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SPIRIT OF THE SAKURA TREE - 2nd Prize Winner (Group III: 13-15 years)

April, 2016
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SPIRIT OF THE SAKURA TREE

She was already dead. Yuuki Miyamoto had to keep reminding herself, over and over again, like a chant. To him, she no longer existed. She was no more than a spirit now, who was forever bound to the Sakura tree that stood isolated and lonely at the top of a small hill near their village. Numerous times, Yuuki would sit down on the soft grass, lean against the thick trunk, and think over and over again, if only I had not died. The wind would whisper into her ear, like a response; sadly, softly, “but you had. What if you didn’t die? Would everything be different?” Yes! She wanted to shout each time. Everything would be different if I had not died! But her words would get stuck in her throat as the wind ripped violently through her transparent body. Then, more than wishing she had not died, she would wish he did not need to see her die.

She remembered clearly, like her reflection on water, how her health was deteriorating, how she grew weaker as the seasons changed, and how he would always come, day after day, without fail. His name was Kaito Tsukino, a playful, carefree boy that lived a few houses down, the only person that she had loved so dearly and the only person who loved her just as much. They would have been together forever, if she had not died. They met when they were eight, fell in love when they were twelve, and she fell sick when she was fourteen. Yuuki smiled lightly as she remembered how they would always meet at this very tree everyday after school, sitting together, watching the sunset. Wanting just a moment longer with each other. But still, the days went by without a care in the world.

Only about two weeks after her sixteenth birthday, Yuuki became so ill she could barely stand up. She skipped school. She never left her room, not to mention the house. She coughed up blood. She grew paler and paler, skinnier and skinnier. She looked like a living skeleton, so horrifying and grotesque that she ordered her parents to take away everything that could act as a mirror from her room. But Kaito would always come. He did not look forlorn or disgusted when he looked at her. His eyes glinted and sparkled as he gazed at her as if she was the most beautiful person alive, his laugh would echo around the room like bells. She loved him, so, so much. That was why she eventually forbid him to enter her room. She could not bear imagining what it was like for Kaito to see her vanish before his very eyes. She couldn’t bear to make him smile in front of her. Despite this, he still came every day, again and again, without failing once.

            “Yuuki!” He would call behind the closed door as a greeting, slump down on the floor, get comfortable, and then narrated the day’s event. He told it in such an interesting way, giving such detail, she could practically picture it. She did not feel like she missed anything, as long as he would tell her everything that happened at the end of the day.

            Then one day, he came again, lacking his usual enthusiasm. She heard him slump against the door again, but he stayed strangely silent.

            “Kaito?” She whispered.

            “Yuuki,” he replied with a soft sigh. “I miss you.” Tears pooled in her eyes, her heart wrenched, and she buried her face in her hands with a muffled sob.

            “Me too.” She whimpered quietly.

            “Can I come in?” Kaito asked, his voice shaking a little—just a little.

            “No.” She heard him laugh softly at that. They became silent, and Yuuki became restless.

            “I want to go to the Sakura tree. Will you go with me tomorrow before sunset?” She asked and she heard him shift against the door.

            “You can barely walk.” He stated.

            “I’ll be fine.” She answered, her tone definite.

            “You’ll kill yourself.” He continued arguing, shifting again and his voice became louder. Yuuki became silent at this. He was right, she knew. But she felt like she had to. She felt as if she would die not seeing him again if she didn’t do this.

            “Please.” She whispered, and he went silent. It seemed like hours before he responded with a simple and broken, “okay.” She heard him stand up and leave.

The next day, an hour and a half before sunset, she wore her Sakura-patterned yukata, the one she always wore to festivals. She tied her long, dark hair up in a neat bun, put on slight makeup just to add life to her otherwise sickly complexion and snuck out without her parents knowing. She had to lean against the walls of the many houses to steady herself each time she took a step forward. By the time she reached the tree, she was already panting heavily and sweating. She leaned against the tree and sat down slowly, trying to catch her breath. The sun slowly started disappearing behind the hills, the sky painted azure, violet, orange and scarlet. Where is he? She wondered as she gazed at the clouds, he’s late.

She jolted upright, catching herself falling asleep. How long has it been? The sun was already gone, only it’s soft, orange rays could be vaguely seen above the hilltops. The sky had turned midnight blue and the stars shone brightly, the moon illuminating the pink blossoms of the tree in eerie beauty. Kaito, she panicked. Is Kaito still not here? Her breathing became shallow as her heart churned in fear and loneliness. She tried to stand up, but her feet became limp and she started coughing, coughing so hard she coughed up blood, her esophagus burning.

            “Yuuki!” She vaguely heard a voice; a familiar voice. A warm hand held her shoulders, steadying her weak body. “I’m sorry I’m late. I-I had so much to do at school. Oh god, please don’t sleep.” He held her close, so close she could smell his familiar scent, a strange mix of mint, cinnamon and something else that was so distinctly his.

