Laura Brearley 2018/19
The searing pain,
As my skin burns,
The fiery flames,
As agony returns.
Fire on my skin,
Burning my flesh,
As I thresh.
Eating away life,
The flames pierce me,
Like a sharp knife.
I’m beyond pain,
Awaiting my death,
The flames engulf me,
As I take my last breath.
I observe the lake through my binoculars, searching intently. My eyes follow a beautiful, white swan, as it glides across the surface of the water gracefully. The water vibrates, and ripples, stirring from the disturbance in the water. Gradually, the water stills, making the river resemble a sheet of glass.
I shift my attention back to the swan, as it continues to swim downstream so effortlessly. The magical creature seems to radiate a sense of supremacy and magnificence. The swan composes its head proudly on its impressive, arched neck, as I watch in awe.
I see this display every day, yet it never loses its brilliance, and astonishes me every time.
Its gorgeously positioned head sits on top of its exquisite, curved neck. Its feathers look illuminated, because the sun reflects into the many drops of dew covering the milky, white feathers.
The majestic swan glides over to a jungle of reeds that are bunched together by the edge of the river.
The swan swims out of sight, and full of curiosity, I reposition myself onto higher ground for a better view. I adjust my binoculars, and zoom in. I spot the swan attending to four balls of fluff in a nest made of reeds.
My heart feels heavy as I look at the tiny cygnets in adoration.
I’ve seen so many swans this year. This is so because I have established an association to protect swans.
Since the incident twenty years ago with Ernie and Raymond, I was motivated to protect swans. So I created the Protection of Swans Association, commonly known as P.O.S.A. My wife, Alice, has assisted me through this procedure.
I stare proudly at the family of swans, happy that they will have a full, content life, unlike the swan Ernie shot back in the day.
My face falls instantly, the thought of Ernie brings back terrible memories. I feel a sudden surge of fear, as I wonder where Ernie is now. I know Raymond died of cancer a couple of years back, but what about Ernie?
What if he is watching me right now? I look around me, suddenly feeling paranoid. I unexpectedly feel really unsafe, and can’t stand being alone, standing by the river where the swan was shot without mercy twenty years ago. I never quite recovered from that experience. I still have nightmares, waking up sweating nervously and whimpering in fear.
My hands shaking, I take the binoculars off my head, and place them carefully into its case. I stuff it into my bag quickly, and swing it over my back. With a last glance at the swan, I rush through the bird sanctuary to my house.
I spot it. Seeing the rosy red roof sitting atop the rest of the brick house painted white, the paint peeling. It once was a bird watching shed, but I modified it to fit all the features of a modern day house.
My wife and I have been living here since we were engaged a year ago. I smile at the memory of seeing her walk so beautifully down the aisle. Her white flowing dress dragging along the red carpet littered with white rose petals. Her enchanting smile as she spoke her vows…
I get snapped back to reality as I remember my current situation. Where is Ernie?
I realise how much I fear him. How much I despise his malicious face and menacing smile. His dark forbidding eyes that would give anyone nightmares. I sometimes wonder how that monster is still gripping onto humanity.
Now desperate for the sanctuary of my house, I give up walking, and run towards the door like my life depends on it. I reach the door, and turn the brass handle frantically. I rush into the house, and slam the door, locking it.
Panting, I walk into the dining room and chuck my bag onto the table carelessly. Still feeling nervous, I crave the warmth and comfort of a cup of coffee. So I search through the pantry, finally finding the coffee beans, and crush them, imagining Ernie’s face. Angry, I crush the beans with unnecessary force, smashing them so viciously that they became powder within seconds.
Breathing hard, I reluctantly stop crushing the beans, and put them in a white mug. I pour the milk in, and turn the kettle on.
After a few minutes, I pour some boiled water in the cup, then sip it slowly, not noticing the scorching hot drink burning my tongue. I take the mug off my lips and place it on the table, my hands trembling.
Why am I so scared? I have not seen him for twenty years. I have never been this frightened since that day. Ernie could be in another country for all I know. Yet I feel so intimidated by him. But why now? I thought I finally overcome my fear of him. I thought the memory of him was not so daunting anymore. But no, it has returned.
Something inside me seems to snap. I need to know, I realise. I must find out where Ernie is. I have no idea why this sudden obsession has overtaken me, but I don’t question it. Without thinking, I take my computer out of my bag, and begin to research.
I scan the files at the police station website, expecting to find some record about Ernie misbehaving. But I could not find anything. But there must be something. I look again, and find a file I must have overlooked. Full of curiosity, I open the file, and my heart stops. At the top of the page were two letters in bold that sends a chill down my spine.
I freeze, staring at the picture under the name. It is Ernie. My heartbeat quickens, and I exhale, releasing the breath I didn’t know I was holding. I feel frightened yet excited at I scroll down the page. I read his numerous crimes listed, covering two whole pages.
Abusive manner to children. Explicate swearing directed towards the police. Stealing a car. Knocking down an elderly woman purposely. The list went on and on. I look at the dates, and my face falls. These dates were old, from twenty years ago, some even longer. Disappointed, I close the file, and shut my computer, feeling unsuccessful.
I sigh, and hear the front door slam. I jump, the sudden noise in the silent house scaring me. I turn around in my chair and smile. My wife, Alice, smiles back, it is definitely one of her best features. But her most exquisite characteristics is her powerful, blue eyes, shining inquisitively. Her hair is blonde, curling beautifully around her heart shaped face.
How did I end up with a woman like her? I wonder, staring at her passionately. We met at university when we were both studying ornithology, a science devoted to birds.
“Hi Peter, you’re home early,” she greets me, and kisses my cheek.
“Yeah,” my voice shakes, and I try to hide the tremor, but without success, “Had to research some stuff.” She frowns, her brow creasing with concern. “Are you okay?” Alice asks, looking at me with concern, “You’re very pale, and awfully quiet, it just isn’t like you.”
“I’m okay,” I mumble, attempting to hide my emotions by smiling weakly.
“Now we both now that smile is fake,” Alice looks at me unconvincingly, and sits down next to me, “Now what is bothering you?” I sigh, I have never been able to keep my emotions to myself when Alice is around. I give in, and reply, “To be honest, it’s about Ernie.” A shadow dawns on Alice’s face, and frowns in disgust. “You mean that horrid man who did awful things to you when you were a child? I thought you were over him,” she asks.
