She remembered being in Piccadilly Circus. A light breeze blew through the crowds of people meandering about the area. The sky was clear and the sun peeped its rays out from behind the buildings. It was the heart of London, or so it appeared to her. The Circus was an oasis surrounded by mountains of steel and brick, man-made obstacles to the world out of this concrete valley.
In an instant, the crowd seemed to swell. It became a hive with a million buzzing bees. Purpose was lost. No order. Chaos. No room. Too many people. No space. Her thoughts moved at a lightning's pace, but she felt stuck in molasses, acutely aware of all around her.
Get away. Frustration. Anger. Chaos. Buzzing bees. Threatening to explode. Get away. Control, have to find control. Uncomfortable. Must find safe zone. Control. Chaos. Order. Buzzing bees. Keep it together.
Run hard, fast. Get away.
This was how she remembered it.
She remembered running and the freedom it gave her. Control. Order. She was in charge.
How long she ran for, she didn't know. But she was alone at last. Her mind was at ease.
She stopped in an alley in an area she didn't know. A part of her countered with a chuckle that she couldn't know where she was; she was just visiting. She was on vacation, enjoying the sights and sounds of London.
The alley was dark and growing darker as the sun sank further towards the horizon. Had it not been for the brick buildings stretching some five stories above her, there might have been more light.
She collapsed on the one empty spot she could find in an exhausted and breathless heap. Despite the overwhelming fatigue, she was relieved, at peace. Her thoughts were calm, like a gently flowing creek.
Several minutes later, her chest still heaving from the intense, panic induced run, she rolled to the side to lie on the cold, wet ground. Something squashed beneath her, but she ignored it. Flashes were interrupting her peace as the barrier she'd erected during her run began to collapse under the weight of the memories. They assaulted the barrier like a fanatical army throwing itself at the thick walls of a heavily fortified city. Their casualties would be higher, but they would eventually crack the defenses if only because of their stubborn determination, and that would doom the residents to a bloody and certain death.
She saw herself in the crowd in Piccadilly Circus. The scene replayed itself in her mind. The moment of panic had struck her suddenly like a mallet smashing a thumb, the feeling throbbing throughout her body. It was as if she'd never felt such panic before. Its intensity overwhelmed her, caught her off-guard, even in this desolate place.
Were the piles of old, soggy cardboard and rotting trash coming alive, she wondered.
"No, no," she shakily whispered to herself. "I'm alone. No one's here. Alone, alone." It became a mantra she repeated as the images of her episode flashed before her.
Panic, crowded, anger, chaos. She gasped at the reality of the feelings, the physical and mental reality of the memories. Suddenly, the empty alley felt as crowded as the Circus. She whimpered and pulled herself into a ball. She felt panic begin anew. The noise swelled, filling her ears.
"Alone, alone," she whispered. The alley was closing in on her. The piles of refuse growing ever closer. Buzzing bees.
She rolled onto her front, tucking her head and knees under her the best she could. Her hands clamped down on her ears.
She began to rock back and forth.
The heaps were closing in fast. She could feel them getting closer with every short, panicked breath she took. Their numbers increased exponentially, more and more, milling about at faster and faster speeds. How much longer could she take it?
Chaos. No space. Crowded. No room. Frustration. Anger. Chaos. Buzzing bees.
She pulled herself tighter and rocked faster. It hurt her head and shins, but the ache produced was mild in comparison to the cacophonous symphony that swelled with her. When would it reach its peak, when would the crescendo end?
The mantra was failing and she knew it, but speaking grounded her. It proved to the last bit of her free mind that she was indeed real. She was not Alice in her own tormented idea of wonderland. The mantra was the last thing tethering her to this world and with each passing minute that tether was fraying.
Something brushed up against her. She jumped. It knocked her off balance and she fell on her side with a hard whack that reverberated through her body. Pain registered on a deep, fleeting subconscious level, but never anything higher. Panic began to grow yet again, deeper and stronger this time, adding to what was already circulating her body.
