• I stopped outside the door to the store and took a deep breath before heading inside. I had no money; I just usually came here to blow off time before I had to head home. Everyone inside knew me and greeted me with a wave or a friendly hello.

    I walked slowly around the store, trying on clothing in my mind and watching other people as they shopped. As it was, however, I felt isolated from everyone, even as I helped little children find their parents and talked to other kids my age.

    I harbored a dark feeling in my heart that none of them have ever felt.

    Heading to the back of the store, I focused my mind on anything and everything that wouldn't remind me of what was waiting when I left the store. As I walked along the back wall, I noticed something I had never seen before.

    It looked like a new display; It was a single room with a small couches well as a vase of flowers perched on a small side table. The wall paper was a pale cream color, and the floor appeared to be covered with tatami mats. In the background, I could see a single door- a sliding paper screen door.

    Curious, I walked to the back of the display and took a closer look at the door. It had a sort of oldness that radiated from it, although it looked new. A sudden overwhelming desire to open it nearly shocked me into doing just that. My hand was already lying on the door frame before I realized what had happened.

    I knew the door couldn't go anywhere; It was on the back wall of the store. Still, my hand, as if with a will of its own, would not release the door.

    Fine, I thought. I will slide it aside, just to show myself how silly I am.

    I tried to slide the door on the track, but it wouldn't budge. I tried several more times, and it still remained stubbornly stuck in place.

    "See?" I whispered to myself. "It won't op-" I stopped mid word as the door suddenly slid smoothly to the side under my touch.

    Although I just expected a wall, I could see that there was a room beyond the door. It was dark, and I couldn't see into it. Involuntarily, I took a step into the room, pausing just inside the doorway. There appeared to be nothing there, and there wasn't any source of light besides the light coming in through the open door.

    There's nothing here. I probably shouldn't be in here anyway... I turned to leave, and cried out when I realized that the door wasn't there anymore. It was gone, as if nothing had ever been there. I turned around slowly, and was surprised again.

    Suddenly, I could see. An unknown source of light poured down on the interior of the room. But then again, was it really a room? I appeared to be outside in daylight; there was grass underneath my shoes, and the sky opened up above me. Right in the center of the 'room' there was a huge tree. It must have been over 60 feet high, and was covered in leaves. It actually looked a lot like a weeping willow tree, except that the branches ended several feet above the ground. Underneath them, near the trunk of the tree, I could see a ladder.

    Almost like in a dream, I walked over to the tree, ducked under the branches, and grasped the ladder. The dream-like feeling continued as I looked up.

    There was a huge multitude of tree branches, with thousands of ladders between them, all headed upwards. Some ended nowhere; others would bring me within arm's length of another ladder. They continued up far past where I could see through the branches.

    Almost without thinking, I began climbing. As the first ladder ended, I spotted another to the right. Moving onto that one, I continued up. While climbing, I couldn't rid myself of the eerie feeling that all this... was more real to me than my life had been for the last year.

    After climbing for a while, I really had no idea how long, I could see a small object in the distance. As I neared it, I realized it was a tree house. It grew larger with each rung I climbed. An odd feeling was growing in me. Excitement? Anticipation? Possibly... hope?

    Suddenly, well, at least it felt that way to me, I was on the ladder that led to the doorway into the tree house. I climbed quickly, and soon pulled myself up into the doorway. The tree house was larger than I had thought; there were doorways everywhere. I wandered for a time, and then stumbled upon a small room. In the center, sitting with their feet dangling in a small pool of water, sat a boy.

    He had old style clothes on, like some sort of robe or kimono. His hair was a soft grey color, which made me think he was kind of old, until he looked up at me. His face was young, maybe my age or a little older, and his eyes were a beautiful ocean blue color.

    Almost as soon as he looked, up, he looked down again, and gestured to me to sit down. I sat on the opposite side of the deep, square pool, and wrapped my arms around my legs. We sat in silence for a while, and then he spoke.

    "I was beginning to think that you would never come." His voice was smooth and even, with just barely a ripple of emotion.

