She opened her eyes as she fell asleep, the world melting and molding before her. The scene was a canvas waiting for paint to be smeared in loops and whirls. She existed beyond the realm of reality, her body a shadow apart from the writhing darkness. All she knew for a time was the peaceful grey, pulsating with potential to be something inherently more. The silence pressed against her eardrums, softly smothering any noise there might have been with calm nothingness. There was only the melted, distorted shadow and her, and they existed in perfect harmony.
Slowly though, the shadow slipped away bit by bit. It thinned, it shaped itself, it shifted. Trees rose up around her, lush and bioluminescent, reaching towards a bright, milky moon as if they could touch the sky. And what a sky it was, cluttered with too many stars, simply dripping with cosmic dust and smeared with all manner of neon color. It was shadowy in this realm, but alive with a sort of brightness reserved for comic books and fluorescent highlighters. Grass rooted itself in the nothingness and formed ground that wove itself in between the trees. The lush carpet of azure, rather than its typical green, spread like wildfire until no patch of ground was left unmarked by its blue glow. Rivers of starlight carved paths through the grass, and hills morphed like rising bubbles. Suddenly, there was no more shadow at all, woven as it was into the fabric of the new universe it created, and finally the world settled.
Wandering was her only option, and she happily did so, her feet skimming the ground as she explored the oasis. Every hue was new to her, yet altogether familiar. Every leaf a revelation, and an old recited verse. Only her own mind would come up with such a scene to present her with. She did as she assumed she did every night, though she didn’t know for sure, the memories foggy and fragile. Such is the plight of dreams, they have a short shelf life. All the same, she twirled underneath the canopies, convinced that this moonlit fantasy would be different. She would remember racing the fairy-like fireflies, diving beneath the current of the river and seeing a second sky reflected back at her, and listening for the sound of anything and still hearing nothing. The last detail surrounded her, the silence pervading where there should have been noise. Where was the sound of rustling? Of water rushing past the flora? But there was something, a tugging, as if a rope was tied to her chest. The sensation was soft, but present, urging her towards some destination. Curiously, she followed the feeling, barely noticing that as she neared where she was drawn to that her feet no longer touched the floor.
As she continued on, she no longer had to move, the force pulling her of its own accord. Scenery rushed around her, becoming blurs of blue, green, gold, and grey. Abruptly, though, she stopped moving, released and dropped down to the ground with care. There was a ripple in this glen, as if the trees couldn’t hold their shape and the grass would rather evaporate, ebbing towards a rip in the fabric of this new reality. It was almost like looking through a warped glass, though not nearly as easily understood, leaves turning into bubbles and being pulled towards the void before disappearing entirely. If she thought she’d have time to figure out the oddity, she was wrong, her body pulled through the rip and into a space simultaneously as small as the eye of a needle and as big as a concert hall, before plummeting into a freefall. The air felt cold, no longer hospitable and familiar, and all she could hear was her screams as she continued to cartwheel in the darkness.
But that was curious, the noise startling her into silence before smacking into the ground with a dull thud.
“Willow?” someone called out to her. “Is that you? It’s Selene.”
The woman on the ground emitted a groan of pain in response, her lungs struggling to inhale. Where was she? Who was Selene? Familiarity struggled to make itself known, but no clear recollection formed. What is going on? she thought, blinking and looking up at a sky that was grey and sooty.
“Willow?” the voice repeated, this time accompanied by the rushing sound of footsteps. “What are you doing here? How’d you get here?” A woman peered over her frantically, eyes assessing for any obvious injuries, but distracted again as a howl emitted from some unseen beast in the distance. “Quick now, the creatures are right behind us.” She was familiar. Who was she? “Come on! If you don’t hurry they are going to find us--” The sound of crackling brush interrupted the frantic warning. Wasting no further time, Selene grabbed her new companion by the wrist and hauled her up. “You have to run.”
Willow stumbled behind, her legs weak and shaky. Question after question looped around in her mind, and she found that she was no longer in a place she knew. No comforting peace, no stillness, no familiarity, only novelty. Her feet slapped the parched and cracked ground, grey dust rising around her shins. Dead brush and unidentifiable plants lay scattered on the ground, as if ripped from their roots and tossed to the side by a petulant child. Mountains rose on all sides, forming a bowl that cupped the gloom in an all consuming shade. Everything was death and decay and noise. Wind screamed, her heart thumped, branches crackled, and somewhere, a creature growled.
The pair ran for what seemed like eternity, their lungs burning for air. Willow could see what looked like a fortress in the distance, but the longer they ran, the further away it seemed. Gasping and wheezing, she stopped running and doubled over, pressing her hands into the solid earth. The sound of her impact with the ground sounded like a gunshot, snapping Selene out of her determined pace and making her turn around.
“No no no no no. Every night. Every night this happens to me” Selene whimpered to herself breathlessly, mindlessly, running back to the fallen woman. “We have to go, don’t you see? They’ll find us.” Her panicked eyes were filled with fresh tears, and the stains on her cheeks betrayed the old.
“What are you so afraid of?”
Howls emanated, approaching and getting louder.
“We have to go.”
“Where are we?”
With every word, gusts of wind picked up, creating tempest after tempest, roaring louder and louder.
“We’re almost safe.”
“Who are you?”
“Please don’t do this. We don’t have time. Please remember, sparrow. Please remember and get up!”
As Selene’s final statement rung out, silence fell like a thick blanket. The world faded all at once, consuming Willow in darkness. She saw images of a girl holding her hand, buying her ice cream, singing her songs, telling her stories, calling her sparrow, and then disappearing. Long forgotten hurt rang through the memory. Where had she gone? Why did she leave? questions resurfacing from long ago.
But the scene returned just as quickly. She could see Selene yelling at her, trying to pull her up, looking behind her as if the world depended on moving forward, but no noise reached Willow’s ears. As if the dream needed no further prompting, perhaps having grown bored with the fear imbued scene it had created, the world turned on end and they were both toppling upward, shadowed beasts collecting in the spot they had just been. The darkness of the sky consumed them and all was quiet.
Willow closed her eyes as she woke up, opening them again to find dull plaster and sunlight layered over with neon colors that slowly were fading. Confusion washed over her, where was Selene? And as the baffling feeling faded, loss took its place. Selene had found her, and then she was lost to the delirium of sleep once again.
“Sister,” she whispered, abruptly sitting up, blankets falling off of her in alarm. She had to find her. It had been years, but every second more that passed not talking to Selene was going to crush Willow under its weight. The same phantom tug as before began to pull with urgency. Get up, it seemed to say. Obeying, she wandered to the front door still only clad in pajamas, following the calling, hoping that this was more than just a dream. Her hand grabbed the handle, unlocking the chain with the other...
Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. An unknown caller. With a huff of impatience,Willow turned and picked up the phone, punching the green button. She had someone to find.
“Willow? Is that you? It’s Selene.”