The whole story is basically made up of symbolism. At the end of the story, these will be explained, but will not be a part of the story. It is not necessary to read them to understand the story.
The ground lurched violently underneath his booted feet, and he quickly reached out for the nearest tree to steady himself. The gritty bark cut into his palm, but he did not feel it. The earth settled, and he breathed a sigh of relief as he straightened himself, then brushed off the dust from his clothes and ascertained that his sword was still sheathed at his side. The wind brushed past him, tousling his sandy hair that was held back from his brow with a leather strap. His intelligent green eyes surveyed the land before him. Noticing that the broad oak tree he had grabbed had been uprooted by the small earthquake, he tapped it with the toe of his boot. It disappeared before it hit the ground.
Notchimine was, as always, standing at the cavern entrance. Her cascade of brilliant white hair starkly contrasted with the gaping black hole behind her. Just as white as her hair were her swaths of ribbons, lace, and dress that covered nearly all of her unblemished, pale skin. The only color to be seen on Notchimine were her beautiful, translucent red eyes that betrayed her albinism. "Hello again, Travis," she greeted in a cool, musical voice.
Travis inclined his head. "And what art thou going to doeth to-day, Lady Notch?" he asked. "Nay, hold, allow me to guess: thou wilt remain here at all hours."
Notchimine smiled. "Right you are. Why are you talking like that?"
Travis grinned crookedly in return. "Well, I feel like Shakespeare'ing to today."
He assumed a serious expression. "Hey, did you feel that earthquake just now?"
"I did," she replied just as solemnly. "It seems that they are becoming more frequent."
The boy nodded. "I wonder if it's like this on the other side as well. But I'm not going, no way."
"And why not?"
"It's dark over there," exclaimed Travis, widening his eyes. "Wait here." He made a running leap at the twisted tree that somehow grew taller than the others despite its deformities; he gripped the lowest branch, which was over his head, and hoisted himself up. He set himself to climbing to top. On his right was the cliff which stretched high above the cavern, from which bright, colorful flowers sprouted and released their sweet fragrances. The smell was constantly with him, clinging to his skin and clothes; he was sick of it. At the top of the tree, Travis looked out over the distant horizon.
A foggy, unclear smear was seen, stretching as far as he could see. That was the other side, to which Travis had never traveled, for he feared it without knowing why.
"It looks the same," Travis called down to Notchimine.
"Of course it does," Notchimine replied. "Now come down before you hurt yourself."
Travis rolled his eyes, but quickly complied. A crunching sound caught his attention, and he paused, looking up. A large boulder swayed at the top of the cliff, rocked back and forth by the wind that whistled through the trees. He watched it suspiciously, daring it to fall. The breeze ceased, and the rocking boulder with it. Travis released his breath and gaze and resumed his descent.
"Travis, look out!"
Just in time to see the boulder tip over the edge and hurtle towards him, Travis glanced up and instinctively leapt out of the way, but was too late. The rock struck him in midair, and he fell to the ground far below him in a crumpled heap. But he felt nothing.
"Are you okay?" Notchimine inquired, leaning over him as he opened his eyes. His blurred vision slowly focused.
"How many lives do I have left?" he murmured drowsily.
"You had one to begin with," Notchimine calculated swiftly, "so considering you're still here, you're still living your first and only life."
Travis burst out laughing and sat up. "That could have been bad," he admitted, putting his hands on his head. "I feel like something like that happened before, though."
Notchimine looked at him pointedly. "You would not have been lucky twice."
"True, true," he agreed, standing and brushing his clothes off once more. "Still guarding?"
"Yes," she replied. Travis noticed that her feet had not moved from her place at the entrance; she never did. "It is my duty to protect the hearts with eyes."
"And a grand duty it is," Travis said, placing a hand on the hilt of his sword. "Even though there is absolutely no one here but you and me, and nothing could possibly happen to those little seeing hearts."
"They are hearts with eyes," Notchimine corrected him. "And there are many things that might happen to them."
"Yes, yes," Travis said. "The only dangerous things around here are the earthquakes."
"The earthquakes are very dangerous."
