This story is by Gaines Irving Arnold and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Fall was once despondent and drear; the gray hues of his tattered clothing evoking his season. He often thought his pleasure lay in emptiness and no contact, but that was not his lot; for his birthright was a duty. So come the quarterly call, he arose with his melancholy and journeyed to meet his siblings.
“Cheer, brother!” laughed Spring. “Join us under the Magnolia!”
The three watched with austerity, a smirk, and choler, as mirrored their personalities, while Fall ghosted toward them. As he headed for the mustering group, his tread was reluctant, but it changed not a single attitude. In proper place of patience and equality, they offered displeasure…and advice.
“Your musk grows more offensive by the year, brother,” sniffed Winter their self-appointed mother. “You suffer from the damp forests you inhabit.”
Spring flounced, “I could make you a new suit. Maybe a nice Periwinkle. No? How does fuchsia strike yuh?”
“Do you always have to be cute Spring? Fall!” roared Summer, turning. “Just don’t change anything I’ve started.”
The meetings never varied. He knew them, as siblings know each other, and he recited their qualities to drown the mockery. Winter: perceived as cold; however, she caused ears and cheeks to blush, lovers to cuddle and provided rest for a deserving Mother Nature; her seeming reserve and sober bearing were products of the dead season she queened. Spring: forever-young; she could appear a sleepy maiden, yawning awake as the year progressed; however, though clothed in pastels, she was prone to fits of temper and violent crying jags; fortunately, neither lasted long and she repented with flowers, honey, and new birth. Summer: the hardest worker of them all, flexed while pushing his charges to their utmost; but nothing could long withstand his presence because the strength that produced early growth, spawned withering in the end.
Fall admired them and considered himself as nothing in comparison. His drear, as an artifact, manifested itself in subservience. He quietly accepted a role that had never been his to play and it made of him a specter.
He left the meeting resigned to expectations. Another season akin to those in the past. And why not? They owned the seasons that mattered. His siblings played lead, after which he mopped up.
Daily, he sulked a forest lane, brooded a meadow path or sat a peak allowing an umber to pervade, grays to creep where green had once dominated. The life of centuries, but…
Change waits. Happily anticipating the moment of becoming.
Among the trunks of trees, down a faded path, danced a spot of color. But it wasn’t just one color; it was all the colors of ice, growth, and fire. Soon, he saw that it wasn’t disembodied color either, but a nymph. She was the goddess of this forest and played among the trees while they sang to her.
Fall snaked behind the trunks, shadowing, not wanting to disturb the dream. She seemed to spread life in the midst of his decay. So he wondered, ‘What is the source of her joy?’ He saw her pause, then she called, “Why so shy?”
Peering around, he rationalized, ‘She must be addressing someone else.’ He saw her turn and heard her say, “My friends whispered when you entered the wood. They also told me you followed, but I thought all the Seasons had better manners than to sneak along unannounced. Come.”
Quaking, an aspen in gray, he stepped from behind a tree. He bowed low to her as she laughed at his formality. He cleared his throat and attempted to speak, but croaked instead. Her smile lit his own face and he took the hand she offered.
“Walk with me?” the nymph suggested. Fall, in wonder, stared at her.
Fresh as a flowering dogwood she answered his stare and said, “Flora.” To a compressed brow, she clarified, “My name…Flora. I know what they call you.”
Thus began many animated ambles, strolls, and meanders. As was her nature, Flora dominated their conversations while Fall nodded and absorbed the unexpected attention. One momentous walk, Flora decided that Fall needed a makeover. On their walks, he seemed happy, but sometimes she watched him unobserved as he came to meet her. Morose, gloomy he walked as one in perpetual woe and, worse, his realm mourned with him.
“What do you think about?” she asked this day.
A mutter was his reply.
“When you walk by yourself in the forest, what do you think about?”
Fall spoke, “I sometimes think of our walks.”
“But not often” she asserted.
“No, not often,” he agreed.
“What then…most of the time?”
“My brother and sisters, Mother, how I want the season to be over so I can go back and rest for another quarter,” he replied.
“Why?” Flora questioned. “You have the most wonderful season of all! Why would you want it to end?”
“My brothers and sisters have a purpose, but I am simply the culmination of their efforts. My name may just as well be Death as Fall. But Fall is appropriate – fall apart, fall away, fall asunder…”
“Rest. Beginning. Growth…BAH!” she shouted. “You’re more than those! You’re hope! You have the power, remake your image; rename yourself. Something that encompasses harvest, ruddiness, the end of Summer.” A pause, “Autumn! There; that’s it!” she exulted.
Flora puffed, “No don’ts. No can’ts. Only do’s. See the season as one of hope. The promise of what’s to come. You can never be what they are, so be what you are.”
An unknown something whispered. Flora continued to speak, but Fall – Autumn – remained silent and recognized a note, then a bar, then a song, finally a symphony.
Then to himself, ‘Love. Is that what I feel? It’s not poetic; she’s not implicitly kind. But Flora is honest and just.’ For the first time, love burst forth. The tune, the words, were no longer faded and jumbled.
‘I love my brothers and sisters,’ he reasoned. ‘Maybe that’s fidelity.’ He looked at Flora, ‘I see that it can also be an attraction.’ His thoughts ascended to love’s truth. ‘But, what’s underneath it all? Can brothers truly love one another while one is dominant, seeing obedience as the other’s duty? Can two people grow together as one guards affections while the other shares? That can’t be right.’ Pounding his fist into his hand, ‘I know that’s not right.’
With a slight shake, Autumn regained the present. Flora was smiling, “You like Autumn don’t you?”
“I do,” he said. Putting his arm around her, he finished, “I have a visit to make.”
Summer spread his arms and tilted his head in a yawn. “Why did you wake me, brother? I’m not due in the South for another month.”
“Yes,” echoed Winter. “Why the meeting? Is your assignment too burdensome? Remember, we all have to carry our share.”
Spring rushed in glaring at Autumn. “Fall!…” But she wasn’t allowed to finish her rant.
“No!” he said. “My name is Autumn. I have always accepted the role the three of you handed to me. I allowed myself to be Backend, selfishly denying the world. No longer. When I take the realm at the quarters given to me, I take the realm. It is mine and I will exercise my full potential.”
Summer chided, “You were born to be the last. It is your position and your duty.”
“No, brother, my duty is not to be an afterthought. Is Winter the beginning of a cycle during which the seeds of life sleep, come alive despite the vagaries of Spring and grow with the heat of Summer only to die when I take the realm? No. My duty is to be an equal participant in the cycle. Winter is rest; Spring is new life; Summer is growth; I am harvest and the hope of what’s to come. I am all shades of color. I will not lie down and relinquish my role.”
With that, Autumn left the circle of his family. Confusion reigned for his siblings, but soon they saw truth in his words. Appreciation, pride, and love for their renewed brother – he who was dead, but had revived – took germ. He became to them what he had always been, an equal. An essential member of the cycle.
Autumn found Flora waiting. By his look, no longer cowed, she knew he had spoken to his family. Arm and arm they walked through her glorious woodland; colors spreading like the fire of his feelings for her.
That was to be their attitude from that time forward. As his season appeared, Flora would find him painting along their path, waiting for her to join him. Their love grew as the years passed, never to diminish. Like all tried love, it mellowed into the peace of companionship; into a walking rather than a yearning; of doing for one another expecting nothing in return. A love that binds and deepens, rather than fades, with time.