Eyes unadjusted to darkness, he is overwhelmed by hum and scent of things forgotten in the brine that stifles within algae draped walls. Breathing, he tastes things long dead, rot and decay on the air, smells things newborn of darkness and the pull of ocean tides churning dampness in and out. Fingers are for tracing out shapes in the solitude of undiscovered places, crawling on hands and knees… seeking…
A stone is tossed. The laughter that follows is the spectral sound of twinkling bells, of falling water, of breaking glass.
The boys muscles tense, sinuous. Poised and ready for quick retreat, he moves stealthily forward through the outer cavern where light still filters in from above in frail rivulets. He fumbles graceless, coils of blonde hair tumbling lazily, obscuring his face. He stumbles.
Sound of rippling water, ricochet of stone on stone, and then a voice high and sweet.
“Remember,” it says. “It’s like a dream now, but remember…”
Underneath the fronds of willows wreathed in moss, beneath a hot full moon, on the kind of night where sweat is the very air you breathe, there was a girl. She had carefully arranged black curls, red lips and sparkling moss swirled amber eyes.
Tentatively she followed the boy, who was older and confident in his every motion. He was golden and sun swept with sky blue eyes. He led her to a garden and draped a strong muscled arm around her corseted waist. He showered her with kisses. In the moonlight they twined their bodies around one another in a garden that wafted with the scents and vivacious hues of magnolias, sharp thorny yellow roses, and forsythia. There was biting of flesh, tiny half moon claw marks down bare backs, the tearing of stays and breasts that glistened pale with exertion as they heaved in the moonlight.
There was talk of a life to come.
A glove was removed from an ivory hand; a long fingered pianist’s hand that fluttered lightly to her breast when a ring was placed gently upon it.
There is sound followed by light.
The spell is broken. The memory that the boy cannot place, that cannot be his own yet seems so very vivid is shattered. In its place is a new image, an image true to this world, the here and now of this under water grotto he has stumbled across… following a call he cannot name or place.
There is wrath in the pallid form, blue tinged lips tremble as the wraith slinks her pale, ethereal form up from the crevice where she lay hidden. With a flicker she ignites. Blinding brightness overwhelms the dark. The incandescent light she emits drives the boy back. She stands, a specter before him, waterlogged antiquated beauty with tattered corset stays trailing like ribbons behind her. He shields his eyes. Bare-chested fear stoops his broad shoulder and the tiny dusting of hairs on his neck prickle like something electric has struck him.
He fumbles to right himself under the scrutiny of her limpid eyes. She moved towards him and runs a cold fingered hand across his face, tracing the aquiline nose, the tightly clenched jawbone. He trembles at the touch, at the press of things icy and dead that seem to probe past flesh and sinew into core secret regions.
“Why do you shrink from my touch?” He thin lips purse into a frown.
He does not answer
Again she laughs; sound echoing off stones like a choir of voices lamenting the dearly departed.
“I am the voice on the surf that brought you here. I am a girl long departed, long forgotten and no longer grieved for. I am a ghost. Do you fear me?” She takes a tendril of his blonde hair and coils it round her finger, his shaking body so alive that she longs to tear her nails into it.
“You were telling a story.” His eyes are laden, brimming over with fear, morbid curiousity and oddly, visceral empathy… understanding. Some part of him that he does not know or comprehend thrusts itself full force into recognizing her as she recognizes him.
“Ah, yes, the story of a girl; did you wish me to continue?” The boy nods dumbly.
“Remember, the same garden in a different time… the memory might seem familiar.”
She stood alone, the girl, in the garden under a blushing early evening sky. Her elegent fingers plucked from vines around her sprigs of sweetly intoxicating honeysuckle, amaranth, primrose and lilac. She wove them intricately amid her perfect braids, gazing up at the red sky that signaled rain would not come with morning. She spun twirled and danced her way across the carefully tended path, heels clicking softly on the cobblestones.
“Please let me love return soon and safe,” she begged of the darkening sky.
Sound from behind her.
Sound of breaking twigs and footsteps amid the brambles.
