The first flash fiction challenge of the new year is here. I tried writing it in first person present tense, but it still seems clunky. Judge for yourself, here's "Griefstruck Story," at 950 words:
* * *
When I close my eyes, I see happier times.
Happier is not really the word to describe it. It was better than now, but not as good as years gone by. We are fortunate, if one could consider all that has happened and our mere survival fortuitous. Happy isn't a word that describes much these days.
I open my eyes to see you. A rounded stone, inscribed with your name. Born; Died. Mother; Wife. I buried you atop the cliff we made our home. The children water flowers on your grave with what water we can spare. Somehow the tree over your final resting place never seems to shed it's leaves. I tell them it's due to their consummate care, but you and I both know the truth. It's a truth I've kept from the world for so long, but now... I wonder.
I shudder as a cold wind blows in from the ocean. The cold is the first thing I notice. The smell is the second. All around me everything is dying. The ocean holds our salvation. I remove my mask and gloves to wipe away my tears. The coating of grime scratches my cheek. When I get inside, your daughter will undoubtedly scold me for doing so.
I gaze past our tree and see the endless ocean. I take a deep breath, savoring the only clean smell on this wretched rock. My eyes close again. I miss you so much...
"Father, come inside. It's not safe out here."
I feel a hand on my shoulder. Despite the layers of protection, I can tell it's your eldest. I can't imagine how she tolerates my behavior, but she doesn't know...
"I'll be in in a moment, pumpkin."
The hand is gone and I hear footsteps receding on the packed ground. I pick up a wilted flower and place it tenderly on your grave. Although I've seen it hundreds of times, it still amazes me to see life return to it. The petals of your favorite flower get brighter, the leaves are now a much deeper green. The yellow, purple and green make me smile, but that happiness is short lived. Standing, I grab the flower and crush it in my hands. As I cast it over the cliff, I see the leaves and petals wilt once again. No, the world is not ready for you...
I touch the rounded stone and feel your warmth. Aloud, I say, "I love you."
* * *
"What took you so long?"
"I miss your mother."
"We know, Daddy. She'll always be in our hearts."
"It's getting late, let's go to bed. Tomorrow will be another day.
The girls share a bed and I sit in a chair in the room we shared. I can't bring myself to lie in the empty bed. I'm so tired, I fall asleep.
* * *
I must be dreaming. I hear your voice.
"Darling, wake up!"
I smile and open my eyes to see your smiling face. I can only stare as you tilt your head slightly and whisper, "Come with me."
I could live in this moment forever. The dream is always the same. I know you're not real, but I feel your presence nonetheless.
You reach out and caress my cheek. I feel warm at your touch. Something's not right. I reach up to hold your hand and feel my sadness fade.
Your eyes beckon and as you turn to walk out the door, I feel sad as our contact is broken.
"Come with me."
I get up to follow you as I have so many times before. My feet cause the floorboards to creep, but you glide along the floor silently.
This is different. Your youngest daughter's eyes are dark as they have been since she fell ill, but she's never been in my dream before.
"Mommy, I miss you."
You silently walk to her and kiss her atop her head. The embrace lasts and when you pull away, her eyes are clear and bright. It looks as if the sickness is gone.
Tears well up in those eyes as you walk out the front door. I leave her standing there as I follow you out to where the dream always ends. But this time... This time the dream continues.
You stand there staring down at your disturbed grave. Your tree is in full bloom. You've never spoken to me in one of these dreams after you wake me. This time you speak and I know I'm dreaming no longer.
I'm in awe of your beauty. The flowing dress. The flower in your hair is so bright, I'm actually a little scared. I knew this day would come, but now that it's here...
The words echo on my psyche.
"I can hide no longer. This world is dying. My power can save us all. I must leave now. You and the children will be safe here. I love you."
Through teary eyes, I squint against the brilliant light. The aches in my bones are gone. Grass is growing and everything is awash with your brilliance. I drop to my knees, weeping openly. I know I'll never see you again. You tilt your head slightly and bite your fist before turning and walk off the cliff all the while your radiance grows. I cover my eyes and look away as you become a pillar of pure white light. When I look back, all I see is the endless ocean.
You died three years ago, but now you are truly gone. I rise and walk slowly back to our house. It's the same structure that held grief for so long. Now, it holds hope for a better future.