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A single dusty beige path twirled away from a pair of hiking boots. She scanned the accordion paper’s tangled green lines, searching for other options. However, the lines on the paper didn’t correspond with the paths in front of her. There was only one path. One dusty, fading, rocky path. Where were the others? With her eyes, she singed a hole into the map, but it refused to cough up its answers. She looked to her right at the frosty dirt below. A lone, pale violet wildflower pirouetted aimlessly. Silvia sighed as her fingers deftly folded the map again, and her palms found her worn pockets. They knew where to go, back to a familiar, warm place. Her feet, on the other hand, stayed rooted, unsure. They couldn’t go back to a familiar warm place.
An ocean of evergreens rose sharply before her solitary silhouette, like a frozen tsunami. Their branches seemed to be melded together into a barrier of needles and bark, and their tall, over-hanging fingers scraped a shiver across her shoulder blades. This dark, impending hurdle was so tall that it almost blotted out the wall of grey above her. For a split second, the grey wall cracked, allowing a shaft of light to illuminate a smooth table of stone at the crest of the forest. Heathery tufts of violet and peach came into view, floating from the rock, swaying with the sea breeze. The beam lit up not only the unwrinkled stone, but also a dirt path leading up to it. A beige, dusty, rocky path. It emerged from the impenetrable mass of trees triumphantly towards the stone. Abruptly, the crack in the clouds closed and the rock sank back into the black forest.
She arched her back as she watched the crack disappear. A star-shaped ache melted across her muscles. People were always telling her to watch her back. She tried, but so many activities involved your back. Hiking included. Going up that path would definitely not help these aches. She was able to do it once, but now…
As she shook her head, her hair tossed and twirled its way out of the tight bun at the nape of her neck. The nipping wind pulled stray wisps of her hair away from the dripping silver waves. They tugged upward, towards the smooth stone. Her hands shot up to tuck them away as she turned and walked away from the forested cliff.
The toes of her boots haphazardly turned onto one of the paths leading away, and she begrudgingly followed them to a mossy and slightly moldy clearing in the heather. The air was stale this morning, she noted as she folded herself into an indentation in the ground. The grasses were sparse around her. There used to be flowers here. Peach and violet petals would polka dot if she squinted at the scenery. Now empty stalks hung limply, only a shell of the flowers of before.
Her cloud blue eyes scanned the grey field before her, searching for nothing, something, anything. Maybe a shriveled peachy petal, evidence of its existence in the past. Or just something to focus on, something besides the masses and masses of grey, more grey. Except… there, back where she had been standing, in front of the massive forest. Her eyes fixed on the violet twirling flower again. She used to see such colors all the time. Its gracefully wrapped petals swayed, twisted, bent and twirled in random order, and yet with such purpose. Twirling, twirling, pirouetting.
The orchestra below was at full throttle. Flutes and oboes flung out dancing, circling notes. Violins and cellos crescendoed as the horns followed the percussion instruments. And there on stage, in the middle of it all, was Silvia St. Anthony, swirling around and around, her glittering violet skirts falling and rising in time with her toes. Her willowy arms stretched out in preparation for the final leap. The grand sound emanating from the orchestra pit suddenly fell to a pianissimo. Then the sound gradually crescendoed as Silvia took her precursory steps, running towards the awaiting prince charming. With a skip, she took off, legs extended like wings. Below her, the orchestra froze in their frantic movements to gaze up at her soaring figure. The audience gaped at the sight of her, so free and sure. Her hands reached out to hold on to this frozen moment forever.
A fluff of wind jerked a silver strand of hair into her line of sight, obscuring the dancing flower in the field of vacant stems. Silvia bowed her head, squeezing it between her bent knees clutched to her chest. She tried to hold on to the last remaining sensations of her pointed toes slicing through the painted skies, following the right path. But the silky cold light from the early morning sun, obscured by clouds, extinguished the flame that had leapt over her skin as she flew through the air again, in her mind. That was the only place she could fly now. In her mind.
That thought jolted her head up. The only place she could fly now was in her mind. The sudden realization made her shudder, and a tear slipped out of the corner of her eye. Her hand brusquely sped toward the tear, and then halted by her lip. It fell slowly back to the frozen ground as the tear haltingly slid down the ridge of her nose. Her fingers ground into the loose dirt, fingernails scraping against the ice embedded in the ground. They skidded right through, though, leaving her hands shooting through nothing.
