They walked hand in hand through the tall grass, the blades bending beneath their footsteps with papery sighs. The sun was setting in the distance, over the tops of the mountains which hemmed the valley in shadows. The air hung heavy with the last of the day’s warmth, full of the slow song of crickets and the few birds yet to escape the impending winter.
Gwen smiled at her fiancé, her face alight with the fire of the evening sky. They knew that they should head back, that the night threatened to overtake them before they could return to the house. But it was their last night in the mountains before they went back to real life, and the air felt full of magic. Perhaps their wishing would be enough to delay the passage of time.
They came to a bare spot of earth at the edge of the property, which was marked by a low wood-and-wire fence. In the distance, the field gave way to golden aspen trees, dark and towering pines, and the hidden creatures that lived therein. A stream wound around the edge of the field, adding its comforting babble to the night music.
“Is this where you buried them?” she asked.
Marcus nodded. They leaned against the wooden fenceposts, lost in the evening’s aria.
Gwen felt that she knew him more deeply than ever before, seeing him in the place where he grew up. His eyes shone bright here with a child-like promise. He had shown her his old room, the places he used to play, the trees where he had carved his initials (and one where he had carved the word ‘boobs,’ which he was completely mortified by but she found hysterically funny).
He had told her about his family, about how he and his sisters used to make drawbridges over the stream and play castle. About the summer tradition of picking raspberries on the mountainside, a day-long excursion that started with a hunt for the perfect bush and ended in raspberry pie. About his father, who died shortly after they left the mountains and moved to the city, leaving his mom to finish raising them on her own. He told her wordlessly that this was the last place he had ever known simple happiness which was not tinged with sorrow.
“I used to call it my graveyard,” Marcus said, picking at a loose splinter in the wood of the fence. “It was a weird kid thing, like a ritual, I guess. I thought if I buried them, it would give them power or something. It’s stupid, I know.”
“No,” she replied, reaching for his hand. “It’s perfect. How does it work?”
He glanced at her sheepishly. It was a weird feeling, revealing something like this, even to someone who knew him as intimately as Gwen did.
“You pick one from the stream and you give it a wish. Then you wrap it in a long blade of grass and bury it, so it can grow.”
She smiled at the innocence of it, at how much she loved his childhood mind.
“Can we try it?” she asked. He looked at her, expecting her to laugh.
“Yeah, why not?”
“I guess,” he said. They climbed the fence and he led her through the dusk down a small, worn path to the stream.
The water shone and bubbled as it raced along the stones of the streambed. Its bank was tall, but the water level was low, so they had to clamber down to get to the mountain-cold stream. She reached in with a shiver and selected a small gray stone, worn smooth over the years by the unrelenting current. Marcus found a black one, big as his palm and flecked with silver and gold.
In the last hues of daylight, the stones seemed to glow, their wet surfaces reflecting the brilliant colors of the sky. Gwen realized that he was right to think once that the stones in this stream were enchanted; she could barely force herself to look away.
“What now?” she asked, glancing at his reflection in the stream. Somewhere in the distance, a coyote cried. The haunting sound echoed through the valley, but she was not afraid.
“Now we give them a wish.” Marcus took his stone and cupped it in his hands. His fingers still dripped with shimmering beads of water that held the sky within them. Bringing his hands to his lips, he whispered something over the stone, too quietly for Gwen to hear.
With a small smile, she followed suit, murmuring her wish into her palms, covering her stone with it, emptying herself of it until she felt she had given it life. When she was done, they stood and went back, clambering over the fence and into the graveyard. They plucked two long blades of grass and sat with legs crossed on the cold earth.
They wrapped the stones in silence. To speak would be to break the spell of the evening, of the wishes, of the imminent stars.
His stone wrapped, Marcus began to dig into the earth with his fingers, gently piling the soil near a fencepost. She watched him work, wondering if she ought to join him, but thought better of it. This ritual was his, this field, this world of sky and stones and clear mountain water. They all belonged to him. She was just a visitor, and welcome as she may be, she had no claim to anything but him.
He dug until the last of the sun vanished behind the distant mountains. The sky deepened with hues of blue and the birdsong faded away. He kept digging, and exhaled sharply as he scraped his fingers on the stones of his childhood longings. She watched as small drops of blood fell onto the stones and mingled with the dirt. With them fell a few tears, but she said nothing. It was not the time for words.
They placed their stones into the graveyard and she helped him cover them up with soil. When the deed was done, they sat wordlessly and watched as the sky filled with moonlight.
Marcus leaned over and kissed Gwen’s cheek, a gesture filled with unspoken gratitude. He took her hand and they walked back to the house, the tall grass clinging to them like long-forgotten wishes.
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I love how this piece is romantic, but not necessarily a romance. It's beautiful, with an unspoken depth to the plot here. I love their quiet relationship, and can see how they ground one another with just their presence rather than their words. This piece is exquisitely descriptive as usual; you have such a magical way with crafting sentences. Always look forward to reading your work. :)
Thanks for your comment, Lina! I appreciate the thoughtful read :)
I may not have read the sequel to this prequel, but it stands on its own very well. It's beautifully written, the tone is serene while also a bit unnerving. There's something ominous flowing through in the underneath: it may be there really is magic, or it may just be because it's nighttime. But I like it. I also like the ode to childhood, nostalgia, vulnerability, letting someone prod at the very depths of your embarrassments. So very realistic and so very difficult for humans to allow! I have but one suggestion, to make these lines run...
Thank you so much for your comment, I’m so glad you hear you enjoyed this story! And thank you for pointing that out, I’ll go back and fix it right now!
Really enjoyed this, even though I didn't read the story it's a prequel to. Apart from being extremely clean and specific, it has a beautiful tone, sort of wistful. Good work.
This is a lovely story, I really enjoyed reading it! Thanks for sharing!
Wow, I love this! You'll get no critique from me sorry 'bout that! ;) I love the first and last sentence, they're perfect. 'They walked hand in hand through the tall grass, enjoying the papery sighs of the blades bending to accommodate their footsteps.' You must teach me! This is a beautiful, heartwarming story about a couple who is not yet married, and- this is so cute! Ohmigosh, you really need to teach me how to write in the romance genre, as I am decent at it, but not really. (if you check out my story 'Treehouse Confession...
Hi Raquel, thank you so much for your comment! In all honesty I’m not a huge fan of romance and I tend to shy away from writing it so I don’t know that I’m the best person to ask for tips. I’d be happy to check out your work, though! 😊
There are definitely a lot of other things that you're good at, like figurative language. My brain could never think that hard, lol. You're really good at romance, and I loved every part of the story :) Thank you, but you'll see why I don't really write in the romance genre XD
Aww you’re too kind! Just left a comment on your story, let me know if it helps/makes sense!
Thank you, and I responded! :)
A brief prequel to "Desert Sage" because I had extra time this weekend. Critique away!
Great suggestion, you must be proud of this one and you have every right to be. I am working on a novel that will probably never get done but when I am describing a place or a building I try to google something to look at as I write. I just don't have the ability to see things in my head as much as I wish I could. That was a long winded introduction to me complimenting you on your descriptions of the scene. It felt as if I was there it was so vivid. I don't know if you have to do research or look at pictures or just have a fantastic ima...
The scene is based on memories, specifically of the land around my grandparents house when I was growing up. What a cool idea to write while looking at a picture, I haven’t tried that before, but I’m intrigued. Can’t to read yours 😊