I scooped a handful of ash from my sleeping bag and stared.
The chalky substance slipped through my fingers and blended into the wind. I knew it wasn't ash from the campfire; it was human ash.
Hand shaking, I scooped another handful of the stuff from the ground. It was course, much like sand, and heavier than I had imagined. Though human ash was identical to other types of ash, I was aware of the previous life present in the pile.
The pile of gray was me just moments before.
As realization sunk in, I tossed the powder into the wind and wiped the remains off of my hands. My body scattered through the clearing, and I untangled myself from my sleeping bag. Tears welled in my eyes as I stuffed my possessions in my backpack.
An uncomfortable prickling built in the tip of my nose, and I swatted at tears as I shook Mac's shoulder to rouse him.
Groggy, he said, "No, go away," several times before he finally woke.
"We have to go," I told him. Slightly dazed, he stuffed his sleeping bag into his backpack and his feet into his shoes. I pulled him to his feet, and we began walking, weaving our way through the skeletal forest. Being November, most of the trees were bare and gray. The lack of foliage kept the sky clear, and I kept my eyes locked on the moon.
I just need to get home, I thought.
. . .
I didn't remember tripping, but I fell face-forward. When I should have hit the ground, I found myself shooting upward. My feet hit the ground, and I stumbled to a standing position.
My surroundings were different.
Looking around, I spotted my house in the distance. We had been at least three miles from home, and now I was standing several hundred feet from my back porch.
An instant panic set in, and there was so much adrenaline pumping through my system, my head spun. I somehow left my little brother in the woods in the middle of the night. Had I experienced the same dreamlike phenomena a second time?
I ran through the previous experience in my head. There had been two of me in the same place, but I still didn't know how that occurred.
How did I get here?
Sinking to my knees, I let out a cry. I clapped my hands over my mouth and pictured my baby brother in the woods alone.
He's not alone, I thought. He's with my sleeping self.
I pictured Mac shaking me, trying to wake me up. But I wouldn't move; I couldn't move. I was present here, at home, and the lifeless form in the woods with him was as good as dead.
I couldn't return home without Mac, so I stood, shaking, and began sprinting. Boots crunched against dead leaves, and I stared up at the same moon that had guided me moments before.
I was falling again, and, before colliding with the ground, I ended up stumbling back onto my feet. My surroundings changed once again, and I recognized the trail leading home.
I was not far off from where I had dropped.
Stumbling through the withered underbrush, I saw my sleeping self lying face down in the dirt.
Mac was gone.
Dropping to my knees next to my sleeping self, I searched the body for the vine. And there, at the base of my neck, was the pink chord connecting me to the earth. Grabbing the spongy vine, I yanked it free from the earth.
A burning sensation erupted in my chest, and in a moment it was gone, replaced with a sharp pain in the nape of my neck. I rolled over, straight into a pile of ashes.
I was awake.