Monday, June 11, 2012

Kaleidoscope, Introduction

Serenity Funaka was sitting on a bench, smiling as she swung her legs back and forth, feet barely brushing the ground.  It was the perfect day for a park outing with her mother and father—the sky was completely clear, and the grass was practically glowing emerald green in the sunlight.  There were kids her age flying colorful kites near the small pond in the center of the park, teenagers playing baseball, adults casually strolling along the walkways.  It was a picture of ultimate peace, and as a little girl still easily satisfied and easily entertained, she couldn’t ask for anything more.         
Her gaze rested on a man and woman who held hands as they walked aimlessly around the grassy area directly across from her.  When they saw her, they smiled and joined her at the bench, sitting on either side of her.  Mommy…daddy, she thought contentedly, laying her head on the woman’s lap with a smile.  
“Serenity,” her mother said, gently smoothing her auburn hair with a hand that smelled faintly of floral-scented lotion.  “Your father has a gift for you.”  She raised herself off her mother’s lap so she could look up at her father, into his dynamic green eyes.  With a small grin, he reached into the knapsack that he’d been carrying and pulled out a wooden cylindrical object, about six inches long.  He held the object between him and Serenity, at her eye level, so that she could see it better.  As he slowly rotated it, she could see the scene that had been painted expertly around the tube.  Three tall cherry trees, branches decorated with the reds and yellows of autumn, stood against a background of rich green grass and a pale blue sky decorated with small cotton ball clouds.  Funaka had been painted on each tree trunk in stylized kanji.  The artist’s skill was undeniable; Serenity felt she was looking at a photograph attached to the tube, not a painting; even the characters that made up her surname looked like realistic carvings.
 As pretty as Serenity found her father’s gift, she still had no idea what it was; her look of puzzled admiration told him so.  He chuckled softly.  “It’s a kaleidoscope,” he explained.  “Put it up to your eye and turn this part of the tube…like this.”  He demonstrated the process then handed the still-foreign object to his daughter.  She followed his instructions, not knowing what to expect.
“Wow!  Look at the colors,” she said, almost to herself, as she put the kaleidoscope up to her eye and saw the bright pattern of triangles and diamonds.  As she turned the top part of the tube as her father had shown her, she heard a sound like small beads shifting around, and the pattern inside the tube began to change.  She barely noticed that she was squealing in delight, as any eight-year-old girl would be when given something colorful.
 She looked up from her new toy, intending to thank her parents.  But neither of them was there.  She was alone on the bench again, and her immediate surroundings were oddly silent.  A cloud of confusion began to form at the back of her mind.  With her new kaleidoscope in her left hand, Serenity stood and walked around, looking for the kite fliers, the baseball players, the sense of peace that had recently vanished.  To her dismay, she found that the whole park was now deserted.  Even the sun had taken its leave; the sky was now cloudy, gray, ominous even.  There was even a haunted quality to the air.  As if to emphasize this point, a chill started to creep up Serenity’s spine.  By this time she had walked to the center of the park.  Facing the edge of the pond, she shut her eyes, hoping that once she opened them again, her parents would be coming to find her so they could laugh and eat ice cream and skip stones across the surface of the water.
“One…two…three,” she whispered under her breath.   She slowly opened her eyes, like someone who has been awakened from a deep sleep.   Nothing had changed; she was still alone in the gray and the dim.  A stormy sense of confusion and fear was gathering strength in her mind.  Her heart was beating harshly in her chest, as if doing its job was suddenly a great burden.  Her palms were sweaty, even with the chill that was still dancing up and down her spine.  Trying to calm her nerves, Serenity stood in the same position for a while, locking her gaze onto a tree directly ahead.  After about a minute, she decided to follow the example of the other park-goers and make an exit.  Still clutching the kaleidoscope in her left hand, Serenity lifted her right foot off the ground, about to take her first step away from the desolate place—
Cold, unfamiliar arms wrapped themselves around her, one holding her neck in a chokehold, the other tight around her waist.  The difference in temperature between Serenity’s body and these arms was astounding; she wondered if any of the eight winters she’d experienced in her lifetime could even compare to the cold she was now feeling.  She was dimly aware of her father’s gift, the kaleidoscope, leaving her fingers, landing on the grass, rolling before coming to rest a short distance away, the beads inside making a faint sound until their container ceased to move—a pleasant afterthought, trailing off as if the noise were made in error. 
Serenity squirmed silently, in too much of a state of shock to scream for help or even to cry; her captor’s hold was not loosened in the slightest by her efforts.  The unfamiliar arms lifted her off the ground, and a voice—smooth, dark, disturbingly familiar—broke the tense silence, causing her to shiver as she continued her pointless squirming.  As she struggled to keep breathing and her sight blurred, this voice whispered six simple words in her ear:
Serenity, Serenity…your calm has ended.
The once perfect scene faded from gray to black in sickly slow motion.
Afterward, nothingness.  All five senses ceased to exist at the same instant.
Then, without warning, there was a violent flash, the color of fresh blood.

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