I walk through a forest, the cool breath of leaves familiar and soothing. For a short time a flowering tree’s perfume overpowers the subtler smells of soil and growth. It lingers.
It takes me a while to realise that the air changed afterwards, a trace of rot and fever tainting the air. Looking for a way back I see the colours and shapes have shifted. I could still name the species, but theyy all look like they have grown slightly off.
There is no trace of my passage, no way back. I swallow a lump that sits in my stomach cold as stone, and walk on. The forest is not big.
I notice brighter light just before I squeeze between two bushes that don’t quite touch yet. The clearing beyond smells of fresh green, and only the contrast with my last breath shows me how poisonous the air had gotten.
There is a waterfall veiling a cliff, feeding a small lake. I step to the water’s edge. There is no ripple, even though there should be.
I should not touch this.
I take a step back without thinking. My reflection rises from the water, smiling wickedly, its hands behind its back. It opens its mouth and I turn to run, behind me a trilling birdcall breaking from my reflection’s throat, loud enough to hurt my ears.
Something trips me. I try to get my feet under me, but there’s something around my ankle - a black hand. I kick at my shadow’s head as it gains dimension, but my foot passes right through it, kick at the fingers curled around my leg, but my boot passes through my shadow, only scraping my own skin.
My shadow, black but half-transparent, featureless, crawls over me and pins me down.
My reflection walks up to me, one foot in front of the other, and smiles. “Well done, sister.”
I buck and scream, but they ignore me.
My reflection brings her hands to her front. She’s holding two iron spikes and a hammer. I freeze in panic. To her my shdow has no substance, either; she bends down through it and drives one spike through my heart, into the ground. My heart stops, I can’t breathe, I can’t move; the world turns silent. All that’s left are my thoughts. Why am I not dead yet?
After stroking my face, saying gentle words, my reflection drives the other spike through my skull, in between the eyes, out of the back of my head, into the ground.
Time shatters. No thoughts, no breath, no control. Only pain and fear that will not end.