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Warmth
by 
Ammalia Ball

     The cat gazes at me in what I imagine is an expectant sort of way, orange eyes blinking slowly now and then. I oblige in staring back, a forgotten coffee in hand. I needed a break from my mind, anyway. The cat, however bored with its decision, stretches out its front legs and leaves me alone to my thoughts, once again. I sigh and turn my attention to stare at the collection of colors swirling at my feet. Oranges, reds, and browns, whimsically create a sound like tinkling bells. I took another sip from my cup, cold coffee bringing me back to the present, and continued walking. The trees I passed had lost most of their beauty if you were to see the greenery as such a thing. I did not, and my admiration of the bare branches reaching towards the sky was evident in my eyes. I have always loved this time of year. The cold is what tempted me to go outside, finally feeling comfortable in my skin, as much as I could. I diverted my attention toward my feet, watching the steps I took along the carved path of the forest.

 

     I watched my boots drop on each dead leaf with a crunch. Kicking small pebbles forward as I passed them. Occasionally, I would look behind me whenever I heard the light steps of tiny feet on the dirt that were not my own. I was always alone. As the wind blew, it would whisper its secrets to me and blow through my hair almost like hands tickling softly in play. Each time would leave me shivering through my thick, winter coat. The clouds danced carelessly across the setting sun in the sky. The dark passings made the chill in the air harsh against my skin. Choosing to ignore the cold, I continued walking down the path farther and farther into the woods. Eventually, I came across a slightly overgrown start of a path. The shrubs created a barrier just tall enough for me to not be able to look ahead. I lift my gloved hand to the leaves and graze my fingers across the rubber greenery. The need to see what was on the other side was overwhelming. I began to wedge my way through the thorny bushes that were using all of its strength attempting to keep me back. As I could begin to see the other side, a small branch holding me snapped under my weight and a small yelp was all that I was able to release before I hit the ground. The cold air made the pain in my wrists feel much worse and my coffee cup burst open upon contact, precious coffee seeping into the dirt, but the feeling all but disappeared when I looked at what the shrubbery was protecting. A lake came into view with a sheet of thin ice covering the surface. There was a small rusted bench near the bank facing towards the lake. The wood had rotting holes in the planks and vines had risen up to claim the bench before the air turned chill, essentially killing the vines. Small rings of mushrooms had grown at each leg of the bench, the rings growing a few inches away from connecting. It was a mystical kind of quiet, and all I could think of to describe it was ‘beautiful’. I walked past the bench to stand at the edge where the sand met the icy lake. I slowly bent down and wiped away at the frost to look at my glassy reflection. We stared at each other for a good while, making critical remarks against the other. Her nose is too bumpy. Her hair is too frizzy. Her lips are too pale. The ice began to shoot back. All you ever do is comply with others. You never have an original thought. Your desperation for affection is what forces people to turn away. I scowled at the other woman in the ice and stood back up to look at the vast space. The lake was large. It went on for miles, the forest emerging again on the other side, a deep mystery to solve if you were to make it across the ice. It was difficult for me to see the opposite side clearly. I was curious about what I would find if I were to make the journey.

 

     I observed the area, contemplating this absurd idea. With the wind nuzzling against my back and encouraging me, I decided on the first independent choice I had ever made and took a step forward. The ice crinkling beneath my feet but never delaying my pace. I only stopped walking once I estimated myself to be at the center of the lake. I looked at my surroundings, forcing a small laugh at the fish I could see swimming around at arm's length, if not for the cold barrier separating us.

     I brought my eyes back up to the shore, noticing a black figure making its way to the bank. The cat gazed, once again, sitting down on its haunches in anticipation. I stared back, tilting my head slightly to the side as I observed the cat's actions. The cat’s eyes held an intensity that could be seen from across the lake, igniting fear in my heart.

 

     The cat released a slight sound, its eyes seeming to bore into my soul, seeming to talk with me, now I realize it was foretelling of what lay ahead. Wanting to walk towards the cat, I shifted my stance and heard the crinkling sound of spider-webbed cracks racing across the lake.

 

     I stared in horror at my feet, moving as small as possible, only bending my knees slightly for balance. The cracks made their way towards me at an antagonizing speed. All I could do was watch. Watch as my fate has been handed to me. Watch as one decision changes everything. The gravity of a single choice. I seemed to have been standing there for too long, staring at the freshly formed cracks under my boots. The ice breathing in wait, patient enough for its opponent's next move. It was too silent. I carefully looked back up at the cat who, in retrospect, had not moved once. We looked at each other for a little bit, talking with our eyes. I begged for any sort of assistance while the cat did not blink. Only observed. That is what frightened me the most.

 

     My balance swayed a little with more weight on one foot than the other. The lake created a deep crack that stole me with it. My coat and boots acted as heavyweights dragging me down farther and farther until it was too dark to see which direction was up. The water enveloped me in a strangled hold. I struggled at first, of course, but once I was deep enough time stopped. The cold water felt warmer, like a silk caress. I moved slowly down, the fish choosing to swim around me and continue on their way. All I did was float. Calm surrounds me. I was growing content, gaining acceptance. There was nothing I could do and I was okay with that.

