Safe Place

“I need you to listen to me very carefully. You don't know me, but I know you.”

The voice came in a tangle of the wind, a whisper neither rough nor sweet in her ears.

On her balcony, above the palace gardens, Princess Rena glanced around. Vibrant green grass decorated the land, and elegant rows of topiary trees, clipped into shapes of fluffy sheep, extended for miles, rolling deep over the horizon.

Above, the rich blue sky reflected the world's calm, and, neatly positioned in her peripheral, the sun smiled, prickling Rena’s body with warmth. Cool air brushed her skin, but she felt no need to shiver. She could taste the salt of the far-off sea on her tongue, the breeze a calming murmur in her ear.

But she saw no people. Nor heard the harmonious tweet of birds.

She was alone—completely—except for that voice.

“Who said that?” Rena asked.

“Look down.”

She did as the voice said, peering down from the tip of her nose. At her feet, perched by the toes of Rena’s silver slippers, was the smooth body of a frog, stripes of deep black running down its orange back.

Rena marked her book with a pressed forget-me-not. “A frog?” She said, shuffling half an inch backwards. She didn't feel any fear toward the frog, but something in the back of her mind told her to step back. Something to do with colours—If only she knew what it was.

“You are a frog,” Rena continued. “How... peculiar. Tell me, little frog, how is it you speak?”

The frog’s throat bulged, and its two unblinking yellow eyes held the Princess’ gaze. For a moment, Rena believed herself foolish.

Too many fantastical tales, she chastised. Too many hours spent alone.

Frogs couldn't speak.

But rather than be rude—even to an affiliation of her imagination—Princess Rena crossed her ankles and curtsied.

“Apologies, little frog,” she announced, “but it appears I may have had too much sun, and therefore I must go. I bid you a good day.” She bowed her head and turned towards the white wings of silk curtains fluttering from the open windows.

“Wait. Please do not abandon me yet. Stay out here, if only for a moment.”

Rena stopped, but she didn't turn. “Is this my imagination?”

“Everything, one way or another, comes from imagination.”

“You asked me to listen,” Rena murmured. She clutched her book close to her chest and glanced at the frog over her shoulder. “Said you knew me; how is that?”

The frog’s throat ballooned, and its mouth remained closed when it spoke. “We have met before.”

“Forgive me, little frog, but had we met before, I do not believe I would have forgotten someone like you.”

Beads of slime glistened like a jewelled chain over the frog's body. Its foot twitched, and it leapt forward. “Where are we right now?” It asked.


“What do you see? Look around.”

Rena stepped around the frog and looked back across the quiet of her kingdom—at the colourful perfectness of it all. It was beautiful, as always, a fairytale painting brought to life.

“Does it feel real?”

Rena’s eyebrow raised at the frog’s question. “Real?”

"To you. Is this real to you?"

"Of course it's real. The sky, the trees, the grass— All of it. And pardon me for saying so, but it is you, little frog, who doesn't feel quite real.”

“That’s because I’m not.”

Rena frowned. “Then what are you, if not real?”

“I’m a subconscious,” the frog said, its throat bulging. “Yours, to be exact.”

Impossible, Rena thought. She wasn't some wooden puppet. She was a girl, a real girl—a princess.

A princess...


The title sounded strange in her mind, a repeated word losing all sense of meaning.

Pulling the book closer, Rena wrapped her arms around her waist and stepped back. “What is this?” she asked. Her voice felt small, too small, caught by the wind and taken far, far out to sea. “You can't be my... Subconscious. You're a frog!”

“And you're in a story. Do you remember the tales your mother would read?”

“Excuse me, astory?”

The ground shook. Rena stumbled, and her book tumbled to the floor. A crack split in the balcony stone, and a loose fragment crumbled over the side. The frog lept, landing next to Rena’s book.

“This is important, Rena,” the frog declared. “Answer the question.”

The question.

“Yes, of course,” she said quickly, “Every night, she’d read a different tale, worlds of magic and monsters. Adventures beyond my wildest dreams. I would always say that was where I wanted to go. It was where I felt sa—”

Rena slapped a hand over her forehead.

White hot pain cut rivulets behind her eyes. Her vision blurred. Pins and needles prickled the edges of her spin. “Frog, what’s... Happening?”

“You’re remembering, Rena.”

Light flashed. A crack of thunder tore through the sky. Dark clouds scrubbed away the blue, bringing with them a howl of wind from the east.

Rena's dress whipped against her ankles, and a chill scratched its harsh claws against her skin. But despite that, sweat began to collect on her upper lip and the small of her back. Her heart quickened. Her tongue felt too large in her mouth, too dry.

This wasn't real.

“This isn't real.” Rena breathed. “Agh!” She screwed her eyes. “My mind—”

“It's natural to feel confused,” the frog said smoothly. “It will take a moment for you to understand. It's a protection Rena, a precaution; it's your body safeguarding itself.”

“It hurts,” Rena moaned. “How could I not know?”

“A part of you did. Look at your book.”

Rena glanced down and read the gold lettering, “Natural Toxins, Flora and Fauna.”

The frog hopped to the book and flicked a webbed hand over its eye. A string of slime swung from its body and over the top of the book. The cover flipped open.

Between the pages, Rena’s pressed forget-me-not caught the wind and flew into the sky. And Rena realised.

“I was poisoned. By what?”

The frog blinked.

“By you?”

Lighting flashed, and the world beyond turned white. A high whine pierced Rena’s ears. She fell backwards...



Metal struck the back of Rena’s head. Copper stung the inside of her mouth; she had bit her tongue.

Above, candles flickered, and she could smell the tang of smoke and mildew. Rena tried to move, but a figure, cast in shadow, loomed over the side, their hand pressing into her shoulder.

“Will she be okay?” A voice spoke, and the shadowed figure moved.

“The dream state can muddle the mind,” another said, “transporting the subconscious to where the host feels safe. The location can vary—a sunny beach, a cosy library, your grandma’s kitchen. It doesn't even have to be a real place. Where ever Miss Rena went, that's her safe place.”

“But she's back now? She's safe.”

“In time, she will be. I’ve neutralised the poison, so her body will heal, but her mind... It will... Take time.”

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