This text is from 2008, and was written as part of a short story project I never finished. I’ll read through it when I get back home and see if I need to make any changes. Feel free to leave a comment!
Happiness, laughter, naive delusions that life will last forever. In young years everything can have such a wonderful aura of invincibility, and in the eyes of the newborn explorer anything is possible. But this kind of imaginary reality is so frail, so easily shattered, that what seems in one moment to be the start of something, can suddenly turn out to be the end of everything.
The snow was falling intensely outside the windows, striking against the front of the small car like stars around a fast flying space ship in one of those movies. There were just the three of them, on their way to her family cottage some distance outside of town. They had been driving for about an hour, and were more than halfway there. As usual they were all joking and laughing, she in the back seat and her two friends in front. The sky was inky black and no star was visible in this long winter night – only the full moon helped light the shadows of the road where the car’s headlights were too caked with snow to do it.
Later she would remember these details as clearly as if she were still there in that car, in those last moments of the world. She would breathe these remembered moments as if were they oxygen and she drowning, alone and desperate in a dark sea. She saw them smiling back at her through the rear view mirror and then they all burst out laughing at what had just been said. They had known each others for years and knew that they would still be friends when they were all old and gray, sitting at some home and whining about the ways of new generations. This though, as it would turn out, was never going to happen.
She saw the one of her friends driving turn around towards her to say something. She heard her other friend scream suddenly, and saw the driver hastily turn his attention back to the road. He also screamed, and turned the wheel frantically in one direction. The car jumped and spun on the icy road. She screamed. They all screamed. She never even saw what had caused the commotion, and then everything turned black.
In confused and despairing lonely hours to come, despite the blurriness that had consumed every other memory of that fateful awakening back to light and reality, she would always be able to recall cold snow against her bruised back, someone screaming about a survivor and a blanket being wrapped around her shoulders by supporting hands – a blanket that was most probably warm but which she could not at that moment feel at all. Her senses registered no sound after that whatsoever, even though she was well aware that there should be sirens screaming since she could see them flashing, and a fire roaring since she could see the reflection of its flames against the glittering white winter snow. The flames themselves, though, she was not allowed to see. She was promptly turned away from them, even as several uniform clad men and women rushed past her to reach the source of their raging dance. She was all alone, even with all the people surrounding her and supporting her. She could not hear their worried voices, she could not see their concerned faces for all the tears in her own eyes. She knew nothing but that she was alone. The two stars that had once lit her darkness would never shine again, and her own fire was waning. But still no pain. Only tears and silence.
Just before they gently pushed her inside one of the waiting emergency vehicles, she managed one last glance back at the burning wreck that had once been her friend’s red car. The flames stood in screaming contrast to the dark forest and the black winter sky, and in a way it was all very beautiful in a terrible, terrible way. But what caught her attention most was not the fire, not the mashed metal of the carriage body or the limp arm of the person that was now being carefully lifted out of the car by two fire fighters clad in bright colours. No, it was neither of those things. Rather, it was something far more insignificant. Beside the burning car, in the snow that was melting by the fire even as she watched, were a collection of tracks made by small, small paws, trailing away from the scene of the tragedy and into the nightly forest beyond. And she would remember afterwards how she stood there, looking at those tracks, holding the hems of the blanket close together, and finally totally comprehending the full horror of the situation. And then came the pain. Then came all the terrible, searing sounds of the world. Then came the cold, the desperation. And she would remember nothing more.
She spent a long time in a hospital where everything was white, and everyone was smiling at her, talking to her in low tones as if the sound of human voices would damage her ears. She saw pity in their eyes and felt that she could not get away soon enough. But there was much inside her that was broken, not counting her heart, and her stay in that place would not be a short one.
Nights were her worst time, since it was then that everything around her went silent and she had time to think, to ponder and to grieve. Dreams were never easy on her and the memories she had of the accident she was forced to relive every time she closed her eyes. She grew to hate the white walls and the smiling people with the soft voices and the pitying eyes. She grew silent and withdrawn, and when at length she was allowed to leave the confinement of the white, accursed walls she had already sunk below the surface of herself. And slowly drowning, invisibly, unnoticed and seemingly irrevocably, she entered the world anew – but nothing was longer what it had been, and she least of all.
Spring came and with it memories. Memories of a time that had been happy and innocent, before the world ended and shades emerged to put up a pretense of blissful normality. She never returned to everyday life, to the things she had liked to do in the time Before. She only wandered and remembered, tortured herself with What Ifs and Whys. Her wanderings took her to places they had been together; an old playground, a steep hill destined to be covered in green grass when the weather got warmer, the roof of an old house where no one dared to live anymore in fear of wandering legends. In all these places she saw ghosts of her Happy Life, shadows of her lost friends laughing and singing.
Summer came and the steep hill gained its soft draping of flowing emerald. She lay there for hours gazing up at the sailing clouds above. Then she went down to the lake where they had used to swim on sunny afternoons. She sat down in the life-saving boat they had used to borrow-without-asking on several occasions, and gazed out at the dark waters. Nothing was as it should. Not anymore. She felt that she should have died in that car, too, which would have saved her from this agonizing existence. No shape of cloud and no song of water could ease her inner pain, and no bright summer sun would be ever able to light her darkness.