 

     A faint light could be seen from where the ice cracked, but my vision was blurred to the point I could barely see what was in front of me. If I could, I would’ve seen a small, black figure pop its head over the light watching me drift away. All it ever did was watch.

 

     Hours had passed, possibly. My eyes had closed, focusing on the feel of the water against my skin. It did not feel cold anymore. It felt warm and inviting. The endless water wrapped around me as if it did not want me to leave. It wanted to keep me company during this long winter. It wanted to dance through the lake all day and night. I was tempted to let it.

 

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     Night had consumed the earth, the Moon rose to its zenith shining its light down as a comfort to those who came alive under her glow. She gazed down at her land. The admiration flowed through her as she looked upon her children. She could see the young couple parked in a field a few yards away, sharing kisses and secrets under the stars. The small group of deer frolicking along the grass, without a care in the world. The owls fly from tree to tree swooping down to catch their prey, then flying back into the safety of the leaves just as quickly. The nocturnal rodents waddling through the trees. An opossum carrying three tiny babies along her back as she walked, sparking a feeling of relatability in the Moon. The small, black cat frequently seen by the Moon sitting on a rock in a field looking up towards her shine. She took her gaze to the lake nearby, which had since frozen in the change of the weather. The iridescence of the fish scales softly reflecting through the ice along the lake. The algae swaying with the movement of the water. The woman slowly sinking into the abyss opening her mouth one last time, bubbles floating to the surface. The Moon followed as the woman’s eyes fluttered closed. She watched in agony as a human so young could never gain the promised experiences one should have. The ones the Moon herself had watched take place throughout the centuries.

     She made her way until she could see directly down into the collapsed ice, past the fish, past the dark, to almost the bottom of the lake. The woman flowed in the dark, hair waving around her head like a halo of light against the murky water. She ventured into the depths of the woman’s soul, watching flittering images of her life. The Moon felt the happiness of the girl she saw before the tragedies of life chipped it away. Until the sorrow was all that was left. The loneliness of the woman appalled the Moon. She rewatched the memories until all she could feel was the throbbing pain in the woman’s heart, slowly losing its beat.

 

     The Moon was a mother and a strong believer in second chances. She provided a home to every creature in her care. She decided she would let the woman into her world, give her the choice to be reborn into the wind carrying the leaves. To gain the chance to feel a part of something. She carved away the last bits of heartache hiding the Spirit that defined the woman and began to carry her back to the surface. The woman’s soul gave some resistance at first, clinging to what was comfortable hiding from the unknown, but change can never be avoided for long.

 

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     I knew I was out of my body as I felt the soft touch of the water move past me. I still felt a small connection to the physical prison I was leaving behind. A slight tether of serenity attaching me to my body threatening to break if I moved away any farther. I knew if I wanted to be let go to avoid this separation, all I had to do was ask. I was curious, however, and wanted to see who had saved me from the confines of my body. I remembered the water was supposed to be cold and how I had fallen deep into it, but all I could feel at the moment was warmth and relief. No one knows how Death is going to be when he comes. For me, I was greeted by Death with joy and peace. The neverending gasp for air was relinquished with the loss of my life. I could finally breathe again.

 

     I opened my eyes to see a pale light surrounding me. It was holding me tight along my lower back, dragging my limp Spirit through the current. I turned my head to see a fish swimming idly by. I reached out my hand to touch the fish, missing it by a few inches. I continued to ascend towards the surface and left the fish behind me. The light became more intense with each passing moment as I got closer to my savior. I did not feel the need to shut my eyes against the bright light, but it blinded me, nonetheless.

 

     I felt the energy shift as I burst through the barrier of the dark lake into the light of the Moon. The Moon created a pleasant shine to keep my soul warm, for which I was thankful during these cold winter months. I drifted up until I was face to face with her. I could feel her beauty and gentleness in my heart, knowing she was looking down upon me with an unbreakable love that I remember wanting when I was alive. Flinching momentarily, I felt a hand I could not see hover over my cheek and swipe away a tear I did not realize I had cried. I began to lean into the touch, grateful for the warmth behind the act. The feeling in my chest bloomed into a welcomed light of bliss and a soft smile formed on my face. The Moon let me go midair but I did not fall. I looked around and felt the wind whip my hair as playfully as a child. Looking a bit closer, I could see the Souls of children and adults alike. Some of the children ran around with dogs who jumped to snatch clouds in the air. They beckoned me to join them in their antics. To become one with the wind. I turned toward the Moon, nervousness consuming me as a remnant of my old life and who I was. She encouraged me to run and flourish in the joys of the afterlife and what I can become. She gave me one last loving touch and I turned back to the sky. I chased and played with the other Spirits who became one with the wind. We blew through the trees, producing songs few could hear. I was finally where I needed to be.

Ammalia Ball lives in Gainesville, Florida. as a full-time college student and employee at a retirement home called The Village at Gainesville. This is her first time being published.

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