Hayley Emmons '19
We see the ground, webbed over with dying grass left over from when the seasons turned over their responsibilities. The thinnest crust of frost creeps over the dirt and dead foliage as, yet again, Autumn and Winter fight for control of the forest. Rocks are embedded in the dirt so deeply that one might wonder which came first. A thick carpet of moss crawls over and under everything, ever present and likely to consume anything that stays settled for too long.
As our view widens, we see what has succumbed to this fate. A skeleton rests on the ground, one arm thrown across the chest as if it had simply lain down to take a nap before it died. Bones as brittle as twigs have disappeared under the moss, and as our gaze moves up to the aged skull, we can hardly see the ivory under the growth. The teeth are bared in an unnatural grin, moonlight falling through the gaps and chips in the bone and illuminating the shadowed cavity that once held a brain. The rib cage holds nothing more than the faint memory of a pulse and the plants that have found shelter there, skulking as if trying to survive off the echoes of a heartbeat and the impression of a breath.
A leaf gives up the fight of clutching onto the branch it was born and died on and falls, drifting towards the ground with a macabre sort of grace. Rot seems to be spreading even as it descends, leaving the musk of mold, thin and unavoidable, in the chilled air. It lands on the forehead of the skull in a morbid parody of a headdress.
Our gaze is forced upwards and away, moving up the cracked and gnarled trunks of trees older than the world, up past the dying leaves that decay where they cling to the branches, up past the scraps of bird nests that are long abandoned, up and up and up until we see the moon.
The moon is full and has almost reached its zenith, arcing high in the sky and making the barren and dead land below glow white. The pockmarks and scars on its face are clearly visible, leaving the bright surface riddled with shadows. No clouds dare cover the light, and so no wind is present to blow them away. The air is so tense it almost tears itself apart, a fraying rope pulled to its breaking point as the held breath of the world is not yet exhaled as it waits.
The clearing is completely silent and devoid of life and movement other than the wayward leaf, and not a single insect or rodent rustles in the underbrush. The air thins, another second passes, and the trees seem to reach even further up towards the moon as it finally settles into its highest point of the sky.
Suddenly, the world is torn in two.
A gust of wind is exhaled and sweeps through the clearing, rattling into all the trees and throwing the leaves high into the air. The cold white light dances on the forest floor as it ricochets around the particles in the air. The trees that have stood for so long seem as if they too will crack and fall, creaking in the heavy storm as branches are snapped off and hurled into the frenzy.
In the perfect eye of the storm, we see movement and are forced through the chaotic swirling, closer and closer until we are in the small bubble of air that is completely still and the bones that have almost become a part of the landscape start to rise, one by one. The tiny phalanges of the toes connect to the thin bones of the feet and ankle, building up and up until the vertebrae click-clack into place atop each other.
The skeleton’s arms are thrown out, back arched in the image of tension and want as it stands in the center of the whirlwind, protected from the hurled leaves and sticks by some invisible force field. The skull lifts from the ground, shaking off the remains of the rotted leaf, and settles back onto its rightful place.
All at once, everything is silenced.
The branches and other pieces of the forest surround the upright skeleton in a perfect circle. The frost has receded, as has the decay, and it seems like the final dregs of life in Autumn have won out – at least for this night. Time seems to be reversing in this clearing, cold thawing and leaves reforming in the periphery of our vision as life begins to seep back in around the edges.
Amidst the quiet and calm, it is impossible for us not to notice the way moss and grass has started to creep up the skeleton’s legs, vines forming tendons under chlorophyll-filled skin as atrophy is reversed and the bones are given a body of foliage. The fingers are flexed experimentally, and dozens of tiny flowers bloom in the eye sockets.
Eyelids adorned with fern lashes blink open and closed a few times, as if testing their functionality. The jaw of the skull shifts back and forth, remembering the motions that it so frequently practiced when alive, before opening its mouth, baring its teeth, and shouting into the cold air.
