Chapter One: When A Timeless Life is Abruptly Interrupted By An Obnoxious Stranger Who Thinks He Is Rather Witty Indeed
It was a grey wood, in an overall sense. Some bits were whiter, some bits were blacker. The trees were tall and the roots were short. Sometimes they couldn’t even remember to exist. An understandable quality. The sky, when the girl remembered to look up—because of course there was a girl in this wood—was mostly white. The ground was mostly black. There was a pool in the middle of the wood that the girl liked to play in. The pool was exactly grey.
There was nothing beyond the wood and hardly anything within, either. The girl, her mother. Because of course there wasn’t a little girl all alone in a wood. Yet. There was a little cottage in a big tree. It was where the mother and girl used to live. Back when they needed somewhere to live. They hadn’t been inside in a while, though. They couldn’t entirely remember what it was for, if we’re being honest. The girl and her mother kept the exactly grey pool weeded and calm. Well, the mother kept it weeded and calm. The girl splashed around in it and laughed and squealed. The mother smiled and weeded and sang, memories swirling around at the edges of her mind, her daughter swirling around the edges of the pool. The mother bent down and took hold of a weed. It was smoky and grasping, and curled around her hand. It felt almost like a thought. She yanked it up and threw it to the edge of the pool. It sat out in the open air for a little bit, but space was just so much lighter outside of the pool. The weed expanded out and out and out and out until its dark bits became shadow and it light bits became, well, light.
“What were you singing?” The girl asked, giggling and splashing. The mother smiled, slightly confused. She couldn’t remember.
“Mother?” The girl asked, pausing. Her mother had been doing that, lately. Singing, then stopping. That look on her face. Of something forgotten, perhaps, or something never known.
“The butterfly’s dream,” the little girl asked. “I want to hear the butterfly‘s dream.”
“You always want the butterfly‘s dream,” the mother said, laughing, bending down, plucking a new weed from the pool. “I think it’s about time you picked a new favorite.”
“You know, mother,” the girl said, pausing mid-leap, “it’s funny, but, now that I think about it, I don’t think I know any other song?” She tapped her fingers along the surface of the grey water. Her mother shrugged.
“Well, then, maybe you should come up with a new one.”
“That’s sounds like a lot of work.”
“Oh? And you have better things to do?”
The girl giggled, resuming her rampage. Of course she had better things to do. She couldn’t remember what, but she was sure they were out there. Waiting to be done.
The world cracked and the woods shuttered. The suddenness of it knocked the mother and her daughter to their knees. Which, considering they were both in a pool, meant they both fell to below the surface. The girl came up, gasping and a little cross eyed. The mother, however, came up remembering something. Not much, but something.
Their world cracked again, loud and sudden, and everything shifted. A roaring wind rushed through the trees. It was from another place, and it screamed, and then it was gone. The thousand trees burst into a thousand thousand splinters. The splinters floated gently down, in no particular rush to be settled. The air, dazed, was thick with them. They were very old splinters. Ancient, even. In another world, they would have been eternal. But this place had a funny relationship with time. And so the splinters—merely very, very old—floated, lazily, lightly. They had never rushed before and saw no need to rush now.
The mother, however, was in something of a hurry. She grabbed the little girl, who stood frozen in the middle of the pool.
“Child, look at me,” she said, gripping her by the shoulders. The girl blinked, dazed. Somewhere out of sight, a thing screamed.
“Mother, what was that?” The little girl whispered.
“I don’t know. But I need you to listen. Can you do that for me?”
“Darling, I need you to listen.”
“Yes, mother,” the little girl said, nodding. Her mother was using her serious voice. A voice the little girl had never actually heard. Not in this wood, anyway.
The mother nodded as well, satisfied that the little girl was listening. She plucked a pendant from around her neck. It was silvery and bright, a little orb with four centers.
“Good. Now, listen. My darling child. This is going to hurt.”
“Wha—“ but the little girl didnt have time to finish the question. Her mother had reached down and pressed the orb into the little girls chest.
The little girl screamed. She screamed and screamed and screamed. Her chest exploded. Not literally. But almost. Pain was all the girl could comprehend. For all she knew, it was all she had ever known.
Her mother wasn’t paying attention, busy as she was singing. They were old words, from an old song. Not the Butterfly’s Dream, though. It was a song the mother had all but forgotten she knew. As she sang the orb flaked to tiny, silvery pieces, delicate whispers in a crumbling, delicate wood. The flakes fluttered into the little girls body, knitting their way through her skin and bones.
The girl screamed and the mother sang and the thousand thousand splinters settled onto the dark, shadowy ground. The grey wood, now pillowy and soft, stretched out further than mother or daughter could see. Which meant very little. They couldn’t see very far at all. The mothers eyes were closed, after all. And there was, as previously mentioned, only pain for the little girl.
A creature waded through the grey splinters, silent and unseen. It was a strange creature, relatively speaking. It was not from this place. The wood dissolved around the edges and the creature waded faster, not wanting to get caught out in the nothing. The mother sang and the woods shrank and the girl screamed.
“What are—are you collapsing this place—seriously???” The creature asked, winded, tired, and hungry. A splitting headache flashed across its eyes.
“Sooooo paranoid,” it muttered, reaching the edges of the pool. The pool was a lot smaller than the creature thought it would have been.
The mother finished her song. She held the little girl in her arms. The girl was limp, though her eyes were open.
“I love you,” the mother whispered, kissing the little girl on her forehead. “No matter what happens, remember that, my darling.” The creature tried not to roll its eyes.
“You have to be stronger than the pain,” the mother whispered.
The silence became suffocating as the space where the wood had been ceased to exist, and the creature knew its time was up. It jumped into the pool as the little girl began to stir. She opened her eyes as the creature reached her and her mother. The grey wood was now only a breath larger than the grey pool. The grey pool, the creature, the girl and her mother.
“I love you,” the mother said.
“So dramatic,” the creature muttered, giving in to the eye roll. It stabbed the mother in the back. Right below C-7, just between the shoulder blades. It shoved the blade—nondescript, no handle—In as deep as it would go, just to be safe.
The girls eyes widened. The creature frowned, a little off-put by the girls eyes. They were completely grey. No pupils, no irises. Just grey.
The mothers body expanded out into nothing, kind of like the weeds she was always picking. Out, out, and then nothing but bright silver light.
There was a sucking noise, a primordial inhale, that flattened the creature and the little girl to the bottom of the pool. To below the bottom of the pool. And beyond that, too, and they were pulled and stretched and compressed and disappeared, far past the wood or its memory. And the wood collapsed in and in and in until it was gone. No, until it was Gone.