“So did I,” I frown, “But suddenly I feel like finding out where he is, and what he has been doing all these years.”
Alice glares at me disapprovingly, “Peter Watson! As your wife, I can have a say in what is right for you, and I say you should not go seeking that man. He has done enough damage already.” She stares at me stubbornly, daring me to disagree. I raise my hands in submission, accepting that my childish phase of Ernie had to end. “Whatever you say,” I smile.
“Now,” Alice bustles over to the kitchen and opens the fridge, staring at the contents thoughtfully, “How does salmon and salad sound for dinner?”
“Delicious,” I reply.
“Oh goody,” Alice claps her hands enthusiastically, “I’ll start right away.”
I hardly notice as Alice scurries around the kitchen preparing the meal, my mind is on other things.
Even after promising Alice I won’t do any more digging, I can’t help but think about him. How has his life been? Is he in jail? Has he changed? But the most important question that continuously pops in my head, is: where is he?
What if I walk past him every day and didn’t notice? Could he be following me everywhere? Is he watching me right now? Planning to attack when I least expect it.
My skin tingles, and I look around anxiously, expecting to see Ernie’s wicked face watching me through the window.
I shake my head. I’m being too paranoid, I tell myself judgmentally. But what if all my fears are true? I push away the thought, trying not to let it terrorise me. I need to forget about it. I need to stop being afraid. I need to let it go.
The pain in my stomach is overpowering. The aching sensation feels like acid ripping a hole through me, dissolving my flesh and bone slowly and painfully. It’s torture. I moan in anguish, the pain in tormenting. I clutch my stomach in agony, and I double over, nausea and dizzy spells making my head spin.
I have felt these pains many times before. They are all too familiar. I am hungry. I am starving.
This is my life now. I am homeless, broke and unemployed. No one wants to employ a man with a criminal record of many horrible things including attempted murder. I have been turned down for so many jobs that I’ve lost count. I have given up on trying. No one wants to employ me.
Since I have never gotten a job, I haven’t earned a single penny to pay for food and water. I will never have a house, I realise. I might not even be alive tomorrow. I’ll probably die from one of the many things that threaten to take my life every day. Starvation, dehydration, sickness and exposure.
I stare up at the sky blankly, not caring at all. Who cares if I die? I think darkly. No one loves me. No one has loved me ever. Even my own father. Possibly even Raymond.
I bow my head in misery.
I am sitting on a bench opposite to the line of shops, people bustling back and forth. The bench is also next to the road, and the sound of traffic is deafening. I smell car exhaustions, and I grimace in disgust at the terrible odour.
Since being convicted of attempted murder twenty years ago, life has been tough. After getting out of jail five years after, I have been roaming the streets.
I remember Peter’s overjoyed face in court when the judge said I was guilty. I remember how much hatred I felt inside. An immense burning in my throat, as I scowled at him.
I shake my head, discarding the memory. I need to forget about him, I promised myself to change. I take a deep breath, and sigh.
I spot something in the corner of my eye, and I turn my head to investigate. A half-eaten subway lies on the pavement, perfectly intact. I smile, full of excitement. I scurry over to the sandwich, and stuff it into my mouth, eating like my life depended on it, and it probably did.
The deep ache in my abdomen begins to subside, as food enters my empty stomach. Feeling relieved, I stop scoffing the subway, and eat it slowly, savouring the taste.
Wonderful flavours explode in my mouth. Beautiful tender chicken skims across my tongue, and a burst of taste melts in my mouth. I also taste tomato, cucumber, lettuce and aioli.
Before I know it, I have finished it, and I return to my bench, my hunger not quite satisfied, yet the ache in my stomach has diminished.
I try to sleep, but I can’t help but notice the unsympathetic stares pointed at me. When people see me, they walk past hastily, glancing quickly, before looking away, embarrassed and scared. Some stare in pity, then look away in disgust.
I don’t blame them. I am not a pretty sight.
My hair is greasy and unwashed, grey hairs already appearing within the rest of the brown locks. A long, scruffy beard hangs off my chin, stopping at my chest. Grime and dirt cover my face and skin, making it obvious I haven’t washed in a while. My clothes are dirty and ripped, since I have worn the same outfit for fifteen years. I stink of odour and car fumes, including a couple of other unidentified smells. No wonder everyone avoids me.
I look around, feeling lost and helpless. There’s nowhere I can go. No one wants me. No one cares. I’ll never have a family, or settle down. Never have a place to call home.
I am hardly aware of the tears streaking down my grimy face. I ignore the people staring, and cry my heart out.
I’m so lonely. The only person who is still alive and knows me is Peter. Little, innocent Peter.
An idea pops into my head, and I frown. What if Peter could forgive me? Maybe we could start over. I need a friend. I need company. I don’t care if it’s the person who got me into jail for five years.
Hope pumps through my veins. Even though the chance of making Peter forgive me, let alone find him, is small, I am still desperate to try. I grasp onto the tiny slither of hope, hoping I can hold on, and not fall down, deeper than where I am now. But the tiniest possibly is enough to make me attempt to find Peter.
Beginning my journey to find Peter, I stand up, full of energy and confidence, and walk over to a person standing at the bus stop, looking impatient.
He is a stout man in what looks like his thirties. He is completely bald except for a tiny horseshoe around the bottom of his head. He is wearing a suit, and is sending off a vibe of someone important and with authority. When he notices me, he crinkles his nose in disgust, staring with disapproval.
“Mr, can I ask you a question?” I ask.
“Why would I waste my time talking to someone…” the man hesitates, trying to find the right word, “… of your class.”
“It’s real important,” I reply desperately.
“Fine,” the man responds reluctantly, “But make it quick.”
“Do ya know anything ‘bout a guy named Peter Watson?” I question inquisitively.
“Ah yes,” recognition glinting in the portly man’s eyes, “I believe I have done business with him.”
“Well, I was wondering where he might be?” I enquire curiously.
“He lives and works at the Emerald Bird Sanctuary, the home base for the Protection of Swans Association,” the man informs.
“Thanks for the information,” I acknowledge.
“Now shoo,” he waves his hand as if he were swatting a fly, “You’ve wasted more than enough of my time.” The man turns away, so I assume he is not willing to talk to me anymore, therefore the conversation is over.
I walk away, but don’t go back to my park bench. Instead I keep walking, somehow knowing the way. I am going home. To my home town. Where I was born.
