She walks through the tallgrass of the vast prairie, giggling as it licks at her shins and outstretched hands like a bunch of puppies. The hot wind makes her feel fresh. She follows her wavy shadow among the high stalks of brown.
Her pigtails bounce along with the knee-length skirt she wears. Excitement fills her as she approaches the far-off hill; a tingle of anticipation, long in waiting. The ground is soft and comforting under her delicate, bare feet, and she likes the dig of her toes among the soft soil.
A butterfly rises from a golden strand of grass and leads her onward, seeming to look back. She knows what it means to say in its silent way, and she follows, the smile never leaving her freckled face. She runs with her arms outstretched, leaning with her turns, buzzing and rumbling as she dashes along.
The butterfly rises and rises and she remains rooted, spinning, her head tiled back as it continues upward. She laughs and falls to the ground, then blows out a big sigh. There are wispy clouds high in the sky, gentle strokes of a brush to accentuate something far greater. The girl lingers among the loving sway of grass, enveloped in its gentle embrace and lulled by its murmuring.
The smell of chocolate and Graham crackers and marshmallows is too easy to imagine, and she hops up and dashes on, eyes on that faraway hill. The crackle of burning wood and the lick of fire; a taste of smoke; swatting a mosquito—she knows this; she loves this. She runs through the prairie and snatches a piece of tallgrass from the earth and waves it around, casting the spells of her imagination as she bounds on.
There is a strange heat she is unused to; maybe it is later than she thinks. She giggles again and jumps through the air, then again. Her mind is on the fire, the heat, the silhouetted faces of her friends, and the black background of everything else. Their little world.
This valley is her little world, though. Her mother’s voice comes to her in the wind and she is happy, not sad. Her laughter is among the tallgrass and her sweet smell is left behind by the butterflies she can never quite reach.
Up and up they go.
But she is happy to chase them, happy that she is allowed to see them. Happy that the smell of her mother is all around in her little world. Her friends wonder what she likes so much about this place, as does her dad, but she doesn’t tell them. It is their secret. And secrets have to be kept. She knows this, as she knows she will always return to this place.
There is a great rumble in the distance, and for a moment the ground moves beneath her. She maintains her balance, however, and blinks, looking ahead. A gust of wind soon flashes her and she raises her arms to shield her face. She giggles and continues on. Another gust of wind rushes onward and she turns sideways for its duration. The hill is still plenty far off, then the barn, and finally home. And then tonight. She still needs to find the perfect stick. Her daddy will sharpen it, of course, but she must find it. Her mother loved the burnt shells of the marshmallows most. She does, too.
Her mother once said that angels are born among the tallgrass.
There are balls of fuzz floating in the air; sweet sounds and smells; the gentle sway–always that sway. She believes what her mother said. Is there any better place?
No. She knows this. She knows this and doesn’t stop moving. There are clusters of trees atop the hill, and they wave her onward. Come on, they say. Come on, you! And she goes.
The wind whispers a few sibilant notes she is unfamiliar with. She stops and looks about her, for her mother.
She does not see her.
The butterflies have gone and all is still as she replays the static in her mind, trying to understand.
The trees are waving madly now, and suddenly they are forced forward, their tops almost touching the ground. They are no longer happy.
From the crest of the hill, the tallgrass begins to bow before her, a fan folding over, a dog with tail tucked slinking from abuse. The wind is strong and rude, and she does not hear her mother among it.
A huge mushroom cloud rises in the distance somewhere over the hill. It is black and bloated and without welcome among the wispy white accents already in the sky. And then the horizon is a rolling fire atop the hill, charging with a horrible brightness like a legion of horsemen with shiny swords drawn. The trees are engulfed, released from their painful stretch. The grass crackles into memories.
And she remains among the tallgrass, the prairie, where angels are born.
* * *
Anthony Bell has been published in the anthologies: Strange Tales of Horror by Norgus Press; Dark Things IV by Pill Hill Press; Anthology of Ichor: Gears of Damnation by Unearthed Press; and online in Issue 8 at Fictionfix.net. I have forthcoming publications in anthologies by Norgus Press and May December Publications.