It's true. The fact, the one implying that you realise the actual worth of something when you've lost it. He should know it. Being stuck in that rotten jail was the worst thing that ever happened to him.
‘I don't even remember how I got here in the first place. Well, there was a curfew. Yeah, I remember. Yes. I lost my wife, Elaine. She died of hunger. It's all my fault."Noooooooo!”’ he shrieked.
A tear rolled down his cheek. There was someone else too. Someone very close to his now shrunken heart. His daughter. Oh, how much he loved her. She, in her two cute little blond pigtails used to run out of their house to hug her daddy when he returned home after searching for work. They used to play together for hours. Amara was only five. She was his little princess. She always asked him, "Daddy, will you get me a pony?" He always replied, "Surely, when the time is right, princess." She never complained. Now he started to sob uncontrollably.’ Where was she now? What happened to her? They took her away. Along with all the other children of our street. I begged them to leave her. Oh, how much I pleaded. But they still took her away. "Daddy, don't let them take me away" , she screamed through all the confusion. Please take me, not my daughter...Please...I beg you...please"’, he pleaded with those masked policemen helplessly.
These were the thoughts that crept up his mind late at night. They then came for him and took him away by drugging him. She had her mother's blue eyes. He missed those eyes so much now.
This is what happened to all the people living on Prairie Street, and Jacob Wilden was no different. It was the settlement of the less privileged, located on the outskirts of an ostentatiously degenerate city of Duston. He had now been deprived of his family and was locked away in a filthy little cell to call ‘home.’ This cruelty was faced by the severe victims of the famine which had occured in the state of Turnwood in the North. The government had ordered all the residents of Prairie Street to be evacuated and contained, isolated from their loved ones, to be kept in 'special prisons' in a secret facility off the map because, supposedly, they ‘would contaminate the pureness of those above them’, as ‘they’ put it; ‘those above them’ meaning the aristocrats of Duston and some nearby states.
Jacob was put in the last cell in the prison, unaware of his surroundings and how exactly he got here seven years ago. Unlike other prisoners, he didn't mark his days with chalk on the wall or sit in the dark corners of his cell, slowly driving himself crazy. He used to look out the little ‘window’ with rusted iron bars out into the night and away from the miserable jail he was staying in. Out there, shone a very bright moon, along with millions of tiny little stars illuminating the deep night sky, like tiny little lights floating above to guide the miserable people on earth. It reminded him of his little princess and of home.
Beneath them, out in the lush green fields, he could see something else- every night, when the moon shone the brightest, and illuminated the whole field; tiny little shadows could be seen moving around. He couldn't make out exactly what he saw each night, but he was positive that they weren’t just animals. There was a legend about a well in that area, that some horrifying and vicious creatures lived there and used sorcery to survive. But that was ridiculous. Right? The next day, at dawn, he heard loud sirens go off and there was chaos all around. The inmates screamed things like “release us now!” and “the whole place is about to blow up!".
Then some troops came running towards their cells and opened them and said that there was going to be a huge explosion in a few minutes and that they were all liberated to get away from there. Quickly, for the first time, they rushed out of the huge iron doors that held them captive for all these years, to be greeted with lush green fields and beautiful meadows all around, but now wasn't exactly the time to appreciate the view.
All he could make out from the shouting was that there was some kind of radiation leakage from the nearby nuclear reactors and that it spread all around. Also, there was a fire. The whole facility looked humongous with over tens of thousands of innocent people being held in there. It looked mighty and scary at the same time, with ivy clinging to the rusty and thick walls. Creepy. "There’s the children’s center!” someone yelled beside him. ”Where?!” The man was pointing towards another huge building to the far left with lots of kids running away from there. Without another word, Jacob sprinted.
