The storm raging outside was unlike anything the village had ever experienced, almost as if the skies were breaking in half to welcome a new flood to wipe out all of mankind for good. Adding to that, the fierce winds blowing from every direction and the lightning that cracked the night with their beautiful, yet scary streaks of light, were clear warnings that no one should be alone in the streets and that doing so was sure to bring an untimely death.
“There he goes again,” said Craig Matthews, a regular customer, as he pierced through a window. “I thought this awful weather would put an end to his obsession once and for all, but I was wrong!”
Craig gave her the money with a disgruntled look, stirring the curiosity of a foreigner who was driving by the neighborhood when his car had stopped working right in the center of the storm. He had found shelter there and now looked forward to the opportunity of hearing an eerie story.
“That would be our local eccentricity,” Emily answered as she served herself a glass of Scotch. “Every village has one, Mr.….?”
“What is it you do for a living, Mr. Reynolds?” another customer joined the fray, a short, old man with a thick beard that seemed to have sprung from a fairy tale of sorts.
“If the weather continues like this, I say you will most likely not be able to get out of here, soon, Mr. Reynolds.” agreed Craig.
“Okay, Andrew,” Emily said as she prepared another cup of coffee. “Let me tell you the story of our countryman, Darren Hayes, then. He’s the one out there, chasing a delusion, and everything started seven years ago, on a stormy night like this one, when he lost his wife in a car crash near the old Rose Cottage next to the Willowing Forest. It was a tragic thing, no doubt about it… she was driving home from work when she lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a centenary tree. She died right away, they say.
“Right after the burial, he began making daily visits to the place where she died, sometimes ‘talking’ to her or crying by the tree, hoping to find solace that never came. That is when he lost his mind.”
“Like I said, he didn’t want to talk with anyone after what happened, so imagine my surprise when one day he came barging in with the eyes of a madman, saying he heard the most beautiful song by the ancient tree and that, afterward, the world opened before his eyes in a shower of petals….”
“He tried to show us all what he had witnessed and got the whole town following him to the cottage but when we got there, we didn’t see a thing,” said the old man.
“You sure are,” Emily nodded. “He claims he hears her song, although he’s the only one. His hope is that someday, this ‘angel’ will appear again.”
“I do not know, maybe free him from his misery, I guess…. All that is certain is that he claims he must follow the song, as if it controls him, somehow, and every day he does so, whether in rain or snow and then sits by that tree and waits….”
“We did!” Craig exclaimed. “But he doesn’t listen to us anymore, see? All that exists in his head now is that fixation and, one day, he will die out there.”
* * *
Overwhelmed with her radiance, Darren almost felt his heart stopping and, it was with great difficulty he spoke:
She didn’t answer right away, instead looking at him with beautiful, crystalline eyes. An unexpected kiss on his forehead caused something unimaginable to happen: not only did his tears dry, but the storm also subsided, albeit only where they both stood.
“I… I don’t understand. What… are you t-talking about?”
“Yes,” he answered, head hanging low.
“I am lost. Please, you have to tell me what this is all about!”
“Wait, what does that…?”
He turned away and was dumbfounded by what he saw. Floating ever so gently next to him, wearing a natural dress of red and brown leaves very similar to Rosanna’s had, was his wife, just the way he remembered her.
“No, my dear…. You are very much alive and so am I once more.” She approached him and wrapped her arms around his waist. He could feel her skin, touch her hair and smell her perfume and know that as strange as that was, she was real and not just a figment of an insane mind.
“I know. So am I. I missed you like crazy, you know? But I think it is time for you to know the truth….”
“Well, I think it should be obvious by now that I am not human. I never was and never can be.”
“Yes. One that many years ago, chose to live upon this earth because of you…. Because I met you and fell in love with everything you were and still are. I gave up part of my essence to be with you and I never regretted it. But one day….”
“The part of me that was human did, yet the rest of my spirit lingered on, attached to the trees of the forest, rebuilding itself. My last mortal thought was a prayer to Rosanna, one of my ‘sisters’. I asked her to take care of you, to make sure you did nothing foolish until I could become whole once more, a process that lasted only seven days in my perception of time, yet seven years according to yours.”
“Yes. Her voice has many powers, including the one to captivate human minds, just like the legendary mermaids, and I was certain that if she sang to you, you would still be around when I recovered. I am sorry for what I put you through, Darren, but I couldn’t afford to lose you. You are my soul mate after all!”
“I can never reclaim a human body again. My spirit is bound to the Willowing Forest now, so I can not stay with you here, but….”
“Are you sure?”
“All you have to do is listen…,” Rosanna said, her voice echoing in the tree’s branches, its roots, and inside his mind. The song she sang was a different one, much mellower and somewhat poignant. However, to the ears of both lovers, it was a gift of everlasting peace.
* * *
He did not have the chance to do so for when the group reached its destination, all they found was his dead body sitting against the tree, holding a pair of red leaves in both hands. He had passed away during the night though there was no clear sign of the cause of death. That his clothes were dry proved to be an unsolvable mystery in the years to follow.