I remember the day I shot multiple birds in the sanctuary. Shot the swan. Shot Peter.
I grimace. My life changed in that place. I can’t believe I did such disgusting things.
I push the memory from my mind, and only think about one thing. Going home. Going to the bird sanctuary. Finding Peter.
I wake up to the bright sun illuminating its magnificent glow across my face, arousing me from my slumber. Squinting, I open my eyes, and yawn. I didn’t get much sleep because the night was full of restless dreams and nightmares of Ernie and the swan. Many times during the night I woke up, sweating and shaking.
Reluctantly, I get out of bed, feeling very tired. Alice has already left, probably checking on the family of swans that lack a father.
I get changed mechanically, my movements automatic, and without thought. After eating honey on toast for breakfast, I walk out of the house with my satchel. I make my way to the river, craving the solitude and peace.
It seems really quiet this morning. The crickets are absent, and nothing seems to stir the river. The reeds are completely still, for there is no breeze to disturb them. The water’s surface lacks ripples, as it seems that there is nothing to make a disruption to the perfectly still water. The blue, cloudless sky reflects into the water, making it seem unnaturally blue.
I sigh and smile, enjoying the tranquility and serenity. The silence is broken at the sound of footsteps behind me, crunching dried leaves and green grass covered in dew. I tense, frozen in fear. Who is behind me?
I turn slowly, fearing to reveal the face. I stare at the man standing there, gaping in horror.
I back away in fear, remembering how he treated and threatened me. How he killed all those birds, including the swan. How he tied me to the train track without mercy, a malicious grin on his face. How he shot me without thought, without feeling, without emotion.
I stifle a scream as I prepare to run. I continue to back away, not trusting to look away from my most hated enemy. He watches me withdraw from him, a sense of hopelessness on his face. “Wait!” Ernie calls gruffly, his face straining. I try to reply, but I do not trust myself to speak, fearing that my unshed tears will fall. Realising that I am not going to respond, Ernie keeps talking, “I know I did bad things to you, and I regret it. I don’t blame ya that you were mad. I guess what I’m trying to say is… is I’m sorry for the trouble I’ve caused ya, and I am wondering whether you’ll forgive me?”
I can’t stand it anymore, and I snap. “What do you mean you’re sorry?!” I scream, “You don’t even have emotions! You don’t care about anyone or anything! You’re a bloody monster! I’ll never forgive you! I hate you! I HATE YOU!!!”
Tears fall down Ernie’s stunned face, grief and depression hitting him like a punch in the gut. Unable to endure it anymore, he turns around and runs. I watch him run away, feeling a tinge of guilt. But I push the emotion away, only feeling anger. How could I ever forgive him? Or can I forgive him? Am I too afraid to do it?
I stare uncertainly after Ernie, watching him disappear out of sight. Once I can see him no longer, I force myself to follow, feeling reluctant. My moment of anger and lack of control disappears, and is immediately replaced by shame. With a sigh, I walk towards where Ernie disappeared, my anger hardly noticeable for my body has been taken over by guilt.
I run up the grassy hill, following the disturbed ground that Ernie’s feet dug up. The footsteps stay by the river, not going inland at all. Suddenly, I see a big tree by the river, its branches hanging over the water, its leaves brushing the surface. I instantly recognise the tree. It’s the tree Ernie shot me in twenty years ago. I shiver in dread, the memory feeling fresh.
Then I see him.
He is in the top of the tree, looking down at the river blankly. He is going to jump. I realise in horror. “Don’t do it, Ernie,” I yell, a sudden burst of wind dulling my shout. But he still heard it. “Why should you care?” He spits cruelly, “You didn’t seem to care before.”
“I’m sorry about before,” I apologise truthfully, “I didn’t mean to say what I said.”
“Why should I forgive you when you didn’t forgive me? Why should I give you a second chance? You never did,” Ernie replies angrily, shuffling closer to the end of the branch.
“Please Ernie,” I strain my face, “Don’t do this.”
“Why? There’s nothing in this world that I wouldn’t want to die for. I have nothing,” Ernie stares into the distance miserably, “Why should I live?”
“Because you still have a whole lot of adventure ahead of you,” I explain, “You have so much more to live for.” I start climbing the tree, clinging onto knobs and grabbing branches. “Come down,” I plead, reaching the top of the tree, sitting on the branch next to Ernie. I hold out my hand, expecting Ernie to take it. But instead he shakes his head, and slips off the tree smoothly, plummeting towards the black, forbidding water.
“Ernie!” I scream.
Without thinking, I jump after him, making myself as straight as possible, waiting for the impact. I finally hit the water, and I go completely under. My feet smash into the rocks at the bottom of the river, and pain shoots up my leg and I wince. Favouring my left leg, I swim downstream, the current doing most of the work. I see Ernie’s head bobbing on top of the water, unconscious, four metres in front of me. I swim as fast as I can towards him, and grab his arm. My head gets pushed under water, but I push it back up, taking in a gulp of air. I hold Ernie’s head above the water, struggling to keep my own head above the surface. We are being washed downstream at a phenomenal speed, the trees and brush on the shore rushing pass in a blur.
I need to get to shore.
I try to find some ground under me, but it’s too deep. I attempt to swim to shore, but the process is slow, and I keep being pushed back into the middle of the river. The water is cold, and I am shivering uncontrollably. I will not be surprised if I die from hyperthermia before I drown.
I keep trying to swim to shore but it’s hopeless. The current is too powerful, and I am too weak. My grip on Ernie is weakening, and I am struggling to hold on. Suddenly a strong current pushes me under, and Ernie loosens out of my grasp.
I try to swim back to the surface, but I am being pulled down to the bottom of the river. A rock on the bottom bashes into my ribs and I scream in pain, bubbles emerging from my mouth. The agonising pain is excruciating, and I nearly black out. I long for air, and my lungs feel like they are going to explode. The lack of oxygen and the pain in my ribs makes me feel woozy, and blackness eats away at my vison.
I’m fading. Fading. Fading.
No! I must live! With the sudden urgency to survive, I kick off the bottom of the river with my good leg, and my head emerges from the river, breaking through the surface of the water. I splutter, coughing water out of my system. I take in a deep breath with relief, my lungs need satisfied. I look around in panic, looking for Ernie. Then I spot him up ahead, floating on top of the water. Suddenly, he sinks out of sight, and I stare in horror.
