Iâm collapsing into a dream. Folding in on myself over and over until Iâm nothing but
a pinch of paper.
I know Iâm not where Iâm supposed to be.
The arms holding me are the wrong armsâwiry and warm. But it is unwelcome
The slosh of mud lapping around boots was my first reminder. I screwed my eyes tightly shut, trying to keep it out as it rapped loudly on my aching head. My boots swung limply back and forth past the trees. My trees. I let the smell of wet fronds and bent pine needles swirl around me, grateful I was at least back in the forest. I imagined myself cradled in a bough: Leaves swept across my face, branches held their slender limbs across the treeâs mouth-like hollows and whispered, âshhâ.
âShh! Sheâs waking up.â
Movement ceased, ejecting me from my dream. Smooth fingers grazed my face. The wrong fingers. I opened my eyes warily. It was unfamiliar, yet not, like half of me wanted to nestle into his chest and the other half knew not to.
As I let the light in, the exposure cleaning up and drawing the fuzzy shadows into sharper images, the first thing I saw was my own eyes staring back at me. I closed mine slowly, hoping the view would change like a slide clicking over. But when I reopened them, I still saw my eyes in a manâs face. A worn face, which once you rubbed back the lines and pulled up the skin, was a face that looked just as I remembered. A ghost. I shouted out and sprung from his arms, landing in the mud and splattering everyoneâs concerned faces.
âYou,â was all my feeble head could come up with as I stumbled woozily for several seconds, pointing my shaky finger accusingly at the tall, dark man in front of me. As I connected the random pathways that brought me here, threads of sense drifted in front of my eyes, but I couldnât quite pull them together. The daughter in me was stubbornly fighting against the truth.
I ran my hands through my hair and grasped at the strands, pulling them together into a thick rope in my fist. I shivered, the air wet and sludgy around me. My aching head took in the darkness creeping away as morning peeled back, slow and heavy like the night didnât want to give in.
He approached me gently, hands held out in front of him like he expected me to climb back into them. I shook my head, feeling nauseous and upended. When he made a sudden move towards me, I startled like a deer. He pulled back, looking hurt. He would never harm me, but I was afraid of what he might say. I leaned airily, putting my hand out to steady myself, but connected with nothing. Rash was quickly at my side, and I held onto his arm to stabilize myself physically and mentally.
Rash. I had Rash. My heart pumped faster, and my blood warmed as I felt the real fleshiness of him. I looked down at my feet, twisting my ankles and burying them in the mud. âHow long?â I asked the ground, little bubbles popping around my sinking boots.