Zach immediately fell into the arms of the woman before him. He knew that it was really his mom but it felt cold around him and it only made him cry more. His mother patted his back as she used to since the time he was little and having what she would call “a moment”. For that second, Zach wondered if there was any way to make that moment last longer but before he could think of anything that might allow him to hold on to it, it was over.
“I knew you would make it home,” his mother said, when he finally let her go. She smiled and looked him up and down. “It’s so good to see you here.”
“Mom I want to go home like before,” he begged. He saw the look of sadness on her face and knew that he wouldn’t get what he wanted. He started to feel the prickle of tears in his eyes again but she smiled and shook her head at him.
“Zachy, honey, come sit for a while,” she said, motioning for him to come to the table. She sat him down at the spot with the lone cup but no plate. When he looked confused, she laughed. “I don’t think you would enjoy our feast, my son. We don’t eat the same as you do. And speaking of eating, when you get back to the house, I expect you to start cooking more for yourself, young man. You’re getting thin as a rake and if you start to put in more effort, your father will follow. He was always like that, you know. If he saw the road to where he wanted to go, he could do it but he always needed a bit of a guide.”
“I don’t know how to live with him, mom,” he said, miserably. “I don’t want to be here anymore. I know he needs this job but I don’t want to live in that old house there. I want to go home.”
“Sweetheart, I know he’s not doing the greatest job right now but he’s scared too and I think pretty soon, he’ll see the way to making that place feel better,” she sighed, taking his hand as she sat at the seat next to him. “And I know it doesn’t feel like it yet but you are home. I knew it was going to be hard at first but you belong here where your family is. I spent my whole life running away from the one place I knew that I could be protected. I won’t make that mistake with you, Zach. You will be here with the people who love you and miss you. You don’t recognize them yet but they have always been with you. They will always be here for you too.”
“Who are they?”
“We are as we have always been,” a new voice came into the room.
Zach shrunk a bit when a hooded figure emerged from the shadows and stood before them. His mother smiled at the newcomer and squeezed his hand. He felt his fear returning as he smelled the unmistakable scent of roses fill the room. The figure turned to Zach and lifted the hood off. He could tell from the hands that it was the same person that had beckoned him in the library. When the hood had been removed, he saw the face of an older but still very striking woman. She had a commanding presence but it was not at all malicious. Though she didn’t smile at Zach, he knew that she didn’t mean to hurt him. This was the Hag from the stories but immediately, Zach knew that those tales couldn’t be true. Even as an older woman, she was fiercely passionate and strong. Her movements had a great kind of conviction to them and her presence was felt everywhere. Zach knew that he’d seen the same thing echo in his own mother.
“We have long waited for you,” the woman said, tossing something on the fire and making it brilliant and warm. She turned to see Zach and cocked her head to the side. “Look at him, my darling. Isn’t he just the spitting image of the past? And that curiosity, it cannot be matched. How our tree blossoms and our world becomes so much more than it was.”
“We are a blessed family,” his mother agreed, looking at him too.
“Well deserving of a grand feast and so we shall!” the woman said, joining them at the table. She sighed and looked at Zach. Her green eyes flashed at him and suddenly his cup was full of something that was steaming. “It is bittersweet to see the living on such days as these. I know you have seen Victor and his beautiful boy as they await the return of their loved one. One day, we shall all feast together. Today, our family grows in life and in death. Our feast is not one that you can partake in yet but there is no need to cut off a life of potential for the comfort of the return.”
“Oh memère, he’s much too bright for that,” said a woman now seated next to his mother. It was the one who had led him up to this spot. She smiled brightly at him. “And it is very clear to us that he is of our family lineage. He will never have to look far for such comforts, now will you dear Zach?”
“He never did,” his mother beamed.
She squeezed his hand and he saw the room transformed. There were the three women that he’d seen initially but there were more people he didn’t recognize at the table too. So many of them looked so much like his mother. At least one looked a good deal like an older version of himself. He saw that many of the seats at this table were filled but there were more that were empty. The spots had cups but no plates just like his own. He wondered if he knew any of them. If these were people who would come to him now.
“All in good time,” the woman in the cloak said, her voice softening. “You have a whole lifetime to seek out the world and find more to it. All these spots might yet shrink or double and it all depends on how you wish to go out and define who you will be.”
“And how fortunate that we get to witness it all unfolding,” the man that looked like him said. He stood from his spot and the rest followed, including his mother. Unsure of what was happening, Zach slowly rose from his spot as well. “This feast is one of great joy. We have much to celebrate this year.”
“I concur,” the woman in the cloak agreed with a grand smile.
She looked over the whole of the table and those at it with the same affection that the man with the cane had for his son. She settled her eyes on Zach and he felt that same attention from everyone around him. The woman in the cloak raised her cup and the others followed. His mother encouraged him to raise his own.
“Tonight, we gather for our feast as the darkness recedes from this world,” the woman in the cloak said in a booming voice. “Tonight we are blessed with a return from a beloved lost to the road away from home. Tonight we are blessed again with a glimpse of the bright and beautiful future. To those here, to those lost along the way, to those returned, to those yet to come, cheers!”