From inside his bag, Mary could hear Sir Edward of Owl Thorne gnawing on the blankets.
“Helen, isn’t it?” asked the voice of Anne, the veterinarian. She was pouring grain onto the ground for the chickens that ran around everywhere free range.
It looks so much different with animals now, thought Helen, remembering her first visit there.
Cows were grazing, and all over, the people Helen had met were working, digging up potatoes, pulling up carrots.
Helen nodded to Anne. The woman finished her chore and ran over to Helen.
“You came!” she said, throwing her arms around Helen.
“Is the position of storyteller still open?” asked Helen.
“Yes,” said Anne.
Anne’s eyes travelled from Helen’s face over to Mary.
“Who is this?” Anne asked Helen, like Mary was not there, a few feet away.
“That’s Mary,” answered Helen, “she’s my . . .”
Mary interrupted Helen, saying, “ . . . friend. I’m her friend.”
That’s what I was going to say, thought Helen. Mary had been acting weird around her lately.
She and Mary put their luggage away, and Sir Edward of Owl Thorne was released. He promptly began chasing after the chickens. Helen and Mary were sharing a crude cabin with Anne and another woman, Lydia, who made and repaired the clothes of everyone at Shangri-La.
The sun was setting as Helen wandered outside. It had been a long day. Mary looked like something was bothering her, but Helen hadn't had a chance to talk to her privately about it.
Unsure of her destination, Helen wandered around the place that could now be considered her home. The orange glow of fire to her left made her gravitate towards it. All the workers of Shangri-La were sitting on logs in a circle around a campfire.
Anne called Helen over and made introductions, saving Helen the shame of having to admit that she had forgotten most of their names. Around the fire sat Fred, Erek, Raymond, Lydia, Susan, Michael, Jo, Dwight, Robbi, Henry and Peter.
"And this is Helen, our new storyteller," said Anne. "Let's hear a story!" called Robbi, a wiry brunette.
Helen did not feel prepared to create a story out of nothing, with such an audience. She did not know what sort of story they wanted. So she asked.
"What do you want in your story?" Helen asked the circle of reposing people. "Courage," answered Peter. He was quite tall, even sitting down, with lanky black hair that brushed his shoulders.
"Beautiful girls!" yelled Raymond. A chorus of boos erupted from around the circle, and Raymond was pelted with lectures, some joking in tone, others serious, until he relented. "I meant," he said, trying to clear his name, "girls who are wonderful people, with courage," this last word was said with a nod to Peter, "and beautiful . . . souls."
The wheels in Helen's head spun fast. She knew the story she would tell, if they were willing to hear it.
"Would you like to hear the story of a girl who courageously escaped cruelty at the hands of her best friend, the story of a girl who was a beautiful spot of colour in the grey outside world?" asked Helen.
With a question like that, thought Helen, how could they refuse?
A chorus of 'yes's from the people around the campfire filled Helen's ears.
Mary walked slowly out of her cabin.
It wasn't that she had anything against this place, thought Mary, but just leaving felt so . . . weird. It was her decision, and she didn't regret it. But . . .
Mary could not even finish that sentence. But what? Of course she hadn't wanted things to get like this with Sophia. Of course this wasn't what she had planned for her future.
The rest of her unfinished statement came to Mary. But this felt too final. Like she was going to hide here for life. She didn't mind having come here in the first place, it was just the fact that they had no way of leaving that bothered Mary.
I'm only seventeen, thought Mary, thinking of all the possibilities that had never really seemed open to her, but had now been taken away completely. I don't want to spend my whole life with these people. Out here, I'd probably end up marrying Helen by default. Mary consoled herself with the fact that she and Helen had never said how long they would stay. Who knows, thought Mary, maybe after a while, I'll even want to stay here.
Up ahead, Mary saw the glow of a fire. She began to walk towards it. Warmth would be nice, she thought, hugging her rust-coloured coat around herself.
There was talking around the campfire. The sounds reached Mary. It was Helen speaking.
"All around her, the grey people walked in straight lines, concentrating only on reaching their destination as fast and efficiently as possible. But she stood out, her hair streamed behind her as she ran, and spun, enjoying the wonders of grass, and oxygen. She wore a patchwork of colours, as if she wanted to acknowledge them all. She was beautiful and untameable. Just looking at her made you think it was good to be alive. She took such joy in everything, and it would make you filled with joy to see her."
Mary looked down at her own coat. She brought her fingers up to her hair, and touched it, as if to confirm its length.
"But there was also a darker side to this girl's life."
Oh no, thought Mary, she wouldn't dare. Helen was telling Mary's life story.
Mary stood off to the side, shivering in the dark as Helen told of her life, putting words in her mouth.
Everyone thinks they know me better that I know myself, thought Mary bitterly. She wanted to scream at Helen, "That's not how it was with me and Sophia! I wasn't that stupid. She wasn't that despicable! I didn't fall in love with the heartless monster you're describing. I loved Sophia! I wasn't hypmotized or manipulated into loving her, I just did. She changed completely when she found out about you, she wasn't beating me throughout our friendship!"
But she couldn't say any of that. If she did, the people around the campfire would know that she was the girl. They would probably guess anyway, from her jacket and her hair, and the way Helen looked at her when she didn't know Mary was watching, but until she acknowledged it, no one wouldn't say anything.
Helen's story still contained enough truth to bring tears to Mary's eyes. This time they fell freely. She could shed them now, no one would see. A silent question joined Mary's lonely, soundless weeping. Why? she asked Sophia, again and again. Why did you treat me like a friend? Why did you turn on me?