"Make a wish." The little girl, bright mahogany ringlets curling against her shoulders, draped across the sleeves of her new pink dress, stands across from Haleigh. A wide beam parting her lips, raising dimples against her cheeks, she outstretches her short arm, offering a dried up dandelion, the previous yellow petals shriveled into white puff clinging stubbornly to the stem.
Her own smile spread into her face, Haleigh leans forward, complying with a simple, "Alright." Eyes closing, she puckers her lips, a long gust sprung forth from her mouth, drifting the fragile seeds off into the air in a dazzling spiral of pale fluff.
A sharp gasp bursts forth from my mouth as I intake a deep gulp of air. Lids flung opened, a jarring cough rattles from my chest, threatening to rattle my ribs apart. Defeated by the sudden outburst, I roll over, curling up in a futile ball as the tearing sensation jerks through my entire body. Left cheek pressed up against the chill of the drenched wooden boards constructing the dock beneath me, I work to regain control from the violent, unexpected side-effects of... and then I can't remember. Alarmingly, when I search my mind for the reason of my position, it goes blank, like a whiteboard swiped clean before the words could be seen.
Once the fit subsides, I straighten, shivers pulling across my spine, goose flesh rising against the skin of my exposed arms. The gentle rolling sea beyond, a soft grey color, as if storm clouds have toppled from the sky, caught and congregating against the sea, supplies evidence toward my location, proving to me that I am, in fact, on the dock, with no concrete evidence to inform me why.
Determined to solve the mystery, ignoring, with some effort, the soreness of my limbs, I struggle to my feet, bracing myself against my palms, hefting myself upward. Muscles clenched and overworked, feeling as I was churned around in a cement truck, only to be spit out and run over by a second semi trailing behind, it's a wonder I'm not immobilized.
A slight limp hindering my stride, I venture further down the dock, hobbling down the ramp and onto the beach. Sand tugging my feet down, I have to force myself forward, the sensation of the cement truck seemingly determined to buckle my knees from beneath me.
Searching the long stretch of desolate beach for any sign of life, even a seagull screeching through sky, I become anxious and apprehensive, stomach tightening into knots as I shout, "Haleigh?"
As expected, no response proves to be forthcoming, it's just me, and the endless empty quiet clinging ominously against my eardrums, weighing my heart with dread. Desperate to hear something, anything, I find myself shouting again, this time louder, voice cracking against the back of my throat, "Haleigh!"
Although there's no one there to answer me, my eyes flit hectically from left to right, seeking solace in another's company. Questions require answers, but when no one's there to steer you in the right direction, oftentimes, those rational answers turn into wild assumptions. Eager to remain calm, despite panic peeking out from behind the wall I've put between myself and these absurd contemplations, I spin around, walking backward.
A line of footsteps should trail after me, documenting my passage through the sand from the dock, but instead, the fine grains remain seemingly untouched, so undisturbed that the slightest breeze would wreck havoc on the scene. Determined to remain level headed, I whip back around, head hung.
Yet, no matter where I turn, the oddity of my current situation continues to trail persistently after me. For, my feet churn quite obviously through the sand, yet I pass without a sign that I was even there at all. The sensation of worry my observation churns inside me is almost as bad had I miraculously walked on water, without a ripple beneath my soles to supply evidence toward the miracle.
A second sharp exhale spearing against my worn muscles, I jerk my head up, brought eye to eye to a figure standing just ahead. A rising tide sweeps closer toward her, as if tentatively reaching out, and it seems as if a breeze swoops across the beach, for her hair flaps around like a ribbon beckoning my attention toward the finish line. In spite of the comfort human presence supplies, warming my previous icy pit of emotion, like a fire just springing to life easing the chill out of numbed hands, I ponder the fact that an apparently violent breeze doesn't seem to touch me whatsoever, for I feel nothing of the sort.
A kindled flame bursting inside me, a determination to figure things out slowly, to avoid all those useless inferences threatening to plague my mind like a fatal disease, I set into a jog, rapidly approaching the woman ahead. Although my calves ache and burn with the added strain, as if my legs are going to falter and she me toppling on my face, I carry on, driven to get to her as quickly as possible.
When I'm near enough, only about two feet away, to be heard over the rising salt water pounding in loud claps and splashes, I shout to gain her attention, "Hey!"
Startled by my cry, she jumps, whirling around and facing me with widened brown eyes, gaping at me, lips opened, shaped into an O of surprise. With a shake of her head she gasps, "You're not running past."
Not in the mood and too tired to ponder riddles, I stagger closer toward her, gasping in between shortened breaths, "Look lady, I just need to know where I am."
She only blinks, responding simply, "The beach."
"No," I begin to shake my head, slumped over, hands braced against my knees as I attempt to regain my breath, "I know that, it's just, I don't remember how I got here."
The wind, which I believed to be nonexistent due to my inability to feel it against my arms, picks up, tossing her hair around again. Although cut short around her shoulders, it's brilliant in color, chestnut brown lightened with tinges of auburn and blonde. From this observation, I know that if I'd ever seen her before, I would have known that hair.
"You seem different," she eventually mumbles.
"What?" I snap, unable to control myself due to my immense confusion.
"It's just," she crosses her arms, hugging her white sweater tighter around her body, "most people run past, they don't see me, but you..." She stutters, seemingly having difficulties getting the words out, "you see me, and no one else can."
Straightening, I shake my head, waving my left arm dismissively through the air, "Never mind, I'll figure it out myself."
With that, I turn, abandoning the lunatic behind me, eager to part myself from her eerie words. Yet, the assumptions to continue to peer from their prison, hands wrapping around the bars, reaching out. What could she have possibly meant about not being seen? She had to be crazy, right?
Once again, finding myself victim to the quiet, I yell, "Haleigh!" Spinning around in a circle, the panic a maddened bull ramming through thin paper walls, I screech toward the sky, desperate for anything but insanity, "Haleigh!"
Some thought prompting me onward, that if I just keep moving, I'll find her, just as I found the crazy woman. Haleigh will be waiting for me, with assurances and a comforting embrace. And even if she didn't speak, even if her arms just wrapped around me, I'd be convinced all this was just a bad memory, because then I'd actually be able to feel something.
Yet I wonder, continuously shouting myself hoarse, making steady progress across the beach with my non-existent footprints and the endless solitude. "Haleigh, Haleigh, Haleigh!"
Soon, the comforting repetition of my own voice fails to reach me, and I begin to wonder if I've lost the ability to speak, that I'm just imaging crying her name over and over. Something's wrong, something's definitely wrong and she's the only one who can make it right.
Silence, silence, silence, and nothing more. Not even an echo, not even the sound of my own breath. And so I wander, not just through the stillness of eerily untouched beach sand beneath my feet, but amongst the captors of wild predictions, imprisoned to my own inferences of my undoubtably odd memory laps and continuous wandering of a lifeless stretch of seemingly endless land.