Back Again

“Thank you,” it submerged his hands into the bowl of warm water before it. His hands trembled as he washed the grime from his skin. It’s focus was turned inwards, devoted to the task with ritualistic solemnity.

It was so much like him.

I couldn’t see him. It washed itself, and I stared at the ghostly blue glow of the early evening sky and found my mind was even more distant. The light was fading but we had an hour before it was entirely black. I set myself adrift in the dreamlike vibe, the coolness of the air and the the subdued sounds of nature carried me away from the situation I had found myself in.

It was peaceful.

“Umm, excuse me?” hearing Jannklan’s cherished voice tore me from the serene place. For a moment, I thought he was back.
Where he should have been, his changeling filled the space. The same hair, teeth, eyes… everything the way they had been when he was alive. Of course it was impossible for him to be here, I decided I must have gone made.
On reflex I accepted the bowl, filthy towel where the water had previously been but I couldn’t even think to do anything with it.
“Are you okay?” it asked.

“Jannklan?” I whispered at last, knowing it couldn’t be him, but unable to say anything else.

It looked at me, twisting Jannklan’s face into an expression of confusion that didn’t match his. Mocking me by being so much like him, but at once so alien, he spoke, “I’m sorry, I don’t know that name.”

My eyes burned as my tears welled up and burst forth, running streaming lines down my cheek. I wept with neither dignity nor grace, the confirmation hurt all the more despite the fact I already knew.
My reaction startled it, it… he reacted as most would when witnessing a stranger bursting into unprovoked tears and froze, stuck between the desire to help and to escape. Kindness won out in the end, he took the bowl from my hands and guided me into the house and a seat by the table.  Perhaps a part of me still believed it was him, for I trusted it and let it guide me while I took refuge deep inside myself, a dimly glowing mote of myself.
It stoked the fire and brought me tea. It sat with me until I crawled out from the hole I had dug inside my chest and looked at it. It smiled, but not with Jannklan’s smile. That hurt, but I think it also helped.

“I am sorry,” my voice cracked. I washed my face, while I was in the darkness it had brought me the bowl I had given him with fresh water and a clean towel. “You look just like someone dear to me. He died.”

The fire roared, but could not keep the cold entirely at bay. An involuntary shiver invaded me, but I ignored the discomfort. This was more important to me.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” his tone was quiet and low, “And for reminding you of him.”

I shook my head, and placed a reassuring hand on his arm. It felt easier to comfort than it is to be comforted, “It’s not your fault you look like him.”

For what feels like minutes, we sat in awkward silence, neither of us able to speak. I close my eyes and remember the day I buried Jannklan, I watch as they lowered him into the grave, as the priest spoke and as the people left.
Drawing reassurance from the memory, I felt the strength to ask, “What’s your name?”

The question seemed to strike him. His face ran a gamut of emotions, so transparent I knew his answer before he said it, “I don’t remember.”

“It seems strange now that I think of it, but I didn’t realise until you asked me. When I think back, I remember seeing you in the forest and deciding to ask you for help because I was so dirty. Other than that, I don’t remember a single thing.”

This was too cruel. Just like in the stories my father used to tell, spectres of the lost returning from beyond like solid ghosts of the past. Wearing the bodies of the dead and the lost with none of the essence that made them who they once were. For me to have Jannklan come back to me like that, straight out of fairy story.

It was simply far too cruel.

“You can stay here for tonight, tomorrow we’ll think about what to do with you.”

He slept where Jannklan used to, I had no spare bed and the winter cold was too unforgiving not to. Having him beside me, even if it was only his body, was bittersweet. Sometimes it’s nice just to have someone, even if it isn’t who you wish it was. Whether this changeling was him, back from the dead, or something else entirely, I didn’t waste my time thinking about it.


Hey,

Sorry for the long time between stories, here’s a short snippet as I try and worm my way back into the habit.

Hope you enjoy it,
Zairron

Author: Zairron

I'm writing to build a habit, practice, and be creative.

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