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A woman falls into a strange world where she meets a guide who leads her down a path that she has been avoiding, and brings her face to face with her tragic past.


Submitted:Jul 5, 2007    Reads: 142    Comments: 2    Likes: 0   


Lost in Endless Winter

by Alan Dalby

"To live in the hearts we leave is not to die."

-Thomas Campbell, 1825

So calm the water seemed as Kim stood beside the lake that had ruined her life just one year prior. Such a peaceful spot should not give one feelings of grief, but of joy and relaxation. The summer breeze caused Kim's hair to dance around her, occasionally covering up her tear-stained eyes. All around her the trees watched. The wild animals went about their daily business, ignoring this lady by the lake and her soft sniffles. The fish went undisturbed by man and his hooks this day, swimming about seemingly without a care in the world, aside from leaping out of the water to catch the occasional bug. One year ago to this day, the fish were not so lucky. On that fateful day, their entire world was torn asunder by a plummeting automobile. It had smashed into the water hard, sent their liquid world into a state a pure chaos, and then quickly sank. Kim had watched the entire event unfold. Screaming in a confused panic as she raced down from the little cabin up the hill. Her legs had felt heavy and useless, like jelly as she made her way toward the lake. It was all over before she was even able to reach the water.

The memories came flooding back. Not that they had left her alone for one moment throughout the past year, but being back at the scene of the tragedy, standing there by the lakeside as she had once before, the memories became more than just pictures in her mind. They became more than just the sounds of her own screams and the feeling of helplessness as she had dove into the water, as she had reached out to save the two most important people in her life. She couldn't save them. She couldn't even get to a phone to call for help. This family weekend was to be rustic, completely free of all modern annoyances; just the three of them up in the wilderness, away from city life, bonding as they took in the fresh Rocky Mountain air. A husband, a wife, and a five year old son took that trip up the highway in their red Jeep. They watched the city disappear behind them as they journeyed up to the little cabin that Kim's husband Jack had rented for the weekend. The only one of them to make the trip back to the city was Kim. She had sat in the passenger's seat of her friend Julie's Saturn, watching the trees and giant red rocks flying by as they came down through Woodland Park and hit the Colorado Springs city limits.

Many words came from many people in the following weeks. These words were intended to comfort Kim, to let her know that she was not completely alone in the world. What these well-meaning people didn't realize was that Kim was alone now. She had spent weeks on end sitting alone in silence in what she had once considered her home. Now it was just an empty house. The phone would ring often, the doorbell would chime, sometimes pushy friends would circle the house and bang on the windows, shouting Kim's name. She didn't want to be alone, but she did not want the company of these people. She wanted her family. She missed her husband Jack, so strong and full of energy. His endless supply of love was not divided when their son Kyle was born. Rather it seemed to triple in quantity and quality. Kim missed little Kyle, her son, the product of her own body and her husband's tender touch. They had been such a happy family. Life was not always perfect, and occasionally there was anger in their home, but they were much healthier than most of the couples and families that they knew. Kim had found her paradise, the life she never thought possible had come true.

Now Kim stood by the lake that had ended her fairy tale life. It was the first anniversary of the death of her family. She tried every day not to think about the suffering that they must have endured. The pain and panic they must have felt, the shock of the sudden dirt-slide as they turned the corner on their way back from the store in Woodland Park. The helpless feeling Jack must have felt as the Jeep took a sideways dive off of the road and began to roll down the steep drop-off. The sound of the splash as the vehicle hit the lake. The rush of cold as the car quickly filled with water. Jack's struggle to save his son. Kyle's cries for his daddy to help him. Then, all of the air was suddenly gone. Kim cried out loud, sobbing hard and screaming as she thought of them slowly drowning. She remembered her unsuccessful rescue attempt. She could close her eyes and still picture it, one year later, as if it had happened within the past few minutes. Her husband's arm floating upward from inside the Jeep as it vanished, sinking all the way down to the bottom of the lake. Kim had thought to herself every day since then that she should have stayed with them. She should not have swam back up to the surface and gasped for air. Instead, she should have kept on swimming toward the Jeep, until she could not longer stand the pain in her lungs. Then, she would have opened her mouth, let cold water spill into her, fill up her lungs, and leave her to be with her family.