I dive down after him, opening my eyes. The cold water stings my eyes, but I do not care. I go after Ernie’s blurry shape sinking to the bottom of the river. I continue to swim down, with hardly any breath left. I grab for Ernie’s wrist and swim up. I gasp in a breath of air, feeling gratified, and hold Ernie’s head above the water. I do not know if he is still breathing, and I do not want to know.
A fallen tree is in the river, and I swim towards it desperately. I use all my energy I have left to overpower the river’s current, and grab onto the log. I hold on desperately, not caring about the splinters that tear into my skin. I lift Ernie onto the log, then lift myself onto it, finally out of the water. The cold wind blows onto my wet body, making me even more freezing. I push Ernie and myself across the log, and onto land. Exhausted, I collapse, and cough up water eagerly, my body spasming.
I look over to Ernie. His face is pale and his lips are blue. I feel his skin. It’s cold.
I freeze. Is he dead? I place my fingers on his wrist feeling for a pulse. Nothing. Is Ernie really dead?
Suddenly I feel a faltering flutter. A pulse. It’s weak, but it is there. I sigh in relief, but realise that he is not breathing. Panicked, I begin to thump his chest rapidly. “Come on, Ernie. Come on,” I mumble desperately. I put my mouth to his lips, and exhale, pinching his nose. I then continue to do CPR, thumping his chest. I breathe into his mouth again, still making no progress. Tears fall down my face. This is all my fault. Why did I have to lash out like that? Why was I so angry?
I stop thumping his chest, and respire into his mouth before doing it all over again. I do it again and again without prevail. “Come on, Ernie. Don’t give up,” I mutter anxiously.
I have to do this. I care about Ernie, despite what happened in the past. He deserves to live. To have a life. Not to die.
I continue the CPR with detirmination, and with one finale push, I bring down my hands and give it my all.
Water gushes out of Ernie’s mouth, and he coughs and splutters. He gasps in air, and opens his eyes. He looks around in confusion, then focuses his vision onto my triumphant face.
“Peter,” Ernie wheezes.”
“Are you okay?” I ask worryingly.
“Yeah,” his voice shakes.
“I thought you would never wake up,” I say apprehensively.
“You saved my life,” Ernie acknowledges, and hugs me awkwardly, “Thanks.”
“Well don’t thank me yet,” I reply fretfully, “We are both cold, and dreadfully lost.” I look at my left leg that has been throbbing painfully, and see my ankle is swollen and purple from bruising. It’s probably broken. Ernie follows my gaze, and looks at my ankle pitifully. “I can’t really walk, I think it’s broken,” I say. I touch my ribs gingerly, and groan in pain. A rock bashed into them while I was being washed downstream. They are also probably broken. Ernie frowns, “I think I know where we are.”
“You do?” My face brightens up hopefully.
“Yeah, my house from when I was a boy is near here,” Ernie looks around, recognition in his eyes, “I used to practice ‘ere with me shotgun.”
“Let’s go there and see if anyone can help,” I say.
“Okay,” Ernie stands up and supports me. I hop along, leaning on Ernie’s shoulder, and trying not to let my sore ribs touch him. We walk for ten minutes before I spot an old house, black smoke billowing out of the chimney. Someone must live there. As I near, I can smell mould and wood shavings.
Finally, we reach the house, and Ernie knocks on the door. I hear footsteps that come closer and closer. Then the squeak of the door knob as it is turned. The door opens, creaking loudly, revealing the person behind it. I stare at the familiar face, a ghost of my past. Ernie and I open our mouths in shock.
He stares at us as though he is as shocked to see us as we are shocked to see him. “Well that’s a sight I thought I’ll never see,” Raymond smiles amusingly, “Ernie helping Peter.”
“But…” Ernie stares at Raymond confusingly, ignoring his comment, “You’re dead. You died of cancer. I went to your funeral…”
“It was all a scam. I faked my death so I’ll live a life of peace and solitude,” Raymond grins.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Ernie asks.
“I didn’t want you to worry ‘bout me. I wanted everyone to forget me so I can go on with my life without anyone intruding or interrupting,” Raymond explains, then looks down at me and I shiver, “What’s little Peter doing ‘ere. And why are you both drenched? Gone for a swim have ya?”
“I fell in the river, and Peter saved me from drowning,” Ernie explains, leaving out the fact that he fell in the river on purpose, hoping that it would end it all.
“Well you don’t say,” Raymond looks at me curiously, “Are you guys besties now?”
“Kind of,” I mumble, shivering from the cold and pain.
“Then you’re welcome,” Raymond states overenthusiastically, “Come inside, you must be freezing.” Relieved, I limp into the warm house with the help of Ernie, and sit down on a chair by the fire. The heat washes over me, and I sigh. Ernie sits down beside me, and rubs his hands together. Raymond watches us, and sighs with envy. “What have you been doing all these years?” Ernie asks Raymond.
“I don’t know. Stuff,” Raymond shrugs.
“I bet it gets lonesome,” I say. Raymond nods, sadness from the years of isolation in his eyes. A sudden wave of nausea and pain makes me double over, and I fall off my chair. My ankle and ribs are aching, and sore, throbbing painfully. My head aches terribly and I cringe in anguish. “Peter,” I hear Ernie say. But I can’t process the words. The world is fading too fast. Suddenly everything goes black.
I stare at Peter’s limp body troublingly. “He needs a doctor, call the ambulance,” I demand.
Raymond shakes his head, “I can’t.”
“What do you mean you can’t? Do you not have a phone?” I ask.
“No, I have a phone,” Raymond assures me.
“Then what is it?” I query.
“They’ll find me, I can’t let them know I’m alive,” Raymond explains.
“Then what do we do?” I inquire.
“Call them and say you’re by Emerald River, I’ll then help you carry Peter to the river. They can find you there,” Raymond explains.
“Okay,” I say, and Raymond calls 000, telling them ‘where they are’, and what the injury is. After hanging up, he helps me carry Peter down to the River. I am holding his arms, and Raymond is gripping onto his legs. Finally we get to the river, and we put Peter down gently on the grassy bank. I hear an ambulance siren blaring loudly, and Raymond looks around nervously. “I need to leave,” Raymond says, looking at Ernie sadly.
“Why can’t you stay with me? Not live alone,” I offer.
