The grass was swaying in the cool breeze, its tall stalks whispering sweet nothings as it bent down to tickle the tip of her nose. It laughed when she pushed it lightly away, all the while humming to itself. Amidst the green gayety, congregations of dandelions were assembling in solemn silence. With drooping heads they mingled, shaking hands with friends and enemies alike, for this will be the last time they will ever meet again. The fragrant notes of a hymn tingled in the air as first one, and then another, began to sing, their fragile voices spiralling towards the sky in a web of emotions; of grief and parting, of hope and gratitude. Then, with one last look at the world they had learnt to love, the congregations opened their arms to the heavens and succumbed, bursting, to their new fates.
“Make a wish, foolish girl,” chided the wind.
But the girl heeded not, and only closed her eyes. Seeing this, the seeds breathed a quiet sigh, whether in disdain or in relief, and continued about their ways free from the burden of earthly wants.
But the wind only chuckled, and kept on.
Abruptly, and rather without warning, a new and foreign sound forced its way rudely through the sun-lit sky. The girl opened her eyes and sat up. Was that…a trumpet?
She had been lying on the grassy slope of a cliff overlooking a rocky ravine, and it was down its edge that she now peered, cautiously, towards the direction of the noise.
The sound was fading now. Or rather, it was still there, but was gradually being buried by a low, rumbling growl.
The air stood still. The grass around her shook off its earlier carefree jesting and stood, firm and attentive, towards the unknown. A vulture flew by in silence, its majestic shadow gliding smoothly over her as it soared into the canyon below.
It left her shivering under the sun.
The rumbling was growing. She could feel it reverberating through the ground.
At the very edge of the cliff, a lone pebble was trembling. Instinctively, the girl reached toward it.
She saw it the same moment it crescendoed; the bewildered rumbling straightening itself into the rhythmic stomp stomp stomping of heavy boots as an army of men marched into view around a bend in the gorge. They were clad in all black, and wrapped in dust-stained, blood-stained capes. The sun glinted harshly off their sharp metal spears and chain-mail, and brought with it the faint stench of burning flesh. Their steps, which echoed off the canyon walls in resounding tremors, suffocated the very air. Lagging behind the procession was a large wooden cart with stone wheels, drawn by two tired horses. The cart was surrounded by similarly clad soldiers on large black stallions, who were taking turns whipping both the horses and the cart’s contents, their whips hissing in menace as they cut mercilessly through the air.
As they neared, the chilling ensemble came into focus.
Precisely at this moment, the frightened pebble took a fatal step and plummeted over the cliff. Leaning low among the weeds, the girl watched it bounce into the wailing cart below. A little boy’s face turned up towards the cliff, and the two made eye contact.
Except the boy had no eyes.
She couldn’t scream.
Because just then, she too lost her grip and plunged into the sea of soldiers below.