While You Were Sleeping

by Suphala Nibhanupudi
Art by Sophie Lin
Issue: Scintilla (Spring 2019)


Briar screamed and cried and swore–quite unladylike, as her aunts would chide–into the abyss that held her captive. She laid on her back, the thought of getting up having not crossed her mind. And then it did. Briar jerked up, but it was like she had been slipped into a cocoon; she couldn’t move her limbs.

The last thing she remembered was a dingy stairwell and a green haze… a spinning wheel…

She blew out a big breath out of her lungs. She could do this, she could figure this out. She had grown up with the stories of stubborn explorers and romantic knights, dashing away to save their princesses. She should be a pro at this sort of thing.

It would be nice to get saved by a knight though. She wouldn’t have to put in too much effort.

What was around her? She spun her eyes in all directions. The black sky shone down onto the floor, and it reflected the darkness back up to the atmosphere, cycling the inky light up and down, up and down.

Where was her home, brimming with the cries of animals and clatters of her aunts’ pots? Where was the bright forest that stood sentry, the hoards of sweet yellow wildflowers that would crowd around her as she languidly frolicked with the woodland creatures…

This empty, hollow world she had been thrown into was just too much for now.  She should sleep. She closed her eyes and proceeded to stay wide awake for nine hours with the sound of nothingness to keep her company.

Briar wondered how her aunts were dealing with her disappearance as she trudged forward, looking for anything at all. She could imagine them squawking and waddling around, desperately calling for her. Oh dearie, we are so sorry for bringing you to the castle. We are so sorry for losing you. We are so sorry that we made you eat that hideous cake. Bawk, bawk we’re such chickens, bawk.

It’s good, she supposed, they weren’t here to see her now. She should be resting or waiting; that was what her aunts would want. Sit and wait for someone a lot more capable than you.

She flopped onto the ground, her mind swarmed with smoke, waiting to return to a home she didn’t remember.

Years languidly strolled by. Her friend, the endless night slumbered on over her.

Where was she again?

Briar raised her head, saw the ever-present darkness, and lowered it again.

That’s right. Home.

She was told stories she couldn’t recall, filled with towers and dragons and wailing damsels. Was she one, a wailing damsel?

She stopped walking and did her best impression, moaning and swaying as she supposed all maidens must wail.

She giggled and rocked sideways, lolling as her legs were forced to catch up. This was fun. She whooped and careened through the landscape until she smacked her head on the ground.

Was she supposed to be practicing how to…cry?

Eh. The ground was muuuuch more interesting.

She couldn’t remember why she walked. It used to be important. But now it was not. She fell to rest on the ground, wondering if she too was made of night and darkness, like her world.

What was her name again?

Something was pricking at her legs. It was bothersome. She didn’t like pokey things, right? She peeled open her eyes to find… something not black.

She bolted up, the air not feeling as heavy and gawked at the unusual… things… sticking up from the ground. Familiar things. They were…not black and coarse and tiny and–

“Grass. It’s called grass.” She tilted her head to find a gangly thing, with long arms and hair the same color as the grass. In fact, the thing was made entirely of this grass. “You wanted grass” It drew nearer. “I didn’t expect for you to become so… braindead during your stay. Clearly your mind is much weaker than I had anticipated, and I am very disappointed in you.”

“What..what are you?” She croaked. Her voice box was rusty after not being used in forever.

Its body rose like the surrounding air was lifting it up. “To begin, I am not a what or an it, I am who.” Who cupped their chin, their gaze running over her body. “But you, you are a mess.”

She looked down at her hands. “I am… a mess.”

Who nodded. “Good thing we both see that.”

A mess dipped her head, and said, “A mess is glad to meet Who, and A mess would like to know where A mess is.”

Who looked at A mess, then slapped their forehead. “What happened to you? No, no, your name is Briar. You are in a magic coma, and your prissy little mind couldn’t cope with the stress and the nothingness. Your mind deteriorated. That’s why I had to come in.” They rolled their eyes. “And it was such a bother too. I can’t leave you alone for a measly hundred years? Did you have to get me here to babysit you?” Who pulled at their strands of grass-hair and muttered “corgi” or  “incorrigible” or something to that effect.

