks, and that made her cry even more. Her fingers were beginning to grow red with the cold, and she could see her breath in front of her face
Then, while she cried and called out for mommy to come find her, the voice began to speak to her. “Why does the little one make such noises?” the voice asked her. It was so shocking that Tabitha stopped crying immediately and looked around to see who had spoken. Even though she could hear the whole city all around her, it all sounded so very far away, but the voice seemed right up close.
There was no one under the bench, or in any of the doors or windows of the tall buildings. There was no one in her backpack either, only her school books and the drawing she made for mommy. When she got home she was going to show it to mommy, and then mommy would put it up on the refrigerator so everyone who came over could see. “Are you talking to me?” she asked the drawing.
“Of course it is not,” said the voice, and it laughed like snow falling on bare skin. It gave Tabitha the chills. “Unless the little one is full of more magic than she seems her drawings are not talking.”
“Then who is talking to me?”
“I wonder,” said the voice, and this time it felt like it was whispering in her ear. Tabitha jumped off of the bench and turned around, but there was only the empty sidewalk behind her, and the coarse red bricks of the building beyond. It was funny, but that building didn’t have a door, though Tabitha was quite sure it had used to. There were no windows either.
“Mommy said I am not supposed to talk to strangers,” she said, and she held onto her backpack very tightly.
“What is mommy?” the voice asked, slipping along the wind and whisking through her hair.
“Mommy is my mommy. She takes care of me and takes me to school. She tucks me in at night and tells me stories.” This seemed like a very strange question to Tabitha. Everyone knew what a mommy was.
“Stories? What stories?” She felt the voice that time, tickling her neck, and she swatted at it like she did mosquitos when it got hot during the summer and they buzzed all around, but when she looked at her hand there was no red splotch of blood like when she squished mosquitos. There was nothing at all.
“Good stories,” she said. “She tells me the good stories like Sleeping Beauty. Do you know Sleeping Beauty?”
“No,” said the voice, tickling her again. “What is a Sleeping Beauty?”
Tabitha knew that she wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers, but she was very scared and the voice was the only thing she had to talk to. Talking made her feel safer. “Sleeping Beauty was a princess who was cursed by an evil witch. Then she was raised by fairies.”
“Fairies. The little one knows fairies? Fairies who raise little ones like Sleeping Beauty?”
Tabitha nodded. “Yes, I know them. Mommy tells me stories about fairies. She told me Sleeping Beauty touched a bad needle, and she fell asleep. And then the fairies helped a prince to come rescue her, and he kissed her and broke the spell.”
“Is the little one a prince?”
At this Tabitha giggled, though it sounded very much not like her. “No, silly. I’m a girl. Mommy says I’m her princess, but I’m not really. Mommy is a nurse. Princesses have queens for mommies.”
“I am not silly!” This time the voice was so very cold that it burned, and Tabitha shouted in surprise. She grabbed her neck and her fingers came back all covered in frost. She was frightened again.
“Excuse me, but do you know where my house is? I want to go home, please.”
The voice hissed, and the street became ice. Tabitha stepped away from the curb and bumped into the bench, falling over. Her backpack fell from her hands, and her books and pencils scattered all over. She began to pick them up as quick as she could.
“Silly? The little one thinks I am silly. The little one knows nothing!” The ice began to crawl across the road towards the sidewalk like an ooze. Great heaps of it lifted from the ground and crashed back down again. Tabitha quickly picked up her books and her pencils and her picture for mommy, put them back into her backpack and began to run away from the icy voice.
Then another voice began to laugh. This one was like cinders from the fireplace landing on Tabitha’s skin, and she shrieks and swatted at the painful spots, but the fire voice only kept laughing. “Silly! It is silly, isn’t it? The little one knows more than stories, it does!”
The fire voice made the ice voice even madder, and it whispered, “Off and away! You know nothing of little ones and stories, you!”
The ice from the street was up on the sidewalk now, and began to come after Tabitha with a sound like breaking glass each time it moved, but the fire voice laughed again, and the ice turned to water at the edges and splashed away. “I know of silly, and that it is,” it said. “It asks the little one questions of mommies and princes. It knows not the name of the little one.”
“Girl, it is!” The icy voice swept over her back, and her hair froze to her face. “Girl it names itself, and is, and was. You are not welcome! Away!”
The fire voice laughed again, and it felt like opening an oven. Her hair melted away and fell against her neck in wet slops. Tabitha kept running. “Welcome I am,” the fire voice said. “Welcome it is not. See how the little one runs. Away from silliness, as it names you.”
“Enough!” The ice voice filled the street with a wind colder than anything Tabitha had ever felt. In a moment the tall buildings and the empty sidewalks were all covered in snow and ice. Tabitha’s shoes slipped on it, and she fell to the ground and heard something go pop. Her leg hurt so very bad all at once, and she began to cry again. her tears were no longer warm against her cheeks, but froze in her eyes, blinding her.
The fire voice did not reply, and the ice did not melt away. Tabitha cried for her mommy to come get her. She apologized for becoming so very lost, and she promised to be a good girl from now on. The ice voice whispered to her, a cool breath in her ear. it said, “The little one is loud. I do not like loud. The little one will stop now.”
And then she was cold. So terribly, awfully cold that she couldn’t breathe, or cry or even think anymore. She saw something then, a woman above her, but it was so hard to see through the frozen tears and with everything becoming so dark. For a moment she thought it was mommy, but mommy had never had so many teeth. So many many teeth.