Chapter 1

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'Once upon a time there was a broken girl,' the girl thought as she scrubbed the merciless wooden floor. She hated scrubbing those damned floors. Out of all the chores she had, it was the worst. The cold, hard floor bit into her knees as she worked the brush back and forth. It would soon be filthy again. People walked their muddy feet on it. How was it ever meant to stay clean? Nevertheless, she scrubbed.

The brown bubbles of soap and grime clung to her bony fingers. Her clothes were a similar colour to the dirty bubbles, as was everything in the orphanage. Everything in the girl's life seemed to be a variant of brown or beige, even the sky most days. Her life was a canvas and the artist painting on it had only one colour. She longed for more colour. She longed for rainbows and light and more.

Sometimes, when the sun was still young in the sky, she would stare out the bedroom window, down onto the street below, just to feast on the many colours of the ladies' dresses down below. But the feast would never last long, if the sisters did not find her spying first, the feasting would soon turn to daydream, and she would start imagining that one of those ladies was her mother. And day dreaming in a place like the orphanage was a perilous undertaking.

The daydream would start out simple enough. She was upstairs in the nursery of their grand home, the noises of the other children behind her would be the sounds of her brothers and sisters. She would be waiting for her mother to come back from the market. Some days her mother would be wearing red with golden hair, other days yellow with the hair of freshly roasted chestnuts. Sometimes, if she was lucky, she would see a woman with the same midnight hair as herself.

She had received the strap one morning for accidentally waving to one of the 'daydream mothers.' The woman had complained to one of the sisters. The girl's hands had to be bandaged for weeks.

Now, the bandages were off and she was back scrubbing floors.

While down on the floor, on this particular day, she heard a sweet clicking sound. It seemed to be coming from under a nearby chair. She subtly scrubbed her way over to the chair and, while the sister was not looking, she peered into the gloom under the chair. A sparkle of pearly blue caught her eye.

She reached underneath and pulled out a beautiful blue-black beetle. Its shell shone in the flickering candle light as she held it out in her scarred palm. It was as pretty as a precious stone. 'Don't worry,' whispered the girl. 'I'll keep you safe.' She carefully tucked the beetle into the pocket of her brown dress and returned to scrubbing.

'You! Ebony haired girl! Stop bloomin' day dreamin' already and scrub!' screeched one of the sisters.

The girl looked down at what she was doing. She had the brush in her hand and she was moving it back and forth. 'I am scrubbing,' she mumbled.

'What did you say?' The sister's tone was that of an alley cat on heat.

The girl cringed and closed her eyes. She looked up. All the other orphans had stopped scrubbing to watch. Some even had wicked grins lurking on their smug, dirty faces.

The girl sat up on her haunches and looked the sister in the eyes. 'I'm in trouble now anyway,' thought the girl.

'I. Am. Scrubbing,' she said loudly, pronouncing every syllable.

The sister descended on her like a gray bat, all flapping robe wings and scratching claws. She grabbed the girl by the ear and dragged her to the Head Sister's office.

The girl kicked and squealed. She never gave up without a fight.

The sister flung the door open and threw the girl inside. 'Mother, this one's back talkin' again,' said the sister, prodding the girl harshly in the spine.

The mother, a woman as plump as a Christmas ham with snaggleteeth and no neck, growled at the girl. She slid her chair over to a drawer where she kept their files, the legs of the chair ground on the wooden floor like the claws of a giant beast from a fairy tale. The girl wondered how the spindly legs of the chair didn't give way under the mother's mighty weight.

'What's your name again, girl?' asked the mother.

The girl went to speak but received a slap to the back of her head from the sister.

'Ouch,' said the girl, rubbing her head.

'Ahh, yes,' said the mother, getting out a file with the girl's name on it. 'Silly name for such a miserable, little urchin like you. Been 'ere since you was a babe. Think you'd know better by now.'

'I was scrubbing, Mother, I promise,' said the girl, the word mother in relation to this woman tasted bitter on her tongue.

'And I s'pose you weren't day dreamin' t'all then?' said the mother.

The girl paused for a moment.

'See, Mother, the girl lies,' said the sister, tugging hard on the girl's hair.

'Ouch,' cried the girl and, without thinking, she stomped backward onto the sister's toes.

The sister jumped around and hollered. The mother chuckled. She was not biased with her cruelty.

'Compose yerself, Sister!' The mother's face changed into a hardened stone scowl. 'You're a feisty one, aren't ya? Come, let's see if we can break that spirit of yours.'

The girl hung her head and held out her hands, palms up. The red, raised scars that crisscrossed her palms still angry from the last time.

The girl closed her eyes.

The girl sat outside in what little sun could make it through the smog. Her bones ached with the cold and the damaged skin on her hands stung. The bandages that the sister had wrapped around her hands were grubby, the same colour as the dirty soap bubbles on the floor she had been scrubbing, the same colour as the sky.

She felt movement in her pocket and remembered the new friend she had found earlier. Standing up to have a walk around the small enclosed yard, she took the beetle out of her pocket. Its fluffy little feelers searched around in the open air and it clicked happily.

'I told you I'd keep you safe,' said the girl. And she began to sing quietly to herself as she walked.

Suddenly, she felt something large and hard strike the back of her head and she was falling forward before she could stop herself. Pain shot up through her hands as they struck the cobbles and it ricocheted up her arms.

She heard laughter behind her as a group of kids came over, the ones who had thrown the large rock that now lay in the dirt beside her.

The girl's head swam as she tried to blink away the black and white spots that swirled across her vision. Everything became shadowy.

'Look at her, Richard! She's presenting like a mare! Quick, in ya get,' said one of the boys to another uproar of laughter.

The girl rolled over onto her hindquarters. The pain in her hands throbbed and she kept her eyes on the group of kids that had come over to taunt her, least they have more than one rock.

The boy that had thrown the rock pushed his friend, Richard, towards the girl. 'Stop it, Thomas,' said Richard, taking a swing at the rock thrower. 'I'll bloody catch something.'

The girl felt the pain in her heart as they all laughed at her. 'Why don't you all just sod off!' Her voice broke as tears fell out onto her dirty cheeks.

'Why don't you all just sod off!' they all mocked in high-pitched voices as they jeered and turned around as if she wasn't even worth the effort of teasing. They all walked away and the girl looked to her bleeding palms to see the beetle that she had saved or what was left of its little carcass. Silvery wings and the scattered shell, nothing more than blue glitter and entrails.

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