"You don't always get a second chance to do the right thing." Kim said as she put one foot into the cool water of the lake. "I have a second chance to be with you Jack." She put her other foot into the water and looked at her wavering reflection. "I can see you again, my little Kyle." Kim stepped forward and the lake began to devour her. The water started at her ankles, slid up to her knees, and was soon up to her waist. "If I'm wrong, if there is nothing beyond this life, then I guess I won't get to see you again after all." The water was now up to her shoulders. "Even if that's the way it is, at least I won't have to keep on hurting." Kim said as she moved her arms through the thickness of the water. She swam out to the exact spot where the Jeep had gone down. "I love you both so much. You were my entire life. Now, I'm going to do what I should have done a year ago." She looked up at the sky. It was a beautiful cloudless day, the sky was a soft robin's egg blue. Kim took a deep breath, then suddenly disappeared into the lake completely. She let herself slowly sink into the cool water. Her lungs began to ache as they had once before in this same lake, in this same spot. Only this time, Kim did not come back up for air.

All seemed different as Kim opened her eyes. She was in the middle of the woods somewhere, laying on her back and looking up past the pine trees to the overcast sky above her. Snowflakes slowly floated down from above, one landed on her eyelid, causing her to blink and wipe her face. She stuck out her tongue and caught one flake, tasting the sweetness of the fresh snow. Kim sat up and looked around her. The ground was covered in snow, as were the trees. Everything seemed dark and gray, even though it felt like mid-afternoon. The sun was out, but eclipsed completely by thick clouds that filled the entire sky. Although she was wearing the same light summer dress she had been when she stepped into the water, she did not feel the bitter cold at first. It slowly sank in, but she did not shiver. It seemed so familiar to her, like she had been in this frozen winter for a very long time and had become accustomed to it. She stood and looked up at the cabin on top of the hill. Below it was the lake, only now it was frozen solid.

"I've been expecting you." A soft male voice said. Kim spun around and looked in all directions, but saw no one. She started to walk toward the frozen lake. The fresh untouched snow beneath her feet crunched with each step she took. "Where are you going?" The voice asked. Kim looked again, all over the area for the phantom that was speaking to her, but still she did not spot anybody.

"Who's there?" She asked, feeling a bit silly talking to an invisible voice.

"Over here Kim." The voice said. Kim turned to see a small aspen tree, devoid of its leaves, as all of the other aspens in the area were. It was covered in snow just like the others, but it had one thing that no other tree in the forest had. As Kim began to move toward it, the little aspen tree began to glow. This intoxicated Kim, this very unusual sight. In the dead of winter under the cover of thick gray clouds, this one tree had the appearance of being coated in full daylight. "Don't be afraid Kim. Come closer to me, I want to help you." One of the branches slowly curled inward as if to signal her, beckoning her to come closer.

"What do you mean?" Kim asked as she reached the glowing tree. The branch uncurled and stretched outward to her.

"Take my hand Kim." The voice from the tree said kindly as the smaller limbs at the end of the branch opened up like fingers.

"Your hand?" Kim asked as she reached out for the branch. She took hold of it and found that it was slightly warm. The little finger branches at the tip curled around Kim's arm.

"Close your eyes Kim." The aspen whispered. Kim didn't know why she was listening to a tree, but she obeyed and shut her eyes. The branches around her arm tightened slightly. Kim felt the warmth fade slightly from the tree as she held onto it. "There is such sadness inside you." The aspen said with extreme empathy in his soft voice.

"I know there is." Kim said. For the first time since she had awakened in the forest, her memory returned. "My family…Jack and Kyle, they died."

"In the lake, they drowned." The aspen said. Kim felt tears forming between her eyelids.

"I tried to save them." Kim said. "I tried so hard to save my family."

"Kim, open your eyes." The tree said. Kim reached up and rubbed the dampness from her eyelashes, then looked at the tree. Only he was no longer a tree, but a man. A man the same size as the tree, as pale as an aspen, with the most striking green eyes she had ever seen. They were beyond vibrant in color, almost glowing.

"What do I call you?" Kim asked. The man thought on this question deeply for a few moments.

"I'm not entirely sure." He said. "How does William sound? Yes, I seem to remember being called William once. That was a very long time ago."

