In his head the song repeats over and over. Seven voices soft and strong; hopeful and dejected; yearning and crying for the horizon. They redouble again and again as he forces the chills from his frame with a deep breath. He shakes his head as he squints against the light. It is so resolute in its intrusion into his dull fortress. It tempts and banishes all at once. He yields to its influence. He departs the smiling faces, knowing they will follow him wherever he goes.
He is running now. His footsteps are the charge of a cavalry line. His breath the northeastern gale. Muscles scream and strain as he unshackles them from rust. It is has been a long winter and he has ached for this moment.
He bursts into the light, raising his hand against the swath of gold. It hits him then.
It announces the warmth's arrival in a way he never could. His motions are tame, reserved, filled with trepidation. It is boisterous. Indomitable. Immortal. His bare feet needle with every step over rock riddled grass. He bats back branches, still brittle from the cold, as he plows into the forest.
He can’t remember having ran so fast before. The song is louder now, the words no more understandable, but so much more powerful. Its call makes the grass glistens like emeralds. The budding trees are dotted with citrine and peridot and the wind morphs into a symphony, accenting and bolstered every note until the chorus roars with all the intensity of the newly resurgent nature.
He catches sight of a dervish of sand. No! Not Sand! The hide of a deer. There were three of them crashing through the underbrush with temerity born of bliss and relief.
It’s finally here!
He lengthens his gait, striving to catch them, uncaring that he never will. He leaps. With crystalline waters below, the sun wreaths all around him. He lands, stumbles and regains his stride. The deer are already gone, though. And still he runs.
A glint of phosphorus from the corner of his eye. He looks it’s way, fighting against the incandescent flare. A girl, with short, luscious hair the color of espresso, fair skin and a mole just below the left corner of her mouth carves through the trees. She’s running with every bit the same intensity he is.
Maybe even more.
Her legs are churning beneath her kimono, frayed and stained ochre at the hem from her flight.
Was it a flight?
He might have thought so given her pace, but her expression was utterly serene. She seemed at home even as the sleeves of her formal garb trailed like a comet’s wake.
His breath was pounding in his ears now, forming a hypnotic bassline to the already compelling song. The trees were thick as ever and, despite his best efforts, he was losing ground on her. If she noticed his presence she didn’t care. She kept the same unnerving path, aiming for a sun-ripe clearing at the edge of his vision.
It loomed closer and closer, but she pulled farther and farther ahead. She had already broken the trees, emerging into higher grasses which crested in the breeze.
It was not biting like it had once been. Instead it was crisp and intent. It carried warmth. It enlivened and restored. He felt it wash over the exposed skin of his arms. It soothed and incited him. He surged forward, also entering the glade. The trees were tall on all sides, but their leafless boughs could not hold court against the cloudless sapphire above.
She was nearly gone now. She seemed a mile away. He came to a stop, finally admitting defeat.
A flash of recognition. A stroke of disbelief. He hardly knew how to describe the moments that followed. He did not known from where it had taken seed, but a single word passed his lips.
The girl was no longer running. She was soaring. She arced towards the canopy, always gaining elevation and speed. He simply stared, unable to summon another word, let alone draw breath. Even the sweat coating his skin was still as she was reduced to a speck in the sky.
And then she was gone. Finally he breathed, inhaling the burgeoning fecundity. There was no one else within the woods, but the chorus of seven and the faces of nine echoed ad infinitum within his mind.
He would never be alone. They had been with him in the dead of winter and they were certainly with him now. If they’d endured the snow and frost they would thrive in the bosom of nature unrestrained. This was just one of many to come, but on this, the first spring day, he felt more alive than ever before.