[excerpt of] ink like blood

by Meera R., 13

You need to be beautiful to be a princess, they told her. You need a pure heart to win prince charming. The best adventures only happen to fair maidens.

Each word was like a dagger pierced into Lyria’s skin, making her bleed doubt, staining the silver blade of their viciousness red with her sorrow. Who was she if not beautiful? Who was she if she didn’t have a pure heart? Who was she if not a fair maiden?

Lyria had been born with a physical disability, and she needed a cane to walk. Her rich, noble parents believed she was a failure. Her sister was ashamed of her.

You are worthless, they hissed. Shadows stole the light from Lyria’s eyes, and her veins soaked in the poison of their taunts.

When Lyria was a child, her parents exiled her to the kitchen with the other servants. She wore her family’s cruelty like it was a weight, and it made her stumble when she walked and hunch her shoulders when she spoke.

The years swept the resignation of her childhood away. There had been a time when she had dreams of starry skies and moonlit glades.

Now she was filled with bitterness.

The silence in her mind wasn’t consolation; it was condemnation.

Every night, Lyria would curl into the fireplace, sleeping on cinders. Tendrils of smoke cradled her body as a mother would her child, weaving through Lyria’s hair like a crown, wreathing her wrists like bracelets. She was a daughter of the ash, and yet still a captive to the silence of her unshed retorts.
Every day, she worked tirelessly at chores. She was a prisoner to her own skin. She looked at her leg and believed she deserved their hate.

They did not once pause to think they were birthing a demon inside of Lyria, allowing her hatred to fester. They shattered her mercy. She became unforgiving. Her kindness disintegrated; her compassion fractured. They had broken her like glass, and she was left with the jagged shards.

Some people stay broken. Some people put themselves back together with the sharp edges showing.

One night, after Lyria had been accused of stealing a glass slipper, she laid her head against the fireplace wall. She was brimming with poison and fury. Something inside of her was pulsing, like a second heart. She didn’t realize that she had built a tower of her rage, a city of her pain, an empire of her hatred in her soul. It beckoned for her. Her silence became a scream.

That night, Lyria learned how to write. She sliced open her thoughts, not her skin, and she scrawled with ink, not poison. Don’t worry, Mama. You may have put the venom in my veins, but I’m learning how to bleed it out through my fingertips.

Her imagination had awoken. There was a light at the end of her tunnel.

The next night, she wrote of the sun kissing the bloodstained horizon. She wrote of the ocean, the blue sea cradled by moonlight. She wrote of constellations, a thousand droplets of light showering a midnight canvas.

But mostly she wrote of her dreams.

When Lyria was asleep, she wasn’t physically disabled. She was not a servant to a family that had disowned her. She was not someone her family was ashamed of.

Instead, she was free.

She was at the mercy of her unconsciousness, enthralled by the sorcery of her dreams, enchanted by the beauty of her imagination. When she slept, anything was possible. Her stories didn’t involve beautiful maidens with pure hearts. Who needed a prince charming when she could save herself? She didn’t need to be perfect or pretty or loved by all. In her dreams, she was a fierce dragon-slayer, with fire in her eyes, passion in her heart, and chaos in her bones. Who cared about her limp? Nothing mattered when she could spin fantasies out of her fury and turn her bitterness to fairy tales of glass wings, gold princes, and ice queens.

Lyria dreamed of silver-winged horses and a sun that could be plucked out of the sky like a gold jewel. She dreamed of a path of stars that led into the heavens. She dreamed of standing on the tips of mountains to string the distant planets onto her bracelet like they were pearls.

Lyria had stood on a cliff over an ocean of pain, and she could have fallen in and drowned in her sorrow. Instead, she had learned to fly.

So she gathered her dreams around her like armor as she escaped her family that night. She might have understood them, you see, but she still hated them. Forgiving was easier than forgetting. She ran away into the village, where she heard rumors of a blind sorceress who could heal anyone, but only at a price. The townspeople warned Lyria that this old woman was rumored to be a witch and that her bargains were tricks.

It took her many months, but one night, as a whip of lightning lashed the clouds and the sky bled rain, Lyria discovered the sorceress inside a hut, sitting on a rocking chair, the hearth crackling and hissing next to her.

Why have you come, daughter of ash? rasped the old woman. Her eyes glowed white, like full moons. Her lips were painted in riddles.

I have come to be healed, Lyria whispered. Her bones throbbed, skin blossoming with bruises, exhaustion pulsing within her like a heartbeat.

You are destined to be a healer and a dreamer, said the old sorceress. The lost souls who need you will find you, and you will mend them with your stories. There is one story for everybody. Should they seek you, their story will scrape in your bones and sing in your blood. You will mend the broken and the lost.

How can I be healed? said Lyria.

There is one story for you, continued the sorceress. But you must find it. If you can tell it, you will be healed.

How is that possible?

Eyes aren’t the window to the soul. Your voice is. Let everyone see your soul through your words, as I have, said the sorceress. You must have adventures before you can tell your stories, for the best ones come not from words, but from the heart. She pressed her hand to Lyria’s heart. Magic awoke in Lyria’s veins, churning like an ocean.

They sealed the promise with blood, and so Lyria set off to find her story. She searched for it in the blood of the dragons she slew, under the floorboards of the ship she drowned, in the blazing heat of a wildfire she set, in between the stars she tried to count. She couldn’t find it. So she abandoned everything, and she waited for the story to find her.

Lyria settled deep into a forest, in a hut next to the shore of a lake as glossy as a mirror, waiting for lost souls, waiting for a story that could heal her.

Lyria had constellations threaded in her eyes and a thousand beautiful stories knitted in her soul. She wrote so much that swirls of ink seemed to be tattooed on her fingertips.

Those who saw her called her a demon. Those who knew her called her a disgrace. Deep beneath it all, though, they pitied her as they watched her limp through the forest. But Lyria was stubborn, and their pity turned to irritation. They scoffed at her tales of adventures and told her that she wasn’t beautiful enough to be saved by a prince charming.

She didn’t listen. Dreamers never do.

Those with souls as bright as light always have the darkest shadows in their minds. There must always be a balance.

Vaughan, Ontario, Canada