"William it is then. I'm Kim, but you already knew that somehow." Kim said. The two were still holding hands, so they shook on their introductions. Then, they let go of each other. Both turned to face the lake.

"I've seen many things over the years, ever since I took root here." William said. Kim closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

"Did you see it happen?" She asked.

"Yes." William said, his eyes turning toward her. Kim felt the glow and looked at him. A tear ran down her cheek. William reached out with a pale thumb and wiped it away. "There was nothing you could have done for them."

"You sound like everybody else in the world. They all told me that it wasn't my fault. They bombarded me with words of comfort stolen from your average greeting cards and wrapped their arms around me. They offered me anything, 'anything we can do, you just ask' they would say." Kim crossed her arms.

"That's all people can do in such a situation." William said. "They can't get inside of your mind, or feel what is inside your soul."

"Can you?" Kim asked, looking deep into William's vibrant green eyes.

"I know what you want Kim." William said.

"Tell me then." Kim took William's arms in her hands. William looked over at the frozen lake.

"Walk with me, and I will tell you." William said. He took Kim's hand in his and the two headed over to the lake. They stood on the shore, on the same spot Kim had stood just before walking into the water.

"Why is everything so cold?" Kim asked. "I was just here and it was summer. When did the snow start to fall? When did the lake freeze?"

"Your sorrow brought this on Kim." William said.

"That's ridiculous." Kim said.

"Oh is it?" William asked. He let go of Kim's hand and extended his arm. It slowly changed from looking slightly human, turning back into an aspen branch. His branch sprouted leaves, healthy and green. Kim watched in awe as this transformation took place.

"That's so beautiful." Kim said.

"Take hold of my branch." William said. Kim looked into his eyes which awaited her action. Kim's thin fingers reached out toward the branch. She gently brushed her fingertips against one of the lush leaves. She watched in horror as it turned bright yellow, then quickly crumpled into little brown pieces and fell from the branch. Kim then wrapped her fingers around the main arm of the branch, and all of the leaves were subjected to the same fate. All at once they shrunk into small brown shells of their former selves. The full green lively leaves that had just been there were gone in an instant, all from the touch of Kim's lonely hand. "Now do you see?" William asked.

"What is this?" Kim asked as she backed away from William. His branch turned back into a pale human arm. "Are you just here to make me feel worse? Am I the angel of death, bringing only pain and loss wherever I go?" Kim started to cry.

"Not at all Kim." William said. "You are simply a woman who lost her husband and child. You are grieving, as you have been ever since the day they died." William rubbed the falling tears from Kim's cheeks with his soft hands. "Now then, you asked me a question earlier." William said. Kim sniffled and looked up into his eyes, his soft hands still on her face.

"You do know what I want then." Kim said.

"Yes, I do." William said. "It is what you screamed out the day they died. You came up for air after doing all you could to rescue Jack and Kyle, and the first words out of your mouth were…" William closed his eyes. Kim closed hers seemingly involuntarily. She was taken back to that fateful day, to that very moment as she struggled to get back up to the surface, her lungs begging to be filled with oxygen. As she burst out of the water, she inhaled deeply. She coughed and choked and finally got her breath back. Then, with an echo that spread across miles of untouched wilderness, Kim screamed; "Oh please God, take me instead!" Kim's eyes opened and she fell to her knees in the snow. William slowly knelt in front of her. He let her gather her emotions, to shake off the all-too realistic memory she had just experienced.

"Can you do it? Can you bring them back in exchange for me?" Kim asked, breathing heavily.

"I can help you." William said. "You will have to listen to me, and do exactly as I say. It is not going to be easy. I must warn you now, this will be one of the most difficult things you will ever have to do, if not the most difficult." William took Kim's hand and the two stood up. "Are you ready Kim?"

"Yes." Kim said without a thought. "Just tell me what I have to do."

"Follow me." William said. He started up towards the cabin at the top of the hill. "Be careful, the ground is slick." William marched on with Kim following closely behind him. She slipped once on a steep incline and fell backwards. She found herself caught in William's branches. She held onto them tightly as he pulled her to safety. Then, his branches turned back into arms.

