A white mist appears, drifts towards me and brushes my cheek, gently combing through my chestnut hair. My dark violet dress dances around my calves. The fog settles, dissolving into a painting of crimson and scarlet. A sea of rose petals.
“Find it.” A deep voice ripples through the air as something nudges me into the image. I close my eyes and embrace the fall…
I wake up. It was the same dream – but I’d never received instructions before. I look down to my faded hair and dress and stroke the lace trimmings. If only my curls were that rich hue again. The wind drags around the house, in contrast to the usual deafening silence. I sigh and get up, time’s running out.
Maybe today I’ll find something with color. Maybe I’ll even find that place, if it even exists, which seems impossible, but my world has been altered so much ever since The Change arrived, the invisible force that covered the earth with dark clouds and sucked away all color in an instant, leaving only dull monochrome in its wake. Jade grass became ashen; indigo eyes resembled stone. Water dissolved to thicken those clouds, and strange, inexplicable creatures began roaming the planet. We thought it was over, just climate change gone bad, but then a strange mist rolled across the ground and paralyzed everyone it touched within seconds.
The radio had blared of the spread until its voice, too, became silent. But not mine. Somehow, I am the only one that wasn’t affected, a witness as my parents breathed in the strange smoke and faded away within a few seconds. So now the world is filled with statues, breathing but not alive.
It would probably be the preferred alternative to traditional invasion theories; nobody died, and hunger and war disappeared. I always thought of The Change as a great beast, the one that stole away everything I loved. Now, only loneliness is my companion.
I sit down at the table and study my map covered in trail markings. There aren’t many more places to look. I don’t even know what I’ll do if I find that place, but the search keeps me sane – just. Dragging my hand through my hair, I gingerly fold the map, careful not to tear its worn edges. I pack it in with the compass, notebook and a blanket in my satchel, but add no food or water. There is no need, as the cloud somehow preserves me like the statues.
On my way out, I pause at the living room’s archway. There they are, on the worn leather couch, staring blankly at the wall. My parents. For a moment I just watch the steady rise and fall of their chests while I wait for the feeling of dread choking me to subside. It has already been a year, but there must be a way to save them.
I go to my mother and brush the dust from her pale cheek, kiss it, and my tear momentarily restores some color in a thin trail down her cheek as it washes away the dust. I lightly straighten my father’s favorite jacket, feel its thick texture and try not to think too much about how often his embrace has comforted me. I straighten, allow a slow breath to permeate my lungs, square my shoulders and head outside.
Entering the town, I let my gaze travel over my fallen community. The dusty buildings make the once-lively village look like a ghost town, haunted by legends. The Sheriff leans against the beam of his porch and stares out at the mountains, expression locked in placid wonder. His sweetheart, Miss Lavenday, stares at him lovingly from the balcony across the street, unable to bridge that distance. A dust devil twirls around in a spiral. I look towards the mountains. That’s where I’ll go. My feet move as if on their own accord. The search is all there is.
Miles away, the landscape gradually transitions from dry country to desert. If it were not for the cool clouds, I would have been scorched. Sand crunches under my boots, but I see only ash. The world needs color. The ground shakes and a lizard-like creature bursts from the sand next to me. It turns towards me, sand streams from its leathery back as it regards me with suspicion, then turns complacent as it recognizes my humanity. For a moment I brace, but then relax. I have become so used to these beasts that came with The Change. It strides a few feet away and sways back and forth into the sand until it disappears, and I wonder what color it would have been if The Change hadn’t removed that quality from the world.
Ashen sand turns to stones as I climb through the mountain pass. I sleep in a cave but light no fire; its grey waves are only a taunt of what I loved most about it.
After a few hours of restless sleep, I continue my journey. It’s dark, but my eyes are accustomed to it and I don’t fear any danger. Earth’s beasts have received the same fate as humans. In every sense, the world is subdued.
It is when I climb through that last crevasse of the mountain that I find it. My dream. It stretches as far as my eyes can see. There is no water, only rose petals rolling in slow waves. I marvel at the chromatic splendor. It seems alive, and my eyes close as a delightful aroma saturates my senses.
I run to the edge and then hesitantly reach for a drifting petal, afraid that it will disappear. It clings to my hand and my fingers glide over its velvet surface. The thread of hope that had occupied my heart grows into elation as I imagine how this somehow wakes my parents, that this color restores their contours.
I should take some back.
After I gather some of the petals in my hand, they start to turn and bend in on my palm in a silken caress. They grow into one another, forming the intricate folds of a rose. I feel something prodding my palm and lift the rose, only to see a moss-green stalk grow a few inches long. A laugh escapes from me and it feels like my very being here is changing… everything. The dream was true, and I was right to hope.
I gather as many roses as I can carry, carefully lay them in the blanket, and mark the sea on my map. Then I take a brisk walk home. Every minute feels like an eternity. Did it work?
I arrive home, rush to the living room, place a rose on each of their laps, and wait. After an hour, my parents remain unchanged; still and expressionless. I failed, and a sinking feeling that reaches the very pit of my heart. It makes sense. How could roses ever save them? I curse my false hope and fill a vase with water, add the rest of the roses, and place it on the coffee table.
“I brought this for you. You love roses, remember?”.
I can almost hear my heart crack like glass as tears flood my vision. My voice is barely a whisper.
“I can’t do this anymore”.
I close the curtains and go upstairs; my footsteps are heavy. I collapse on the bed and fall asleep to the sound of grey darkness and the painful sting in my soul.
I have another dream, but this time I’m in the sea, swimming. Then I hear it. Laughter. Better yet, their laughter. I wait for the dream to pass, but that sweet melody only gets louder. I jump upright and almost tumble down the stairs but pause at the foyer, close my eyes and pray that its real.
I tentatively step to the kitchen. There they are. A pause, then, “Lorelei?” My heart’s rhythm becomes almost deafening.
The most delighted smile lights mother’s delicate features, her teal eyes filled with vitality. No dust, and no grey. “There you are, darling! We were wondering when you’d get up!”
I cannot answer.
“Why are you crying, dear?”
I am no longer alone.
Alisa Willemse is an avid writer born and raised in a small town called Carletonville, South-Africa. She especially adores writing flash fiction, short stories, and poetic prose. Follow the quirky writer’s life of Alisa on Twitter at @AlisaWillemse and read more of her unique work at https://medium.com/@alisaburger