I had the Mother Of All Sinus Headaches this afternoon, and therefore didn't write anything new. As a result, I am again subjecting my loyal readers to something from the collection of short stories I wrote between Thanksgiving, 2008 and New Year's 2009. Maybe you guys can help me with a title for this one.
You also get stuck with a photo I took from the 28th Street Bridge last winter.
UNTITLED - by Jonathan K. Lee
A familiar face came to stand before him in the darkness, bringing light to where the shadows had once been. Her smile filled his body with a warm comfortable feeling. It was a smile he had seen a million times before, but could not place it at the moment. It gave him the feeling of lying in bed under the warm covers amidst a cold winter morning. The same cold he had felt only moments before she had come to him.
“Not yet.” She said softly without moving her lips. He did not know what her words meant, but her eyes gave him a comforting look. He relaxed his tense muscles as best he could, studying her a little closer.
“I know you.” He said in low whisper. Her smile widened as she came closer to stand a few paces from him. Her soft gray eyes held a sadness that was lacking from her smile. Her long brown hair disappeared into the darkness around them. It was then that he realized that the light emanated from her, the only refuge from the cold, dark void he had been trapped in. He shivered as he remembered the feeling of despair and helplessness he had felt within it. For how long he had suffered in it, he could not begin to imagine. He had tried to scream, but to his frustration had only heard deafening silence, until the light, and then she had appeared.
“Yes.” There was a touch of amusement in her voice. “You knew me very well once, I would say.” She said as she drew closer.
“Who are you?”
“That is not what is important. What is your name?”
“Joshua. That is a pretty name. I always liked it.” She said the latter in a whisper. “Tell me Joshua, what is your earliest memories?”
As she spoke the words, he felt a gentle pull inside his head, pieces of memories, long ago forgotten, coming woven together in an intricate pattern. Each one interlacing with another, parts forming the whole before it came to him as if he relived the moment. It was quiet and dark. He felt himself floating in the darkness. Suddenly, he heard a dull thumping steady and rhythmic. The memory melded into another. The smells, sounds, and sights all too real. It was of his mother, holding him in her arms. He looked around, trying to gather his new surroundings feeling safe in her arms. The image began to fade. All at the pattern unraveled and wove itself again. Once the pattern was finished, it repeated the process, each pattern a different event in his life. All the joyous events intermixed with all the sadness in his life. His first kiss and first love came and went. The weaving repeated the cycle faster each time until he only relived a second or two. Tears of joy, sadness, and pain rained down his cheeks. Only then did he realize she was holding his hand in hers. Reliving the moments in his life over and over again, until it seemed it would never come to an end. And then, as abruptly as it began, it was over. Through his tears, he looked at her, warm smile never leaving her lips. He tried to speak to her, but he was too drained of emotion. After a long moment, an eternity it seemed, he was able to speak. “I don’t understand. What is happening to me?”
“What is your last memory?” She said before he could ask any more questions. She repeated her question when he hesitated. “Joshua, I would like to know about your last memory?”
Like his previous memories, he felt his memories come together in a subtle harmony. But while the last vision took its toll on his emotions, this one hit him with a force that made him step back and cry in pain. Every muscle and bone in his body grew hot with pain with each strand of muscle pulling itself free from him, every bone crushed by an opposite force until the pain slowly subsided and his vision cleared. He could see a small town from the edge of the forest where he sat behind a boulder, plumes of black smoke rising from several of the buildings. A dark gray cloud hovered over the town, growing stronger by the minute. He saw people flee the town, women and children mostly, with their faces covered to keep them from inhaling too much smoke.
He was dressed in his woodland uniform, battle gear strapped to his chest and back. Holding his rifle with his left hand, he felt for his sidearm, making sure it was still strapped to his hip. Two other soldiers stepped past him to make their way toward the town. They moved through the trees carefully to the nearest building. The soldier to his left climbed through the window first only to be greeted by a single shot from inside. He heard a dull sound, the soldier’s lifeless body falling to the ground. Several more shots followed in rapid succession as he dropped to the ground to avoid the gunfire. He lay motionless on the ground, every breath became harder to take as each second passed. He tried to move, but his arms and legs refused to listen. The other soldier with him was lying across from him. Dead eyes looking directly at him. He noticed the small, red wet spot forming over his chest and he began to laugh. He laughed at God’s unmerciful joke until his lungs protested with a violent, painful cough. He looked up toward the clear morning sky, the sun failing to warm him from the cold European winter. A brown hawk soared through the sky, in his arrogance calling to the world to see me him in flight. He swept over the forest and suddenly dove toward the ground, ambushing an unseen prey at the bottom of the tall oak trees. Peace held him in her arms, in the warmth of a mother’s embrace, safely away from the violent world he knew. In that peace he remained as he heard the distant thunder of war and its deep, echoing cry before the world around him went black.