Briar plucked at the grass and looked up to the black sky. An orb was hung in the sky, and it was the same color as the grass in her hand. It was…rejuvenating.

“That’s green, by the way.”

“Briar thought that was grass?”

Briar lay down, Who sat up. They looked at the big green sun together. Who was talking about warthogs when Briar suddenly spat out, “My aunts. I have aunts.”

Who looked at her, then back to the sun. “I suppose your aunts do possess a… warthog-esque air. That’s not much of a stretch.”

“They made me a cake and it fell over.” Briar’s words tripped on each other as they poured from her mouth. “They made the cottage too small, my head bumped on the door jamb, they live in a forest and forests are green. Green like grass. Green like sun.” Briar beamed at Who, who watched her like she was an unsteady baby.

The air had lightened enough for Briar to jump up and down and fling her arms out without much effort. Much to Who’s chagrin.

“Alright, alright Briar. Sit. Down!” Who wrapped their arms around her waist and attempted to tug her down. Instead, they got jounced up and down to the beat of Briar’s leaps.

Briar chortled, tugging Who to her level. She swung Who around. “Isn’t this fun?”

“Let me go Briar, or I swear to all that is holy—”

“Or you’re gonna cryyy?” Briar rested her chin on Who’s collarbone and rocked the two side to side. “Are you going to be a wailing maiden? I can show you how!” Briar proceeded to howl and sway with Who in tow. “Don’t damsels sing too? Oooaaah—”

“Nuh-uh. You stay away from me, you banshee.” Who sputtered and slapped Briar away, as Briar whirled off. From her footprints, the grass grew longer, swaying in the sweet

“I wish I’d never leave here.” Briar blurted. Who stopped flinging grass into the air and turned to Briar.

“That’s stupid. The whole point of me being here is to make sure you are prepared to act like a functioning human being once you wake up. I better not be wasting my time here.”

Briar whined and threw herself to the ground at Who’s feet. “Ugh, you’re so uptight.” She stroked the growing grass at her feet. “Be like me. I laugh in the face of the unknown. Or the known. I mean, I guess I just like to laugh.”

“Then I guess I did something right.” Who smoothed the grass with their fingertips, then stood up and floated away. “You’re going to have to wake up soon. Can’t stay here forever, alright?”

A person covers their eyes while a swirly figure rises from the first person's arms.

Briar didn’t see Who for a long time, but she kept busy by reciting the information she remembered, skipping in the plain grass, staring at the green sun and inky heavens above her. She was going back soon, she felt it in how the air was lighter. How the sky wasn’t so black anymore. The grass, now taller than her knees, nuzzled her legs. She didn’t mind the scratches.

She had a memory of her old world that her mind kept circling back to. Of herself, bathed in a buttery light, soft and still, wearing a tiny smile. Briar rubbed circles over her calloused hands.

Who stood, enraptured by the glowing sun, their hair billowing without any wind. They looked at Briar, raised an arm in farewell, and sunk into the scratchy grass.

Briar yelled, but her cry didn’t carry. The light of dawn broke her black sky and she tumbled upwards into the azure.


Briar’s eyes, crusty from underuse, creaked open to find a man–a boy really–perched over her.

“Who?” She moaned, stretching her limbs. The crescendo of her popping spine added to the cacophony of yelling and crying in the surrounding rooms. It was so loud.

“I kissed you and you have awoken after your one hundred year slumber! I am brimming with joy that you seem to be safe and unharmed.” With every word, he leaned closer, like he was going to kiss her again. Briar pushed his face away and strung her hands through her hair. This explosion of new colors was causing her a headache.

“Princess Aurora? Your family awaits you. Shall we proceed downstairs?”

Briar blinked at the light from the yellow sun gushing through the window into her new cocoon.