The Harrow: Original Works of Fantasy and Horror, Vol 9, No 8 (2006)

THE WILD GIRL

© 2006 Tiffany Hamill
All rights reserved.

The Wild Girl was studying the glint of the bare light bulb on her katana. It glittered and sparkled and reflected her large lavender eyes. I could tell she was much taken with it. Either that or she was trying to ignore me. If she was, I didn't blame her. She and the bulb were the only things of any interest at all in my dream.

Elsewhere, water was boiling for tea. The sleepy aroma of chamomile came bubbling up to the surface in slow, hypnotic bursts. It filled my unconscious senses and if I had really thought about it, I might have been afraid I'd fall asleep within a dream, and then what would become of me? Slowly, two other figures — my parents — poured themselves each a cup and sat down with it around a low, Asian-style table. Around us in the wallpaper, bright, indistinct animated characters were dancing about unthinkingly. My head ached from the sight of them. I wanted immediately to escape — but where is there to escape to in a world that exists within my own mind?

Suddenly, the light bulb overhead flickered and The Wild Girl glared at it in annoyance over her blade. At once, everything else seemed to fade into the background, so that it was just her with her long, blue-black hair billowing in an imagined wind. She looks just like me. She always has in these dreams, except that my own hair is pulled back in a tight, painted braid and my eyes have never been so deep and bewitching as they flicker in the failing light.

"It's about time you changed that," she snapped.

"What?" I said. I felt awkward in her presence, as always; as if she was always expecting something of me — more than I could possibly give.

"You know what I mean!" But I didn't, so with a huff she returned to her reverie. I could see her brow furrow in thought, then soften into a mischievous grin.

"Come with me," she offered.

"What?" I repeated.

Then, with a sudden burst of action befitting an anime character, she shattered a nearby window and perched precariously on its ledge.

"Come with me," she repeated. Shining bits of glass lay strewn around her, but she remained uncut, for she's a living drawing like myself, and nothing short of eternity can harm an animated character. Still, I resisted coming close, even when she shouldered the katana reassuringly and offered me her hand.

I opened my mouth to respond — somehow — but was instead interrupted by the low, mechanical moaning — of a common, everyday weed-whacker.

***

For a while I tried to ignore it as the remnants of my dream scattered and evaporated within me, leaving nothing but bare reality. Dammit. I pushed the dream out of my mind and stumbled over to the window. The curtains in my room once bore the clear, bright designs little human girls used to like. And me. But they were worn and thin now — the ghosts of curtains. I pulled them gingerly across my face, drinking in the familiar, musty fragrance.

Down below my window, a neighbor was cutting the grass that grew up around his gravel yard. It had been an unusually wet winter for the desert, and the whole world seemed alive with weeds to be mowed down. Presently, one of the mechanical blades kicked up a rock, which brought his animated schnauzer out of the house and bounding about the yard, barking at every suspicious-looking bit of gravel, and yanking wildly at the weed-whacker with its painted teeth.

"Knock it off!" the neighbor growled over the whine of the machine, which he hurled at the poor dog in frustration. It yelped as the blades cut into its brightly colored paint, but was unharmed. Of course it was. It would bounce back, comically most likely. I leaned my furrowed brow against the cool window pane. What's wrong with me? What would The Wild Girl say, seeing me hide behind a little girl's curtains in my footy slippers, like this? I blushed. But it doesn't matter. She isn't real.

I sighed and walked away, with little if any bounce in my sleepy steps. How many mornings had I done the same? Maybe part of me thought something would be different, one morning — that I would see something new, as my eyes travel over the cluttered, stucco walls outside my room. All about me in the hallway were drawings — not living drawings like myself and the schnauzer, but ones on paper done in unmoving charcoal and pencil. Some depicted a foot or hand or the full, carefully-drawn figure of an infant, a toddler, a child, a teenager. They were the work of a classical artist. They were my mother's plans for creating me. I shivered slightly, remembering the story she told me when I wondered where I came from and why I'm not human, like them:

When your father and I got married, what we wanted most of all was a child. But we tried and tried and we could never have one the way most couples do. When we used to travel for your father's work, we would see children everywhere and were very lonely. Then when we lived in Japan for a while, we heard about how couples there who couldn't have human babies for one reason or another could create anime character children by drawing them. So we finally decided I should use what I learned in college to bring you into our lives...

