Soft winds played a haunting melody as they blew through the cracks in the house. The aged wooden planks were missing paint and warped. An old rocking chair swayed back and forth on the porch. Beside it sat an empty flower pot with a broken lantern leaning against it. Cobwebs flickered from the supports of the chair. In the distance, unseen in the night, echoed the baleful hoot of a great horned owl. Night had settled in, blanketing the world in tender embrace as the weary were granted respite from the trials of the day. All that is but one.
The old man eased onto the porch. His tired eyes scanned the rolling hills and lightly forested fields. Wisps of stark white hair clung to his head, speckled by liver spots and fading freckles. His once sharp blue eyes were tired now, past their prime. He felt old. His body was thinner, fragile. With a heavy sigh he took his usual seat and just watched. He hoped this night would finally be different.
He’d lost track of how many years he came out to sit on his porch with that broken lantern in his lap. Decades at least. His very life seemed defined by it. He was bitter, angry at the heavens for a perceived injustice oh so long ago. The lantern was a constant reminder of his failure to protect his wife. A mockery of what could have been. An old promise said it would light when the time was right. He’d been waiting every night for so long and never so much as a flicker.
The old man sighed and began his nightly vigil. It wasn’t long before he began to nod off. The nights were longer these days and it was all he could do to try and stay awake. Autumn was here. A faint chill clung to the old house. Leaves of red, yellow and orange drifted past on the wind. Then he heard it. The subtle chime echoed over the hills and through the valleys. The old man snapped alert, his gaze automatically lowering to the lantern. His eyes widened. A spark. Small, intense but full of life.
“Have you ever given up hope?” a voice asked.
The old man started. There, standing at the bottom of the steps was a tall figure shrouded in a cloak of blinding colors. His heart quivered. “You’ve come back!”
The figure took a step closer. “I have never left. Every step you’ve taken, every breath you’ve taken I have been right behind you, catching you when you lacked the strength to continue.”
Tears welled. His strength threatened to abandon him. “I’ve missed you so much. All these years, I never dared to dream.”
The other’s voice softened, turning melodious. “Yet you still sat vigil, waiting for the chime. You were always a good man, Daniel.”
“How could I not? You said you’d come back to me, Sara. I’ve been so lonely.”
Sara reached up and lowered her hood. Her face was angelic, glowing with radiance that had been stolen during life. She was almost translucent and hovered just above the tickle of grass. “My dear Daniel, my illness was never your burden to bear. I was called away to a better place. This is not the life you were meant to live.”
“It’s the life I chose,” he defended. “I need you, Sara. Always have.”
She smiled, sad and warm. “Daniel, it’s time to let me go. You still have a life to live and there is much work to be done before you can join me.”
No. His heart stammered. Coldness spread through his veins. “But I…”
Sara reached up and gently touched his weathered cheek. “Daniel, this is how it must be. Let me go. Live your life. We will be together soon, once your task is complete.”
“Do you promise?”
She smiled again. “Always.”
He closed his eyes, relishing her touch. When he opened them again she was gone, leaving him filled with new purpose and filled with warmth. The lantern flickered once and extinguished, blown out by a kiss of wind. Daniel stood on the edge of his porch staring at the spot his wife had been and for the first time in a very long time felt free.