“He’s going to catch me!” I cried, and as I rubbed the tears from my face I saw that they were words smudged onto my fingers. As I pressed my fingertips together the words got clearer instead of smudging, until they became solid and fell out of my hands. “What does this mean?” I asked, as I hid in a ditch, covering myself in leaves. I could hear the man coming, the pound of his feet on the forest earth.
“You need a key,” said the tree under which I sheltered.
“You’ll know it when you see it.”
I scooped up the words from the ditch, filling my pockets with clanking as and cs and zs. Then I ran again, half crouched, until I came to the edge of the forest.
The sea boiled below me, huge cresting waves, and the forest had disappeared. Against the white sky I could see the man, the one who had a gun, and his face had become that of a wolf’s. I needed to escape from him, but there was no turning back.
“If I jump from the cliff I’ll die,” I said, despairing. I looked down over the water and saw in the midst of the waves a great door. I knew that if I could land on that, open it, I would be safe.
“You’re too late,” said the man, coming up behind me. He smiled, and there was blood on his wolf muzzle. “I’ll kill you all over again, and she’ll really go crazy this time. There’ll be no end except the one she gives us.”
I put my hand in my pocket and felt my fingers curl around a word. I pulled it out and traced out the first letter with my thumb. W.
“I’m not too late,” I said. “Not for her.” I put the word in my mouth and swallowed, and the man’s face lengthened in horror. The gun fell from his grasp.
“I’m ready to go home,” I said, turning from him, towards the raging sea, and the door whose key I had become. Then I took a deep breath and dived.
I opened my eyes, blinking hard. There was something in my mouth, and I started to retch.
“Is it –"
The words sounded as if they came from far away. I scrabbled at my throat weakly; blood roared in my ears like the sea.
“There’s a tube in your throat, sweetie, don’t struggle –"
“I can get someone –"
My eyes fluttered. The world was black, then white, and I could feel my eyes rolling like marbles in my head. The sensation was funny. I smiled a little.
Someone was talking to me.
“Take a deep breath, can you do that for me? One, two, breathe out –"
The tube snaked out of my throat and I coughed and coughed. A small blossom of blood trailed across the pillow. It was pretty. I touched my fingers to it lightly and then went to sleep.
When I next awoke, the light on the ceiling was a warm gold. Late afternoon, I thought, and for a moment that was all I thought, all I knew. The cracks in the plaster, the play of light… My mind was an empty room. And then I blinked again, and my memories came flooding back. The force of them in my mind made me gasp and cough for a moment, and I could faintly hear Willow saying “it’s ok, baby, it’s ok,” and holding me. Then it was as if my mind expanded like a lung. I breathed, and could remember, and was me again. Tara. Tara who was then and Tara who is now. Me.
“Oh, my love,” I breathed, looking into Willow’s face. “How I missed you.” Then I realised we were not alone in the room. David was there, looking anxious, along with a man in a white coat.
“David,” I said softly, and he stood up. He smiled and said something about being glad I was ok, and then left the room, his back the shape of sadness. The doctor fussed over me for a few moments, then left the room quietly. The door closed with a soft click, and I was left alone with my Willow.
For a while I just looked up at her, our fingers entwined. Now I knew where I had been, I was overwhelmed with my love for her. It had been such a long, painful time away from her. My love.
“Tara,” she said at last. “Do you – do you really remember everything now?”
I nodded. She threw her arms around me and I could feel that she was crying, and soon I was too, our tears mingling. I kissed them off her face and she kissed them off mine.
“Tara, what happened? How are you here?” she asked, still crying. I shook my head.
“I-I’ll tell you, but not yet. I’ve missed you,” I said, and I could hear the yearning in my own voice. “I-I want to make you mine again first.” I would never have been so bold before, but then, I had never died before. It changed things.
“I’ve always been yours,” she said, sniffing. I got out of bed – I was in my room, I realised – and gently brought her with me.
“I-I need to see you, Will, see you and hold you and –“ my voice cracked. “Realise I’m not dead.” I looked straight at her, at her beautiful face, and felt that my heart would burst. “Will you l-let me?”
She nodded wordlessly, and so I moved to her, closing the painful gap between us. I stroked her hair, smelling it, feeling it, and then I ran my fingers down her cheeks and over her mouth. I trailed my hand down her neck, the beautiful smooth skin, and then I unbuttoned her shirt and her skirt, and she helped me pull them off, her underwear too. Then she was naked, and I looked at her, feeling a joy that was so pure and complete that it was painful. My soul might tear apart with this feeling, I thought.
“Oh, Willow,” I said. “Oh Willow.” And I cried.