Past Time

February 28, 2010
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I was killed by whispers. The elders always said that ‘They’ should never have been relegated to fairytales and bedtimes stories, and They could only be spoken of under bright sunlight, with hushed voices. Madness, old women’s tales. Perhaps.

I wondered at the nature of wisdom and madness with terrified clarity as I fled the creatures that had destroyed my entire village. They pursued me, down well-known, much-loved paths of the forest where I had often meandered, dreaming of a brave warrior to save me. But the warriors of my people were now dead; helpless to stem the tide that rushed over my village, they had been overwhelmed like all the rest- save for me. What twists of fate conspired against me till I was alone the sole survivor of the slaughter I never discovered- nor was I for long to remain a survivor. Once They caught a trail, they would never stop.

Through the forest paths I ran, spurred on by the fear of the cries of the pursuers at my heels, and the drifting flakes of snow began to sting my overheated and feverish body as they fell, oblivious to the urgency that sustained my flight beyond usual endurance. When at last I collapsed to the ground, exhausted and far outpaced, Death was swift to follow by way of those that pursued me with calls unearthly and wretched in nature.

I was afraid of death. I am no longer. I know Death, now. It comes and wraps around its friends, a darkness that is akin to sleep without dreams, save one never awakens from it.

And yet I did so. My bewilderment was great at realizing that all was not darkness and peace. Still I was wary, afraid to believe that it was not a dream– which I hoped whole-heartedly nonetheless, for it would mean life for many. I opened my eyes slowly and beheld my sinister savior. Pale of face, like the new-fallen snow, pierced by eyes that burned with a smoldering golden fire, he beheld my awakening with no expression. Then he stood, and walked away. Swiftly I sat up, and realized that his presence had been the only thing warming me, for the snowfall had thickened, and my body was turning to ice. So, stumbling, I came after him, and he stopped, but did not look in my direction.

He bid me do what I would choose.

Some madness seized me then. Perhaps it was the sound of his voice, some tone that beckoned me onward after him. There was a strange compulsion upon me, born of my own soul, seeing as only a child can beyond what others perceived, the icy façade he maintained.

I chose to pursue, cried out to him, told him I wanted to follow him forever. Together forever. He said nothing, and I followed. In so doing I unknowingly tied myself to him with a bloody ribbon that no others could see or understand, a brand of magic –perhaps only I call it such– far older than that which he had used to resurrect me. I could not disentangle myself again; I was bound to him. My life was his, come what may, and I didn’t mind, because no matter what, my cold protector was there. I knew he cared, whether he would show it or not, but I could not discern why. In time, it ceased to matter. In time, nothing mattered save the two of us. I had chosen to follow him. That was all.

Time began to pass imperceptibly. I barely noticed, save to revel in the changing of the seasons as only a child can. He provided for me as I traveled at his side, and protected me. Rare indeed became my contact with people, but what did I want for, save for him?

Then I died. It was a simple thing that had happened to many a child; that river bore the memorials of lost young ones, but I ignored them. When I was pulled into the darkness below the water’s surface, I learned anew what fear was. And when I opened my eyes and gazed at him just as I had before, I forgot again.

Again he left. Again I followed.

At that time I had lived far longer than I had realized without passing far beyond my youth. Since then, I have wondered if it was the memory of when he first found me, echoed in a face only lightly touched by the passage of time, that let him call me forth from the darkness time and again. Whenever he failed to protect me, and I died, he was there to turn my spirit from that final journey. Every time, his impassive face was the first thing I saw again when he brought me back. Wordlessly, he turned away, and I pursued as I had from the first, trusting him with something more than my life, though I had no name for it, and cared not.

I came to understand that I was to spend forever with him. Forever, my heart, a child’s heart, whispered gleefully. Together forever. That was what I had wished for when he first revived me, and now it was coming true.

One of the few times we did enter human settlements, we passed an old woman, bent and gnarled as an ancient tree, who stared at us for only a moment from the doorway of her rude hovel with her one wild eye before disappearing inside. Never before had I encountered someone old. He told me that she was younger than I was, and I didn’t understand. How could I? I was still a child at heart. I had all the time in the world, and could not understand why we traveled to places I had known and found them changed, their people, and, eventually, the very nature of the land.

I did grow up. His enemies captured me, and in their company I died, and in his arms I was brought back once again. Again he gave me the option –wordlessly, ever wordlessly– to leave, and I declined, following him with now ancient and child-like eyes. At length, I found that the changes of time’s passage were no longer coming.

Fire introduced me to Death again. I didn’t care for the pain, but it was only temporary. The snow falling around him when I awakened to see him again was just as it had been when I had first arisen from Death’s embrace into his. Winter, like his face but not his heart, for the heart only I could ever touch flared summer-warm to me. Like the fires of that blaze that had already slain me once, he seared me with his flames as he brought me back again. I lay in the snow and wished to never move again, so absolute was my trust in him, though the fire blazed bright behind him and the ice would have chilled me but for the warmth in my heart from his presence. He kissed me. I never decided if his lips were fire or ice as the caught snowflakes melted between us. He left. I followed, and I was smiling.

Time, all of time, to understand him.

The dying yet meant nothing to me, and whenever I woke from the crushing blackness, he was there, and it seems now to me that I lost another small part of myself. Eventually I forgot what it was to be whole and to belong to myself, to experience mortal fear of time and what it would bring.

I got what I wished for. Together, forever; the child I had once been, who still lived inside, was overjoyed each time I experienced the thought anew, and I, who once said that I wished to be at his side infinitely, I came to realize that eternity is a very long time indeed, because my eyes had seen more of forever than anyone ever should. Through everything, the two of us stand, unmoving, untouched by time, unbound to anything save each other.

I discovered something. When death means nothing, nor can life ever hold meaning.

We have come back to the place where I died in the fire. There is nothing here, now, so many years later that there is not a counting for the length in the language we use, a language lost to the people who can no longer remember us.

As I lie at his side in the snow, uncaring that my body is frail and will die soon enough from the bitter cold; as I gaze up at the stars, who were born after me and will die before me; as I close my eyes, wishing only to rest after so long in a life I was not meant to lead; as I touch that hand that has given me more lives than I can count: I can feel my heart shatter. Not stop, but shatter, into shards of broken dreams that cut like chips of ice and burn like tongues of fire, because I cannot dream any longer.

Somewhere deep inside of my heart I relive the rejoicing of the innocent girl I once was, the child who first felt his touch of fire and ice. Forever, I dream gleefully with a heart that is no longer beating. He brings me back, of course. He always does. Tears slide down my cheeks.

My lesson has been well learned, and yet will not end.

Why won’t he just let me die?

But when he leaves, I follow him, because I have passed beyond death and found something I else. Because I have nothing left, not even myself, save for him. Because I want him to teach me how to dream again.

I will always follow.

Once –only once– I asked him why.

He looked at me. It was obvious. He turned away.

I followed. I will always follow, if only in the hope that we can teach each other to live again.

I cannot help but smile my hate for him lovingly.

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