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The air had the cold, crisp feeling of snow. Dancing snowflakes rained down on me, looking like they were silk spun by the most gifted spinster who had an eye for beauty. They covered my hair and scarf in little white fuzzies that melted instantly and left me quite wet. The only sound was the crunch, crunch of my boots in the snow, and the whoosh of howling wind that created dry, burning eyes. I passed frosted windows with burning fires that looked so warm…But I kept walking, and I walked alone.
A gaggle of birds flew overhead; this early snowfall was a surprise, and no one was ready for it. Papa’s health wasn’t, either. I knew he was in a warm place that was so different from this frigid, frozen, isolated one. A clump of snow fell from overhead, from the lean, icy trees that had shed their leaves a month ago. Chills ran through me, and I saw that my clothes were soaked through despite the marshmallow-like jacket that covered me. Crunch! I looked around wildly, trying to figure out what made the noise.
“Papa?” I moved closer. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“You shouldn’t, either,” he pointed out. “It’s getting dark, and you look freezing.”
“I just can’t get the whole thing out of my mind.” I looked away. “What happened the other night.”
“Bridgette, forget me, okay? I’m much better now.” He peered at me from under his crooked glasses. “Where’s the necklace I gave you?”
“Gone.” I’d thrown it into the river.
“A shame, a shame,” he mused, rubbing his stubble. I was silent. I knew he could never make me another one. When I looked back up at the sky, I realized that snow was falling harder than ever; no more were the quiet little flurries. This snow was already ankle-high and made me claustrophobic. The sky was pitch black now, and seemed to close in on Papa and me. It was completely silent; the wind had stopped. I shivered.
“You should probably get home now.” I started to walk away, but heard Papa’s footsteps after me.
“Are you mad at me?” he demanded. “This isn’t my fault, and this isn’t yours either.” He was angry now, kicking the snow and gritting his teeth. “Maybe it is my fault. I was the one who…” Papa let his voice trail off and looked at the dark night sky, thinking hard. The soft hooting of an owl rose up from the depths of the forest, startling me. A barred owl? I spun around, trying to find its dark amber eyes in the darkness. When I looked back, Papa was gone.
“Papa?” My voice echoed around the trees. Realizing I was completely alone in the woods again, I felt my chin tremble, and it didn’t have to do with the cold. An odd pressure started behind my eyes, my breath came fast and heavy and tears pricked my cheeks with their warmth. They froze almost instantaneously. “Papa!”
My feet were running now, the crunch noises becoming frantic. Slender, snow-topped branches blurred by me as I sprinted past. Twice I fell into the icy, unforgiving snow.
“You can’t leave me again!” Small choking noises escaped from my blue lips. The snow had stopped falling. All signs of life had disappeared. I was alone. He was gone. My mind flashed back to the poem I’d once heard as a child. It seemed fitting for the moment.
Gone are the trees from our youth
Gone is the water from our wells
Gone are the hills of our happiness
And gone is our hope.
“What a cheery, joyful poem,” I mumbled to myself.
“It’s your mother.”
“Mom!” I ran to her and was enveloped in a hug.
“I was so worried,” she mumbled into my hair. After a couple of seconds, we broke apart. “Come, now.”
“Where are we going?” I asked, as we walked through the arched, glistening trees. In the distance, I heard the very faint trill of bells, clanging a melancholy tone. She gazed at me sadly.
“You have a big day tomorrow. Leave the forest. It’s not good for you at the moment. You never know what you can hallucinate in this place.”
“What are you talking about?” My voice rose hysterically. Mom was acting weird; she wasn’t herself. “Where are we going?”
“Your father’s funeral. It starts pretty early, so we have to hurry if you want to sleep at all. Why, it’s 12:00 a.m.!” I refused to meet her eyes. “Bridgette?”
“Go ahead,” I said quietly. “I’ll catch up later.” She cast me a worried look and told me not to take long. Then she rested her hand on my shoulder.
“Take care,” she whispered, and then she was gone, too. Just like Papa. The snow had picked up again and flew around my, sticking to my eyelashes. I knew that Mom was waiting for me in the house, with blankets, warm clothes, hot chocolate, and plenty of warmth. I looked back at the direction she’d gone, picked off a leaf from my boot and stared at it.
From the looks of my surroundings, it was the last leaf of fall. One little leaf, completely alone, amidst the frozen land around it, rid of the others it had perched on the branches with.
“We have something in common.” Gently, I released the leaf, the last of its kind, and watched it float to the ground where it would wither up and freeze. Somehow, this action didn’t seem right. Digging a tiny hole in the snow, I placed the leaf inside, slowly and carefully, as if I were setting a kitten down. I snapped an icicle off a low hanging branch and stuck it in the ground.
“I know that you’ll probably melt, but there isn’t anything else to use,” I told the icicle. Then I knelt down, fingers shaking, and covered the dripping dark red leaf with cold, wet snow. “Bye, Papa,” I said quietly. Hot tears seared my frigid cheeks. I stood up, stared at the tiny grave and let tears stream down my cheeks, drip down my throat and disappear in the snow. A horrible feeling of isolation creeped up my spine and chilled me to the bone. My eyes closed as if it would help me endure the pain of loss. Suddenly, a wave of peace washed over me. I began to walk.
The distant call of my name started up, Mom wondering where I was. “Bridgette? Bridgette, where are you? Where did you go?” It sounded like she was crying, just like me. She needed me there, with her. She needed me to help her get through this awful time. “Please, Bridgette! Come back!”
But I kept walking. And I walked alone.
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