She paused in her graceful twirling and looked about. The blossoming moonlight cast a veil of shadows that spawned from the elegent topiaries and swallowed the surrounding area.
“Is someone there?” Her voice sounded shrill and out of place among the cicada and cricket cries that laced the otherwise silent night. No one replied. Laughing aloud at her unwarranted concern, she continued her walk through the cool moonlight drenched gardens, making her way down the maze-like path towards the sprawling facade of the manor house.
Then from behind the sound of foosteps was clear and unmistakable. A man’s footsteps, heavy soled, with a limp favoring the left foot. The girl spun around, a pale hand fluttering to her breast, eyes wide. A flurry of motion was caught in her gaze then nothing more as pain welled in her skull and all went dark.
The phantom tosses a stone.
She grows quiet, eyes unfocused, lost in a world that is neither here nor now. The boy with his violently blue eyes is held rapt by the tale. He is intoxicated by the way her watery eyes meander about the cave as if she could create from the dark misery of this place the lushness of a garden. In his mind there is something so subtly familiar about the threads of the story she weaves that it leaves him disconcerted yet aching for more.
“Yes there is more, but do not be so anxious for the conclusion of this tale. There will be no happy ending.”
“There is always a happy ending,” the boy scoffs, his spun gold features screwing up distastefully. The phantom smiles, lips curling over perfectly aligned white teeth.
“You are young and naive. You forget what sorrow tasted like in your other lives. I am ancient and have no means of forgetting the wrongs done unto me. Some stories do not end happily. I shall prove it.”
Sound of wind in hollow coves, ocean breezes touching on abandoned places entered once again. The girl felt the bite of rock on delicate flesh, bone grinding with stone as she was lowered indelicately to the ground. Hurled onto the floor of an unfamiliar place so dark her eyes could make no sense of her surroundings as they darted to and fro.She struggled to speak through the rough cloth gag biting into her lips. She tasted blood, coppery and bitter, in her mouth. The man, the one with the limp, a gruff and lazy-eyes creature, squatted above her. His breath came hot on her face, smelling of rotten teeth and whiskey.
“Ye’re a purty one, aintcha?” He sucked his teeth and poked her roughly with a hard calloused finger. “Ye’re man gon’ miss ye when he gets home, ain’t he” The man spat at her feet and she struggled to squirm away. It was to no avail. Her arms and legs were tied such that each time she moved the ropes cut deeper into her limbs until she could do nothing but be still and hope for the best.
The man ripped the gag from her mouth and stared at her. His lazy left eye twitched faintly.
“What are you going to do to me, ” she asked in a hoarse whisper, voice catching on choked back sobs, face stark white from terror.
“I’se gon’ wait for ye’re man ta come pays me what he owes me. An’ iffin’ he don’… well, then i’ma kill ye.”
A pebble tossed into the pool, sinking fast to a watery demise.
“Would you hear the ending?” the wraith demands. All the boy can muster is a nod.
Then the ghost becomes not what she is but rather what she once was. The horror of her wasted cerulean skin begins to fade and before and before his very eyes she becomes the maiden of the tale.
His heart breaks for her.
“He never came?” His voice is a whisper faint as the sea breezes themselves. The phantom merely shakes her head mutely. She weeps softly now, spectral tears tumbling to mingle with salty ocean water. Her spirit emits a keening cry that sings of the anguish that is abandonment, the pain of certain doom.
Before he even thinks on his actions, the boy comes around, draws near his phantom held captive and touches her hand. She feels soft now like new skin, and the plague of frozen asphyxiated blue dulls further.
He touches her face.
“Why do you not leave this place,” he demands, gesturing with futility at their macabre surroundings. Outside, the roar of the surf has grown louder, a rushing suck and hiss.
“I cannot,” she whispers. Her eyes are downcast, her lips drawn tight across pristine white teeth.
She looks up, biting her lower lip and listening intently to something.
“But you must,” she says.
“Must what?” He is baffled.
“Go now,” she urges.
The boy shakes his head and moves his hands to cradle her wan face between them.
“I won’t leave you here like this. Come with me.”
“I cannot,” she repeats.
