This is a special mini-story that the author wrote JUST FOR UPPERCASE!!
Story Time by Melissa Grey
“Tell me a story.”
That’s what the little girl – Echo, she called herself now, after shedding her old name like snakeskin — said every night, since the day the Ala had brought her home. Echo plopped down on a heaping mound of the Ala’s many cushions, her fists tucked under her chin, her feet kicking the air behind her, her eyes alight with eagerness. Ever since she had taken Echo in, the child had been relentless when it came to stories, flipping through the Ala’s array of tomes, even if they were written in languages no human had ever mastered. A yawn overtook the girl, but she clamped it down with a hand hastily slapped over her mouth. It was late, far past an appropriate bedtime for children, but Echo refused to sleep until the Ala had uttered those magical words.
The Ala set her stack of papers aside, carefully, so the ink wouldn’t smudge. They would be needed later, but not until the morning. The queue of Avicen who had sought her out for advice would begin to form by her chambers as soon as the sun rose, but she had a few moments to spare. Tonight, after her evening scrying session, the Ala had begun the work of recording her visions, a process that lasted far longer than a child’s patience could withstand.
She pushed away from her desk and stretched. The feathers on her arms shivered with the motion, and Echo’s eyes followed the movement with delight. She had been living among the Avicen for six months now, but their feathers remained a source of amazement for her. The Ala settled herself on the pile of blankets and pillows next to Echo before an indignant squawk sent her back to her feet.
“Ivy’s under there,” said Echo, nudging the vaguely child-shaped mess of blankets beside her with a toe. Another, quieter squawk sounded before a white-feathered head poked out from beneath a patchwork quilt. Ivy’s wide black eyes blinked in the light of the candles surrounding the makeshift bed. Echo was not the only parentless child to call the Ala’s chambers home.
“Leave me alone,” Ivy mumbled, one pale hand coming up to scrub at her tired face. Echo stuck her tongue out and nudged the Avicen girl once more.
“The Ala’s gonna tell us a story,” said Echo. Ivy grumbled something in protest, but she leaned in, to better hear the story she pretended she didn’t want to hear.
The Ala rearranged herself so that she wasn’t sitting on any stray children. She prided herself on her stories. She had been collecting them for the better part of a thousand years, and few could hope to match her repertoire. But most importantly, she knew that until she said the magic words, Echo wouldn’t let sleep overtake her. Story time was more than a mere ritual to the girl. It was as necessary to survival as food and water.
Pulling the blankets up over the two girls, the Ala began her tale, “Once upon a time, there was a girl with skin as white as snow, and feathers as black as a raven’s…”
She told her story, the same one humans had appropriated and transformed. The elements remained the same. The wicked stepmother. The poison apple. The glass coffin. The handsome prince. The only real difference was instead of dwarves, the black-feathered, girl fell in with a flock of birds. It was a familiar tale, all the better to lull a stubborn child to sleep. Before the Ala had reached the end, both children were lightly snoring, Ivy’s white-feathered head resting on Echo’s shoulder, Echo’s hand clutching the edge of a blanket as if daring it to try to escape her clutches.
The Ala smoothed the soft brown hair away from Echo’s forehead. A little crease had formed between the girl’s brows but it smoothed itself out under the Ala’s touch. She finished her story, even though no one was left awake to hear it.
“And they lived, happily ever after.”