Narrated by Bob Eccles
I closed my eyes. My arms opened wide like wings, my feet left the ledge; my body light and weightless. I was flying. In that moment I wasn’t giving up. I didn’t need to be better or different. I was enough. More than I had been in years — ever, maybe. The air whipped passed me. I heard the sounds of the city below; the sounds of everything that I no longer wanted, the sounds of everything that didn’t want me. I opened my eyes to see it all one last time.
Suddenly, I was falling. No, not falling, plummeting.
The place I was supposed to be leaving was coming toward me fast. The sounds became louder. The scent of the city filled my nose.
My heart accelerated. My arms waved the magnifying picture away. My feet kicked hard trying to propel me upward. But I only fell faster. I closed my eyes again to block the sight. Stinging tears welled up behind the lids. I held my breath, waiting as the air whipped passed me. I braced myself for a hard, painful impact…
And then I wasn’t airborne.
I landed in what felt like a pile of soft down pillows. Soft wasn’t what I expected. My eyes opened with haste.
Blades of green lush grass cradled me. My face twisted in confusion. I sat up looking, searching for something, but for what I did not know. The grass stretched across a field so large it looked like it went on for miles. The sky was immense, an azure blanket dotted with cotton. In the distance where the grass and sky met, the sun was setting in an orange explosion. I turned to see what was behind me. The movement should have been swift but something felt wrong, I felt…slow. I let the thought float away because what laid in front me filled my mind with a curiosity so grand, I felt compelled to go toward it.
An archway molded by white stone covered in climbing lavender roses beckoned me. On both sides of it stood two strong magnolia trees with shiny leaves, dark and wide, with blooms so white they almost glowed. I desperately wanted to get closer. Still feeling weightless, I cautiously rose to my feet. I took off my shoes, wanting to feel the plush grass between my toes.
As I approached the archway, I could hear giggles from the other side. It was a fabulous sound, sweet and innocent. The smell of roses became strong, so strong it made my head swim. I stared passed the arch. Everything on the other side of the portico began to waver. I stepped through, a little shaky, a little dizzy, but curious.
Oh, the majesty! Never could I imagine a place such as the garden I stepped into. The colors, vivid, like nothing I’d ever seen before. The grass, like that I landed in, was lush, but this grass was a deep shade of green that looked like it had been painted. There was so much green. Large wispy jade ferns, emerald tree tops, bice bushes and hedges. Flowers taller than me and wider than I’d ever seen, were bright with gold, violet, and orange blooms; tulips, lilies, daisies. Some of the daisies had yellow faces full with blinking eyes and smiling mouths. Their stems were like bodies and their uppermost leaves like arms.
Arms that waved me forward.
I stepped closer, but my movements weren’t right. I could feel myself trying to walk, but as fast as I wanted to go, to explore, I felt restricted. I tried again with the same result. Something about this place slowed me down. I stopped fighting the pace I was being given and stepped, this time successfully moving forward, concentrating. And as I moved further into the garden, the scent of roses faded away. Honeysuckle and jasmine floated on a light breeze.
I reached to touch a fern and to my surprise it giggled, causing its delicate fronds a slight shake. The laughter was contagious. The other ferns began to laugh and soon after they started, a smile found its way passed my incredulity and I laughed too. The sound of my laughter sent echoes through the air. When the chortles subsided, I was left with an unfading smile.
An orange daisy turned its face to me; large green eyes gazed upon me. I almost expected it to speak. It stretched out its arms to me silently asking for an embrace. I nervously complied. It felt warm and loving, like the hugs my mother used to give me. The hug made me long for my mother, not the distant and cold woman she became, but the caring, loving woman she once was when I was a little girl. A pang of sadness swelled in my heart. A wet drop hit my face from above. When I looked up, the orange daisy was crying. I too began to cry, sobbing with such ferocity that salty tears rolled into my mouth. I lifted myself on my tiptoes and gave orange daisy a kiss on the cheek. Its tears tasted sweet. When I let go and backed away, I noticed the other daisies wiping their eyes. A violet flower blew me a kiss.
The air became thicker and warmer as I walked. I could feel my heart accelerating, but the slow movements my body was making gave no release to my adrenaline. I began to run, and although my legs didn’t push me forward as fast as I would have liked, I moved steadily, my pace almost that of a slow walk. I looked around as I went, trying to see everything.
Water babbled in the distance.
“Come this way,” called a whisper.
Startled, I stopped and searched my surroundings for the voice.
“Come, Lenora. Come this way.”
A yellow flag with black stripes ruffled in the distance. Wings! A butterfly big enough to ride waited for me in the distance. With my eyes open wide, I followed as commanded. And as I did, the very large butterfly’s antennae pointed me to a walkway.
“Hurry Lenora,” it called to me.
I tried to push myself, but I could not go faster.
Suddenly, the ground began to tremble. The thick air helped hold my balance. The butterfly flew away. The flowers stilled and the ferns stopped laughing.
“Waaaiiit,” I heard myself say, my voice sounding lethargic and muffled.
I stood at the entrance of a pathway heavily veiled by vines, paralyzed by fear, my breathing wanting to accelerate. The thick air made me cough. I gasped, and as I did, the fattest, most adorable baby toddled by. He made no sound and for the first time since I walked through the archway, the garden was quiet, still. His cherubic face brightened in a smile. I wanted to pinch his round cheeks and snuggle him. Looking at him made me yearn for a child of my own, lamenting what my body couldn’t do.
I was lost in the baby’s deep brown eyes when the screaming started. The ferns shrieked, shaking themselves violently. The sky darkened to purple. The grass turned black. The tulips went limp, the lilies shriveled, the daisies covered their faces. I gasped as the air thickened. The scent of honeysuckle and jasmine was replaced with the sickening odor of carrion. The sun turned red making the temperature rise. As thunder clapped in the distance, the clouds turned pink, and burst, raining deep red blood. Everything was turning red.
The daisies uncovered their faces one by one. They were angry, completely wicked looking. All of their eyes were focused on me. With a whooshing sound, fire erupted behind me. The flames licked my back. Screaming, I turned to find the ground opening. I teetered on the edge. The baby turned to me, laughing. His face no longer that of an angel, it was impish.
“It’s time to go, Lenora!”
He ran toward me, thrust his arms out and pushed me.
I was falling. No not falling, plummeting.
Then, I was burning.
AUTHOR BIO: Katanie Duarte is a short story writer and poet. She currently lives just outside of Los Angeles, California with her husband and three children. Her obsession with literature and the macabre serve as inspiration for the worlds and characters she creates. Her short story “Him” appears in Paranormal Horror- An Anthology.