“No, I can’t. I’m meant to live alone. So no one can judge me,” Raymond looks at me miserably, “I wish things could be different.” Unable to say goodbye, Raymond looks away, and walks hastily back to his home. Back to his lonely life.
The ambulance appears, and doctors get a stretcher out of the back of the vehicle. They lift Peter’s unconscious body onto it, and lift him into the ambulance. One of the female medical staff look at me and ask, “Are you okay? You seem pale.”
“Well I kind of drowned half an hour ago, but Peter revived me. He dived in after me after I fell into the river. He saved my life, and nearly took his own,” I retell the story.
“That’s very heroic,” she smiles, then frowns, “And you need to rest. You need to be hospitalised as well. Drowning takes a lot of your energy.”
“Okay,” I say, and she turns away. I grab her shoulder, stopping her. “Is he going to be okay?” I ask.
“Yes, he will be fine,” she smiles encouragingly, and I feel relieved. I go into the back of the ambulance with Peter, and stare out of the window, watching the ground zoom by as the ambulance speeds towards the hospital.
I smile with relief. Peter was going to be okay. I look at Peter’s peaceful body and sigh. I bend over his face, and whisper into his ear, “I forgive you.”
Peter stirs and smiles, then croaks quietly, “So do I.”
Beneath The Grave
I should feel regret, drowning in my numerous immoralities. Regret of the dried blood encasing my muddy hands, a knife dripping with crimson gripped tightly within my trembling yet relentless grasp, an iron shovel clutched in my other hand. My deplorable evils should be overwhelming me into insanity, my mental state spiralling into madness. Emotions of remorse and mourning are absent from my mind, even though the length of my sins ought to be tormenting me. I should be suffering for my iniquity. Yet I feel nothing. Only the pouring rain colliding onto my back, plummeting down from the grey clouds above, wet fingers caressing my spine. The sound of rain echoes hollowly in my ears, simply a repeated memory of the raindrops plunging into the ground. The tranquil noises drown out the demented voices in my head, and I stand in silent appreciation, although it gradually becomes an eerie silence.
I am surrounded by the ominous shadows of darkness. An abrupt strike of flickering lightning manipulates the surrounding shadows, making it seem like monstrous things lie within the sanctuary of darkness, watching me. Suddenly, another flash of lightning briefly gifts me with temporary sight, illuminating my surroundings. It is followed by the low rumble of thunder that vibrates through me, seeming to rattle my bones. The fleeting, luminous glow reveals the shocking sight before me, and dread floods through my pulsing veins. The abrupt emotion catches me off guard. Then I realise why it emerged from my detached and impassive mind, seeping through the weak crevices in my emotional shield, and it scares me.
The world returns to darkness as the lightning passes, yet the full moon shining through the canopy of branches above is enough to allow me to see. My eyes slowly drift to the abysmal, obscure hole in the ground in front of me, my nerves on end, knowing something abnormal lies within.
I dug that hole, I remember abruptly, horrified by how my deteriorating memories of the past few hours are gradually converging. Like pieces of a puzzle, each connection reveals a story. A sudden gust of wind weaves rapidly through the trees, a barely audible whisper brushing gently onto the back of my neck, my hair standing on end. The trees suddenly appear menacing, their dead spindling branches outstretched, attempting to snatch me. I shiver even though I am not cold.
Despite the wrong sensation squirming inside me, I step forward, ignoring the unnerving, paranormal sounds emanating from the shadows. I peer precariously over the edge of the chasm in the soil. The rim of the hole has particles of dirt cascading down into the sinister abyss, tapering the perimeter of the daunting unknown.
My eyes then drop to the pale figure lying on the earth. I see her. Her appearance so familiar that it is almost painful.
The silky, white fabric is embroidered with elaborate designs, sequins woven into the extravagant material. The dark, red stain of blood contrasted dramatically against the ivory dress. It almost seemed sinful for such a beautiful and elegant gown to be impaired and tainted by that cruel, crimson stain. The exquisite fabric is cut in the chest, the result of a sharp blade. I avert my gaze to the bloodied knife clenched in my left hand, and I realise what I have done. I expect grief and horror to course through me. Instead, I smile, laughing unexpectedly, staring down at the crippled body. Euphoria spreads through me like the blood that bleeds through the ivory fabric.
She is decaying, the pungent stench is repulsive. Her once beautiful, pale skin a sickly grey, nauseating maggots squirming in the red cavity in her chest. The wound is deep, and I could see her heart, pulsing slowly. But how?
Ebony. My beautiful bride.
True to her name, her obsidian black hair is as dark as night, surrounding her pale, innocent face, her complexion a stark contrast with her onyx locks. You can almost mistake her for sleeping serenely, until you notice her open, unsettling eyes. Her once piercing green irises are now filmy and faded, grey and unseeing. One would think she is dead, yet her chest still rises and falls unevenly. But she cannot possibly be alive.
I should feel mournful, but only anger surges through my body. Why is she alive?
I turn my head abruptly and raise the knife in my hand, the moon glinting off its sharp surface. I strike my arm down with one efficient movement and release the blade. It flies towards her, and digs into her neck, slicing through flesh and bone. Her eyes widen, and she gurgles a noise, attempting to speak despite her severed windpipe.
I remain undisturbed, and mechanically walk over to the pile of dirt beside the grave. I raise my shovel and begin to push the dirt into the hole on top of her, hoping to bury my sins with her. She screams, blood gurgling in her cry, echoing through the night.
I continue to cover her living body with dirt, and she remains motionless, unable to save herself. She croaks quietly, and for once I am able to distinguish what she is saying.
“Cain,” she gurgles my name quietly in a desperate plea, betrayal in her blank eyes.
I hesitate, standing transfixed, a single fragment of humanity returning to me. Tears begin to gather in my eyes, cascading down my cheeks. Yet I do not mourn, neither do I regret my sin.
I discard my doubtful emotions and continue to pile the soil onto my bride until I can see her no more, and I grin in satisfaction. I transfer the last of the dirt into the grave and pat it down with the surface of my shovel.
I inspect the segment of earth carefully and nod with approval when I realise that the dirt looks undisturbed, as if it were never dug up. I turn around, releasing the shovel from my grip, and it hits the ground with a thud. I transition into a brisk walk without hesitation. I feel emotions no more.
I jump in fear when I hear a muffled, ear-splitting scream coming from beneath the soil. I cannot distinguish whether it is a fantasy in my head or reality. Either way, I continue to walk away, ignoring my lover’s pleading cries and the dread that gradually builds up inside me.
