It was a perfect day for a funeral.
At least it would have been, except that no soulless shell was to be laid in the cold earth this day. Yet the overcast heavens let forth a heavy shower of tears, lending the day its morose haze.
Those that walked among the living had penned themselves indoors. Often the faces of lonesome children would appear, pressed against cold windowpanes. Big, sad eyes gazed vacantly out at the downpour, wishing longingly for sun. Before long an adult chased the youths off and took their place at the window, silently cursing the rain.
Their eyes widened when they saw a figure, hunched against the rain and shrouded by an oiled cloak, pass by their homes. At a loss for answers to their many questions about this curious stranger, the adults would withdraw and the children reclaimed their posts. The sight of an unknown person in the small town was cause for excitement in youngsters.
The bent figure pushed drudgingly through the rain which was collecting in deep puddles on the uneven surface of the street, oblivious to the curious stares it received. It passed through the small town in silence and unfalteringly began its trudge uphill. The dirt path was muddy and sucked at the traveler’s shoes with each step, but did little to hinder the figure’s climb.
At last it passed through the decrepit wrought-iron gate of Hill Cemetery and came to stand before a simple block of basalt set into the earth. The figure pulled back its hood, revealing the lean, angular face of a young man. He gazed solemnly down at the weather-beaten marker, dyed black as a starless night by rainwater. The lettering which had been carved into the stone face was faded almost beyond recognition and only the broken phrase ‘-loved wife’ remained shallowly engraved in the stone.
“Within a few years, those too, will be gone and the last clue to this angelic soul will be lost,” the man whispered to himself. He knelt respectfully before the marker, conscious of the ancient bones that rested beneath him. His fingers gently caressed the jagged edges of the stone and began tracing numbers where they had once been carved:
From somewhere behind him a branch snapped and the man started; his hand drifted away from the stone. He rose with ethereal grace and faced the wide-eyed youth expressionlessly, his face as placid as a marble sculpture.
“E-excuse me sir, but I saw you passing through town and-” the girl stopped her explanation as the man’s attention left her and returned to the ordinary marker. His emotionless façade melted away as he gazed at the stone, acquiring the look of someone who has suffered a great loss. The feeling rested heavily upon him and his shoulders sagged, making him look much older.
“Does anyone remember?” he whispered. Despite the weight of emotion resting on his shoulders his voice was dreamlike and seemed to float on the stagnant air.
The man’s eyes turned to her and she felt a chill travel up her spine as she met his gaze, feeling a pain drawing on her heart like never before. Unbearable darkness clouded his eyes and she drew her gaze away. It was as if, just by meeting that stare, she could feel his depth of emotions and they seemed far too heavy for a mortal to bear.
One side of his mouth tipped upwards, revealing just a hint of a silver tooth. “You’ll remember, won’t you girl?”
Unable to resist his strangely entrancing gaze, she looked up. “Remember what?”
“Those who walked this earth before you and are now gone. The dead.”
“Of course sir,” she breathed without realizing she had done so. She trembled from the cold settling into her bones but she felt she must stay. Without explanation she felt that she owed this man something, but what that something was she did not know.
The man’s shadow of a grin morphed into a true smile. His single silver tooth seemed to possess a shine too bright for the light of a cloudy day. “You and she are so much alike,” he said with a small gesture to the grave on which he stood. His voice carried a nostalgic quality and as his gaze drifted it seemed as if he was looking back on another time, having a conversation with a different person. His outstretched hand lingered over the grave for what seemed an eternity before he looked to her again.
“Thank you.” The terrifying, cold darkness that inhabited his countenance dissolved, leaving his eyes a pale shade of blue.
The girl gasped and stepped back as his form suddenly began to fade into a shimmering collection of transparent fragments. Specks of color hovered lazily about, resembling a human form. Her backward motion was stopped by the trunk of a gnarled graveyard tree and she watched in fearful fascination as the man melted into the mist.
After a breathless moment curiosity overtook fear and she rushed to where he had stood. “A ghost?” she asked the still air, looking down at the grave she found herself standing upon.
A curious pocket of warmth hung in the air and wrapped itself around her like the arms of an old friend. Following an unspoken command she knelt beside the small marker. She gazed in fascination at the gravestone as the information wrote itself anew across the stone surface. The fog that had been a man moments before settled on the marker’s surface for the span of a breath and then drifted away as mist leaves a lake at dawn.
The girl read carefully:
BELOVED WIFE AND FRIEND
Breathlessly, she waited for the date of death to appear. She waited for a while longer, kneeling in the mud, unaware of the chill of the misting rain. The warm feeling still remained and she waited awhile longer.
DEPARTED BUT NOT FORGOTTEN.
This was written as a submission to our high school's Literary Magazine, which I helped to compile. The characters are from nowhere in particular. I wanted to write a piece with supernatural elements, but one that was gentler, not like a horror story.