Chapter One: A Strange Meeting - Part I

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The landscape was lush with thick green grass and multicolored wildflowers. It was a beautiful sight, like something out of a storybook. But still, there was something off about it; the too crisp surroundings, the overly intense colors, the blinding sunlight all mixed together to assault and overstimulate the senses. I hastily looked around, but all I saw were a few sturdy cherry blossom trees that were lining the edges of the meadow and the bright blue sky above.

     I took a step forward but stopped myself just as I was about to crush a flower. I lowered my foot and watched it for a moment. The round petals were a soft yellow with a white stigma in the middle. It was a pitiably small flower with nothing particularly special or attractive about it. But the bud was still pretty with its simplistic beauty, and it swayed in a lazy manner from side to side with each push and pull of the wind.

     That's odd, I thought and took another glance around. The flowers were clearly moving, but I didn't feel a breeze. I scratched the back of my head, not quite sure what was happening, but not making any plans to figure it out at that moment. So I shrugged and wormed my other hand into the front left pocket of my jeans. I studied myself, observing the clothes I was in. They were comfortable: a pair of khaki pants and a white, cotton t-shirt with a V-neck. My feet were bare, though, and I could feel the cool grass underfoot. I wriggled my toes between the soft strands.

     I realized I would have to find out where I was in order to go home somehow. Man, this feels like a dream. I heaved a sigh and began aimlessly walking in a direction I hoped would lead to some type of civilization. How'd I even get out here, anyway?

     What felt like half an hour passed and I was still stumbling along through the open meadow with no real destination in sight. Just then I could've sworn I heard a soft laugh to my right. My head spun around, but it was like an echo and faded quickly. I stopped; I didn't want to walk away from that spot, didn't want to miss it if the laughter chimed again. I swiveled left and right and squinted, like that might somehow help me find the source. Then, straight ahead in the near distance, I caught a glimpse of a small figure. "Huh?" I mumbled under my breath. I moved toward the silhouette. A child, maybe? But why would a child be out here by themselves?

     Should I get its attention? I considered. What if it isn't a child? I stopped again. Standing there in the unkempt grass, I weighed the possibilities of 'friend' or 'foe.'

     The curiosity overpowered my better judgment and I cleared my throat.

     "Hey!" I called, waving an arm in the air. The small figure spun around to face in my direction. I could make out the clothes it was wearing now. They billowed lightly and the ends of the fabric rippled in response to the numb wind. I took a few more cautious, lumbering steps and the figure matched my advance. A cloud moved away from the sun, lighting up the meadow just enough so I could see the white dress. A little girl?

     "Hey," I said again. I continued to close the distance between us. As we came closer together, I noticed that the dress was covered with a pattern of flowers, much like the wild ones that were growing in the field. The girl looked young, maybe only 5 or 6, and she had long, ash blonde hair that fell in loose waves passed her shoulders. A couple strands curved around her cheeks and shaped her thin face, and a light curtain of bangs swooped gently to the right side of her forehead.

     I stopped just before our toes touched and looked down to study her face. I was stricken when I realized that she didn't have one. The entire surface where her nose, eyes and eyebrows should have been was blurred as if someone had gone back with a dusty chalkboard eraser and brushed away her identifying features. The only thing they had left was what I assumed was a mouth. It was black, filled in perfectly, with no squiggles and no white spaces in between.

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