And of course she created me to be as human as possible, with an intelligent heart and mind, unlike the damned dog, still mindlessly yipping at rocks, somewhere outside my window. Some days when I'm feeling especially bored and bitter, I look at these sketches and think that we are one in the same — both just drawings on display. I gingerly touched an old, familiar corner of one of the sketches, then turned and hurried down the hall.

Downstairs, the air was heavy with the earthy smell of coffee and toast. I stood in the doorway without saying anything and wondered, remotely, if I looked like I was on display even then.

"Morning, sweetie."

I poured myself a cup of coffee but refused the toast. After all, animated characters don't really need to eat and 'play mortal' unless they want to — or unless it's funny somehow, and I was certainly not feeling funny. "Morning," I said.

My father was sitting at the kitchen table with his feet up, flipping languidly through a fistful of printouts and travel brochures. He was a travel journalist before he retired. He still likes to do little reviews and fillers on tourist traps, for the fun of it, so to speak — though half of the time he just covers the same Northern Sedona inns over and over again. He shuffled his papers and bit off a piece of his toast.

"Are you packed yet?"

"Not yet," I said. And for a while, I just sat at the table, idly watching my mother stroll back and forth, tucking this and that into their suitcases. Truthfully, I didn't know exactly where we were going, but I would have gone along with them regardless, so it didn't really matter. I could feel the warmth of the coffee seeping into my paint. The caffeine wouldn't do me much good, of course, since I don't really have a bloodstream for it to work in, but I drink it anyway for the flavor. Plus, it gives me something to do with my hands in the morning. For an instant, my thoughts wandered back to the sleepy chamomile tea in my dream. Even the house in my dream is boring. Just like this house. Just like me. I picked up the mug, then changed my mind again and wandered out of the kitchen and into the living room.

The walls and end tables in the living room were covered with yellowing mementos from my parents' work and travels that they had accumulated through the years. Magazine features, decorated with pictures of little Japanese girls dressed in sailor suits and braids. I wondered which of them I was supposed to look like. Framed, printer-ready drawings of cracker boxes. My mother had never in her life been a real animator. She couldn't have known what she was doing when she created me, not really. The neighborhood children, both human and character, had been quick to remind me of that when I was the Japanese girls' age. But I don't like to think about that.

Quickly, I picked up a jar of lotion that was sitting on my mother's old drafting table and took my frustration out on the lid. There are too many memories here, I could imagine The Wild Girl saying. Even the table has memories; for it was there that I was born.

I drew and drew at this table for months, Denkyû. When I was done, I knew everything about you. How long your hair would be, the color of your eyes. I even thought for hours about whether to give you four fingers or five. Finally, I painted in one of my drawings of you as a baby, and that was what did it. I dreamt that night that I held my sweet little daughter in my arms, and the next morning, there you were, right here on this table! Poof! The miracle of artistic creation!

Poof, I thought as the stubborn jar finally opened in my hands. Then she can't really know everything about you, can she? I hoped not.

I shook my head distractedly, and reached my hand into the jar. The goo inside smelled strongly of varnish and floral cosmetic fragrance.

Conservator Brand paint rejuvenating lotion: with lotus blossom extracts

Let the immortal essence of Asian lotus blossom renew your senses as natural oils and fine, professional strength varnish rejuvenates your tired paint.

Conservator Brand paint rejuvenating lotion: because only characters can live forever.

'Live forever,' I mused. I'd once heard on an entertainment news show that Minnie Mouse uses the same sort of concoction to keep her paint from eventually fading and cracking into obscurity. That and reconstructive radiation treatments, or whatever celebrities use to extend their long lives. I'd even heard about cave art that was found roaming the jungles after thousands of years. Thousands! My eyes grew wide at the thought. I could be standing here in my parents' living room in my animated sailor suit for thousands of years. Quickly, I scraped off the rest of the lotion and ran upstairs to pack. But really, what's there to pack? I own only one pair of clothes, and those are more a part of me than anything. So I went back downstairs where my parents were finally loading their suitcases into the car. I followed them obediently.

Outside on the street, a group of teenagers were mulling around, waiting for the bus as usual. I didn't recognize any of them any more, of course, but they looked like the kind I'd gone to school with. I avoided their eyes without knowing why. Is that you still, Denkyû? I could imagine them saying. How cocky! I ducked into the car and only allowed myself to relax when the neighborhood I had haunted since childhood receded into bare desert around me.

Not that the Sonoran desert was much of an improvement. I wondered, bitterly, how anything wild and alive could grow here at all, in the dust and the vast blank spaces. How, indeed? I could imagine The Wild Girl asking, and at once I wanted to escape. My hands suddenly ached to simply open the car door and dive out. But I couldn't, that simply wasn't an option.

