Ice cold winds beat brutally against the cabin door. Snow from the blizzard piled against the outside walls like ash, the landscape a barren wasteland to his eyes, the cabin an empty shell. Everything was meaningless. The only life that remained lay behind him on the small wooden bed, swathed in sweat-soaked sheets, panting weakly, threatening to expire as well. Her eyes, sunken deeply into their sockets were closed. They had been for two months now, for once the fever had taken hold, it had quickly devastated her.
Once a ravishing beauty, he had carried her around on his arm with such pride and love his heart seemed ready to burst at any moment. She had possessed a full, buxom figure, her cheeks perpetually blooming with a healthy glow, her limbs strong and brimming with energy, skin the purest cream. Her shimmering blond hair cascaded past her shoulders, sending other women into apoplectic fits of jealousy when she tossed it in the summer sunshine.
Now all that was gone. Her body lay shrunken and twisted, the fever having consumed nearly all of her fat and muscle tissue, leaving only brittle bones behind. Her hair had turned wispy and grey, snapping like straw when the illness caused her head to roll wildly. Once plush lips were cracked and covered in dried blood. Standing next to her now, he felt his heart torn at the sight of her. Not for the loss of her beauty, but for the loss of her health, her vivacity, her spirit. She slid inexorably towards the cold gates of death, her progress slowed by his constant attention, but never stopped completely He poured warm soup into her mouth, massaging her throat to make her swallow. He massaged her limbs and body to encourage blood to flow. He meticulously washed and cleaned her three times a day, removing the toxins and filth expunged by her systems. It slowed death but could not seem to prevent it and that was destroying him inside.
Never once did he shirk from his tasks, never once did he wince at her and think how ugly she had become. Rather, he still saw her beauty, his love still beat strong, however tainted with sorrow it had become. He loved the woman more than life itself. He only wished she would come back to him, shake off the claws of disease that were certain to take her from him. Since the moment she had taken ill, he had not left her side, leaving off work, family, everything. There was only her.
Suddenly he snapped. The bowl of hot soup he held in his hands shattered to pieces against the far wall and he dropped to the bedside, screaming at her.
“Stop it! Stop dying on me! You can’t leave me when I love you this much! Fight it! Fight this god damned darkness. I love you! Do you understand me? I love you! Come back to me, dammit. Come back, show me your smile again, let me hear you laugh.” Tears came now, pouring freely down his cheeks. “I won’t let you leave me. Do you understand? You’re not allowed to go! Fight the beast. Fight it! Do you hear me?” He pounded his fist into the bedside, causing the whole frame to shake violently. “Dammit, my love, if you don’t then I swear by god the moment you go I’m coming after you. Do you hear me? You go, we go!”
His voice broke off, choked by a sob, and his whole body shook with a combination of anger and loss, his face gleaming wetly. Hope despaired within him, sorrow threatened to overcome him, he could feel his very soul turned grey as the ashes in the fireplace.
Something deep within her changed then. It was as if a spark appeared within the darkness, far away and tiny to be sure, but that little mote of light burned with determination. He froze as a moan trickled ever so faintly from her lips. So faintly he was sure he had imagined it. Then her hand moved, just a fraction of an inch, and touched his own. He kneeled, staring at her bony extremities for long moments, then raised his eyes to her face. She had returned to her previous comatose state, but he sensed something different, something alive.
Urgently he bolted to the kitchen, filled another bowl with soup from the stove, and rushed back to her side. Murmuring words of encouragement just as he always did, but this time sure she could hear him, he fed her. The soup slid between her broken lips, and as his fingers worked, it made its way to her stomach, giving her body much needed fuel. Unlike the previous two months, however, it seemed as if the soup actually began to have an effect. Over the next two weeks her body finally seemed to respond to it, feeding off of the soup instead of itself.
Slowly but steadily, he watched as his darling wife retreated from death’s domain, stepped back from the brink of disaster and began to turn around. Hope renewed itself in his breast as life once again appeared in her spirit. Now when he sat long hours beside her, gazing always at her face, he had reason to believe one day she would again look back
She struggled slowly through the dark morass. She pushed her arms ahead of her and clawed and tugged at the pitch black nothingness that clung to her, that impeded her way. Somewhere ahead of her she heard a voice. She didn’t know what it said, she didn’t really know who it was, but something inside her knew she had to reach it again, and nothing could stop her. Nothing else mattered but that voice.
