A single oak tree – the only object that was brave enough to break the smooth surface of the heathland – was my destination. I didn't know how or why, but somehow it was calling me. Its rustling leaves whispered for me to come, its bendy branches longing for me. And I was obeying, wandering through the high grass that was quavering over my head.
I sat against the steady trunk of the lonely tree and observed my surroundings. The heath was a hot place, with nearly no cool shades to protect me from the burning sun – the only one being the shadow of the giant tree that was currently employed as my back. While everything else on this grass desert was barren and withered, the oak's leaves were a healthy green and full of life, like it had a secret source of water the other plants couldn't reach.
As I leaned against the rough bark, I bent my head backwards and closed my eyes. The heat made me sleepy, and it wouldn't be a bad idea to take a nap... Just for a while, and I'd be back before my parents would notice I was gone...
My eyes fluttered for a moment, and the second my brain turned to sleep mode, my stingy eyes caught a swift movement in the tree's branches above me. But before I could focus, I drifted off...
* * *
I didn't know how much time had passed since I drowsed off, but the sun's warmth had decreased noticeably. But the slight chill of the breeze wasn't the reason I had woken up.
Someone was staring at me. I knew it, I felt it, I could almost see it even though my eyes were still closed. But even though I did, when I opened them, I was caught by surprise.
My insides screamed like my voice never could. But the girl whose face was only separated from mine by barely two inches yelped and disappeared.
That's really what she did. She disappeared.
After a few moments of shock, I jumped up and looked around, but my eyes didn't detect any sign of the mysterious girl.
But that's not what bothered me the most. Her face had been tanned, with high cheekbones and piercing clear blue eyes. Her hair had been long and chocolate brown, with all colors of flowers braided up in it. Her expression had been one of shock and wonder. But most importantly, her picture – without the flowers - could have been my very reflection.
I wanted to call her out, tell her not to be afraid, even though I was a bit anxious myself. But I couldn't. My vocal cords never had been able to produce any sound at all – and I didn't mind very often. This time though, I did.
Since there was nothing I could do, I just sat back again and sighed in disappointment. Maybe the girl had just been an illusion, a lingering dream.
I smiled a little warily at my absent-mindedness. But then suddenly, seemingly coming from nowhere in particular, I heard a tiny voice.
I turned my head left – nothing. Right – nothing either. Was my mind playing tricks on me? Seriously, not funny.
“No, up here.”
Up where? I wanted to ask, but of course that was impossible. Damn vocal cords.
A light chuckle, like the ringing of little shimmering golden bells. “Up here, dumb-o. In the tree.”
My eyes traveled up the trunk, over the bark, to the high branches covered with leaves and... legs. One pair of legs were dangling as their owner – the girl – was sitting comfortably on a thick branch, staring straight at me with those oh-so-familiar eyes. The ones I used to believe belonged to only me.
My mouth formed an O as I took her in. Like I thought before, she was my mirroring image. The only difference between us was what she was wearing. Instead of normal clothing, there were slim boughs wrapping around her waist and upper body, from which leaves and flowers sprouted and covered the girl's skin. It looked like a dress formed by nature, and it fit this tree-climbing monkey perfectly. Like it was made for her – which it probably was.
I blinked, and as I gathered my mind, I gestured for her to come down.
Another delighted laugh. “No, I won't come down! You come up.” And she patted the empty space beside her.
Oh no. I was so not going to climb up there. Aside from being a mute, I was also terribly afraid of heights. I shook my head violently in response to the girl's request.
“Yes you are. Overcome your fear, Willow. You'll have to eventually.”
No, I would not- Hey, wait a second. How did she know my name? I certainly did not tell her.
“Because I know you. Now come up, or I'm coming to get you myself.”
And now she could read my mind too? This was too crazy. I must be dreaming still. Besides, where did that shy girl from barely five minutes ago go to? Maybe I would've liked her better.
Her grin was now permanently plastered on her face. “No, you would not. Admit it, you love me already.” She winked happily, and then let herself fall backwards, direction ground – also known as: direction certain death.
My breath caught in shock and surprise, but when my eyes readjusted themselves, it seemed like my anxiety had been unnecessary. The girl had held herself up with her legs and was now hanging upside down, head turned in my direction, brilliant smile still there. “Come on, it's fun.”
On impulse, I stepped to the tree, put my hands on it and set my foot on a small bulging on the trunk.
“Good one. Now the other foot,” the strange girl ordered me.
I obeyed unwillingly. And then my feet were off the ground. The safe, steady, reliable ground I loved so much...