Beneath the grave
Once lay a corpse
Lying still in darkness
On the bed of loss
It shall simply stay a carcass
Below the soil it decays
Memories of a bouquet
On their wedding day
Though it did not come to pass
Due to the murder of the bride
By bloodied hand of groom
Who betrayed and lied
Who slayed her heart by knife
Vengeance will occur soon
But to whom one shall assume
Is the murderous groom
Yet this confined soul
Aches to be free
Its unachievable goal
To leave her lifeless body
To find the traitor and drown him in their blood
So he can repay his morbid sins
I feel a presence at the back of my mind, constantly lingering in my conscious. A supernatural spirit living inside me. This persistent force is gradually driving me into madness. Memories of stabbing my bride continuously emerge without me requesting their presence. Certain recollections on replay, each repeat forcing me to identify appropriate emotions, and I begin to feel them.
Dread. Sorrow. Regret.
They overtake my whole mind, always finding another way to torment me. Without my control, a force suddenly pulls me towards an unknown place, and my feet begin to transport me to a foreign destination. I wind through the trees, feeling like a magnet as I get drawn towards my other half.
The trees that once possessed a variety of green pigmented leaves are now gone, replaced by dead trees with bare branches. My surroundings start to become strangely familiar, and I cannot quite recall why. Then it hits me and I freeze, paralysed in fear, a cold sensation trickling down my spine.
I stare down at the earth in front of me and I inhale sharply, stepping back in terror, yet I do not move. A shovel lies innocently on the ground, a single tool surrounded by nothing but dirt. I inhale and exhale heavily, panic surging through me. I try to step back again, only to fail once more. I struggle frantically with the invisible force, but I remain completely still.
“Dig,” I hear a feminine voice command quietly, sending chills down my spine, the source not visible. No. My eyes widen in horror, and I begin to bend over involuntarily, my hand grabbing for the handle of the shovel. I pick it up, even though I try not to, and I drive it deep into the ground.
I stop. All is quiet, the world completely still.
Then I lift the shovel without warning and a pile of dirt with it. I dig, and I dig, no amount of resistance can make me stop. After minutes of agony, I am deep in the ground, only the top of my head visible. I push the shovel into the earth again and it sliced into something other than the soil. I remove the shovel from the dirt, and I hear a moist squelch sound, making me quiver in disgust. I stare at the tip of the shovel and gag. It is covered in red liquid, a brown slimy object stuck on the tip of the spade.
Suddenly red liquid begins to seep from the hole in the ground, spreading rapidly, flowing around my ankles and gradually rising to my knees. I scream hysterically, my throat hardly releasing the bloodcurdling sound. I am completely confused and afraid of what is happening, feeling helpless as I stand still, unable to move. The crimson blood rises to my waist, and I reach my hands out to the edges of the hole to try get out, but I cannot move. Instead, my knees bend and the red liquid reaches my neck, gradually covering my chin. I cannot get out of this, for my limbs seem to be fused, stuck in place.
I take a deep breath before my head is completely immersed by blood. I taste its metallic flavour, the crimson fluid going into my eyes. The pressure gradually builds up inside me until I am forced to take a breath, and the blood flows into my lungs, suffocating me.
I am drowning. Drowning in my lover’s blood. Drowning in my own.
My vision gradually tapers at the edges, darkness spreading like a decay. I slowly slip into oblivion, the unknown greeting me with open arms.
I feel like I am rising, my feet lifting off the ground as I ascend through the blood. Suddenly my head breaks the surface and I inhale a much needed breath. The red liquid overflows the grave and the current lifts me onto the ground and I tumble limply, coughing up blood as I roll. My clothes are drenched in blood, and I turn around towards the grave. It is completely uncontaminated, no blood visible as if it were never there.
Confused, I approach the hole and look into its profound depths. In the centre of the pure soil lies Ebony, her flesh decomposed, her bones visible. I look away in disgust, but I force myself to look back. But all I see is a hole with nothing but dirt. Where did she go?
Suddenly the hairs on my back stand on end, sensing something unearthly behind me. I pause, feeling the weight of someone’s watching eyes on my back. A familiar yet alien hand touches my shoulder, and I tense at the solid contact, yet I could mistake it as a gentle breeze. My blood runs cold, and I slowly turn around, scared for what may see.
Something abruptly pushes into me and I fly forward head first towards the ground. I have no time to scream as my head collides with the ground and the sound of my neck snapping vibrates throughout my body. I feel a sharp, excruciating agony, then nothing. I fade into oblivion, darkness spreading through me, my soul wandering into my bride's welcoming arms.
Nothingness engulfs me and I think no more. The last thing I hear is a sweet whisper, sending pleasurable chills through me. All there is around me is infinite darkness.
“I forgive you,” I hear her whisper, her voice echoing in the darkness, “We have eternity now.”
My love, my life
Is as endless as the sea
The debt of blood is repaid
And my lover shall join me
Beneath the grave
Beneath the soil
Hand in hand we shall lie
For eternity upon our bed of mixed bloods
And guilt shall not weary us
As our demise, and the darkness of our grave binds us
As do our bleeding hearts, stabbed by our lovers
Together we shall stay
Beneath the grave
Insignificant droplets of rain collide with the hard surface of the cobblestone streets. Each rock is smooth and worn, yet slightly chipped around the edges, due to its inevitable age. I can feel the coolness of the stones seep through the bottom of my leather shoes, releasing a piercing cold sensation to churn within my feet. The entire road has been dampened from the consistently pouring rain, puddles beginning to gather on the ancient stones. I gaze up at the menacing dark grey clouds that cover the entire sky, concealing the sun from sight. The lack of light causes the towering houses and stores on either side of me to hide in shadow, seeming to radiate a miserable atmosphere.
People bustle around me with their heads down to avoid the rain. Horse-drawn carriages make their way down the street, the horses’ hooves clopping against the cobblestone road. Occasionally I hear a distressed neigh, followed by a chorus of whinnies. The distraught cries cause me to tense anxiously, as I quicken my pace. The once familiar streets are beginning to become unwelcoming, as the black shadows gradually spread through the lower town.
But I know that my eventual relief is near, the anticipation consuming my mind, causing it to tingle eagerly. My baby blue eyes dart upwards briefly, and I am able to observe the progressively nearing forest on the outskirts of the village, barely ten metres away.
