It was five minutes until lunch when Sally decided to walk.
She stood up from her patchy, threadbare office chair, her eyes fixed on the clock. Her frizzy mane of brown hair peeked up over the sea of cubicles. She bit her lip, nodded, and marched down the long row of padded cells, hands clenched into fists.
“Where are you going?” the other employees asked.
Sometimes she flipped her hair to one side. Other times, she grinned. But always, she said the same thing.
“I’m going to the temple to make my wish.”
The other employees sank into their cubicles, wringing their hands and gnawing at pencils.
Sally’s supervisor, a tall man in a poorly ironed suit, rushed out to stop her. By the time he caught up, the elevator doors were already gliding shut. He pressed a hand against the cool metal, staring into his own muted reflection. With a sigh, he retired to his office, hidden amongst the heaps of paper.
And she walked, her fists swinging at her sides.
She walked up the street, past the squat brick building where she always had lunch, and the mocha-brown expanse of the laundromat. The sidewalk traffic parted for her in a chorus of raised eyebrows, asking each other but never her, wondering what that peculiar glimmer was in her eye. She turned her smile inward, and kept walking, until she reached the skyscrapers.
The skyscrapers were three blocks north and two blocks west of her cubicle, a pair of shiny cement needles stabbing up into the sky. The one on the left was all windows and windowsills, reflecting a hundred high noon suns. The one on the right was a wide, towering rectangle of faux gold brick, its roof straddled by a defunct neon sign that read “Peace on Earth.’ Not a single car passed between them, and the birds never landed in their shadows.
She stopped at the street corner, watching the multiple suns ooze across the left-hand skyscraper. Her eyes flicked up to a digital clock looming over the intersection–12:01. The rising sunlight glinted off the shaped glass letters of ‘Peace.’
She smiled, and walked down the middle of the street, between the two skyscrapers. For an instant, she glowed a bright gold, and then she was gone.
And she walked, with the sunlight shining orange through her hair.
Diamond cobblestones thudded against the soles of her feet, as she tramped down a sepia-toned negative of the street she had left. Amber light hummed warmly between the buildings looming on either side. She walked with her eyes forward, staring down a tunnel of concrete and light, into a red speck flickering in the middle distance.
Halfway down the street, the buildings sank into the sidewalk. Their foundations crept outward, displacing street signs and fire hydrants. Windows squinched up into tiny bars, while their sills stretched to intertwine with each other. The facades turned sandy, then smooth, and all but a handful of windows winked away, the rest twisting into knots and whorls in the trunks of trees.
She paused, at the intersection where the buildings gave way completely to the oak trees. She took a hesitant step into the diamond street, then lurched back, pursing her lips. She looked to her right, where the trees greyed and faded out into a wall of mist, then forward, where the trees stooped to form a great hall of wood. She bit her lip, nodded, and turned left.
And she walked, ignoring the branches that reached out to mangle her hair.
The trees moaned and stretched for her, but never did more than brush against a shoulder or a hand. She fended them off with absent swats, her attention still riveted straight forward. The diamonds were gone, and dry coral crunched under her feet, pink tinged with gray.
The trees shrank in height, until their boughs brushed against her cheeks. She pushed past a clump of bushes, and stepped out onto a long rail of white sand, dividing in two a vast green sea. The spray licked against her feet; salt settled in her hair. Still she walked, one foot in front of the other, staring into a horizon that held nothing more than a distant speck.
And she walked, though the sea wind tore her jacket from her shoulders, sending it flapping into the brine.
The wind lashed at her, and with it came voices. They were high and airy, sending silky whispers into her ears.
“There’s food on our island. Aren’t you hungry?”
“We have something for you. Look to the left.”
She licked her lips and kept walking, one foot in front of the other.
As the sun set, it sent a shimmer along a white bar in the distance. By nightfall, the bar spread out into a chalky shoreline, dotted with seashells and worn old doubloons. Dunes rolled up beyond the shore. She rubbed her arms, shivered, and kept walking, crushing a clam shell under her foot.
And she walked, sand clumping between her toes.
The desert stretched out before her, a sea of wind-scalloped dunes. Winged creatures wheeled in the distant night skies, but her eyes focused straight ahead, upon the emerald spires in the distance.
One of the creatures swept in closer, to examine the strange two-legged being cutting a furrow through the sand. Its feathered wings shone with all the colors of the rainbow, and deep red fur rippled with feline muscle. It watched her with two large, round eyes the color of amethysts, a smile playing about its flat, humanoid face. She marched onward with a shake of her head, barely noticing the creature as it walked behind her, snuffing at her back and hair.
“Where are you going?” it asked, in a light, brassy voice.
“To the temple,” she whispered.
The creature halted, its eyes wide.
No response. It took a step forward.
She crested the top of a dune, and disappeared from sight. The creature flew back to its brethren, glancing at the marching woman over its shoulder.
And she walked, until she crested the one final dune, and the temple loomed before her.
The temple was huge, its entire body carved from a single, multi-faceted emerald. Two rows of torches flanked the great stair in the center of the massive step pyramid, at the top of which perched a massive golden throne. She nodded once, and mounted the stairs. Her smile was triumphant.
Beautiful, translucent women appeared from the many doors in the temple, their bodies decorated with diamonds and lapis lazuli. They whispered as she passed, watching her with eyes the color of the harvest moon.
She reached the final flight of stairs, and stopped, inclining her head toward the empty throne. The air shivered; somewhere in the skies above, a bell rang. She raised her head, and looked at the being occupying the throne.
The woman was tall and thin, cloaked in a diaphanous blue robe. The horns of a crescent moon rested on her smooth, milk-white brow, above two sparkling white eyes. Her hair seemed made of hammered silver, streaming down past her shoulders. The woman stood, spreading a warm blue light across the top of the temple.
Sally bowed again, more deeply; her hands worried at the hem of her skirt.
“I have come to make my wish,” she announced, her voice shaking.
The woman stared at her for a long moment. Slowly, carefully, she nodded.
“Should I,” Sally licked her lips, “continue?”
Another nod. Sally looked at her feet, and then back at the robed woman.
“Right then.” She smiled thinly. “I wish for a better world to live in.”
The robed woman’s face fell. Sally took a step backward.
“What?” Her eyes went wide. “What is it?”
The robed woman sighed, and shook her head.
“****No?***” Sally exclaimed.
The woman shrugged.
Sally clenched her fist. “I came all this way to make my wish. I found the hidden path, I made it through the forest. My feet are sore, my legs are screaming.” She stamped her foot. “I came here so you could give me my wish, and now you won’t?”
The robed woman looked at Sally with sadness in her eyes. She shook her head once more, and pointed behind her with a long, slender finger.
Sally followed her gesture, turning about on the wide temple stair. She looked out over the dunes, past the ivory sandbar, through the forest and the alien city; at the edge of her vision, the skyscrapers loomed, stars framed in the their windows.
“What are you saying?” she asked, turning back.
The robed woman spread her hand. She made a sweeping gesture that encompassed the entire view, and looked back at Sally, tears looming in her eyes.
“This is my new world?”
The woman nodded again.
Sally scrutinized the landscape. Her vision seemed to distort, flashing in to look at the choking branches of the forest, and the tiny, needle-toothed fish swimming in the ocean. She looked over the magnificent, rainbow-winged creatures, as they descended in a quick strike to attack some hoofed prey animal. The squeal carried across the dunes, up to the top of the temple. Sally sighed, and took a step down.
“Well,” she said. She blinked at the robed woman, standing impassive before her.
“Well. I guess I’d better just go back.”
She turned on her heel, and she walked.