Ashes, Ashes, we all fall

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The sun had not shown its face in days

It was a dreary existence—living in this world.

Everything is gray

From the streaks of ash that linger in the atmosphere

To the spindly, lifeless trees

And the dusty road

The winding rock-strewn river that accompanies the road

To the ash-gilded plants.

Only a spot of color is visible in the landscape

One beacon of hope among the monotony

It was white-gold,

The color of spring sunshine, of miracles,

And of irony.

The precious gold crowns the head of a girl no older than fifteen,

It is still miraculously clean, and soft

It had been a few days since she'd last washed it.

And cold ash-intoxicated water could only rid her hair of so much dirt.

The locks fall into a pair of brilliantly effervescent blue eyes

Ice-on-the-mountain blue

Sprinkled with gold and laced with green

Untainted by age or sickness or grief or sadness

Her skin has not lost its tan,

Though the light she once radiated has long since faded.

The freckles that adorned her nose many months ago aren't visible

Hiding under a seemingly permanent smear of dirt

Stretching from cheekbone to cheekbone.

Her collarbones jut out from her skin,

Prominent and grotesque.

Every vertebrae, every rib bone, every joint is hideously obvious

Her tattered clothes and shoes do nothing to fight off the coming winter's chill

But the smile never leaves her hollowed face.

The pale blue eyes every so often trail upwards to her right,

Where her mother walks beside her.

Each carries a heavy pack

Laden with what was left of their food, tools,

And the odds and ends of everything they had ever found in their travels.

The woman's hair used to be a brilliant shade of blue-black

Like in the dead of night, when all that can be heard is

Whispered secrets, stolen kisses, and unforgotten lies.

Now it is salt-and-pepper,

Hanging down in greasy tangled locks to her shoulder blades

Her eyes were once so vividly green,

With a starburst of gold blooming from her pupils

Now they're empty.

The green turned a murky gray.

Even the gleaming gold is now a deluded brown.

She's been sick for awhile now.

She does not complain, hasn't brought it up once.

But the girl knows. The girl knows so much more than she'd ever let on.

She knows that her mother loves her so much it is sometimes unhealthy

She knows that her mother will never admit to being sick. To dying.

She knows that her mother will die soon.

She also knows that without her mother, she will probably die too.

A question burns one morning as they are waking up,

Scorching the tip of the girl's tongue

She squirms as she eats a meager meal of bread heels.

Her mother notices.

"What is it?" she pries, her eyebrows disappearing into her hairline.

"Nothing." She answers too quickly.

"Liar." her mother snapps, pursing her lips.

"How far do we have to go?"

This was not the question she so desperately wanted to ask.

The older woman's eyes flash with something undistinguishable.

"I don't know. Maybe two weeks of travel."

The girl sighs, shoulders sagging.

"Okay."

Early—or late if you prefer—one night, the girl jackknifes to her feet

Her ears prick with the sound of footsteps and machinery far up the road.

Two lights are visible over the crest of a hill on the horizon.

Her vibrant eyes are all that are visible in the inky black

She heads through the thick undergrowth until she reaches the edge of the road

Hiding in the shadows of the hauntingly bare trees.

She can hear voices.

Men.

A large machine. There was a good two miles between them and the new threat

On quick feet, the girl heads back to her mother.

She shakes the woman awake, whispering urgently that someone is coming.

Quickly, their packs are thrown over their shoulders,

Blankets scooped up, fire smothered.

They head deeper into the trees,

Running as fast as under-fed beings possibly can.

And even though they get farther and farther away from the road,

The sound and the tremors grow louder and stronger.

"Who are they?" the girl whispers, "Good or bad?"

The skinny woman shrugs,

Her eyes are dull as they duck behind a mound of boulders

"I can't tell. Wait til they get closer."

"Okay." The girl is shaking with fear. She doesn't want to get caught.

Images flash in front of her, so close she cannot close her eyes against them

Yet to far to reach out and grab.

But all she sees is blood. Bloodbloodblood.

The machine is nearing them. Its roar is deafening,

The lights cast eerie shadows across the landscape.

And then one man shouts and the machine stops

"I see footprints!" he cries as if he's just found a new continent.

All the girl hears is her heartbeat

Pounding somewhere up in her ears.

Footsteps are heard in the dirt

one?

two?

three.

Three men looking for them.
"Goodbye darling." The woman is whispering suddenly.

Bewildered, the girl looks up at her mother.

"What?" The woman drops her pack and places a kiss on her temple.

"They won't look for you," her voice is a choked whisper.

sudden tears gathering in her opaque eyes, "Not if they have me."

"You're crazy!" the girl exclaims, a bit louder than she meant.

The woman brushes a hand across the girl's halo of hair.

"I'm sick. You know that. I was going to die soon anyways."

"Mother, wait, maybe we can—" The girl clutches for her mother's scrawny wrist.

She is gone. Stepping into the light with not trace of fear in her eyes.

The girl's breath hitches as she watches her mother.

So fearless.

So brave.

Tears were already leaking down the girl's cheekbones,

Her mother runs out of sight, wailing as tears cascaded down her own cheeks.

"Please," the girl hears her beg, "Please. I'm alone and I have nothing."

"I will do anything you ask of me; please, I just want to live."

A gruff laugh is heard and the girl's heart breaks.

She hears a click and her blood stops in her veins.

She knows that click.

The same click that took the lives of her brother and her dad.

She collapses to her knees, silent sobs shaking her.

"We have no room for a woman." the man says.

The gunshot is unheard of the torrent of her emotions

But then all is silent. A shuffling in the dirt.

The machine. Then silence as it trundles over the horizon.

The girl hasn't moved.

Blue eyes tinged with red peer around the rocks.

No lump waiting for her to mourn.

She hadn't expected anything less.

She collapsed back to her knees and grief overtook her again.

Uncountable days later, the girl still walks.

But her crown of beloved hair is limp and ragged, hanging limply.

Her jeweled eyes are now only streaks of pale gray on a canvas of ghostly flesh.

She is thinner than ever. She's been without food for three days.

Water wasn't cutting it anymore.

Dying wasn't nearly as painful as she thought it would be.

It was numbing.

All she could think was pain.

All there was, was pain.

Blooming from all the empty spaces between her bones.

Her empty stomach.

Her weak heart.

It was getting colder faster than she could walk.

The icy fingers were seeping through her blankets and tearing at her skin.

All she wants to do is sleep.

An image of her mother flashes before her.

Tears. Lots of tears.

They roll down her cheeks and splatter onto the pavement.

The silent without her mother is unnerving.

Strange. She misses the banter.

A cold wind flutters across the landscape.

Her blood is slowing down in her veins.

Numbly, she sits down.

She will take a nap, that will warm her up.

A voice in her head is screaming at her

She can't sleep. can'tcan'tcan't.

She will die if she sleeps.

A vague thought crosses her mind.

Death wouldn't be so bad, actually…

So she curled up in the ashes, her eyes fluttering closed one final time.

Her lungs make once final attempt to pump oxygen into her body.

Heart stutters once more.

And then darkness descends.

No, she thinks, a smile creasing her face even in her final seconds.

Death isn't so bad.