I sighed again and let my mind wander. There was a song playing on the radio. One of those epic-sounding Japanese ballads that my parents like. It was painfully beautiful and ethereal-sounding, and made me wince a little, self-consciously.

"What are they saying?"

"Oh—" my dad moved his lips briefly, as if translating, "it means:

'I am the blade
I am the glass
I am the still well of color
Pulsing, shining, alive.'

Or something like that. My Japanese isn't the best."

Figures, I thought somewhat bitterly, but I merely said "Oh," and leaned back, watching the desiccated landscape pass by, with idle frustration.

Then suddenly the world exploded in a shower of living color and for a moment, I felt that I was outside my own timid world, watching bits of paint shatter and fumble and splash down onto the car as the echo of crunching metal spread across the road. I could hold it all in the palm of my hand. And then in the next moment I was slouching against the back seat again, enveloped by a dome of paint that wriggled and slid down the car windows with more force than just that of gravity.

"What happened?"

A mechanical car had evidently collided with an animated car somewhere ahead of us. Its dismembered pieces were pooling together like mercury on the road, acting on the character's primal reflex to recollect and reform, unharmed. Traffic immediately ground to a violent halt, and our massive Crown Victoria slid over the sensate goo. I was exhilarated, despite myself.

"Stop, stop!" My father mashed on the brakes, and for a while was rigidly still, as if by breathing he could further harm the liquefied victim. Sirens buzzed in around us. Slowly, my mother reached between the seats and fished out a couple of wadded tissues.

"Here," she said. "The wipers."

I groaned, but my father merely nodded. They were probably used, too, but he didn't care. He carefully cleaned away the paint that slid beneath the windshield wipers, then opened the tissue and looked at the gross mix of mucus and living gelatinous paint, as if wondering what to do with it, now. He glanced up and down the road, then sat the wad gingerly down at his feet where it wiggled away comically between advancing medics and patrolmen. Oh, god. What would the animated car think?

I squinted my eyes closed and tried to sleep. I had wanted to watch the dry brush transform into the lush Coconino Forest as we drove, but we were bound to be stuck here for a while, and besides, car-sickness was winning out in me. If I were human, I could have vomited and felt better, but I'm an animated character, and I have to wait for the heat and sun and aged dust to settle and die inside me, as I shut out the world.

***

And I dreamt that The Wild Girl was sitting on her empty windowsill amid the glass she had shattered. My mouth was still open as if to say something from before, but now her back was turned to me, and she looked as if she had been staring into the distance for a long while. What does she see out there? Truthfully, I had never seen her anywhere but in the dream room, looking frustrated and reflective. No, that's not quite right. When I was little I saw her, the glimmer of her, in make-believe and the wild, glorious things I didn't understand. But now she's only here with me and my parents in these living walls — and I could no longer remember what I was going to say.

Slowly, The Wild Girl hung her head and looked down at her hands, flexing each bright painted digit in turn. Again, I was awestruck by how much she looks like me ... and yet acts so different. She shook her head as if in thought, and gazed longingly out the empty window frame to whatever lay beyond.

"Didn't you think you would have to deal with all this? — Both of us?"

I wondered, in the dream, if she was still talking about the light bulb, which was still flickering dully. She looked up at it fearfully, then swung her blade in frustration. "Do you think it can stay like this?" she suddenly snapped, and I backed away further into the room until I could feel the characters in the wallpaper grasping mindlessly at my skin, could smell the hypnotic fumes of my parents' tea.

"Just come with me!"

"I can't!" I stuttered. "Just leave me alone, please!"

"I can't!" she cried, and her eyes were deep and beautiful and imploring. I couldn't bear to look into them, not even in a dream. They jarred me awake, and in the next moment, I was lying on the back seat again, with my parents unloading luggage above me. My eyes darted frantically over the car interior, as if looking for an explanation in the aging fibers and familiar smells.

"'Can't'?" I repeated.

"What?" my mother said.

"Nothing."

"Well, we're here, sweetie. Come on."

And so I followed them into the lobby like the obedient child I am and sat down on one of the couches while they dealt with adult matters. Before me, a grating hid the glowing embers of a rustic fire. It crackled wildly and smelled intoxicatingly of wood and earth. 'Nothing'? Is it really 'nothing'? It couldn't be — 'can't'? I mused, and reached out distractedly to touch the grating, maybe reach through it....

"What are you doing?"