When Julia died, some would have said it was before her time. She was outlived by both her parents and her grandparents, her siblings and her cousins, her aunts and her uncles, the entirety of her large family left to mourn her untimely passing.
She died on the second full moon of February, disease finally stopping her heart as silver light shone through the window and onto her eyes as they were closed for the last time. She was buried in the tiny copse of trees just outside the even tinier village she lived in, and most assumed that that would be that.
When the next blue moon rolled around a few years later, it took her all night and most of the next day to claw herself out of the coffin and into the air, emerging from the soil just in time for her to catch a glimpse of how the forest had grown before twenty-four hours from the blue moon’s zenith had passed and she was returned to death once more.
Luckily, the next time her soul was settled back in her new skin, she was much more prepared. Although she hadn’t had much of a consciousness in the mists that existed beyond the mortal plane, her memories of life returned to her much faster than they had the last time she had awoken. When she awoke on what she would consider her second cycle, she found herself propped up under a tree that had somehow become the center of a sprawling forest. Julia didn’t spend much thought on how large the woods had grown between her trips, instead planning to get as much use out of this body for as long as she had it.
As cycles came and went, she started to figure out a few rules. First: she would only return for twenty-four hours, and only on the second full moon in a month. Second: she stood out quite a bit from the rest of the world, thanks to the plants that had replaced her flesh and blood, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t have all the sensations she had when alive. Third: she always tried to get back to the forest before dying again, because she didn’t want to have her bones scattered around wherever when she wasn’t inhabiting them.
Fourth: don’t try to visit the family.
It never ended well.
When Julia woke up on this occasion, it wasn’t her first rodeo. It had been almost a century since she died the first time, and she was getting much better at maximising her time. After throwing a salute to the moon and stretching her legs a few times – she never needed to, but it always made her feel just a bit more human – she set off through the forest at a quick jog.
The last couple cycles, she’d found a growing town that had become a home of sorts for people out of the ordinary. Some were humans who didn’t feel like they fit in anywhere else, but others? None were like her, but there were various species of myth and legend. Cast out faeries, werewolves separated from their packs, vampires on the run from their covens, all were welcome in Refuge.
Another thing she’d learned about the place: they sure knew how to party.
Julia danced across the ground on light feet while tapping her fingers against the moving foliage of her thighs, non-existent nerves feeling the way the moss squished underneath her toes and holding back a shiver at the cold hard ground beneath it. Although assorted flowers had woven into her hair and dried corn husks had created a garment that she could feasibly wear in good company, whatever brought her back moon after moon didn’t seem to see fit to give her any shoes.
Julia knocked her shoulder against one of the aged trees as she spun abruptly, trying to remember exactly which direction to head – things had the tendency to grow and change over a couple years, but she was getting better at taking less time to get where she was going each cycle. As she cast her gaze across the trunks, looking for a familiar path, she felt the coarse bark bite into her skin. It barely hurt, instead feeling more like a dull pressure, but as she peeled herself away and started loping forwards again, she noticed that a chunk of greenery had been taken out of her makeshift body. She paid it no mind, and sure enough, it soon began to knit itself back together and appear unharmed once more.
As Julia’s pace picked up, she found herself moving from the still and silent heart of the forest and into newer areas that still had life pulsing through them. The scuttle of animal life under leaves filled the air with a low rustle, and the occasional chitter or hoot from a nocturnal animal piped up now and again. The pulsing of life around her quickened the sap pulsing through the vines of her veins and she made no effort to bite back the laugh at the pure riot of sensations that she was engulfed in, from the breeze on the skin of her shoulders to the thundering drumbeat in her ears to the way the scent of rot was being replaced by the sweet smell of the flowers in her hair.
The greenery that made up her ears picked up the echoes of laughter and Julia knew that she was heading in the right direction. A wide grin, cat-like and toothy, caught the bright moonlight and bounced it off her teeth as she started to sing the first few lines of a raunchy drinking song from the first time she had been alive. It had fallen out of style with time, but it never failed to put a pep in her step.