Looking at all those kids, tears welled up in his eyes as he thought of Amara, now 12 years old. “Amara! Where are you?” he shouted at all those kids. Nobody knew her, or at least the ones he talked to didn’t. Most of them had already disappeared into the nearby woods. “Please, please, please, let me find her” he prayed, fingers crossed. He prayed after what seemed like ages. Right now, he had to leave or the place would blow up soon. His daughter was probably right there, waiting for her dad to turn up somehow, he told himself. As he went deeper into the woods, he had helped all the small, remaining kids escape and then turned away from them. Behind him, he heard the devastating sound of huge explosions and ran farther away. Now what? He had to find her. Yes, he would do it. Then it hit him. What if she had been looking for him when the explosions occurred? No. It can’t have happened. No way. He could almost feel that she was alive. So he walked, and kept on doing it for hours, when, at last he found himself lost deep in the jungle. He kept on moving when all of a sudden, he saw a huge clearing and beyond that was a breathtakingly gorgeous garden with bunches of roses and dahlias and what not!
Suddenly, he tumbled upon a huge pile of leaves and twigs as he walked further. Strangely, he found himself falling, scared, into what appeared as a very big pipe, which was a well. He landed around thirty feet below, and astonishingly, it didn’t hurt, not even a little. “What in the name of.....” he couldn’t complete his sentence. What he saw before him through a big hole made his eyes widen and left his jaw hanging in mid air.
Right there, before him, on what seemed like a shore, were little cottages. The only difference - they hovered in mid air, and not only that, but right beneath them, like a cushion, were clouds, fluffy and vibrant which seemed to act like a support. He pinched himself to make sure that he wasn’t dreaming. He wasn’t. This was real. He walked towards those ‘cottages’ very carefully. He walked past them in amazement and then he saw something else. Something that gave him goosebumps. There were some strange creatures huddled away from the mysterious cottages. There were a dozen three feet, murky brown, yellow teethed, long nailed monsters with ulcers the size of golf balls all over them.
One of them turned around and spotted him. The others looked at him with their greenish-yellow eyes too. They ‘ran’ towards him like penguins and spoke in a rough voice in a strange language. Jacob was too shocked to react. Then, one of them waved its fingertips in a circle around its head as light blue sparks shot out of them. And then he spoke”Why are you here?” The others did the same thing with their hands and waited. “Well, um..I-I don-don’t kn-know wh-wh-why I’m here, or where I am”. “You are in the land of the mighty Squirtons, and we haven’t got all day so speak up!” another one said the last bit in a very loud voice which hurt his ears. “I’m sorry to..bother you, but I tripped on some twigs and found myself.....here.” They huddled again and then inquired him. Jacob told them everything.
The Squirtons all looked alike, irrespective of their age. The females, stronger than the males, had a crooked nose where as the latter had a pointy nose. Their queen was a goddess to them whom they had weirdly enough, found stranded long ago, who introduced them to a bit of civilisation as they didn’t want to be ruled by one of their kind. According to them, she was chosen by the gods.
They were unusually kind to him and said that the queen was to return after a few weeks. She had gone to the human world above to investigate the explosions, a few minutes before he arrived there. She was also very kind and just. They told him no more about their queen. The Squirtons were very intriguing, and preferred to remain a mystery, although they told him the basics. When they heard about the legend the humans spoke about, they thought that it was absurd and that they were evil in no way but mostly sweet creatures that loved nature and respected its creations. They also used magic to make life easier. They could conjure almost anything out of thin air. As for the well, it was where they were born, though they had many legends surrounding their creation.
They didn’t take many measures to prevent humans, as almost none came to. But they hid a well-oiled lever for opening a hatch to enter inside, covered with leaves and twigs, which apparently, Jacob had stepped on. Also, their queen had given them orders to keep any creature, if they ever came, to be kept from escaping before meeting the queen. So, they naturally told him to stay and tied thick ropes around his wrists, not ankles, as he couldn’t climb up the well with tied hands, though he was free to roam in their land, which looked a bit silly. The queen had left no one in charge. They had to take care of themselves for a while. Another interesting fact was that they could actually move their cottages in mid-air. They just had to think of the direction and it moved itself. It was like a normal cottage, except for no furniture (they preferred the straw floor). They could also change its altitude up to a certain level. The queen had a similar cottage of her own, but only a little bigger. He told them that he had to find his daughter but they simply shook their heads, although they pitied him a bit. The queen had the final say.
