ON THE BANKS of a small stream, the girl watched as the water changed colour. She stood on the root of a large tree, her arms behind her – holding on – as she gazed into the emerging torrent. The white liquid, now pouring out from cracks in the wood, bled into the stream. The water turned to opaque clouds, spreading out and mixing with the current as curdled milk rotates down the plughole. Within minutes the stream was almost completely white, rising violently and crashing against the river bank. The trees wilted like poppy stems; all rigidity wasting away as fountains burst out from the eroding wood. A branch fell, crashing into the water. The fibres seemed to tear, the material having softened to a pulp.
The girl, increasingly frightened, moved further away from the trees, and watched from the safety of the grass. One after the other the trees sank into the stream. Not in the way they do when felled. Instead they imploded like buildings, collapsing from the inside. Rain fell heavy and cold. She began to cry. She could not make sense of it. She hung her head to help the tears run. When she opened them once more, the water at her feet was turning white.
ON THE HILL, the wind drew down the rain as the downpour brought on early dusk. Anna and Karen broke out from the field, shaken and relieved to have left the mud behind and to have their feet once more on solid tarmac, their faces numb from clenching their brows against the harsh rain, their cheeks stinging from the cold. Neither of the two could see beyond a few feet in front of them. The storm appeared in the shapes of every tree and curve of their surroundings, claiming all structure and clarity. They did not see the water running from the fields on to the road, they did not see its colour. They did not see the girl standing still in front of them.
They were silent. The storm too seemed to subside in that moment. The girl, who was facing away in the direction of the road leading down to the valley, began to move slightly, attempting to place a foot forward but staggering instead to the side. Anna ran down, slowing as she approached the girl. She placed her hands on either side of the girl’s shoulders, supporting her failing weight. The girl’s eyes were open but unresponsive. Her head was being held up by her spine rather than the muscles in her neck, and so it seemed to hang back slightly. Anna cradled her head until they made eye contact. At which point, the girl reached forward and wrapped her arms around Anna’s waist. The girl pressed her face into the wet surface of the stranger’s rain coat.