Skipping along the patio of a nature park was a little Azula with her blue balloon. A prize she
had won from a game at her best friend’s birthday party. She was so pleased to have gotten
something that wasn’t pink to give to her baby brother who was coming home from the hospital
that very same day. Excitedly skidding past a familiar park bench where Granny Tull sat feeding
pigeons, Azula waved her hand like a princess and said “Hi, Granny Tull!” And the old lady waved
back at Azula whose pink ballerina tutu bobbed along with the dark locks of her hair. She crossed
the freshly trimmed grass, an indication she was at the last stretch of her journey home.
Azula could see the yellow tip of her house’s roof when she a flicker at the corner of her eye
caught her attention…and then her breath. There, up on the tallest branch of an old mango tree was
a small brown creature. Azula stopped in her tracks. Her head tilted and stared, almost rudely, at the
imp that had long pointy ears, a stubbed nose which was disgustingly red and a pair of fire-lit eyes.
The imp was staring at her balloon. She blinked once, then twice and it was gone. Alarmed,
Azula quickly looked for him and gasped when those big eyes licked with amusement met hers.
Caught off guard, the imp had snatched her balloon! She stumbled and landed on her bottom as the
brown rascal ran off happily, her blue balloon lagging behind it.
“Hey!” she got up swiftly and went after it. Hearing the imp’s giggles that sounded more like
a broken chainsaw made her skin crawl. What did this creature want with her balloon? She thought.
It ran towards the sycamore tree by the gate where she came from and started climbing it.
“Come back!” Azula panted. The imp peeked from his brown shoulder and giggled again.
Azula cringed, still in hot pursuit climbing the mango tree and following her stolen balloon and the
creature that had it. She climbed from branch to branch, until she was at the very top trying to reach
for the balloon’s string. The imp grinned, showing its yellowish teeth and then – fell. The balloon
floated towards her, she tried to reach out for it, stretching her arms as far as they could. Stepping
her foot a bit further on the tallest branch, she slipped. Falling face down towards the grass, a
scream piercing her ear drums, she shut her eyes for the impact when – swoop! Something grabbed
her pink tutu. Up, up she went, continuing to scream, the thing that was carrying her hauled her to
the city and it went higher and higher still. She could see cars stopping, turning, and moving on the
roads and people tiny as ants. Crisscrossing buildings as they went and gusts of winds messing up
her hair, Azula chanced a glance up her captor and saw a giant eagle, mounted by the little imp. And
to her surprise, her balloon had joined the ride.
“Hey! Give that back!” she blasted and the only response she got was another fit of
annoying giggles. The eagle swooped down again, the city had disappeared and below her was a wide
expanse of blue. The ocean! Oh no!
“Get me down from here! I can’t swim!” The imp gave another fit of giggles and Azula
shuddered. She was going to strangle that thief when she gets the cha – ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!
She was falling again, but this time straight for the ocean, she shut her eyes. A splash
announced her arrival underwater. She flapped her hands and legs aimlessly until she no longer felt
her legs. She stopped struggling, letting the water claim her, cradling her in a wet blanket. Azula
opened her eyes. The first thing she registered was surprise, then annoyance. Casually floating in
front of her was the imp, grinning and still holding her blue balloon, but instead of legs he now
owned a pair of webbed feet and gills on his neck. Azula opened her mouth to say something,
realizing too late, she just gave up her last bit of air and panic enveloped her again. The imp giggled
again as if to say You’re silly and circled her once before making another run for it.
Azula marveled at her feet – no – a fins! In place of her legs was a fish tail, the same hue as
her pink tutu which she still wore. And she could breathe! Underwater! This was impossible, she
thought. The brown imp swooshed past her again, reminding her of her mission. The balloon. And
as if being able to swim her whole life she darted to catch the thieving imp. She passed a couple of
rainbow corals, each accommodating rainbow colored fishes which she didn’t know the names for,
dancing seaweeds cheered as snapping crabs were fighting to the death. There were flocks of manta
rays and jellyfish and every time she could almost get a hold on one of the imp’s legs, it would only
evade her and throw more giggles and irritating glimpses. She was growing sick of it.
The imp made a sharp turn upwards, Azula followed and an inch from getting tangled up in
a sea of jellyfish, her arm stung a little from the graze, but she cast it aside, still hot on the creature’s
tail. It finally made a break for the surface, and she too. Flapping in the air like a flying fish, her legs
reappeared like popcorn popping on a hot stove. Azula landed on a jungle island, she didn’t know
how she knew it was an island, but the jungle was evident, with random vines spewing out of trees
and unruly clutching from the ground. Fear was creeping its way back to her but she had to keep
moving. Treading carefully, counting trees as she passed them, one, two, three, and then losing count.
And then counting again until she finally gave up and just treaded, sweat trickled down her temples
and back, her throat felt like a desert. Azula sat on an uprooted tree root to catch her breath. She
hadn’t been there long when the tree root started to shake. Before she could even get off, the tree
root was removed from its resting place and carried her through the jungle like a princess. She saw
monkeys swinging and screeching, a horde of rafflesias to her left where there were also butterflies
of various colors and then there was the blur of greenery as the tree root traversed faster. Azula
marveled at nature’s glory but then, at the corner or her eye, a streak of blue flashed, an odd color in
a jungle of a rich palette which lacked azure. “Follow – ” She didn’t finish what she didn’t meant to
say but the tree root seemed to respond to what she wanted and quickly swerved to where she
wanted it to go. Azula then found herself at a small clearing, a pond in the middle. The tree root
shuddered again, lowering itself on the pond just a bit where Azula’s balloon floated, string attached
to a familiar brown creature. Azula jumped down from the tree root and hurriedly went back to her
task. She has had enough of all his floppy madness.
“Why can’t you just give it back and take me home?” she sputtered exasperatedly. Reaching
for the balloon, the imp grabbed her wrist and pulled her down the pond that started to swirl,
sucking them both in. Round and round, the light was disappearing as they went deeper. A soft
whisper pulled at her ear.
“You are home, little Azula,” It said.
Over on the southwestern edge of the Strange Woods is a big clearing. One might think it’s just another meadow but it’s way more than that. The UFOs use it regularly as both a landing Read more…