All week I’ve waited for the chance to see you once more. To hear your voice or feel the brush of your fingers on mine. It’s the one thing I long for, the rainbow of joy in the endless grey of my life. Old leaves crunch under my boots as I trudge along the rough path and shove a pine branch out of my way. Its scent chases me, clinging to my plaid sweater as I pull it closer. My lungs burn as I pull in another breath of thin, mountain air.
Cool night air seeps into the shadows, chasing away the heat of the day as quickly as the sun drops toward the looming peaks. But my locket, a gift from you, is warm as I rub the metal with my thumb. My lips tug up in one corner. Soon, I’ll see you again. We’ll laugh and lay in the weeds, watching the stars appear in the night sky. Up here, there are no lights to mess up the view. No other people to disturb us, only the gentle hum and buzz of insects. It’s our place, mine and yours. You’ll take my hand and smile at me, just the way you did the first day we met.
How could I ever forget? Life began anew when I met you.
Caramel and cream had coated my tongue as I licked at the edge of an ice cream cone. But the messy streams crawling down my fingers no longer mattered when I looked up and saw you. A new face in an old, familiar town. You leaned your bike, an off-road model in my favorite electric blue, against a lamp post on the cracked sidewalk. Even that couldn’t hold my attention when you flashed a shy grin, a coy dimple on your cheek. How long since someone had looked my way? How long since I’d even cared?
Up ahead, I catch a glimpse of my destination, a concrete shack more ruin than building. Rotting boards cover the windows. Useless, since the roof caved in. Who built it or when, I couldn’t say, but that doesn’t matter, it’s our special place.
The clearing is empty. I twist around, brushing a sweat-dampened lock of hair from my face. My chest clenches around a sudden ache. I’m early. Yes. That’s it.
Yarrow and wild wheat catch at my jeans as I cross to the old building. I’ll have a better view there. I find the locket again. Each rub along its smooth, round face calms me. There’s a pressed flower inside, a reminder of our first trip here. The early spring blooms have faded now, but not this one. A gentle breeze teases my hair. The last rays of sun dance across the clearing. Peaceful. It always is here. Anywhere is with you.
My shoulders loosen as I glance back at the trees. Any moment now, you’ll step out on the path with that half-smile that makes me weak. You’ll wave—
My boot knocks into something. I stumble to a halt, peering into the overgrown weeds stretching up my calves. A black candle, wide, short and half-melted, lays on its side. My brows wrinkle. We’ve never brought candles before. I crouch, prepared to scoop up the offending object when something else catches my attention. Red and black plaid, just like mine, dirty and worn by the elements.
Darkness creeps over the glade as the sun dips below the mountains, stripping the heat from my body. I shoot to my feet. There’s more. Something white, long—
A scream catches in my throat. Bones arc up from the torn and tattered plaid. I stumble, the back of my hand over my mouth. Not here. Not in our place. Tears prick the corner of my eyes.
I fight the urge to run, to scream, to call for help. No one can help now. Swallowing the bile in my throat, I inch closer. Other used candles poke out among the weeds. What’s left of the body is stretched out in a cross. Boy? Girl? Old? Young? In the growing dark, it’s hard to see…so little is left. Why didn’t we see it last time?
An arm wraps around me. I scream and twist against the solid body at my back.
“Shh,” you whisper.
At once, I relax, savoring the spearmint scent of your favorite gum, the kind you’re always chewing like life depends on it.
I turn my head, lips ripe with words for you.
White-hot pain rips through my chest. The words never come. Nor does a scream. Shock fades to numbing cold as I grab for the knife in my chest, but it’s not there. No blood bubbles from a wound. My fingers touch only air. Your breath tickles my neck, but I can’t feel you, not your arms around me or your chest at my back.
I can’t move. Can’t speak. Only the corpse greets me.
And then I see it.
A glint of silver. A circle locket on a chain lays among broken bones and tattered cloth.
You’re not here. I can’t smell you or feel you. But the throbbing ache of betrayal is all too real—a wound that will never be healed. Silent, screaming emptiness chokes me until there’s nothing left.
As the final hint of sunset fades, I fall toward my corpse, and darkness swallows me.