Cordelia Grey was not the average child. She spent her free time conversing with clouds and wildflowers rather than with the other children her own age. Instead of bringing her mother nosegays like the other little girls in her town, she often brought home interesting toadstools and mosses, and once an exceedingly irritated opossum. The townspeople were all accustomed to her odd ways and none were alarmed when they happened upon her waist deep in their backyard pond or perched on the highest branch of their apple tree to examine a bird’s nest. Cordelia had a smile, and a handful of river rocks, for everyone she met. The adults in her town were all very fond of their “Daughter Nature” as they often called her, but the children's opinions on her ranged from indifference to jealousy. One boy in Cordelia’s hometown, Braxton Burns, was particularly hostile towards her and her chosen activities. He and his gang of fellow miscreants frequently trampled the flowers and fungi found in Cordelia’s favorite glade, threw rocks at her when she was too high in a tree to escape, or chased her out of the forest while playing their favorite game: Hunters.
One day, as Cordelia was building a fairy house under the wide shadow of an oak tree, she heard the crunching footfalls of a group approaching her. Looking up, she was unsurprised to see the usual set of tormentors, led by Braxton Burns, making their way across her clearing. When they reached her, to her surprise, they did not immediately ruin the structure she had been toiling over, but the wicked grins on every face boded ill. Braxton Burns stepped closer, kneeling next to Cordelia apparently interested in her creation.
“We found the perfect bed for your fairy house,” said Braxton Burns. Evidently he and the rest of the group were enjoying a grand inside joke.
“What is it?” Cordelia asked suspiciously.
“A pristine, abandoned bird's nest,” hooted one of the nameless minions, and the group turned their eyes on her expectantly knowing this information would interest her. Cordelia had been through this charade before; more than likely, she would climb the tree just to be pelted with pebbles the moment she was too high to jump down. However, she did need a bed for her fairy house, and the boys were not as fast as she was. If she was just able to get up and down the tree quickly she could avoid any serious injury and still acquire the coveted nest, after all, none of the boys had exceptional aim. After this brief mental debate, Cordelia agreed to escort the group to the nest’s location. They walked through the woods together for about ten minutes, the silence only breaking occasionally when one of the minions tittered or whispered to his neighbor. Finally, they reached a towering white pine, and saw a sizable bird’s nest surrounded by starbursts of pine needles about forty feet up. It was, indeed, the perfect size for the house she had been creating. Cordelia knew that once she reached the nest, she would be out of rock-throwing range, and therefore scurried up the tree as fast as her short legs could go. She was astonished not to feel the usual blows she associated with climbing trees anywhere near Braxton Burns and company. Reaching the branch that housed the nest, Cordelia victoriously looked down at the group huddled below her. They were staring up at her with a kaleidoscope of emotions displayed on their faces. Some faces were excited, some hesitant, some downright scared, but one face was completely absent. Braxton Burns was nowhere to be seen which confused Cordelia; the group was useless without their leader.
As she waited for the boys to get bored of this pointless game and clear off, the smell of smoke reached her on her high perch. Glancing down again, she noticed Braxton Burns ducking out from under the skirt of needles at the base of the pine. The smell of smoke grew stronger and she began to see flickers of light licking up the tree’s trunk, the numerous pine needles flaring up like dry leaves. She stared in horror at Braxton Burns whose smugness quickly turned to alarm as the pine ignited at frightening speed. Cordelia screamed, smoke and terror clouding her mind. She could not think, she could not move; all she was capable of was vocalizing her all-consuming fear. The flames were coming closer, gaining in size and speed with every second. The boys below were frantic now; several had run to fetch help from the town. Many were shouting unintelligible bits of advice to Cordelia, but the roar of the flames was all she could hear now. Braxton Burns was frozen on the spot, his mouth agape in a silent scream, his eyes bulging. He and the remaining boys watched as the inferno engulfed Cordelia entirely and all were aware of what it meant when her screams cut off abruptly. By the time the first adults arrived on the scene, it was far too late. The fire department was able to contain the fire from spreading to more than a few of the surrounding trees, but the damage was already irrevocably done. The minions that had been present at the fire immediately identified Braxton Burns as the orchestrater of the plan. No one was supposed to die, they pleaded; it was just another one of their casual pranks on the town basket-case.
No one had seen Braxton Burns since the fire was abated, and a county-wide manhunt ensued. He was found in Cordelia’s glade putting the finishing touches on her uncompleted fairy house. Silently, he was arrested. Silently, he was tried and convicted. He spent the rest of his days in prison and rumor had it that he never spoke a word, except when he screamed in his sleep. The torment and pain he had inflicted upon another was repaid to him ten-fold over a lifetime’s worth of regrets.