"That's a cool trick." Kim said, almost cracking a small smile. It would have been the first one since the tragedy. "You know, I have always felt that trees could feel. That they were more alive than most people think."

"All life is a part of itself." William said. "People see very little of the world around them. Not because they don't pay attention, but because they aren't ready to see." William said as they reached the cabin.

"I don't suppose you know the meaning of life, do you?" Kim asked with a joking tone. William turned and simply smiled at her.

"The meaning of life is different for each living thing. If you search your soul long enough, one day you will find it." William said. "Now then, time to go inside." William opened up the door to the cabin.

"Well?" Kim waited for him to enter.

"I can't go with you, not in there." William said.

"Okay. What do I do when I get inside?" Kim asked.

"Don't worry." William said. "You will know." He stepped aside and motioned for Kim to enter the cabin. Slowly she did, the snow and gravel crunching under her feet. As soon as she was inside the cabin, the door shut behind her. Kim turned to look at it.

"William?" She called out, slightly terrified. As she looked at the door, it changed. It was soon no longer the front door of the cabin in the mountains, but of her house in the city. Kim slowly stepped away from the door. Blurred in her peripheral vision was the entry hall on either side of her. She felt the terror grow inside of her as she turned. There, laid out before her was the inside of her house. It was just as she had left it before heading back up to the cabin with suicide on her mind.

Kim walked slowly through her house, the place that once had been a home. Once filled with the sound of Kyle's tiny shoes hitting the hardwood floors upstairs as he played and laughed. Often he would have groups of friends with him, especially on his birthdays. All of the happy screams and joyful chaos seemed to still echo throughout this house. Kim ran her hands across the kitchen counters, remembering the argument that she had eventually won over the design of the room. She had won the battles over the design of every last square inch of that house. She smiled as she thought back on the first night she and Jack had spent there once the house was finally complete. She remembered the exact order in which they had broken in the rooms, and wondered in which one Kyle had been conceived. She could still smell Jack, still feel his strong arms around her as they would lie down on the couch and spend lazy weekend afternoons watching movies and goofing around.

Then, on the mantel above the living room fireplace, Kim spotted an object that called out to her. She made her way over to it. She stood on the fireplace and reached up to the mantel above. Her hands gently slipped against each side of the item. Her fingers wrapped around it with care and she lifted it up. She carefully stepped backwards off of the fireplace and headed over to the couch. She sat down and curled her legs up. In her hands was a snow globe. She sniffled and smiled for the first time in a year as she looked at the picture inside. It was the last Christmas present she had ever received from her son. It was a custom-made globe, with a picture of Jack, all dressed up and smiling in the warm way that he always had. Sitting in his lap was Kyle, who was also all dressed up, blowing a kiss at the camera. As she looked this picture over, Kim began to laugh and cry simultaneously. This was her family, exactly as she remembered them. She had spent so much time over the past year sobbing and sitting in darkness that she had not looked at this picture, really looked at it, since the accident. She kissed her fingers and pressed them to the glass globe.

"I've spent so much time focusing on your deaths that I forgot to remember your lives." Kim said softly through her tears. "You lived them so well, and I got to be there with you. I was there with both of my boys every day." Kim rubbed the globe against her cheek and closed her eyes. "So many wonderful memories were created. I can't let those memories be destroyed by my sorrows and regrets." Kim spent quite a long time on that couch just looking into the snow globe that held Jack and Kyle inside. It seemed for a little while as if the family was back together once more. "I love you Jack. I love you Kyle. I miss you both so much." She said. "You gave me the greatest gift of all. You gave me a life worth living."

"I see that you found what you were looking for." William said softly as Kim exited the house. As she stepped outside onto the snow covered ground, she turned to look back inside. Her house was gone now, turned back into the old cabin. William looked at the snow globe. Kim turned it so that he could see the picture.

"Weren't they beautiful?" Kim asked.

"Yes, they are beautiful." William replied. The two of them stood there for a while admiring the picture.

"So, now what?" Kim asked. William reached out and took her free hand as she held the globe in the other.

"Come with me." William said. "We are almost done." He helped Kim carefully down the slippery snow-coated hill and the two made their way back to the frozen lake. Kim stood by the body of water that she had considered a murderous fiend ever since it had stolen her husband and child away. "This is the final step Kim. It will be the most difficult of all, but you must trust me."

