Connor pushed through the tangled sea-grass, breathing hard, and stood facing the waves. A fallen tree lay beside him on the beach, its limbs bleached and broken. He climbed its massive trunk and pulled off his hat, wanting to feel the full punch of the wind.
Clouds animated the horizon from edge to edge, traveling in a slow migration across the sky. There was a softness about them tonight, and as he followed each subtle movement, searching every shape and shadow, he felt that the clouds were watching him, too.
Suddenly, one of the clouds broke away from the others and began to move in his direction. Its nearest edge formed the fierce shape of a grizzly bear’s head, chest, and forelegs, bounding with alarming speed across the sky. Then the cloud transformed, making a river of white mist that dropped like a waterfall to the sea. The mist changed course when it touched the waves, flowing just above the whitecaps, all the way to the shore. Once it touched the sand, it moved up and then downward again, like water filling a vase, condensing into the shape of a man about the age his grandfather would have been.
The man placed his hands in the pockets of his mist coat and looked at Connor. There was music in his eyes, and a quiet wind behind them. He walked to the fallen tree and sat on one of its thick branches. Connor noticed that the man's coat and hair were still the same soft white as the clouds that floated above the ocean; lighter even than the silver strands in Connor’s hair, and brighter than the frosted wings of the seabirds who called out to him from beyond the waves.
The two waited quietly for some time. The man ran his fingers along the smooth surface of the ancient tree, as though remembering an old friend. Finally, the man spoke.
"I felt that you needed a companion today."
"I used to think I needed someone,” Connor said, his voice almost a whisper. “But then I learned, just this evening, that there is no one in this world who needs me."
The man breathed out slowly, the sound of a faraway storm through an open window.
“Come, sit,” the man said. “We will watch the clouds together, you and I."
Connor lowered himself to the sand, leaned against the tree, and covered his face with his hands. The wind hummed through the seagrass and whispered through the brittle limbs of the fallen tree. Tears seeped between Connor’s fingers. They drenched his hands and dripped down his wrists.
He felt the man move next to him on the sand and gently wrap his mist coat around Connor's shoulders. Soon Connor felt, but could not quite see, a grey haze flowing from himself to the man's heart space. He glanced at the man, whose expression had become as pinched and pained as Connor’s own.
As the man took on the weight of sorrow that flowed from Connor, he became the grey-blue color of a raincloud in spring. He breathed a sound that might have been thunder, or the protective rumblings of a grizzly bear.
A beam of light shone from between the clouds, illuminating the two, and at the same time easing Connor’s pain, in the way the sun soothes a wound that has been covered for far too long. All the while, the sorrowful haze that had flowed from Connor's spirit to the old man now drifted up to the sky, where the clouds solemnly gathered it to themselves.
The man's face lightened. He lifted his hand and blew across his open palm, sending his breath upward. The clouds began to move in silver-edged shapes that brought to Connor’s mind childhood play and light. Wyndwhirls thrummed out the horn-like sounds of their lovely sky music. Puffy dolphins darted among them in the sapphire blue of Sky Sea, and beyond, white horses with feathery mist wings and streaming tail fins gracefully spiraled the peak of a mist mountain. Each sky-horse shimmered with beams of muted light, which gently carried the sound of their bell-like voices across the sky.
"The sky is alive, you know. A realm of its own," the man said.
“I had forgotten," Connor whispered. He turned to the man, whose mist body had begun drifting toward the waves.
“Do you ever grow tired of watching over me?” Connor said.
“My child! Watching over you has been my greatest joy.”
The man smiled and touched Connor's cheek. His touch was cool and pure, like dew-covered grass on an April morning.
“Let me show you something,” he said. “and I want you to promise you will always remember. Will you do that for me?"
Connor nodded. "I will try," he said.
The man pointed at the sky.
"There is a love there, within the clouds, and in the blue between."
Connor watched the clouds continue to shift and change. A swan with a long mermaid's fin moved quietly within the blue stillness between the clouds.
"It is a love just for you; a message without words, and therefore deeper in the telling.”
"But what if a day comes when I forget again?" Connor said.
A breeze moved through the man, and he fairly floated with lightness, like wisps of cottonwood with moonlight behind them.
“Only remember to look up," he said.
The man melted into a mist river and flowed up to the sky. As Connor shielded his eyes from the setting sun, he spotted the silhouette of a grizzly bear, rimmed in silver, bounding lightly, joyfully, into the clouds.