Author : Paul Alex Gray

I must have been last to die.

“Mountains? You’re thinking of mountains.”

As she speaks the fog lifts and sunshine spills down upon a barrier of rocky hills. The ground trembles as the hills grow larger, becoming jagged peaks, white capped like teeth. Sunlight reflects, a blinding silver glare.

I imagine I can taste blood in my mouth. A burning sensation courses through me. I think I’m falling. No, not falling. Spinning, being thrown and torn apart. The memory of smoke lingers.

I am whole. Unbroken. I am naked. No, I am dressed in civilian clothes. Did I wish them back? Did she?

“Who are you?” I ask, my voice loud and tender.

The wind tousles her hair. Something touches within my mind, cold fingers wrapping around something flickering and faint.

She holds out a hand and a butterfly descends to land on her finger. Its wings rise and fall like a breath.

“That’s it.” She says.

A hollowness rings in my mind. I think of an empty room.

“Am I dead?”

She turns and speaks.

“We are at a place where you may live forever.”

The butterfly takes flight. Her face causes my heart to ache. It’s a lie of my own telling. This isn’t her.

“Why do you think that?”

The smile is too big. It grows wider still. Her eyes flash for a moment and her face rights itself, shifting back to something familiar. A little younger but still an echo.

I close my eyes, trying to shake her face from my memory. This corruption. Thoughts tumble and crash. If I could imagine a weapon. Maybe I could kill… her.

“You want to hurt me?”

The mimicry is perfect. I shiver, cast back in time.

The swing set. She had screamed with delight as I pushed her higher. We had made lemonade at home. The next morning I joined my unit and we had flown to the Borderlands.

The Rift span half submerged in the rocky earth. A slow spinning whirlpool of smoke which expunged hot fetid air. It was sending death from that place beyond. Entering might be a one way trip, we knew.

They said to keep quiet as we approached. Not to speak. Try not to even think shouted the Major. Another marine had told me the rumors on the ride in. They hear your thoughts. They get into your head.

The battle had been brief. Barely a battle at all. It was too powerful. There was an explosion. A rupture…

What was I thinking? A thought spills from my mind. Walking outside to the garden. There is a heavy fog. I cannot see through it. I pause on the deck. There is a coldness. Something has been taken.

“Come push me!”

The fog has gone. She sits still in the swing set, smiling at me. I smile back and walk towards her, the grass damp beneath my bare feet.

I hold the metal chains and pull them back. I pull and push, lifting her higher. She shrieks and giggles with delight. It is a beautiful sound.

“Tell me a story, Daddy.”

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