Her nightmares have been occurring more and more. No matter how hard she 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 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 holds out a single trembling hand. With one sweeping motion, she commands the branches of the overgrown trees to swoop to the ground, clearing the once obstructed trail leading to the beach. She wanders along the path, careful to avoid the huddled branches on the ground, now quivering from the fear of being crushed.
Stepping from the forest onto the warm sand, Maia is immediately enveloped into her mother’s welcoming embrace. “Good, darling. Very good,” her mother whispers with a smile. She grasps Maia’s hands and leads her farther onto the beach. “Now,” her mother says with an even bigger smile. “Do the same with all the bush.”
Maia turns to the woods behind them. Swiping her hand across the landscape, she gasps as every tree and bush bows to the ground.
“Shhh, be careful--don’t hurt them. They are all your children,” her mother says. She grabs Maia’s shoulders and steps behind her. “Look how they bow to you. Look how much they love you.”
Alarmed, Maia retracts her hand. The trees uncoil upwards, 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?”
Maia’s mother gazes down at her with a discouraged look across her face. “Come,” she says with a sigh. Wading into the ocean, her fingertips skim the glassy surface, and her white gown flows behind her.
Maia stands reluctantly on the shore with the rolling hills of the tranquil New Zealand coastline sitting behind her. The sky a placid dome of blue, a light breeze sends newly fallen leaves tumbling across the beach.
Scanning the shoreline, Maia watches 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.
Maia’s mother stands in the middle, reaching out to her. “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 black clouds.
Maia stands frozen on the beach, consumed with fear. The water is just a step away. She peers over the edge to find the 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 voice fades 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, 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 lips and then she disappears completely.
Maia cries out but her screams are immediately silenced. The ocean is still heaving swells at her feet, sending white explosions of water scattering into the wind, but the surges make no sound. There is no rustling in the trees, no birds chirping along the shore. Maia’s gasps remain mute despite her adrenaline stealing the breath from her lungs. It’s 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 to face a fierce young woman standing alone along the shore, her delicate white gown rippling softly behind her.
Maia remains frozen, captivated … terrified, as the reflection of herself glares at her with two different-colored eyes faintly glimmering like crystal. Her skin is like porcelain, and her long red ringlets of hair spill down her back.
Maia pulls frantically at her hair; her long auburn waves have been replaced by a full head of red spirals. Wrapping her arms around herself, she trembles in her white gown.
The two stand across from each other, mirror images, motionless and silent. Then the ghost reaches for Maia as a peculiar grin spreads 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 is soaked with sweat, her face streaked with tears. She clutches at the sheets, gasping for air as her grandfather rushes to her side.