This story was written to and inspired by the following piece of music. Please feel free to listen before, after, or while you read. It may take a moment to load.
“The Jungle of Phong Gi” – Tomohito Nishiura (from Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy)
A mass under the pile of blankets groaned. The orange light of early sunrise shone through the small window onto the face of a small, flitting thing.
“Jenna! It’s morning time!”
“I don’t want to,” the lump of blankets mumbled.
“But you have to!” A small green sparkle bounced around the fluffy comforter, its wings buzzing louder.
“Says who?” said the pile.
“Says the world,” the thing giggled. A wisp of flowing green hair fluttered to the top of the blanket mound and tugged the heavy layers back without any effort. “Look at the SUN!”
“Oh hell!” Jenna shouted at the sudden flood of brightness. She squinted so tightly that her eyes nearly disappeared entirely. Her left eye cracked open just barely to face the blinding light, letting her eyes adjust.
She turned her head to see the fast approach of an erratic creature about the size of a dragonfly. It came to rest only a few inches from her face. A swirl of long green locks floated up and away from gravity, forever dancing in the current cast up by the being’s many leafy wings. Its round, chubby face would almost look human were it not for the enlarged eyes, the luminescent pale green skin, and the overwhelming joy forever plastered on its face. The last was enough to make Jenna grimace in revulsion.
Jenna brought her thumb and forefinger to the bridge of her nose, hoping the pressure would alleviate the headache she knew was coming. With a heavy sigh, the arm that wasn’t still asleep moved to push her up into a sitting position. She opened her eyes and turned to glare at the nymph. “It’s too early, Popo.”
“You said my naaaaame!” The nymph twirled, a bubbling giggle filling the room. “I love my new name. You’re the best at picking names. You’re also the nicest. I just thought you should know because I think you’re great. And also I love you.”
“… Mhm…” Jenna muttered, her mouth stretched in an unnatural rectangle.
“It’s school time, silly! We don’t want to be late.”
“But it’s…” Jenna gestured to the window. She stopped herself. It was hopeless to try and explain again.
“Yes! Morning! I know! I did good.” Popo’s tiny face burst into a wide-mouthed grin. “Time to go to school!”
Jenna cursed softly as she flung the towering blanket pile aside. Her thick black hair erupted in a wild tangle that fell into her eyes as she sat upward. She spit a few strands out of her mouth and swatted the rest away, looking over at her clock. 4:38AM. She sighed and adjusted the waistband of her oversized sweatpants, which had somehow spun almost 180 degrees while she slept. She wiggled her toes out of her dangling socks and looked over at the tickling sensation on her hand. Popo was already grasping her pinky, bouncing up and down. Her finger looked like a tree trunk in those tiny hands.
“Alright, alright.” Jenna rubbed her eyes with a free hand. “Time to go to school.”
“YAY!!!!” Popo squealed, flinging herself through the air. Her unnatural strength and vice-like pinky grip nearly catapulted Jenna off the mattress. Jenna yelped as she lurched up and away. A not-so-distant corner of her mind hoped that the force of the pull would make her black out like it had the first time. Within the space of a second, she had covered the space of her long studio apartment and was less than an inch from slamming her face into the wall by her desk.
The pressure on Jenna’s pinky fell away. She blinked a few times at the pale yellow wallpaper. Still breathing hard through the rush of adrenaline, Jenna slowly turned towards the desk. Popo was already sitting on the edge of a matchbox, her legs swinging back and forth too quickly to be casual. A notebook and pencil lay waiting in front of Jenna’s computer. Popo’s wings twitched in eager anticipation.
“Welcome to school!” Popo exclaimed. She cleared her tiny throat, out of mimicry less than necessity. “Today, we are going to learn about the history of trees!”
Jenna winced. “Like… all trees..?”
“Yes!” Popo shouted. Her eyes grew wide at the volume. She attempted to resume a lower, more “professional” tone. “We may also discuss flowers. Or fruits. Not vegetables. Oh, but maybe like little shrubs also. Oh! And maybe cactus!” She let out a poorly restrained giggle. “I don’t know! It could be anything! You have so much to learn! It’s crazy! I love it so much!!!”
Jenna stared. Sometimes it was easier to pretend this was all some crazy nightmare she’d wake up from someday. After a long, heavy moment, she felt her soul resign itself to what was coming. She pulled the chair away from the desk and hit the seat with a hearty thud.
It was going to be a long morning.