Where... where am I?
Aria awoke with her head resting upon a pillow of dry, dusty earth. Shriveling blades of grass grew in rows running parallel at the sides of the earth; the plants were weakly reaching out towards their opposite sides, but to no avail. A heavily clouded gray set a dim atmosphere, and the scent of rain filled her nose. The wind kept whistling behind her, seemingly changing direction when she turned to meet it.
Aria picked herself up and brushed the dust off her dress and looked around at her surroundings. She was standing on a road in the middle of nowhere, plains of cracked and dieing plants spread out as far as the eye could see. The wind calmed its whistle long enough to tug her north down the road. Having no better plan, Aria decided to follow the road and see where it took her. Step by step, eddies of yellow dust were kicked up behind her, falling down to blur her footprints.
It seemed as if hours had passed since she started, but in this atmosphere, she had no safe idea as to how long it really was. Her sleepy eyes tightened around the edges as she tried to pass the time thinking about why she was here. Think as hard as she could, she could just not come to any solid conclusion. She thought so hard on the subject that she never saw the object rise from the edge of the landscape in front of her until she cut the distance between in half. “A fork in the road and some sort of sign!” Aria exclaimed as she took off to finish the gap.
Catching her breath, Aria lifted her head to the sign but was shocked with what she saw. The wooden arrows were roughly nailed to the post pointing each other. “Which way” and “Is which” were painted onto the signs. Dropping to the ground, Aria slammed her fists into the dirt and laid her head down. “Where am I! Why am I here?” she said with a quivering voice. Poor, poor Aria; she had walked all this way for just another puzzle.
The wind began its familiar whistle, but before she could turn around to shout at it, a soft clatter was heard In front of her. Standing on the rock, a strange man was staring down at her with an empty stare. The man was long and lanky, skinny as a broomstick, and wore a ruffled black suit. The man wore a white circular mask covering his entire face, with only three holes cut into it; one hole for his mouth, and two for his eyes. Strapped to his back was the signpost with two lanterns hanging down, casting a dim light on the area. How long had she been lying there? How long since the gray sky had darkened nearly to night? The man crawled forward on the rock, and held up a wooden finger to the girls mouth, motioned for her to be quiet.
“Hello Aria” the mans gentle voice spoke. “He-hello... sir” Aria cautiously replied. While the man had seemed odd and strangely not dangerous, Aria still had long ago learned not to take needless risks. “You don't remember me do you child?” “Remember you? Do I know you” she quietly responded. The man lifted his head and stared at the sky for awhile before seemingly snapping back to reality. He clumsily turned to his lanterns hanging from his back and turned a small level that increased the flame and consequently the amount of light pooling on the area under them. Aria began to speak, but couldn't keep her jaw open as she now looked down at ten roads branching out in a circle around her. She furiously towards toward the man to shout, but he just sat there, uncomfortably sprawled out on the rock, just staring at her. Staring, that is if you could call it that.
Leaning forward on the rock, balancing on the edge of a rock that should have had him falling to the ground, his light slowly began to creep towards her, reaching out towards Aria. Aria began to step back, but memories started to crawl into her mind of when she was younger; strange blurry memories of her parents showing her a picture of this man while she laid in her crib. I will always be here to light your way back home. I will always protect you, even when the world is against you; I will protect you. When your parents created me, they poured into me all the love they had for you, and I can tell you that no matter what you will do, they will always have their arms open to you. “You are no longer a little child who needs my protection Aria, but still here I am, offering you the way back home. You can take any path you wish, some with good, and others with bad endings. I cannot guarantee you will always like it, but I guarantee the happy times will outweigh the unhappy. Let's go home Aria, your parents are worried about you.
Sitting up in her bed, 15 year old Aria looked around, and started to laugh as she rolled off the bed and ran to her cabinet. Under her socks, a package of cigarettes lay still unopened, and she grabbed them and burst out of the room.
Mom! Dad! I need to talk to you, and I'm sorry. I love you so much, and I'm so sorry.
Jessa kissed Aria on the forehead and started to close the door, but her child had already passed out. Tiptoeing back to her bedroom, she opened a drawer in her dresser and found a picture of the strange man drawn roughly on a wrinkled sheet of paper. “Thank you old friend” she murmured as she looked at the paper with a smile on her face. Setting the paper back in with the rest of the odds and ends the drawer had to share, she closed the drawer and went back down to sleep with her husband.
I don't mind sitting here in the darkness, as long as she doesn't have to. Love your parents Aria, because they will always love you.