|Photo courtesy of MorgueFile|
I race through the lush and vibrant landscape as the sky changes above me. A warm spring blue descends into dark, wintry grey, the kind that would make even Seattleites want to stay indoors. In the convoluted madness above, black storm clouds will themselves into existence. The come together, darkly conversing in rumbling, ominous tones.
A sharp wind blows, threatening to take my clothes with it. I don’t have much time.
Clenching my jacket to my body I continue onward, though the wind persists in attempting to knock me off my feet.
For a moment, my world goes black as the clouds come together.
A single bolt of forked lightning strikes in the great distance, simultaneously interrupting and joining the gathering storm. The clouds part. Poor light returns.
I run as the clouds resume their conversation, an ever-present rumbling accompanying my every step. I feel like it’s chasing me, as though it does not want me to find her. But I will find her. I owe her that much.
My run turns into a sprint as the sky threatens to break open. The clouds bellow, shaking the entire landscape with a thunder-strike that lasts too long to be natural. The rumble settles but not in the sky; in the ground beneath my feet. The world is coming apart, or so it feels.
The wind hits me like a slap in the face, this time trying to push me backwards. It’s as though I’ve walked into a wall of oppressive ice. The left side of my face goes numb.
I raise my left hand before my face and press onward. Soon, I’m able to run again.
It is the land itself that tries to stop me this time, as a small mountain erupts in my path. I dodge, shooting to the left as I fight to maintain my balance.
Two steps later and the ground gives out beneath me. It is simply not there anymore.
I barely acknowledge terror, unsure if I’m about to go over a cliff. I place my hands out before me and hit the ground hard, rolling helplessly down a hill that is so steep it’s nearly vertical.
The landing is not pleasant; my ribs give as I strike something hard at the bottom. It sends me flying, head-over-heels, before the wind deposits me to the ground as though I attempted a belly-flop.
The pain is nearly unbearable. The sky seems to enjoy the show, greeting me with rumbling applause as two more bolts of lightning strike closer than their predecessors. Slowly, I rise, reminded how little control I have over everything in this world. It is a subtle reminder from the Powers That Be that I am in their domain.
They are not, however, without mercy. As I walk, continuing my search, I see her off to the left. The sight of her body causes me to gasp.
She lays face-down on the grass, her left arm bent at the elbow, her hand near her head. Her right hand is outstretched, her palm upturned to the sky. She's not moving, breathing, nothing.
With growing dread, I acknowledge the truth. I’m too late. Worse, her death is my fault.
I approach slowly. I realize that she has taken so many forms for our work, I’ve never actually seen her natural state before.
She's a blonde now. She usually appears to me with dark hair and either a pink or purple streak. I wonder if that was for my benefit.
I draw near her head and drop to my knees. I caress the hair away from her face and wince; she's cold to the touch.
"...hey." She manages weakly, opening her eyes and smiling.
"Oh my God, hey!" I greet back enthusiastically, "You're still alive! That's great!"
"...why?" Her voice is hauntingly sad, piercing clean through to my soul.
I lean in. "...why what?"
In an accusatory tone, she demands; “Why didn’t you finish?”
I have no answer.
Thunder cracks the sky in half, literally. I look up, gasping; I see stars and the cosmos. The world is coming apart.
She forces herself to all fours, her entire body quivering as the gesture takes every last vestige of strength she has. "I've been talking to you," her voice is low, weak, and raspy. "I've been talking to you for so very long. All you had to do was finish. Why didn't you finish?"
I slowly shake my head, unable to look away from her eyes. I just now notice; her eyes continuously change color. "I don't know."
A blast of forked lightning strikes several yards away, causing the ground to erupt. She screams. I leap.
I'm out of time.
"I don't have an excuse." I offer honestly as the skies rumble, "But...if you can give me a little more time, I promise, I'll finish."
"Two years." She counters with soft anger, "I've given you two years. I don’t know if I have anything left…"
More lightning. This one strikes closer, mere feet instead of yards. I can't help but feel that the next bolt will kill the both of us.
I rise. "One more month." I offer in a conciliatory fashion. "Give me thirty days, and I swear to you, I'll finish the book."
She looks up to me with hope. I extend my hand. "But I can't do this without you. Please."
"Thirty days." She repeats.
She strains, reaches up, and takes my hand.
The world goes white.
I wake up suddenly, gasping for air. My head was on my arms; I'd nodded off on my computer desk. Before me was a white screen, a slew of well-organized words reaching to the bottom of the screen and ending in an incomplete sentence.
The cursor flashes rhythmically, waiting for its next command.
"I'm here." The familiar and very welcome female voice speaks softly in the back of my mind.
I smile, exhale, place my hands on the keyboard, and continue working.
This story is dedicated to the memory of Karl Robert Louderback, the human personification of inspiration. Fly as fast as your new wings will carry you and watch over us, please.