I’m planning a series of posts about my next book, ‘Moon Goddess’, and also sharing more of my writing, as and when I feel the stories are ready. This one, like most of my short stories, started as a writing exercise, inspired by my book of writing prompts, ‘A Writer's Book of Days’ by Judy Reeves.
When She Looked Up
When she looked up, Elise saw thick mist rolling towards her, its sudden appearance unnerving. Gradually eclipsing the sun, the wall of ashen grey crawled closer. Before she could fully grasp what was happening, it had completely enveloped her. She knew she was not alone; she knew there were people around her, yet she shivered, for it seemed as if the fog had leeched all sound from the world.
In the rolling silence, her voice sounded small. “Malcolm?” No answer. “John?” Hugging herself, her voice retreated into a whisper. “Anne?” Elise flung her arms out as if to push the fog away, half-expecting it to be a solid thing. But it was fog and it floated from her. Stumbling forward, she managed to catch herself.
“What is happening? Where are you? Anne! Where are you?” Her voice caught as a sob escaped her. Clasping her dirt-grimed hands together, she pressed them against her mouth. “Robert …” she said softly, wanting … needing her husband. His strength, his protection. But that was beyond her reach for he was dead. Killed in a war that had nothing to do with them, betrayed by his loyalty to a king whose only desire was to fight wars.
Crying out, she spun around. Her eyes widened; her hands fell away from her mouth. “Robert?” Squeezing her eyes shut, she shook her head against conflicting hope and dread; hope that he really was here, dread that she was going mad. Slowly, she opened her eyes.
He was still there. Still standing before her, tall and handsome in his tunic and tabard, his cloak on his shoulders. But he was pale … so pale.
“I am dreaming,” said Elise. “Or I am going mad. This cannot be real … can it?”
Squinting slightly, Robert nodded, the movement slow as if the effort pained him. “If that is your desire.” His voice seemed to come from a distance, giving the impression that his voice was further away than he was. It sounded hollow, lacking the richness Elise remembered.
She remained fixed to the ground, staring at the husband she’d believed lost. He remained where he was, seemingly fatigued.
With a sob, Elise rushed forward and flung her arms around him. “Oh, Robert, my Robert … I have missed you. So many years, waiting for you to return only to be told you had been killed.” She buried her face in his tabard, weeping so hard, her body shook. “I-I thought … I thought my heart would break …”
When she finally managed to control her tears, she pulled away enough to look up at him; he continued to stare straight ahead. “Why did they say you were dead? Were you captured, lost? Why did you not send word?” She chose to ignore the small voice in her head that wondered at the iciness that spread from his body.
“The dead cannot.”
Silence followed his words. Elise fought to convince herself that she had misheard him. She wanted him to look at her, yet was afraid to look into his eyes, his beautiful grey eyes. In that moment, she realised he had not returned her embrace; he stood as if made of wood. Carefully, Elise released her hold and stepped back. “Why did you say that? How can you be here if you are …?” She could not bear to say the word.
It was only then that he lowered his gaze to meet hers. And it was then that she could no longer deny the truth. His eyes, once so full of joyful life and love, were now colourless. Yet, there was sadness in them.
“You are keeping me here, Elise.”
Shaking her head slightly, she whispered, “How?”
“Your yearning for me keeps me trapped here. So long as you refuse to loosen the bonds between us, I remain chained to this world. I cannot go to my rest.”
Tears filled her eyes once more as her lip trembled. “But I miss you.”
“I am weary, Elise. All this wandering, so much wandering … I yearn for rest.”
“Robert … I love you–”
“Then let me rest. Please.”
Blinking back her tears, she looked at him. Truly looked at him. It slowly came to her that, not only was he pale and cold, not only were his eyes without colour, everything about him was without colour. He was without life, little more than a shadow, a copy of the man she had loved and shared a few short years with. It was harsh, yes, and unfair, but his time with the living was done. And he had not left her alone; she still had a part of him. She had their daughter, their little Anne.
To her surprise, the pain in her heart loosened its grip, the spell of grief she’d been under fractured by the admittance of that truth. When she spoke, her voice was that bit stronger. “I love you, Robert, but I never meant to hold you here, for you to be trapped. I never meant to deny you your rest. But I have been given the chance to bid you farewell. For that blessing, I will forever be grateful.”
He closed his eyes and let out a long sigh as if a burden had slipped from him. Elise shivered as the world around her seemed to breathe again. Managing to smile through her tears, she pressed her fingers to her lips then held her hand out towards him.
Robert smiled; a small smile but a smile nonetheless. Lifting his hand in acknowledgement, he then placed it on his heart. Turning, he walked from her. And the fog rolled away with him.
Blinking rapidly, Elise looked down to see her daughter frowning up at her.
“What are you doing?”
Glancing around, Elise realised her farm hands were also staring at her. “Nothing, my love. Nothing.” She wondered why no one appeared to be unnerved. “Is … um, is anything amiss?”
Still frowning, Anne shook her head, her dark curls bouncing. “Only you, Mama. Why are you weeping?”
Elise quickly wiped her wet cheeks with the backs of her hands. “It’s nothing, nothing. I seem to have got some dirt in my eyes, that is all.” She pasted a smile on her face. “Come. Let us continue with the planting.” Without warning, she grabbed her daughter and lifted her up.
Anne’s surprised exclamation turned into a laugh and she hugged her mother. Unable to resist her child’s infectious laughter, Elise too laughed. For the first time in a long time, she truly laughed.