Once there was a girl.

Every morning, her dark eyes opened and light poured into them. Every day, her full heart opened and light poured out of it. The light touched everyone around her; this happened whether she wanted it to or not. The girl swam in her light, and danced down the road ahead. She skipped over pebbles and skipped towards the skyline, never once glancing at the road.

And every day, the light kept spilling out. Sometimes it would illuminate a path ahead. Sometimes it would blister the skin – her own, or that of others. More often that not, she turned it on herself. She could tolerate much, raise her brown arms to the sky and soak herself in brilliance from any source.  But her own questioning glow could be enough to strip away a layer, to sear like frostbite and leave a mark. On those days she needed healing; wounds had to be licked. And every time that happened, the girl would feel the road ahead shorten by a few steps – yet at the same time, the planned destination seemed to creep further out of reach.

Bit by bit, the bad days seemed to happen more often. And with every burn, her strides seemed slower. Her limbs felt weighted, her brain waterlogged. At first she was able to shake her head and march on, but as the stripes on her flesh grew longer, deeper and more clearly visible, her footsteps began to falter. Her eyes, always fixed on the horizon, began to flicker downwards, more and more frequently. After a while, she spent as much time looking down as she did ahead. Eventually, her eyes lifted only occasionally. Finally, they barely looked up at all, lingering instead on her wound-patterned limbs and stumbling feet. The path grew muddied under her scuffing toes; where once rocks she could, with some effort, scale popped up here and there, now smooth boulders blocked the way and she laboriously edged around them, unsure whether they were sending her in a direction she had not intended to go.

The light kept burning, and the clouds that were gathering offered no cool breeze.

At last the day came when the girl felt like she could no longer take another step. She stood, staring at her feet, willing them to move forward, but all that seemed to happen was a hesitant sway. Her fingers traced the lines down her arms, across her chest; her eyes traced the marks down her shins, across her knees. She gazed at them for a long time, so long that everything around her seemed to fall silent and still under a dense cloud. She studied the pockmarks and examined the patterns, until they seemed to swim in front of her eyes in dots and lines, spelling out words that were hard to read and painful to accept. She blinked them away, washing them with tears, trying not to read them. But still they flew at her, and still she stood without moving.

The girl never knew how long it took before she let herself read the words. She could never quite remember when her eyes cleared. She wasn’t entirely sure at which point she began to take them in. Bit by bit, however, as she stood, she let them wash over her and acknowledged them. She was able, for the first time, neither to bat them away nor to let them bloody her. The scabs and scratches still stung and glowed, but in a strange way, she realised, this could be powerful. They were not beautiful, in the way that she had understood beauty to be found. She was almost surprised to find that they did not fade away with this realisation, and actually surprised to find that she didn’t care either way if they did.

From that moment, she found she was able to walk again. Her footsteps were never again as carefree and unhesitant as they had been when she had stood in the full glare of day and simply absorbed the rays. But now she halted only to allow the path ahead to clear, and to pick her steps with more certainty. Now she kept her eyes neither downcast nor rigidly fixed on a single spot, but instead allowed them to roam a few feet ahead; she surveyed what she saw, and picked a path that pleased, excited and scared her. Now she understood that neither the length of the path, nor its end point, were her goal.

Once there was a girl. But she couldn’t stay a girl forever.

This is the first attempt in a writing challenge I have set myself.


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