By Rachel Atterholt
Word Count: 2158
Summary: Will and Elizabeth Turner are only allowed to meet every ten years. Can their love survive?
What is it like to love someone? To give something away that you’ve hidden deep inside you so it wouldn’t be broken again? Is loving someone like taking a leap of faith or perhaps is it more of a fall?
What if you believed it was a leap and took that jump over that great cavernous land and found yourself somehow on the other side, alive and safe?
But oh, but when I landed, you turn and the one you love was on the other side? Not because they were too afraid to jump, but because you were never supposed to? What if you were supposed to fall? Did I, in my haste, travel somewhere she could never join me? Travel beyond life in search of love? I think I sacrificed myself for her without knowing it. Questions like these wrestle in my heart, in my mind, like a great storm upon the ocean.
I thought we jumped together, but I was wrong. She had stayed behind to save that man, a good man, but still… and, of course I had gone with her. I would sail across the world for her and die for her.
And I did. I did sail and die but somehow death was not as lasting as I imagined. The good man had saved me, sacrificing something he wanted. But there was a price to pay, as is always the case.
Hence, that was the jump I should have never taken. But maybe it was not my doing. My love was standing on the edge, ready to go anywhere with me, and without a word from me, I was thrown to some unknown world, across a million miles of ocean and death. I had to build a bridge back to her somehow, a way for me to find her again.
There was a reprieve within this. My beloved and I had a day. One day. Can all that one wants to say be said in a day? Can all love be expressed that must? I don’t think so.
And then I was across again. And I had to wait ten years to return. Ten agonizing years, but I survived, somehow I did. And another waited for me, a son. And I had yet another day…one more glorious day that tore my soul to shreds.
So I went back to work on my bridge between life and death, so I could stay, hoping one day to find someone to take my responsibilities and give me back my heart.
Does one know what it’s like to not have a heart? It’s like a shadow, an invisible feeling that isn’t there but can be felt, that sometimes, when all is silent and you lie in bed staring at the wooden ceiling, the steady sound of a rhythmic beat makes you believe you still have a heart. But, the one I was building a bridge towards held it, which is poetic in an odd way. She always held my heart even before I placed it in a box and put it in her hands.
Years passed and I built the bridge, built it until I was so close I could touch her, could smell her skin, like the sea so bright and wild, but…as I built, I stopped all else. I was supposed to take the dead to other side. And I stopped. And I started to become like the sea, death beginning to show on my face. And my bridge fell and I was tossed back to the other side. And I didn’t try to rebuild or try to care. My heart stopped feeling like it was there.
The phantom beats started again one night. For he was there, my son. My own. He had traversed, had leaped over and was here. My son was here! But he couldn’t stay. I would never let him. So with a push, I sent him back, my heartbeats leaving with him.
And for years all was silent. A dreadful silence that never wearied, never tired. Nothing changed, and I never came back. She was dead, I convinced myself. And if she was alive, I would not let her see the monster I had become. So even when I could step onto land, I never did.
Why would you want to go back when the ones you want to see would not even recognize you?
I was convinced I would never return. I would never see her, never see the one I loved more than life, an odd thing to say since I had no life to sacrifice anymore. I had become like the great ocean, always traveling, always trying for land but never reaching. I belonged to the sea now, or perhaps in a way, I always had.
I stood on the edge of my ship. I stared into the deep darkness, no stars willing to shine through the hell I and my crew had found ourselves in. My father had gone, the last piece of my humanity. I had not brought him back; he deserved to sleep and rest finally, no matter how much I needed him.
I closed my eyes and imagined stars. I imagined a breeze. I imagined seeing her face, touching her skin, brushing her dark hair off her cheeks. I imagined rebuilding my bridge and creating a plank instead. I jumped off it and found myself in her arms…yet her arms were too cold, too wet, and it was nothing more than a wish.
Water suddenly splashed my face; maybe the world had burst with tears for me. Or maybe I wasn’t dreaming. The wind was gone, leaving an icy flood in its wake. I opened my eyes…I was in the sea. I flailed my arms, pushing myself to the surface.
The shore was there. So close, closer than it had been in years. Could I? Would I? I glanced behind me. There was the ship, my home for so many years, but land lay ahead and I focused on it. I waded water for longer than I expected. Could I go to shore? Was I even allowed? Or would this curse, this dreadful thing stop me at the very edge, destroying the last remnants of hope in my heart?
