Thank you to @PotataHed for the prompt. It comes from the below Twitter feed.
She awoke in a dark wood, surrounded by mist and pines. There was no sound except for her movements on the damp needles. It was if the world was holding its breath, waiting.
It was only after she stood that she saw the balloons. Their pearlescent sheen was nearly lost in the gloom of the equally white fog that hung low over the forest.
Starting is always the hardest part. The voice tickled in her mind.
She turned her head, trying to pinpoint the source, but only heard her own shuffling.
"Where are you?" Her voice was a whisper but was swallowed whole by the gloom.
I am...here. The voice came again, drifting through her mind without giving her the courtesy of using her ears.
"I can't see you." Instead of rising to search, the woman on the ground tucked her arms around her knees for protection. She didn't know where she was but was very much afraid.
The sigh that followed shook the branches and moved the fog in wisps around the woman. The balloons kept their stolid positions.
The woman gave a cry and buried her face into her lap. She could feel the cold, moist tendrils of fog curl around her frame, soaking into her thin clothes.
"There is nothing to fear." The same voice came to her, this time her words followed the well-worn path of the hearing. "Nothing can hurt you."
The woman looked up into eyes that glowed like the windows of the Nasir al-Mulk mosque. The being's smile offered assurance without words.
"You are safe here," the being repeated. "I offer only guidance through this place, should you wish it."
The woman looked around the dim forest and shivered.
"Where am I?" She asked.
The laugh that escaped from the being's lips was not like the tinkling of bells but a crashing gong that reverberated through the quite forest.
"Is that really the question you most wish to have answered?" The being asked when its laughter had died.
The woman looked around again, trying to remember anything about the forest or how she had gotten there. Nothing was familiar to her. She only knew she wasn't hurt.
"Yes, I..." The woman let the words trail off as she realized something else she did not know.
"Who am I?" The woman asked, aware of her complete lack of memory.
The being sat on the ground next to the woman, adjusting diaphanous robes as it did so.
"Many do not think to ask that so soon." The being nodded approval before waving a hand to indicate the woods around them.
"This place has no name," it said. "You had a name once and a past. That past is the reason you are here."
The pair sat in silence. The woman desperately searched for even one memory of who she was. The being sat complacent as only one with the answers can be.
The woman yelled in frustration and stood to smack the nearest pine tree. The dull ache in her hand made her feel better somehow, as did the heat coming from her damp skin.
"I can't remember." The woman finally admitted.
The being stood and walked to the nearest balloon. With a wave of its hand, the balloon wobbled and floated towards the woman.
"Your name is within, but," the being cautioned, "I must warn you of the consequence of learning it."
"This place is who you were," it continued. "Every piece of your past, every memory, good and bad, are all captured. I know what lies within each but you do not. I cannot give you the knowledge I have, only offer advice."
The being reached into a dark green pouch the woman had not seen before. The small dagger that was produced had a thin silver blade against a dark wooden handle.
The being took a step towards the woman and offered her the weapon.
"Only this can release the memories," the being said, "but please listen before you make any choices."
The woman's hands itched to grasp the blade and pop the nearest balloon. The being told her they contained all she had forgotten. Why should she wait a moment longer? Wouldn't knowing who she was help her leave this place?
Instead of grasping the blade, the woman clutched her hands in front of her and turned her head.
"Please put it away," the woman's voice shook. "I will listen to you but please put the knife away until you are finished. I don't trust myself with it so near."
Again the being nodded and smiled in approval. The dagger was quickly sheathed and the pouch again lost to the folds of the ever shifting fabric.
A slight sob escaped the woman when it was gone from sight. She only realized after she had refused the dagger what the meaning of world was.
"I've died." Her voice was softer than the fog still curling around them. "This is death."
The being sighed. This time it was a soft sigh, one that only shook the barest edges of the trees.
"You have died," it agreed.
"How?" The woman waved away the question almost immediately. "I am sure it is contained somewhere in this forest. Asking anything about myself is pointless, isn't it?"
The being drifted towards the woman to offer a comforting hand.
"All is not lost," it said as it turned the woman to face the darkest part of the forest. "There is always a way out and I have come to offer advice. You choose your own path though."
The woman nodded and wiped away tears that had escaped the corners of her eyes. She looked into the colored glass eyes of the being and waited.
The being pointed to the balloon nearest them, the one holding the woman's name.
"As I told you, this wood is filled with your memories," it said. "Every single second of your life is here."
The woman trembled. The knowledge of who she was lay so close. Her hands tightened into painful fists as she fought to keep herself from bodily searching the being for the dagger she had so recently refused.
"That is the way out." The being pointed towards a dark trail only just visible in the gloom. It did not escape the woman's notice that no balloons lined the path.
"The choice is yours," the being seemed almost sad as it said these words. "I can only tell you that if you choose to burden yourself with your past, you will lose this path, possibly forever."
The being shifted, producing again the pouch containing the dagger. It removed the pouch and set it on the ground between itself and the woman. The being gave one more sad smile before turning into the gloom and fading away.
It took several moments for the woman to realize the being would not be returning to her side. She looked down at the pouch and back to the dark path.
Her scream of frustration was louder than the being's sighs and even her precious memories trembled at the sound.
With tears in her eyes, the woman raced down the dark path. Everything blurred in her vision, but she kept running. It wasn't until she slammed into something soft and fell backwards that she finally managed to clear her eyes.
She realized she was looking straight into the naturally colored eyes of another woman. The laughter that came from the dark haired woman was human.
"I guess that's one way to do it." The dark haired woman stood, brushing herself off before offering a hand to the other.
"I'm Syeda, by the way," she said. "Who are you?"
"I...I don't..." A name wafted into her mind, as lightly as a balloon descending.
"Fleur." The woman tried the name out, tasting the rightness of it with pleasure.
Syeda smiled at Fleur, who gave a wide grin back.
"With each step you take, you gain a memory" Syeda said in way of explanation. "Though, you were running, so you may not have noticed them returning."
Fleur paused, eyes closed, and wandered through her returning memories. She saw her childhood home, a small country farm, with her mother feeding chickens in the backyard. She could remember all the way up to her first day of 4th grade, when she met her best friend, Michelle.
"I thought we couldn't take them with us," Fleur said. "The being..."
Syeda gave a small lift of her shoulders.
"I know as much as you do," she confided, "but I do have a thought on that."
Fleur waited, watching Syeda expectantly.
"If we hold on to our past, we can never move forward," Syeda said. "Moving forward, however, doesn't mean we lose our past, we just put it into perspective."
Fleur nodded in appreciation.
"Had I chose to stay behind, looking for every single memory that I thought made me me," Fleur said, "I would have forever been lost in those memories."
It was Syeda's turn to nod, though she looked away from Fleur and down the path. Fleur's gaze followed Syeda's and she was surprised to see the fog had almost completely lifted from the path. The green of the forest was brightening and Fleur could hear birds in the treetops.
"I don't know how far I have left to go," Syeda said, "or what waits for me on the other side, but I would be happy to have a friend to travel with. One to listen to the stories of my past while I listen to theirs. Will you walk with me to the end, Fleur?"
Fleur smiled and took Syeda's hand. The fog curled behind them as they continued on to the end of their road.
My lofty dreams of being a famous & brilliant writer were literally smacked out of my head. Now I plan to fill the void with copious amounts of subpar writing!