This story is one of the April Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
People from near and far gathered around my tree, a weeping willow, and called it Dreamscape Landing. Sadness hung in the air. Tears took on a steady flow. They bargained with me to read their letters and accept their offerings. Asking me to unbind their grief and bring closure with a final farewell in the great in between. To be reunited with their lost loved ones where wakefulness ends and infinity begins—dreams.
There were dozens of mourners that day, but it had to be her. Life had left her eyes, her frame was frail, and hands shook as she held onto her children. The boy seemed full of anger, but at a closer glance, it was pain. The girl had black hair that mostly covered her sad eyes. The woman fell to her knees just under the shade of my branches and whispered to me, the heaviness of her heart. She clenched her wedding ring that hung from her neck and dropped a scroll tied with a ribbon. Her hands touched my bark. I could feel her pain. I had felt her pain.
Dear Beautiful Lady of Dreams,
My beloved husband of ten years, Mitch, died in the line of duty. He never let me see him off because he always promised to return. But this time, he didn’t. The tighter I hold on to his memories, the faster they fade. I need to see him one last time, if only in my dreams. I desperately try to remember our last words, but can’t and need something to hold on to. Please grant me the peace I need to continue on and take care of our family.
Just like her, I also awaited my soldier’s return. I’ve been here, at our tree, for many decades, trusting that someday he’ll come back for me. As I waited, I helped others. Hoping that ending their grief somehow diminished mine. And the journey to Mitch began. Into another in between, not heaven but not exactly hell, where souls were immobilized by unfinished business with the living. Hands tugged at me as I trudged through their agony. At last, I spotted him and pulled him from the depths. I straightened his helmet and wiped the dirt from his skin. He was much younger than expected. A whole life ahead of him, sacrificed in the name of freedom.
She tucked her children into bed and kissed them goodnight. She walked over and put her hand up to the window, as did he. They mirrored each other, so close yet so far away, in life and in death. Suddenly, the wind rustled the curtains. She breathed deeply as the scent of his cologne filled the air. Her lips upturned. The smile that had been missing reappeared for a moment, until she looked back at their empty bed. She sobbed into his pillow until she slowly drifted off to sleep.
Then there he was, pale like the moon but glowing like the sun. He took her hand. Their fingers intertwined. Together they glided across the room and danced to the song of their hearts. He dipped her, and it came rushing back—he was dead. He wiped her tears while biting his lip to fight back his own.
“Don’t cry, my love. When you miss me, look at the family we’ve made together. I’m never that far.”
She melted into him and held on tighter than she ever had. Their lips said farewell while a blinding light overtook them. He looked back with a tip of his helmet, and then he was gone.