Ara looked out the window at a world that was now only a faded perversion of the land she had known in her youth. The trees still stood, leafless trunks with bony fingers that scratched the gray lifeless sky. The grass, once a shimmering sea of gold that bore waves of sunlight, now looked dead and bled of all color. The entire scene looked like one of those old movies that had been stored on celluloid: you could swear it looks black and white, except for a little hint of green or pink here and there. A dry wind rustled the brittle grass, hhssssssshhhhhhhh….
How could this happen? Ara felt a pang of guilt. In her teenage years, she had all but convinced herself that this place had never existed. The window and everything she’d seen through it had been just a figment of her imagination. Now, seeing it again for the first time in years and no longer able to deny its reality, she knew that her leaving in some way contributed to the creation of the wasteland that lay before her.
Without thought, her fingers found the small brass latch that held the pane snug inside its frame. It too was browned with the passing of the years. The chipping paint that once covered its wood now only had enough flakes remaining to indicate that it had once been white. The glass, however, was still clean and clear.
Everything was second nature now – she pushed in, lifted up, and slowly let the window swing inward toward her. She couldn’t even remember how she’d discovered the trick to getting it open – she’d just always known; even before she discovered the window. A foul and arid wind blew in her face, so dry that it threatened to draw the very moisture from her skin. hhsssssshhhhhh….. the grass warned.
Placing the heel of her palms on the cracked and chipping sill, Ara leaned through the opening. Her eyes and skin stung a little in the breeze. Everything was warm to the touch, but only in the sense that it wasn’t exactly cold like the world behind her. She got the impression that it had been a long time since the sun had made an appearance here. Looking down, she saw the frame of what had once been a chair. Scraps of fabric and leather hung limp from the arms and former seat. Everything that had once made it a comfortable place to rest was long gone. The only thing left of Burnaby’s tent was a stake hole or two in the ground; no tent, no string, no Burnaby. There was no anything. As she peered down at the former post of her missing friend, Ara realized how many other things were missing from this scenario. hhhhsssssssshhhhhhh…. Where were the birds? The flutterbies? Where were the mole holes and the tracks leading up to them that Burnaby had always tamped down?
There was nothing. Everything was dead or gone.
In that moment, the whisper of the wind through the grass was like the last rattling breath of a dying friend. Ara quickly drew herself inside, shut the window, turned the little brass lock and slumped against the wall, facing away from the window. The house was heavy with silence. It was so quiet she could faintly hear the bedside clock in the next room, steadily ticking away the minutes.
toc… toc… toc… toc…
I have to go back, she thought.