It happened in the bathroom. The first time, at least. The water was running and she was on her tiptoes to reach the basin. As she let the water pour over her hands she could swear she saw something move in the corner of her eye. Darkness, like a shadow. She squinted and splashed water over her face, letting it drip down onto the basin and the bathroom tiles beneath her feet. It was cold. When she opened her eyes, expecting to see her reflection in the mirror, she found that she was standing, tiptoed with her face covered in water, in a huge cave. She couldn’t rebalance herself in time to avoid falling onto the slippery stone ground. She threw her hands just out in time to soften her fall. She could feel her heart beat thundering in the palms of her hands.
The blue hue of the cave shone of the wet stone. It glinted and glistened like crystal. There was water dripping like a tap in the distance. She twisted and tried to regain her footing, staying low to avoid another collision with the cold, hard stone. Rays of sunlight streamed into the cave from an invisible source, colliding with the lake of water that she had been lucky to miss when she fell. She wasn’t really sure how that had happened.
She was standing in front of her basin, she was sure that was where she was standing. Right in front of her basin, next to the bath tub, and on top of the outdated tiled floor. She had only covered her eyes for a moment. Yet there she was. She was standing—well crouching and hoping not to fall—on a sliver of stone, backed by a wall of the same rock, staring at the other side of the cave. It stretched out into a darkness that she didn’t wish to explore. The expansive pool in front of her, though unfamiliar, seemed a lot more interesting.
Clinging to the stone around her, she looked down into the water that separated her from the rest of the cave. Was it possible to get vertigo in such a situation? She wasn’t sure, but when she looked down into the pool her stomach clenched and the walls drifted. The water was so clear that the stones forming the pool wall were visible until it got so deep that they dissolved into darkness. She could see the sharp edges that pointed inwards, even the small crevices from which seagrass poked out, quietly swaying.
She could see herself on the surface too, the water so still it was like a mirror. Her dark hair was even frizzier because of the dampness of the air. There were still drops of water over her face, and her brown eyes lit up as she giggled. She was still wearing her pyjamas. A drop rolled from her face and fell onto the water, disturbing the silence it was exuding, and rippling her reflection. Each wave that came off the single drop slowly built and then dispersed. The movement quickly ended and her reflection returned to normal.
She blinked, and when she flashed open her eyelids she was staring at her own reflection again, no longer surrounded by space and cool air. She could still hear drips, but they came from her tap and not from a cave. She stared blankly at the mirror in front of her, eyes wide and mouth gaping. Slowly, she reached for the tap and twisted it tight to stop the dripping. When she left the bathroom her wet feet almost made her slip, and her hands stung red.
She was getting into bed, on a different night and in different pyjamas. She wasn’t a child that was afraid of the darkness beneath beds, though maybe she should have been. As she peeled back her blankets and prepared to climb onto her mattress and dream, she felt a hand grab onto her ankle. The long fingers curled one by one, each one so cold it burned. She looked down before it yanked her under. It was the shape of a hand but it looked like nothingness. Nothingness in the shape of a palm and five fingers. She was winded as she fell onto her back and was dragged under her bed.
The dragging continued, though where she should have felt carpet she felt prickling and scratching. At some point she draped her arms over her eyes, blocking the golden sun for her line of vision. There was no longer anyone dragging her from her ankle, and though she still felt the ice cold clutch of the hand, as she peered out from under her arms she saw that it was no longer there. She breathed out in relief and let her head fall back.
She was lying on something uncomfortable and itchy. Though it cushioned her head it also dug into her sides. It felt like needles sticking out of soil. It was a never ending field of dead grass, dried out from a summer of no rain. There were some patches of green where it had held onto life, but green blades were few and far between. The smell that accompanied it was pleasant though, warm and clean, like an autumn afternoon.
The sky was dominated by clouds, with some glimpses of blue peeking out. There was rain in those clouds, she knew. The soil was calling out for it and the clouds listened as they darkened. She propped herself up onto her hands, staying in her carved out spot in the grass, and waited for the rain to come.
