There comes a time when every child must leave her father—when every student must leave her teacher. But what if that day comes too soon? What if they are torn apart and there is no method, no way, no chance for them to return to one another?
“You can be me when I’m gone.”
Dawn swept across the snowy fields, catching crystals in its wake as it turned white to pink and gold. It danced along the frigid air, shaking ice from glazed trees as falling flakes glittered in the light. The sky paled, purple clouds shifting colors as the winter sun shone dimly, revealing the cracked buildings and the beginnings of rising smoke that curled and snaked in the breeze. A lone crow called, its harsh cry echoing through the silent wood as the town murmured and nestled deeper beneath blankets and covers.
There was only one who was not asleep—who had never slept. A small figure stood beneath the icy branches of the trees. The girl’s coat swept the snow, her thin shoulders hunched over in a vain attempt to ward off the morning chill. Her flaking, cracked hands peeked out from beneath the long sleeves, carefully folded against one another as her masked face stared into the woods.
She didn’t move, didn’t speak. She could have been waiting there for hours, for minutes, for days. She could have just been another one of the trees in the forest. Wind whipped against her, sending shards of ice tinkling against her hat. Still she remained—a fixed feature in the winter landscape.
The crunch of footsteps suddenly made her turn her head, wide eyes staring into the forest. A dark figure emerged, his pale skin and bruised eyes hidden partially under a hat. His coat twisted in the wind, matching his stride as he walked through the snow.
She stepped forward—one foot, then the other. The man’s head jerked in her direction as she moved. He stopped in his tracks.
It was a simple word—a name. It broke the silence and echoed across the clearing. The man watched her for a moment longer, watched her like an owl watches a mouse. Then he turned away, something dark falling from his hands.
The girl remained still for a moment longer as his back receded into the distance, as he left her in the snow. Then she slowly followed, her footsteps coming quicker as she approached the dark object. Her frozen hands grasped it, fingers twining about the hard surface of an umbrella as she stooped and then rose again.
She watched as the man disappeared into the distance, leaving her clutching what was left of his humanity.
I have already died once—I’m living on borrowed time. I’ve realized that what is important isn’t what I’ve accomplished or even what I’ve gained—it’s those that I’ve taught and who have taught me, in kind.