by Joseph Zieja
A butterfly landed on Zaifa’s nose. She giggled as its tiny legs tickled her skin. Her laughter scared the butterfly away, but that didn’t take away from the joy of seeing its bright blue wings flutter in the air around her head.
She felt so warm. White clouds danced around above her head on the canvas of a perfect blue sky, forming the shapes of animals if she looked hard enough. A field of sunflowers swirled like waves of gold in the gentle breeze. She ran her hands along their petals and walked lazily to and fro with no particular destination. There was peace, here. Such wonderful peace.
Her soft linen dress brushed up against the stems of the sunflowers, tickling her knees. She looked down. A ladybug had clasped on to the brim of her skirt, taking a quick ride on its hem. It had nine spots. She counted.
Soon she’d wander home to her small cottage where one of her mother’s mulberry pies no doubt waited for her on the windowsill. Zaifa loved her mother’s mulberry pie, and she couldn’t remember the last time she’d had it. A wonderful treat on a wonderful day.
Zaifa stumbled, crushing one of the sunflower stems. The ladybug panicked and flew away, buzzing in circles as it made its escape. She really couldn’t remember the last time she’d had her mother’s mulberry pie. She frowned, trying to think of what it smelled like, what it tasted like with a glass of cool milk. It wasn’t that long ago, was it? Why couldn’t she remember it?
She stopped, staring through the ground. Did her mother ever make a mulberry pie? Zaifa tried to concentrate, to focus on what it looked like as it cooled in the summer air, but she couldn’t force the memory up. Lifting her foot, she looked at the fallen sunflower. A desiccated brown mass hung there like it had been dead for days. The petals cracked and crumbled, turning into dust that blew away in the wind. What did her mother look like? Her face tingled in the back of Zaifa’s mind like a distant memory, something that she had only briefly seen many years ago. But her mother had been there when she woke up this morning.
Zaifa realized she didn’t remember having a mother. Images of a woman with wispy brown hair and a kind smile evaporated from her mind like dewdrops in a raging fire, despite how desperately she clung to the memory. She looked up at the sky. The clouds swelled into gray, bleak monsters, moving across the sun and casting an expanding shadow that made the whole world seem dark.
This was wrong. Panic seized Zaifa in its twisting tendrils and clamped down. The rows of sunflowers burst into a cascading transformation, sending rippling waves of black coursing through the open fields. They blew away into clouds of ash, creating a dismal snowstorm in a wind that grew fiercer with every second.
Zaifa broke into a run. She had to get home. But where was home? What was home? She ran all the same, her bare feet scraping against rocks and pieces of broken glass that fell from the sky in a glittering rain. She felt the sting of the cuts, but didn’t stop.
She crashed into something. An invisible wall stuck her mid-stride and she staggered backwards, pain blossoming all over her body. The world of darkness caved in, consuming all light with it. The rising din of the chaos around her sank into soft murmurs, as though she’d suddenly been submerged in water. She heard muffled voices and struggled to open her eyes, but some heavy weight dragged them down. It took every ounce of strength for even a small sliver of light to enter her vision. She saw walls of stone and something red flash in front of her. For some reason, she thought it might have been a robe.
Of all of the memories that had just shattered, the vision of a red-robed man with gnarled teeth and a puckered scar across his face suddenly became frighteningly vivid in her mind.
“She is breaking free of the Mooring,” came a deep voice.
“It is not yet time for the prophecy to begin,” said another.
“She must not wake.”
“Prepare the rights.”
Zaifa struggled, but her muscles would not respond. A feeble whine came from the back of her throat. Another flash of red in front of her closing eyelids. The stone walls reverberated a low, soft chanting. It reminded her of one of her mother’s lullabies. She was so tired.
A butterfly landed on Zaifa’s nose.