(* Chapter Three was posted on 24th December 2014)
I watch the other creatures solemnly crawl back into their graves as the night-time hours come to a close. This time, I won’t be joining them. I’m not going back into the darkness of the earth to reconnect with my bones. No, this time I’m staying above ground.
As I sit next to my plot in the middle of the cemetery, an eerie silence overwhelms me. Closing my eyes, I think about Joel and Betsy, and what they did for me. I say a special prayer for Joel, hoping that he recovers soon and goes on to find eternal peace, and then I send out all the love in my heart for beautiful Betsy.
With positive vibrations running through my soul, I open my eyes to see Myrtle walking by. I gather my thoughts. She hesitates before reaching her grave, turning to look back at me, and I think she understands what I need to do. I force out a smile for her, but it’s without any shred of happiness. She nods back in response with a slow blink of her eyes, and then slowly, she disappears into the earth. As the tip of her tail vanishes from view, I know that she’s gone. I try to hold onto her image in my mind, and lost in that moment of time, I forget my own woes, instead, imagining a happy, carefree life just like Myrtle’s. A life, I imagine, where we would all live to a ripe old age and would be held in comforting arms when our last breath chooses its time to leave our bodies. I sigh; for me, it wasn’t to be.
“Sleep tight, boyo.” The melodic words rolling off Alwen’s tongue break my trance. “See you at dusk.”
“What?” I turn to see her stood there. “Sorry, Alwen,” I say, shaking my head free from its fuzzy thoughts, “I was miles away.”
“I said…” she pauses, looking at me with her beautiful, brown, quizzical eyes. “Are you okay, boyo? You look troubled.”
“Yeah, I’m fine, Alwen,” I reply, but another careless sigh slips out.
She walks towards me and sits down in the snow. I watch as snowflakes fall, landing onto her nose momentarily, and then disappearing through the body of her spirit as she speaks, “Ignore the mob, boyo.”
“I wish I could, but… but… I’ll be fine.” I sigh again. “I just have something I have to do.”
“Nothing that will get you into trouble, I hope.”
“No, that’s not my style.” I let out a quiet laugh. “But I can’t stay here any longer.”
Alwen gasps; her eyes widen and her eyebrows rise as she asks, “What do you mean? Don’t be daft, boyo, you can’t leave us.”
We sit together and look up at the full moon. Straggly clouds crawl past in the sky as I try to explain how I feel. “… but remember, Alwen, there are some good creatures here, like you, Myrtle, Jim, the kittens. It’s just that many of the others don’t want me here. I don’t belong.”
“No, boyo, don’t let them win,” she cries. “You have as much right to be here as any of us.”
“I wish that was true!” I say, resting a reassuring paw on her back. “Thanks, Alwen, for everything you have done for me. I don’t think I’d have lasted this long without you, but I do have to go. Nothing should last forever. If it did, we would never value its real beauty… like the snowflakes falling now. Each and every flake is perfect, but it is only blessed that way for a small amount of time. Then it disappears. It’s up to us to value the beauty it once held and to appreciate the way it made us feel. That’s how I will remember all of you. I truly know how beautiful my friends are and how you have all made me feel while I have been here.”
“Where will you go?” she asks.
“I need to find Betsy.” A warm feeling embraces me as I say her name.
“But you might not find her, boyo. She may not still be alive!”
“I know.” Inside it hurts me to even think of that, but I don’t let on. “I will keep looking for her until I know for sure. I left her without saying goodbye.”
“Like you’re leaving us?”
“What?” I step back, shaking my head. “No! It’s not the same, Alwen, I promise.”
“What about Myrtle, boyo? You know how fond she is of you.”
“Please look after her for me.”
“You know I will.” A glistening tear rolls from her eye and down her muzzle; looking like a small frozen diamond, it stops as it catches on her whiskers. I wipe it away carefully with my paw. “Look at me!” she says. “Alwen doesn’t cry; she’s made of sturdy stuff! I’m being daft, aren’t I?”
“No you’re not.”
“It’s just that I’d never had anyone to look after before, boyo. I was a working dog and the farmer worked me hard, herding sheep – and I was good at it, I may add – but the animals never wanted me near them. They used to run when I came close. When I woke for the first time in the cemetery, the creatures here didn’t do that and it felt nice.”
“Oh, Alwen,” my voice cracks, “I am going to miss you so much.”
As I huddle into her, she goes on, “The Boss is jealous of you, boyo. You have something he can only dream of.”
“Really!” I laugh. “And what’s that? A tail?”
“No,” she chuckles. “He’ll swipe you away if he hears you mocking him. No, boyo, you have class.”
“Well, class hasn’t got me anywhere, so far.”
“It has. I think it’s made you into a perfect version of you and I wouldn’t change you for the world – you’re my little snowflake.” She smiles and a twinkle lights up her eyes. “Anyway,” straightening her back, she takes a deep breath and asks, “What are you going to do when you find her? If you ever find her, that is.”
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought that far ahead yet.”
“Then I suggest you do, boyo!” As Alwen speaks, I can see great wisdom in her face.
“I belong in Betsy’s arms, though.” I feel that warm embrace once more, and an idea overwhelms me. I jump up, excitedly. “Why don’t you come with me?”
“I can’t come with you, boyo. This place is my home now, and Myrtle’s family come here to visit her grave all the time, so she can’t leave.”
“I understand,” I say, slumping back down, as a prick of sorrow stabs at my heart. “Then you, at least, understand why I have to go.”
“Yes, boyo, I do.” As Alwen speaks, her tears show no sign of stopping. “But promise me one thing.”
“If you don’t find what you’re looking for, you’ll come back here to Myrtle and I.”
I offer a reassuring smile.
“When will you leave?” she asks.
“I’m leaving soon. I’m waiting for dawn.” An owl, in the tree above, hoots a warning that morning is approaching.
“But, boyo, that’s… that’s really soon!”
“I know.” I look up to the sky; it’s beginning to lighten. “It’s the best time to leave. By that time, all of the souls of the other creatures will have returned to their bones.”
“What if you’re seen?”
“By who? A human has never seen me yet, Alwen. I don’t have enough power in my soul to show myself to them, and I don’t suppose I ever will. My soul isn’t whole; it’s like it’s missing something.”
“Your soul isn’t missing a thing, Bainbridge.”
“Hey,” my eyes widen, “you called me by my name!”
“I suppose I did, boyo.”
“Alwen, please say goodbye to Myrtle from me.”
“I will, but she’ll be so sad to hear you’ve gone.”
“That’s why it’s easier I do it this way, Alwen. You and Myrtle are very special to me. I love you both dearly.”
“I know,” she exhales, defeated, “but you have to find Betsy, I understand. I’ll make sure your grave is looked after and I won’t let the others know where you’ve gone.”
“Thanks, Alwen.” I lean in to give her one last hug. Looking around, I say, “You’re the last to return to your grave. The morning dawn is here now, so you’d better retire before sunrise.”
“I will.” She pats me on the back. “I’ll miss you, boyo.”
“Same here, old girl.”
“Don’t forget us, boyo,” she says as we touch noses.
I close my eyes and her sweet, soothing melodies play in my mind. “I could never forget you,” I whisper.
With my eyes still closed, I wait for what seems like an eternity. When I open them again, the sun is rising in the sky and Alwen has gone.
Chapter 5 will be available to read from 28th January 2015