I jumped as another character leapt onto the mantle above me and sat there, fidgeting and kicking his legs as if waiting eagerly for an answer. He was drawn to look something like a big orange cat, but looked reasonably intelligent. Still, I rubbed my brow in annoyance at being disturbed from whatever I was suddenly longing to do. He reminded me of the neighbor's damned dog back home, despite himself.

"It's pretty, isn't it?" he sung.

"No- nothing," I said, though it didn't entirely make sense in the situation. I didn't matter.

"What! Stupid characters! Get away from there, it's dangerous!" And the cat and I both automatically looked up to where my parents were checking in with the old innkeeper. He'd seen me several times, but never seemed to remember or care. Somehow I doubted it was due to senility. Presently, he grumbled something unsavory about fire insurance and negligent parties. I couldn't hear it all.

"No, it's ok. She's with us. Our daughter."

"Oh, yeah. One of those. Damn characters, never understood that — treating 'em like people instead of possessed paint stains and all. What's the matter, couldn't pop out some real kids of your own?"

"I don't think that's any of your business!"

I shrunk into the couch, my form temporarily melding with its contours, wanting desperately to disappear, but feeling again like I was on display.

"Loads of fun, aren't they — humans?" the character spat.

"Look, fine. I'm just sayin'—" the innkeeper threw up his hands in resignation. "Whatever. Kids' rate. How old is she, again, this 'daughter' of yours?"

My father hesitated. "Thirty-four."

"Thirty-four!"

"Chronologically, I mean."

I pressed myself further into the couch, my painted face clouding with embarrassment. I covered my eyes.

"God, she don't look it!"

Of course not. My mother, who spent her life drawing classical figures and cracker boxes, had never thought to include an adult drawing in her beloved outline for my creation. She 'knew everything about me' back then, except that I was thus doomed to never grow up, to remain an awkward — and inept — adolescent forever.

"Wow!" the character started. "Why, by the time I was thirty-four, I already had my very own show on public access!" He extended his hand all the way from the top of the mantle, like an orange rubber band. I pulled away further to avoid it. "Chester T. Neko, esq., star of 'Tuesdays with Travelin' Chester,' on every Saturday morning! Master of hairball gags, flying tofu, socio-political commentary, all that wonderful, professional crappy goodness! Oh, and regional Spam carving!" He twirled around in an odd, slapstick sort of pirouette that nearly landed him in the fire. I wondered if he would have noticed or cared. "Can't forget the Spam carving, that's the best part!"

"Please! I know, I know!" I said, even though I didn't. In his voice, I could hear The Wild Girl's scolding: Do you think it can stay like this? "No!" I snapped to my feet. I was pacing, restlessly, and almost in tears. Did they have to tell me, as if I didn't know?

"Come on, Denkyû!" My parents hurriedly shunted me away from their accusations and into our room. "Don't listen to them," they said.

"I know, I know," I repeated, and sat down on one of the beds. It was hard and covered with a cheap, gaudy design that made me even more uncomfortable. I got up again and sat down on the other bed, where my parents were beginning to pull out their papers and travel brochures from that morning. I picked one up without really seeing it and walked with it over to the window.

Down below in the gathering dusk, young couples, both human and character, were sipping cocktails or chasing after their children on the patio. I tried to think back to my own childhood, when I didn't yet know my fate, nor care. And then I thought, almost automatically, of my future. Oh, god, I'll always be just a teenager; I'll never have a life of my own at all, even if I live a thousand years! I looked quickly away off into the distance, but there was only a wide expanse of trees billowing in the breeze. Great green living things that did not have to subsist on bare, dry dirt — on nothing, like the desert brush back home. I put my hand longingly on the glass — and thought for a moment I saw the Wild Girl in it...

"I want to go. What are we doing? I want to go out there."

"Not tonight, sweetie. It's getting late."

It's only dusk, the night is young! I could almost hear The Wild Girl saying.

"Let's just look at these brochures for now."

"Just look?" I said.

"'Course."

"'Course," I repeated, and sat down again on the bed.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing," I said, rubbing my temples. I could almost feel the paint rushing through me — a great, figurative vein of paint — lavender like my anime eyes, blue-black and flesh-toned, even the bright hues of my sailor suit, all mixed together and throbbing like a human's own mortal pulse. But I'm a character, not a human, and I can live like this practically forever.

Oh, really?

"If you want, we can order room service."

"Why?" I snapped — then thought better of it. I reached out and held my mother's hand apologetically — and yet all the while, I was willing her to feel the paint surging beneath my fingertips, willing her to say something. But she didn't, though I knew she would try if I asked. "I need to walk around for a while," I said.

