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I started walking cautiously through the meadow, and slowly my feet carried me deeper into the tunnel of darkness. The murky storm clouds sparked flashes of lightning, and thunder boomed in the distance. Everything that was lush and green before had now turned russet and wilted. Even the velvet carpet of emerald grass so vibrant minutes ago was now brown and crunched beneath my footsteps. The summer time atmosphere and a gentle breeze was replaced by a harsh cold thrash of rigid wind. My teeth began to chatter and I crossed my arms over my chest attempting to shield myself from the vicious weather but failed to do so. I was dressed in thin athletic clothing, unprepared to battle such a horrendous storm. My journey continued sluggishly through the gusts of wind, my head tilted downwards and my eyes closed to protect them from the debris that was being kicked up by the storm. All of this ironically made me think back to the time that Stefen and I were given the chance to travel to Anchorage Alaska. The bitter Alaskan air was in close comparison to this surprise storm, and even though the two us were dress head to toe in ‘Canada Goose Parkas’, we could still feel the frigid air knocking at our bones. Our trip came to us as a surprise after Stefen received a letter from his birth mother inviting the two of us for a visit. She had the letter delivered to him by a young brown eyed boy that told us that he was given $20.00 to give the red envelope to Stefen. The envelope was simply addressed as ‘Son’. An odd and curious happenstance that left many questions. In the letter, his mother requested he visit her in Anchorage, and she also enclosed enough money that pay for two ’round trip plane tickets for him and myself. Which that act alone was peculiar. Stefen was raised by his adopted parents, his biological mother wouldn’t have known anything about me. We just assumed that she would assume that he’d bring along a friend. Stefen knew at a very young age that he’d been adopted, but never thought his mother would reach out to him after she’d given him up when he was only 9 months old. A bitter sweet reunion. After two weeks of spending time with his mother Azalea, he learned of his extended family and traveled back in through time from old photos and stories told by his uncles. Stefen also visited his birth place, an old wooden shack of a house that had been beaten and worn down from the weather as time passed. Such a joyous event that left Stefen feeling complete, and happy to have met his mother along with some of his relatives, then only to return home and find out that Azalea had suddenly passed away from a massive heart attack. Stefen was overwhelmed with sadness and distraught from the news, that he disappeared from the world and from me for an entire month. The devastation of losing his mother twice was heartbreaking, but the joy of spending her last days in total bliss and then having the big question of ‘why she had given him away in the first place?’ Was priceless. It came to be told by his uncle, that Stefen was loved very much by his mother, but she was unable to support the two of them after his father passed away from a freak boating accident before his birth. Azalea adored her son and loved him more than anything, but also knew that Stefen would benefit better in the years to come if he was raised by two parents that could better provide for him. She wanted the best for her only son, so in the end, Azalea gave up her parental rights of her baby and even though her heart shattered and a piece of her died that day, she knew that Stefen’s welfare came first.

“Melody come this way, it’s warm over here Mel come on!” A friendly voice told me. It sounded familiar, but I was unable to pinpoint exactly who it mimicked, especially over the ear-piercing roaring winds and the clanging of my teeth. I really didn’t care if I knew the voice or not, and at this point my only concern was getting warm. I lifted my head towards the voice and started walking in that direction. How could it be warmer where the voice was coming from? This storm seemed to cover more miles than I could travel on foot. How is it that from a shouting distance, there was warmer weather? Shelter, maybe? I thought. Still I forced my way through the eliminates in hopes of finding the joyful voice, that was now being replaced with laughter. A feeling of confidence swept through me that finally this nightmare would be ending. And soon I would be going home and to be safely tucked away in Stefens arms. I was getting closer to the laughter and playful giggles, even the wind began to lesson and an orange glow could be seen up ahead. My steps quickened and my arms unfolded helping my legs carry me into a slow jog towards the warmth of the light. While my mind had forgotten about the hole I was once in, my bruises and cuts along my wrists from earlier did not. They began aching and pulsating, my fingertips began to feel numb and the gash on my forehead now felt open and wet. Soon after I started to run, I could feel a cold trickle streaming down my cheek. While thinking that it was sweat, I rubbed it away with the back of my hand, only to discover that it was blood. I stopped running and stared at the red streak. How could this be? I thought. I inspected my arms that minutes ago were completely normal but now were covered in cuts and bruises, like when I first escaped that confounded imprisonment. Then slowly a pentagram began to take shape on the palm of my hand. I watched in horrified amazement as the star turned white and charred then formed into a raised blister almost like it was being branded into my skin right before my eyes. As it finished its outline, I began to smell a burned flesh odor, similar to charcoal which reminded me of the time when April burned her forearm on an iron, while attempting to flatten out her bed sheets. Not that she would make it a habit of such a chore, but she saw an article in a Cosmopolitan magazine about how ironing your bed sheets and having fresh creases in your bedding would help you to sleep better. It sounded ridiculous to me and against my better judgement, but she gave it a try anyway. Then only 2 minutes into her absurd ‘ah-ha’ moment, she slid the scorching hot iron against her arm in the attempt of making the perfect crease, when a death defying scream echoed throughout the apartment. I ran to my best friend’s side to comfort her, but the reek of her burned flesh forced me to stand back. The stench was over powering and caused me to keep my distance. April needed medical attention from her attempt at a better night’s sleep, so we spent the rest of our day at the emergency room, and needless to say she never picked up another iron.

I wrinkled up my nose and squinched my eyes at the foul smell of my own burning skin, when an excruciating and unbearable pain pulsated through my hand and sprang up my arm like one giant needle that crippled me and knocked me down to my knees. The insides of my stomach felt knotted and twisted like grape vines and I began retching. Tears rained from my eyes and the ground suddenly began to spin my body around in circles like a carousel. Unable to stop the whirling I dug the fingers of my un marked hand, deep into the soil in a frantic attempt to regain control of myself. But, it was no use. The more I fought back against the swirling, the faster I spun. As I tumbling onto my back I now realized that I was surrounded by red, orange and blue flames, all rippling and waving in sync, daring me to challenge their power and authority over me. The blazes blinded me, while the weight of black smog choked my lungs preventing me from catching my breath. The inferno raged and roared, mocking my every move as it stretched out its webbed fingers up towards the night sky. I could no longer see the forest floor, the trees, or even hear the laughter that beaconed me to this circle of Hell on earth. From all angles, I was surrounded by the firestorm. The sweltering heat scorched my skin and singed my eyes. Sweat sprinted down my face and raced down my neck, drenching the dirty cotton gown, that I wearing again.

“Walk through the valley Melody.” I heard a female’s voice call out to me.

“Come ’on hang out with us, Mel.” Came another voice.

I was unable to stand or move, my body was frozen into this exact spot. Then by no control of my own, my limbs stretched out one by one, beginning with my right arm then my left. They were both stretched out towards the burning blaze, then my legs spread apart molding my body into an ‘X’ formation. I could feel the heat of the fire against the palms of my hands burning my already scorched palm even more. The ill-fitting gown flapped and fluttered with the winds of the firestorm. I fought against the unseen shackles that held me in this obscene position by thrashing my body against the ground demanding my freedom from the bondage that imprisoned me. I was incapable of knowing what had me constrained and starved of the ability to break free of its clutches. My body tensed as I heaved against the invisible ties that now kept me bound inside of the burning inferno. While my lungs filled up with black smoke, I became overwhelmed with pain and anguish forcing out a gruesome scream.

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