"Just tell me what I have to do William." Kim said. William looked down at the snow globe that Kim was clutching tightly in both hands and his eyes grew large. They were full of compassion, and easily gave away the fact that Kim was not about to get what she thought she would be getting.

"It's time to do what you think you cannot do Kim. What I am about to ask of you will seem impossible at first, but I know you have the strength within you to overcome this one last obstacle." William said. Kim took a step back from him.

"You said you would help me get what I asked for. To bring them back in exchange for me." Kim said.

"I did say that I would help you Kim, and that's what I plan on doing." William stepped forward and placed his hands gently on her shoulders. "But what you asked for on this day one year ago is a wish that cannot be granted." William said. Kim pulled away from him and hugged the snow globe to her stomach.

"You lied to me!" Kim said with tears streaming down her face.

"No Kim. I simply did what I had to do to get you to this point." William said.

"What point? Why have you been leading me down this road if there is only a dead-end?" Kim was growing very flustered and emotional.

"It's not a dead-end Kim. It is a new beginning." William said. "But in order for one thing to begin, something else must end."

"Oh God, why are you doing this to me?" Kim fell to her knees sobbing.

"It's time to let go Kim." William said softly.

"No!" Kim screamed out as she hunched over the snow globe, her flowing tears making holes in the snow below her.

"It's time to let go of the past. It's time to let go of the pain." William said as he knelt down and put an arm around her. "You've been dealing with this one day for an entire year. You've played it over and over in your mind. You've blamed yourself for every little thing you did, every action you took that you think failed to save them. You couldn't have saved them Kim. I know it's hard to hear, but nothing could have saved them. Even if you had brought a phone with you, or continued to swim deeper as your lungs were about to burst, they still could not be saved Kim."

"I can't go on without them anymore. I just can't!" Kim screamed as she rocked back and forth. She remained hunched over with the snow globe held tightly in her arms, as if she were guarding Jack and Kyle themselves.

"I can't force you to do anything Kim, but I think you need to know that this isn't just about you." William said as he stood up and faced the lake. Kim looked up and watched as he walked out onto the ice, stopping right on top of the spot were the Jeep had sunk. Kim waited, still holding on to her snow globe tightly. Slowly, she sat up, watching as William simply stared down at the ice. Kim sniffled, wiped off her reddened face and slowly stood.

"That's where it happened." Kim said with a raspy voice. She cleared her throat as she arrived next to William on top of the frozen lake. She pointed up the small cliff to the dirt road above. "You can still see were the road gave out, and the Jeep's skid marks." Kim said in a clearer voice. "I noticed that on my way up here." Kim looked down with William at the ice below their feet. She closed her eyes tightly. "What did you mean before? Who else is this about?"

"Three souls were put on hold the day of the accident Kim." William said. He looked up with his wide green eyes at Kim. "Frozen, so to speak." William knelt down and started to brush away at the ice below him. "Take a look." He said. Kim crouched down and looked into the ice, now much clearer thanks to William's effort. She saw a red object frozen deep down in the lake.

"Is that the Jeep?" Kim asked with a combination of emotions in her voice. William stood and looked up at the cloudy gray sky.

"They are trapped down there Kim." William said. Kim stood and looked into William's eyes as he tilted his head back down. "Frozen in time, unable to move on." William started to pace around Kim who was beginning to cry again. "You know now what you need to do Kim."

"No, I really don't." Kim said with her snow globe clutched tightly to her chest. William looked deep into her wet eyes with more understanding than Kim had received since the accident.

"It's time to say goodbye Kim." William said. Kim started to shake her head, her lower lip trembling wildly. "You've never said goodbye to them. You've never given closure to this tragedy." William said softly. "It's time to do that now Kim." William looked directly at the snow globe in her grip. "Let them go."

