The Undead and the Unforgiven
The sound was there again, much louder this time. Ethan remembered the old stories his mother used to tell him of the aged graveyards in town, the way the bells would go off when the dead would rise from their prisons for they were never really dead at all. Ethan focused on the little moons in the distance as they reflected in the residual rainfall, listening intently for direction. Sound could be deceiving out here, where it danced in the woods and screeched toward the sky.
“Hello?” he turned and checked the front door out of habit – still closed. He was alone.
His boots clomped down the steps and imprinted the dirt underneath. And then it came from his right, a swoop of noise. Ethan swung toward it and found himself facing nothing except the solemn trees that seemed to hush when he faced them. Everyone had their secrets, even nature. Beyond the trees was the town, fraught with arduous people who had forgotten who they were supposed to be and therefore misjudged who they were. Ethan recalled their images well, a mass of them turned downward and away from the burial as he wiped the sad traces from his face before they returned from where they came with their little animal hearts.
Ethan walked out to the makeshift grave he had dug for her out by the gravel road. She always liked this spot as it was the only place she could ever get Chrysanthemums to grow. The land here was not forgiving. He ran his fingers along the string that led to his mother’s bell and tapped it, sending a ringing message to untrained ears. People leave before they are actually gone, trailing clues of what their life must mean to be pieced together by the bereaved.
“I’ve been here too long,” he spoke softly to the tombstone, aged as it was.
His sight settled back onto the sturdy home he had lived in his entire life, with family and then again without. In the darkness, the house appeared bigger somehow. Perhaps it was the way the moon shed its light and created shadows.
Around the side of the house, the sound lurched at him once more – the scrapes becoming quicker. Ethan hurried around while skirting the rusted tools in his path. Bending down at the edge of the porch, he squinted. Wrestling frantically underneath the paneling was a trapped rabbit. Upon seeing Ethan, it tried to dart, grinding itself deeper into a hole.
“Hello, Rabbit,” Ethan poked it with a grimy finger. “Mother would want me to free you.”
The distraught animal recoiled as Ethan sat back.
Ethan witnessed the way his body seemed too big, too large, in the mirror of the rabbit’s pupils. He reached out slowly, in awe of his hand hovering over the vibrating furs of those ears that must hear for miles. He pinched one gently between his thumb and forefinger, surprising himself and the rabbit, too afraid to move now. Ethan’s hands maneuvered around the body, feeling for the problem. Finding a splintered block of wood that had lodged against the back of the animal, Ethan grunted and pushed the wood up. The rabbit darted as Ethan blinked away the miniature red clouds of dust.
Ethan looked out at the road that led away from his home, this place.
Shadows from the surrounding trees danced across the gravel, the trail his mother took as she drove to somewhere new. He remembered the smeared red on her cheek as she shut him out, the lines in her face the tears traveled on, the gray cloud that kicked up behind her truck, the sound of her leaving over those rocks. He remembered how she didn’t look back. He recalled a burial but was unsure whether it was for her, for him.
The stillness of the land stood with him in quiet reverberations, in memoriam.---
This story by Ashley Sapp was chosen by Richland Library to be a part of the Short Édition collection.