Submitted Date 09/18/2023

Sophie loved to explore whenever she had a day off from school, and today she was making her way through the sparse forest, eager to find places she had yet to discover. Her best friend, Abby, had ditched her in favor of going shopping with her Mom today, but Sophie preferred trekking through the woods any day to picking out a new outfit in a crowded mall. She was most at home while romping through tangled brush in a forest or while doing anything outside.

Sophie walked for a short while until she topped a hill. In the distance, she spied a small house that she had never spotted during previous times in the woods. The house lay just inside a small clearing, hidden by massive oaks and pines in the surrounding clearing. Moss hung from the trees' branches; it swayed in the mild spring breeze, further protecting the home from unwanted eyes and visitors. The house, from what Sophie could see, was abandoned. Its shutters hung at crooked angles from their hinges and the door stood slightly ajar. Cautiously, Sophie drew nearer the old homestead and saw that the screen door was dilapidated with several holes. Along the front of the house, there was an open window, whose tattered curtains billowed in the slight breeze. The abandoned house looked so worn down that it was entirely possible it had been this way for many years. Knowing her mother would probably tan her backside for entering the property, she still headed straight for the the door nonetheless, walking up the three steps of the front porch. She hesitated just outside the door.

"Hello?" Sophie yelled through the small opening, but the only sound that came back was the faint echo of her own voice.

"Hello? Is anyone home?" she yelled again, this time a bit louder. Still, no response. Yes, there was no doubt this house was empty. Surely, no one would leave their door and windows open like this.

Curiosity increasing, Sophie raised her hand to push against the door but it would not budge as though there was something on the other side of it was holding it steadfastly in place. Using her shoulder and the full force of her small, twelve-year old body, Sophie pushed with all her might, but still to no avail. The door was not budging, and it was not open enough for her to squeeze through its narrow opening.

Turning around, she eyed the open window to her left. It was very large and wide enough for someone to easily enter through it. Looking about but seeing no one, Sophie headed down the concrete steps, all the while searching for anything she could use as a step stool. Spying a small round stump, she quickly rolled it toward the open window until it came to rest beneath it. If she stood on the stump and hefted herself up slightly, she would be able to climb inside with no problem.

Once the stump was positioned beneath the window, Sophie stood on it and took a moment to peer inside and was assured no one resided in the house. Her mind raced with curiosity as she peered into the room. There were tattered remnants of a flowery bedspread and old, yellowed pillows scattered about the floor. Several pictures hung askew upon the walls lined with tattered, faded wallpaper. There was an old dresser and bedside table, but the drawers of both were open as though someone had already rummaged through them in an attempt to find treasures therein.

Just as she braced herself upon the ledge and attempted to climb inside, it began to rain. It was a soft, summer scented rain, and Sophie inhaled of its sweetness, not caring that it soaked her hair and clothing. She loved summer showers and could think of nothing more magical. How befitting, she thought, that a magic rain would start just as she began her adventure inside this dilapidated, lonely home that had once been special to someone.

Focusing again on the task at hand, Sophie gave a heave, hoisting herself up and over the crumbling ledge. Before she could maneuver completely over it, however, a piece of the windowsill gave way, and she fell inward, landing squarely on the hardwood floor of the bedroom.

"Ouch!" she cried, closing her eyes and wincing as both elbow and knee hit the flooring with a thud. Rubbing her elbow and opening her eyes, she immediately checked her extremities to ensure there was no substantial damage before looking up to peer at her surroundings. In awe, Sophie gazed about the room, amazed by what she saw. The room was entirely different now compared with when she had first peered into it from outside. Instead, it was now a lovely, beautifully decorated room, filled with splendid coverings on the bed and colorful paintings on the walls. Fresh flowers filled a vase on a gleaming, mahogany dressing table on the far side of the room. On the dresser was a crocheted cloth with several porcelain knickknacks, a wooden jewelry box, a crystal atomizer filled with an amber liquid, which Sophie assumed with perfume, and a sterling silver comb and brush set.

Sophie was in awe of all she saw, unsure how things how changed so suddenly. She stood, gingerly rubbing her eyes in sheer disbelief. What had just happened? Where was she? Had she entered some kind of magic fantasy world by going through the open window? There seemed to be no other explanation for it. Being twelve, she was smart enough to know that fairy tales and magic didn't really exist, but every indication was that this was indeed a magic window, and this house was entirely different from anything she'd ever seen.

"Hello?" she called, but this time her voice was weak, croaking from the surprise she felt.

Still, no answer as silence continued to fill the space.

Despite the fact she thought she was alone, Sophie moved slowly lest she make a sound as she made her way to the dressing table. Once there, she took a seat on the round stool in front of it. The oval mirror in the center of the table reflected her visage. Small fingers trailed lightly over the gleaming wood, amazed that not a speck of dust could be found.

Carefully, she picked up a carved, white onyx elephant on the right side of the table, fingering its ridges before placing it back where it had originally rested. On the left-hand side was a wooden music box. As she opened its lid, it began to play Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies. Nestled within on the lining of pink silk lay several pieces of glimmering jewelry, including a pair of long earrings made from the most beautiful ice blue stones Sophie had ever seen.