It was easy for her to navigate the treacherous ground thanks to the dappled – but still bright – light, weaving over and around the roots that arched up from the dirt and sought to ensnare her feet. Julia absentmindedly tongued at one of her chipped teeth – she’d tripped and fallen a couple cycles in and still had the marks to prove it – and felt her lips turn up when she caught sight of the wavering lights of torches and lanterns that signalled her destination.
Dragging a moss-covered hand over the foxglove in her hair, Julia straightened her dress, lifted her chin, and sauntered out of the woods with honest confidence oozing from the top of her head to the tips of her bare toes. The smells of cooking food and human stink slammed into her like a wave of force, but it pushed away any residual dregs of mold that had been lingering around her. Strolling to the doors of the tavern, a true smile made its home on her face.
The wooden walls and flickering lights, the dirt path fading into cobblestones, all of it seemed unchanged from the last few times she had been there. Even though she could only visit for a day every couple years, Julia felt at home just by being in the mere presence of the building. This was where she could drink anyone under the table and hold her own in card games, this was where she could dance until her leafy lungs felt like they couldn’t function any longer and then dance some more, this was where she wasn’t the fragile sick girl, the dead girl, the abomination made of plants.
This, she thought, cracking her knuckles with a satisfying pop, is where I’m just Julia. Walking through the door, she got one or two assorted calls of recognition from long-time regulars. Definitely a benefit of being the only dead girl walking around here, she thought, leaning against the sticky bar and throwing a wink at the bartender. A flush spread all the way from his turquoise cheeks to the pointed tips of his ears and she laughed.
Seeing his skin darken more, likely from embarrassment this time, Julia bit back another snicker. “You still have that uhh-” She paused, tapping a finger against her lip. “What was it called? Red- hmm. Redface? Something like that. Red-something cider. It was delicious.”
“Yeah! That’s what it was called,” Julia said with a snap of her fingers. “Got any of that?” With her other hand, she crossed her fingers behind her back. There were quite a few things that she had found one cycle and then learned that they were gone the next. She hoped that this wouldn’t be another one of them, but had already started sorting her top ten second choice drinks in the back of her mind. Better to be prepared than regretful.
“Yes, I’ll get you some. What- what currency do you carry?” The bartender asked, looking a little bit nervous. The Davy Lamp was able to accept most types of money that travellers came in with, but when people came from all walks of life, some inevitably got turned away.
Julia chewed on her lip. Damn. Whatever brought her back saw fit to give her a body and clothes, but no money or anything useful. She was grateful for the extra chances at life, of course, but being tossed out into the world with nothing would be enough to throw anyone for a loop.
Luckily, I’m not just anyone, she thought, flipping her hair over one shoulder and leaning closer, not missing the way the bartender’s eyes followed her motions carefully. “I’ll let you in on something,” Julia said, holding back a sigh at how the man’s face fell almost immediately. “I don’t have any money at the moment, but!” She held up a hand when he opened his mouth. “But! I will have some within the hour, and if I don’t, I will wash whatever dishes this crowd cooks up.” Wiggling her fingers in front of his unimpressed face, she could almost see him imagining the pile of dishes that was already building up. “These hands are good for more than just looking pretty.”
Pursing his lips, the bartender debated for a few moments before letting his head fall into one of his hands. “Fine, I’ll get you your cider. Good luck with your swindling.” Clicking her tongue and rapping smartly on the scuffed counter, Julia caught sight of her grinning face in the grimy mirror behind the bar. While waiting for her drink, she gave herself a cursory once-over. Grasses woven with foxglove for hair, bold choice there Moon, she thought, twirling a strand of browning grass around a finger. Daisies for eyes, classic. Every time she came back, the design that made her up was subtly different, shifting and changing from cycle to cycle.
Julia was shaken from her thoughts by the tankard that was slid over to her and she caught it in a deft hand, throwing one more smile and salute to the man behind the counter. He still looked like he was torn between being exasperated and embarrassed, but she let him quickly fall out of her thoughts. She was only alive for a day, so she had to make it count.
