Her nightmares have been occurring more and more. No matter how hard Maia tries, she can’t seem to escape them. They chase her into the deepest recesses of her mind, smashing through locked doors and hidden rooms, mercilessly dragging out everything she’s fought her entire life to forget.
She recognizes this wild and foreboding forest trail where she now stands—knows every detail of it with every cell of her being. She’s familiar with every green vein of each fluttering leaf, and every knotted and twisted branch snaking deep across the path. She’s walked this passageway thousands of times throughout her twenty years of life. Each night, when it greets her in her dreams, she knows her mother will be waiting for her on the other side.
And she knows what she’ll be expecting.
Closing her eyes, Maia inhales deeply, then holds out a single trembling hand. With one sweeping motion, she commands the branches of the overgrown trees to instantaneously swoop to the ground, clearing the once obstructed trail leading out onto the beach. She wanders hesitantly down the path, careful to avoid the huddled branches along the ground, now quivering from the fear of being crushed.
Stepping out from the forest onto the warm sand, she is immediately enveloped into her mother’s welcoming embrace.
“Good darling. Very good,” her mother whispers with a smile, then grasps Maia’s hands, leading her farther out onto the beach. “Now,” her mother says with an even bigger smile. “Do the same with all the bush.”
Maia turns to the trees behind them and swipes her hand across the landscape, gasping as every tree and bush bow to the ground.
“Ssssshhhh, be careful now--don’t hurt them. They are all your children. Look…” her mother says, grabbing her by the shoulders as she steps behind her. “Look how they bow to you. Look how much they love you.”
Alarmed, Maia retracts her hand and the trees uncoil upwards again, sending leaves seesawing to the ground.
“I don’t know … I don’t understand,” Maia breathes with alarm.
Her mother stands proudly behind her but says nothing.
Maia turns to face her. “Mum, I miss you so much.”
“I’m right here, darling. I’ve always been with you, right here in your dreams.”
“What is happening to me?”
Her mother lifts Maia’s chin, gazing down at her with a discouraged look across her face. “Come,” she finally says with a sigh.
Her mother’s long white gown flows behind her in the breeze as she slowly wades into the shallow shores of the ocean. Her fingertips skim the glassy water’s surface as her dress gathers around her legs. Maia stands with reluctance on the shore, the rolling hills of the tranquil New Zealand coastline sitting behind her. The sky a placid dome of blue, a light breeze sends the newly fallen leaves tumbling across the deserted beach.
Scanning the shoreline, Maia watches with trepidation as the coast on either side of her slowly wraps around until it connects across the ocean, transforming the body of water into an immense lake. Her mother now stands alone in the middle, reaching out to Maia.
“Come, my darling,” she says with a smile.
Behind her mother a foreign city now looms, murky and vague. Countless dark towers shoot into the sky, disappearing into a rolling layer of low-lying, black clouds. Maia stands frozen along the beach, consumed by fear. The water just a step away, she peers over the edge to find the shallow shore has morphed into a sudden drop into a bottomless watery abyss.
“Mum, I can’t jump!” she shakes her head, frantic as her mother’s body begins to dissolve into the sea. “Please, don’t do this.”
Her mother’s hands clench in fists at her sides. “Stop being so afraid, Maia. I’m trying to help you!” Her fading voice is suffocated into a whisper, the details of the mysterious city behind her are now illuminated through her gown. “Hurry!” Her mother reaches out to her.
The once placid ocean is now furious, sending countless massive crests of water hurling towards Maia. Her mother continues to call to her, and then she stops, suddenly mesmerized by something along the shore. Her eyes narrow and her hands drape to her sides, placated like a rag doll. A smile curves up from her lip, and then she disappears completely.
Maia cries out, but her screams are immediately silenced. The ocean is still heaving massive swells at her feet, sending white explosions of water scattering into the wind, but the surges make no sound. There is no ruffling in the trees, no birds chirping along the shore. Panting, Maia’s gasps remain mute despite the adrenaline in her veins stealing the breath from her lungs. It is as if the air itself is being sucked into a void.
Soft laughter travels in waves across the barren expanse. Chills race up Maia’s spine as she recognizes the laughter as her own. She turns hesitantly to face a fierce young woman standing alone along the shore. Her delicate white gown ripples softly behind her as she steps with confidence towards Maia.
Maia remains frozen, captivated … terrified, as the ghost of herself glares at her with two different colored eyes that faintly glimmer like crystal. Her flawless skin is like porcelain, her long, deep red ringlets of hair spill across her shoulders and down her back.
Maia pulls frantically at her own hair, discovering her long, auburn waves have been replaced by a full head of vibrant, red spirals. She wraps her arms tightly around herself, trembling in her sheer white gown, but she cannot move. They stand across from each other—mirror images, motionless and silent.
Then the ghost reaches slowly for Maia, a peculiar grin spreading wide across her face, and Maia unleashes an earth-shattering wail.
Shooting up in bed, Maia’s screams still pour from her lungs. Her clothing and sheets are once again soaked with sweat, her face streaked with tears. She clutches at the sheets, gasping for air as her grandfather rushes to her side.