“Stop whining. Now climb!”
She was easy to talk! She wasn't afraid of life-threatening falls and breaking her neck.
“Hah!” she snorted, and when I looked back at her, she rolled her eyes at me. “Trust me, I know how it feels. I was afraid of heights once. A lifetime ago...” Her voice trailed off at the end and failed to keep its teasing tone.
I raised one eyebrow at her, asking. As our similar eyes met, she sighed and looked away, to the distance. “I can as well tell you.” Something was muttered under her breath, but I couldn't make out what it was. “Keep climbing,” she added.
I moved my right hand to another support and pulled up my left leg, and then waited for the story.
“I'm not human, Willow.” She pointed a quick, measuring glance at me.
But I wasn't as shocked as I ought to be. I guessed I could have expected that much. I hoped that thought didn't sound like I was mentally insane to the girl.
A halfhearted smile. “Nope, not at all. I'm Aurora, by the way. It's a bit awkward to hear you calling me 'the girl' in your mind all the time.” When I nodded in acknowledgment, she continued, “I'm what you supposedly could call a nymph.”
I used the short silence that followed to let that sink in. A nymph? This dream was getting really creative. I had no idea my imagination was so lively.
“Imagination, yeah right. But I suppose it would be useless to try to convince you otherwise.” Aurora rolled her eyes at me again. “Keep climbing!”
When I dared moving, I thought, Continue.
“Sure. We nymphs are protectors of nature. We protect those who cannot defend themselves – mostly plants, like this oak. In spite of what humans may think, they are living creatures too.” Her voice showed a hint of indignation at the end. “We protect the defenseless and the innocent, because there was no one to protect us during our lifetime. We used to be like them. When the innocent die, they become nymphs.”
So... When plants die, they become nymphs? This was all just too strange for words.
“Not only plants. Mostly plants, and only those who die an unfair death. But many animals, too. Former humans are rare. And only the children, the infants.”
She had been a human. I could see it in her sad eyes, the way her shoulders hung when she talked about them. Had she been a kid? A baby?
“Keep climbing,” she encouraged me with kind eyes. Left arm up, right foot set. Don't look down, don't look down, don't look down, I chanted to myself. Oh dear. This was going to be my death.
“No, Willow. Look down.”
What? No way.
In a fluent movement, Aurora bend her upper body to her legs and sat back on the branch. “If you evade your fears, you will never get over them. Confront yourself.”
Reluctantly, I slowly averted my eyes from her face and let them slip over the tree's bark, down to the ground. I'm going to die. A couple of feet below me, the grass was teasingly waving at me in the light wind that was everywhere here on the heath. It was so far. Far gone, out of my reach. And I knew I'd fall. I squeezed my eyes shut in panic.
“No you won't. Look again and look good.”
I did as she said, and nothing had changed. The ground. Far away. But then I looked above me, and I saw the tree stretching to the sky. Birds were crossing it. Clouds were drifting in it. And then I realized: wouldn't it be a shame if I was clustered to the earth's surface, my feet clinched to the ground? Wouldn't it be great if I could – even if it was only for a bit – rise in the air, too?
“Exactly. That's what I'm talking about,” Aurora confirmed smugly, a glint of pride and satisfaction shining through.
My hands clenched their supports and I started climb – really climb, not the halfhearted fiddling I had been doing before. I flew up the trunk, until I finally reached Aurora's broad branch. Smiling at her, I had to admit I was a little proud of myself. I had overcome my fear!
Not really was I surprised when I saw Aurora's eyes glisten as she returned my smile. We really were each other's reflections, undeniably so.
“You're right, I was a human. A human baby,” she whispered, her features drowned in nostalgia. “She never told you anything, did she? Otherwise you would have guessed already.”
What was she talking about? Who hadn't told me what?
“Didn't you ever wonder why your mother is always so gloomy on your birthday?”
I had always thought she was being emotional because of... Well, because of my birthday?
“Yes,” Aurora nodded slightly, “Because your mother... is also mine. And your birthday is my birthday too. And my day of death.”
I froze. Of all the strange revelations and secrets, I never would've expected this.
“Willow, I was your twin sister,” she managed to choke trough her overflowing tears.
Was. And then I really started to fall.
A/N: Wheeee! ANOTHER short story! I've been on a roll lately :) But I had to, because I joined so many contests :D Anyways, here's my entry for both Unknown girl's Rounds Contest (Second round *Proud smile*) and XPSTiger's Rounds Contest (First Round^.^). I hope you enjoyed! xx Paige