Iridescent tints of light reflecting off blooming petals of innocence. A well-nourished garden scattered with sparkling dew droplets and woodsy earth soil. As I walk amongst the foliage, I admire soft emerald leaves and sunset petals. I breathe in the fresh outside air. This is paradise.
The imagination is a powerful sense. The mind can conjure up its most creative ideas and splatter them onto a completely blank canvas, creating a whole new atmosphere. A person’s creativity depends on the environment they’ve grown up in and the things they’ve experienced. A princess who lives in a castle on a cloud would imagine a world where everything is beautiful because that’s what she can take from her own life. Diamond necklaces, divine party gowns, gallant knights. I, however, would imagine a dark world swirling with shadows. A monastery of depression. A garden of anguish. A gate of unending misery. The story of my life.
Thistlewaite Manor had been my home for my entire life. Fourteen years of little to no communication with the outside world. Fourteen years of being enclosed in a prison that made me feel as if I could never escape. Towering black metal paling and dark window panes hid the eerie castle from the rest of the world. The only almost nice thing about Thistlewaite was the rose garden leading up to the front gates. A rose garden was still a rose garden if it was overgrown, wilted and dead, wasn’t it?
Just because I lived in a castle didn’t mean I was a princess. I’d never been told why my existence had been hidden from the rest of the world, but when I was alone, I liked to imagine that it was because I was being protected from something dangerous. Maybe I was a mind reader and I hadn’t discovered my ability yet, or a real princess who was endangered by a family rival. But I knew I wasn’t. Surely my castle would be a little more…appealing if that was the full story.
Thistlewaite Manor had twenty-three bedrooms. You would think I would share this miserable home with my family. Cousins, aunties, uncles, grandparents. But I didn’t. It was only me and my father. Adam Elmwood. A man who was just as shadowy and secretive as the dark world he had created. Twenty-one out of the twenty-three bedrooms sat there collecting dust. I didn’t even know what was in half of the rooms. They were more of a painful reminder of how lonely we were. How lonely I was. As miserable and draining as my day to day life was, I always thought of how nice it would be to have someone to share this huge vacant castle with. Someone my age. A friend, maybe. I’d never had one of those. Most people had good relationships with their fathers. Some would even consider their fathers as one of their friends. I didn’t know what that was like. I never saw my father. Half the time, I didn’t even know where he was. There wasn’t much to do in our little world. For fourteen years I’d been told to never pass the front gates. It wasn’t like it was possible. They were almost taller than Thistlewaite Manor itself and I’d never seen them open. I doubted my father would go beyond the gates anyway. I knew the outside world scared him. I just didn’t know why.
I didn’t know what could be scarier than Thistlewaite Manor. I’d always thought that if I could survive fourteen years here, I could survive anything. The world outside the gates didn’t seem so bad from my bedroom window. My room was on the top floor of the castle – something I’d never complained about. It gave me the best view of all. I could see everything that happened below me. I could watch when my father paced up and down the garden, not having a clue what he was thinking about. I could watch the snow fall from the clouds and float down to the ground. I could see the petals of the roses fall in Autumn, refresh themselves in Spring, and fade away and die in the Summer. I could see beyond the gates, too. About a hundred metres from the metal spikes was a garden more beautiful than I’d ever seen. Compared to the rose garden we had, this one was glorious. Sprouting pink rose buds attached to emerald green leaves, glittering in the sunshine. It made me want to escape more than ever. When I grew up and finally figured out a way to get out of this place, that garden would be the first place I would go.
On this particular afternoon, I was sitting by the window when I saw something I’d never seen before. On the other side of the gates, walking towards the castle – my castle – was a boy. Brown fluffy curls bouncing off the top of his head was all I could see, but that was enough. We’d never had a visitor before. I understood why. Who on earth would choose to come to Thistlewaite Manor? My heart was beating so fast I thought it was going to jump out of my chest. Tearing my eyes away from the window, I ran as fast as I could down three flights of bitterly cold stairs. I didn’t know where my father was, but if anything, today was the day I had to find him. To my bewilderment, my father was already waiting at the bottom of the stairs, a look of sheer panic painted on his face.
“What’s going on?” he asked me, as if I’d planned the situation.
“There’s someone at the gates. A boy. We have to let him in.”
My father looked shocked, then he turned angry. “Let him in? Why on earth would we do that? He could be dangerous. He could have weapons…”
“Father!” I interrupted. “He’s just a boy. No-one ever comes to Thistlewaite. Please let him in! Just this once.”
I could tell by the look on my father’s face what his answer was, but I didn’t care. I glanced at him for a split second before making a run for the wrought iron front doors. I could hear him yelling after me to stop before I did something I’d regret, but I’d been trapped in this castle long enough. I had to know why the boy was here.
