The door swung open, bell chiming rather jarringly, to assortments of flowers on every surface, each arrangement at a completely different point on the line between chaotic and lovely. As soon as the door slammed shut behind her, she took a mfoment to catch her breath. Each scent she inhaled, she identified by name, one by one, as a type of meditation. Tulips... delphiniums...lilies....bee balms... and the very slightest touch of the earthy scent of succulents, furthest away.
By the time she opened her eyes again, she could inhale easily, and her thoughts had slowed their frantic race.
Her best friend was missing, but panicking would not get her back right now. What she needed to do was think this through.
She had found out this morning, before her shift at the flower shop, by loud knocks at her door. Imagine her shock when she opened the door to two grim-faced police officers. She had been rubbing her bleary eyes a moment before, but completely awoke in an instant.
"Miss Zoe Finch?"
Yes, she nodded, unsure of what to expect.
"I'm Officer Higgins, and this is Officer Ramirez. We'd like to speak to you about your friend Mara's recent disappearance. Is this a good time?"
Her mind went blank - she had never been good at handling stressful situations, at least not the very first moments.
But as the word sat on her tongue for a moment, and she reached deep into her memories to find the last time they had seen each other, she found it was a struggle.
How could this have happened? Mara lived at the edge of town, but not too far away, and they usually saw each other every week or so. They had been close friends since childhood, but since life was so busy, she considered the amount they saw each other to be quite frequent. And yet, without even realizing, it had been... two weeks.... three weeks.... since they had last spoke? Was that correct?
Her memory was so hazy.
"Yes, she was last seen on June 5th. She was reported missing a few days later, by someone who we believe is a mutual friend of yours, a.... Mr. Bruno Williams." He checked his notes, before looking back up at her.
She wasn't sure if she should try to control her shock, or if she would even be able to. Bruno had reported Mara missing.. and he hadn't said anything to her? Or any of their other friends - that she knew of, at least?
"I'm sorry, I have no idea what you're talking about. This is the first time I'm hearing anything like this.... I... I, unfortunately, need to get to work. Ohh, this is terrible timing. Can I speak with you later today, after my shift?"
It didn't come out very coherently, perhaps, because her voice was shaking, and she wasn't even sure of what she was going to say, as she was saying it. But, they appeared unmoved, or perhaps, unbothered. While they weren't overly kind, they also seemed more understanding then she expected.
"That would be great, Miss Finch. What would be a good time for us to come back?"
They arranged the time, then provided their phone numbers, and left. Zoe, panicking, struggled to get her things together, and was completely unsure how she would manage at work today. But she had to go, nonetheless.
After her frantic arrival, her boss could tell that something was off, but instead of plying her with questions or sympathy, she left her alone, as an act of distant empathy.
When lunch time came around, she softly offered to Zoe a longer lunch break, or to take the rest of the day off, if needed.
While Zoe had been completing her tasks, everything took her multiple tries to get right, and her high distress lingered in the air, making everyone quiet and uncomfortable. Her boss wouldn't bring that up specifically, but it did occur to Zoe that it wouldn't be good for business.
"Thank you so much, Emil. I can come back after lunch, I will just take an extra half hour," she profused, and slipped out the door as her boss was replying, to affirm it wasn't necessary. But she had already left, and regardless, she wouldn't be making it back.
Zoe walked down the street, thoughts in a whirl. June 5th... where had she been on June 5th? And Mara, too?
Why hadn't she reached out to Mara since then? Of course it was strange she hadn't heard from her, she berated herself, so why didn't she do something about it earlier?
As her thoughts were spiraling, she arrived at the destination which she so frequently came to, that her body knew it like muscle memory. She entered the deli she had been planning on getting her lunch at, and thankfully, didn't even need to speak. Just seeing her face, they started preparing her usual order.
Even the workers here were kinder than she had been with her close friend, she thought, and could no longer hold back the tears.
She rushed into the bathroom, feeling helpless, ashamed, and so worried for Mara, a mess of sobs and aching heart.
But in the bathroom, after some time of alternating between crying and trying to pull herself together, she noticed something odd. There was some sort of tag hanging on the baseboard of the wall. It blended in quite well, so she just managed to glimpse it - but once she saw it, her focus honed in on it completely.
She hesitated just a moment before reaching down, and pulled it. Her intention was to pick it up and look closer at it, but it was attached firmly, moreso than it had appeared. It didn't matter that much, though, because it turned out to be some sort of lever - the wall behind it wobbled, like a door half-heartedly being opened.
Curiosity welled up in her, almost masking over her grief, and she stayed still for a moment.
Her immobility didn't last long, however. Without much of a second thought, she pushed down on the tag with her shoe, and pushed against the wall.
After a moment of resistance, the wall-turned-door gave, and opened wide.
For the second time in the day, she was rendered speechless.
This couldn't be possible. The door opened into a vast, wild forest, clearly one that was not outside of the deli, on the busy street behind her.
Inside the forest, just peaking in, already she saw flowers and other plants she had never seen before, even with all of her time working at the shop.
She stepped outside almost unconsciously, feet taking her through this strange portal without a second thought.
She didn't notice the door shutting behind her, ever so quietly, over the sounds of the wind in the leaves, and animals in the distance.
It also sounded like... was that running water up ahead?
Passing tall trees, beautiful ferns, and endless flowers of colors and forms she couldn't have even dreamed of, she was totally absorbed by this beautiful world.
After some time of her slow pace through the wood, she came to a river. But the sound she had been hearing was apparently a loud waterfall, even further ahead.
She stayed close to the river, realizing it would be key for her when she tried to go back, as she followed it towards the sound.
Finally, she could see the cascading waterfall in all of its glory, though still at some distance. Still, it was huge, with three points from where the water tumbled, down, down to the pool below. The sight was beautiful.
It was still a bit far away, but she noticed something moving in the pool. Realizing she didn't know where she was, or who - or what? - she might run into, she suddenly felt a bit cautious. She tried to stay hidden from view, while getting closer to the nearest overlook where she could get a clearer view.
At the edge, she was hidden behind a tall tree and brush. She held on to the tree as she peaked out towards the pool.
There was some very, very small creature, and.. was that... could it be, swimming and laughing next to that creature, Mara?!