Casting her eyes around the room, she took stock of what was there in hopes of finding a game she could sit in on. And win, of course, she didn’t want to lose more money that she didn’t have. She didn’t exactly have a solid plan of how she was hoping to find some money, but she figured it wouldn’t matter all that much in the end. If she slipped away with the rest of the crowd later, it wasn’t like the bartender could track her down in a couple days.
And, she thought, looking around the bar, this is an easy crowd to get lost in. Nearly all the tables had people sitting at them, talking and laughing, some playing games, some nodding their heads or tapping their fingers to the music played by a bard in the corner. Julia caught sight of a man handily beating a challenger at arm wrestling and tried to ignore the slight twinge of wistfulness at seeing that. She had always wanted to compete – and hopefully win – in a test of strength, but she had never been very strong when she was alive. Now, she didn’t want to risk breaking her bones because, as she had learned after an unfortunate incident in her fourth cycle that had left her with a shorter pinky on her left hand than her right, her bones wouldn’t heal as the years went by.
Forcing her eyes away from the arm wrestlers, she threw her shoulders back and took an appreciative sip of her cider. Julia strolled over to where a couple people were playing darts, hoping to be able to get money out of them, one way or another. One lady – definitely not human, if the large falcon wings sprouting from between her shoulder blades were anything to go by – was scribbling furiously on a piece of paper, crumpled around the edges and looking like it had been ripped from a notebook of some sort and quickly filling with her barely legible writing. A man with a pompous voice and posture stood next to her, keeping up a stream of chatter while spinning a dart between his fingers.
Julia walked over and took a peek at the paper, but couldn’t understand any of the words or diagrams that filled it. “Watcha workin’ on there?”
The lady started, knocking over her drink and barely snatching her napkin from being splashed by the liquid. “Hey,” she whined, turning around on her stool. Her jaw practically dropped when she saw Julia and her eyes grew to the size of dinner plates, and she hastily shoved the paper into her pocket. “What- hmm. How do I go about this. Uh- no,” the woman muttered to herself.
“You good?” Julia asked, pulling back her arm when the other woman tried to touch it.
“No, I’m a scientist. Uh- Sil,” the lady said, tucking a strand of her short hair behind her ear, still looking like she wanted to poke at Julia’s arm again. “I’m Sil.”
“Julia.” She held out her hand for Sil to shake it, confusion growing when the woman furrowed her brows and mumbled something too quietly for Julia to catch. “Now, what were you trying to say earlier?” She noticed the man that had been talking to Sil earlier frown and sulk away, seemingly upset now that the woman’s attention was stolen.
“Oh- yeah, ok. Uh, so this might sound weird, but what- hmm. What are you?” Sil had started to twirl her quill around in her hands and looked likely to start writing whatever Julia said down on her arms, most likely either verbatim or in some illegible shorthand.
“Do you want the short answer or the long answer?” Julia leaned forwards slightly, hoping that she would be able to sway Sil from her better judgement – even though she wasn’t quite sure what this lady’s “better judgement” consisted of, she was pretty sure that it didn’t involve trading drinks for information about someone that she hardly knew.
“Well, uh- I mean the long answer would be ideal, yes,” Sil said, fiddling with the lid on her inkwell.
“How ‘bout this,” Julia said, reaching down and tearing a corn husk from the bottom of her dress. “I let you take notes, and you pay for my drink?”
“Deal,” Sil said, already pulling a few strangely colored coins from a different pocket. How many pockets does this lady have? Julia wondered, taking note of the assorted pouches connected to her belt, as well as the large satchel slung over her shoulder.
As Sil passed the money to the bartender, Julia wiggled her fern eyebrows at him and gestured to the winged lady. Thank the Goddess for nerds, she thought, pulling an empty seat over to the table and relaxing into it. Taking another sip from her tankard, she rested her chin on one hand and leaned towards Sil as she returned.
Not how I figured I would be spending my night, but talking to a cute nerd and getting free drinks isn’t the worst way to spend my brief afterlife. “So,” Julia said, watching Sil straighten out the corn husk and ready her quill. “Where should I start?”
