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Something dark tarnished the heart of the hill, its strawberries growing poisined from the ground. They were bitter to the taste, rotten to the touch and dying very slowly as I tried desperately to save them. Water from the circular lake should have been their saviour, yet as I poured handfuls of the silvery liquid onto their leaves they withered more until they frothed and melted into the green grass.

I was confused, perched on the side of the mound as I searched my memory for any thought of healing the fruit. I knew nothing of gardening and if my mother had known anything at all she had never passed on any of her knowledge to me. I had rarely left my home, let alone taken an interest in the nature surrounding it. What was it about the water from the lake that was harming the heart-shaped berries? I sighed, burying my face in my hands as water dripped from my fingertips.

Lacking control bothered me. How was I supposed to protect this land if I was the very thing destroying it? The strawberries were the first sign that something was poisoning the very core of the white world and I worried often that it was me who was tainting it. Another visit from my mother had sparked more hatred into my heart and I was struggling to contain it. She hadn't made it easy for me to forgive the life I had lived and remembering was gradually destroying every positive thread in the fabric of the land.

Walking among the trees left black footprints in the earth, my hands resting on the tree trunks left infections in the bark and weeping wounds in their roots.

"I don't understand," I admitted to Beth as she watched my hands turn leaves into putrid dust. "This world once came alive at my touch; now I'm killing it."

Beth, her electric bright eyes following the trail of rot with interest, shook her head sadly. "Perhaps you should look deeper."

I followed her gaze as the leaves surrounding me turned black and dissolved in ripples. "What do you mean?"

"Underneath, you're hurting."

Her eyes betrayed the years beyond her young exterior, much like the purity of my skin did not reflect the turmoil soiling my heart. She was insightful, forcing me to focus on dark thoughts of my mother. My need to destroy the guilt and loathing was turning on the external world that was ever connected to me.

"You can't escape yourself here," Beth added as she turned away from me, heading towards the orange trees further into the Orchard and leaving me alone with that thought rattling around my mind.

I had been running for too long, I realised. When I was alive, I was ashamed of what I had done and I hid myself away from those who loved me so that they would never see what I saw every time I closed my eyes. I had been scared, frightened of my lonely and harmful future. It was easier to deny myself the chance to realise it than to battle through fixing myself. Here, in this world, every tiny thought was magnified and expressed in the landscape.

The fruit was rotting because I was. Faced with an eternity with myself, I was sinking before I could swim. The water from the lake, external like the strawberries, couldn't save something that began and ended within me. Somehow, I would have to try and save myself first.

As I padded through the Orchard, black footprints in my wake, trees bent forward towards me, their branches extending and their leaves gently caressing my face before withering and dropping to the floor in breezy pirouettes. Ahead of me, the image of my mother held still, drifting further away as I took a step forward, unreachable like a rainbow. Panic rose, tears threatened to overflow and I reached out a hand towards her, knowing that I couldn't reach her no matter how much I longed for her. She was eluding me now as she had done in my childhood, a figure of an aloof woman. And, like a child, I begged her to come to me. But she too withered, her image darkening until I couldn't make her out amongst the darkness of the trees.

Eventually I tired, settling into a ball on the ground, crying in silence as I watched the white world turn black around me. I needed to speak to her, to speak to the part of me that still blamed her and myself for what had happened. Finding peace with myself was the only way to heal the world I was beginning to destroy.

"Crying never solved anything."

My mother, never one for grand gestures, placed a hand on my shoulder, her warm touch contrasting the cool of my own body. I sat up, almost scared to face her in case I had finally destroyed her. To my relief, her skin was unmarked.

I wiped the tears from my cheeks and let her place her arm around my shoulder. My heart spasmed at her touch, almost alive once more as she held me to her.

"I'm sorry," I managed after considering a more lengthy expression.

"I am too," she said gently.

Colour began to spread from where my toes touched the earth; browns, russets and golds mingling with bright greens underneath the sapphire blue sky above the canopy. The trees stood up straight again, their leafy heads stretching towards the sky. I knew, back on the hill, the maze of strawberries would be juicy and red once again.

My mother knew my pain, she had seen it whilst we were alive and she could see it plainer than ever when the white world changed with me. There was no need for words when this world told tales of my feelings beyond my imagination. We were one.

Perhaps this world could offer more than I had first thought; it was key to my healing and it was my sanctuary.

AN: Oh hello, you. Long time no see ;) Sorry I'm terrible at updating... But I hope you enjoyed this chapter! Please read and review, I'd love to read your feedback. -Marina

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