the things i've caused

The clouds cast shadows so deep they seemed to stain the ground, casting the grass in a darker hue until winter reset the scene. She took a step from the doorway to the playground and felt the life drain from her, the dread pool in her chest. It's just a series of steps, she thought. I've taken millions of steps in my life. This is no different. She felt like she would fall forward, and so she leaned back, and almost fell over, catching herself with a sudden backstep, and just like that it hit her, now she had to start over. She'd never get off school grounds at this rate. She saw traffic slow as it reached the block, the amber light of the warning signs on each corner just barely visible with the sun covered over, with the wind coming up from the south. She was the last to leave, the same as every day, but she was sure there were still some children left, standing at the windows, watching her, waiting for something to happen. She took a breath, took a step. As she moved from the building the playground came around from behind the corner, and there were kids there, three atop the jungle gym, the highest point of the playground, pockets filled with rocks, but she was not afraid of these kids, who only wanted a modest perimeter to call their own, to define themselves against, the most meager of reputations to hex away the terror. She tried to take another step and hesitated, uncertain of where to step, and now the jungle gym kids were watching her. "Are you okay?" the littlest one said, his voice like air escaping a balloon. She wanted to turn and say she was fine, maybe she could become one of the jungle gym kids, maybe she could be protected by whatever totemic power the space held, but she was so tired, and there was so much more walking she had to do, and she knew she didn't belong to a place, she was without a center, and it was all she could do to fight the current, to walk a straight line.

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