He was on his knees before her, not sobbing, but paralyzed in the realization of where he was. He was dead. It all came to him at once, the silence, the darkness, and the cold - death. He looked up to her, his mature features replaced by a mask of horror. A child who’s innocence had been violently stolen. Her smile never leaving her lips, as they finally moved when she spoke to him.
“Find the strength to stand Joshua.” She said softly. “Do not begin to think you now understand everything. There is much yet that you do not realize.”
“I'm dead.” It was all he could say in a voice too small. The strong, confident man that had stood before her had turned into a small trembling child. Her soul wept for him, something her eyes couldn’t do. “I'm dead.” He repeated softly.
“And so you think it is the end?” The smile on her lips disappeared as she came to closer to him. Normally, she would not try so hard to bring someone along, they all eventually stepped through the light. But he was different than the others. She needed try everything in her power to get him through quickly. A need that grew stronger as his eyes pleaded for her to rid him of this nightmare he was going through. “Feel what is in your soul Joshua. Do you not believe?”
“Believe in what?”
“In you. Believe in the fact that you are and always will be.” The look in his eyes told her he could not grasp the concept yet. As it was with everyone else that came to her, they saw the body as more important than their true self. Earthly fantasies that would soon be forgotten once he realized it would never matter again.
“An angel.” His eyes lit up and she saw the defeat in his eyes disappear, but the innocence was still there. “If I am dead, you must be an angel!”
“You can call me that if you like.” She closed her eyes momentarily and drew from his energy illuminating out a few more paces.
He was lost in his thoughts for a moment, clearly trying to understand everything around him. His breathing slowed and his eyes shined with the light of his essence. Gone was the wild look in his dark eyes of fear and shock.
“You must not think. You need to forget all that was. Reach out with your soul and feel.” She reached around him and tapped him from behind, her image never moving from in front of him. He twisted around in fear of what might have come out of the darkness behind him. An Earthly laugh escaped her and he turned red with embarrassment. He was still holding on to what was. “Now that I have your attention, show me the day your world ended.”
“I just showed you.”
“You fail to understand. The day you left and the day your world ended are not the same. When did life seem to stop having meaning for you? Do not think. Simply close your eyes and feel.”
He opened his mouth and then closed it. He stared at her a long moment before he closed his eyes. She threaded the light through his spirit, strengthening its power as she did so. The memory came clear in her eyes as it came to him, and his pain. A familiar place to her formed within the weave, tall green trees, painted in front of the snow-capped mountains. The air was filled with the cold scent of winter as it rushed by him. He came to a smooth stop and turned around as hundreds of people, it seemed, made their way down various hills like he had.
He watched her ski down the slope as she made her way down to the bottom of one of the run where he stood patiently waiting for her. She made her way down with little trouble passing the midway marker, gracefully attacking the snow in a side to side motion, effortlessly weaving through the red flags that marked the course. He took his eyes off of her and gave a quick glance at his watch. This was going to be their last run. It was getting late and they had reservations for dinner that night at a nice restaurant just outside the small resort. When he looked up, she was gone. He looked everywhere for her but could not see her. Frantic, he ran up the course as fast he could through the snow. It was several minutes before he spotted her blue suit at the base of one of the trees. As fast as he tried to reach her, it seemed an eternity before he finally got to her. When he finally did, it was too late. He tried reviving her but his attempts were useless. He screamed as loud as he could in pain, anger, and frustration, echoing through the mountains, announcing to the world that he had lost the only thing that mattered to him. He carried her limp body to the nearest cabin and held her tightly until the medics were able to convince him to let go of her, his ski jacket stained with her blood. He looked up and screamed to the heaven in rage and pain. “Why?”
As they came back to the light, he kept repeating the question. She fought back the tears, and holding herself strong for him. The small part of her still connected to the other world touched her. In this world, he was another soul making its journey; he had little connection to her, but that small part that would always remain caused her soul to suffer the pain he felt. She held his face in her hands and asked him to remember one last thing. “When did you become whole?”
He looked at her with childlike eyes, asking her silently to make it end. All the questions and painful memories. It was the same when she had made the journey herself. She knew the pain he felt, but it was necessary for him to understand and know himself first. Let him find the answers alone, no matter how painful. The easier you make it, the longer he will remain here. She reminded herself.
“I-I don’t understand the question.” She said softly not looking at her.
“At what point did you find meaning to your life? When everything suddenly became clear?” She repeated the question.
