For years, Eleanor felt trapped; stuck in some sort of limbo that she didn’t understand. She tried, struggled, to find the light, but it would disappear before she could reach for it.
Death had been painful, but this seemed to be the true torture.
She was lost and alone, without her husband, son or father. She could only pray that they – and wee Princess Jade - hadn’t faced the same horrendous fate she did.
One day, after what felt like a lifetime, she was freed. Like she was a butterfly rising from its cocoon – and she had loved butterflies as a child – Eleanor could feel herself floating, higher and higher, until finally, she could touch that most holy of light.
The first person she saw, in this place, was her mother, with a sad, yet resigned look on her face. Hands on her hips, the woman who had passed when Eleanor was barely a woman herself, strode towards her.
Eleanor wasn’t sure what her mother would do, but was filled with an overwhelming sense of relief when she felt comforting arms wrap around and squeeze her tight. She’d been so alone, for so long, it brought tears to her eyes.
But at least, as far as she could see, the rest of her family – her father, her son, Irwin and Princess Jade – weren’t here.
That had to be something, didn’t it?
She just prayed Irwin managed to catch up with Jade and the baby; that the three of them were able to escape in the chaos of the stormy night, even with the monsters giving chase.
Mother pulled away, With a hesitant hand, she lifted a hand to Eleanor’s cheek. In return, Eleanor fell into a touch she had yearned for since her passing.
“My dear lass,” said her mother, sounding mournful. “So young, to be dealt such a harsh fate.”
Eleanor’s heart dipped, and she nodded in agreement. But she could not bring herself to regret the choices she’d made, or the actions she’d taken; not even a little.
“If it would save my son, then I would do it again,” she said, in assurance to both herself and the spirit in front of her.
Mother half-smiled at the sentiment.
“And that you did, my girl,” she replied. “There’s still life in your auld dad, too, I can see. He looks after the young Princess you grew so fond of, too.”
Eleanor was heartened to hear that they were safe.
But that still left-
“And what of Irwin?” she asked; almost disbelieving that, until he one day joined her, her last memory of the man she loved would be him staving off an army of monsters in a bid to keep their family safe.
She couldn’t imagine how he could’ve survived such an ordeal, but she had to believe he did.
Until her mother’s expression shifted, and Eleanor felt her stomach coil uncomfortably.
She knew, before her mother said it, that she was wrong.
“Your man hasn’t joined us here, in the after, if that’s what you’re asking,” admitted Mother, carefully. “But his heart stopped, just as surely as yours did.”
“Then what happened to him?” Eleanor asked, urgently, and all of a sudden weighed with guilt, at the fate of her dear husband.
Mother, too, continued to look saddened.
“He was a good lad, that Irwin,” she said, regretfully. “But I’m afraid he has spent the years since his passing, in despair, forced to relive that horrible day. And he will continue to.”
Eleanor stepped away from her mother, shaking her head furiously. She couldn’t quite bring herself to believe it. It was a harsh enough fate, that they both died on a day that should have been filled with such joy.
But that he would have to continue to face that day, alone?
Eleanor turned, from her mother, towards the endless stream of light. It didn’t bring her any answers, and she wondered, foolishly, why she might’ve believed it would.
“Let me go to him,” pleaded Eleanor, looking back to her mother. “He shouldn’t be alone. I’ll-“
“You are a Spirit, lass,” her mother replied, sternly. “Your Irwin would want you-“
“He’s my husband,” Eleanor argued, as if it was as simple as that.
In her mind, it was. There was nothing she would not do for her family – after all, she had given her life for her son’s safety. She would give nothing less than whatever part of her soul she had left, for Irwin’s peace too.
If he was dead, as she was, then so be it.
But she couldn’t bear the thought of him, on his own, and in the dark. To think he’d been suffering, forced to revisit those painful memories, for so much longer, grieved her heart further.
Mother made a humming noise, as though she was debating it.
“You’re as stubborn as your dad, you know that?”
“That’s funny,” Eleanor noted, with a half-smile, at the remark. “He always said I got that from your side of the family.”
And despite the horrendous circumstances they found themselves under, her mother laughed. It was a sound Eleanor thought she might’ve forgotten, in the passage of time, though she’d tried to hold onto the memories of her mother for so long, after she’d gone.
There was so much about the woman in front of her that she longed to know again; so much that, if she took the chance now, they could catch up on, and share. So much that had been unsaid, and forgotten.
But on the other side of that light-
“It’s been sixteen years since that day in Dundrasil,” her mum explained. Eleanor was stunned, but before she could say anything, her mother continued, “Your boy is beginning to grow into quite the man. One day, soon, he might be able to bring peace to your Irwin’s mind; if only he’s given the proper push.”
To hear that her son had been given a chance to grow made Eleanor smile. To think that he might be able to save his father from a horrendous fate only served to let the hope in her heart grow.
“But until that day?” Eleanor wondered. “Am I simply to let Irwin go, when he needs me most?”
Her mother’s expression shifted again, to the one she wore when Eleanor had first laid eyes on her, in this world. Her mother reached up, and tucked a strand of stray hair behind Eleanor’s ear, before placing a gentle kiss on her forehead.
“Go to him, my girl,” she said, quietly. “Your voice may not reach him, in this darkness, but your love most certainly will. And one day, your boy will set him free.”
There was so much Eleanor still wished to ask, but she put it to the back of her mind, for now. Her boy, their son, was safe. That was knowledge enough, for now. Soon, Irwin would be freed from whatever horror had visited him when he died, and they would be together forever.
When they were able to walk into the afterlife, hand-in-hand, they would find the long-awaited answers to their questions.
What mattered most to Eleanor now, as she took one last look at her mother, and then to the light in front of her, was that they found those answers together.