Echo

The horizon was tinged with wispy tendrils of the sun’s fading fire. Shadows tentatively crept out of their diurnal prisons reclaiming their domain of sepulchres filled with dusty relics. The cemetery was a sanctuary for the shadows; they could swathe themselves in melancholy, silence and solitude.

The shadows whispered to one another and the trees rustled uneasily…something was out of place. A girl was sitting on the edge of a tomb. She was wearing scuffed Doc Marten boots, ripped fishnet tights, a short black leather skirt and a black t-shirt with the image of a bleeding heart. Her sandy-coloured hair looked brittle, like it would snap if someone tried to touch it. Black lipstick and deliberately overdone black eye-shadow could not detract from her brown eyes which were overflowing with soul. What was the girl doing here? They decided to observe her.

Priscilla brushed broken twigs and desiccated leaves from the tomb until she could see a name, she read out aloud: Jacques De Villiers! Angels carried him up to the heavens on 2nd July 1886.

The persistence of memory. That was Priscilla’s affliction. What made a tomb? Masonry, marble, grandeur, inscribed words or the skeleton within? Walk through a cemetery, read the names and messages, you can feel an echo of love and loss still lingering, cheating the fickleness of Father Time. The deceased persist in our memories and when we, the torch-bearers of their lives fade, cemeteries are their enduring testament.

Priscilla knew she should not be here. How was it that her journey had started at the end? It did not make any sense. A cemetery was definitely the end of a journey. The things she had seen – wondrous horror and terrible beauty. She lit a cigarette. She could sense the shadows were watching her.

“Do not fret, my sable friends, all will be revealed!”

The shadows rippled. This girl was strange.

“I will tell you a story!”

The shadows stretched closer towards her.

‘A noble family with one heir; the son was raised in the manner of a prince. The widowed father’s design was to have his son marry into royalty and promulgate the family lineage. While Jacques was well-versed in societal protocols, he found his peers to be frivolous and shallow. The De Villiers’ estate was large and renowned for its game. Jacques hunted to avoid the presence of simpering girls tittering behind bejewelled brocaded corsets.

It was during a pilgrimage in the forest when he chanced upon her…a girl unlike any other. She moved with the natural grace of her arboreal surroundings. Her clothing was smudged, the hem of her dress was bedraggled and she had dandelion seeds caught up in her flowing hair. He remembered his botany classes and without thinking spoke aloud.

“Did you know the botanical name for the dandelion is Taraxacum officinale?”

The girl whirled around, grasping a hatchet.

“Peasants call it pissenlit!”

Jacques was taken aback. Nothing in his education had prepared him for this encounter.

“I meant no disrespect.”

“If you touch me, I will hack you to death!”

Jacques laughed. He was smitten. He would often seek her out in the forest. She would always ignore him when he spoke to her about books he had read. The girl loved his stories. She did not understand this strange man at all. One day she would consent to tell him her name. Their lives were intangibly different yet neither of them had ever been so happy.

Charles De Villiers had noticed a change in his son’s demeanour. He charged one of his servants to spy on Jacques. Bernard was a shifty fellow. He reported his findings to his master with glee. Charles was furious! This peasant was a passing fancy. His son was defying him. Charles paid Bernard to remove the problem. The De Villiers’ bloodline could not be tainted.

The girl was missing and Jacques was frantic. He spent every waking hour in the forest searching for her. Charles asked Bernard to bring the girl back. Bernard smirked.

“She was a feisty one, attacked me with a hatchet. I threw her down a well.”

“She is dead?”

“Very.”

Charles could not tell his son the truth, he was quasi-insensate without that damned girl. Time would temper his son’s current fever.

Jacques emerged from the forest one night and saw Bernard chopping kindling. He sat down on a log to watch. Bernard was uneasy. Had the old man let something slip?

“Permit me to assist you, Bernard, it would alleviate my nerves.”

Bernard was bemused but acquiesced. Jacques studied the hatchet Bernard had handed him.

“She never would have surrendered this, it belonged to her father.”

Bernard cursed himself. It had been too fine a hatchet to throw into the well. Death blazed in Jacques’s eyes as he advanced on Bernard. The servant fell backwards, scrambling in the dirt. Jacques gripped Bernard’s left wrist, pinning the hand to a log. The hatchet flashed hungrily in the moonlight. Bernard screamed in horror and grabbed his severed hand. He garbled about following orders and a well. The babbling stopped. The hatchet was lodged in Bernard’s skull.

Jacques ran amok, setting the family mansion aflame. Charles saw his son disappear into the forest and dispatched servants to retrieve him. They followed the glow of Jacques’s torch as it flitted in the darkness until it stopped moving. They were too late. Jacques had flung himself into the well to be with his love.’

The shadows sighed.

Priscilla took one final drag of her cigarette.

“It is a terrible thing to know your loved one will never know your name. It took me three days to die in that well.”

Priscilla lay on the tomb.

“I could not let death keep us apart, your Priscilla is here for you.”

The shadows watched in rapt amazement as a phantasm manifested; it embraced the prone girl and pulled her gently into the tomb. Dandelion seeds floated by in the breeze.

 

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