    I was silent for a moment before answering, "I don't even know where I am."

    "You are in my chamber, where I am imprisoned."

    "You're... trapped here?"

    He nodded in reply.

    I waited a moment before saying, "I know that feeling too. You know, to feel trapped."

    When he looked up at me again, I could see the sympathy in his eyes. We remained silent for a while, although it wasn't an uncomfortable silence. Then I got a sudden urge to tell this boy about that dark feeling I had trapped inside. I had a feeling that he would understand.

    "My... my father died a while back. And... now my... mother is dying as well. I don't know what Ill do or where I'll go when she's gone..." I buried my head in my arms and cried quietly. I felt a pair of arms wrap around my shoulders, and heard the boy's gentle voice, uneven with emotion.

    "I knew you would know... the pain of death's kiss and the confining feeling of hopelessness..."

    I lifted my head and looked at him. He was sitting next to me, his feet still in the pool. Oddly enough, there were no ripples in the water. The surface was clear and smooth as glass. I watched his expression as he pulled his arms away and began his story.

    "I lived many years ago, in a pond in Japan." In, not near? "I fell in love with a beautiful maiden; she had long dark hair and deep blue eyes that let me see her heart." In the water, I could see the image of the woman he spoke of, and with my reflection next to her in the water, I could see how similar we looked.

    "Alas, although I loved her, she did not love me. She came and cried into my pond every day, speaking of her own unrequited love. It hurt my heart to see her in such pain. But she did not know I was there. One day, I took the tears she shed and used them to create a form she could see." In the water, I could see the girl crying at the edge of a pond, and the boy as he stepped out of the pond and sat down next to her.

    "She was surprised to see me, and even more so that I knew her sorrows. I comforted her, told her tales of the water and the creatures and plants that lived there, and the peace of mind that came from watching the wind blow over the surface of the water. She took it all to heart, saying that she felt that she could get through the heart ache, that she had a plan."

    The image in the water disappeared, and now I could see the reflection of his face, contorted in pain. "Little did I know what she had planned. That night, while I rested, she came to my pond and hung herself from the willow that hung over the water." I gasped as I saw her form hanging from the tree over the pond. The tree. This tree, the one I was in.
    The boy spoke again. "I felt my heart break that day, and could not will myself to continue living."

    I turned to him, the real him, not his reflection. His face was flat, unemotional, unlike his reflection, which revealed his pain. I watched his mouth as he spoke again. "But water spirits can't die."

    Suddenly it all made sense to me- the tree, the room, the images in the water. He was a water spirit, one of the immortals. No wonder he couldn't die.

    "The pain I felt would not let me rest, and my own hopelessness kept me trapped. I have been searching for her ever since."

    When I faced him this time, he didn't turn away. I could see the overflowing sadness in his blue eyes. "But you know she's gone."

    He held my eyes with his as he spoke. "That form of her is dead. But she has been reborn many times, in many forms." He placed his hand on my cheek, and I felt myself crying as he said, "You are her."

    The sadness and pain I felt, he had felt, all came flowing out. He held my shaking form as I cried for all things lost- my life, my hope, my love.

    As the sobs lessened, I sat up to dry my tears. I felt his hand gently wipe away one from the corner of my eye. I watched as he placed the finger to his lips and said, "So many times I have tasted your tears; only once have I been able to hold you as you cry."

    I sighed as I lay my head on his shoulder and he wrapped his arms around me again. The love I had felt deprived of, I had always had it- I just never knew it.

    I was not sure how long we sat there together like that. It felt like an eternity, yet seemed to only last a few seconds.

    I was not surprised when I heard him say, "You cannot stay here."

    "I know. I wish I could." I sighed, knowing the time we had together must come to an end.

    He leaned down to my ear and breathed, "You know I love you."

    "I love you too," I sighed as I drifted off.

    I woke to find myself on the bench outside of the store. As I sat up, I spotted a puddle at my feet. I looked up at the cloudless sky and smiled, for the first time in as long as I could remember.

    Slowly, I put my fingers to my lips, and then lowered them to touch the surface of the water.