I can hear my rapidly beating heart pound in my ears, eliminating all my other senses. I hear nothing except my heart and my rapid, recurring breathing. The buildings fall behind me, and I am suddenly surrounded by nature’s greens and browns, the forest engulfing me.
A heavy burden is released from my chest, and I exhale slowly in relief. I have escaped from the disagreement and sadness that the village brings upon me. For once I am able to breathe. To genuinely breathe. Free from the judgemental eyes of others.
My name is Isabel Fletcher and I am sixteen. A stubborn woman in a sexist civilisation. My father is the local blacksmith, and even he expects me to do “my duties”. I must clean and work all day, and I am expected to obey all men’s wishes. It is no secret that I despise and rebel against these laws.
Sometimes these expectations I apparently must possess is overwhelming beyond my limits, and I go to the woods to be myself for once. Instead of this lady I just do not aspire to be.
I walk deeper into the forest, my feet leading me towards my private sanctuary. I smile as the river comes into view, the quiet water trickling over the smoothened pebbles. The droplets of rain ripple the surface of the river, forming a natural work of art. I step into the cold water, allowing the familiar chilled sensations travel up my legs. I embrace the distraction that allows me to forget about everything for a couple of fleeting, precious moments.
I stroke the tips of my loose black hair methodically, combing my fingers through the waves of my hair and begin to weave them together in a pattern I am only familiar with when making baskets. The process is calming, and once I complete the improvised braid I smile triumphantly.
But my smile falls when a memory breaks through the temporary barrier that the coldness of the river instils upon me. A single reminiscence of my horrid life beyond the woods that causes me to fall to my knees. I do not realise nor care for the inconspicuous pain as blood drips from a cut in my knee where a sharp stone is embedded. I am only aware of the hot tears cascading down my cheeks. The grey skirt of my dress becomes saturated as the water bleeds through the fabric. The emotional recollection of that night two weeks ago plays through my mind, as I bury my face into my hands, running my fingers desperately through my hair, trying to hold on to my sanity.
I was walking from the woods after a particularly long visit, the dark streets deserted and abandoned. I felt like I was being watched, gazing eyes weighed down on my back as I picked up my pace, urgent to return home. Suddenly I heard footsteps, and an unfamiliar man grabbed me from behind. My screams were muffled in his cupped hand that covering my mouth, as he dragged me into a side street hidden in shadow. “You’re a pretty girl,” he whispered into my ear, “Why don’t we have a little fun?” No matter how much I resisted against his touch I was unable to free myself. He raped me, then left me alone to roam on the streets. I was dizzy and I had no sense of direction. I got home late that night after finally finding my way, and I still possess the bruises from my father’s beating that followed my return. He said that being raped was no excuse and is a part of a women’s life. He scolded me for resisting, he said that I must obey a man’s wishes. I cried myself to sleep that night, bleeding from the assault and the wounds my father inflicted.
I gasp, re-emerging from the painful memory. I scrunch my eyes shut in a desperate attempt to shield myself from the world and the awful memories that continuously haunt me. They will always be in the corner of my mind, only to reappear when my mental state is most vulnerable and my sanity can easily be shattered.
I gaze upwards, noticing the ashen grey clouds have mostly departed, allowing the sun to shine down on the land once again. I inhale sharply as I realise how low the sun is in the sky, indicating I have been here for hours. Dusk is nearing, the sky beginning to darken as the sun sinks further, emitting an orange glow to emanate across the horizon. My father will be wondering where I am. What lie shall I conduct this time? What if he beats me again? I wonder in fear, dread surging through my veins.
I step out of the river, my feet numb from the cold, and I run towards the edge of the woods. I abandon the comforting sanctuary of the trees and sprint into the outskirts of the lower town. I immediately transition into a walk, for a “lady” must not be caught running. Fear courses through my entire body as I wonder what my father will do upon my return.
I stare down the desolate street, and I spot my house on the edge of the road opposite the stables. I can see black smoke billowing out of the chimney, indicating my father is probably working. The exterior of the house is constructed of wood, stones and mud, just like the other buildings.
I cautiously walk up the stone stairs and I halt in front of the timber door. I inhale slowly, before opening it, anticipating the worst. I step onto the threshold and observe the rustic interior. The floors are wooden boards, dusty and worn. The walls are encased with dry mud, and in the middle of the far wall is a cobblestone fireplace containing the hot, flickering flames, a bellow beside it. Within the centre of the room is a timber table covered with my father’s tools consisting of chisels, gouges and hammers. Even some of his creations sit upon the wooden surface. An unfinished sword, a well-made knife, and an uncompleted helmet designed for a knight.
At first glance, the hut looks empty. But suddenly a movement catches my eye. A man with brown messy hair and beard in a blacksmith apron walks over to the fireplace and removes a sword that is now glowing a bright orange.
Maybe I could slip past? I walk into the room, and slowly close the door, cringing as the hinges squeak. When I turn around, my father is standing, staring furiously at me. There goes my plan.
He strides towards me, his murderous glare not diminishing. He clutches onto my wrist tightly, and yells into my face, “Where ‘ave you been?! It’s almost night and you ‘aven’t even done yer chores!”
“I was working late in the field,” I lie, avoiding eye contact with my father’s searing stare, “There is a lot of wheat to harvest this year.”
“Don’t lie to me girl,” he growls, “You were off daydreamin’ in the woods again, weren’ ya?” With each word, spit flies out of his mouth, and I can smell alcohol on his breath. “No,” I whisper quietly, finding I have lost the ability to speak. Fear and adrenaline pump through my veins as I watch my drunken father react. My heart thumps loudly in my ears, increasing with each agonising second. His face darkens and he snarls, “Don’t lie to me! There’s a rock in yer knee and there ain’t any river stones in the field!” He clutches onto my shoulders and thrusts me into the door. I scream, attempting to free myself, but my struggles accomplish nothing. He throws me into the door again, the collision winding me. Tears fall down my cheeks as I endure the repeated abuse.
