A dark shape moved among the trees, nearly indistinguishable from ebony night. The wraith-figure stepped cautiously closer to the edge of the forest, glancing once up at the sky. The new moon teased the stars into shining but, despite their brightness, the could not remove the shadow that kept him hidden. He progressed with an almost sinuous grace, nauseating to watch, halting at last beneath the great pine near the house at the edge of the village. Searching each window with milky eyes, he found candlelight, the flame illuminating a young woman. He whispered her name, an exhalation of the longing of the universe. An agony of despair blazed within him. It nearly made him want to rip his heart out; but that would not cease the pain. Such things could kill him no longer. Immortality was not his, yet not a form any would envy.
What of his actions deserved this? Few memories remained of his transformation. The afternoon had been warm and summery as he strode through the forest towards her house. His hands had fiddled with the ring in his pocket; no one alive could have been as anxious as he.
Suddenly, there had come a shrieking cackle, the glimpse of a witch-hag’s face. Fire had blazed, leaving behind this wraith-body shivering on the ground. The witch had vanished, but her voice remained.
“Wish you to be human again? The curse will lift only if you kill she that you love. Unless you wish to live forever alone, for none will accept you now!”
The choice, however sickening, had seemed clear. Yet, now his heart screamed in denial. In stories, the hero could save himself and his love. Here, there was no such option.
A moan sounded, the embodiment of that one unanswerable question:
Dark storm-clouds reflected his despairing thoughts. A single flash rent a tall birch nearby. Lightning: that near-divine power, able to rip soul from body in defiance of immortality. The hairs at the back of his neck rose, warning of imminent proximity. He remained still.
“You say you love me,” his beloved had teased. “How will you prove it?”
She must never know.