“Ivy, come down! Mother will see!” Rosalyn shouted from the bottom of the wall. Ivy smiled down at her sister but stayed where she was, balancing on the stone wall that ran along the back of the garden. She stayed because this was one of the only places she didn’t feel awkward and wrong, up here on the tallest part of the wall. As close as she could get to the sky, the place where the dragon inside her longed to be.
Movement on the other side of the wall caught her eye. Some changelings were playing in the field near the edge of the cliff. They were a fox, a deer and a unicorn, playing some sort of jumping game, leaping and tumbling over and around each other, all thoughts of predator and prey forgotten in the fun of the game.
“Ivy!” Her mother’s voice jerked her from her observations. “Come down here now!”
Ivy didn’t understand why it was, that every time her longing for the sky was even a tiny bit relieved, her mother would storm out of the house and force her back down to earth. As she reluctantly began to make her descent, her mind wandered back to the changelings. How she envied them. She would have given everything to be with them. Not as she was, but as what she was meant to be: a majestic flying animal of immense size and beauty. Not in this awkward, cramped body her mother would not let her leave.
With a small thump she reached the bottom of the wall. Rosalyn looked up at her with worried eyes. When their mother was like this you just had to stay low and hope she didn’t notice you. Ivy reached out for her sister’s hand and gave it a small squeeze.
“Best you hop off down your hole until the worst of it is over. Thanks for trying to warn me.”
Rosalyn gave a weak smile, which Ivy returned, and ran off towards the door, staying as far away from their mother as possible.
Ivy began to trudge back towards the house. She took her usual seat by the window at the dining table and started to slowly eat her dinner, looking longingly back out side all the while. After she was finished she looked back at her mother, then at the door. The meaning of this gesture was not lost on her mother but nor was it appreciated.
“Absolutely not, go to your room now!” This was not the first time Ivy’s mother had lost her temper at Ivy for climbing the wall and Ivy was sure it would not be the last.
Why does she not understand? Ivy wondered as she grudgingly climbed the spiral staircase to her attic bedroom. But, then again, it was obvious: of the three of them, she was the only one that had a strong soul. Her sister’s rabbit and mother’s eagle were so faint that it was almost impossible to tell if you didn’t know them. But Ivy took after her father.
She wondered where he was now. He had had a strong soul, but he had given in to it before Rosalyn was born and her mother would not even speak his name.
She stopped, halfway up the stairs, and looked back at her mother.
“I love you, you know that, don’t you”
Through all her anger Ivy knew in her heart it was true. She nodded, ” I love you too”
She sighed and continued her climb. Her father would’ve understood.
The last rays of sun spread across the sky like fire, lighting Ivy’s face with a golden glow and casting a long dragon-shaped shadow across the roof. She lived for these moments, when she could sit undisturbed in a high place and watch the sunset over the town. Behind her the sea sank into the shadow of the cliff, slowly fading from bright aqua-blue to the dark shade of navy that it always took on during the hours of darkness.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Ivy started. She hadn’t heard anyone come up on the roof. Then she saw it. It definitely wasn’t a human but it was not a normal animal either. It had a changeling’s distinctive silver circle on its forehead which meant it was a person who had followed the calling of their soul and become the animal they truly were at heart.
“Who are you?” Ivy asked. Although she already had a faint suspicion of who the snake was, she wasn’t sure yet though just the thought made her heart thump.
“I used to have a name,” the serpent replied, “but names have no importance in the animal world, I am here to help. That is all you need to know.”
The burning disc of the sun finally slid over the horizon and gave way to the grey velvet of dusk. Ivy gave a last, longing look up at the first silvery stars. The snake spoke again. “If you feel it calling as strongly as I think you do, then go before she can lock you away for good. Your mother loves you but she has no way of understanding what you’re going through. Say goodbye to your sister and run, to the cliff would be good. Once you are there you will know what to do.”
Ivy gave a brief nod “Will it hurt?”
“Yes. But it will be well worth it. It will stop the yearning that has been hurting you all your life.”
“But my mother, I can’t just leave her, and Rosalyn, it’s hard enough for her already but with me gone…” Ivy trailed off, unable to finish. “Who are you really?”
“I believe you already know.” As Ivy’s father looked up at her she knew for certain that it was him.
“I can’t just go.” Ivy looked back at the town, twinkling just like the sky above it, as if had become a part of the sea and was now reflecting the brilliance stars as clearly as it’s watery counterpart.
“Rosalyn understands more than you give her credit for, Ivy. She is a very strong girl,” Her father said gently. “And I watch over the house, though your mother does not know it. Rosalyn and your mother will be absolutely fine.”
“So I should just leave them, leave everything I’ve ever known?” There was a touch of anger in Ivy’s voice now, she didn’t know why.
“I never said that now, did I?”
“What do you mean?”
“You forget how much your mother loves you, Ivy. I am sure she will happily allow you to come back after you change.”
“She didn’t let you come back.” Ivy sounded skeptical.
“She was angry at me, it was only natural. I left her just before Rosalyn was born, I left her without warning, I left her to care for a soon to be born child and a two year old.” Ivy’s father bowed his head. “I regret I did not tell her.”
“I need to go now.”
“Yes, you do. Goodbye my daughter”
“Rosalyn, Why are you in here?” Ivy asked
“I heard you talking to father, so I came in here to say goodbye”
“How do you know about father?” Ivy was puzzled, how could her little sister have known when Ivy herself had never once sensed another soul in the house or grounds?
“He comes to me every night and we talk, you never listened when I tried to tell you so I gave up and kept it to myself” Ivy nodded, this made sense for some reason.
“So you know why I have to go, why I can’t stay here any longer”
“Yes.” then suddenly Rosalyn’s eyes filled with tears and she ran forward and embraced her older sister
“I’ll miss you”
“I will too”
The grass was long and dry on the other side of the wall. As Ivy jumped down into the sea of waving stalks the first rays of golden light pierced the twilight gloom. She heard a shout from the other side of the wall. It was her mother.
Ivy began to run. Soon she came out of the long grass and onto the strip of shorter deep green stalks right before the cliff edge. Here, she stopped and turned. She could see Rosalyn waving from the top of the wall and her mother sprinting across the field towards her. Tears streaming down her face, Ivy started running again.
When she reached the cliff edge, she leaped. Far, far, far below her the waves crashed
with bone breaking force onto the rocks, showing white foam on top of the dark and swirling water. Then she fell, down towards the crashing waves and the rocks below. And as she fell she felt as if her chest were tearing open, like something inside her had finally woken and was now frantically trying to claw down the walls that held it inside of her it hurt but not in a bad way, ivy closed her eyes, then, suddenly, she could see herself as if she wasn’t her any more. With a roar of joy, Ivy spread her wings and flew upwards, leaving her old broken body to fall into the turquoise waves.
Cora McHugh is a thirteen-year-old Australian high school student. She is a dedicated bookworm and aspiring fantasy writer. Her first two stories were published in anthologies by Write 4 Fun, an Australian schools writing competition.