When Ashlyn woke up, she was lying with her back on the ground, surrounded by tall bushes of wheatgrass. The cloudy sky in front of her was tainted in an unnatural pink shade. A light breeze was gently bending the wheatgrass; beams of sunlight were casting a tangerine color on the clouds.
She leaned on the soft soil and got on her feet. The wheatgrass was reaching her chest, and above it, far away, a massive sun was setting. The old star was sinking into the horizon, sending soft, warm rays as a way of saying “Good night”.
Ashlyn turned around at the sound, only to see small ripples of water in a lake a few meters away. She walked towards the area, until the wheatgrass became a fine sand. The calm waters of the lake were bruised here and there by the breeze, and the ripples were already fading.
On her right, sitting on the sand, a man with curly, short black hair was fiddling with some small white pebbles. As she stepped in his direction, the sand squeaked, and the man turned his head in her direction. His familiar red skin, coarse beard and glasses left Ashlyn with eyes as wide as plates. She opened her mouth only to let out a stutter:
The old man gave her a broad, knowing smile, before patting the sand next to him. Awe-struck, Ashlyn approached and sat down in the sand at his side. The water was gently lapping on the shore. The two of them sat in silence, admiring the sky and throwing pebbles, smiling at the splashing sound they made when they fell into the water.
As the sky was becoming darker, Ashlyn noticed small, yellow lights at the center of the lake. The lights were faint, and stayed completely still. Observing them intensely, Ashlyn realized the lights weren’t like anything she had seen before. They were in the water. “Phosphorescent plants, maybe?”, she thought.
She stood up and walked towards the water, before stopping abruptly. After a few centimeters, she couldn’t see the sand anymore, and the water seemed very deep. The lights were still there, under the water, but they were not faint anymore. They were glowing brighter and brighter.
Mesmerized, Ashlyn leaned over, trying to get a glimpse of what incredible phenomenon was happening down there. Suddenly, the lights started dimming. Twisting her neck and stretching her muscles to get closer, she struggled not to fall into the abyss. Her trembling and precarious balance failed her. She felt her body tilt forward, and fell head first in the water.
The world turned upside down as Ashlyn found herself on her feet, gasping. She was completely dry, standing on a wide rock. She swiftly turned around to see the shore of the lake behind her. Except that Grandpa, the sand and the wheatgrass were gone. Instead, she was surrounded by large, flat rocks forming platforms all the way up to the horizon.
She looked around her. A few meters away, a lone cherry tree was leaning on a rock. Behind the tree, a dense white fog was hiding part of the landscape.
On her left, dawn was painting the clear sky with warm shades. Ashlyn walked up to the tree. The plant was blooming; delicate pink flowers were sprouting all over it, exhaling a bittersweet aroma. The air was becoming warmer as the sunrays started stroking her back. She faced the rising sun, basking in the light with her eyes closed. A serene smile stretched the corners her mouth.
When she turned around, she was not alone anymore. A woman was standing in front of her, hiding behind the tree. Dressed in long, dark robes, Ashlyn could only see the woman’s face. She looked strikingly like her, and yet so different. Her eyes were hollow, her skin like paper. Dark circles under her eyes made her look ten years older than Ashlyn herself. The woman was staring at her, gauging her from behind the tree. After a few seconds, she seemed to have made up her mind and moved from behind the tree, lifting her robes.
A little girl sprung from under the robes, throwing herself at Ashlyn. Surprised, she kneeled and opened her arms before the child harmed herself by falling on the rocks.
“I’m so happy to see you!” the little girl exclaimed, nesting in her arms.
Ashlyn looked at her, dumbfounded.
“Huh…what is this place?” she asked. “And who are you, honey?”
“This is Oase,” answered the little girl. “And I’m Ashlyn; this is Ashlyn too” she finished with a smile, pointing at the woman solemnly standing near the tree.
“I don’t understand…” said Ashlyn. “This doesn’t make any sense.”
“Oh, that’s true, you’re new here!” said the child, holding Ashley’s face in her hands. “Don’t worry, I can explain to you.”
The little girl sat down on the rock, waiting for Ashlyn to join her. She pushed her hair over her shoulders, and began:
“We’re all Ashlyn here. I know, because I have been here the longest. I am what was. Ashlyn here,” she said pointing at the woman, “is what may be. There are many like her, all different. But she has been through a lot, so she is best to protect me. You just arrived, because you are what is…and also what could be. But we are not sure how you will turn out yet.”
Ashlyn blinked. “I don’t understand…I am just me, that’s it…”
The girl took her hand. “It’s ok. Deep down, you don’t need to understand. Oase will show you the way. And then it will all make sense.”
Behind the girl, the woman cleared her throat.
“I need to go,” said the little girl. “I just want to give you this, you take care of it, yes?”
She placed a small plastic figurine in Ashlyn’s open palm; a small dalmatian laying down, wearing a red collar.
“That was my favorite toy when I was little! I lost it a few years ago…” whispered Ashlyn.
The little girl smiled mischievously at her, got up and climbed in the woman’s arms. She then pointed to something behind Ashlyn.
Ashlyn stood up and turned around. Where the fog once was, a tall mountain was standing. A path started on the rocks and twined up the mountain, before fading into a dense forest. The top of the mountain was hidden by a layer of clouds, but Ashlyn could see from afar, tiny yellow lights blinking through them.
The mountain was calling to her. She started walking, and reached the quickly inclining path; this would not be easy.
Ashlyn turned around, looking back towards the cherry tree. The woman turned around and started walking away. The little girl popped her head over the woman’s shoulder; she nodded with a smile, and waved at Ashlyn. The woman walked past the cherry tree, and they disappeared.
Ashlyn stood still for a few seconds, clutching the figurine in her hand. And she started climbing the mountain again.
Following the tiny yellow lights.