This story is by Laura L. Morgan and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
When he became aware, for the first time, of the invading sensation, he thought perhaps it was because of the stone. He had stared at it for too long.
The stone was a muted gray, nothing unusual in the color. In fact, most of the other stones around were of a grayish hue. What caught his attention and caused further study was the intricate design cut out of the face: eternally blooming forget-me-nots on a vine winding upward, beautiful scrollwork across the base. The hewn shape of the stone created ledges and corners, finally tapering into a spire. As his eyes roamed over the details of enduring craftsmanship, they were further arrested by the carved name: Adelaide Tylden
And one to die so young.
He, too, was young. He wondered about Adelaide. Was she beautiful, as her name suggested? Did she regret leaving so soon? Was love left behind? He paused as a haunting thought swirled in his mind.
Why did she call to him?
He decided she would’ve allowed him to give her the colorful bouquet he held in his hands. She would’ve cupped her delicate white hands around the blossoms and breathed deeply, then, peeking up at him through innocent lashes, she would’ve given him a shy smile that held no motive other than gratitude.
Giving a slight shake of his head, he closed his eyes momentarily. He had come here for a reason. Best be getting to it. Yet, when he opened his eyes, the afternoon sun was almost poured out across the lacy leaves which drifted softly in swirls. His feet were attracting a pile of them. He was still here, a stony fixture. With the diminishing light, the colors around him seemed to be losing their solidity. He could almost see a glowing transparency. He could feel his brain dulling with the landscape.
That’s when the sensation began somewhere in his midsection, right under his starch and pinstripes. Right under his red power tie. He looked down, in the stupor of one who has been shot but has not yet comprehended the peril. He felt a cool moisture wafting across his exposed skin and sluggishly noted an encompassing fog forming in puffs around the various stones. He watched, fascinated.
She was here.
He was certain it was her. How he knew was irrelevant. Things were as they should be. She was swathed in white billowy linen that flowed like a mountain stream over smooth stones. Her complexion was fair, even wan. He thought to himself that her eyes were haunting, but somewhere his brain knew that was a cliché. She moved with a grace he found alluring. She drifted a circular path, noiselessly disappearing behind the stone, then reappearing to continue her mesmerizing journey.
Upward to his arms and downward to his legs, the tingling sensation crept on. He decided it wasn’t worth the effort to try and move so he could follow her progress. He suddenly had only the energy to turn his head as she circled behind him. His numbed fingers unwillingly relinquished the bouquet. Had he been standing here this long? The flowers had turned brown and fragile, shattering as they contacted the newly-turned earth where he stood. Dampness enfolded the tingling.
He took a massive breath. It required quite an effort. She came into his view again. She stopped. Her eyebrows raised slightly, an inviting look pervading his consciousness.
He felt like when he was twelve, peeking through the knothole in the weathered backyard fence that separated his yard from the Anderson’s. He had barely been able to see, through a veil of foliage, the image of Peggy Anderson who was sixteen, sophisticated, lipsticked, wearing short shorts, and sunbathing.
He felt separated. Intrigued.
He blinked back to the present. She was still concentrating her brilliant gaze on him. She was asking for a decision. He felt it again, stronger this time, fingers reaching in to grasp his throat and squeeze. Squeeze. He looked, with heavy eyes, at her gracefully outstretched arm. He could only nod.
The nurse who had been most kind to him found the still, cold, gray form of an eighty-year-old man crumpled ungraciously by the stone in the courtyard, a hastily gathered clutch of dead flowers scattered around his feet, his open fingers stretched out toward nothing…or something. She sighed with a weariness that comes from too many years of seeing vitality pushed off the precipice by the greedy hand of age. She wondered to herself if he regretted life being a racehorse that picked up speed as it strove for the finish. Did he have love in his life?
It was almost as if someone called to him.
And why had he chosen to die beside the stone?