This was a little writing exercise I did some time ago and posted on an old blog page. I’d posted the picture attached and was challenged to write around 500 words to go with it. I thought perhaps I’d give it another airing.
TOO LATE FOR TEARS
He was alone among the shadows.
He had travelled far yet always ended up here, to stand beneath branches already being stripped bare by the season and surrounded by stones jutting like teeth from the earth. The empty windows of the house on the hill looked down but they could not see him.
He remembered when that house was filled with life, with light, with laughter. Now it was an echo of what it once was. Its interior had died long ago, floors had rotted and given way, walls had crumbled to dust, staircases had collapsed. He had moved through it many times, listening for sounds of the past but all he heard were whispers on the wind, all he saw were flitting shadows in the gloom.
He had been on this spot in summer when the leaves were full and the sun blinked between the trees to kiss the moss jacketed stones. He had watched tourists pick their way through the forest to step carefully over the tumbledown walls and into the graveyard. He had watched as they read the faint inscriptions and listened as they wondered aloud what the people lying below had been like.
They could not see him as he stood alone among the shadows but even so he would move off silently, following paths only he knew. For he was not one of them. They were visitors, this was fun to them, the names and lives of those under their feet merely a diversion on a day’s walk. This had been his home and the dead had been his people but he did not bear the visitors any ill-will. Life went on and the world changed.
He had changed.
He had not been a good man but he had mellowed. That was why he returned here, to this place, to these stones.
For this was his past and he had to atone.
Today, though, with the sky dark and threatening and the air crisp, he was alone.
He knew the thick grass beneath him was springy with decades of moss but he did not feel it as he moved through the stones, seeing a name he recognised here and there, sparking the flash of a face, the sound of a voice, the touch of a hand. He knew the air was sharp for he well-remembered autumn here, bringing with it the threat of winter’s freeze. But he did not feel it.
He weaved through the graves but paused at none for he was aware of the growing shadows. He was here to stand by one particular stone, for that was his custom.
It lay lopsided against the far wall in a corner the visitors seldom reached, which was fitting as the man buried there did not deserve to be remembered. He stared at it, seeing the familiar name and the dates of birth and death. They were but numerals cut into stone. They said nothing about the life between them. A life lived and wasted. So long ago but he remembered it all. Regretted it all.
Shadows crowded around him now. Shadows not created by the grey sunlight. Shadows with form but no substance. He could not touch them, could not hear them but he knew them. They were like him and this was their punishment. They could travel anywhere they wished but could not be part of the surroundings. They were in the world but not of it. They were always together, forever apart.
He stared at his own name on the stone and wished it could’ve been different, wished he could’ve been different.
So he stood alone among the gathering shadows, one death among many.
And as he wept, his tears fell away to nothing and left no trace on the crisping leaves that carpeted the graveyard.