Pain raged through her body. Willow’s hand trembled as she ran fingertips over her face. Her skin felt sticky. Blood? She couldn’t tell. A hard cold surface pressed against her back as she peered up at a wood-beamed ceiling. She tried to focus on something, anything familiar. A shiver ran across her and she clenched her teeth to keep them from chattering. She squinted, trying to make out details in the dark room. She tried to rise, but when she pushed against the floor, her movement hurt.
What happened? Someone help.
She brought her arms up. Long, dark gashes crisscrossed her skin. She placed her hands on her chest and abdomen. When she removed them, something dark blanketed her palms. The strong copper smell of blood filled her nose. To quell the fear, she grabbed the sleeve of her shirt and wiped her eyes.
Unable to sit up, she craned her neck to view her surroundings. Damaged furniture lay scattered about the floor gainst the background of charred walls. The scent of burnt wood and paint hung thick in the air. She closed her eyes again. When she opened them, nothing had changed. The nightmare was real. This was all real.
Willow raised her head. A wave of dizziness overcame her and her stomach lurched. A rotten taste filled her mouth.
Mom. Where is she? Why isn’t she here?
Uncertainty and abandonment raced through her mind. She looked around. Blood. She sat in a pool of it. Her heart throbbed in her throat. Tears welled in her eyes. Her hands quaked. Her own body fought against her. 2 comments
Stop! Focus. Just focus. Calm down. Breathe. I need help.
A howling scream came from far away. Her own voice escaped her parched throat. She lifted an arm, leaned over, and lost her balance. The smack of the hard floor against her back made her shudder with pain. 2 comments
An open door. Her heart quickened. Moving onto her stomach, one arm in front of the other, she slowly pulled her unwilling body across the flat surface. Her legs, heavy and useless, dragged behind her. Her arms shook in the struggle to move closer. 2 comments
Just a little bit more. No use.
The room deepened into a tunnel as life slipped away. Sleep. Just a little sleep. It would be over then. Her eyelids drooped, too heavy to keep open. She succumbed. Darkness carried her away.
A warm, peaceful sensation washed through her. Did I die? She floated. The air changed, no longer the coppery smell of blood, burnt wood, and paint, but now an outdoor smell. Her labored breath fell quiet to a gentle breeze.
Willow opened her eyes to a sunlit meadow and raised a hand to subdue the bright light and struggled to understand where she was. Heaven? Could this be my heaven? This is so beautiful. What I always imagined it to be. She ran her hands over her body. No pain. No gashes. No blood.
Flowers danced and rolled with every flicker of the wind, reminding her of the waves of the ocean. An indigo sky hung above. Smiling, she glanced up. A large gnarled trunk twisted and turned high over her. She rubbed her fingers on the aged bark. It felt familiar, like home. A wave of sadness swept over her. I’ll never see home again. She leaned her forehead against the tree.
The limbs danced and tossed in the wind’s grip. Every sway contributed to an entrancing melody, like a sweet lullaby. The leafy tendrils wrapped around her and their gentle embrace comforted her. The branches lifted her into the heart of the tree and cradled her.
“Willow,” a female voice called.
Willow’s breathing quickened as she searched for the source.
“Willow, my darling.”
“Hello. Who’s there?” A cool breeze wafted through the leaves and Willow’s senses reeled when she realized how high she perched.
“Be not concerned with who I am. Be more concerned with who you are,” the voice said with a soft tone.
“I’m Willow.” Her arm shook as she balanced herself against the trunk.
“Yes, you are.” The voice floated closer to her.
Willow shifted her weight, hunting for the voice’s owner.
“Whom do you seek?” the voice asked.
“You. I want to see you. I just want to know what’s going on.”
“Me.” The voice paused. “I see.” A small laugh filtered down. “You’re not ready to know me, let alone see me.”
The truth of her death became clearer and tears welled in her eyes. “Am I in heaven?”
“No darling, you’re not in heaven. Are those tears?”
A cold touch, like a finger, swiped across Willow’s face.
Willow touched her face where she felt the sensation. “What is this place? I’m frightened. I want to go home.”
“You’re in a safe place. Nothing can harm you here.” The voice paused. “Sometimes when the body suffers great pain, the soul escapes for a while. It’s a way of protecting the essence of a person.” She gave a sigh. “It comes at a great cost.”
“So . . . I’m in limbo? My body is somewhere else? How will I get back?”
“When it’s time.” The voice hesitated. “Willow!”
“Willow, breathe!” a male voice said.
Something pressed down on her chest.
The branches loosened their grip. She fell. Fear and pain collided in a thunderous rush and a tunnel of wind swept her up and back into her painful body.
Flashing lights pierced the darkness around her. Shadowy figures drifted in and out of focus.
“Did you find anyone else around?” a man asked.
“I just found her. She was alone,” a woman answered. “Who do you think did this? I mean, why would anyone be this cruel?”
“Hang in there. We’re gonna get you help,” a second woman said as she came closer.
Willow blinked a couple times and saw beautiful blue eyes staring back at her. She allowed herself to inhale deeply and loosen tight muscles.
“I can’t believe this has happened . . . here. It’s starting,” the second woman said. “It’s too early. What will we do?”
Talk to me. Please. Can’t you hear me? Help me, please. Just take my pain away.
“We need to think about helping Willow first,” the man said.
“You’re right.” The first woman placed her hand on Willow’s forehead and pushed the hair from Willow’s face.
The man bent close and pressed his fingers against Willow’s neck. “I feel a heartbeat, but we have to get her out of here.”
Her stomach roiled and lurched toward her mouth. She turned her head and vomited. A moan escaped her lips.
“Stay with us, Willow,” the man said.
Let me go! Just let me go. The pain is unbearable. I don’t have the strength.
She heard the concern in the voices surrounding her. She closed her eyes and felt the darkness pulling her in. Willow shuddered as the cold grip of death crept through her veins.
This must be it. This must be how it feels when your body decides it can no longer sustain life.
A warm hand touched her shoulder and she glanced up at a young man. His golden eyes were moist with tears. She stared at him. Someone this beautiful regarded her with caring and empathy. Then he stepped back into the shadows and disappeared.
A man with long black hair placed his hand on her shoulder. “We’ll be there soon. Hang on.”
A jerk. Then a forward movement.
Just stop. No more. Please. I can’t take it.
A voice infiltrated her thoughts. “We’re here,” the older man said. Mass confusion filled the next few minutes as people rushed around. Muffled voices. Gasps.
Everything became a blur.