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THE FALL DIDN'T end with a sudden, bone-crunching stop. Instead, it ended gradually, as though I was falling into a massive nylon net that stretched on for miles. I didn't even notice that I was coming to a stop. The deceleration and the acceleration blurred together into one smooth movement, and finally after an immeasurable amount of time, my feet gently touched the ground.

Heat radiated from an unknown source, searing my skin like I was standing too close to a campfire. I blinked my eyes. It was dark, but slowly they adjusted to the dim twilight.

I stood in a field. The waist-high grass brushed against my legs as I moved through it. It crunched like hay under my feet, but there was no sound. It was like I was in a vacuum. The stillness of the field crept up on me, and hot chills ran through my body. I knew something wasn't right, but I couldn't place what.

I plucked a strand of grass and spun the lifeless brown hay through my fingers like a pinwheel. As it twirled, it began to glow, like a hundred lightning bugs had hatched within it. It scorched my skin. With a soundless scream I dropped the ember. And then suddenly, the entire field was on fire. Flames erupted around me in a raging inferno. I drew in thick, heavy breaths. My heart slammed in my chest and my eyes stretched wide.

Thick black smoke billowed out of the field, hanging dense and heavy in the air. Suffocating. My lungs burned. I uselessly gasped for oxygen, collapsing onto my hands and knees on the scorching ground. I clasped dirt in my fists, and it turned to ash, sifting through my fingers. My feet melted from the heat. I shielded my eyes and face, praying the fire would go away.

I gasped one more time, expecting nothing but smoke and soot, but instead thin air filled my lungs. I opened my eyes, and the fire was gone. The field was gone. It was dead—burned to the ground—but warmth still permeated the air. It hung in it, stagnant and sick. Suddenly, the ground squished beneath me. Mud sucked my shoes in like suction cups, preventing me from moving or even standing. It crept up my ankles, seeping into my shoes and socks and crawling up my legs like slimy worms oozing across my skin.

Trees shot out of the ground around me—tall, ominous pines with branches that shielded any light from the glowing night sky—casting me into darkness.

I heard laughter from within the woods. I glanced around, my eyes darting from branch to branch in a panic. A shadow here. Rustling leaves there. And then a hand shot out from behind one of the pines, grasping on to the spiny trunk. My breath caught in my throat, and an icy shiver ran down my spine.

She emerged from behind it.

She wore no clothes, like a nymph in the forest as she approached. The girl from my dreams, the girl from the basement. Her skin was so pale it glowed a faint blue, and her indigo hair swirled around her head like it was caught in a whirlwind, but all the air was still.

And that was when I realized what had seemed so off.

There was no wind.

Everything was stagnant. We were in the eye of the storm.

The girl crept closer and closer. Fear welled up in my mouth like thick, viscous drool. I needed to be sick. I needed to get away, but I couldn't move. I could barely breathe, like a weight was pressing on my chest.

Suddenly, she stood right in front of me.

My eyes stretched wide. I couldn't move.

She squatted, putting me at eye level. Her eyes were completely white. There was no iris, no pupil, but somehow I could tell that even though she was blind, she saw me, with those unseeing, all-seeing eyes of hers.

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