Cassandra sat at her desk. It was a mess, much like her life, though it was a much easier one to sort out. Homework was scattered about in pages and books, mingling with pencils and pens and highlighters that were in a colorful disorder. If she wanted to, Cassandra could easily pick up the pages and stack them in a neat pile from order of work-on-it-now-oh-my-god to extra credit. The books could be ordered from largest to smallest or by color against the wall. The pencils, pens and highlighters would naturally be arranged by use in the corner so they wouldn’t roll away.
But that was too much effort.
She stared at the screen; the blank word document stared back at her.
The girl nervously tugged at her dress. It was blue and had ruffles underneath that brushed her knees. Despite the lack of sleeves, Cassandra felt no cold. Instead of her usual brown scarf at her neck was a black choker. She tapped at it, creating a muffled chk-chk-chk that calmed her as it vibrated against her throat.
Cassandra took a deep breath. She rested both gloved hands at the keyboard and thought, thought as hard as she could about what to write.
There was a rupture. Somewhere, something inside of her exploded from the pressure and she began to hemorrhage the images onto the screen.
First it was a blue scarf. It unfurled from the limp figure on the ground, the lacy edges stained in blood. Silken, black hair that shined with sweat crept at her feet. A pale face stared blankly at the ceiling. Then the red scarf, thick and ruffled wrapped around another figure. His chest rose too slowly. Next to him was a frail body whose tan skin had faded. The green scarf, saturated with blood, clung to his wrist.
A dying tree rose from the carpet and grasped the wall for support as its branches creaked and reached for the ceiling. It loomed over the bodies, its wrinkled blossoms floated down to them.
Cassandra opened her mouth, the scream building up in her heart.
But it stopped. It got stuck in her throat and a pressure began to build. She wanted to scream, hoping the noise would shatter the horror before her.
Instead the ceiling cracked. She looked up. A blinding light spilled in.
She found herself in a familiar field.
There was no pain this time.
So she blinked and turned her head, cautious, ready for sudden pain.
There was a forest in front of her. Even from the distance she stood it was huge. The trees were the most pristine redwoods she had ever seen. The wood was a rich, deep red, the cracked bark strong and sturdy. They towered above one another, each seemingly bigger than the other yet uniform in size and height.
She took a step forward.
“I wouldn’t do that if I was you.”
Cassandra spun to face the familiar voice.
“Hello, Cassandra,” he said.
She swallowed and stared at the entity. He certainly looked like a person. His build was tall and slight. Ectomorphic. That was the word her brain sluggishly reached for. The strange man looked young, perhaps somewhere in his 20s. But he more she tried to quantify that, the more of a blur he became. Releasing that idea, Cassandra could see him slide back into focus. His hair was black and had some wave and volume to it. The bangs covered his eyes, leaving his smirk to be the most visible and striking feature. He wore a black shirt and pants, both of which fit his lean form.
Cassandra’s cheeks began to turn red.
He let out a laugh, one that made her heart beat faster.
“I did say I’d be keeping an eye on you.” He slid his hands into his pockets. The man cocked his head to the side. His bangs parted to reveal one of his eyes. It sent a jolt of fear and excitement through her. His eye was just big enough to feel unnatural. The iris took up more of the whites than the normal human eye, and it ensnared her. The border was a dark red that slowly bled into a green and then golden yellow that hugged the pupil.
He righted his head, his eye hidden again.
Cassandra remained where she stood. Now that his gaze was hidden, a fog had lifted from her mind. He felt too close yet was not within arm’s reach.
“I figured,” the man continued as if there had been no pause, “that it was time to properly introduce myself. I’ve been enough of a creeper, don’t you think?” He gave her a smile reveal perfect, white teeth. “You were bound to actually find me without any aid at some point, but I think we would have both run out of time and have to start the whole thing over.” He crossed his arms. “And, well, we remember how painful that was last time, don’t we?”
Cassandra managed a small nod, though she only had a vague notion of what he was talking about.
“So. Here I am!” He grinned. “You’ve found me! Thoughwithhelp.” His grin then faded. “But, really, Cassandra, there were better ways this could have been handled–ah!” He held up a finger before she could protest. “Not your fault, though.” He pushed aside a lock of hair, revealing the other eye. “Really. I insist, it wasn’t your fault.”
She licked her lips. A tingling began at the base of her spin.
“I’m here for you.”
Cassandra stared. It was both the most menacing and comforting thing in the world to hear.
“We have a lot of work to do, I think.” He then let out a laugh. “Ah…me. Thinking.” The man shook his head, the only one to get his own joke. “So, Cassandra, you’ve gotten my attention, sought me out enough so I could reach out to you. Very, very strange, did you know that?”
“Uh,” Cassandra finally found her voice. “Actually, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
He let out another laugh. “In good time you will. My apologies, this is quite a load of information for any one human. But I have faith in you!” He reached into his pocket and pulled out an apple. It was her favorite kind, and it resembled his eyes.
Cassandra stared at the pocket. There was no way those pockets could have held an apple of that size.
“You have to agree, though,” the man said. “I cannot force you into anything. Showing you, sure, but you will likely go mad with everything I show you unless you accept and agree.”
Cassandra felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand. Forbidden. That was the word that flashed in her mind like a neon sign in the worst part of town.
But of course she felt that.
“I’m surprised you don’t have slit pupils,” Cassandra felt herself saying.
The man let out another laugh. Not an airy, frustratingly confident one, but a deep laugh–as if he truly enjoyed what she had just said.
“That tale is nowhere near as old as I am,” he said. “Do you accept, then? I promise you have no paradise to lose.”
Cassandra took a step forward. Then another. She reached out with a gloved hand. Through the thin fabric she felt how cool the apple was.
“I can’t entail what you’re about to agree to.” The man waved his hand. “Well, other than, you know, no slavery, life of servitude, and no permanent, soul-binding clauses to keep you to anything for a thousand lifetimes.” His smile became rueful. “Well, for you at least.”
Cassandra eyed him. She brought the apple to her lips and took a bite. The crunch echoed in her ears. It was sweet. Sweeter than any of the ones she had ever purchased at the store.
The man’s smile looked a little too big for a normal human.
“It’s nice to finally meet you, Cassandra. My name is Uriel.”
She jerked awake. Cassandra stared at the blank word document. She looked around, readjusting her scarf, the material warm against her bare hands.
Cassandra licked her lips. The hints of apple were still there.