Kim's lip went wild. Tears poured from her eyes. Her arms and legs began to shake. She felt light-headed and nauseous. In her possession was an object that kept Jack and Kyle close to her. She held it up and looked at their picture again. Kim shook the globe and watched the fake snowflakes inside the globe fall down in front of her husband and son. She then looked down at the lake and the red blur deep down below her, encased in ice. She looked at the smiling faces inside of the globe, and thought back on the day of the tragedy. She knew that the family inside of the globe, smiling happily in that wonderful photo, was her true family. Those were the two people she loved and who had made her life complete. The two people in the lake, those were not the people who smiled in pictures and filled the halls of her home with laughter and fun times. They were the bad memories, the memories of their death. Kim looked into William's green eyes and saw that he knew, he knew that she had come to the right decision. With her eyes closed tightly, Kim extended her arms, opened her hands, and let the snow globe slip from her fingers. It hit the ice and shattered.

"Good girl Kim." William said. Kim opened her eyes and looked at the broken keepsake. She cried and started to walk away. "You might want to hang around for just a few minutes Kim." William said. He pointed down toward the red blur in the ice. A bright glow surrounded it and began to rise to the surface of the frozen lake. It was like a beam of sunlight, melting its way upwards from the depths. "I'll leave you three alone." William said as he walked away toward the shore. Kim took a few steps back as the light rose closer, and finally burst through the surface of the ice. Kim held her arm up over her eyes as the bright blinding light filled the small area of the lake where she stood. She felt a strong warm hand grab hold of her arm. The feeling of the touch was very familiar to Kim, and warmth spread throughout her body as the hand pulled her harm down from her eyes. There, standing before her, bathed in a soft glow was Jack. He looked just as he always did, smiling with a face filled with love for the woman he was looking at.

"Hello Kim." His voice was Jack's, but with an angelic echo.

"Jack? Is it really…" Kim was cut short by another voice.

"Mommy!" Kim looked down to see Kyle rushing to her leg. The little boy wrapped his arms around her. He too had a soft glow around him and an other-worldly echo to his voice. Kim reached down to touch Kyle's hair. She could feel it, and it felt so real, so true. She squeezed her son tightly to her leg. She extended out her other arm and Jack took the invitation. The three embraced, a family once more.

"Oh Jack, Kyle. I love you both so much!" Kim began to cry again. Kyle stepped back and looked up at her.

"What's wrong mommy? Are you sad?" Kyle asked. Kim didn't know what to say.

"It's okay baby." Jack kissed Kim on her cheek. "You don't have to be sad anymore."

"I've missed you both so much." Kim said as she wiped her eyes.

"I know Kimmy." Jack said. "You've spent a lot of time suffering from your own feelings of guilt and sorrow. Now you don't have to suffer any longer." Jack smiled.

"Be happy mommy." Kyle giggled as he twisted his head around, acting silly. Kim rubbed his little head and smiled, she even let out a laugh.

"I know you feel alone in this world Kimmy. You feel like you've lost us, that we are still in the water. Every day you run those events through your mind over and over until you can't function at all." Jack looked at her with his kind eyes and shook his head. "Don't live your life that way honey. That's not helping anybody. Kyle and I don't want you to be miserable, do we Kyle?"

"Nope!" Kyle said assertively. "I want you to be happy mommy."

"I want you to be happy too sweetie." Kim said as she crouched down and picked up Kyle, hugging him tightly. "I want you both to be happy, always."

"Live your life Kimmy. Find new ways to be happy. You have so much to do still, so much to give. It's not your time yet baby." Jack said. "But it is our time." Jack said as he reached over and took Kyle from Kim's arms.

"I don't want you to go." Kim said.

"Don't think of it that way Kimmy. Life is all around you. It is a lot deeper than you think, more meaningful. One day, you will understand it all, or at least most of it. For now, just know that Kyle and I will always be with you." Jack said.

"Yeah mommy, we'll always be here." Kyle said.

"I love you both so very much." Kim said.

"We love you too." Jack said.

"Yeah mommy, I love you!" Kyle said. Kim's son smiled at her with wisdom far beyond that of a little boy. Jack smiled in a way that let Kim know it was time.

"Goodbye for now Kimmy." Jack said. Kim started to cry again. "Say goodbye to mommy Kyle."

"Bye mommy!" Kyle shouted and waved. Kim struggled, her insides churning. She swallowed the painful lump in her throat and forced a smile onto her face.

