((I wrote this one for one of my regular “costumers”, a lovely Irish lass called Rosie. It was born out of a suggestion involving the words walk and rain, and I immediately devised a supernatural, romantic tale based on them. This is one of those stories where the mind control is there, but in a very subdued way, because the emphasis lies in the romantic overtones rather than the erotic feeling. I really like it. It’s one of my personal favorites.))
The storm raging outside was unlike anything the village had ever experienced, almost as if the skies had been torn apart in preparation for a new flood that was to wipe out all of mankind for good. Adding to that, the fierce winds that seemed to blow from every direction of the compass and the lightnings that cracked the night with their beautiful, yet scary streaks of light, were clear warnings that no one should be alone in the streets, and that doing so could result in an untimely death.
However, there was one person willing to risk it, walking at a steady pace amidst the torrential downpour with a sense of finality. How that was possible no one knew for sure, but there were speculations galore, especially inside Emily Blaine’s diner.
“There he goes again,” said Craig Matthews, a regular customer, as he pierced through one of the windows. “I thought this awful weather would put an end to his obsession once and for all, but I was wrong!”
“In that case, pay me the twenty bucks you owe me, Craig!” answered Emily, a strong woman in her early fifties who loved winning bets more than anything else in the world.
Craig gave her the money with a disgruntled look, immediately stirring the curiosity of a foreigner who happened to be driving by the neighbourhoods when his car had stopped working right in the center of the storm. He had found shelter there, and now he was looking forward to the chance of hearing an eerie story.
“May I ask whom exactly are you talking about?” he inquired, sipping a cup of hot, black coffee that warmed up his loins. “Who’s out there, challenging the tempest?”
“That would be our local eccentricity,” answered Emily as she served herself a glass of Scotch. “Every village has one, don’t you know that, Mr….?”
“Oh, I am sorry. Reynolds. My name is Andrew Reynolds,” the man said, showing a smile of perfectly white teeth.
“What is it you do for a living, Mr Reynolds?” asked another customer, a short, old man with a thick beard that seemed to have sprung from a fairy tale of sorts.
“I am a reporter for The Garden. I was on my way to Cleas to make a piece about the flower festival that starts tomorrow, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get there in time.”
“If the weather continues like this, I say you will most likely not be able to get out of here, anytime soon, Mr. Reynolds.” agreed Craig.
“Call me Andrew.”
“Very well, Andrew,” said Emily, as she prepared another cup of coffee. “Let me tell you the story of our countryman, Darren Hayes, then. He’s the one out there, chasing a delusion, and everything started seven years ago, on a stormy night similar to this one, when he lost his wife in a car crash near the old Rose Cottage next to the Willowing Forest. It was something tragic, really: she was driving home from work when she lost control of the vehicle and crashed against a centenary tree. She died instantly, or so they say.
“Anyway, Darren, who had always been a very dear member of our community, was naturally devastated and the grief led him to cut all ties with everyone else. He needed some time on his own to begin the healing process and so we respected his wishes.
“Right after the burial, he began making daily visits to the place where she died, sometimes ‘talking’ to her or simply crying by the tree, in the hope of finding some solace that never came. That is when he lost his mind, I am afraid.”
“What do you mean?” asked Andrew, adjusting himself on the seat.
“Like I said, he didn’t want to talk with anyone after what happened, so imagine my surprise when one day he came barging in with the eyes of a mad man, saying he had heard the most beautiful song by the ancient tree and that, afterwards, he had seen the world open before his eyes in a shower of flower petals….”
“… and that he had been blessed with the visit of an angel or a fairy of some kind smiling at him, go figure!” concluded Craig.
“He tried to show us all what he had witnessed and got practically the whole town following him to the cottage but when we got there, naturally we didn’t see a thing.” said the old man.
“Okay….” muttered Andrew. “I think I can see where this is going. I bet he goes to that place every single day, hoping to see whatever he thinks he saw again, am I right?”
“You sure are,” Emily nodded. “He claims he can hear her sing, although he’s the only one, of course. His hope is that someday, she’ll appear again to him.”
“And then what?”
“I do not know, may be free him from his misery, I guess…. All that is certain is that he claims he must follow the song, as if it controls him, somehow, and every day he does so, whether in rain or snow, and then sits by that tree and waits….”
“That is a sad story….” Andrew mumbled. “You never tried to call him to reason?”
“Of course we did!” exclaimed Craig. “But he just doesn’t listen to us any more, see? All that exists in his head now is that fixation and, one day, he is going to end up dying in that place.”
Andrew looked at him, strangely resigned. He had hoped for a quirkier and livelier tale but all he had heard was the story of a poor man’s slow descent into madness, and felt genuinely sorry for asking the dreadful questions in the first place. Having lost someone recently in his life as well, he was quite aware of the pain and suffering one felt and how those emotions could be dangerous. In secret, he prayed that Darren Hayes could finally find the peace he was after, even if only in a fantasy of the mind.