“Species, age, extraneous facts, that sort of thing,” Sil rattled off, words flowing easily as if she had been practicing them. “I mean- unless asking for your age is rude? Is that- hmm. Is that still in poor taste to ask?” The last words were mumbled as she tapped the feather against her full lips, voice trailing off.
“Nah, it’s fine. I was twenty-two, but I’m not sure how old I qualify as now. Species, I’m not exactly sure? Pretty sure I’m still human, but after I died -”
“Wait, you’re dead?” Sil suddenly looked about ten times more excited, not even looking down as she scribbled on her makeshift paper. “You are breathing, though, which doesn’t seem necessary. If you’re, you know, uh, not alive and all.”
“Well, I don’t exactly make the rules,” Julia said with a huffed laugh, suddenly much more aware of her breathing and the way a constant rhythm of sap raced throughout her body. “I only know what I’ve personally figured out about myself, but I have something of a pulse. I think that I’m basically human, just brought back to life with plants and vines instead of flesh and blood.” She punctuated her words with a shrug. She honestly hadn’t thought much about the functions of her body, instead choosing not to question the gift she had been given.
“How does that even work,” Sil mumbled, squinting down at her notes with narrowed hazel eyes, as speckled with brown as her wings. She looked up at Julia with an intensity that made the girl glad that she couldn’t blush and reached over, hand hovering barely a centimeter from the foxglove woven into her hair. “Um. May I?”
Julia reached up and plucked a few blossoms, handing them over. “Knock yourself out. Anyway,” she said, biting back a small smile at how carefully Sil was handling the flowers, eyeing them with curiosity that was becoming more than just scientific. “I come back every blue moon for a day, then this body deteriorates and I’m back to bare-bones. Probably explains why I haven’t seen you around before, ‘cause I don’t think that I would have been able to forget your face.”
Sil nodded along, looking surprisingly unruffled by the new information but not appearing to register Julia’s unsubtle flirting. “Every blue moon, that makes sense. Kinda funky that even the flowers in your hair are alive, though,” she mumbled, wiping the liquid that had oozed out of the foxglove onto her skirt before placing it gently on the table next to her smudgy notes.
“Funky? Is that a scientific term?”
“Oh definitely. You would be surprised at how many papers use it.” Sil’s deadpan expression didn’t break until Julia paused, wondering How much really has changed since my last cycle? Laughter bubbled up from the scientist’s throat and she had to hide a snort behind her hand after Julia started cracking up, lightly pushing at Sil’s shoulder.
“Come on, don’t scare me like that,” Julia said, a laugh still playing under her words. Without realizing it, the proud confidence that had held her shoulders and chin held high had melted away, a relaxed warmth filling her body that couldn’t be fully attributed to the alcohol.
Sil pursed her lips, the slightest smile still pulling a dimple into her cheeks. “Only one day, though? Every-” she paused briefly, mumbling under her breath and tapping her fingers against the table. “Every two years and some odd months? That’s- well, I’m sure this is just preaching to the choir, but, uh, that’s really not very much.”
“You’re tellin’ me,” Julia said, a dry laugh dying in her throat. No time to dwell on what could be, she thought, tossing her hair over one shoulder. “There’s a lot that can happen in twenty-four hours, though.”
A light flush settled across Sil’s cheeks as she took in Julia’s words and how close they had gotten, and she nervously cleared her throat and caught the edge of her lower lip between her teeth. “I’m, uh, I’m sure. What kind of, if you don’t mind me asking, what kind of things do you usually do with your limited time?”
Julia shrugged, taking another drink from her tankard and wondering at how low it was already. “It changes, from time to time. Some cycles, I try to find the heart of whatever is happening and join in. Dancing, drinking contests, festivals, that sort of thing. I don’t spend much time trying to figure out recent events or what day it is, because it all changes each time I come back.”
Sil nodded, quill held in loosening fingers as she stopped writing everything that Julia said. Instead, her piercing gaze was settled on the plant girl, less focused on what she was than whom. Julia found that she didn’t mind.
