This story is by Amy Harrington and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The figure leaned forward and looked down the dark aisle covered with stones, dune grass, and a dead cigarette. She wished she had one now, or maybe a warm buttered biscuit. It was a not yet November winter cold that made her feel as if she was still alive with each frosty breath. She looked back to the aisle and to her choice. To say, “I do” or not to say, “I do” at the cliff on the Chersonese. She walked, the wind moved the clouds, allowing the moon to say a brief,” hello, here is the way.” Enlightened by a new confidence, she swooped down the aisle to greet her fate. There was no mate there. The roar of the ocean greeted the earth with each wave beating the rocks. She was just two more steps away. She took the extra step.
Begonia whispered, “I do.” To no one. A life altering, tough-to-decide decision on whether she wanted to live or die. Jump out or jump back, die or live, but this life felt like death now. Choices, it’s hard to make some choices. The finality was sure, but it did not guarantee the end would be swift. Would she feel pain or nothing?
Clouds covered the moon. Begonia leaned to the right to see if the small shadow she noticed remained on the shore. There should be no one there, no wedding party to witness this event. She simply wants to disappear, swallowed by the sea, drowned in fear of the future. She focused her eyes in the stillness, a flash of silver near the ground caught her eye. The clouds mixed again. What is that? Is it a knife, a sword? She leaned forward. It was a harmless wrench, a tool. Afraid of these man-made weapons, used by cowards to control and wield power, she turns her back on them, takes control and jumps.
Ms.Ethelyne paused. She had heard the carriage driver stop and then whistle on his horses. Her beagles, Midnight and Morning perked up their ears and noses to sniff the air. No one who stopped at the DEAD END sign ever got picked up in the midnight hour. Returning to the carriage house, Ms.Ethelyne nodded to Xavier who set his steaming beverage down. He picked up his wintergreen fleece. He crowned his head with a shiny slicker hat and headed out. Middi followed. Morning took her place to guard the fire. She needed her strength in the morning to comfort.
Anyone who ended their adventure on earth jumps quickly without noticing what they are jumping into. By the time the soul has walked this far out to the end of the peninsula, they are ready. A quick look back at the castle tower and a whisper, “Please, Ms. Ethelyne prays, just no bleeding out today. It was slaughter day today at the barn, so the sight of human gore would be too much. She turned to the turret to climb the stairs. There are twelve steps up the tower, giving the viewer a bird’s-eye view of the entire peninsula. She sees the figure, a woman? Not sure of how much time she has, she turns back to the steps, careful to avoid hitting the ceiling with her own weathered crown. The watchers wore down the gray stone steps for four centuries. She has walked them this last century.
The horses were waiting in the paddock, whinnying softly for her. It was time. Xavier held her hand as she climbed into the seat for the short clop to the cove. The team drove towed a small sled. Ms. Ethelyne would meet him at the water’s edge, sheltered from the Chersonese. The only access to this beach is by sea or the manor house. Ms. Ethelyne exited at the boathouse, an old bird blind on the south side of the beach. Xavier lit a torch and turned the team of horses back toward the house, which winks at him. Four usually dark windows were lit with the Chersonese candles thick, wicked for weathering the storms.
The two dark shadows drag a blackened boat from the dunes. Hopping into the large skull, Ms. Ethelyne grabbed an oar and headed for the peninsula, the Chersonese rested upon. Her eye on the jut of the rocks and cliffs above, she began rowing faster. She sees the figure at the bottom of the aisle. Minutes to go, the figure glides to the edge and stops.
This is the sign Ethylene waits for. There was hesitation, so perhaps the desire to complete the jump had wavered. A spark of hope and a sliver of moonbeam peaks through. Ms. Ethelyne could see that the visitor had found the three weapons by the flash of silver. Not knowing what their poison or death method will be, she always leaves two choices. Disgusted with the myriad of choices society gifted people, she believed in having choices. She was close enough to see the glint of the knife and sword being set down. The wrench was often held longer in their hands wondering, perplexed the handler wondered what its purpose was.
The round person jumped. The splash was bigger than most of the sickly bodies. Predicting the drop spot, she rowed closer to the up-spouts and the bubbles where the body may or may not surface. A loud bellow and gasp of air cut through the night as a pasty face pivoted in the water. They lock eyes. Begonia and Ms. Ethelyne meet for the first and last time.
“Do you wish to live another life different from the last?” Ms.Ethelyne offered the life jacket just out of reach.
“I will not seek shelter in my past, nor harbor my prior self, but set a fresh course.” The girl answered, gasping and shivering.
“Will you go to any lengths to make it so?” Ms. Ethelyne leaned over the frigid water.
“I do, I will let go of my old life…” she gasped and went under.
“Well then, bygones. Begonia.” She tossed the life jacket with the rope attached.
Gray, shivering hands emerged and grasped the floating life jacket.
Begonia pulled her arms through into the darkness.
Ms. Ethelyne turned up the lantern flame at the bow, signaling a catch. She rowed harder, knowing mere minutes more in the water would kill this hypothermic soul. Xavier was wading knee deep with the sled in the water. The body floated above the sled at first, then the sled moved higher on the shore with the shrinking tide. The high tide may have saved this lass from the skull crushing rocks below the cliff.
A groan escaped the puffy blue lips as they piled blankets atop of the young girl. The horses pulled the sled, which keeps moving towards the abandoned blind. They picked up the pace as they get closer. Or was the shelter growing larger? The horses moved through the east facing barn doors opened by Ms. Ethelyne and exited out the west side. Xavier hops down to unhitch the harness.
“Get up!” he said. They trotted up to the main house, leaving behind the sled and three humans. Ms. Ethelyne opened the barn doors on the west until it fully enclosed the sled within the blind. The doors closed behind when the horses unhitched and moved forward. Xavier took off the wet blankets and pulled steaming blankets from a hot box next to a small fire. They placed more wool blankets on the body and where the shivering was most visible.
The body stopped moving. A sigh. A snore. Satisfied, Ms. Ethelyne pivoted the sled table a quarter turn lazy Susan style, so that the young woman’s head pointed south to the outgoing tide. Whoosh! Another door opened, and they heard the water crashing into the chamber. Xavier appeared at the stranger’s feet, pushing the sled with the running tide.
“She’s not frozen yet, still shivering, not still,” Xavier noted.
A hundred feet and another door opened for the slumbering survivor and her keepers. They stop in a round room. A straw mat and a lone low lit candle illuminated the brownstone walls.
“We did our job for tonight. The rest is up to her while she rests.” Ethylene nodded a goodbye to the body on the floor. The door crashed shut with another set of waves, pushing the tide and its keepers out.
Outside the door, she whispered, “Do you accept your fate? When you wake in the morning, will you do the work that God has for you? The choice has always been yours.” She slipped the wrench under the door.
Begonia’s body moans, “Death cheated. A wrench saved. Rescued at the Chersonese. Released to this tower floor by the benevolence of the curse that has invited me to live happily ever after, this time for better or worse, until death do us part.” A sigh and then a slumbering snore.