Sophie lifted the earrings and pretended they hung from her ears, glancing at herself in the mirror. They gave her an appearance of sophistication, she thought to herself, despite being only twelve years of age. Not daring to try them on, she placed them back in the box before she pulled out a ring with a large stone of the same blue hue, encircled with tiny diamonds. Unable to stop herself, Sophie slipped the ring on her third finger. As she was admiring its beauty on her petite hand, she looked up at the mirror and gasped. Directly behind her stood a woman who appeared old enough to be someone's mother. The woman wore a flowing white dress and had blonde hair that was pulled loosely back into bun. She was beautiful with a warm, welcoming smile upon her lips.

Surprised, Sophie quickly spun around in her seat, removing the ring from her hand. "I'm so sorry. I didn't think anyone was here….." Her voice trailed off. There was no one there. Her heart beat rapidly. Where did the woman go? She was sure she had seen her reflected in the oval mirror, but she had disappeared. Sophie attempted to gather her wits. Did the woman live here? Who the heck was she? Maybe she had imagined the woman.

Glancing around the room again, Sophie put the ring back in the jewelry box and then stood before walking over to the bed. Stepping onto the footstool, she climbed onto the large mattress and fell backwards, encompassed by the bed's softness and silky coverings. It felt like heaven! She closed her eyes, relishing the feel of the luxurious coverings.

Moments later, Sophie opened hazel eyes to find the same woman she had seen in the mirror standing beside the bed, watching her and smiling again. The woman gazed at Sophie with affection.

"Hello, Sophie," the woman said. "I've been waiting for you."

Startled, Sophie bolted straight up and came face to face with the woman.

"Hello," Sophie croaked. "I'm so sorry, I didn't know this was your home." In her surprise, it had not even dawned on her that the woman had called her by name or had said she had been waiting for her arrival.

"No, Sophie, please don't apologize. I have been expecting you for a while, my dear. I have tea and biscuits for us on the tea table," she said, extending her hand toward a small table arranged for afternoon tea. The woman's voice was lyrical, hypnotic, and her image nearly ethereal.

Sophie skeptically eyed the woman, sorely tempted to reach out and touch her to ensure she was in fact real and not some figment of her overactive imagination.

"Tea? Biscuits? And you have been expecting me? I think I am confused," Sophie asked.

"Yes, sweetheart. Shall we have some tea and biscuits?" The woman moved to the tea table in an easy, float like gait across the hardwood floors. It was as if she were an illusion.

Sophie stood and followed, intrigued beyond measure. "Thank you," she said for lack of knowing what else to say as she took a seat at the table. Her momma had always taught her to be respectful and use good manners. She watched as the woman poured steaming tea into bone china cups decorated with tiny purple violets, unsure what to say.

"And how is Miss Sophie today?" the woman asked as she placed a cup of tea in front of her.

"I am good," Sophie said, still perplexed as to how the woman seemed to know her. "I'm sorry, but have we met before? I'm afraid I don't remember you."

"No, we have not officially met, my dear, but we do know one another in a manner of speaking. I'm Genevieve." The woman smiled as she took a seat across from Sophie. "I'm so pleased to finally make your acquaintance. Biscuit, dear? They are so delightfully delicious," she added.

Confused, Sophie absentmindedly picked up a biscuit and bit into it. It was, in fact, so delicious that it melted in her mouth. Eagerly, she picked up another as Genevieve watched and continued to smile as she sipped her cup of tea.

Moments passed in happy silence as Genevieve continued to watch Sophie partake of the biscuits. Eventually, she stood and walked to the dressing table where she picked up the small onyx elephant before returning to sit across from Sophie.

"Sophie, dear, it would very much please me if you would accept this trinket from me. I hope it will always remind you of the special afternoon we've shared together. Oh, yes, and please take all the biscuits you would like home with you. I have a handkerchief in which you may wrap them for safekeeping."

Genevieve placed the small elephant in front of Sophie and then handed her a lace-trimmed handkerchief before proceeding to pile it with the delicious, sweet biscuits. Even as she did so, the biscuits seemed to magically replenish on the silver platter.

Sophie's eyes widened in disbelief. "Thank you," she managed to say, her mind racing with so many thoughts and questions.

"You're as pretty as your mother, Sophie," the woman said once she had finished and neatly folded the handkerchief.

"My mother? You know my Mother?" Sophie asked in surprise.

"Yes, dear, we met many long years ago. She was a special young girl then, just like you are now."

Sophie was curious. First, how was this place so magical? Second, why had her mother never mentioned anything about this house or Genevieve? Who exactly was Genevieve? Sophie was more confused than ever, and though she knew she was wide-awake, she still had to wonder if she was dreaming.

Genevieve stood and walked to the window, peering out into the damp afternoon mist. It had stopped raining and the sun was shining once again. "I fear it is getting late, Sophie and your mother will be worried if you're not home soon. I wish you didn't have to leave, but it is probably time, my dear."