The wind came instead. It was warm enough not to freeze and she sat against it and let it comb through her hair, watching as the grass moved stiffly along with it. She heard a flapping behind her, fabric moving in the wind. She turned where she sat, carving out a semi-circle in the stubborn grass until she faced the direction of the sound. It was fabric, but better. The flapping came from the worn out orange fabric of a hot air balloon.
She sprung up, abandoning her home on the ground. What lay before her was a whole lot more interesting than rain, or grass getting rained on, even if it was for the first time in a million years. The basket of the hot air balloon stood erect with no signs of damage, and though the fabric looked torn as it whipped like streamers in the wind, she still wanted nothing more than to sit in a hot air balloon. Functional or not.
She ran towards it for what felt like an eternity, the balloon looking closer than it actually was from where she stood. The clouds had darkened and there were booms of thunder coming from behind her. She didn’t know why, but it felt like a race. A clock booming in the sky, her chances ticking away.
She reached the basket and slammed into it, her hands gripping the edge. The thunder was more frequent and she could see a faint wall of rain in the distance closing in on her. Holding the edge of the basket she used all her strength to hall herself over the edge. With one last push she hoisted herself over, expecting to fall onto the bottom of a straw basket. She shut her eyes, anticipating the landing.
There was a squeak of springs beneath her. She still had her eyes closed yet they flew open when she registered the pillow beneath her head. The growing clouds were replaced with a cream coloured ceiling and a mobile of stars. The rumbling of thunder no longer existed, though she strained her ears for it. All she could hear was the distant sound of a TV down the hall. The only thunder came from her chest. She felt a jab in her side and lifted herself up to pull the dried out piece of grass out from under her.
She was clambering up the shelves of her pantry, reaching for something. Her fingers were outstretched, inches away from the cereal box, when she felt an arm pull her from behind. If the arm hadn’t felt like a zap of cold she would have assumed it had been her father pulling her from the shelf to warn her about falling.
It took only seconds for her to be dragged into another world, a world where she was also reaching for something, but this time it wasn’t a cereal box. This time it was a handhold on a blackened mountain ridge. One that she missed.
As she fell she saw the sharp ridges of the rock that made up the mountain. She burst through clouds that lay just beneath the mountain tops, and they left her cold and disappointed that they didn’t cushion her fall. Before she squeezed her eyes shut in fear she gawked at the turquoise sky that seemed so unreal and magical that she wanted to keep looking as she fell further and further down.
She didn’t fall far, but she landed on her backside with a thud. Her arms were clutching a cereal box, now crumbled and dented from her squeezing it too hard. She didn’t cry out or complain. She couldn’t, who would have believed her? She just put the cereal back in the pantry on a lower shelf. She didn’t really feel like eating it anymore.
She found him huddled in a corner on her back porch. She had spotted a corner that the moonlight should have touched but didn’t. He looked scared, though no expression was visible. All he was was blackness shaped like a man. A space where nothingness had morphed into a person and that person was now cowering in a corner at the sight of a little girl.
“Hello,” she said. She didn’t want to scare him. All she wanted was to know who he was.
“Hello,” he repeated in a cautioned whisper, his low voice like an echo in the night. He was more scared of her than she was of it, like a bee or a fish. He was trying to make himself small, hoping to disappear into the corner that backed him. She stood in the centre of the porch, her arms swinging by her side. She gave him a small smile, trying to tell him it was Okay.
“Thank you for the cave. And the hot air balloon,” she said with gratitude, the same way she would reply to an aunt buying her books or treats.
“I’m… I’m sorry you fell,” he replied. He looked down at his feet. Or it could have been his belly. He was big in that way.
“Oh… that’s okay,” she lowered her voice in understanding. “It was still pretty. I’d never fallen through a cloud before.”
He hunched over more, ashamed and sorry.
“I just… didn’t want…” he attempted, unsure, possibly afraid, to say what he wanted to say. He looked at the small little girl, her hair a halo around her and a smile on her face. She blinked at him, waiting for him to say what he needed to say.
“I just didn’t want to be….a…. monster…anymore.” he finally got out. She giggled at him, a high pitched squeal of delight and appreciation.
“You’re not a monster!” she said, keeping her grin but raising her eyebrows, giving him a matter of fact look. “You just have really bad timing.”