Autumn and falling leaves. Rain and thunder, wind and the crow of dark birds on otherwise empty branches. The season did nothing to help her, but she felt at home in it since it mirrored her inner feelings. The sorrow did not go away, as the others had said that it would. She hated the word “Eventually”, since the vocabularies of all the people surrounding her seemed to have suddenly lost all other words while they were in her presence. During stormy evenings she crept up into the window of her room and looked gloomily out at the darkening streets where falling water and wet red leaves seemed to compete furiously for the wind’s attention. Let me be a leaf, she thought. Let the wind take me and carry me away.
But she was no leaf, and when the air got cold and the wind grew biting rather than wet, she sat there still by her window, looking down at those streets. Soon the ground became white with frost and later covered by an even whiter blanket of snow. This was when she went out into the world again, to fully feel the pain of knowing that a year had passed her by and nothing inside her had changed even the slightest bit. She wandered the known streets. She left them for unknown ones, and ended up outside the areas of the most crowded habitation. Trees grew here, and the road was small and would not allow the width of two cars beside each other.
This road she walked, never looking back or up at what was in front of her, but always looking down at the ground, thinking and grieving. This is probably why she did not at first notice that someone was walking ahead of her. She saw the tracks before she saw the people; in fact, it was when she saw the tracks that she looked up from the ground at her feat, and noticed them. Shocked, she stopped on the road and only stared. For the two people that were walking some distance ahead of her could not be any other than the two persons that she missed most in the world, and also the two persons she had expected the least ever to see again. Two pairs of tracks trailed after them in the snow on the ground, and they seemed to be dancing where they went; dancing in the beautifully falling snow, just like they had used do in the past.
She called their names, but they did not seem to hear her. Laughing happily, they continued down the forest road, away from her. She called again and started to run after them, joy rising in her heart for the first time in a long, long time. Could this possibly be true? What had really happened on that night, since they were both here, now, alive? But she did not give these thoughts much time, since she had to run her fastest not to lose sight of them. Because however fast she ran, she never seemed to get any closer to them; they were always a long distance ahead of her.
They rounded a turn in the road and were for a moment hidden from her sight by the close growing trees of the forest. She hurried to catch up, but when she too had rounded the turn they could no longer be seen. Confused and disappointed she stopped. In front of her was a small bridge spanning a frozen river, but the tracks her two friends had left did not go any further than the beginning of that bridge. Then they were gone, without any sign of where they could have disappeared.
She gazed out over the river, and saw how the ice crystals on the snowy surface mirrored the twinkling stars in the dark heavens above. The forest was silent but for a murmuring wind that danced in the treetops. No laughter, no dance. Not even a nightly bird broke the tranquility. And nowhere anyone at all. Again she was alone. The bridge stretched empty in front of her, and on either side the world seemed to hold its breath and wait for her to think through the strangely wonderful thing that had just befallen her. But yet she did not understand.
Then she turned around to return the same way that she had come, and suddenly she remembered the tracks. There should be more tracks than her own in the snow behind her, if she had not imagined it all and was finally going mad. But the tracks of two pairs of shoes that she had been following were not there anymore. Only the depressions in the snow where she had put her own feet remained, and even they were being filled with falling snow as she watched.
With a heavy heart she was just about to take the first dreary steps on her journey back home, when she noticed them. Small, small tracks made by paws trailed along her own. Tracks made by two cats, seemingly playful, dancing, where the tracks of her friends’ shoes had been a moment ago. And suddenly she remembered. The very same kind of tracks on the snowy ground next to a burning car on a winter night like this, a whole year ago. Two pairs of tracks leading away from two persons killed in a tragic car crash on a dark road in the middle of nowhere. Two. And now the very same kind of tracks on a snowy night road where she had only moments before spotted her lost friends, very much alive and even dancing happily.
All came back to her then. Every memory, happy and sad, good and bad. The laughter, the screaming, the pain and the cold. She relived the end of the world, but not in the same way as she had done every night for the last year. Stronger, more painful. But then there were the tracks in the snow. It all ended and started with those tracks. Cat tracks. Two cats dancing in the snow.
A single tear rolled down her cheek, and she followed the tracks all the way back to where the houses begun. The silence was still unbroken, but inside of her a bright red flower had sprung up from soil that she had though of as dead and dry.
There are those who claim that the souls of lovers, if brutally and suddenly ripped from the world and from each other, can sometimes escape in the form of nightly creatures. Cats? Perhaps. I am not sure what to believe about that, but what I do know is that where a heart was earlier slowing, stopping, it is now starting to beat with more strength than it has ever had before. Someone who thought that all was lost suddenly discovered that nothing is ever, ever lost as long as there is a will to survive, to carry on. And as seasons change and the sun and moon continue to circulate the sky, so does hope return to a world that has ended many times but has been resurrected almost as often. For hope is our strongest force; a force that will outlive time itself.