Sophie realized it was six o'clock and Genevieve was right: her mother would be worried if she was not home in time for dinner. Where had the time gone? She was anxious to get home and see her mother even though she was reluctant to leave. She had tons of questions about Genevieve and this old house. Surely, her mother would have some answers.

Sophie stood and brushed the crumbs from her lap.

"Don't forget the biscuits and your little elephant, dear," Genevieve said. "I am so happy you visited, and we were able to meet one another. I hope you can come again, but if not, I am sure the future will bring us together at some point."

Stuffing the handkerchief full of biscuits in one pocket and the little elephant in the other, Sophie nodded, brushed the crumbs from her fingers, and stuck out her hand. "Thank you so much for the tea and biscuits. It's been a pleasure to meet you, Miss Genevieve."

The woman smiled as she took Sophie's hand warmly in both of hers, pulling Sophie toward her for a warm embrace. "I assure you that the pleasure is all mine, Sophie. Run along home now and please give your mother my love, dear."

Sophie smiled and went to the window. Before hoisting herself up onto its ledge, she turned to give one final wave to Genevieve but found the room was completely empty. Genevieve had disappeared as mysteriously, and as magically, as she had appeared.

Sophie managed to climb over the window's ledge and then turned to peer inside the room, but the room, amazingly, was dingy and dilapidated once again. There were no beautiful bed coverings, no gleaming dressing table, and no fresh flowers. More importantly, there was no Genevieve.

Confused more than ever, Sophie hurried home. When she arrived, she entered the kitchen and found her mother standing over the stove as she prepared supper; she barely glanced at Sophie as she came through the screen door and opened the fridge for a glass of water. Drink in hand, Sophie took a seat at the table and waited, emptying her pockets of the wrapped biscuits and little elephant, knowing her mother would see it when she turned around.

Placing a lid on a steaming pot, Sophie's mother spun around and smiled in greeting. "So how was your day.....?" her voice trailed off as she took note of the onyx elephant perched front and center on the kitchen table. Slowly, she walked over and took a seat across from Sophie, watching her daughter all the while.

Sophie raised an eyebrow questioningly at her mother. At long last, breaking the silence, her mother spoke. "I see you've met Genevieve. She is very nice, don't you think? Did you like her? Were the biscuits as delicious as they were many years ago?"

Sophie pointed to the handkerchief on the table. "See for yourself," she said quietly and reached to unwrap the lacy handkerchief. However, as she did so, the wrapping fell flat: it was completely empty.

Astonishment filled Sophie's face, but her mother merely smiled an all-knowing smile. "But the elephant is very real ….and very precious, Sophie."

Her mother rose and left the room, returning mere moments later with an elephant that was identical to Sophie's. She resumed her seat and sat the elephant she held on the table next to Sophie's.

"What in the world?" Sophie's eyes grew wider and larger than before. "Where did you get that? Who is Genevieve?"

Her mother reached down into her pocket to retrieve a very old picture and laid it on the table. The yellowed photograph was an eerily enchanting picture of Genevieve. Indeed, Genevieve was as pretty in the picture with her lovely smile and flowing white dress as she had been in person that afternoon during tea time.

"Genevieve is your Great-Great-Grandmother, Sophie. She manages to meet every female that is born into our family. I guess you could say that she continues to watch over all of her blood line or heirs," her mother said. "She is our Matriarch, our Guardian Angel, and we are her living legacies."

Sophie picked up the two identical elephants. As she did so, her mother reached into her other pocket and pulled yet two more identical elephants. "These were my mother's and grandmother's elephants." Sophie's mother laughed. "I guess you could say we are raising our own herd of elephants in this family."

Sophie laughed, too. It was true. As long as Genevieve continued to watch over their family, the herd of elephants would continue to grow.

Her mother grew serious again as she added, "You are very special, Sophie, and Genevieve ensures that you will continue to remain so. Did you know that elephants are a symbol of good fortune, prosperity, power, wisdom, vitality, and protection from all evil - all wrapped into one? Genevieve is quite purposeful about why she gives you the elephant, and you must always take special care of it. It is a gift beyond measure and a fortune to always treasure."

Sophie nodded, strangely aware that she had been granted a once in a lifetime magical experience that she would never, ever forget. It would remain in her heart for all of her years, and one day, she would tell her children about Genevieve, too, just as her mother was telling her.

That night as she prepared for bed, Sophie placed the little elephant on the bedside table atop the lace handkerchief that it had held the evaporating biscuits. From its perch, the elephant would be able to watch over her as she slept. She would never forget Genevieve or the enchanted experience she had that afternoon. Moreover, in her heart, she was hopeful that one day she would have a daughter of her own who would be able to experience the same wonder and magic she had experienced.

Feeling very special, fortunate, and well loved to have met the magic that embodied the spirit of Genevieve; Sophie fell asleep with tables laden with tea and scrumptious biscuits filling her dreams. In the background, white statues of beautiful elephants loomed. It was a beautiful dream. Indeed, it had been a beautiful and enchanted summer day that would live on, just as Genevieve's memory lived on through so many generations and years.


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