He releases me, snapping out of his drunken rage. “Now cook me some dinner! But you ain’t eatin’ tonight,” he snaps. I gulp, frozen in place by the door, my eyes wide and unblinking. My father turns back to me, his lethal glare returning. He storms over to me again, and punches me in the stomach, releasing all the oxygen from my lungs. I gasp in surprise and double over in pain. “Obey me! Yer just a woman and I’m superior to ya!” He shouts, the veins in his face bulging and I flinch, “Now cook me some dinner or I’ll-”
The door behind me vibrates as a loud knock echoes through the room. My father’s emotions morph before me as he composes himself. He grabs my wrist and steers me towards the kitchen. “Cook,” he demands, daring me to disagree. I nod, trembling in fear.
He walks to the front door, and opens it, revealing the people behind it. I look over curiously as I cut potatoes with difficulty, my hands still shaking. My father opens the door wider, allowing three men dressed in chainmail that is beneath the red and yellow fabric they wore which had a familiar crest imprinted upon it, to walk inside.
They walk past him and continue to march further into the room. My eyes drift towards their belt where a sword is sheathed, sharp and dangerous. They are the knights of my kingdom, ruled by King Harold I. Why would they be here? They catch me staring, and I avert my eyes back to the potatoes I am chopping. In the corner of my eye I can see the men walking towards me, advancing rapidly. My curiosity gets the better of me and I look up in confusion. The knights surround me, and two of them grab my arms tightly, causing me to frown. What is happening?
I stare in fear at the knight who does not hold me, radiating authority which makes me believe he is in charge. He retrieves a scroll from his belt, and opens it, clearing his throat. “Isabel Fletcher of Winchester,” he begins with his English accent. I frown in misunderstanding as I hear my name and town. How do they know who I am?
“By order of Harold Godwinson, you are to be tested, and if you live through the trial you are to be burnt at the stake,” he read professionally.
“What?!” I exclaim, panic surging through me, “Why?”
“According to our evidence, there is no doubt you are to be a witch,” the knight replies coldly, “You were raped, even though women are supposed to relieve men willingly. Resistance is the behaviour of a witch.”
“No! I am not a witch!” I attempt to persuade, although the knight’s face remains unconvinced, “I am a plain poor woman! I work in the fields and stables, nothing more.”
“That is exactly what a witch would say,” the knight counters my desperate defence, his eyes wandering to my hair, “Our suspicions are verified by the fact your hair is braided, only achieved by witches. You are admitting your guilt. Your trial will be at dawn. If you die you are innocent, and if you live you are a witch.”
“What?! No!” I yell, tears streaming down my face, “You’ve got it wrong!” The knights begin to drag me forward, and I struggle against them, although my attempts achieve nothing. “Father!” I cry urgently, turning towards his malicious grin.
“I’m not surprised. I shall be glad once you are dead,” my father spits, his cruel smile widening, “Have fun in hell.”
“Nooo!” I scream, fresh tears falling down my face, my chest aching. I knew my father disliked me, but I did not know that he despised me. It broke my already shattered heart.
The knights drag me from my home, and down the streets. I can hardly distinguish my surroundings with the tears in my eyes, and my head spinning from shock. The men throw me into a cage at the back of a horse-drawn carriage.
I bury my head in between my knees, rocking back and forth as the cart begins to move. I am mentally and emotionally worn, darkness gradually tapering at the edge of my vision. Like a decay, blackness spreads across my eyes until I am engulfed by blackness, falling into the darkness of oblivion.
My eyes flutter open as I arouse from my slumber that had somehow befallen upon me. I notice it is dawn, the sky beginning to brighten, yet the sun is not yet visible. I take in my surroundings and am confused when I realise I am in a wooden cage that sits by an unfamiliar river. I frown, but it disappears as I begin to recollect the memories from the night before. It feels like I have been dumped in freezing water, each memory an icicle piercing my mind.
My father’s anger. The mysterious knights. Their shocking accusation.
I sit up abruptly, my eyes widening in panic as my pulse quickens. I look over to the river again and realise that it is not unfamiliar, as I first thought, but the exact river where I take refuge during overwhelming times. Its familiarity was almost painful due to being here on such inconvenient circumstances.
My panic heightens as I realise I am completely naked, stripped of my clothes. The cold wind causes me to shiver, goose-bumps appearing on my skin. I feel exposed. As if my clothes were the only thing protecting me from a sexist world. So, with my shield currently absent, vulnerability swarms my mind, drowning it with anxiety. The lack of comfort that clothes provide also resurfaces a reminiscing memory that I would prefer to forget.
I hear footsteps, and I whirl around towards the noise. I glimpse the flashing silver armour of the same knights, as they open the wooden bars of the cage I am confined in. Two of the men hold ropes, as the other grabs me. I attempt to struggle out of his grasp, but his grip is tight and unforgiving. He tugs on my arm, and I go flying forwards, balancing myself a second before my face is about to collide with the ground.
The knights do not waste any time as they quickly bind my feet and hands, leaving me helpless. I watch them intently, hoping I could memorise the knots so I could escape. But I have already forgotten the pattern by the fourth knot. They lift me into the air, and carry me to the river. The green grass litters my vision, slowly transitioning to the rocks littering the river bank. My feet and hands are numb and purple from the constricting ropes that are cutting my circulation off.
They allow me to stand in the water, and they begin tying a large stone to my bound feet. Once completed, he stands up straight, as do the other knights. “We believe you to be a witch,” he begins, his eyes burning in hatred, “To prove your innocence or guilt, you are to be thrown into the river with your limbs bound, attached to a rock. If you float, you are a witch, for witches spurn the sacrament of baptism, which would cause the water to reject your body, preventing you from submerging. But if you sink with the stone, you are innocent and will die of free conscience.” I gulp in fear, realising that either way, I will die. Tears come to my eyes as I accept my fate.
All three knights are required to carry me to bear the weight of the stone. My heart hammers loudly in my ears, my breath coming out in panicked gasps. There is a sudden drop off in the river, and I anticipate the release that will surely come. My eyes drift towards the gorgeous flowers that litter the grass, bees and butterflies flying around in the sunlight. I smile, a single tear falling, knowing that this will be the last thing I see.
The knights let go of my body, and I fall, the sensation tingling my stomach. I take a deep breath before plunging into the icy water.
The water seems to close in around me, compressing the air out of my lungs. I immediately start sinking with the stone attached to my feet. My open eyes sting numbingly as I thrash around in an attempt to free myself. I try to swim upwards, but my bound limbs and the weight of the stone was too much. My struggles gradually weaken, and as the water fills my lungs I feel myself floating, and I drift into the cold arms to the dark unknown.