Once upon a time, there was a young girl named Ai.
Ai lived in a magical land, which was only right as she was a magical girl. She had bright blue skin, short black hair, and black eyes that danced when she laughed. Not that she laughed often, for Ai was a quiet girl. She liked laughing, and dancing, though. Sometimes she would do both at once.
What she liked most, though, were flowers.
Every day, after she woke up, put on a pretty dress, ate her breakfast and brushed her teeth, Ai would leave home and follow the path into the woods. She would walk under the tall, green branches, sheltered from the hot day's sun, and look for pretty flowers growing by the path. There were so many! Yellow daisies, red roses, blue violets, and many she couldn't name. Ai considered making up names for those, so she could call them something besides "those pretty light blue flowers", but in the end she didn't. Someday she'd learn their real names.
Ai would spend all day in the woods, eating from a picnic lunch her Mother had made for her when she got hungry, drinking from a cool stream when she got thirsty. As she followed the familiar paths, she'd pick the pretty flowers, making bouquets she could carry, or twisting the stems together to make flower crowns and jewelry for herself. As the sun began to set, Ai would arrive back home, a flower princess back at her castle. Over dinner, she'd show her mother and father her new flowers, telling them tales of her adventures. Afterwards, her mom would tuck her into bed, kiss Ai on the forehead, and tell Ai that she was more beautiful and precious than any flower, and that her mother and father loved her.
Ai slept, dreaming of flowers.
There came a day, one summer, when Ai couldn't find any flowers. She looked, and looked, but there were none to be found near the path.
"What could have happened?" she asked herself, a blue hand pushing aside nearby bushes to see if any pretty plants were hiding under them. There were none, though. Just grass, and mushrooms, along with worms and bugs. Nothing pretty. Finally, as Ai reached the stream where she often ate her lunch, the answer came to her:
Ai had picked all the flowers.
Plopping down on a rock, tears started to come to her eyes. All the flowers were gone. There were no more pretty petals to make into rings, or put in her hair, or...
She saw it, across the stream. A house. Had it always been there? Ai wasn't sure. But, there it was. A small, pretty, yellow house ... with a garden full of...
"Flowers!" Ai jumped up, eyes aglow, happy once again. There were flowers across the stream! Now, her parents had told Ai to stay near the paths, not to go deep into the woods, but they hadn't said anything about not crossing the stream! Grabbing the basket with her lunch tightly, as it wouldn't do to drop it and get it wet, Ai raced into the stream. The water was cold, but not deep, barely up to her ankles. Ai's bare feet (for she never wore shoes) came down on small smooth stones, making her think for a moment she might slip and fall. But, Ai had good balance, and in a few moments she was up onto the dry green grass and skipping up towards the house.
The house, now that she was closer, wasn't quite as pretty as Ai had thought. The paint was a bit faded, the windows were a bit dirty, and the fence around the garden was missing a gate. This she didn't mind: with barely a pause, Ai walked through the gap in the fence and stood among the flowers.
They were so pretty! Much prettier than those she had picked in the past, she thought. They had unusual colors, too! There were purple roses, yellow violets, red daisies ... oh, Ai just had to make a pretty crown out of those daisies!
Humming to herself, as she often did in the forest, Ai set about picking flowers. She would slowly walk alongside the rows of plants, until she saw one that struck her fancy. Ai would kneel down in the dirt, her knees getting nice and dirty, lean down and smell. If her nose approved of the flower, with a grin Ai would reach down and pick it, putting the flower in her basket. Ai would then stand and find the next one.
She did this for half an hour, happier then she had been all day.
"WHO IS PICKING MY FLOWERS?!?!"
The voice came out of nowhere, and everywhere. Ai shot to her feet, basket of flowers spilling to the ground. She whirled around. There, standing in the door of the house ... was a witch. A green, ugly witch, with a purple nose and one tooth. She wore a black dress, and a pointed black hat, with a little black pom-pom at the end. She was staring right at Ai.
Ai was frightened. She knew she shouldn't have picked the flowers, at least not without asking. Knew she was in trouble.
"Please," she begged, "don't tell mommy and daddy! I'm sorry! I'll plant new flowers! Honest!"
The witch looked at her, at the trembling little girl with the blue skin and wide, black eyes. Slowly, she smiled, a smile that Ai did not like at all. It was not a happy smile.
"Oh, you're sorry, now, are you. So sorry! Well, there is only one way to punish a little girl who has picked my flowers. I'm going to have to ... PICK YOU!"
With that, the witch reached out for the girl. Ai turned, trying to run, but before she had even taken a step the witch grabbed her, and... !
Ai opened her eyes.
It was nighttime. She was sitting on the rock by the stream. It had been a dream. That's all. She looked across the water, and didn't see a house, or a garden, or a witch. All she saw was a field, with bushes and trees. She had dreamt it all.
An owl hooted. With a start, Ai realized how late it was. Her parents would be looking for her! She jumped up, looking around for her basket. She couldn't go home without her basket! She saw it, a few feet away. Walking over, she bent down and grabbed the handle.
Her hand went right through it.
Ai's eyes widened in fear. She tried again. She reached down, closed her fingers around the wicker handle, and once again her hand went through it. The basket wasn't there!
A cold chill went through the girl.
No. The basket was there.
But she wasn't.
Ai looked down. She was wearing a simple white dress, not the pretty red one from that morning. She could see the ground through her feet, the grass through her dress.
She was a ghost.
"No!" Ai plopped down on the rock again, crying. She didn't want to be a ghost! None of her friends were ghosts! She'd have to go to ghost school, play ghost games, have ghost parents...
Ai jumped up, and ran down the path towards home. Her parents would still love her, still take care of her! That's what Mommy's and Daddies did! She ran as fast as she could, not tripping because her bare feet passed right through any rocks or sticks on the path. Soon, she could see the house where she lived. There were no lights, but maybe her parents were asleep. She'd surprise them! Run into the bedroom, jump on the bed between them, and...
Ai slowed down as she came to her house. Something was wrong. The grass around the house was tall. Daddy had not cut it in a long time. The windows were broken, something Mommy would never have allowed. The front door, which always she had seen as something comforting, protecting, was now faded and scratched, half open. Beyond it, darkness.
Nobody lived here. Nobody had lived here for a long time. Ai began to cry. How long had she been gone? Had her Mommy and Daddy missed her? Had they waited for her, gone out to look for her...
Ai walked through the dark house. She could see in the dark, because she was a ghost. The house was empty. Her parents were gone. She did find one photograph, by the fireplace. It showed her parents, but they were much older than when she had seen them that morning, and looked sad. They had stayed here, growing old, waiting for her.
And she never came.
Ai put the photo down, looking around the empty room where she had played, and read, and sat in her parents lap. Crying, she sat down in her Daddy's favorite chair. She could stay here, she supposed. Ai could haunt this house. That, after all, is what ghosts did.
However, that is not what Ai's do. Ai's go out and look. She was good at that. Good at looking for flowers. Only, now Ai didn't need flowers. Ai needed...
Yes. That was it. Ai would go out into the world, and find friends. She did not want to be alone.
You can not make friends if nobody can see you.
Ai walked alone through the world. She went to cities. She went to little towns. She went up into the mountains, and down by the sea. Everywhere she went, Ai tried to say hello to the people. Tried to make friends. But, everywhere she went, she was invisible. Nobody saw her.
Ai walked for a long, long time.
.... There is more of this story ...