It is commonplace for tales, especially those of romance, to start with a girl. This is not a story of any such romance, although in fact it does begin with one very significant factor: a girl. It is important to make this distinction clear, to avoid any notions of cliché or illusions of grandeur when introducing such a girl as this.

Black and white was she, and every shade of nothingness in between. From the white hair that curled around her hunched shoulders and the monochrome of her eyes, to the toes that were just visible through the holes in her shoes. A shadow of beauty, she sat and clutched at the grey paper bag that was her sole possession.

Her home was a thick grey cloud whose size was indeterminable in the thick mist of which is was made. Grey too was the world through which it floated with its single, silent occupant. Words echoed around her – almost as though it was to her they were being spoken – and a voice answered them, sounding something like she supposed her own voice might. But she cared not. Curled up in her cloud she remained, clutching the grey paper bag.

That day was a day like any other. Countless days had come before it, and there were days ahead that she expected but barely thought of. Days were nothing when there was no sun to flit between horizons; no calendar of dates or notion of time. The girl did not sleep. If there were any colour in her world her eyes would have been so red that it would hurt to gaze upon them. Sleep, and the nightmares that it invited, were something to fear. All that could be done was to sit and clasp the bag – fingers gripping tightly, but eyes never looking inside.

On that day, that otherwise bore no discernible name or distinction, there was the slightest suggestion of something different. It took several moments for the motionless girl to even notice, as looking at nothing for so long required a different state of vision altogether. Slowly her eyes remembered what it was to focus, and they rested upon the strange new sight. It was the tiniest of holes that permeated the thickness of the cloud. A mere pinprick that would have otherwise gone unnoticed, save for that which it brought. Through it streamed a light; white, but not the same dull shade as the nails or skin of the silent girl. This was the most brilliant white she had ever seen, and the thin ray penetrated her world like a sword through a magician’s box.

Fear. If the light touched her, would it hurt? Would more beams come in a flurry of blinding blades, piercing the barrier that surrounded her? She shuffled backward away from it, eyes widening with fear. Dark pupils widened with them, though they longed to absorb the radiance that caused her body to tremble so terribly.

Time – as immeasurable as it had always been – passed within the cloud, and the light remained. No more appeared, and the girl gradually searched the edges of her dark home with a cautious anxiety. She saw no other holes or cracks. Her breathing slowed as she grew calmer, pushing herself back into a corner that offered the simple safety of darkness. She felt a dull ache in her fingers and looked down to find that she was clutching the grey paper bag so tightly that it, or even her fingers, might break. She relaxed her grasp and smoothed the crumpled edges carefully, placing the bag in her lap. But her gaze continued to drift towards the pinhole that had allowed such a fearsome yet beautiful thing to enter her world.

Slowly, carefully, she found herself edging toward it as though moved by an unconscious urge from within. Cautiously she drew closer to examine the source, crouching low to avoid the beam itself. The girl blinked, pausing in her approach. With each inch she crept forward, the hole seemed to grow a little wider. Her hesitation was brief and she moved impulsively again, this time seeing for certain that the hole was increasing in size. Breath came faster, her heart thumped against her chest, but for all the comfort that the darkness gave her she could not stop her movement towards the light. She shuffled faster, her feet pushing against the mist of the world that did not want to let her go. Cloud swirled around her as its wispy tendrils seemed to flail helplessly at her arms and legs. She crawled on hands and knees, fingers stretching towards her destination as if they had their own independant desire to reach it.

She could start to feel the warmth of the light on her skin. It flowed through her, fuelling her determination. As she reached the source of the wonderful white light, the hole opened up and bathed her in its warm glow until she could see nothing of the cloud that she once called her home. She closed her eyes, tilted her head back, and let herself fall into it like a dream.

If eyes could themselves be satisfied, and if the eyes of the greyscale girl had not been content with the wonder of the light itself, then a visual feast that surpassed the first in every way was yet to come. Blinking eyes began to adjust to the brightness of the vibrant, sprawling landscape that seemed almost to sing to her. Wide open and bright, it was almost the polar opposite of the dark, smothering cloud she had known only moments earlier. Her heart embraced these wonders as if for the first time, yet with a sense of reassurance that she had known them once long ago, like the long lost friends of another world.

The girl’s small, colourless figure stood a stark contrast to the scene around her. Green grass shimmered like fine blades of emerald. Flowers and trees stood tall and proud, reaching through the sky like a floral rainbow stretching as far as the eye could see. Deep crimsons and peaceful tones of yellow; shades and swirls of purple that made her feel like she could lose herself in them. Still, through all the wonders of the garden the blue sky remained visible above, perfectly clear like a smooth piece of silk stretching over a garden that would be the envy of Eden.

She stumbled to stand, anxious to explore, and noticed something fall from her grasp as she rose. Panic sent her heart racing as she noticed the grey paper bag, lying almost open on the floor. Hurriedly she snatched it up, folding the top of the bag tightly and keeping it close. Grey hands clasped grey arms as she kept them folded, pinning the bag against a chest that rose and in rapid, anxious breaths.

