My second BZPower-posted short-story. I just wrote this today, actually. An idea suddenly popped into my head, and grew, and I decided to write about it. It's funny, though, I actually envisioned the ending and part of the middle before anything else.
How could this have happened...? One minute she was there, and the next... She was gone.
I walked along the old trail through the forest. I remembered how the sun once shone upon everything, from the rocks to the trees to the dirt, giving it a splendor so lustrous I couldn't have found words to properly describe it if my life had depended upon it.
She'd been with me then, and the whole world had been a happy, wonderful place. She'd lit my way through a darker time, before I'd met her.
Now as I moved along the path, and though the shun shone brightly, the world looked to me like the darkest of nights. No, darker even. Funny how that works. The light reflecting off the leaves wet with dew reminded me of the eyes that would peer at you from the dark. The shade under an overhang looked like the cave of some monstrous beast.
I paused under a tree, seeing the old impressions still left in the grass from two wanderers stopping for a rest. A tear ran down my cheek and I moved on.
I passed the brook, once bubbling and gurgling with laughter and song. Now it drummed along like a death march.
Each step I trod was heavy with bright remembrances, now lost to a shadowy void. The dark shadows of the sunlit forest path closed in around me. How could I go on...? How could this dark world ever brighten again, when the sun itself had died?
* * *
As I stumbled along in my bleak ruminations, a strange sound met my ears. At first I didn't even notice it, but then I heard it. At first I recognized it as the sound of the anguish in my own spirit, so strong it affected my ears. But after a moment I realized that didn't make a lot of actual sense.
Someone was crying. The sound of sobs were clear now to my desolate ears. Might as well take a look...
As I followed the sound, my mind churned. What if...? But no, she was gone. But I couldn't help but imagine finding that beautiful face again, looking up at me as I stumbled upon it in the woods. But no, she was lost to me forever.
Finally I turned a corner in the path, and under a willow I saw a figure. Instantly my knowledge that my desperate hope would be dashed by cold reality was confirmed. This wasn't her, but a child. A small child, a toddler.
I moved closer, to see that she'd ceased her crying. She now stared hard at the ground, as if fascinated by some bug. I stopped beside her, and she looked up with what I assumed was careless curiosity.
Not another child that needs me... I thought. This one couldn't be the same as the one still awaiting my return at home. I knew that. I could tell this one was different. This one wouldn't have a lilting laugh, this one wouldn't gaze at me with the light of the moon when I saw her. This one couldn't brighten my life. She was too quiet.
Nevertheless, I found myself reaching out to her. She watched my arm approach, then shoved it off with an angry cry. She looked at me with a look of rage, then returned her gaze to the ground.
Well! Fine then, be that way! I couldn't help but think angrily. I stared hard at her for a moment, with every intention of grabbing her roughly and dragging her back to the village. But then, suddenly, I decided against anger, and my pain came surging back. I turned from her and walked a few steps. I didn't know what I was doing.
Dizzy with emotion, I lost my desire to stand. I sat hard on the ground, and stared bleakly at the ground. I was utterly spent. The tears wouldn't even come. Why...? Why can such a thing happen to a man?
I looked back at the child. She'd stopped paying attention to me. Now she was gazing at the sky. In her self-absorption, I could now read her emotions. She was staring into space with... What was that expression, anyway?
The it hit me. Hopelessness. Pain. Loss. I looked down beside me into a puddle, and saw the same expression on my own features.
I turned to the girl, who was now staring at the ground again. There was no bug. She was lost in her own pain, I realized.
Slowly, ever so slowly, I moved toward her. She glanced at me. Her features distorted into rage for a moment, then to be replaced by bleak indifference. She looked at the ground again.
I moved a little closer. Now I could reach out and touch her arm. Slowly, I did. She moved her arm away from mine with a whine, and I withdrew. She sat still again. I watched her, reading in her everything I'd been feeling. Her sun had died, too, hadn't it?
We both sat there awhile, lost in our own ruminations. She may have glanced at me a few times in that space, I know not. I didn't notice if she did. I glanced at her a couple times, to find her facing the ground.
After a while, though, I reached out to her again, this time lightly touching her hand as it sat upon the ground. "You've lost someone too, haven't you?"
Slowly she looked up at me, and I let her read my emotions. Then she muttered something I couldn't understand, and returned her gaze sadly to the ground.
"I know. It hurts, doesn't it? Something awful..." I sighed and stared at the ground myself.
She glanced at me again with her bleak expresion, and then something came over her. For a moment she focused on a point past me, her eyes lighting up, only to darken again, as if she thought she'd seen something, or someone, only to realize she hadn't.
Then her eyes watered and little streams ran down her face, sobs gushing forth once more. Her cries were louder this time, echoing through the forest. What a little pair of lungs, I thought. Her cries stung my ears, and I wouldn't have been surprised if the village had come running to find the source of the racket.
They didn't. We just sat there as she cried and cried. Soon my eyes and face were wet, too. Then sobs were escaping the both of us.
What a sight we must make, a man and a toddler, alone in the woods and crying our eyes out.
* * *
After a time, I don't know how long, we were both spent. We sat quietly. Then, suddenly, she glanced at me. Reaching out with her little arm, she touched my hand as it rested on the ground. I glanced at her, and saw a look of understanding in her little face. She spoke again, and though I couldn't understand the words, I replied, "Yes, I know. Seems pretty hopeless for both of us, doesn't it?"
She replied in her cooing, gurgling voice. She stood up and put her hands on my upright knee, then looked thoughtful. I looked up at her, pain blurring my vision once more as memories pounded in my head.
She stood there a moment, then slowly, ever so slowly, moved around my knee and closer to my body. I wiped my eyes and watched her gently. Finally, she gently settled in my lap. She looked up at me, and I looked down at her. Her face still bore the bleak expression of before. I knew mine must as well. I wasn't the person she wanted. She wasn't the person I wanted. But we forgave each other for the fact.
She looked sadly down, and settled into a restful position. I leaned back against the tree. Dusk was gathering around us and we began to feel sleepy. I thought of the little girl at home. But she had others to take care of her, she'd be fine this night. Besides, my family had gotten used to my spending more time away than usual of late.
There we sat, alone in the gathering darkness. We sat together in our pain, two lonesome spirits in a dark world that seemed only to be getting darker. We had each other, and that wasn't really good enough. Still, it was all we had for that moment.
We were both left to wonder, would the sun ever shine again?