But the pain was all in me. Everywhere and constant, but centered somewhere around my middle. Like something thick had pushed between my organs. Something had pushed between my organs. And through them. And against them. And- I couldn't stop screaming.
Not my voice. Someone else's, whispering against my ear and pushing at my hair. Hot breath and then, hot hands all along my sides, gripping me, holding me.
"Melissa?" I think she sounded startled, but only vaguely so, like she was seeing me in the grocery store when she didn't expect it. A little startled, but on the whole, pleasantly surprised. And when I looked up, she looked a little bewildered. There was no urgency in her voice or on her face. She didn't look afraid.
I was terrified.
And there was agony like nothing I'd ever felt. I'd cut my hand once, on a piece of glass meant for a sculpture, and it had cut right down to the bone and needed stitches. But that nauseating pain wasn't anything like this.
I could hardly comprehend what this was.
"What are you doing down there?"
I think I choked on the blood, like I was going to try to answer. I think I gargled and spluttered, and I could feel my muscles stopping and going limp as I crumpled forward, but there was something - something keeping me up.
I couldn't have looked up again if I tried.
"Little Mel." Warm breath. Someone not there, but more present than Anna had ever been. "Are you surprised?" I was. I was. I could see the bark of the tree, the whorls where once the bark had knotted and twisted but was smoothed down now. I could see the corner of a root, sighing in the ground, rising up and down like a breathing thing. I could see the branch stretching, impossibly, right through me. I could see a scarlet river dripping to the earth. I could feel myself disappearing.
It should have been Anna.
I never wanted to see the tree. I didn't ever think of it. She was wild and open and exquisite. She visited even when the dark forbade it. She settled in its branches and made a second home - wove crowns of leaves and twigs and listened to the wind. It should have been Anna.
But it wasn't Anna.
It was me.