"Not alone."

"Yeah. I'm sorry." So I wandered randomly down the lonely corridors until I eventually came to the inn's windowed pool room. It was dark out now, so it was abandoned, with only careless puddles and wet towels to show that the water recently seethed with sound and movement and life. I was glad. I didn't want to have to face the other guests — the couples from the patio or the eternally-energetic Chester T. Neko, esq. How childish, disgusting. How had he done it? No, I couldn't meet his eyes. What if he suddenly had advice on what I should do with my life, as an animated character like himself? No, not like him. Not at all. It's not that easy, and I am not a fluffy orange cat.

Slowly, I crouched down on the edge of the pool. My footfall was silent as I did so, of course, for I'm an anime character, and animes are nothing if not graceful and measured. Still wells of color whose inactivity crackles with wild potential energy, and whose action radiates with deep sentience and purpose.

What's wrong with me, then! I thought bitterly, pulling my knees up to my chest. In the corner of my eye, I could see my faltering reflection on the surface of the pool. And I thought of the sketch of myself as a teenager, back home. Recently, it had started to yellow around the edges. It was fading, dimming. Was it from time, like everything else, or lack of attention — life? I looked down at my image in the dark water, and was terrified. I didn't want to think about it, any of it.

Didn't you think you would have to deal with all this? — Both of us?

For an instant, my soul leapt as I heard — or imagined — The Wild Girl's words, though I should have been offended. Or logical. But I just wanted to hear her say them, wanted them to scatter the silence and my unforgiving reflection. But she isn't real, and this isn't a dream, though part of me wanted it to be.

"Help me," I whispered to myself.

I'm trying. I shivered in the empty pool room, and suddenly realized that I couldn't stay there with the dull reflection looking up at me a moment longer.

I ached simply to pull the hotel sheets around me and end the whole day. But when I eventually found my way back to the room, my parents had already gone to bed, and I couldn't help but pause when I saw them. They had changed so much over the years, I noticed that now. Their hair had gone gray, and the lines on their faces, which were once bright and energetic, now looked tired and painfully mortal.

They meant well. I know that ... and I love them. All they had wanted was a child of their own. But do they need me now that they are old and I never will be, I wondered. Would they move on if I were gone? Or would they look for me? I shook my head, surprised at my own ridiculous musings. Still, I couldn't help but think about it all, as I stared up at the darkened ceiling. Not that I found an answer — what answer could there be, except to pray that I felt better in the morning?

And I dreamt of The Wild Girl, as somehow I knew I would. And somehow I knew it would be the last time. Maybe it was because of the sudden mania I felt as I tossed in bed — like thirty-four years of delinquency in life were bounding back over me. What have I done? Why do I feel this way? Was it just the accusations in the lobby that opened the way for it all, all of this guilt? No, it's her. The Wild Girl. I collapsed on the dream-room floor in desperation.

"Help me!" I sobbed. And The Wild Girl bent down to my level, so that I could not avoid her pointed stare. Her eyes seemed to be appraising me, wondering if I was worth the trouble. They reached all the way down to the soul. But is it my soul or hers? I shuddered beneath her gaze.

"Are you sure?" she tempted. I managed to nod, though I didn't know what she, a dream vision, could possibly do for me. Maybe I didn't want to know. "All right, then," she said and smiled wildly, impishly, as she had the night before. That's why I call her The Wild Girl.

Then in the next moment, her whole form exploded with energy and the dream-room exploded with her. With a great, barbaric heave, she overturned the low table, sending its contents tumbling violently in the air. Cups and tea-bowls smashed against the walls and floor, blossoming into beautiful, chaotic clouds of glass and steamy liquid that glistened in the faltering light. In almost the same instant, she turned on the wallpaper, which howled nonsensically as she ripped and slashed at it with her katana. When it was down to tatters, she started pummeling the bare wall, flinging her body unabashedly at it over and over. It was horrifying to watch, and yet breathtaking, for she held nothing back. No glorious spark of power and spirit within her was left unexplored and unused. She was absolutely reveling in her reign of utter destruction.

When the dust and demolition finally settled, we were all alone and the dream room was rubble. There was no tea and no hypnotic aroma, no living, thoughtless wallpaper. And no parents. They had vanished, evaporated, and perhaps had no place there to begin with. The Wild Girl surveyed her accomplishment proudly, then turned on me once again.