Gradually the voice became louder, though its words were still incoherent. It rang of hope, of excitement, yet she was sure that sorrow ran deep within it. She shook off the darkness, despising the gloomy evilness of it, the hostility that threatened to overtake her. She grew angry. How dare this darkness slow her down? How dare it seek to prevent her from returning to that voice? What was it to steal her happiness, to imprison her in this void? She threw her arms out savagely, tearing the inky blackness away more and more, until soon she was clearing a swath around her. She growled and snarled at it like a wild animal and soon it began to fear. It sensed its hold disappearing, in a panic sought to reclaim its victim, but was savaged and thrown away. She was unstoppable, her focus solely on the sound of that voice, now so close, she could almost reach out and touch it.
Her eyes slid open a hair, then a little more. The light was not strong but still it blinded her. As her eyes once again became accustomed to being used, they threw open their lids and delighted in seeing the living world once again in all its glorious colour. Christina smiled hesitantly, feeling the sharp pain in her lips as the fragile, newly healed skin broke. Her eyes wandered around the room a moment, before coming to rest on her husband.
He had collapsed in a chair next to her, and was now fitfully asleep, one of her hands held delicately in both his own. She smiled even more widely at the sight of him, and something thrilled in her chest. Her heart beat stronger, faster. Looking into her lover’s face she saw the tiredness there, could see that his hair seemed a little more salt and peppered around the temples now when before it has been uniformly bronze. He was unshaven and she could tell by the way that he twitched and his eyes flickered beneath their lids that he did not sleep peacefully.
Though it took much effort, she concentrated on her hand resting in his own. She squeezed as hard as she could manage and felt the fingers creak a few fractions of an centimeter, her dry skin pressing gently into his. There was a pause, the twitching stopped, then she watched gaily as her husband woke.
His eyes opened and peered before him, unfocussed. He straightened and turned towards her. Seeing her beaming face looking back up at him he stopped instantly. For long moments he watched her, unable to speak, unsure that what he was seeing wasn’t simply a dream. Tears welled up in the corners of his eyes and slid down his rough cheeks, more following swiftly on their heals.
“My love?” he asked tentatively.
“Mm bck.” She slurred, nodding as excitedly as she could.
Heart completely shattered with pure joy, he fell to her side and threw his arms around her, only remembering at the last second to be gentle. He laughed through his tears and felt her arms move to hug him back, as lightly as a ghost, but not a ghost at all, she was back amongst the living at last. And so, at long last, was he.
The first day she was awake was a momentous event, and he tried to keep her with him as long as he could. He knew she was tired and being awake only a few hours was certainly draining her newly healed reserves. Yet he was scared that if she fell asleep again, she would never wake. He could not bare to lose her twice. She tried to reassure him, loving him for his fears, smiled and drifted off. He slept not one minute until she opened her eyes the next morning, then could not help himself, but slipped into a deathlike sleep himself, the result of utter exhaustion.
Over the next few days, both recovered, and he was amazed at her resilience, her body’s determination to return to its former glory. The first time she tried to get out of bed he nearly had a heart attack, and aimed to prevent her. She laughed, calling him silly, but let him hold her the whole time she was on her tiny feet. Knowing how light she must be now, and how strong her lover was, she suspected that he was actually carrying her around the whole time, so that her feet barely touched the ground, and she was simply putting herself through the motions. But as time went on she grew stronger and was able to walk unaided.
Even years later she never fully recovered from the ordeal. Her hair, once golden blond, was now white, despite her young years. Her eyes became sunken when she became tired, and her figure had refused to fill back out, her once proud breasts remaining a fraction of their former selves. Yet his love for her seemed only stronger than before. They had formed a bond between them that was untouchable, unbreakable. He gazed at her with such affection that it made her heart melt every time their eyes met.
At first she was quite afraid that her radically altered appearance would also alter his love. After all, he had taken such pride in her before, had been aroused simply by the suggestion of her, let alone her completely revealed form. As time went on however, she grew to understand where his true feelings lay. She knew that his love transcended the physical attraction that had brought them together years ago, that he loved more than her body and the first obvious layers of personality. He loved who she was completely, the deepest roots of her character.
As the years passed, with age and perhaps in reaction to the starvation that had plagued it during her former sickness, her body put on pounds so that her slim waist became more square. Yet every day he continued to wrap his arms around her with all the tenderness shown on the day they first embraced.
On one fall day, as they sat on the porch swing, the fall leaves sparkled a myriad of colours on the trees, His arms held her close. She turned her face up towards his and reached up to caress his cheek. Looking directly into his eyes, she spoke.
“I love you.”
It was said with such simplicity and such directness, that it conveyed how deeply rooted that feeling was in the core of her being.
She cut him off, placing a finger to his lips. “Thank you. For everything.” She smiled and he bent down to kiss her. Beyond the porch the leaves continued to fall, but neither fell sad at the loss. They knew that with winter a death-like grip would take hold of the land, but sooner or later, no matter how cold, how miserable any one day felt, sure enough spring would come, and with it, life once more.
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