When the icy cold outside air hit my bare arms, I ignored the shiver that was threatening to run down my spine and kept running. I didn’t care if I tread on stray thorns that got lost in the snow beneath the rose bushes. This was my chance. When I was about halfway to the metal gates, I stopped. There he was. From where I was standing, I could see that he had olive skin and freckles dotted his cheeks. He had brown eyes, like a swirling cup of coffee, and he was wearing a warm grey coat. His hair was fluffier up close, but I didn’t mind at all.
“Uh, hello there.”
I jumped when he spoke. The only other human voice I’d ever been exposed to was my father’s. His voice was like icicles. This boy’s voice was like sunlight. Rays of sunlight warming me from the inside out. Before I could respond to his awkward greeting, a mighty creaking noise resounded against the walls of the castle, and for the first time in fourteen years, the gates began to open. I whirled my head around, and there, standing on the front stairway, was my father. I’d never seen so much emotion caught on his face. I was so caught up in the fact that my father had finally opened the gates that I didn’t realise the boy had come closer until I turned and saw he was standing right in front of me.
“According to my calculations, your name is Bloom Elmwood. Is that correct?” he asked, his eyes burning deep into my soul.
All I could do was nod.
He smiled lightly. “I’ve been told to come and see you here at Thistlewaite Manor.” At the mention of those words, he leaned around me and looked right at my father. “By the way, thank you for opening the gates, Adam. I must be honest, I didn’t expect you to.”
All my father did was stare at him.
“Anyway, Bloom. I’m Peter, and I was instructed to come here and find you specifically. Don’t ask any questions: just listen. Your whole life has been played out here at this castle. It sure is a miserable place.” He stopped to look around, taking in shadows and all. “Tell me, when you look out that window…” He stopped and pointed to my bedroom window. “What do you see?”
I hesitated. That was an awfully simple question. “Uh, I see the sky, and trees I guess.”
Peter shook his head. “No, no, dig deeper. What do you see?” he asked again, this time with more vigour.
I stared at him. Maybe it wasn’t as simple as I thought. I thought for a moment, then felt a spark of emotion. “I see a division between Thistlewaite and the rest of the world. Those gates have locked me in this prison for fourteen years and I had no way of escaping. I see a dead rose garden, wilted and overgrown because there’s no-one willing to look after it. I see a place where I feel empty and alone. A place where my father neglects me for secret business he’s never told me about. I see death, and misery, and sadness.”
Peter nodded. “Good, better. Now I want you to think about the strongest emotion you’ve ever felt. Think about a situation where your thoughts felt like they were taking over your mind. Your body. Your soul. What do you feel?”
I didn’t know what was going on, but Peter had some sort of power over me. I couldn’t not do what he was telling me to. “I feel hollow. Like no-one cares about my existence.” I tried not to let my voice break.
“Okay, stay with me, Bloom, you’re doing really well. Now, take that feeling, and throw it to the ground. Stomp it down into the snow and never ever think about it again. Your imagination is a powerful sense. The most powerful sense in your body. It creates scenarios, and emotions, and pictures. Anything you want really. But see, that’s the key. You’ve lived in a sad, dark castle for your entire life. I don’t blame you for seeing exactly what you’ve experienced. But Bloom, you have to open your eyes; open your heart; open your mind! The world has so much more to offer than what these gates have confined you to! There’s a whole world out there! A whole new rose garden to explore. Hear it and believe it. I’m sure you weren’t given the name ‘Bloom’ for nothing. Dig deep and find your meaning. Find your purpose.”
Unexpected tears ran down my cheeks as he gave me one last look, one last smile, then turned around and walked right out. Just like that, he was gone. My heart stopped when I saw what trailed behind him. Every step he took left behind a fresh patch of green grass. Forest green, like the tips of the pine trees in a forest. As he passed the remaining dead, wilted flowers, a fresh pink rose blossomed in its place. New leaves sprouted as the sunlight crept across the snow until any trace of an arctic Winter vanished completely. At first, I thought it was magic. But then I realised it wasn’t. This whole time – my entire fourteen years of living – had been utterly despondent because my imagination had written the story like that. Thistlewaite Manor wasn’t swirling with shadows. It wasn’t a monastery of depression, or a garden of anguish, or a gate of unending misery. It was striking, wild, wonderful. It had magnificent roses, just like the ones in the garden I’d been longing to escape to for so long. I just had to believe that they were there in order to see them. It was almost as if I’d been seeing the world through blurry lenses. I now knew that I could see whatever I wanted to see. When roses bloom, I bloom too.