Floating stone steps spiraled into the sky from the desert floor. Not sure they were real, I touched them. Not a mirage.
She disappeared during the night. A ghostly trail of footsteps in the sand, lost on hardbaked earth and found again beyond. I followed. What else could I do? The sun sizzled, water ran out, yet the dents in the sand went on.
The breeze came, at first welcome. It became a wind, obliterating the trail. I wailed and fell to my knees, covering my face, desolation as much as protection. I dropped them eventually, the landscape before me smooth. Gritting my teeth, I trudged on.
In the distance, something out of place. I veered toward it. The heat, my mind told me. The heat and exhaustion created the vision. Still I stumbled. I felt drawn. Hope dared to spark in my core.
As I approached, the something took form. Out of place, these stone steps, yet unmistakably here. I stepped up, but gentle pressure kept me from going further. I stepped off, frowning from the sand. The stairway disappeared high in the sky. I sat beside it. Lost to any explanation, I still felt the spark. I stayed. The sizzle of the sun subsided.
I felt them before I heard them. A slight vibration in the stairs. Footfalls, many of them. Caught in the wonder of twilight, in a desert landscape dappled by moonlight, I rose and looked upward. A shadow snaked down the spiral. I stepped away, but there was no place to hide. I waited and watched. Fear spoke but found no purchase. The spark of hope for her hushed it.
People. The shadow coming down was made of people. As each descended to the desert floor, a smile was cast my way. I watched as each stepped away from the stairs into nothingness, vanishing silently. Eyes wide, I glanced upward. So many of them, their garb reflecting different parts of the world. Each peacefully smiling and stepping into a void.
My breath caught as I looked up again. She was there, on the steps. The same peaceful expression, the same smile. The spark in my heart flamed. She was safe, she was well. I reached out for her and her hand slid into mine as she stepped onto the sand. We stepped away from the parade.
“You aren’t meant to be here,” she said calmly. “It isn’t time. Come, we will return.” I felt tears. We will go back, all will be well. I felt peace, joy, that trumped my lack of understanding. She was safe and well. Safe and well, it sang in my heart, filling my mind. She led me by the hand into the nothingness.
The campsite lay beyond. She led me to the tent and leaned me back, brushing my cheek with her fingertips. “Remember me this way, Mommy. Safe and well. I love you.” Peace and joy stayed with me as she faded into the nothingness.
© 2010 Jessica Rosen
Inspired by a #storystarters by, you guessed it, @Selorian (Clifford Fryman). This is a #FridayFlash offering as well as an entry for #StoryStarters500, a challenge to use a line from that hashtag and write a flash piece under 500 words.