Walking through the garden she felt ashamed of her own skin; ashamed of her clothes, her hair, and how they did not shine or glow like the wonders around her. A transparent tear slowly made its way down a soft, pale cheek as she let out a small sob. It was the first sound she could remember making in a long, long time.

The girl sank to her knees in the long grass, gazing at a large purple flower in front of her. The petals – shades of violet and turquoise – encompassed a golden centre. Their shapes were perfect as though carefully drawn by the most talented of artists; a hypnotically beautiful sight. The edges were smooth and the petals like velvet to the touch, and her ashen fingers tentatively smoothed the soft surface. Her eyes drifted closed against the flow of tears and she clutched the grey paper bag even harder against her chest. A low hushing sound lulled her gently, sounding as though it came from the flower in front of her.

As she shook and sobbed in her hunched monochrome form, she felt something soft curl around her shoulders. She took no notice of it at first, until she felt that she was being slowly eased to her feet. Opening her eyes she gasped, as she saw that the garden had drawn in around her. Every flower, every vine and every branch of every tree had come to comfort her. They were close, but just far enough away for the trembling greyscale girl not to feel afraid. In truth, she welcomed them.

She cried and cried, weeping more than she had ever wept before. Never before had she allowed herself to feel this way. Her cloud had stayed silent for so long; not a single muffled sob or stray tear. The thick, dark cloud had stifled such emotions. She had become numb. But in that moment, deep within the strange and wonderful garden, there came the sweet release of truth. The tears streaming down her face were the honesty of of a broken heart, no longer ignored. She had let go.

Slowly a warmth flowed through her, as if it were being channelled directly into her veins from the garden itself. The girl blinked through damp eyes to look down, halting her cries in shock as she saw her hands. Turning them over again and again she wiggled her fingers. Soft, pink fingers. Her mouth formed a smile for the first time that she could remember; a smile to rival that of any other smile in any tale ever told. She tilted her head back toward the sky to let her tears fall away.

The girl ran her fingers through her hair, unaware that her hands were drawing the hues of an early summer sun through each strand. Glancing down she saw the tresses that had fallen forward over her shoulders, each one now coloured a different golden shade than the next. She laughed. It was not a mocking laugh, an uncomfortable chuckle, or the giggle of some one amused. It was a pure outcry of unhindered joy; a song of happiness sung to an unwritable melody.

At that very moment – almost as though it were reacting to the sound – the garden parted in front of her, revealing a small pool of crystal clear water. She looked down and covered her mouth with her hands in amazement. She could not help but stare into the reflection of her own softly tanned skin and freckle-framed eyes; deep green as though they had mirrored the grass amongst which she stood.

As she moved her hands away from her face she caught sight of her red lips, immediately curling them into an unconscious smile. She stepped closer to the pool, unsure of herself but filled with an emotion to which she could do no justice with words. Her clothes were no longer grey but a brilliant white, shining almost like the light that had first enticed her. As her mind brushed past the memory of where she had come from, she remembered her singular possession.

The paper bag rested at her feet, still without colour of its own. The girl silently scolded herself for her carelessness, unable to fully ignore her ever-present burden. She reached down just as two thick vines emerged, quickly and silently, from amongst the foliage of the garden. They snatched away the solemn grey bag, carrying it high into the trees. Her newly coloured hand reached out helplessly after it, such was the power that it still held over her. Fearful eyes followed it carefully as it rose amongst the leaves of the upper canopy. Its distance from her was startlingly unfamiliar, and strange new questions began to form in her anxious mind. She could not help but wonder what would become of the bag, or of her.

The bag had stopped in its ascent. New vines emerged from places unseen, reaching out to uncurl the tightly folded edge that held the top of the bag closed. The girl could only stand and stare as the garden carefully lifted an object from inside, letting the bag fall from the trees. It fluttered and broke apart, more brittle that it had been in her possession, as though useless without its contents. Tiny grey pieces fell to the ground like ash. She barely noticed, focussing on the object that the garden tightly held.

The perfectly round stone was about the size of a fist. It was almost black, but smooth – reflecting no light from its immaculate and featureless surface. Fear swelled in the girl’s chest, her hands trembling and heart aching as she gazed upon it.

The stone was her sadness.

The simple stone – suspended like a black hole among the garden – was everything she felt but would not face. She had kept it close while trying to forget it even existed. Covering herself in a shroud of darkness and shutting out everything had been the only way to ignore the one thing she could never leave behind.

The garden felt her pain. Slowly and gently, it lowered the stone to rest upon the whitest of flowers; a large lily that floated on the water at the centre of the clear pool. All the other flowers grew around it, conscious of the sadness it contained. The girl knelt in the grass and gazed out toward it longingly, but this time she understood.

The time had come to acknowledge her pain. She respected and understood the darkness and it would not consume her, nor would she be scared of it any longer. Finally at ease, she laid her head down in the soft grass and closed her eyes. This was the rest she had longed for. Here there was a place for the stone; a place where it could take its place among the world. Not forgotten, but neither dwelt upon. It could ruin this place. It was a part of her, and she knew that. Now it was a part of the garden.

Her garden.