This story is by Lyndsey Call and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I know I’ll never be fast enough. I could spend every second of my days gathering nuts, building up my den, but it would never be enough. The chill always seeps in before I’m ready.
I’ve watched lesser animals flee south to avoid the biting cold that settles in like a curse. My family left with them when I was old enough to be on my own but that was long ago. They’d always expected I’d come along, find a tree to hole up in with them somewhere the sun still shined, but I stayed. I could never leave her.
She was the only home I had ever known, and she had given me everything. Given me life, given me shelter. She was the one to hold me up as I learned to walk and the one who dropped her own seeds so I could eat. There was nothing more magnificent than my tree that had stood as tall as a mountain and long as time.
Her withered leaves crunch under my small paws and each break wrenches at my chest. It wasn’t long ago that those leaves were bright and full of life, hugging her arms because she nurtured them like she nurtured me. Her skin is dry under me as I race up to my den. It wouldn’t be long before it broke off and cracked in my hands.
An unforgiving storm crackled on the horizon. The week sun of autumn was swallowed up in thick black clouds. A harsh wind whipped through the park threatening to topple me off my feet as I race for cover.
It’s not so cold inside my burrow. The chill can’t nip through my fur if the wind doesn’t drive it against me.
There’s not much to see beyond the shelter of my home with the sky darkening. All I can make out is the same sight that’s been torturing me for weeks. Her beauty stripped bare. Gnarled arms reaching toward the sky, a broken plea for mercy. A scattering of leaves clinging to her in the last desperate memory of summer. Yet those leaves were disappearing, ripped away by the harsh laughter of the storm until only one remained. Without it, there would be no more illusions. When that final leaf fell away, she would be gone. There would be nothing left of her but a skeleton.
She couldn’t leave me yet. I couldn’t spend the last season of my life without her.
I knew I could never be fast enough. Winter would always take her away. But I had to try. The rain pierced me, sharp stabs of ice where we collided. Skittering across her branches, I made one last attempt to hold onto her. The storm had come in full by the time I reached that last leaf. If I could shield that tenuous connection long enough for the rain to pass, maybe I wouldn’t have to lose her this time. At least not completely.
I was so close when the leaf surrendered. I could see the strands of its stem release its hold. I was almost fast enough to catch it as it began it’s free fall.
Panting, I collapsed to the branch where the leaf had just stood and watched the wind snatch it away from a graceful descent. The return to my den was much slower than the departure had been even though my body trembled from the cold. It was a goodbye, the only eulogy I could give.
My love was gone again.
I would never be fast enough to outrun the winter. I would never be fast enough to save her. So I curled up in the hole where her heart should be and let her body protect me from the rain. I would lie with her when the cold made her still and I would fight to be there when she blinked awake for the first taste of spring. It was the only gratitude I knew how to give.