Silvia stood up slowly, one vertebra at a time, the lines at the corners of her eyes deepening when she grimaced at the ache in her back. She walked towards the cliff again, but not towards the forest. Skirting around that dark barrier, she reached the edge of the rocky drop off. The ocean wind pulled her hair in front of her face as she peered down to the turbulent swirling waves. The toes of her scuffed boots hung off the edge, and her movement caused small fragments of earth to chip off and spill into the void below, lost forever. She lifted her face to the wall of cloudy sky above, and with her outstretched arms, she felt the buffeting wind push and pull her. Her eyelids closed as she rocked. A tear tugged the tip of her mouth downward, towards the void. Nothing anchored her to this world. Another tear slid out of the corner of her eye as her shoulders sagged. She let her arms drift down as she stepped away from the edge. Nothing anchored her to this world.
It used to be that the heavy weight in the bottom of her toe shoes would pull her back down to earth, anchor her. But it had been many years since her feet had been embraced by their satiny peach fabric. Her feet wouldn’t fit now. Nothing did anymore.
She turned back towards the black wall of pines, halting in front of the path. The image of that stone, high above the barrier, flew into her mind. The violet and peach heather… Skirts rising and falling in time, twirling, twirling. To leap again…
A sharp, floating note reverberated through the sky, ending in a strangled, longing cry. High above Silvia’s head, a bird circled the cliff, wings spread wide, floating lost in the current. Moving between its home in the forest and the ocean void below, it seemed to be hesitating, as if fearful of its task. It continued its cycle around the area for a while, until it suddenly tucked into itself and dove downward towards the leaping sea. It hurtled down like a comet, pulling up at the last minute to scoop up a flash of silver. With a few flaps, it was high in the clouds again, rising and falling in time with the wind.
Silvia glared up at the twirling bird, her fists curling inward and her lips tightening. Why was she the only one not allowed to fly? The only place she could fly now was in her mind. She ground her heel into the crunchy dirt as the twirling violet mocked her. So free and sure. That was how it was when she was young. A strain of silver flaunted in front of her face. She yanked her mane of silver high up on her head. She twisted the tower, once, twice, thrice, and wrapped it around itself. As she secured it with a hairband, she felt the familiar ridges of this high, juvenile bun. She used to do this every morning with her soft brown waves.
She stared down at her shoes, so clunky and pointless compared to the silky peach ones. Tugging and shoving her feet out of the tightly tied boots and fuzzy socks, she immersed her delicate toes in the frosty ground. The icy crystals melted onto her feet, revealing the scars from past performances. Slowly the frost numbed her feet. Above her head, the twirling bird sang again, this time a slicing note ending completely.
Jolting awake, she uprooted her frozen feet and circled the clearing before the forest wall. At first she avoided looking at it, but then, after a while, she started to notice a change in its appearance. It wasn’t actually a dark, dense void. It was more of a wrinkly, pale little gathering of trees. Her eyes flit upon the beige path again… What if… just maybe…
A gust of wind washed over her, setting her skin on fire. The hairs on her arms sprang up, and her eyelids flashed open. Lifting onto the balls of her bare feet, she dove into the trees.
She sank further and further into the forest’s ashen depths.The fire burning on her sent her sprinting over fallen trees, dark mossy rocks, and masses of needles. Her feet lost track of the beige, dusty path, but she kept moving. The finger branches from above reached after her gazelle figure, but never catching up to her. Slivers of light hovered down from above. Slowly, the slivers became larger and the ground less rocky.
Suddenly, her toes hit soft, smooth dirt. She had found the path again. Its beige dust wrapped around her dewey frozen feet as she approached a staircase of stones. She paused, bent down to rest her elbows on her knees, panting. The ache blossomed in her back as she stood up. Ignoring it, she took a deep breath, and pulled herself up onto the smooth table of stone.
The world spread out before her, she was standing on a pop-up atlas. In the east, the gloomy clouds parted for the incoming sun, and Silvia watched and caught her breath as the awakened light skipped and pranced across the land, illuminating purple mountain ranges, reflecting lakes, and shimmering fields. The light ventured up the stone to where her bare dusty feet were planted. It crawled up her skin, relighting the fire that had urged her up here. She lifted her willowy arms, reaching up to the sky, the sun, the clouds, the bird. Rising onto her toes, she extended a leg, and with a push, she twirled. Twirled and twirled, gracefully twisted, bent, twirled. Pirouetted. The sun reflected off of her silver hair and the violet and peach heather bent in time with her movements.