She can smell the rain as it seeps through the dry wall behind her bed. The little glass fairies which dangle from the strings on her curtains tinkle as they brush against each other, stirred by some unseen draught.
She draws the covers up to her chin.
Suddenly the room is lit with a blinding light, chasing the inky shadows from all the corners of the room. It’s gone just as quickly. The thunder rolls in and rumbles menacingly outside her window.
She squeezes her eyes shut.
The shadows seem even scarier this way.
She opens them again as she tries not to shiver in the icy darkness.
She can see it there, hanging on the plastic hook on the back of the bedroom door. There’s another flash, and then a crack so loud she leaps to the floor, her heart in her throat. Running across the room, she grabs the umbrella from the back of the door and hurries back to her bed.
The room is dark once more.
There are flashes of movement in the darkest corners and yellow eyes peering at her from every nook and cranny. Her little fingers fumble with the object until she hears that reassuring click, and then the umbrella unfurls around her in a protective shell.
The pattern on the plastic is simple enough.
It’s a bright red mushroom, with bold white spots scattered over it.
But, as is often the case, the inside is far more beautiful and enchanting than it appears from the outside.
The little girl smiles at the cheerful flowers that bloom under the streams of golden sunlight. She can smell the pollen on the breeze as it passes her to rustle the blossoms on the trees. Tiny creatures with shimmering wings bounce from one flower to another. They wave a warm welcome to their friend before continuing with their dance.
‘Is it raining out there again?’ asks a small voice from a nearby branch.
She looks over at the caterpillar. He’s much fatter than he had been the last time she saw him, which meant soon he would disappear into his cocoon.
‘And storming too,’ she replies. ‘It’s really very nasty out there.’
‘Hm, it seems there’s always a storm brewing in that world of yours. No wonder you’re always feeling under the weather.’
‘I don’t mind if it’s raining, but when it’s raining and thundering and night-time as well, it reminds me of something I want to forget.’
‘The time you were all alone?’
She nods gravely. ‘Sometimes I still feel alone, even when there’re lots of people around me. And sometimes I feel like Jo isn’t in the house, even when I know she’s there. All I can think about is how I felt that night that mum left, and it was just me.’
‘Jo must be a very good sister.’
‘She’s the best.’ The little girl smiles as tiny dragons flit amongst the treetops like birds. ‘She sold her house to come and live with me so I won’t be alone.’
‘Then maybe you were never alone to begin with.’
‘Maybe not,’ she sighs and looks around once more.
A stream trickles passed, its clear waters brimming with golden fish. Wild animals graze in the lush fields around her, while flocks of birds soar overhead on invisible currents.
This world is full of light and colour.
She can feel the earth shift beneath her with a slow and steady rhythm. Each gentle tremor is created by the giant turtle on which this land exists as he makes his way through an even bigger world beyond the rim of his shell.
He’s a sleepy old turtle whose name she doesn’t know.
Even after all her visits.
She looks around at the sweet comfort of this beautiful world. Her heart aches a little at having to leave it. She takes it all in as though she can hold it inside of her somehow, and then closes her umbrella and returns to the dark room and the stormy night.
But she doesn’t feel quite so alone anymore.