Read Part I here.
The girl glanced down at her feet and wriggled her toes. Of course, she could not see them move inside her shoes but if she shifted her feet a little left and right and back, the laces would wriggle a little as well. She had tied them herself. For the first time, she had managed to make a knot that would hold, and not only a knot but also a bow. All of her friends already knew how to tie shoelaces. At seven years of age, she was late to learn this but knots had always been a mystery to her and the logic of bows evaded her entirely. She wasn’t even sure if she would be able to repeat her success, but at least today she had managed.
She skipped down the street, eyes still on her feet, careful not to step on her shoelaces and undo her work. The right one was tied into a double knot; this one should be fine. But on her left shoe she had only managed to tie a simple knot, it was this one she needed to pay attention to in particular.
In her peripheral vision, she could see the shoes of other people as she walked past them, and they walked past her. Sneakers. Fancy leather shoes. Double knots. Single knots. How much fun it would be to tie as many as three knots one day! Some of the shoes did not have knots at all, nor shoe laces to begin with. Most of those were winter boots but she even spotted a pair or two of vans.
At the street corner, she came to a halt, right in front of a puddle that the rain had left there earlier that day. A thin layer of ice had formed on it and reflected the pale winter sun. The girl tapped her foot against the ice and laughed as it broke with a dry cracking sound. When the splintered ice held no more interest for her, she raised her eyes and looked down the street. At the end of it, she knew, there was an ice cream parlor that had opened even in winter.
Her mother had said that she was proud of her for tying her shoelaces all by herself. Perhaps proud enough to buy her an ice cream, the girl thought. She would take coconut, she decided. Coconut ice cream was as white as winter but tasted of summer. She turned the words of a question already tucking at her vocal cords. But as her gaze fell on the crowd of strangers on the street, her mouth opened without a single sound leaving it.
This wasn’t good. Not good at all. She had run off, it seemed, without even intending to do so. Again. Her mother would be cross with her and surely there would be no ice cream in it for her now. The girl squinted her eyes at the people who walked towards her. She searched for the familiar blue coat. The familiar dark hair. The familiar face of her mother.
A couple of minutes passed. She balanced on the tips of her toes. Spun one way. Then the other. She could of course get herself an ice cream. Afterwards, she would go home. Her mother would probably wait there for her, a little upset but relieved to see her. She lifted one foot off the ground, jumped, and landed in the puddle. Water splashed. Ice crunched under her shoe.
She was seven after all, which was almost old enough to do almost everything on her own, and she knew the way home so it wouldn’t be a problem. She turned her head to face the sun and blew a cloud of breath into the air. It lasted only seconds before it disappeared. She dug her hands into the pockets of her coat, and there, in between a used tissue, the abandoned house of a snail, and the wrapper of a chocolate bar, she found just enough change for an ice cream.
The girl threw her braid over her shoulder and turned towards the direction of the ice cream parlor. Only a few steps from her stood a young man. She had not noticed him before, had not seen him walk down the street, or heard the sound of his steps fade to silence as he stopped. She stared at him, eyes wide. Even though the light of the sun fell on him, it seemed as if he was standing in the shade. He stared right back at her. And yet, his eyes were fixed on something far away, invisible to her.
There was something about him that scared her but she gathered her courage like the knights in the stories she liked to read. And if she imagined that she was a knight in pursuit of a treasure, and he a dragon that she had to sneak past, the way down the road seemed almost more exciting than daunting. And so, she began to walk.
She walked—not very far—until all at once her breath got stuck in her throat. No matter how much she tried, it would not escape her lungs, nor was she able to take another breath in. She felt a cold grip around her neck. Pain spread into her shoulders and her head. Dragon claws dug into her throat and she tried to cough or gag but no sound escaped her. She tried to kick but kicked only air. Tried to scratch the hands that held her but their grip only tightened.
And then the world blurred. The white sky spread like a blanket that enveloped all. Even the pain seemed to dull a little. And out of the whiteness came a myriad of voices. Murmurs that reached out for her. Whispers that lifted her up. Soft words, impossible to decipher and unravel in their multitude, carried her towards a fissure that was opening above her.
Black light spilled out from where the white had ruptured and seeped into the sky. The girl let out a scream that tore through the bodiless voices around her. They dropped her and she fell. There was no one to catch her. Nothing to break her fall. But the fissure began to close like a wound in the fabric of space that healed. Out of the white, contours emerged like figures out of thick mist.
And the girl stood
Read Part III here.
Written by Merle Emrich.
Cover photo by Merle Emrich.