He stayed in a cottage of his own with ample of food and clothes to satisfy him, but he missed his daughter. After a week, he had learned to live with them but he had had enough. He intently made friends with a dull young Squirton and lured it into a trap. He offered to show it a trick if it removed the ropes. It gladly did so, and he told the youngling (his name was Lucas) to look behind a faraway tree first. As it disappeared behind a huge tree, Jacob ran towards the opening and quickly climbed out of the well. As he did so, He found himself being drawn into it again, like a magnet, and in he went again.
There, waiting for him was what seemed like the whole adult population of their land. They had frowns on their faces. Big ones, which looked like semicircles on their ugly faces. “Please let me go”, he pleaded. “You are to stay here till the queen arrives”. From then on, they tied thicker magical ropes and lessened their communication with him. 'The queen had better arrived fast', he thought bitterly.
They also sent some tough squirtons to look for his daughter. Fiona, another Squirton and the mysterious queen's closest acquaintance, assured him that he would go out soon. When he asked why exactly the queen wished to see him, she simply shrugged (which looked as if she winced) and told him that she didn't really know why. The search party returned but they still couldn't find Amara even after a week. Jacob was sick with worry and grief and was starting to crack. He thought that the queen, was his only hope.
Then, the next day, the queen arrived. She was only a child but very beautiful with silky hair and a high ponytail with purple streaks. She was also very simple and wise, for a child, but somehow, there was always a shadow of sorrow in her blue eyes, no matter how much she laughed. When the queen appeared before him, she asked the slightly crazy bearded man presented before him, ”Who are you and where are you from?”. “I am Jacob Wilden, and I come from a land which exists no more, Your Majesty.”, he replied with a hint of sarcasm. Her eyes suddenly widened and she seemed to hide behind a smile.“Will you help me?”, he asked her desparately. “Yes, but first tell me about your family.”
She said, her voice, only a whisper now. This made him sob very loudly.
Then he replied shakily, ”My wife died of hunger and I can’t find my only daughter who was also taken away”. He was crying now. The queen pulled the hood of her cloak over her face and also replied shakily, ”Do you miss her?”. “Every day.”, he sobbed. There was silence for a few seconds and then, as she lowered her hood, she now had two blond pigtails instead of a streaked ponytail. “What about that pony you promised me?” she asked, sobbing. Jacob looked at her and shocked, couldn’t say a word. It was Amara. She was the queen."Bu-but h-how?", he managed to stutter, his eyes wide with awe. Then, instead of waiting for her to reply, he quickly pulled her into a hug, feeling slightly dazed.
Amara then told him everything, about how she had escaped by biting a guard's hand, and how she found herself here, no less a queen! She was the chosen one, who was supposed to get the Squirtons to find other ways of living, and discovering their true powers. She herself had acquired a lot of magic, just enough to be a great ruler.
Together they sat and reminisced for the remaining part of the day. They were both overjoyed. She told him how she had transformed herself a bit and then switched back to the ponytail, just like before. He told her everything and that she had grown up to be just like her mother. And those little creatures he used to see every night? It was Amara and some Squirtons trying to find a way to get him out of there, but they didn't have enough powers yet, before Amara's thirteenth birthday, which was in a few months. The legend was true, somehow, and Jacob had landed himself right in the middle of this amazing fairytale, along with Amara. He basically had everything he could ever want.
"Now we can stay together for the rest of our lives, dad”, Amara said to her overwhelmed father. She said he’d changed a lot. “I don't think our little friends would mind us staying here together”, he said with a chuckle. “Maybe we should ask their queen”, she joked. "I heard she's a tough one, you know", he teased. Then they erupted into laughter.
After that, they helped a lot of stranded people escape and later on, a long ceremony followed with a lot of food and drinks (algae and mucky pond water for the ‘squirts’) and Amara and her dad, along with the Squirtons, lived magically, happily, ever after.