A moment of silence ensued, but neither minded. Some days they spent away watching the emptiness above them. There were no clouds, no sun; nor stars nor moon. When night came, the light dimmed a little, but otherwise nothing happened. Occasionally the trees came and went, but that was normal. Just emptiness and thoughts, and the odd breeze.
All at once, the ground began to shake violently once more. Notchimine and Travis gripped one another in surprise and fell to the dirt. Rocks began to tumble from the cliff face, crashing dangerously close to them and splitting apart. A tree in front of them faded away swiftly, only to be replaced by six new ones, trapping the two of them at the entrance of the cave.
"It's not stopping!" Travis cried fearfully, raising an arm to protect himself.
"Quickly, get inside!" Notchimine said, scrambling backwards. Her pristine white clothes were covered in dust and leaves.
"Are you crazy? We'll be trapped in there!" he screamed back. A shard of rock ricocheted and struck him in the crook of his arm. He winced at the sharp pain.
Notchimine caught hold of Travis's shirt and tugged him into the darkness with surprising strength. The ground rumbled angrily beneath them, lurching madly. "The hearts with eyes will protect us," Notchimine said in an assuring voice; Travis barely heard her over the screeching earth.
The cavern entrance collapsed, shrouding the two in complete darkness and filling the air with dust. Travis screamed with fright, but was comforted by a warm hand in his own. The shaking stopped; the rumbling echoes died away.
"It's over," Notchimine whispered in the blackness.
Travis felt strangely light and disconnected. His tense muscles were slowly laxing, and he began to feel drowsy.
"Are you hurt?"
"No," he slurred. "I feel kind of funny…"
"They have let you go," Notchimine told him. "They no longer want you to suffer."
"The doctors, your family," she said, "the hearts with eyes. They want you to move on so that they can move on, too."
"My family?" Travis asked, weakly frowning. It was becoming much harder to think.
"Yes. They signed a non-resuscitation form," Notchimine answered. "It's been two years now. The hearts with eyes are finally ready for you."
"But you have to guard them."
"I have done my job. Now it is their turn," Notchimine said. "Listen."
Travis and she fell silent. Distantly, Travis could hear a blip, then another, then another, and another, each one successively. The blips began to have wider intervals, then they merged into a long, steady beep.
"They have come for you, Travis," Notchimine said.
Travis looked up as a bright white light appeared, engulfing him. Notchimine had become the gateway through which the hearts with eyes operated.
She sat beside her son's hospital bed, holding a handkerchief to her weeping red-rimmed eyes. "My baby," she wailed sorrowfully, "my baby!" She rocked back and forth, her chest constricting painfully.
Her husband gently gripped her arm and attempted to remove her from the room, but she wrenched herself free from him and threw herself onto Travis's blanketed body, screaming. Travis's father, with mournful tears in his own eyes, wrapped his arms around his wife's waist and hoisted her off of his deceased son. She grabbed a handful of the sheet and it was pulled away, revealing Travis's peaceful expression. His head had been excessively wrapped with bandages in order to bind it together, for it had been crushed in the accident.
His wailing mother was forcefully dragged out of the room with the help of two nurses. No one noticed the single tear that slipped from the corner of Travis's eye.
boulder: represents the car that crushed him, landing him into a coma that lasted for two years
cave: a void feeling that one must cross to reach the hearts with eyes
day / night: the fluorescent lights are constantly kept on in his hospital room, but they are dimmed at night time.
earthquakes: When these occur, Travis's real body is seizing up.
flowers: because Travis is still linked to the real world, he can still smell and hear things with his real body. Nurses and family constantly replace the flowers, so the aroma is always surrounding him, and that's why he becomes sick of the smell
"Hearts with eyes": angels
Notchimine: a figment of Travis's imagination created by his subconscious to help him cope with the sudden trauma. Everything she says and does is an answer to his doubts, and it keeps him calm
the other side: represents the unknown and Travis's unwillingness to move on
the twisted tree: represents his past mistake that lead to Travis's being hit by a car. It is the tallest because it is the most important to his short life
trees: the ones that disappear and reappear are nurses, doctors, and visitors. In his comatose state, he may become a bit more aware of his real surroundings, but never enough to fully comprehend that they are there.
wind: his hospital room window is sometimes opened to let fresh air into the room; other times it is the AC.