The little girl was watching her own feet move swiftly through the summer grass. “Run!” they had urged her. Run. There had no longer been any options. Obeying their command, she crossed the meadow and made for the stream, and the woods beyond. Anywhere, anywhere, to get away from what now lay behind her, what had caused her breath to freeze inside her lungs before it could turn into a scream. She silently crossed the stone bridge and began to climb the narrow path at the foot of the mountain, her heart darting ahead in front of her like a startled deer.
Up and up. The forest rose tall on either side, in front of her, and then also behind her. “Keep running,” her feet insisted, but her body was beginning to tire and would no longer obey them. She left the path through a gap in the undergrowth and collapsed in a small dell, thick layers of pine needles tenderly cushioning her fall.
This was the end. This was as far as she could run. An abyss of despair grew wide and dark inside her chest, devouring her whole world. Nothing else existed, only it. Only it. Her breath began to return in sobs, small at first but then shaking her violently, making her gasp, forcing her to howl out this acrid void and replace it with soothing forest air.
After a while, a soft wind began to whisper in the trees, bringing with it the warm scent of summer and of earth. The girl wiped her eyes. Above her, treetops were swaying gently in the breeze, moving this way and that, making visible the breath of the world. “It’s alright,” the forest whispered. “You are safe with me.” A wave of warmth washed over her, and she felt herself cradled and protected by her surroundings. Her heart grew calm, and her strength began to return. Soon she would get up and walk back to the house, that place where her parents were so immersed in fighting with each other that they hadn’t even noticed her leave, this time for good.