Rain pelts against the roof of her shelter, keeping time with the staccato beat of her aching heart. Beyond the window a war rages in the evening sky. Purple and aqua strands weave themselves gently into a wall of angry black clouds that have sailed in from a sea who’s waves she can hear crashing against the rocks below her. She sings a wordless song, her voice merging with the storm and the silent melody of the aurora as her hands carefully plait her golden hair into a braid. She falls silent and looks into the fire flickering on the hearth.
Some time ago, soldiers had come in the night and taken her precious sleeping boy from his bed. Not even five years old, blond curls damply clinging to his forehead. “Mama!”, he’d called, but when she’d reached for his small outstretched hand, screaming and savage in her fear for him, they’d laughed and shoved her away. “Please!”, she’d begged but that had only elicited more laughter and one of the men had raised his sword to her husband and fell him where she stood.
Outside the same was happening all over the village. Cries had slipped into the unholy night like frantic birds taking flight. Smoke had choked her as flames engulfed the buildings and the dead. She’d ran then, into the darkness of the woods beyond their little cabin, and she hadn’t stopped running until she’d fallen to her knees in exhaustion. Days had merged, one into the other, as she’d made her way through the meadows and the hills and the forests. She might have wandered for a week or a year, she knew not, for so lost was she in her own nightmarish mind that time had ceased to exist. And then she’d found this place, this small haven in a thick copse of oaks, and she’d slowly come back to herself though wrought with confusion and a sense that something lurked just outside her vision. An indeterminable something that if only she could grasp it would explain everything.
She continues her song and reaches towards the fire for warmth. It is winter. Long spans of darkness and short spans of light separate her sleep from her wake. She’s not been outside since she entered this place and for the first time she wonders how it came to be. This small one room shack, obviously deserted given the thick layer of dust covering everything, but stocked with everything she could possibly need to survive. A cookstove below long shelves of canned goods, cellar full of vegetables and cured meat, chamberpot in the corner, a lamp and can of oil, fireplace and one whole wall stacked with wood, the rocking chair in which she spends most of her time, rocking to and fro, trying to comprehend the horrible events of ago. It’s eerie, really, how it was all here just waiting for her.
She stands and walks to the window. It’s snowing, already a few feet deep in the drifts. Silent and motionless is the world she left behind, as always. Not even a rabbit or deer make an appearance to ease her loneliness. Endless white as far as she can see but for the bare branches of trees reaching for the sky. And then suddenly it’s there, in the distance, just a smudge really but so out of the ordinary from the usual monotonous view that it startles her and she takes a step back. Her heart beats faster, her breath comes in small quiet gulps, a hand slips to her mouth to muffle the frightened sigh that escapes her lips. What is it, this static thing that shouldn’t be there? Have the soldiers found her? Quickly she blows out the lamp and settles back into her chair. She twines her fingers beneath her chin but does not pray to the God she stopped believing in the night her husband and son were so brutally taken from her.
Time goes by. She doesn’t light a fire for fear of alerting the soldiers, if indeed, that’s what it is. She nibbles on dried venison and wraps herself in woolen blankets and watches her breath turn to frost in the frozen air. It’s always there, when she dares to peek out, and one day it begins to move closer but so slowly that her fear of it abates and she resumes her daily routine. Fire, food, song. It becomes familiar, a friend in the desolation of her days. She begins to speak to it, savors the peace it brings her, wonders why it doesn’t take on shape as it draws near. Always a mere smudge. Featureless. Just out of reach. She starts to think that perhaps it’s that something she’s been searching for. That indeterminable something.
She’s dreaming. Her eyelids flutter furiously as she relives that dreadful night. She hears her son cry out for her, watches her husbands dear face turn ashen as the sword enters his body. She feels the screams ripping from her throat, one after another, violent in their intensity and anguish. She smells the smoke, she feels the heat of the fires, she watches her neighbors and friends fall in the muddy street. “No,” she whispers. “No.” She tries to flee when the soldier advances on her but it’s too late. He slams her to the ground and rips her nightgown above her hips. She shrieks with anger, shame, and pain when he takes from her what she’s only ever given with love to her husband. He smiles when it’s over, laughs as she covers her nakedness with the torn gown. She spits at him as he raises his sword to strike, attacks, her teeth tearing into the flesh of his calf, no longer human, animalistic in the throes of her horror and grief. She hears it coming, a metallic whoosh, and she tries to scramble away but the sword severs her spine with a sickening thud.
She wakes with a start, flailing backwards, still trying to escape the soldiers blade “That’s not what happened!” she says, her voice trembling. “I didn’t die!” But the dream feels so real, so true. She buries her head in her arms and takes slow, deep breaths. She begins to cry, deep heart wrenching sobs, as it all comes back to her. The maddening terror, the ache for her loved ones, the moments of darkness as her life was extinguished. The truth, long held at bay by fear. “I died that night too,” she says and suddenly she becomes aware that something is different. The birdsong is louder, the air is warmer, the waves crashing below her are almost deafening. She raises her head and looks around. It’s all gone. The fireplace, the stove, the rocking chair, even the shack itself. No snow, just long expanses of lush green grass. She’s standing at the edge of the woods, woods she now realizes are the ones behind the cabin she’d shared with her family. She’s bewildered, unable to comprehend what is happening.
Someone calls her name. The voice is familiar but she can’t place it. She smiles, though she’s not aware she’s smiling. Tears course down her cheeks, though she’s not aware she’s crying. And then it’s there, the smudge, right in front of her. As she watches it separates into two, the second smaller than the first. They waver, iridescent in the sunlight, beckoning to her. From them flow such love she fears her heart will burst with it. The smaller one touches her hand. “Mama.” it says, and she knows. When she says their names they finally take on form. Become her beloved husband and son. She wraps them in her arms as theirs do her. The joy is almost a living thing, so passionate is it’s presence. Their laughter, their love, the sweet taste of lips long left unkissed.
“I’m sorry.” she says.
“It’s okay. You weren’t ready,” he says.
“I missed you Mama,” says the child as he nestles his blond curls into his mothers breasts.
And then the light. An all encompassing light, laden with the memories of everything that ever was or will be, wraps its beautiful wings around the three and they are gone, immersed in the sea of forever.