As the sun came out, Marcus followed the sound. He had never heard the cry of the child with such clarity. He had grown used to the stillness of the forest. The quiet that had accompanied him through the trees had disappeared. They child’s cry disturb it. At every inflection, the leaves shook and fell off the branches. Its sound sent continuous chills through Marcus’ body. He tried to ignore them, but as soon as he had gotten used to them, the crying got louder and the chills returned as if they were a new sensation.

He didn’t want to focus on the sound. It hurt him to listen. He tried to keep his mind distracted as he walked toward it. His thoughts wandered to those of his daughter. He remembered how her smile warmed him and made the world disappeared. He thought of her eyes, so wide and bright. He was sure they were going to see so many things. He wished nothing but to see her smile again. To see her eyes again. Perhaps to sing her to sleep one last time.

He didn’t think of her cry. He didn’t want to. But with the child’s cry so close, could not keep his thoughts away. Fatima had shown him the child’s cry so many times before, and every time he had tried to not pay attention to it. He followed the volume of the noise as if it were a path, but didn’t listen to it.

As it grew closer, he shivered. His body grew cold. He clenched his hands into fists. His breath froze into vapor the instant it left his lips. His heart raced as his feet stopped moving. He closed his eyes and listened. He could not figure out what direction to take. The sound was around him. He could not ignore it anymore. He had arrived.

He searched in between the falling leaves for a child, but he could not find one. It seemed he was alone.

Marcus recalled how he talked to his daughter. He took a deep breath and sat down in between the leaves. He could not push the thought away anymore. The cry sounded deeper than his daughter’s cry.

“Hey, little one.” Marcus called. A face peeked through fallen branches. Tears ran down the cheeks of the child. Marcus looked at the child. His heart dropped. Looking through the branches were round, brown eyes just like his.

Not like hers.

He thought perhaps it was a trick of the light. He smiled at the child, “It’s ok. Come closer.” The crying turned into soft sobs. The child did not move. Its eyes were fixed on Marcus. “Come on,” he insisted, “do you want to play a game? Let’s play a game.”

Everything was still. Marcus questioned if he could get the child come out at all.

The leaves rattled. The child crawled out from under the blanket of branches. He stood up and took a wary step toward Marcus.

A lump formed in Marcus’ throat. The child was a little boy. Not so little as he looked as old as Avery would have been. Not so strange as he had brown hair and brown eyes, just like Marcus.

But it wasn’t his daughter. Marcus closed his eyes and tried to keep a smile on his face. He wasn’t going to let himself cry. “Come here, it’s ok.” He tried to comfort. The little boy stepped closer. “Come sit down with me.” Marcus didn’t want to look at the little boy. It made the realization hurt much more. He forced himself to watch as the child sat in front of him.

“Let’s play a clapping game. Do you like clapping?” Marcus tried to keep his voice from breaking. The little boy didn’t respond. He let his hands fall onto his laps and looked at the floor. He wouldn’t stop sobbing.

Marcus tapped his hand on his laps. He counted in his head as the taps turned into a rhythm. The sound drowned everything else out. His arms grew stiffer which each movement. He pushed harder on his muscles each time to simply get them to move.

The child wiped away his tears with his arm. He watched Marcus’ hands as they tapped on his legs. His sobbing grew quieter.

Tears weld up in Marcus’ eyes. He shook his head. He wasn’t going to allow himself to cry. He slowed down his claps and watched how the child’s eyes followed his movements. He stopped and breathed in sharply. He forced every thought of of his mind, but they were pushing their way back in.

Marcus tapped on his laps a short rhythm. He looked up at the child, “can you do it?” The child stared down as if ignoring the question. Marcus repeated the pattern. He closed his eyes and pushed the tears back.

The child tapped on his laps. Marcus opened his eyes. He tapped another pattern onto his laps and stopped. The child copied it. Marcus tapped faster. The child listened and copied. Marcus went faster. His arms burned at each movement. He gritted his teeth as his eyes turned red. The child’s sobbing got quieter.

Marcus’ throat burned. He squeezed his eyelids as he tapped. He didn’t wait for the child to copy it. He made up pattern after pattern hoping to forget, to let the sound take over, to have it take away his pain. The child repeated the pattern, his small hands tapping as rapidly as Marcus’. Bruises formed on Marcus’ legs. He hit on them harder and harder and the child copied. The two tapping sounds matched each other like an echo.

Marcus shook his head over and over but it was no use. His wife was dead. His daughter was dead. He could not save them. He could not bring them back.  He followed a cry that he knew was not his daughter’s hoping that he could find her again but here a child stood and it wasn’t her. Because she was gone.

The child stopped crying.

Marcus fell forward and screamed. He dug his fingers into the ground. His arms shivered. Tears ran down his eyes. He pounded the ground and cried.

He let every tear burn his skin. He let every breath stab his chest. He let all the thoughts he desperately wanted to block into his head. He was alone. They had left him behind. He had never felt so helpless.

The child tapped on his laps. Marcus looked up through his tears. The child’s eyes fell on him.

Marcus sat up and passed his hands through his eyes. He exhaled. Everything went quiet and the pain went away.

Marcus smiled at the child. “I heard you’ve been crying a lot.” He murmured, “Do you want to go to bed?”

The child shook his head.

“Do you,” Marcus started, “do you want to come with me?” The child nodded. He grabbed Marcus’ hand and pressed it against his chest. Marcus felt the child’s heartbeat grow steady. His small hands clasped on Marcus’ fingers. Marcus listened to the child’s breath, and then his own. He closed his eyes and felt as the two breaths grew into one.

Marcus’ hand grasped air. The child’s fingers faded into his. He gasped. He opened his eyes. The child was gone. Marcus smiled.

He stood up and gazed into the trees. The wind sang for him. Everything was at peace.

The End.

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