By Chell (Phaesri)

Hope has had quite enough. Even if she isn’t ‘human’, there is only so much pain and sadness her heart can heal. It would make her job that much easier if everyone were to rely not so heavily upon her.

Well, today her job has exceeded her heart. She is quite finished with it all. What she needs now is solitude and an eternity of rest, and the cave before her seems as promising a place as any.

As soon as her muddied feet walk into the mouth of the damp cave, water spraying with each step, she spots a dishevelled figure lying in the corner of the shadows. Not another one, Hope sighs heavily. She turns to retreat.

“No wait! Please?” she hears a soft voice cry out. Hope ignores it, and prepares herself to face the raging sea once more.

“Please! No harm will come to you, I give you my word!” His voice assaults her ears, invading them. Unbidden.

Hope shakes her head, the only gesture she can manage. She simply could not deal with this today. Not again.

“Please… talk to me…”

Hope jumps, her hand flying to comfort her pounding heart. She did not expect the boy to be so close. And still, she refused to face the stranger.

“I’m just so…lonely.”

Her eyes close, regretful. Sighing, Hope looks to the ocean. She glances at the shadow of the boy behind her, so faint that she can barely see it. Another sigh. She finally turns to face him, but avoids his eyes.

“Oh, thank you! Thank you!”

Hope nods, allowing a small smile. This poor boy… he is so pathetic, it is pitiful.

“It’s been so long since I last spoke to someone,” he continues. “I’ve nearly forgotten who I last conversed with…” He seems to drift into thought, giving Hope nothing better other than a chance to study him.

His hair, unsurprisingly, shoots out in every direction, as though reaching out for an answer. The light catches on what she assumes to be grease, causing his hair to emanate a dull shine. She dared not stray towards his small frame. His face is as bare as the desert plains, a sorrowful sight. His clothes are in tatters, barely able to keep in the much-needed warmth. His feet are left shoeless.

Although not a joyous sight to see, Hope judges his face to be at least somewhat of an honest one.

“So… tell me a bit about yourself,” the boy says. “If you don’t mind, that is.”

The child’s awkwardness amuses her so, his innocence is simply so refreshing. A small chuckle creeps out of Hope. He smiles back, without missing a beat, though Hope can see the confusion in his eyes.

“Ah, but please take a seat!” His scrawny limbs gesture to a rock jutting from beneath the cave floor. There are no other rocks like it, in that small room. “I’m sorry, for making you stand like that for so long.” He gestures to the rock once more. “Please?” Hope does not miss the slight tremor to his voice.

She sits, smoothing her dress into an acceptable formation. Afterall, creases are unbecoming.

“Do you like tea?” he asks, a cheerful smile already overtaking his face. “It’s a shame that I have none to give…” He laughs, a rather mournful sound. A strange wetness creeps into Hope’s eyes. She wipes it away.

“But I have found that the few mice who live here are somewhat edible. Albeit, a tad chewy…” A small laugh. “Anyway, enough about me. How about you? What do you like to eat? What are your dreams? Any future goals? As for me, I’d love to one day participate in the grandest of running races. I’m sure I’ll be able to place first!” His mouth turns brightly upwards, and as Hope quickly glances at his mismatched eyes, she notices a hazy film begin to envelope them.

His laugh is bittersweet. “Ah, but it’s not as though that will ever happen. But it sure is fun to imagine these things, don’t you agree?”

Hope smiles softly.

He beams back, a full-on toothy grin. “Hold on a moment, if you don’t mind. I’ll be right back!”

She watches as he bounds deeper into the cave, his scrawny limbs jutting every which way. Not a moment too soon, he reappears with a large shell grasped tightly in one hand. It shines so brightly, Hope thinks, as though it had been polished lovingly to within an inch of its life.

The boy holds the shell out to Hope, the grime from his hands already dirtying it. His cheeks blush, and his eyes dart with no clear direction as he hands it to her. “Please, take it. I want you to have it.”

She shakes her head. His smile falters.

“Please, if you don’t, no one else will…”

She watches him. His face so dirty but sure, his jawline so soft, yet strong. The way his untrimmed hair falls so freely, the way his eyes seem to absorb anything he is told, so big and round. So honest. So pure. Hope can’t help but accept his precious gift, the uncertainty now longer within her. The grin that radiates from his small face melts her heart, the roar of the ocean behind her growing stronger.

The boy’s face pales, but his smile remains. He coughs once. Crimson explodes onto Hope’s dress. His eyes widen as he looks up at her, just before he starts to rock backwards. Hope races to catch him, his treasured shell still held so tightly within her grip.

“Sorry,” he coughs. More blood. “It seems as though… our conversation… might have to be… cut.. short…” The words come out too hurried, too breathless, as blood continues to drip down his chin.

Hope shakes her head frantically, pulling the boy into her bosom, as she roughly strokes his tangled hair.  She rocks him with urgency, her movements choppy and shaky, unsure. Unpracticed. Quiet tears stream down her face.

“Thank you,” he murmurs. And no more follows. His last words. His last gift to her. And the waves submerge Hope’s heart.