There once was a very little hill who slept on a great plain. At the top of the mere swelling of dirt (it was as if the Earth had taken one large breath and forgot to breathe it out once more) you could see the forests expand for farther than a crow could fly in a day. It was a nice quiet hill, and a sort of tranquility and peace existed around it that all life seemed to feel. The deer, rabbits, and the wolves alike would rest their heads against its downy grass and dream of sweet nothings, flowers bloomed as thick and fresh as the fluffy clouds above. Trees sang, serenading to the sky their supreme bliss with all that was there.
A day came where a little two-legged creature called boy discovered the place. He felt the peace, the happiness, the tranquility, and immediately told every boy, every girl, and every man and woman he could find. One such man held an occupation called a preacher. He worked in understanding the Earth and peace.
“Let us build a church here,” the preacher said, “because peace is here.” The other men, women, boys, and girls agreed. A small white church was built upon the hill. It was the color of clouds, cottontails, and daisies. Every week, the men, women, boys, and girls would scurry from their homes, from their work, from their sorrows, and come partake of the peace of the hill.
One day, a tragedy happened. The wife of the preacher had a child too soon. The mother and babe went from life together, leaving the preacher all alone.
The preacher was much distressed. So much he loved and hoped was gone so quickly. Tears came, clinging on his cheeks like dew, as if their continued presence could keep a memory of his wife with him but a moment longer.
He buried his wife and his child by the church, in the hill. And he never left, staying in the church, trying to find the peace once more when he could not feel it. Tranquility was with the church, with this hill, so he knew he must stay.
Then, winter came like grief, sharp and cold. Quietly, without much fuss or hassle, more and more of the men and women, boys and girls, left life like candles in the wind. More and more days were spent shuffling up in thigh high snow to hammer at stone-hard ground on the hill. More and more tears were split on the frozen ground. More and more hearts were broken into dust that blew away in a gust of frost.
Spring came slowly. The deer, the rabbits, and the wolves stared curiously at the strange new rocks decorating the hill in a very particular manner. More curious yet was that they no longer felt the peace and tranquility. The animals turned away from the hill and left.
The girls and boys, women and men felt the change to. They no longer felt the peace of the hill. They were so very few, they found they could not bring themselves to the church so often as once a week, then once a month, then ever.
The preacher stayed in his church on the hill, but there was no longer anyone to preach to. Without anyone to preach to, his mind was forced to turn in upon itself. He wept for days and nights with nothing to comfort him. The peace had long since fled.
At his darkest hour, a girl came, dressed in gray. Her face was hollowed with hunger and dusted with dirt. He did not remember seeing the girl before, but her appearance was so sudden, he was unable to hide his tears. He simply looked away quickly, sitting within a pew.
“Please, sir, why are you sad?” she asked, sitting beside him.
“Because I have lost those dear to me,” the preacher said quietly, unsure of why he was settling a child with the burdens of his heart. Her face was open. “Because my friends have left me alone and cold.”
“How did you lose your dear ones?” the girl asked.
“My wife and her child passed away in childbirth,” the preacher said.
“Then, they aren’t lost after all,” the girl said. “You know exactly where they are.”
“I am no longer sure I do,” the preacher said.
“I do,” the girl said. She leaned over and placed both her hands on opposite sides of the preacher’s face. “They’re here, but they’re not happy.”
“Why not?” the preacher asked through his tears.
“You are holding onto them too tight. You have to let them go for them to be here,” she said. Without another word, the girl jumped from the pew and skipped down the aisle.
The preacher walked home that night. It was a cold structure that was far from the church. A rabbit had made its burrow underneath the woodpile and a family of mice had harvested his pantry. In his bedroom, a dark stain remained on the floor.
The preacher scrubbed the floors, aired the blankets, and put a fire in the fireplace. The next day, he went to each and every woman and man, boy and girl in the area. He said that tomorrow there would be a special sermon at the church. However, he did not see the girl.
“There is peace in the Earth and the sky. When we try to take our loved ones away from their rest, we take them away from the peace. This is not our peace to take,” then the preacher took one of the graying panels of wood from the side of the church and pulled. Piece by piece, the men and women, girls and boy disassembled the church.
Then, they left the hill, leaving their loved ones behind to rest.
Slowly, the deer, the rabbits, and the wolves came back to the hill. Birds made nests among the sacred stone structures and foxes nursed their young in the shadows. Peonies and violets sprouted among clover above a happy, little girl in gray.