“When all was perfect.” He said to himself as the strands began to dance together. He walked by himself through the huge crowd at the local art festival, passing vendors busy trying to sell their various trinkets, wood carvings, and local souvenirs. Except for an eccentric old lady in a small purple pavilion at the end of the row, across from the line of food concession pavilions, there wasn’t anything interesting. She had a large number of necklaces and rings made of ivory displayed on the long counter. Behind her, several exotic headpieces made of feathers, colored stones, and bone hung silently across a row of nails. She had a young man to her right haggling with an older woman over one of the necklaces. Maybe later he would stop get something for himself. First, he wanted to look at the paintings, maybe there was something better suited for him to spend his money on.
These were enclosed in a large round area, young artists were trying hard to sell their paintings; most were having some success, though not enough to make any sort of a decent living off of. He made his way through the tents that had been sectioned off from the rest of the fair stopping at each artist, admiring each piece of work. He had loved art since he was very young, though the talent for it had never invested itself in him. Some of the paintings were nice, most were plain, and the ones that were simply terrible he only gave a momentary glance. He measured each painting’s value by what it inspired within him. Some stirred sentiments or old memories, but most were simply paint on a canvas.
Halfway to the end, he came upon a painting of a beautiful young girl standing on a cliff looking out toward the open sea. The sun, just above her head, was making its way westward with gentle waves violently crashing as they reached the bottom of the cliff. It produced a feeling of anticipation and loneliness inside of him. She told him a million stories without even speaking a word, as she silently watching the sun set over the ocean. He admired its power to hold his heart and mind in its beauty. He wondered whom she was patiently waiting for.
“She is waiting for her lost love.” Answered a voice from behind him. He turned to find himself staring into a pair of beautiful, smiling gray eyes. He was trapped in them for a long moment before he finally brought his eyes back to the painting, then a quick glance over her shoulder, before they settled on the ground in front of him. Anywhere but into those gray eyes again. Long, thick hair framed her smooth face that was accented by a small round nose. The smile on her lips matched the childlike innocence of that in her eyes. She was the most stunning woman he had ever seen. “He sailed away and she vowed to wait until he returned to her. So, she waits silently on the cliff for him.”
He regained his composure long enough to speak to her with a nervous voice, failing to keep it steady. “How long will she wait for him.”
“Forever, if she has to.”
“That’s a very sad story.”
“Love is sad.”
“I always thought of it as being something happy? We celebrate love, not mourn over it.”
“Don’t you give a pretty girl a dying rose? Aren’t the most beautiful poems mostly about a past or lost love? Love can be many things. But most importantly love is everything we feel, happy or sad.”
“That’s pretty deep.”
“I know.” He relaxed as they talked for several more minutes, before she began to slowly fade. Her face melting into the angel’s face, as she continued to speak to him. Those eyes, that knowing, warm smile, it was her. It had been her all this time.
“April?” He asked in stunned disbelief, still not certain if it was really her or another dream. It would be too much if it was another dream.
“Once, a long time ago.”
“I don’t understand.” His disbelief quickly turned into anger. “You show me my life, making me relive everything and then you come to me as my dead wife and tell me it’s a lie. Make it stop right now!”
“No, my sweet spirit. I am what you see before you. But you see with your eyes, not with your soul.” He stood before her motionless, soundless, for a long moment. She felt him trying to reach her, touch her. He was a newborn taking his first steps, stumbling, falling, and finally giving up in frustration. “Close your eyes.” She told him as she wove both their spirits into one. He was complete once again, her soul uniting with his.
“Be still, my sweet spirit.” He felt her say. “This is not the world we once shared.” The heavens opened above him and he felt himself moving, flying closer within its reach. He no longer felt his arms or his legs. But he felt her, images and feelings, not words passing between them. He created a beautiful crimson rose for her making it dance in the soft wind before her eyes. With a smile, she made it burst into a million sparks of fire that settled around them like stars shining brightly.
“I never thought death could be so beautiful. There is so much I never told you. How much I’ve missed you. How every day I think of you. How…”
“You never did learn how to listen.” She said with a smile and a small laugh. “Now, close your eyes and tell me everything you never had a chance to. Not with words, but with your heart.” Her words came from far away, not the few paces that had been between them.
He did. Every book, every poem, every walk he took through the woods. Image after image, he lived every sunset again and every sunrise. With it, he shared everything that was beautiful in his world. He felt her pure essence as he reached out to her and felt her light touch in return. He saw her, not with his eyes but with his soul for the first time. The warmth of her beautiful light as it shone in a million brilliant colors he could not begin to describe. His dark world gone as his own light grew brighter. She had been the lone candle to light his world until he found his way through the darkness. His own peaceful light shining brightly among many others.
As he reached out to her once again, he realized she was gone. But he was complete and shined even brighter. Gone were the restrictions of his Earthly body and mind, he was free and at peace, but more importantly, he was alive.
See you tomorrow... hopefully headache-free.