“Most of the time I stay in large crowds,” she continued, tapping her foot to the music. “After all, if I spend all day getting close to someone before disappearing for a couple years, it usually hurts both of us in the long run.” There was a warning in her words. This is just one day. Don’t get attached. Julia wasn’t sure which of them they were meant for. “Enough about me, though. What do you do in your free time?”
“Well…I’m a scientist?”
Julia laughed. “Besides that. Most people don’t come to taverns just to lurk in the corner and continue with their day jobs.”
Sil shrugged, scratching at the back of her neck. “It’s interesting to me, and, well, I get to watch people? And meet them – you – as well, which counts as socialization? Even if I don’t, uh, interact with everyone, it’s still intriguing to observe. Besides,” she said, the side of her mouth twitching up into a smile. “I keep forgetting to buy food, and my, uh, pantry? Totally empty.”
"Well, any excuse to get you out and about, right?" Julia finished the last of her drink and almost gave herself whiplash turning her head as the bard played a familiar song. The beat pulsed through the bar, plucking people from their seats and sending them swirling onto the open floor, pushing back tables and chairs to give them more room.
Julia looked over with a brilliant grin spreading across her face, and Sil shook her head, eyes flicking to where a few couples had begun spinning to the music. "No, uh, I'm good. I don't dance. Really. Two left feet," she said with a shrug that attempted nonchalance but was just a touch too nervous.
"Hey, come on," Julia said, standing up and leaning on the table next to Sil, her tapping fingers making a staccato on her thigh and rustling the husks of her dress. "It'll be fine, it's – what word did you use? Socialization! Yeah, that's it. Please, just –" she did her best to look sad and vaguely pitiful, but knew that there was probably just a touch too much excitement bubbling behind her eyes. "Just one dance?" No big loss if she doesn't join me, she thought, hand drumming against her leg. I'm going to dance, whatever she says, but it's always more fun to do it with someone you like.
Sil chewed on the inside of her lip for a few moments, debating the pros and cons for so long that Julia turned, not wanting to miss out on a song that she actually knew. "Fine," Sil said, standing and folding the husk she had been writing on carefully before putting it in her pocket. "It's, uh. It's research."
Julia grinned, grabbing the other woman's hand and pulling them both onto the open floor space. "Tell yourself whatever you need to," she said, before pulling their hands above her head and spinning in place. She wasn't quite sure what the recent styles of dance included – at the moment, it seemed like everyone was moving in a pattern that she had never seen before – but in the end, it didn't matter much to her. As long as she was moving and the music was playing and she had a cute girl by her side, she could be happy.
Sil let Julia lead, content to shuffle her feet from side to side while the other woman spun around her, occasionally pulling them together in a swirl of skirts. It felt like no one was watching, everyone too absorbed in their own small worlds to care about the other dancers, and Julia saw Sil's shoulders slowly start to relax as a smile flit across her lips. The song crescendoed and Julia swung them around, forces pulling the two women closer until they were pressed flush together as the music finished with a complicated flurry of notes.
Sil subconsciously licked her lips, seeming to realize belatedly how close they'd gotten. "Uh- well. That wasn't as bad as I thought it would be," she said, her words almost lost in the applause for the bard. "Although…huh. I don’t think that I got all the data I needed."
Julia laughed, pressing her forehead to Sil's as the musician started another song. "I guess we'll just have to do this again, won't we?"
Sil grinned. "I guess we will."
Julia and Sil didn't stay at the bar for much longer after that, instead deciding to retreat to Sil's small home. The stars were still glittering high above and the moon light illuminated each crack in the cobblestones and tile on the roofs. The noises of the small town had started to die down as the stragglers of the tavern packed up and staggered home, as the bard carefully put away his violin after meticulously checking each string, and as the bartender wiped away the spilled drinks, same as they all did every night.
Nothing seemed different except for one home, but we will cast our gaze away from it for a few hours. After all, privacy is the best choice in this scenario, both for the observer and the observed. Instead, we see the faintest lightening of the sky, far and far and far again in the distance.
