White Smoke

 By Adina Pelle

In the mountains, our bus, like a creeping worm, slowly climbed the steep country road, shaking and threatening to dismantle itself with every bumpy rut.

 I was fourteen-years-old…when you’re fourteen, any road to the unknown is always the first road…the only magical way of leaving childhood behind.

I watched the forested hills above the road—ghostly tree trunks guarded an azure sky. And breathed smoke. White smoke climbed the sky like snow in reverse—rising snow sucked into clouds.

With an infernal noise, our old bus stopped in a valley between hills. Inside were twenty kids with mouths full of dust collected during hours of breathing dust over dirt roads. In single-file, we exited the bus. The other kids sat on logs. I was the only one who walked away—trying to see beyond the wall of smoke—beyond the mysterious fire burning from nothing. The smell of burnt wood—for me, an olfactory bliss.

In the middle of the smoke, I saw a ghostly silhouette. A white shadow came toward me…my heartbeat fast…loud in my ears…I wanted to yell. I wanted to run.

Before me stood a gypsy woman, wearing overlapping skirts. Colorful, as if in bloom.

Her gypsy skirt flicking—erratic spinning broken circles, movement changing as abruptly as it began. Thousands of colors, garish in the sun and pale in the shade.

So many faces in her skirt. She twirled and I saw another side and back to the other hidden side and hidden to the other, and the other side and other side—how many threads to bind, how many mysteries hidden in her skirt?

I wanted to ask what kept the fire alive but I was silenced by her eerie presence. Blood, sucked by my terrified heart, drained from my cheeks.

The gypsy woman looked at me as if stealing secrets from my mind. I closed my eyes. For a moment before the chaperones found me, the world disappeared.

The road our bus climbed so many years ago is still there, hidden between smoke and sky. I never went back to see the gypsy but I’ve thought of her often. The fire? It still burns in the pit of my belly.

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