The tether nearing its last thin string, her last ditch effort was a mind game. She forced her eyes to shut even tighter than before and using the last bit of free mind she possessed, that part that knew that she was real, she painted a mental image.
The grass was a deep green and nearly half a foot high. It blew easily in the light, gentle wind. The ground was flat as far as the eye could see, no hills, mountains or trees in sight. Only the sun occupied this world and it did so at the behest of the single occupant. It shone tenderly down on the ground, its warmth a comfort rather than an annoyance. There were no animals, not even the most beautiful of butterflies or the most annoying of flying insects was permitted. To someone else the world might appear desolate and lonely, the solitude bringing panic, but to the single occupant, to the girl curled up in a ball on the dirty, wet floor of an alley in London it was heaven. She felt a wave of calm begin, fighting against the tides of panic. They clashed together, sometimes ferociously. She cheered for calm.
But panic won out. Her peaceful, desolate meadow became a nightmare as she found herself in a hot-air balloon. The last string that kept it moored to the ground snapped and she began to ascend to the sky. The ground grew more and more distant.
She tried to pull herself out of this world, out of the nightmare it had become. But she was stuck, drifting endlessly towards nothing. She sunk to the bottom of the balloon's wicker basket. Tears started streaming from her eyes as she curled up. Her head she buried in her knees, which came to her chest. She opened her mouth to repeat her mantra, but it came out in gibberish that not even she could understand.
Reality was fading, quickly.
Her crying ceased, as she let herself sink into the quicksand of panic. She didn't struggle because she knew what the end would hold. There would be no rescue because she was truly alone. No one knew that she was here, no one cared to discover where she had disappeared to. They did not understand that it was not solitude she had sought, but order, control, an end to the chaos. Because of that, she was doomed to an eternity of panic.
Lost in the world of panic, she barely felt something cold and wet against what bare skin the world could see. It moved down her arm quickly, but carefully as if trying to determine who she was. When it got to the end of her arm, to where the arm wrapped around the knees it discovered her head. Gently it nuzzled its way into a small gap between her head and knees, forcing her to move her head away. The cold and wet continued across her face, even as she kept her eyes shut. They weren't shut out of fear, but of emptiness.
Her tear-streaked cheeks were given a big, happy lick. The tongue left a thin residue of slobber on her cheeks in place of the dried, salty tears.
Even with her eyes shut, she knew it was a dog. She now felt it sniffing her face, checking her out, but there were no more licks. Her eyes remained steadfastly shut, but something strange appeared within her. Had she ever felt it before, she would've known it was the first inkling of hope.
The dog disappeared and that inkling with it. Her drifting continued at an increased pace. Now even the sun was gone. She was lost in a sea of blue, alone and yet she felt as though she had no space. No room. It was chaos. Her body ached to get away, but the quicksand had pulled her too deep.
The dog returned, this time settling down next to her. Its back was right next to her knees. She could feel the fur and the warmth from the dog. It was inviting, but she found herself still paralyzed from panic, still drifting into nothingness. The dog shifted and nuzzled its head back into the gap between her head and knees. It forced one of her hands to fall onto its furry neck. Almost instinctually, she grasped at the fur. It was long and soft. Slowly, her arm reached further around the dog, until nearly the entire arm rested on it. Once again her hand found a grasp in the dog's fur.
She lay there silent and still, the sinking into the quicksand was moving at a far slower pace and the balloon was no longer drifting quickly.
Yet again, the dog shifted, this time inching itself backwards. The other hand that was trapped between her knees and the ground found its way under the dog's body. The fur was cold and damp from the ground of the alley. This hand mimicked the other in grasping the fur after moving across the dog's body.
In the instant she grasped onto the fur, the quicksand reversed its pull and the balloon began to descend. She embraced the dog, pulling it close to her and burying her own head into the fur on its neck. It never fought against her grasp, laying there as content as she was, enjoying the company that they other brought.