We see the way dew has frozen around blades of grass and petals of flowers in lovingly cared for window boxes. Night has soaked into every inch of Refuge, and the brashest of snores filter through thin walls and into the softly moving air.
Away from the quiet stillness of the forest, a breeze has kicked up, carrying the scent of the recent harvest into the town. The baker shifts in his bed, nose twitching as the recipe for a new bread that will most likely never see the light of day creeps into his dreams.
The sky is still dark, but we see a star wink out. Then another. Clouds too light to promise rain drift through the air, sending spiralling patterns into the sky that create shapes that no one is awake to witness. The soft shifting breaths of life stir the hanging lanterns and leaves, puttering around houses like the local old witch. A bird living in the eaves of one of the homes shivers and squishes further down into its nest, feathers fluffing up in an attempt to insulate it from the brisk bite of chill in the air.
As the last artificial light goes out, the last living being falls asleep and the final squeaks and groans and moans and mumbles that inhabit the town are silenced, replaced by the quiet, ever-present breath that is shared by all the inhabitants of Refuge.
In the house at the edge of town we see – and hear – movement, the clumsy footfalls of one in an unfamiliar home obvious even from outside the building. We see a shadow pass a window, shuffling movement halted as it attempts to navigate the strange patterns of sparse furniture.
Finally, the door opens and we see Julia scamper through it, careful not to make much noise when closing it behind her. An unnecessary sigh leaves her lips before they twist up in a smile, and for a moment, the movement almost makes the green facade look human and alive again. Her back rests against the wood and she bites her lips in a futile attempt to hold back a grin, but she quickly pushes off.
The frantic energy of one who only has one day to live is pulsing through her, practically visible in every plant fiber of her being. Her nose tilts to the air as she lifts herself to the tips of her toes, and we see her nostrils flare as she takes in the fresh and vibrant scent of a town that is truly lived in.
Her steps grow faster and faster until she is running, sprinting, racing out of town towards a wide open field with softly waving grasses. We see the tension that makes up her tendons and pushes her limbs faster and faster, pounding her bare feet onto the cobblestones and then the dust road and then the dark and dying greenery. She doesn't seem to feel the cold emanating from the ground – and if she does, she doesn't seem to care – as she spins through the grasses, dress rustling around her form.
Another star winks out high above, but she doesn't appear to notice, too absorbed in the sensations of life to watch each second of time pass her by.
For a moment, it is as if she has forgotten that she will soon die again.
Julia spun through the field, arms thrown out beside her as her feet danced along the ground. It felt like electricity was racing under her skin, and it was all she could do to keep from shouting. She didn't spare a thought to Sil, or the way that she had left a hurriedly scrawled note on the woman's bedside table before scurrying from the house.
In the distance, a bird chirped and a series of noises rushed through the field. Julia looked up as life and movement started to reorganize the world, and her breath caught in her throat as she spotted the lightening of the sky. The midnight blues that she had awoken to were fading away, the pale blues and greens and yellows and oranges of sunrise being painted over the quickly disappearing night sky.
"Wow," Julia whispered, the word falling from her lips without any thought. The tension holding her upright suddenly released and she fell onto the ground, arms supporting her as she stilled and looked to the sky. The adrenaline that had been flooding her ever since she had left the bar with Sil – hell, ever since she had woken up – was gone, and she was able to watch the watercolors of the sky paint upwards and upwards, making it easier to pick out the lines of each blade of grass and branch on the trees and even each leaf that made up her body.
The world around her woke up, but Julia was able to sit back and watch it happen, trapped in a small bubble of peace where she didn't have one day to live, where this wouldn't be her only sunset for the next three years, where she could have more than a one night stand, where she was alive.
Even as the sharp hands on the clock of time threatened to shatter the blanket of stillness that Julia had wrapped herself in, she pulled it tighter for just one more minute, just one more second, just one more breath, keeping the fantasy alive for just one moment longer.