It's Flash Friday. Today I've written 985 based on Patreon Patron Brian's image prompt as well as a prompt I found on Instagram.
At first, when Brian suggested this picture, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it. When I saw the other photo pop up in my Instagram feed, I got goosebumps and knew I had to use it as a prompt. Not long after I looked back at the gown Harlowe is wearing, and the two pictures merged in my head. The story started talking and I got to writing.
So, two pictures. One story. For your consideration, here's "Abandoned Places".
Abandoned Places by Jamie Wyman
The family were all abuzz with something. A football match, the announcement of a baby on the way, politics or something equally droll. I stood outside, positively gasping and completely out of cigarettes. Nevermind the news. Fuck the footballers and who gives a damn about my cousin's third spawn. Or was it her fourth? Never could keep the little sprogs' names straight anyway.
Just about the time the my aunts' voices reached a supersonic squeal of delight, I launched off my ass, left the small garden behind and made my way into the copse of trees. A mass of clouds had descended on my hometown, cloaking everything with mist. If it were spring, we'd have called it cool and clean, but in the late autumn such as it was, the result of an overcast sky and threat of rain elicited words like “damp” and “dreary.” I, for one, enjoyed it. Not that there was anyone to ask my opinion. I'd wandered deep into the woods, my only company a few squawking rooks and the gentle shuffle of my feet through the wet carpet of fallen leaves. The smells of petrichor and decay mingled with the scents of moss and moist tree bark to create a unique perfume.
I'd gotten comfortable in my solitude, relaxed into a zen-like trance of steps and silence, when a black mass flew past me in a cawing flurry of feathers and beaks. The crows drew my attention to a curious landmark, one I'd never noticed in the years I'd lived nearby.
The church was old, its once-white stone gone gray from years in the elements and little care. Through jagged glass teeth, the windows revealed a shadowy interior suitable only for cobwebs and regret. As I came around to the rear of the abandoned edifice, I found the graveyard. Some of the stones jutted out of the earth at odd angles, knocked askew by the ever-growing roots of the bare trees. Others crumbled, the names and dates obscured by time.
One gravemarker, however, remained pristine. The marble cross shone white as a chess piece in the monochrome day. As I approached it, I could see that it had been care for religiously, almost obscenely. The soil beneath it was near black, and empty of leaves or the detritus of the woods. Not so much as a strand of spider silk sullied the single name and solitary date carved into the stone.
Bramble and twig snapped under my feet as I took curious steps toward this beacon gleaming in the cemetery. Those steps were halted, however, when I heard a voice. From the thicket of skeletal trees came a figure as radiant as daylight in the murky wood. She was slim with skin of alabaster and hair like starlight. Not a wrinkle or blemish on her sylvan face. Her petal-pink lips parted as she sang breathily.
“Lully, lullay. Thou little tiny child. By, by, lully, lullay....”
The woman wore a diaphanous gown, the goassamer fabric clinging to her breasts and hips, but trailing out behind her in wisps. It was as if she was clothed in the low-laying fog that blanketed the woods. The woman's arms were naked, but the chill day didn't seem to bother her with even so much as a goosebump.
“O sisters, too, how may we do for to preserve this day? This poor youngling for whom we sing by, by, lully, lullay.”
Her gait matched the somber, minor key of her song. With bare feet she stepped among the graves slowly and reverently, until at last she stopped before the white cross and went to her knees. As she continued her song, she moved her hands in swirls above the soil. Small paperwhites burst from the earth, the flowers swaying like tolling bells. And a single red rose bloomed at the foot of the cross.
I watched in amazement as her gestures accelerated. Rising from the ground, she appeared to be pulling strands of fabric not unlike that which she wore. The mist flowing from her fingers—tinged with the slightest of green lights—swaddled itself, churning in a tight and small bundle between her hands.
“That woe is me,” she sang, “poor child for thee. And ever mourn and say...”
Standing at full height, the woman brought her arms around the bundle. I could see, now, the ethereal form of a child, its face chubby in the cheeks with a pouty mouth. The woman cradled the baby with equal parts devotion and grief, nuzzling her cheek against it.
Neither she nor her child paid me any notice. And though my mind raced with questions about what I'd just seen, I held my peace and chose instead to bear silent witness to this moment of a mother and her child. The woman took the same solemn steps over the leaves and into the fog-shrouded trees. Her song carried on the wind.
“For thy parting never say nor sing. By, by, lully, lullay.”
I waited for long minutes after she disappeared into the mists, pondering the mysteries of her and her baby, but they never returned. The rose at the grave dropped a crimson petal to the ground, and, like a stone falling into a still pond, the moment was disturbed with confusing ripples. I woke from my thoughts to find the gray sky had grown darker. Thunder rumbled in the distance and I decided it was time to get my bearings and shuffle back to the family home.
In the years since that chill day, I've returned to the graveyard a number of times. In the rain, in the thrall of spring and the cloying days of summer. Never again have I seen the woman with her child. And even as the rest of the church falls into disrepair and decay, the white stone remains perfect, clear of debris and adorned with a single red rose.