A Pocket Full of Posies

     Alice frowned as she shaded her eyes with one delicate, slender-fingered hand and stared out across the tree-tops, scanning what little of the horizon she could see for anything different. Abruptly, she spun on her heel and took in the other half of the skyline, her frown only deepening despite everything appearing as normal as it ever had. The young, slight girl was standing in the middle of her home's clearing, an empty wicker basket beside her bare feet as she placed her fair hands on hips covered by her ordinary blue muslin dress and pretty white apron. Her blue gray eyes, colored as if made to match her outfit, were frowning and just a little desperate. She knew she was supposed to be weeding the garden and picking more vegetables for tonight's meal, but she couldn't bring herself to let down her guard. Something was wrong. She could feel it in the air.

     Lowering her self slowly to the ground beside the dark earth of the vegetable garden, she gave the treetops a suspicious once-over, then closed her eyes and breathed deeply through her nose, turning to face the ground with her eyes still closed. Then she shook her head in dismissal of her (irrational) fears, opened her eyes, and reached out to pull the first weed from between the neat rows of leafy vegetables. She tried to focus her mind to the task, an easy and pleasing switch most days, but her thoughts were jumpy and erratic, and she often found her self staring at the ground with unfocused eyes, not thinking about anything, just feeling that sensation of twitchy, angry, animal fear. It worried her in ways she couldn't put a name to. Something was definitely going on. Somehow, she didn't think it was just her.

     Finally she gave up on what seemed a thankless task and rocked back on her knees to sit on her shins, frowning uneasily at the dirt. Could nothing go right today? Then a sound caught her ears and she leaped to a standing position, knees bent and wide eyes probing, for once, the shadows in the shade of the surrounding forest. What on earth...

     There it was again! If Alice had been asked to define the sound or what it meant, she wouldn't have been able to even begin, but she knew that it was a sound, that it meant something very important, that she had been right, and that she needed to be there now. And so without thinking she was off, already in the trees, the clearing behind her, gone, running up and over and around. The very world became a dark green and brown blur around her, with the wind born of her speed blowing across her face, smelling of damp things and rotting leaves, a smell ancient and mysterious. With truly knowing to where she was going, only that she would get there, she ran.

     And then it was gone.

     Alice skidded to a halt in the middle of the forest, her chest rising and falling lightly as she panted, her exertion telling upon. But she did not allow herself to rest. Circles upon circles, she spun within her small place in the forest, wide, wild eyes flicking back and forth, watching every shadow, looking for the sound again. But she couldn't find it. Gone. She resisted the urge to crumple to the forest floor and sob in frustration like a very small child, instead sighing in exhaustion and slumping her shoulders, closing her eyes at her own foolishness. Slowly, she lowered herself the soft earth and sat back on her knees, the very picture of dejection. A small voice in the back of her mind was screaming at her to run, get away, it was still out there, but she ignored. Just as she ignored an even smaller voice, one that whispered quietly, why does it matter? Why should you be angry, disappointed, that you have not found something bad? And it continued, what exactly did you expect to find? and at that she opened her eyes and looked away from herself, getting up slowly and pivoting in place to look for her own footsteps back through the forest to the cabin. But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't see the way out.

     Tears of fright sprang to her eyes. She had been foolish. She had allowed her own strange, irrational fears (longings?) to lead her deep into the shadow-heart of the forest, where there really were things to fear. She had never been more than a few steps into the forest and away from the clearing, and always within sight. She had heard stories, warnings from Grandmother and Grandfather, of little girls who got lost in the woods. Her breath began to wheeze in fear, quick little pants like a frightened animal’s. She turned, looking again, because surely she had only missed the path? She would find. She would go home. She would. She would. The world began to shimmer around her, sick fear creeping up her throat. And then: sound.

     Around she whirled, her heart leaping up in her throat, wedged so tight she could hardly breathe. And then she could breathe, she was laughing, because there was the clearing, just a step through the trees, and how hadn't she seen that all along? Why, it seemed she had never gone more than a foot step or two in at all! How curious! (Somewhere in the back of her mind, the very smallest voice whispered that she hadn't seen it because it wasn't there, and she had most certainly run more than a footstep through the trees, and that was because, because it was, it was all...and then she turned away.) Laughing merrily at her own girlish folly, she strode into the clearing and over to the garden's edge, picking up her basket with a loose hand, calm and at ease. That is, until she saw it.

     What was it? She had never its like before. (The littlest voice would have told her she had, and when, and where, and why, but she had long since told it to shut up.) It danced, with a faint crackle and hiss, among the garden's plants, alighting on one of the cabbages with a spark. As she watched, the cabbage shriveled and withered beneath her very eyes, and a blackened piece of one of the leaves, glowing with a red and orange light, drifted on the breeze to a carrot's feathery above-ground plume. And then the thing was dancing on the carrot, too. Alice jumped back slightly, the wicker basket still hanging from forearm, still bent over at the waist observing the thing. And then Alice became aware of a great bitter smell in the air, the smell of the dancing thing, and low rumbling, rather like the crackle of the thing's dance. She looked up.


     The thing, the fire, it was everywhere. The ground a sea of flame, the trees leaves like little cinders, the air, the sky black with smoke, everything. The cabin. A scream was torn from Alice's throat as the cabin, the home burned, blackened, broke. Something inside her was tearing apart, as scorching as the fire, the fire, on the house, the house, oh God, the tears in her eyes fire, fire, it's on fire as she turned, turned and ran. The wicker basket the fire, the fire, the fire was dropped on the ground beside the now-flaming all gone, they're gone garden, forgotten in her run away, fire haste. She ran like a thing possessed, running in fear, tears and otherworldly wails trailing behind her in the burning wood burning like a bride's wedding veil. Run, run, run as she might the fire came after her, it, it followed her, and she could not get away. It came after her like a demon fires of hell thirsting in its rage for things to burn, burn, a monster of her nightmares. Her eyes sought salvation.

    Then she was seeing blue sky ashes, blackened around the edges, through the tree ashes, trunks, taunting her with its nearness. She stretched her arms out ahead of her we all as she ran, as if to cradle it to her. Too late she saw the edge, the sky reaching under her feet, the mighty chasm down into the earth. She leaped, fall left the boundary between earth and sky. For a moment she felt she might fly.


The End

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