You glance around the room, noting that the clock on the wall indicates midnight is approaching. You will remain until the new year starts. You feel the need to reboot yourself. To look forward to some sort of awakening. But you certainly have no wish for any fireworks to accompany it.
It is one more year and as you have done all of your adult life you have been here to celebrate, in your own way, the years of your life and those of the ones you have loved. And once again the day feels empty of any true meaning or worth.
Then the clocks arms extend upward, together, and the year is over once again. But with one difference.
The stranger approaches and speaks to you beneath the sound of the horns blaring.
"Do you wish for a change?" the stranger asks. You have no idea who they are but you yearn for a change. You cannot live this way, year after year, having the same scenes appear and then rob you of your senses leaving you alone and forlorn once more.
"Of course," you whisper. "Of course, if it will bring me peace."
"Then simply break the promise."
You gaze at them, frowning with incomprehension. "Break the promise?"
"Yes. Just do it. Live this year and see what the new year brings."
And they are gone.
Could it be this simple?
You shuffle out the door, leaving the revelers behind to complete the annual celebration. You go home once again and sleep away the new day in the new year.
You had made the promise when you met, and kept making it for many days, long into the life you lived in your cabin in the woods. As you spent your time together, practicing your arts and crafts together.
You wrote your stories of fantastic visions, of romance, and love. She created her dream world with artistic carvings on bone, stone, and wood. You kept your promise as she knew you would.
Now, after the stranger's request, you go on living, day after day. The same boring job you are so good at but which gives you no true pleasure without her. You return home to the cabin, night after night, that is empty of other humans.
You keep on feeding the cat, as you must. To keep yourself in some sort of healthy shape you walk through the woodlands, often sitting on a bench that belonged to the two of you. You keep on living, sleeping, eating, day after day.
Truth to tell, it has not been simple. In no way was it simple. But you complete the task as put forward by the stranger. Why? Because you feel you were lacking any recourse in your life. She was not there. And you have been keeping the promise. Perhaps it would change if you let the stranger give you some guidance, some hope.
The end of the year approaches once again, as always, and you are there. You arrive in good time to listen to the celebrations. You listen to the music that always completes the end of the year and watch the crowds. And after some hours and minutes you look up at the clock and see it is going to soon be another year passing away into the past.
Was it so simple, as the stranger told you, that all you had to do was forget the promise?
Suddenly, she approaches with her green eyes twinkling in the lights from the glittering chandilier above.
"Remember me?" she asks, and your heart feels as if it is fluttering inside your chest.
Your smile returns from its long hiatus as her jasmine scent fills you with memories.
"Mariah. Can this be?"
But it is. You would never be mistaken about anything concerning her, your Mariah. Gone for so long.
How many times have you wished it had been you. But, it wasn't. And she has been gone. But suddenly here she is, in her perfect form, as she always was in your life, in your thoughts, in your dreams.
"Shall we dance?"
Of course we shall dance. You have lived with the memories of it for many days, many years, now. Her arms extend up and hold you in a hug, then glitter falls from the ceiling, wafting around the room, and her lips touch yours.
Then you release her and she glides away, twirling and whirling in her finery. She fills your heart with gladness as she did so many times before.
Then, you reach her again and the two of you dance, as you always did before, using the ballroom floor to rejoice in your togetherness. On and on it goes and the music plays, allowing the two of you to respond to the melody with fervor and happiness. Until the minutes moving toward midnight have completed and it is done.
Mariah disappears at the final toll of the midnight hour.
She is gone as she was before.
The stranger is there now, standing in front of you, the look on their face dreadful to see.
"What has happened? Where did my Mariah go? This is madness. I did as you told me to do. I stopped keeping the promise. I did it as well as I could. Believe me. What did I do wrong? Where has she gone?"
They laughed with a wicked chortling sound. "Yes, truly you did. You completed the task so very well. We have no complaints to share. It worked perfectly, did it not? She was here as long as you did not keep the promise."
"It was truly hard. I did it as well as I could. Why have I been punished now?"
"She has gone back to where she has been. She is gone for good this time. She will never return. You can no longer have her since you broke the promise."
"But this is madness! My promise was to love her forever. I stopped it did I not?"
"Yes, you did stop, and then you broke the pact, silly man. You started loving her once again."