"Goodbye." She said finally. Kim stood there and watched as her husband and son dissolved into a warm glowing light. That light, like a kiss from the sun, began to spread around. It circled Kim, wrapping her in its warmth. She closed her eyes and felt what was like a concentrated dose of love and joy hold her in its arms. Slowly it slipped into the air, turning into a warm breeze that floated up into the trees. As it passed over the ground, the snow in its path melted, and new life began to grow as if it were springtime. Beautiful flowers bloomed as the breeze passed over the land. Aspen trees sprouted full green leaves, and the clouds in the sky began to disperse. Kim stepped back as the lake began to thaw, eventually finding herself back on the shore. William was waiting for her. He stuck out a branch with lovely green leaves covering it and took Kim's hand. This time, his leaves stayed green. They did not wilt or turn yellow. Every one of them remained healthy and green.

"So now summer will return?" Kim asked with a sniffle.

"Slowly it will." William said. "It takes time for seasons to change. Darkness does not turn to light in an instant. There will still be some ice and snow left over, some dark clouds in the sky. Eventually however, they will fade and melt, and more flowers will bloom. More trees will flourish." William said. "You've taken a big step today Kim. I wish you well in your life. Let it be long and meaningful. And don't forget, anytime you bump into a tree, be friendly."

"That's a promise William." Kim said. She looked around for a while. "So now what?" Kim asked. She waited for a response, but got none. "Will…" Kim turned to find that William had returned to being a full-fledged aspen tree. She reached her arms around his sturdy trunk and sniffled. "I'll never forget you William." Kim said.

Kim began to cough horribly, violently, spitting up water she had inhaled from the lake. She felt disoriented as she looked around. She was laying a few feet from the lake. Hovering above her was a strange man with a large furry beard and a beer-gut that had taken some dedication to achieve.

"She's okay!" The man yelled out. Then he looked down at Kim. "You are okay, aren't you ma'am?"

"Thanks to you." Kim said as she slowly sat up, still coughing a bit.

"I'm Billy. Me and the family rented out that little cabin for the week. Lucky my boy saw you in the water. Otherwise I don't think we'd be talking right now." Billy said.

"You have a son?" Kim asked with a warm smile.

"Yes ma'am, two of them. One's eleven, the other is fifteen. Quite a handful those two, but they're good boys." Billy said.

"Well, I hope they live long and healthy lives. After all, I owe them and you mine." Kim said.

"So, what were you doing out in that lake anyways, if I might ask?" Billy said.

"I was searching for something." Kim said.

"Well, it doesn't look like you found what you were looking for." Billy said. Kim looked up and noticed something that struck her deeply. There, by the lake, was something that had not been there before. It was a small aspen tree, about the size of a man. Its branches were extended out, its leaves were it full bloom, and it looked as strong and healthy as a tree could be.

"Actually, I found something better." Kim smiled. After Billy had left, Kim stood up in her soaking-wet sundress and walked over to the aspen tree. She gently caressed its trunk just about where a face would be should a tree decide to have one. "Take care of yourself William. I plan on doing the same." As she headed toward her car, Kim felt a warm breeze pass by her. There were soft whispers within it. She listened to them as the afternoon sun dried her dress. Kim drove back home to the city, where she took her good friend Julie out to dinner for the first time in over a year. Afterwards, the two ladies headed over to Kim's house. They sat on the living room couch and sipped tea. Kim listened as Julie chatted on about her day at work.

"I'm sorry Kim. I must be boring you out of your skull." Julie finally said. Kim shook her head as she set her mug down on the coffee table.

"Not at all. It's nice to have some company. Especially tonight, you know." Kim said. Julie nodded. Something on the mantle caught her eye. Julie got up and went over to the fireplace. Using it as a stepping-stool she carefully retrieved a dusty snow globe from above. Julie polished it off a bit with her blouse and returned to her seat on the couch. She looked at the picture of Jack holding Kyle inside of the globe and tilted her head.

"This is a wonderful picture of them." Julie said with a warm smile. Her own fond memories of Jack and Kyle returned to her as she gently passed the snow globe over to Kim. Kim cupped the keepsake in her hands and rubbed the glass with her thumbs. She looked at the smiling face of her husband, and the silly way her son was blowing a kiss at her in the photo.

"Yes, it is a wonderful picture of my boys." Kim said. She looked up and Julie and smiled. "And it's exactly how I will always remember them."





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