Girl walked. And she walked.
She walked until the playground behind her had been hidden by one of the corroding hills. She learned to cover her eyes whenever the wind blew. She walked until she was thirsty and her shoes were covered with dust. She had a strange dream in which she was back in her home, drawing a picture of herself and her brother, side by side. “That doesn’t look like me,” complained her brother, but Girl was drifting, drifting to set the picture on her mother’s bedside table.
A drop of sweat slid down the back of Girl’s neck. She raised her free hand to touch her burning hair, and then glared up at the sun. She wondered if the sun was climbing the sky faster than she was walking. Girl looked around. She was in a place of sky and earth, and that was all there was. It was a very lonely place. She looked at the spool of red ribbon in her hand. She knew that the only difference between what was behind her and what was before her was the trail of ribbon, marking the way she had come. Girl knelt down in the dust and wrapped the ribbon twice around her wrist. She thought about time, and distance, and things she had never thought about before. She thought about loss and love.
And Girl felt the desire to press on, to cross this barren scar. And she felt the desire to stay forever in this harsh place. But her heart whispered to her its terrible, heavy secret. Girl thought of her mother and bowed her head to the hot sun. Girl thought of her mother and lost one bitter drop to the dry earth.
Girl stood up and turned to go back the way she had come. And then she jerked in shock, and looked again.
There was a dark figure on the land. Someone was coming! Girl’s heart leaped in fear and galloped in place. When had this person arrived? How long—she wasn’t ready! Girl thought about hiding, but there was nowhere to hide. Then she thought about running, but she could not run. She would not run! She glanced quickly at the figure, steadily approaching. White hair, long dark dress—a woman, Girl thought. Girl ducked her head and pressed her hands together. Her mind was reeling and she felt faint.
Was she supposed to give a gift to the woman? She had brought nothing but red ribbon.
Would she have to fight?
Would she be refused because of what she had done?
And then there was no more time. A pair of boots was within her sphere of vision.
“Stand up straight and be polite,” said her mother.
Girl tripped forward a few steps, confused. She lifted her head dutifully, and looked.