Short Story Contest # 177 Theme: "Afterlife" courtesy of @Spencer Rose Congratulations @Spencer Rose for your second medal with a sweet story, Sweet Knight. _____________________________________________ Sweet Knight [1084 words] She's three years old when I meet her. Melody. Like her name, her laughter is a song to my ears. Whatever my life was before this moment is a blurry haze; she's my whole world. Her mother hands me off to her and I'm wrapped in the warm embrace of a child, overwhelmed with feelings of love. I am hers. We go on hundreds of adventures together. In her bedroom she is my queen, and I but a humble knight. I defend her from legions of Barbie dolls and stuffed creatures while she rules atop her frilly bed. The reward for my bravery and loyalty? Her arms around me while she slips away into dreamland. I cannot follow her on those adventures, but I defend her while she sleeps. When the night terrors shake her and she awakes crying, I am there to dry her tears. My Melody. When she is six years old her mother comes home with a puppy. A yappy, furry little creature with wicked teeth. In a moment his jaws are around me, and with brutish force he rips my arm clean off, running off to savor his victory. Yet there is Melody. Like a goddess of rage and retribution she seizes up the hellish beast and retrieves my limb, scolding the little creature all the while. The monster retreats, defeated. "My poor, sweet knight." She takes me in her arms, holding me close. I cringe as she brings out a needle and thread, but I trust her entirely. "This might hurt, but I promise it'll make you better." Her word is true. The pain is nigh unbearable, but she attaches my arm quickly--as best she can--and lays me in her bed. "You rest up now." She calls, closing the door, "We'll play tomorrow." And we do. She makes a sling for my arm while it "heals". She disassembles the couch and builds us an elaborate fortress with cushions and sheets. Though it's early afternoon, we close the curtains and watch cartoons all day long at our own private theatre. Melody feeds me popcorn the whole time and the butter stains my fur yellow. I've never been so happy. She is twelve. I can hear her arguing with her mother from the dark of her bedroom. She storms in the room, slamming the door behind her. "I am NOT TOO OLD!" she cries. I can hear the tears in her eyes before she collapses on the bed. "Oh sweet knight." We hold one another on the dark for a long time, our mutual silence a language of love and understanding. "I'm not too old for you. I'm not." She whispers, "I'm not." I can only hope she's right. She's eighteen. For years now I've sat on a shelf, watching her. I've seen her laugh with her friends, cry over boys, stay up too late watching television and eating ice cream. My little Melody. Only she's not so little anymore. Every now and again she comes to me. My heart races when I see her eyes light up, her mouth twitching into a smile. "Hey you." Her voice is music to my ears. "How's my sweet knight?" Then one day she leaves. Her room remains, but she is no longer a part of it. Her mother come in from time to time, dusts the shelves and washes the comforter for habits sake. The dog comes in and sleeps on the floor at night, the vigor of youth long past him. He bothers no one now. He's too old, too tired for mischief. He probably doesn't remember disfiguring me, and that's fine. I forgave him long ago. I'm old, too. The shine is gone from my eyes, my fur is matted and coarse. My nose is dented and scratched. Yet every smear and stain is a badge of honor, my personal memories painted across my being so I might never forget all those wonderful adventures. Time becomes immeasurable. I spend my days in the sun, collecting dust on a high shelf, out of sight out of mind. At night I am alone with my thoughts and the stars. I am a forgotten relic. Content, I let my mind drift into darkness and feel myself fade away. I'm not scared. Nervous, perhaps. But I am brave, and my life was a good one. I'm ready for whatever awaits me. Ready for the Quiet. "Hello there sweet knight." I come back all at once, ripped away from something beyond my comprehension. The void that filed my mind is immediately replaced by warmth and love and happy memories. She came back for me. "Is that your old teddy bear?" A deep, male voice asks. "Are you sure you want to give her that? It's filthy." "You be quiet." Melody retorts, her hands wrapping around me. "He is -not- filthy, he's well loved." I am tiny in her hands. It is a peculiar feeling, a strange sort of déjà vu. "It's been a long time old friend. I've missed you." She holds me close and I am whole again, the long periods of isolation forgotten. "I'm a bit too big to go on adventures with you anymore, but I've got someone I want you to meet." At her feet a little girl is staring up at me with wide, curious eyes. Melody's eyes. Our eyes meet and she smiles, a gap toothed grin. She holds her arms out for me, squealing. "Summer, this is Mommy's bear. He's very strong and very brave, and he wants to be your bear now, don't you?" I feel myself nod. "Would you like that, Summer?" "Bear!" Summer squeals, dancing from one foot to the other. "Bear bear bear!" I am lowered into her arms to hold her, she squeezes me so tight my fur whines beneath her embrace. She rubs her cheek against mine. "Bear." She grins. "Gentle, Summer, gentle." Melody chides. Her words are far away. Hand in hand Summer and I set off for the yard, for the green grass and fresh air and warm sunlight. We'll play in the dirt and clamber through low bushes and up treacherous trees. We'll build fortresses and I'll defend them, like I once did for her mother. I'll watch her grow up, watch over her, because even though she's not Melody I love her already. And someday I'll have to face the Quiet, the long sleep from which I will not wake. But not today. Today...I'm ready for an adventure.