The Place Where All Things End
She met me at the tree-line, just as I was entering the wood. A little girl, youthful and delicate; unflinching innocence beamed at me through her eyes.
I was not surprised to see her there, though she was alone and stood half hidden in shadow. I called her forth. She placed rounded, porcelain fingers in my slightly wrinkled hand and squeezed. A hand hug, only. But the first I had felt in a long, long time.
‘Hello,’ she said, the syllables lilting like notes of a flute.
I smiled, glad to have such pleasant company. “Hello.”
“May I walk with you?”
I nodded. “Certainly.” Then I thought to add, “Do you know where I am going?”
She smiled, pink lips curling on china white skin. “To the place where all things end.”
“And you are not afraid?”
I faced the wood. Twilight had fallen and cast shadows here and there. Tree boughs creaked and sighed in the passing wind while leaves, drying and curling as Fall neared, twisted in its wake. A forest that once lived and breathed, a former haven for forest dwellers, it was now fast falling asleep. Leaves would soon mat the forest floor in a carpet of crackling brown and yellow. Thick trunks would shrivel and split. The grass would wither.
“No,” I said at last, “I am not afraid. Shall we?”
We crossed over into the shadow. Here, the sun did not shine.
“Why do petals fall from a flower?” the girl asked.
I shrugged as I parted tree branches to let us pass. “Because the flower needs water to thrive. When it becomes dry, it withers.”
The girl was silent for some time. The tree-line was fast approaching and soon we would begin the climb up the mountain.
As we set foot at the mountain’s base, the girl tugged at my hand.
“Why have you come alone? Where are your friends? Your family?”
“I have you, don’t I?”
She laughed, the sound ringing like struck crystal. “I don’t count.”
“There is no one,” I said, stumbling over the catch in my throat, “they’ve all gone ahead of me. Or they have all just…gone. I like to think that some are waiting for me.”
The mountain was steep and I found myself breathing hard from exertion. The little girl appeared as fresh as when we had first met. Youth, I thought, remembering.
The top of the mountain rose in the distance, a protrusion of grass covered rock poking into a blue sky dotted with swathes of puffy white clouds. Below, a river rushed. Its raging waters were tipped with froth. The rocks, sharp.
I inhaled and exhaled as I embraced the place where all things ended.
We stood together at the cliff. The wind tugged at my hair, plucking at it like harp strings. A last moment in the sun. Then flight. Soaring. A last, beautiful hurrah.
A last miserable facade.
But a façade was what I needed.
“Is this the only way to get what you seek?”
I looked down at her, into those serious brown eyes. Eyes which seemed to understand me, perhaps better even than I did. Youth was innocent. It believed everything we said. Even lies.
“Yes. This is the only way.” I squeezed her hand. “Will you come with me?”
I bent down, picked a pink wildflower from between the blades of grass and stuck the stem behind her ear. Imitating me, the girl repeated the gesture and then climbed into my arms. She weighted nothing, smelled of nothing.
“We are twins,” she whispered.
She is not real.
“No,’’ I said, ‘we are one and the same.”
The water roared from below, intimidating in its fury yet so attractive in its promise of finality.
“Why do all things end?” the girl asked. Her arms wrapped around my neck. Her face was tucked under my chin.
The wind whipped all around, making my shirt and hair flap as we dropped.
The water shocked the breath from my lungs. It was a coffin of freezing water that encapsulated me.
My arms were empty. The girl was gone.
Why do all things end?
Because they must.