Esperanza inhaled thick air and stepped forward. Her foot met no resistance from the ground. She continued to swish her legs, moving ahead with no apparent means of propulsion. She squinted her eyes as wispy vapor moved across her face. Esperanza was walking in the clouds. She was unsure of whether this was a dream or a spiritual experience, but she wasn't in the mood for thinking. She was happy. So happy, and so blissfully empty.

She smiled and continued walking, abreast with puffy orange formations. At the bottom left of her vision the sun could be seen going down, nestling behind a mountain range and setting the panorama ablaze with fiery hues. Esperanza had escaped. She grinned intensely and leaned forward to hug a cloud. It dissipated between her arms and she fell forward clumsily, rolling in mid air and giggling as she caught herself on another cloud. She opened her eyes wide at the sight of what was a few hundred yards ahead though. A rain cloud lumbered through the open sky, surrounded by the friendly entities that she had been playing with. It rumbled.

She was drawn to the shades of dark gray that made up the beast. The wind blew it slowly her way. She was scared but continued walking towards it.

"The bad butterflies are back." she muttered. Anxiety jolted her abdomen. She had heard the term "black cloud" before, but she disagreed, she thought. There was no black. Only gray. Entering this cloud would be dangerous. Before she could consider the outcome any further, she made contact with the gloomy behemoth and was immediately swallowed. Her line of vision which had previously beheld a peachy dusk, was now filled with formless, dark blotches. She could feel herself moving forward.

The further she was sucked into the cloud, the darker her view became. She lost her sense of time. She must have been floating for ten or more minutes before she was enveloped in inky black. The vapor that kissed the bottom of her ears and chin provided the only indication as to the direction she was moving. She was floating down. Her body curled slightly as her feet met a hard surface. Still unable to see, she slowly stepped ahead. She made it a few steps forward until she nearly stumbled. Her foot landed on a lower, stony plane. She figured she must have made it to a set of stairs and continued stepping down. Esperanza negotiated exactly nine steps and was again on a flat surface. She heard a menacing snarl to her right. Her heart skipped a beat but she continued, hugging herself and cowering.

The further she walked forward the more she was able to see. Before long she could make out the dark outlines of trees against a navy blue night sky. A forest, she thought. As her eyes adjusted to her new surroundings, she noted that she was walking on a paved path. Damp autumn leaves squished faintly beneath her feet. A heavy fog inhabited the woods. She was still nervous and stepped carefully, intimidated by the scrutinizing beams of moonlight and the dendritic branches that they crept through. The snarling sound continued to perturb her. It would startle her, sounding from a bush or shrub every now and again against the unbroken symphony of chirps from a countless number of crickets. She figured some beast must have been after her. She wouldn't even see it coming, she thought. The fog hazed everything.

The sky was muted by a thin, damp cloud. The tiny particles of moisture separated the moon's white halo into a variety of colors, like tiny prisms. Even the immutable paleness of the moon wasn't safe from the dissecting quality of the forest's conditions. Esperanza had never been so terrified. Closing her eyes made her feel better, but she could only do so for a few seconds at a time to avoid trailing off into the forest due to the constant winding of the road. From the damp leaves to the heavy fog, she gathered that it had rained recently. She had accidentally stepped off of the paved trail a few times, and was greeted with the gurgling sound of sodden earth under the pressure of her shoe.

She continued to hug herself, delicately continuing on the path to her unknown destination, jumping at the occasional guttural snarl from the mysterious flora that outlined her path. She was overcome with anxiety and confusion. She was walking through an ominous labyrinth of potential fatality for reasons that she dared not consider. To her left there was an opening in the trees. A still river flowed too slowly to notice. The glass-like reflection of the trees on the other side cut through the mist.

Esperanza missed the light. She missed the clouds. She missed the smiles. But most of all she missed being carefree. Discontent churned in the deepest part of her with the solemn droning of a pipe organ. Her steps followed the rhythm of her sporadic circulatory patterns. She looked ahead. The road seemed to wind to the right and lead to the mouth of a large bridge. Part of her was relieved. If not because of the potential safety she had reached, then for the change that this new obstacle would present.

As she rounded the bend, she noticed some light from the other side of the bridge. Two golden lanterns hung from either side on the other end of it. Their effulgence poured out warmly and reflected off of the rusted metal that composed the railings. Esperanza stepped onto the bridge and slowly began to cross it. Her footsteps made a hollow tapping noise on the wood, notably different from the silent tread on the pavement. She could not see what was below the bridge. She looked over the side, but could make out nothing. For all Esperanza knew, she was walking over an endless chasm.

She finally reached the end of the wooden passageway and found that she was walking not on pavement, not on wood, but on bricks. Thick forest still surrounded the path ahead, but it was now well lit by tall lampposts. They were about ten feet tall and were fancy black pillars, ending in small glass boxes from which amber light sluggishly oozed into the fog. The lamps rendered both the bricks and the trees a pale yellow, giving any erect object a stretched black shadow. Esperanza was delighted. Snarls continued. The feeling that she was being followed by a dangerous creature persisted, but she felt safer knowing that it would have to expose itself under the lamps.

Then a thought crept into her mind—what if the road continued, and the lamps stopped? What if this was only a temporary convenience? Surely the creature, what ever it was, would be waiting for her at the other end. It was probably mocking her now. Not only the creature, but that overwhelming darkness. Esperanza did not want to experience that again. So she continued along the bricks, now more slowly and carefully, and nearly as worried as before. The perceived safety of the golden dome of light that she was traveling through began to wear off.

Suddenly, as though on cue, she peered up and noticed a change in the sky. From behind the wicked tree branches it began to appear a soft, pastel purple. The sun was rising. As she had anticipated, the lampposts did not last forever. By the time she was back on the unlit road the cobalt layer of of the sky was peeling back in indistinct layers of pink and purple. She still had a difficult time seeing. The snarls were now coming from multiple sources. Esperanza shrugged them off and didn't slow her pace. Before she even noticed it, the path ended and the forest opened into a large, grassy field. The sun smiled on the horizon, and it was finally bright enough to make out shapes on the ground. She looked down and saw a frog hop by. It stopped momentarily and let out a croak that sounded like a loud snarl, then continued hopping.

Esperanza smirked just a bit. She had found safety. She gazed upwards and saw the fluffy clouds floating by. She looked at them not longingly, but fondly. Esperanza had found happiness, but never again did she find the blissful emptiness.