* * *
Unaware of all the things being told about him at that moment, Darren kept on walking, in utter defiance to the laws of Nature. The song in his head had become louder over the last couple of days, and he was positively sure something grandiose was about to happen. Against all odds, he survived the walk until he reached the old cottage. Once a beautiful place, it was now deserted and left at the mercy of the elements, but the tree that had claimed his wife’s life still stood there. Leaning against the bark, he started crying, his tears indistinguishable from the cold rain.
His eyes were practically shut when it happened, yet he could feel the strange vibration in the air. Beneath his feet, there was a small tremor and then, a beam of impossible, ethereal light enveloped him completely. Multicoloured petals fell upon his head and arms when the tree was opened from within and a beautiful red-haired woman wearing a dress of golden and green leaves appeared, the same magnificent vision he had seen all those years ago.
Overwhelmed with her radiance, Darren almost felt his heart stopping and, it was with great difficulty that he was able to articulate his speech properly:
“Y-You are he…re… I… heard your song all these years… W-who are you?”
She didn’t answer right away, instead looking at him with beautiful, emerald eyes. An unexpected kiss on his forehead caused something unimaginable to happen: not only did his tears dry, but the storm also subsided, albeit only in a couple of meter’s radius.
“My name is Rosanna.” she said with a pure voice. “I am one of the guardians of the Willowing Forest, a wood-nymph as you humans call us, and I was asked to be your strength and guide until the time was right, Darren.”
“I… I don’t understand. What… are you t-talking about?”
“Today is the seventh anniversary since your wife passed away, is it not?”
“Yes,” he answered, with his head low.
“Then today, will be the last day you’ll hear me sing. That is why I revealed myself to you once again…” she continued.
“I am totally lost, here. Please, you have to tell me what is this all about!”
“I think she is the one who should answer all of your questions.” Rosanna smiled and suddenly began to fade away.
“Wait, what does that…?”
“Darren?” said a very familiar voice from behind him.
He turned away and was dumbfounded by what he saw. Floating ever so gently next to him, wearing a natural dress of red and brown leaves very similar to the one Rosanna had, was his wife, exactly the way he remembered her.
“Sarah?! But how can…? This is impossible!!! Am I dead?”
“No, my dear…. You are very much alive and so am I, once more.” She approached him and wrapped her arms around his waist. He could feel her skin, touch her hair and smell her perfume and know that, as strange as that was, she was indeed real and not just a figment of an insane mind.
“Oh, my God! I have no idea what is happening, but I am so glad to see you!” He said as he began to cry again.
“I know. So am I. I missed you like crazy, you know? But I think it is time for you to know the truth….”
“And what truth is that?”
“Well, I think it should be fairly obvious by now that I am not exactly human. I never was and never can be.”
“You are a nymph just like Rosanna, aren’t you?” he asked.
“Yes. One that many years ago, decided to live upon this earth because of you…. Because I met you and I fell in love with everything you were, and still are. I gave up part of my essence to be with you and I never regretted it. Unfortunately, one day….”
“The part of me that was human did, yet the rest of my essence lingered on, attached to the trees of the forest, slowly rebuilding itself. My last mortal thought was a prayer to Rosanna, one of my ‘sisters’. I asked her to take care of you, to make sure you didn’t do anything foolish until I was able to become whole once more, a process that lasted only a couple of days in my perception of time, but took seven years according to yours.”
“Is that why she sang to me?”
“Yes. Her voice has many powers, including the one to captivate human minds, just like the legendary mermaids, and I was certain that if she sang to you on a regular basis, you would still be around when I finally recovered. I am sorry for what I put you through, Darren, but I couldn’t afford to lose you. You are my soul mate, after all!”
“And you are mine.” he admitted, holding her feverously and wanting nothing else than that feeling for eternity.
“Unfortunately, I can never reclaim a human body again. My essence is forever linked to the Willowing Forest now, which means that I can not stay with you here, but….”
“Say no more.” Darren replied, knowing deep inside he wanted to be by her side, forever. “What must I do?”
“Are you sure about that?”
“I will do whatever it takes to be with you! These seven years were the most painful of my life and if you think I am letting you disappear from my life, you are wrong, Sarah! What must I do?” he insisted.
“All you have to do is listen….” said Rosanna’s voice, echoing in the tree’s branches, its roots, and inside his head. The song she started singing was a different one, much mellower and somewhat poignant. However, to the ears of both lovers it was a gift of everlasting peace.
* * *
On the very next day, when the sun finally showed its yellow luminescence again, a group of villagers walked the path leading to Rose Cottage, with Elaine and Craig leading it. Andrew Reynolds tagged along, after deciding to forgo his story at Cleas for a chance to see Darren Hayes face to face, and perhaps help him deal with his pain in whatever way he could.
He did not have the chance to do so for when the group finally reached its destination, all they found was his dead body sitting against the tree, holding a pair of red leaves in both hands. Apparently, he had passed away during the night, though there was no clear indication of the cause of death. The fact that all of his clothes were dry was a mystery that raised many questions in the years that were to follow.
The most peculiar thing of it all, though, was the smile upon his lips, a sign of extreme happiness at the time of his ultimate demise. A feeling of bliss warmed Andrew’s heart when he saw that expression, but he felt even more content when he heard the subtle echo of a woman’s voice carried by the wind, and knew for certain in his heart that Darren’s so called delusions had been true all along.