"Now all that's left is the bulb itself," she said, and gave a deep, ringing battle cry that made me shiver, for terror or delight. I could no longer even tell. With one resolute swipe of her blade, she shattered the weak light bulb above us. It popped and splintered in a hail broken filaments and glass. For one brilliant, cataclysmic moment, light spread and filled the emptied room—

***

And I woke with a start yet again, with the sheets wadded chaotically around me. The hotel room was quiet, eerily quiet, except for my parents' lulled snoring in the bed next to mine. It was painfully dark. I groped about blindly on the nightstand for a light, but my fingers only met — broken glass. And my eyes grew wide, wider than usual. No, it can't be! Then in a flash I remembered, in some remote, logical part of my mind that was not spinning in shock and near-terror, that the name Denkyû means ... light bulb ... nothing more. I gathered the pieces up in my palms and turned them this way and that, desperate to catch them in the moonlight that filtered through the window, desperate to see that it was not glass at all, that it wasn't real. It can't be!

But it was. And the thin glass was not all that became visible in the patchy darkness of the rented room. The Wild Girl herself stood before me. I froze. I squinted, almost hoping that she was just a trick of the light or my sleepy mind. But her form, though translucent now and glowing faintly, remained present and still in the real-life room. I cursed to myself.

"Come with me," she mouthed silently, either so my parents wouldn't hear or because she couldn't be heard here with me.

"Wha—?" I gasped, then silenced myself as well. Nervously, I glanced over to my parents, who didn't stir.

"No!" she snapped, her eyes ablaze, "Come on!" And with that, she turned on her heel and glided away from me.

For a moment, I just sat still as her light faded from view and the sound of my parents breathing filled my ears and marked the time. One, two. What is she, how can this be? Three seconds. Would I ever have another chance? Four. I looked sorrowfully over at my sleeping parents, again — then crept into the darkened hall after her.

For a moment, I thought she might not be there, that she might have given up on me or else never existed at all. But she was still there ahead of me, wavering and glinting like the blade of her katana as it bumped against her thigh. I wondered what people would think if they peeked out of the doors we passed. Would they see her, or just a very lost and stupid little girl? I don't even know where I'm going, after all these visits.

The Wild Girl picked up speed until she was just a blur against the inn's fading wallpaper. A ghostly racing stripe of paint that seemed to move and yet remain unchanging. I trotted after her feebly, my form skipping and flashing grossly, because I didn't know how to really run, had never even tried.

"Come on!" she urged, and I felt my body melt with a strange fluidity that only paint can know, felt my own essence become energy and life and color itself. It was amazing, exhilarating. Then in almost the same instant, it was over and I collapsed clumsily on the floor as if dropped there. I shivered with excitement. Wow.

We were in the lobby now, the same lobby where the innkeeper and the animated cat had berated me because of my age, only hours before. I winced a little at the thought, and wondered, remotely, if she knew about it all. That's probably why she brought me here, I guessed — but she said nothing.

I stood up. The fire had been extinguished, so that the room was dark like the rest of the inn, and vacant. I could feel its cold expanse of flagstone and wood and leather spread out all around me, and I shivered. I wanted to run again, run away from this room or at least ask what we were doing here. But I didn't dare. Besides, how was the lobby different from anything else in my life?

Suddenly, the sound of shattering glass resounded through the room and I started, unaccustomed to hearing it in real life. The Wild Girl had broken a nearby window just like in my dream and was perched on its edge, eyeing me expectantly. It was all so eerily familiar and surreal. I hugged my arms against my chest.

"Come with me," she mouthed again.

"But this isn't a dream!"

"No," she said, and now that she was exposed down to her barest essence, I could see a glimmer of the thoughts that lay beyond her painted eyes.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing, soon," she said, and extended her hand to me one last time. I hesitated, but this time knew — bitterly, logically knew — that there was no reason why I shouldn't take it, wherever it led me. Slowly, fearfully, I stepped over crunching debris — but when I nearly reached her, she thrust the katana abruptly out at my feet. I tripped and reached out automatically for her to catch me, but she merely smiled — almost kindly. And so I fell — fell through the blade and through The Wild Girl's own ghostly form. Again, I could hold the moment all in the palm of my hand; I was watching myself tumble clumsily towards the glass, watching my blue-black hair fall free of its braid and cascade over my eyes. It felt like I was being turned inside out.

And then I was lying alone in the darkened room. Somehow, I was not surprised at all — but satisfied. Deeply satisfied. I hoisted myself up with my katana and, smiling wildly to myself, leapt through the window and ran for the trees beyond.

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