There was too much skin. Or, maybe it just looked like that at first glance? As if twice the amount needed to cover her arm had somehow gotten put only on one. But when you looked more closely, what looked like wrinkles or folds were actually raised lines, creating an almost topographical map on her left forearm. When she put her arm underwater, it shimmered with iridescence, creating an illusion that looked like scales.
Sometimes, when the iridescence played under the water, reflecting light and making her arm shimmer, she remembered how the sun glittered through the leaves that day, playing on her skin and in her hair as she ran down the trail, laughing.
Emma was right in front of her, running as fast as her little legs would carry her. It was the first dry and warm spring day in a month, so the girls were desperate to run as fast and as far and as freely as they could before their mother inevitably came looking for them. She was off somewhere nearby, enjoying the relative quiet.
Julie slammed into Emma abruptly and let out a low ‘oomph’ as the wind was knocked out of her by the sudden stop.
Emma stared at the ground, captivated.
“What are you – “ Julie started, as her eyes followed her sister’s gaze.
In front of her was the most beautiful flower she’d ever seen. The petals were a delicate, translucent, light blue, with dark blue veins winding their way through the petals.
Either because of the light, or the plant itself, the flower seemed to glow, like a tiny star floating just above the ground. The stem and leaves were such a deep green they were almost black. Equally delicate, the leaves almost looked like they were made of crepe paper, thin and somewhat stiff.
Emma was transfixed.
“So pretty!” she murmured as her hand seemed to involuntarily reach for the flower.
Quickly, almost imperceptibly, the flower pulsed and grew brighter. Just for a moment. Like a heartbeat. Or a warning.Julie yelled, “Don’t!” as she reached to pull Emma’s hand back.
She grabbed it just in time, but in reaching around Emma she brushed the petals with her hand. Gold dust, pollen, danced on the breeze.
And all she felt was fire.
When she woke up, her mother was sitting next to her hospital bed – eyes red from crying. She reached over, touching her face and sighed, “You’re awake”.
It had been two days since the incident. Julie remembered the pain and looked down at her arm. It was covered in bandages, but surprisingly didn’t hurt.
“Is Emma okay?” she asked.
“Other than feeling like this was her fault, she’s fine,” her mother replied.
They let her go home that afternoon, after they showed her how to change her bandages. It seemed to be healing fast, whatever it was, but the doctors were worried because they weren’t sure what type of plant they were dealing with and they didn’t have a sample.
Julie’s mom had been in single-minded focus when she heard Emma screaming for help, so she’d scooped her up and gotten her to the road as quickly as possible before the ambulance got there.
The wound could most closely be described as a burn, but when the doctors were trying to assess it, her skin kept changing. It moved in ripples around her arm, almost like a current. It was unsettling — and also impossible. Skin couldn’t move like that.
Julie leaned her head against the window on the ride home, looking up at the trees. It was a cloudy day again today, back to the expected spring rain. She loved watching the trees whip by in shades of green. But just now, she could’ve sworn she’d seen a flash, maybe like lightning, coming out of the branches, or maybe out of the needles on the branch tips. She was so sure. It was there, pulsing, like a heartbeat, just past what she knew was there.