            “Please open your eyes. Look me. Look at me, I said! Don’t sleep, don’t you dare sleep.” He carried her in his arms, rushing down the hill into the town where they grew up, taking her to their clinic. Soon, she could only hear the repeated cries of her name, and then nothing.

Yuuki Miyamoto died that spring when she was sixteen.

When Yuuki opened her eyes again, she was under the Sakura tree, and when she lifted her hands up, they were almost transparent. The tree had saved her spirit, she could feel it, as it swayed in the wind gently, but that was all. She could not grasp anything, no one could hear her, and no one could see her. She could not leave, or she would disappear momentarily and reappear at the same place again.

She knew she was dead.

Kaito, for a while, came to the tree everyday, stroking the trunk with the most pained expression as he just stared, for hours straight, before leaving. He always thought, again and again, what if he made it on time that day? What if he stopped her from coming? The hole in his heart dug by his numerous regrets made it heavy and his breathing shallow.

Yuuki would sit next to him when he sat, and she would lean against his shoulder, knowing he would never know. For a while, that was how she spent her time. Time was different for her now; she would never age, never disappear. Every day, she would laze around, lying on the grass, singing with birds, waiting for the time when Kaito would arrive, and then she would not be lonely anymore. For a while, that was how it was. Then suddenly, Kaito stopped coming. There was no goodbye, no warning; he just stopped coming.

            Now, almost ten years later, Yuuki, still looking as she had when she died, sat on the branches of the tree and stared into the horizon. If she had not died, she would be twenty-six. A soft breeze blew, and Yuuki listened intently.

            “He is getting married.” The wind sang, “Kaito Tsukino will be getting married.” Yuuki froze, her eyes growing wide.

            “Are you sure?” She whispered to the wind, as they blew past hurriedly.

            “Oh yes,” they replied with certainty. “We heard it ourselves.” They left, and she became devastated.

            “Why hadn’t he come to tell me?” She cried. “How could he?” The tree swayed gently, in attempt to calm her. “To fall in love with another woman,” she gripped the branches with all her might in growing anger. “What kind of unfaithfulness is this? If I had not died, I would have been the one getting married with him!”

            “Hush child,” the tree murmured. “You are already dead.”

            “But if I hadn’t—”

            “But you are, child.” The tree said again. “You cannot bind him to a mere memory.” Yuuki, being stubborn, refused to listen to reason.

            “I will curse him if he does not come to at least tell me.” She said with finality, and that was that.

            For days and weeks, Yuuki waited for him to come. But he never did, and the wind sang again.

            It was already their wedding day.

            “I will curse him and his bride.” Yuuki mumbled on a branch, eyes dull with hate. “I have been blind to love a man who forgets so easily.” Then, in the distance, Yuuki heard the sound of laughter and footsteps getting louder and louder. Turning to look, she saw a crowd of people dressed in formal kimonos, and in the center was the groom and bride. Panicking, Yuuki lost her balance and fell onto the ground, hastily scurrying behind the tree and back up. But that was stupid—they would not be able to see her anyways. The crowd stopped in front of the tree, chatter and laughter echoing the usual quiet hill.

            The bride, a beautiful and elegant young lady dressed in a white kimono, took Kaito’s arm affectionately. “Dear, why did you want us to come here?”

            “Because,” Kaito gazed up at the tree, “this place makes me most at ease.” He took a few steps forward, leaning his forehead against the tree.

            “Yuuki,” he whispered softly so the others couldn’t hear, but she could hear it clearly, as she gazed at him. “Are you doing well? I’m sorry I haven’t visited in such a long time.” He paused. “I wanted you to be present when I get married. I-I want you to know that I moved on, I found happiness.” His throat went dry. “Will you forgive me?” A soft, sad smile danced on her lips as he joined the others again. She watched as they started the wedding ceremony, their fates tied with marriage. If she had not died, she would have been the bride. If she had not died, she would be the one to give him such a blissful expression. But she cannot undo what was already done; she had died, died in his arms, and that was enough. He loved her, and she loved him. So if he is happy, then so is she. Yuuki patted the tree gently, whispering a goodbye, as she jumped off with the disguise of the wind and the Sakuras, down to where Kaito stood.

            “I love you,” she whispered in his ear, “Goodbye.” She slowly disappeared into the sky full of pink petals; she had no more reason to stay. She understood now, why the tree wanted her to stay.

            Kaito heard and smiled, sorrowful and joyful all at the same time. “Thank you.” He called as the wind swept through the hill, scattering the blossoms all around like a pink paradise.

            If he is happy, then so is she.

 

By Kamilah Wong,

15 years, Shanghai Community International School

Kamilar is the 2nd Prize Winner in Group III (13-15 years) of 2015-2016 LittleStar Short Story Competition “IF”

   

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