It all starts with Emily. I saw her in my mind, sitting on a cobble-stoned street, a tiny girl with blond hair and a worn school uniform, staring at something that she had never seen before. I quickly drew the image so it wouldn’t disappear under the detritus of my everyday thoughts.
At first she thought that it must be a worm of some sort. She had seen many of them before, usually when it rained and they wriggled up from the ground to drown in puddles or be run over by carriages or stomped on by black boots. But this was no worm. For starters, it didn’t really move at all. Emily wrinkled her forehead as she looked at it, then gave it a gentle prod with her finger. Still nothing. It yielded to her touch, but did nothing in response. It remained as it was, sticking up from the ground, curled slightly over on itself, no bigger than a… well… then a worm, she supposed. And a small one at that. She pulled gently at it, and it resisted her attempts to free it from the space between the paving stones. The way it strained warned her that to strong a pull might tear it to bits, and Emily was sure that she did not want to do that.
There was something about it. She couldn’t place it, but a part of her felt that this was something vastly alien in the District. It was a curiosity. No, she thought to herself, it was much more than a curiosity. Curiosities were the two-headed dogs that sometimes appeared with the local strays, their necks low with the added weight of another mouth to feed. Or the boy down the street with the white hair and pink eyes. A part of Emily, a part deep inside her, quivered like a plucked bowstring as she looked at the little green thing pushing defiantly at the paving stones. She could not express it, not with her mind still so young, still so open but mostly empty, waiting for words and experience to fill it full to brimming with the stuff of a life well lived. She could not express it, but she could feel, deep inside her, the quivering that told her that there are things that could be done, and there are things that must be done.
Emily knew what would happen if she left this little thing where it was. Sooner or later (and likely sooner), someone would tread on it, crushing it against the paving stones, leaving nothing but a green smear that would quickly turn the flat gray of everything else in the District. Whatever it was would then be gone, maybe never to return again. Emily could not risk that happening. She set her little mind to its firmest resolve, and began prying.