Captivated with Echo, he grew, he grew. Closer and closer to pristine eyes, dancing and swaying like the air that so froze, trembling and glittering, for nothing glitters without movement.
"Stay here with me," he whispered.
"…With me," he knew she'd whisper back. And his hands, pressed to her head, would feel for a denying shake, refuting the words she just said, the only way he could possibly know, for her words - beautiful, treasured, needed – were only repetitions, an endless dance to an endless song.
"Echo…" He'd say. His hands were laid across her face.
"Echo…" She'd repeat, look at him, look deeply into him, and in the slightest of movements, nod. Nod slightly, nod silently, nod sincerely. Winter tilted and slid down her hair with her silence and with her recognition, with her sincerity and her depth, sinking into it. Yes… The world seemed to scream. 'Yes' filled the silence with a single gesture.
His hand clasped her own, locked and silent, strong and without mandatory imitation, soundly waiting.
The gesture, frozen in the cold, was returned.
"Crows are more intelligent than you might believe," He said, and his laugh spilled over the land as spring grew into a beautiful, young maiden, the pride of all the yearly displays. His footsteps were mirrored by a creature of equal radiance, but of one that would never surpass, because perhaps she thought of it as just another imitation, another truthless exchange as her words tumbled without forethought into the blossoming color, "… You might believe."
"… I mean it!" He laughed, and watched as she held her tongue, waiting for him to elaborate. A light danced from deep within his eyes. "They imitate those who speak to them. With enough time, and words, and practice…" He turned, and their walking ceased. The woods towered like soldiers before a fall, and the wind, firing like bullets, absconded her dress, letting it fall limply to her sides. "Simple words stay in their memory, even after they leave."
"… In their memory," Echo's stomach ached with a sudden cold, hands tied by their own sudden clumsiness, clutching the blanch fabric as if needing stability. "… Even after they leave."
His hand tried to grasp hers again, but it was wrapped in the fabric about her waist, holding in her hopes, her reveries, and her heart. "You fear my absence?"
"Fear my absence…" She repeated, and the words were choked and stained and horrifying, eyes painted green by spring, but little else, the colors around her a mere reflection, a mirror, an echo. Words that were too chilling to repeat.
"Never fear…" His lungs released a laugh, letting it stifle slightly, filling his mouth and brimming his lips, but staying far from mockery. "Parting will never become our company. Speak softly, speak clearly, coerce them as you would a child – " His hand trailed to the birds, their feathers ruffling as they shifted on the tree limbs, masqueraded by the growing presence of green. "They see all, Echo. And possess the ability to speak."
She nodded, his hand pressed against her face, feeling her gesture of understanding, "Possess the ability to –"
And he kissed her.
Afternoons in the forest, summer falling into memory. Their voices echoed over the flowers, around the trees, over the hills. Mornings were sometimes cooled by the ephemeral breath of fog, painting them like angels on a pallet of white and gray. Their repetition was eternal and with meaning. The world was spinning so slowly that it was hard to believe in its existence, a story spun in endless envisioning and redundance.
He closed the book that was on his lap, letting its leather binding slip into the grass.
"An endless cycle of stories and ideas, constant retellings…" He whispered, her head resting on his lap, a light haze of sleep falling over her, brushing her skin.
"Do the muses ever grow lonely of their ideas? Are they their only company?"
Only a slight movement of her lips now, a dream burning the edges of her mind. "Their only company."
A smile crossed his lips as a leaf fell over her ankle, crisp and dark, red and tired. "Summer, I believe…" He sighed a heartfelt breath, listening to its resonance. "It's nearing its end."
"I believe it's nearing its end."
Gone now. Gone, gone gone gone. Where are you? Gone. Gone is not an Echo. But he is gone. Frantically gone as her hands search the leaves, departed. The pillars in the sky are made of cemetery rock, clouds gathered into brilliant, Corinthian columns. In a single gust of wind, they are gone.
Echo can not scream.
Where! – she wants to cry. Tell me! – the words will try to escape, echoing within her throat. Speak! – no words, and endless silence, for she will never be the first in conversation.
The crow ruffled its feathers from its branch, her eyes staring deeply into its own, skidding their gaze from eye to eye, left to right, again and again, resonating like silence, like sound.
The crow cried a harsh, grating note.
The bird flew away.
Her tears are silent, the woods bows with every shade of wind, painting themselves at the appropriate angle. Black specks join between them, chattering and flapping their wings. Their words, their emptiness, their silence, are repeated. Echo begs for a word to resonate, a word to illuminate the quietude, but her lips only part, vocal chords aching, and release a terrible, hoarse creak, loud sometimes, like a shriek in pain.
A word fell across her ears.
Her eyes widened, for the word would be hers in a moment, and she had to repeat it even if she was not condemned to, lips trembling, needing to prove its existence.
The word tumbled from her mouth.
Her hands slapped it closed.
All echoes tumble through the woods and disappear, slamming into the bark of every tree. Echoes dissipate when beneath the water, plunging beneath its surface, a silence like no other. Echoes evaporate like drying rain, a repetition that never fades. Echoes will repeat themselves again and again, like love, like birth, like death.
The bird shrieks as it flies away, and she shrieks too, vocal chords cracking, feet tumbling forward, tearing her dress with the need to go faster, stepping on the hem and shredding it off, a sound like a crow cawing. Follow… She heard once, and the sound echoed on. The bird screamed and so did she, so loud that her vocal chords cracked in imitation. Onward, daylight waits for no one. Onward she poured through the woods, thorns tearing her, arms striped with angry, heated marks. Onward, each foot imitating its former movement; time was crawling by, lending its speed to a dame who could run no longer, but must, but must, but must.
And run she did, faster than sound; Echo colliding with trees, scratching herself against the bark, vines rasping about her ankles; hair catching on prickers, strands catching as if needing escape from this madness – enduring everything, suffering nothing to stand in her path, suffering everything still somehow, tugging herself through the darkness.
No more echoes through the woods.
The bird was gone.
A river, shrieking in a way that birds could not, raged on in its wordless domination.
And the bank felt softer than down as she crawled closer, letting her hands sink into the faint traces of silt, the intangibility of it, the coolness of it against her cuts, letting it slow everything, telestic now. Words lost all meaning. She knew their departure in these moments, knew it like she knew repetition, and she would have said good-bye if valedictions had not left too, every last one.
Her hand struck something with a shape. Familiarity.
It would clasp her hand, and she would clasp back.
And it was soft with the domination of the river.
Silence speaks loudest and tosses words into repetition with challenge. The river sang a winding song through the forest but she did not harmonize, her lover carried away in its waves, tucked into its eternal softness, its conquering silence.
It cooled the agony in her throat, the resonation of a life lost, and the silence where no sound may be. The fire in her lungs was extinguished, the shrieks of the crows far away, fading into the distance, skidding off the surface of the river, choked and broken. Repeating, repeating... Endlessly listening to her voice die, watching it float to the surface in globes of oxygen;
For no echo can survive underwater.