“But you must!” It is his turn to insist. He lowers his hands to her shoulders. The way they fit perfectly into the scalloped edges of her collarbone and the sensation of familiarity startles him but not her. She is not taken aback, does not marvel with wide eyes and slack jaw at the comfort of his touch.
She knows the boy, though his new youth does much to hide the secret. The phantom sees beyond them, the phantom sees the soul for who and what it is. His is an old soul. His is a soul that once was kindred with hers in a garden in a time long past.
“Who are you that you seem so familiar,” the boy muses. His thick eyelashes cast shadows on his cheeks. The ghost smiles a secret close-lipped smile and shakes her head.
“How could I be familiar? I was a dead girl before you were born.”
The boy gazes at her a moment, his brow furrowed deeply.
“Come with me,” he repeats. She shakes her head, coils of blue-black hair drifting lazily over her shoulders.
“I can not leave this place.”
“You could try. We could try.” There is pleading desperation in his eyes. There is a sensation of burning in his gut. He can not pull his eyes from this creature of the netherworld. Fleeting terror and repulsion have passed beyond memory and he only feels a strange draw; the need to wrap his arms tight around her waist; the desire to carry her away from this solitary existence and make her his own.
He fears, suddenly, that he has fallen in love.
“I am a ghost, what would you do with me? What would you have me do if I should break free of this place?”
“I would make you mine.” His force of will is heavy upon her; his breath is very close. She can feel the linking of their minds and hearts. They can both smell the odd aroma of flowers on the air, drowning out the stench of decay.
And what if… what if they succeeded. What if she was to break free?
The girl steps away from him and meets his eyes. A million protests never to be spoken die on her lips as the sound of falling water fills the air. The boy can feel his heart leap into his throat. Without a moments hesitation the creature is pushing him away, shoving him back in the direction he came by.
“Go, you must go, soon it will be too late.” She does not scream and it is all but a wonder that her words are not lost beneath the deafening roar of the thundering tide rushing into the grotto.
Then her hand is clasped in his and they are running, stumbling, falling… knees are skinned, bones crack against hard stones. Still they run towards the mouth of the cave where seawater rushes like a deluge to drown all that lingers here in this place.
She does not need to relive her death to see it before her eyes.
The water rushes in furiously from the mouth of the cave. It has been building up outside the tiny opening as the tide has been rising, and now it has hit the breaking point.
The water crashes down upon them. She feels nothing for she has long now dealt with the havoc of the churning tides.
The boy though, struggles. He gasps for air that is not there as the water fills the tiny cubicle of the cave. And then…
And then there is nothing.
On the dry of land where the surf lazily rolls in and out caressing their bodies, the girl from another time sits beside the unconscious form of her lost love found once again. She knows she cannot remain here, this world does not belong to her. The sun on her skin is a plague of pain.
The light in the sky sears her haunting eyes.
She will leave him.
“We’ll be together one day, fear not,” she whispers softly in his ear, though she knows he cannot hear her and is not even sure that her words are true. But she believes in her heart that she speaks the truth so with that she kisses his lips once, softly. The searing sun burns her blue-tinged skin leaving raw and painful welts; but still she lingers a moment gazing at his sleeping form.
He stirs. He murmurs something akin to a prayer.
And then she leaves him.
When the boy awakens, he is lying on the sand. He is alone. He wants to believe it was all a dream, but the bruises remain to tell the truth.
Perhaps he is insane, but he doesn’t believe that to be the case. What he believes is that, trapped in a cave just offshore, awash now in the high tide waters, there is a girl who is dead but with whom for a few brief moments he found love.
His footsteps falling on sand go unheard. In the space between where the tide has been and where it is now, the tangles of seaweed curl beneath his toes. Wind and waves are for telling stories, and breath is for catching after running long miles away from the scene of the crime.
He walks to the edge of the rocky quay where the waves sizzle and crack against the outcropping. He looks off to the West where the sun is slithering beneath the horizon, the west, where the hidden caves cry out for their mysteries to be discovered. The west where secrets and the cries for rescue remain unheard even in the stillness of the night.
But he has heard, and he has seen and he remembers her words.
“We’ll be together one day, fear not.”