The night was very dark, with a Full Moon hanging in the cloud-filled sky above. The air was crisp with the feel of late Autumn and the doorway between the worlds was wide open. Carved pumpkins sat on the porches of the houses in the little town, and the laughter of children dressed in costumes could be heard from the streets.
It was a sad time for Beth as she climbed the little hill behind her house. In her arms was her cat and friend Smoky, carefully wrapped in his favorite blanket. A little grave was already dug on the hill, waiting, for Smoky had died that day.
"Do you want me to go with you?" Beth's father had asked.
"No, I want to go by myself," she answered. "I dug his grave beside MacDougal's at the top of the hill." Beth clearly remembered when their dog MacDougal had died after being hit by a car.
Beth stopped at the top of the hill and knelt beside the little grave. She carefully laid Smoky's blanket-wrapped form in the earth and covered it with dirt, laying several large rocks on the top. Then she cried and cried.
"Oh, Smoky, I miss you so much!" Beth looked up at the Moon, tears streaming down her cheeks. "Why did you die?"
"It was his time to rejoin the Mother," said a deep, gentle voice in the darkness.
"Who said that?" Beth looked around but saw no one.
"Dying is part of the cycle of life, you know." One of the boulders on the hill stirred into life.
"Who are you?" The moonlight shone down on the little woman, and Beth could see she was not human.
"I'm a troll-wife," said the creature as she came to site across from Beth. "This is a sad night for both of us, girl. I, too, came to this hill to bury a friend." The troll-wife wiped a crystal tear from her cheek. "The squirrel was very old. Still it makes me sad."
Beth stared at the troll-wife. The little woman was the color of rock in the moonlight, her hair like long strands of moss, her bright eyes like shining crystals. She wore a dress woven of oak leaves and tree bark.
"The squirrel and I lived together for a long time," the troll-wife said. " We often talked to your cat when he was hunting here on the hill. Smoky and I were friends. I shall miss him, too." The little woman patted Smoky 's grave gently, "Sleep well, little friend. When you are rested, we shall talk together again."
"But he's dead," Beth said, her voice choked with tears.
"Child, this is Samhain. Don't you know the ancient secrets of this sacred time of year?" The troll-wife motioned for Beth to come and sit beside her. "It is true that our friends have gone into a world where we can no longer physically touch them, but the Mother has given us other ways of communicating with them. We can do this any time, but the time of Samhain is the easiest."
"I don't understand how this can be done," Beth said, "or why Samhain makes it easier."
"At this time of year," the troll-wife answered, "the walls between this world and the world of souls and spirits are very thin. If we quiet and listen, we can hear our loved ones and they can hear us. We talk, not with spoken words, but with the heart and mind."
"Isn't that just imagination?" Beth looked down at Smoky's grave, tears once more coming into her eyes. "Like my thinking I can feel MacDougal get up on my bed at night like he used to?"
"Sometimes it is, but mostly it is not imagination, only our friends come to see us in their spirit bodies." The troll-wife reached up her hand and patted something Beth couldn't see on her shoulder. "Like my friend the raven. He is here now."
Beth looked hard and saw a thin form of hazy moonlight on the troll-wife's shoulder. "I've seen something like that at the foot of my bed where MacDougal used to sleep." She whispered. "I thought I was dreaming." She jumped as something nudged her arm. When she looked down, nothing was there.
The troll-wife smiled. "Close your eyes and think of MacDougal," she said. " He has been waiting a long time for you to see him."
Beth closed her eyes and, at once, the form of her little dog came into her mind. His tail wagged with happiness. She felt a wave of love come from him, and she sent her love back. Then she felt the dog lie down against her leg.
"Can I do this with Smoky?" Beth asked.
"Not yet," the troll-wife answered. "He needs to sleep a while and rest. Then he will come to you. This gives Smoky time to adjust to his new world, and you time to grieve for him. It is not wrong to grieve, but we must not grieve forever."
"I never thought of it that way," Beth said. "It's kind of like they moved away, and we can only talk to them on the phone."
"It is this way with all creatures, not just animals." The troll-wife stood up and held out an hand to Beth. "Will you join me, human girl? Although I buried my friend squirrel this night, I still must dance and sing to all my friends and ancestors who have gone on their journey into the other world. For this is a time to honor the ancestors."
Beth joined the troll-wife in the ancient slow troll dances around the top of the little hill in the moonlight. She watched quietly while the troll-wife called out troll-words to the four directions, words Beth couldn't understand. Deep in her heart the girl felt the power of the strange words and knew they were given in honor and love by the little troll-wife.
When the troll-wife was finished with her ritual, she hugged Beth. "Go in peace, human child," she said. "And remember what I have told you about the ancient secret of Samhain."
"I will," Beth answered. "Will I ever see you again?"
"Whenever the Moon is Full, I will be here," the little troll-wife said. " And especially at Samhain."
"I wish I had something to give you." Beth hugged the little woman. "You have taught me so much." She felt the tears come to her eyes again.
"Let us exchange tears for our lost friends." The troll-wife reached up a rough finder and caught a tear as it fell from Beth's eye. The tear glistened on her finger. The troll-wife gently touched her finger to her cloak, and Beth's tear shone there like a diamond in the moonlight.
Beth reached up carefully and caught one of the troll-wife's tears as it slid down her rough cheek. It turned into a real crystal in her hand.
"Remember the secret of Samhain, and remember me," the troll-wife said softly as she disappeared into the darkness. Beth walked back down the hill, the crystal clutched in her hand. Her father was waiting for her on the porch.
"Are you all right?" her father asked as he gave Beth a hug.
"I will be," she answered. She opened her hand under the porch light and saw a perfect, tear-shaped crystal lying there.
"Did you find something?" her father asked.
"A troll-tear," Beth answered, and her father smiled. For he also knew the little troll-wife and the secret of Samhain.