Crisp fresh air filled my lungs as it bubbled up from invisible springs in the earth. My mind hummed the dream song of the earth. The sun burned my back, bare save for a thin, white cotton T-shirt. Flowers bloomed on the ground and climbed trees towards the sky. But despite the muffling joy all around me, the warmth could not permeate my skin. My veins dripped cold. Some how no matter what my surroundings there always managed to be something inside of me that refused to be jovial, chilling me inside. It was like sucking on an ice cube that refused to melt, just one tiny cube was large enough to chill your whole mouth and freeze your tongue. Only this cold was unwanted, forced on me. It's tiny fingers clawed at the inside of me, sharp nails begging to be let out and control me. Others who had been through this said they felt empty, but I was not empty. I was full of cold, full of awful, full of blackness and wet, freezing rock and it could never leave me.
I stood in a stream up to my bony ankles and let the water wash around them, creating whirlpools behind me. Pollen coated the smooth surface and left yellow imprints of the low water level on my skin. On the top of my skin I could almost feel the freedom the water felt as it ran to who-knows-where without caring about where or how it ended up. I could here the gurgle of the water as it ran over rocks as well but to me it still sounded like a cry. Somehow the sound only hurt more, that tiny taste of sweet joviality that taunted one so melancholy as myself. It was like a small nip of sugar - it left your tongue desperately ravished, craving more sweetness. Only this taste was dangerous, addicting and threatening. It was a dual curse, pain and joy. Would it never cease?
I sat in the grass next to the stream, leaving my ankles in the water. It was luscious, this pain. Beneath me I could feel the cool of the living earth with its damp musty ground and almost falsely neon green. It felt springy and safe - too tempting for me. I had to stay away from tempting, couldn't let myself be fooled by fake promises. I could never forgive myself for the last time I had been so foolish, the last time I had allowed myself to think that people were here to love and that they could never harm. I've learned since then. I've learned that love hurts and I've learned to fear and avoid it. A ladybug landed gently on tan skin and I blew it gently away, my breath tainted with the cold inside of me. I lay down spread eagle and let the wind wash over me. I breathed it in and the hot and cold mixed, a storm forming inside of me. I relished the thunder crashing over, under and around me and tasting of frost. My heart pounded with every lapse of the drums of the gods. Hours passed and the forces battled it out inside of me, my mind racing with hope and rash desperation. Pure adrenaline filled me and I felt my pulse sprint in my thin wrists. My fingers subconsciously balled themselves into fists protectively and my arms tensed, still outstretched. I could no longer feel the water; my whole body numb save for the war which would determine my final fate. I focused on the red insides of my eyelids, all that remained to prove that I was still here, not a warrior princess of a foreign kingdom.
I should always know never to get my hopes up. It had happened so many times before and something had always failed me. My chest heaved painfully and snapped me back to reality. The sun was setting in an indigo flame behind the mountains, its rays arcing up into the darkening twilight. I sat up, my back stiff from lying still. The water had begun to run colder and a frog stuck its golden eyes up cautiously above the surface, unaware of my human presence as anything but a statue. I stretched and it plopped back down into the water, digging its fat body into the rocks. My toes wiggled numbly in the mud, stirring leaves and dirt into the water and making it clouded and murky. With effort, I pulled my feet out of the muck and brought them onto the grass. I stood on the bank of the creek, my slim finger casting twin shadows on the water and on the land. Then I brought my leg up and hopped over the river in a graceless arc, sprinting off as soon as I hit the other side. I felt the tingling of the grass below my feet; the scratch of the wind on my face, and for a moment I could almost embrace the world with its sweet honey-suckle-scented air and be free. But the thudding, uneven heartbeat in my ears reminded me of the ice that was inside of me. I shuddered and ran on, leaving the creak and its memories behind me. But as far as I ran, the horror of what I had seen still hollowed my mind like a melon-baller.
I slammed into thin aluminum frame of the screen door, my body pounding with breathlessness and my soul in a harsh furor. Inside the house, a pot sat on the old, dirty white stove, steam rising in a storm cloud to the graying ceiling. The small, yellow-laminated table in the corner was well laden with old newspapers and magazines, along with a plain white coffee cup. I pushed open the door and slid into a chair next to the table, my eyes scanning the crossword puzzle of the Sunday Times that lay in front of me. Poorly oiled gears churned in my mind as I absent-mindedly guessed at the obscure riddles. I slid my eyes away from the newspaper and down to my hands in my lap as I heard footsteps entering the room, heavy but muffed.
"Ah. You're back," my mother said boredly. She picked up a wooden spoon and dipped it into the steaming pot, stirring it gently as though cradling an infant. I nodded to her behind her turned back and scraped the chair backward against the buttercup tiles of the kitchen floor, my bare feet absorbing the chill. My toes swept the floor to wear it changed to thick, deep carpet and they sunk into it, my footsteps perfectly silent. I pushed the fake wooden door at the end of the hallway open and slid into my safety.
In the corner of the room, my bed was made with pale blue sheets; stains burned into parts of it from years of use. I jumped and landed in an effortless spread eagle on it, my arms dripping over the edges. I traced my eyes dully along the creases and cracks in the whitewashed ceiling. Above me, a windchime hung from the ceiling, light from the window reflecting rainbows of it, dancing like satellites across my walls. I breathed in the night air through the open crack in my window; the aroma mixing with the musky scent that filled my room. I closed my eyes and let my imagination take control of me. This, I knew, was the last place I had left from before, when everything was normal. And I was swiftly losing it as it followed my jagged stray footsteps to the realm where normality was consumed by hardship. The last place left was gone. I turned onto my stomach and buried my face in my pillow, dry tears streaming down my face. I felt invisible hands poking me and prodding me hesitantly then, less cautious, slapping me and hitting me all around my body, their newfound plaything.
My hands wandered toward my bedside table and crept along it towards my lamp, pulling the small beaded string and flushing the room with a dingy yellow light. I grabbed a book from next to it, eager to dispel my pain in literature, waiting for the soothing release of a foreign world. Page after page I turned, distracted, finally somewhere where I could nearly rest. The book's binding was torn in places and dirty from a few years wear. The plastic covering looked like the dusty windowpane of a broken-down house. The book settled in my small hands, resting on my lap like little children with Santa. The words passed by my eyes, never truly stopping for recognition. They blurred into a mass of characters and stories and imagination, and soon I felt dawn breaking in front of my tenderly shut eyelids.
The house was completely and utterly silent, and I was alone as I slipped on my dust-covered sneakers and skittered down the staircase. I had to hold the door steady to avoid creaking, but I knew that I wasn't going to be bothering anyone. The rest of the house, whoever that was now, wouldn't be up for a few hours yet. I hit the gravel and let the soles of the sneakers crunch against it, grinding satisfyingly. I kicked my feet and began to run, soaring blissfully towards the forest. The air was thick and damp from night, and the dew from the grass crept up my shoes and inside to my chilling feet. I shivered jovially and kept running, tumbling into the grass at the edge of the clearing. I lay in the grass there, panting and staring up at the sky. Beside me, the lake in the clearing rippled gently with the breeze.
A frog plopped into the water and I looked up, startled. The reeds shook from the jump, rattling softly like rain sticks. I laughed at myself, shaking my head to move a free lock of hair back into place. Then I froze, looking into the forest, as I came to a realization. I was not alone.