She swings back and forth with a gleeful grin on her face, challenging herself with each swoop to reach a little higher, a little further, her pink-painted pointed toes cramping from the strain. She loves the bright, fresh days of spring; the crocuses, followed by the daffodils and the unfurling of lime-green leaves on trees.
Leaning back, curling legs underneath, tightening her grip on the hemp rope and opening her eyes wide she looks up into the boughs of the tree where the cherry blossom buds are bursting their seams, threatening to bloom at any moment.
Faster and higher, her small body stretched taut and almost vertical with calloused hands clinging on tightly. She prays she can hold on as every muscle in her body strains until it tingles. Her face is scrunched up in effort and her lips pursed in concentration as she wills herself higher. Flying backwards again, on the downwards arc, the loose ends of her black hair skim across the dry earth kicking up dust and sand.
She reaches the zenith, adjusts her weight and looks out across the clearing for a split second, the inescapable grasp of gravity momentarily forgotten. Nodding to herself, gravity and the tree that holds her weight, she begins the final descent, hurtling towards the ground with her body flat and pointed like a blade of grass, her toes curling as she realises just how close her head is to the ground.
The last, fast ascent; the key is in the timing, the angle, the perfect transition of momentum. From upwards to outwards in the split of a second she flings herself from the swing. With the alacrity and gracefulness of a snake, with the flick of her wrist and the uncoiling of her spine like a broken spring she begins her flight across the clearing. For a moment she shuts her eyes, feeling the resistance of the air and the warmth of the sun. For a blissful moment all she can hear is the rush of wind and the tweeting of sparrows.
With her eyes closed she couldn’t have noticed the out of place shadow or the sibilant sussuration of quick movement at the edge of the clearing.
Opening her eyes again she gathers her bearings, now aware that she will have to roll as she lands. Legs brace and then bend as she hits the ground with a graceful thud, damp grass tickling her arms as they cover her head. She rolls two times before stopping, blinking and reorienting herself. Looking down she smiles at a beautiful, dual-tone daffodil that she narrowly avoided crushing.
A scream explodes like a shot, startling birds from trees, rabbits into holes and transfixing the small girl sitting on the grass. She turns her head towards the kitchen window to see her mother fall to the ground. Her whole body tenses like an animal, ready to fight. But everything goes black. “Hello, Emily.” A rasped voice very close to her ear, rough hands encircle her waist and smother her mouth. She hadn’t heard the heavy footfalls sneak up behind her but she hears the smooth, sickening swish of metal against metal. She feels a knife piercing the soft skin of her back.
“Oh, don’t cry.”