Friday, March 16, 2012

"After the Fall"

 Title:  "After the Fall"
Wordcount:  >1300 words
rated PG-13 for mild suggestive dialogue 
Author:  Graham Patrick Smith

"It's good to see you again," I said, my nervousness apparent in the way I diverted my eyes and shuffled my feet.  If she took note, she gave no indication as she stared back at me with steely gray eyes.

"It's good to see you again, too," she said.  The warm, late-summer wind blew across the hilltop where we both stood, making the amber-colored fields of wheat and the still-green trees of the rolling valley below us dance and sway, filling the air with their rustling like the churning of the ocean.  We stood under a giant oak tree, one that was prematurely turning the golds and oranges of the immanent autumn.  My tennis shoes crunched the fallen, discarded acorn tops, cast aside by the squirrels and other creatures that used the massive, old tree for sustenance.

I suppose, in that aspect, the creatures and I were the same.

She stood barefoot on the organic carpet.  The light breaking through the oak tree's canopy in patches where the leaved had already been shed lit her pale, shimmering skin.  Another gust of wind, this one cooler than the last, tossed her light blonde hair around her head, making her curls bounce and sway around her slender shoulders.

It had been almost three months since I had last seen Ostereth, and I had missed her terribly.  Not that I even knew her real name was Ostereth; it was merely the name she gave me, and I never questioned it.  I wasn't even sure she HAD a real name, or if she merely liked the way it sounded and decided to call herself that.

She wore a dress of light blue that made her gray eyes stand out like silver, and a slight smile played across her face as she looked at me the way she did every time we had our encounters.  I wasn't sure if she could tell that I had fallen in love with her or not. I knew that she knew things, impossible things about me and my life that I had never told her, so I wouldn't be surprised if she had figured it out.

It was the fifth time I had summoned her, that wily spirit of the air.

The old book I had discovered in the estate sale my parents had purchased had described the processes of summoning spirits, willing them into physical form from the Arid Places of the world.  I had tried it two springs ago, in the very place where Ostereth and I now stood, the day before the first day of spring as the book had described.

And Ostereth had appeared.

She had been beautiful and elegant, clad only in the wind that supplied her with her name.  She said she was young as far as spirits go - only three-hundred and thirty-seven years old, at the time - which made my seventeen seem ridiculous by comparison.  The book had warned of speaking with spirits, saying they loved to play tricks and make unfair bargains and treat mortal creatures with distain.

But she had asked nothing from me.  She had no deals, no bargains, only curiosity, for she said it was her first time visiting the mortal world.  We had spoken for hours that first night, and even when the late-winter air had made my limbs numb I still sat with her under the oak tree.  I had fallen in love with her long before she had asked me to help her try out her new form of flesh beneath the massive bows.  She had been as warm as a summer breeze.

And that was how it had been, the day before every seasonal change, for over a year.

The months between our meetings felt like years.  I agonized over my feelings for a creature I knew I could never fully have any more than I could cage the wind.  I wasted time wondering if an everliving spirit could have feelings for me like I had for her, though she would outlive me by millennia.  In the weeks and days that preceded each summoning I would prepare a barrage of questions for her.  What did she do during our months apart?  What were the Arid Places like?  Did she understand human emotions?  Was I a fool to spend my months pining after her?

And every time the nearly-four-centuries-old Ostereth (who didn't look a day older than me) appeared, all those prepared questions disappeared, along with the worries that my love for her would never be fulfilled.  When she was there, nothing else mattered; not the doubts that I sometimes had as to whether or not she was even real, not the worry that she might not show up when summoned.  Every time she appeared, she smiled that beautiful smile and greeted me as warmly as I did her.

"How have you been?" she asked me, her smile as lighthearted and joyful as it had ever been.

"Fine," I lied, and she knew it.  Every time we met was sweeter and more heartwrenching than the last, and this time I knew that we wouldn't have a proper meeting untill the spring.  The summonings were always harder after the fall, because winter is the time when air spirits are allowed to play and roam and let their essences mix with their brethren.  The pull from her fellow spirits makes the pre-winter summoning more difficult, and she can never stay as long.  And although I knew it was stupid and childish and very human of me, I always became a little jealous during the winter; the thought of Ostereth's essence mixing and spiraling with the other air spirits made me envy them terribly.  I knew she wasn't mine, nor was I under any illusions that she could ever be mine ... but that didn't stop me from desiring her every time I felt a snowflake on my face.

"You're lying," she replied with a smile, laying a warm hand, the exact temperature of the pre-autumn air, on the side of my face.

I smiled sheepishly.  "How did you know?"

"You told the same lie last fall."

The wind suddenly shifted and became much warmer, shoving her straight at me.  As I put my arms around the centuries-old spirit and our lips met, I caught a whiff of the wheat feilds and the old oak tree and the other fresh, renewed smells that signaled the end of summer.  And it occured to me that I wasn't smelling my surroundings; I was smelling her, because she was my surroundings.

We pulled away at exactly the same instant, and the rational side of my brain did its best to ruin the moment.  I knew that, at midnight, when Ostereth dissappeared and I was left alone on the hilltop, that I would wonder if it had all been a dream.  I knew how bad it would hurt tomorrow, going back to school and mortality, where there was no magic and no Ostereth.  But, with her in my arms at that moment, I didn't care.

From nowhere my wandering mind suddenly found one of the questions I had been burning to ask Ostereth for over a year now.  I swallowed and stammered, "Will you miss me, at midnight?"

She grinned, eyes glistening.  "I always do."  Running her fingers through my hair, she added, "my nervous pile of blood and sweet emotions."

As she kissed me for the first time in three months, I dreaded the thought that it was going to be a very long, lonely fall, untill I saw her again just before winter.  But a portion of me felt that spring was already on its way.