This story is by Andres Palacios and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
I awake with a jump. A strong scent slithers its way to me. I perceive muffled voices in the distance of which I understand none of the words. There’s a dense but comfortable warmth around. Obscurity surrounds me, with a hint of a soft red light.
Where am I? I try to break free, but the effort is futile. I try to speak, but I’m incapable of articulating any words. I kick, but for what purpose if not to hit the air? I fall asleep to the rhythm of a pulse in the distance.
Ash falls like snow, trees are burnt, the road cracked, any sign of promise gone. My breathing falters, and I have a sense of unease that pursues me like a beast in the murk. What is this place?
“Humph, so young and already traveling this route, what brings you here darling?” a voice says in the distance. It sounds vicious.
I turn to look and no one’s there.
“Looking for me, were you?” the voice says, this time behind me, hands brushing my hair.
“Hey!” I shout, turning around and looking, and there it stands, the source of the voice and I’m surprised to see a young boy.
“Who are you?” I ask, while the boy smirks malevolently.
“Someone who most people are frightened about, try to run from me but can’t, few embrace me, but will you?” he says. He turns to dust and as fast as that I’m left alone in this grim place.
Who was that guy? Where am I? What did he mean about “embracing” him? As I look around, I realize there’s no way back, just onward.
I’ve been walking. It’s cold out here, nothing but decay.
“Miss, be careful,” a voice says. Near a tree a little kid stands with a rag as a shirt, his face dirty with smoke, but what surprises me is that there’s a faint golden hue around his body.
“Are you lost?” I ask, getting near him and brushing his hair.
“No, I was sent to find and warn you. I can’t go any further from here, you got to be careful, yes?” he says, a pleading look in his eyes.
“But what…” I couldn’t finish my thoughts as the kid disappeared leaving feathers in his wake.
Be careful with what? This place does look uninviting, but what can it hold if not just death?
I feel lost, sad, and desperate. Seeking answers in here is impossible.
Please let there be a flame of hope, I think to whoever might listen.
I hear a rustling in the distance, thinking it may be the wind, but from behind a bush that actually has leaves and green ones–what a miracle, I think–a girl appears, a white dress with vivid prints of flowers and butterflies makes her look graceful, and I find it fascinating that in between all this oblivion there is a burst of hope and life; the girl giggles and disappears behind the bush leaving a scent of fresh mint in her way.
I run behind her and without thinking I jump towards the bramble.
I emerge in a wonderland. A scale of colors that manifest in indescribable flowers surround me. My heart beats like hummingbird wings as my hopes elate.
The girl stands some feet away from me, smiling clumsily and starts to run away with intent. I follow her, but it’s a tricky path, it has twists and turns.
I run through the pathways for a long time, when, suddenly, my breathing staggers-but not because I’m tired, but it seems there’s something around my neck.
I fall to the ground dizzy, I look up and realize that I’m in the same place where I started, the girl in front of me, her hair turning into a velvet black and I close my eyes.
Ropes around my neck, it’s almost impossible to breath, I hear the faint voices in the distance. They get closer. What’s happening?
I open my eyes again, the girl now completely obscure, the world around me turns into a swirl of darkness and creatures that desire to take away any signs of faith.
“Pa, I brought her as requested,” the girl says jumping excitedly, and from the shadows the older boy I met first, appears. His wicked smile present. The colors I once saw now extinguished and the flowers now sadly dead, a scent of smashed dreams lingers around.
“Good child, he says. The girl runs and disappears laughing. Then he says to me, “Now, as I was once asking, will you, will you embrace Death?”
From the distance, a pleading and sweet voice sounds, saying, “Please honey. Come on, you can do this. Be brave.” A warmth and loving hope comes rushing through the air.
I look up to see the guy confused and enraged and I say, “no, I won’t embrace you yet.”
I move, and turn, I fight.
I see something, there’s light?
I open my eyes to see a turquoise room, I’m lying on the floor with a blanket on top, sunshine breaking through the window like an outpouring of dreams collected in a beam of light; butterflies painted on the walls that come to life and swirl with the wind, and fog around me in the floor. What is this place? I wonder.
You’re back, a voice speaks, but not around me, but inside me.
Back from where? I ask in my thoughts.
Follow me, the voice speaks again.
Footsteps made out of light become clear in the mists around me. They have no sound, but if they had, happiness is what they would sound like. I walk down the stairs just out of the room. What is that smell? Something like childhood memories and joy, not like the one that came the first time, that was strong and bitter.
I get out of the house. Clouds cover every inch of the place like a protective halo.
The kid that previously warned me now comes running, but this time with a set of wings and neat blue robes. He hugs me. I’m confused. Where am I?
My beautiful girl, you wouldn’t understand what happened for now, the voice says inside of me taking a breath then continuing, I just want you to know how brave you are. You are a fighter and a loving light. Death wanted to trick you, but couldn’t. Your mother was from above giving you all her strength, love, and hope. You both fought. Now go. The world awaits your greatness. Carry that light, as I will always be there.
I wake up.
I see a shocking white light, air rushes into my lungs, giving me the life I was craving all along.
I hear crying and two loving hands rapping me in an eternal embrace.
“Oh my baby girl, you made it, you made it, I knew it,” mom says, tears of joy falling down her dazzling face.
“How will you name it Mrs.?” a nursing voice says.
“Faith, since I had a lot of it, mom says taking a breath of happiness then finishes by saying, you got the cord all tangled around yourself little Faithy. You were strong, I knew it.”
And so I smile.
There’s no darkness, no fear, nothing but love and the expectation of what’s to come. I wasn’t the only one fighting.
I had an army of light and I still have it.
4 YEARS LATER
I open my eyes to see a turquoise room. I’m lying on the floor with a blanket on top, sunshine breaking through the window like an outpouring of dreams collected in a beam of light; butterflies painted on the walls that seem alive and pure, and rugs around me in the floor. Two affectionate arms around me that snuggle me with care. What is this place? It’s home