The Dragons of the Black Castle
Nothing exciting ever happens in Morgansville, Alberta. A sleepy little town where five thousand people share their daily lives and live in harmony—everyone but the occupants of a small house situated on a quiet crescent, surrounded by tall trees and lush green grass. In this house no colorful flowers bloom in the barren gardens. Here, the feeling of pride and love is lost.
In this small, brick house, a lonely girl lived every day in fear of an aging and sinister aunt. Jenny Saunders sat alone studying in a small kitchen. A dark braid hung down her back, while green eyes surveyed her book. Her concentration on her schoolwork was evident.
“Dinner’s almost ready! Clear the table!” Nora Bartlett, a middle-aged woman with short hair, screeched at her ward. Her large, intimidating form hovered over Jenny until the child moved to do her aunt’s bidding. There was nothing maternal or gentle about this woman. If Jenny could use one word to describe this woman who’d taken her in it would be nasty.
“Yes, Aunt Nora.” Jenny piled her books and placed them on the chair next to her seat. She stood, went to the cupboard, and returned to set the table for the evening meal the way she did every single day. No excitement or adventure lived in this house. On the contrary, if she didn’t abide by the routine set out by Nora, punishment usually followed. That’s just the way things were in this house, and Jenny tried her best to conform to the rules and regulations set out by her aunt.
Jenny looked at her aunt, but caution gave her pause and she felt this wasn’t the best time to ask for anything. The silence that descended over the small, pristine, eat-in kitchen overwhelmed her. And even though she’d lived in this house for the past six years, Jenny felt the hatred flow from her aunt with the same intensity as she did on the day she first came to live in Morgansville with Nora.
A few minutes later they sat around the table, and as always they ate in silence. Jenny was used to the silence that fell over the room and the house whenever she was close to her aunt. Nora barely looked in her direction unless she wanted her charge to perform some chore for her. Jenny played with the food on her plate, her mind on a sensitive topic she needed to discuss with her aunt, but feared her reaction.
At dinner’s end, Nora glared at Jenny. “Clean the table and wash the dishes.” As an afterthought, she turned toward her niece. “As soon as you’re done, go to your room. I’d rather not have to look at you.” The scowl upon her large face told Jenny more than her words.
“Yes, Aunt Nora.” Jenny hung her head in defeat. She sensed this wasn’t the best time to ask for a favor, but she was out of time. She’d waited until the last possible moment to approach Nora. Steeling herself, Jenny squared her shoulders. “Oh, before I forget, can you sign this form?” she asked, trying for a nonchalant lilt in her voice. She feared this moment more than she feared walking into school and facing her teacher.
“What’s it for?” Nora barely glanced at the paper.
“A school trip.”
“Where are they going?” Nora’s hand rested on her large hip.
“To the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton.” Jenny crossed her fingers at her side for luck.
“Do you need money?”
Jenny knew this wouldn’t be easy. It never was. “Yes, we need money to get into the museum, and for lunch. Please, Aunt Nora, just this once?” No matter what kind of trip her class planned, Jenny was always the one left behind. She wished that once, only once, Nora would say yes. It would surprise her more than anything ever had in her entire life.
Nora slowly passed a hand through her hair. She stared long and hard at Jenny. She deliberately turned and walked away from her and stood by the sink. She waited. Finally, after what seemed like forever, Nora spoke. “No. I think you should stay at school.” A smile of pure enjoyment crossed her thin lips as she left the room.
Jenny followed her in a futile attempt to change her mind. “But Beth is going. Please, Aunt Nora,” Jenny implored, “just this one time? I won’t ever ask for anything again. Please!”
“No! Now stop whining and do the dishes,” Nora said with booming finality.
Tears burned her green eyes and streamed down Jenny’s cheeks as she ran from the kitchen and up the stairs. She ran into her room and fell onto her small bed. The tears flowed freely as she cried and cried. Even though deep down inside she knew Nora wouldn’t sign her form, Jenny held on to the smallest measure of hope that one day Nora’s heart would soften toward her and she would surprise her with a yes. But true to form, Nora did the same thing she did any time Jenny asked for something.
She left the bed and walked over to her dresser. She gazed at her reflection. Large green eyes stared back her. They shone with unshed tears and glistened like emeralds.
“This isn’t fair.” Jenny turned away from the mirror and lay down on her bed. Thoughts of the fun she would miss twirled inside her mind. There was nothing she wanted more than to join Beth and her classmates on this trip. She could only imagine what the other kids in her class would say when she turned up without a signed permission slip. Every time this happened, Jenny became the brunt of every snide comment and pathetic joke in her classroom. Why should anyone have to be the subject of such abuse? There was no fairness or reprieve in Mrs. Parker’s classroom. Jenny wondered why people in this town felt as though this kind of treatment was what she deserved. Even in the midst of their behavior, a small ray of hope lived deep within her heart. She always tried to help her aunt around the house and outside, but it just wasn’t enough. She turned and put her face into the pillow and cried herself to sleep.