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by Jan Stinchcomb

The field of snow was dotted with black sunflowers. They must be dead, we thought, remembering what we were taught in school. No, they are only dormant, we decided. We had to believe it. Underneath the darkness there is always a new life preparing. Everything must rest. Everything must sleep. There is joy percolating in these moments of stasis.

The world we walked through was already broken, long broken. Memory itself had been handed to us as one great shard, as if our elders could not bear to tell us the whole story. What were they so afraid of? Was it shame that kept them silent? And what strange fate would be our exile? Imagine being given only a few pages of a crucial tome. Try singing a song with half the words. That was our world.

We wandered, contemplating the gloomy harvest. A huge black sunflower, taller than me, loomed in the center of the field. The smallest children were drawn to it. They formed a circle and danced around it while humming. Where had they learned this weird song, and what was it? A game? A dirge?

One little girl began climbing the sunflower’s thick stem. I thought that surely it would bend and break, perhaps even snap, sending her to the ground. Her flesh would be bruised. Her bones might break. But she kept going up while the other children clapped and chanted. When she reached the flower she brought it close to her face.

I saw that it was not dead. It had a white center and petals as black as ink, glistening with an undeniable life force. The little girl breathed in the scent of the flower, inhaling it as she turned her face toward the remote sun. Her eyes were shut tight. She looked to be in an ecstasy of blindness, and who is to say what she saw behind those closed eyes?

She looked down at us, opened her eyes, and called out: I have seen it!

I was scared.

The children clapped and an expression of awe spread through their little crowd. They rushed to climb up the sunflower, which stayed tall and certain even under the burden of their weight. How many children could it support? What would they find?

I began to cry. My tears froze on my face but did not stop flowing. I cried so hard I could not see. The children became a wriggling clump atop the black flower, a blur against the falling snow.

I never asked the little girl what she saw that day. I was afraid to know.

Jan Stinchcomb is the author of the novella Find the Girl (Main Street Rag, 2015). Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in New South Journal, Gamut Magazine, Jellyfish Review and Paper Darts, among other places. She reviews fairy tale inspired works in Notes From Rapunzel’s Tower, her column for Luna Station Quarterly. She lives in Southern California with her husband and daughters. Find her at http://www.janstinchcomb.com or on Twitter @janstinchcomb.