It was then that I stopped. My heart, pulsing and beating like a great drum, beat inside my chest. I gripped my chest as if, by reaching inside me, I could confirm what I could not believe. I touched my face; no sign of death rested there, no reminder of the monster I had become.
I let myself smile then, but not for long, for this must be a dream, a twisted joke of hell. Yet I had dared to swim to shore. Dared to set foot on land. Land, that solid, strong thing that I could not feel for eons of eternities.
A young man stood there, familiar and yet a stranger. With a smile, he showed me a necklace and I recognized it, the twistings of its rope, the familiar touch of the pendants. I had given it to my son and so I knew my son stood before me.
It was at that moment that I began to accept that I was alive. I never had to build the bridge, for my son had thrown a rope and pulled me back. Gripped me out of my abyss.
Do you know what it’s like to laugh? To express happiness when for what seems like ages you felt nothing but pain and death? To feel life? It’s the strangest thing, and I have never loved it more. I held my son, as he told me he had a tale. My son had stories of his own. A woman stood not far off, with a smile that reminded me of my beloved.
The world seemed to pause, as if it no longer wished me to smile and wanted me back in the fiery abyss I had languished in. She wasn’t there. The one who held my heart all those years, the one who still did, though not the same as before. I could not find the woman I had sacrificed everything for and would again in a single heartbeat, which now means far more than it ever did.
To turn your eyes to something, expecting nothing, yet hoping for everything, is the most profound and terrible feeling in all the world. The briefest moment of wanting to return to the dark shore of my grave passed over me before I gripped my son’s shoulder and reminded myself that here was a reminder of her, an image I could hold that was far greater than any portrait.
And then…she came over the hill. That was the first time I truly knew my heart rested soundly within me. For it pulsed ever loudly, tapping to a steady beat.
She was here, my true heart, the heart I would gladly trade for this instrument of flesh inside me. Beauty does not describe her. Nor do any words ever created or that ever will be said. She was a different word, an altogether new one.
I glanced upon my son again, as if to be certain that this was true. He stood here still, so perhaps my wish had come to pass.
And so I hurried to her, my legs weak on this new land, but another force pushed me forward, making me strong, making me run. I stopped for the briefest of moments, or maybe she did, maybe we were both wondering if the other was real and not some twisted dream. Then I could hold back no longer, and I reached out to embrace her, my home, my world, the very reason for my life in my arms. She was real, she was here, through it all she had come back to me.
I never thought I would find her again. Through all the ages, all the sleepless nights, I had never let myself dream. For if I dreamed, I would destroy myself utterly. But as I breathed her in, as I gripped her tight and felt our heartbeats become one, I knew I had not dreamed this.
As I pulled back, she gazed at me, and I gazed back. We did not speak, but her name was on my tongue, in my head, the only word swirling through my soul.
Elizabeth. And she kissed me, like waves crashing against a broken shore, we kissed and all was right. At last I had made peace with the demons and had survived my monsters to find my way to her, find my shelter from the bitter world.
Far off I knew that the man who had saved me first, who was the reason for my life, was here. And, whether or not he could see me or knew I was even alive, I made sure to smile his way, for he was a hero, after all.
Can something dead be saved? Something lost forever be brought back? And what happens if, by some miracle, it is? Could someone else take hold of the rope my son threw, or was it just the nightmares I had kept at bay for years breaking the dams of my mind?
For in the dark, I felt him more than saw. I felt the water dripping off his deadness, smelled the sea on his clothes. I heard the snip of his great claw. Oh what if something had followed me from the abyss?
And then I awoke and there was nothing but the rolling thunder outside. Outside our home, a home I never believed I would have, never expected. With my darling beside me, my Elizabeth, sleeping quietly. Oh my love, if only you knew of the things I have seen, or the broken, twisted thing I had become, would you still love me? Would you still hold me like you have?
I wrapped my arms around her, like a child hiding in the only safe place he knows. I buried my head in her shoulder, listening to her heartbeat. And, wonders of all wonders never ceasing, never ending, she held me back.
What is it like to love someone? I think I know the answer now. It is to find your missing heart, the lost treasure, the long forgotten piece to put back all your broken ones. It is to find your home. And I have found my home, my shelter, my broken pieces. I’ve found them all. I have returned to them once more and I will not lose them. For a while I believed I belonged to the sea, but my curse made me forget the truth. For I belonged to her, to my life, to my home. And no nightmare would take me away, ever again.