The scent of the sea was first to register in Aveny’s sleep-addled mind. For a moment, she was pulled back to that first morning, when she’d awoken nude on that cold, rocky beach. But when she opened her eyes, she found herself not at the shore, but in a flower strewn meadow. A green ocean of softly waving grass danced gently in the wind, and the sweet scent of flora flavored the salty sky.
Aveny glanced about, but saw no trace of the ocean; only this meadow, framed by softly rolling hills and crowned by a powder blue aerial expanse. It was peaceful here. Aveny had no clue how or why she’d arrived, but she wasn’t alarmed. The sun warmed her face and satiated her with its embrace.
She hadn’t felt the sun for months – a hazard of life in the rain-sodden Pacific Northwest.
A faint tinkling of laughter arrived on the breeze and Aveny followed it, the soft grass trailing luxuriously across her legs as she walked.
It didn’t take long. Just over the crest of one small knoll, she spotted a family. The child was giggling, a magical expression of glee. Her long cinnamon hair hung down in unruly knots as her father suspended her by the ankles, swinging her back and forth through the air. Her baby blue dress fell down over her face, revealing a white pair of ruffled bloomers. She swatted at the fabric and laughed gleefully.
The man gently somersaulted her back onto her feet and scooped up a small handful of wildflowers. She smiled with delight as he presented them to her and then laughed again as he swept her up and spun her about happily, finally pulling her in and wrapping her in a big bear hug.
The child’s long black lashes fluttered against the tan tweed of his jacket and he rested his cheek against the wild tangle of her hair. After a moment, she struggled loose and he relented, setting her softly on the ground.
Still clutching the now mangled flowers in one chubby hand, she raced toward a woman. The child’s tiny flushed cheeks dimpled with glee as she landed roughly in her mother’s arms. The woman emitted an almost inaudible gasp of surprise, then melted, clutching her daughter tightly to her chest. The child struggled at the intensity of her mother’s awkward embrace but the woman lowered her nose to the child’s head and breathed in her scent like it was the only oxygen in the meadow.
Finally she released the child, who stepped back, disgruntled, but then handed her mother the broken flowers with a blossoming smile. The woman plucked and gifted her child a small yellow wildflower in exchange. Then she stood and gazed down at the crumpled wildflowers laying across her own open palm. Her eyes were wide and her cheeks pale.
She remained there, gazing at them, until long after the child had lost interest and wandered away in search of more exciting things.
The man spread out a blanket, opened a picnic basket and began divvying up its contents. The child peered over her father’s shoulder, craning her neck to see what delights lay within. And still the woman stood, staring at the crumpled flowers in her hand. Her orange and white striped dress caught in the wind and flapped aggressively against the breeze.
Aveny was struck by the awkwardness of her stance. Everything about her seemed tight and confined. From the tautness of her waistline to the perfectly bound bun at the nape of her neck, everything was exactly in place. Yet, something was not right.
The woman turned ever so slightly and Aveny thought perhaps she had been spotted. But, no. Her eyes remained locked on the crumpled organic contents of her hand.
Aveny drew closer, fixated on this strangely immobile woman – stiff and solidified amid the exuberant life unfolding around her. Then she gasped. It was her – the woman from her dreams. Everything was different about her – but that face … she’d know it anywhere.
Just at that moment, a tiny white petal caught the breeze and spiraled off the woman’s hand. It cartwheeled away through the air, flying high and fast. Aveny heard a shout and turned to see the man, chasing the picnic blanket, caught by the same gust of wind, tumbling over the grass. Just as he grabbed it, she heard another cry, this time from the little girl. She called out, pointing directly at her.
Aveny’s heart fluttered with fear but it wasn’t her the girl had seen. It was the woman, now running full force through the field. The tall grass whipped against the hem of her perfectly manicured dress like barbed wire. It couldn’t stop her. Nothing could.
Although she couldn’t explain it, Aveny turned and followed, racing as if her life depended upon it, away from the man and the child, away from their cries and after this careening woman – this woman who had haunted her dreams and whose dreams Aveny now seemed to be haunting in return.
The woman’s dress billowed and flapped behind her as she ran, tearing over the knoll and out into – what?
Aveny registered the oddness of the landscape only a half-breath before her mind understood what it meant, and only a full breath before the woman’s body gave meaning to what her mind had barely begun to comprehend.
Aveny opened her mouth to scream – a hopeless imagination with neither sound nor power to compel – and then the woman was gone. And then, Aveny too was there, her toes gripping the edge of the cliff, gazing into a vast expanse of empty air, guarded by an endless white rock face and carpeted with violently crashing waves below. There was no humanity left below; only the humanity left behind.
Aveny turned to discover the little girl, her eyes wide and wild with pain, her hand still clutching her mother’s wilting flower. Hot, salty tears cascaded over her tender, round cheeks, splashing like waterfalls from her dark, mournful eyes. And then the man was there, standing behind her, the nearly lost blanket hanging limply from one hand, his face utterly gaunt and depleted.