By Anthony Ward
It was the third consecutive year that Jared had sat outside the church on the Eve of St. Mark with the hope of catching a vision of the phantom congregation. The only eerie event he had experienced up until then was the spectacle of a Barn Owl that had swooped, banshee like, across those grave monuments to life inscribed with long lost novels reduced to nothing more than a sentence.
Yet the memories of Samantha would not fade. Not that he wanted them to. Though there was one particular memory that he wished he could put to rest.
He knew the brakes needed attending to. But he had neglected doing so for weeks, with the thought always there at the back of his mind as he continued to put it off for a more convenient time.
And now the thought remained constantly at the forefront. He had had a premonition of her death that he convinced himself wouldn’t happen. Yet it did happen and there was no way he could convince himself that it didn’t.
Jared had convinced himself he could save her if he could manage to save himself, and the only way he could achieve that was to make amends. If he could once again get a premonition of someone’s death then maybe he could save that person and thus save himself.
Jared hadn’t been expecting to see anything on the previous occasions, since, by tradition, it was on the third year that what he hoped to witness was due to occur. It was on this particular night that he expected to see the procession manifest from mere fable before his eyes.
He had often immersed himself in stories that pertained to the supernatural. Although he didn’t necessarily believe in the supernatural. He believed in the natural progression of those fables that had brought about the customs and traditions of everyday life out of what many once regarded as fact.
But since Samantha’s death there was one story in particular that he often came back to. It told of the old custom that took place on St. Marks Eve, where for three years running one would sit in the church porch in the hope of witnessing, on the third year, the spirits of those who had not yet died, but who were not intended to live out the year, enter the church through the porch.
Jared crouched down on the devil’s side of the church where a breeze courteously interrupted the stupor of the immortal yews that had outlived the entire congregation beneath them. The long hand eclipsed the short hand as it veered towards the heavens where the moon could be found hanging like the clock in the tower. The bells, collecting themselves in anticipation, wrung out the absorbent silence after the last of the twelve chimes had found their distance. It was no longer the Eve of St. Mark. Though the custom had always been observed between eleven at night and one in the morning.
Jared stared at the spot where the moonlight created a path that strayed from the more pedestrian one. He thought he could make out the image of a person moving amongst the tombstones. His eyes grew perplexed as he strived with great determination to make out what he saw, believing that he could make out a procession of people strolling forlornly towards the porch. They walked into the porch through the door which remained closed. Disappearing as competently as they had just appeared.
Jared hadn’t recognised any of them, but, just when he thought he had seen the whole procession go by, he noticed a young woman in a long ivory coat who appeared to be around the same age as Samantha. But it could not have been Samantha. She was already dead. His mind was simply playing tricks on him, just as it had not long after her death when he saw her everywhere he went.
As if this ivory coated spectre had not disconcerted him enough, another spectre sent a shiver shuddering down his spine. As if he were looking at the incarnation of death itself. Though there was no long rob nor scythe to speak of. It was the hood that was obscuring his face that intrigued him the most. The figure stopped and turned, then looked directly at him. Though he could see no countenance, he felt a familiarity with what he imagined, as if it were a face he’d seen before on many occasions which made him feel uneasy.
That hooded figure had certainly made an impression upon Jared’s mind. For the following months it remained almost ever present in his thoughts. Haunting him with the notion that he knew who it was. But he could not bring himself to admit it. Even when he wasn’t thinking about it, it remained lurking in the shadows. Its sinister presence enduring through his contrived scepticism. Provoking his logic. This malignancy followed him everywhere he went. Not as a shadow that could be seen stretching across the ground or skulking up walls, but a shadow that was hidden within the light. Something that could not be seen but could be felt. Also, there was something about the hood that intrigued him. It wasn’t the hood of a robe. It appeared more rounded.
Time kept on passing away for Jared until it became the shortest month amidst the month-less season. Snow covered the ground like dirty ash where it had been trodden in. On this particular afternoon he put on his parker jacket for the first time all winter. It was the only coat he owned that had a hood. The wind howled down alleys reviving the snow that had already been laid to rest. As he passed the full-length mirror in the hall, he caught a glimpse of himself, which caused the hairs on his neck to tingle. As if an icy breath had blown across it.
The wind pummelled down the air until it became more and more worn and he found it difficult to breathe. He bore on down the vacant street. There was not a soul in sight. The world was white as far as he could see so that the crows stood out in contrast to their surroundings. The landscape so embossed it was as if he were traipsing through a painting.
Then Jared noticed the only other soul he had seen since leaving his home. Standing before a headstone. He pulled down his hood and inspected more closely. It was her! She was wearing the same ivory white coat he had seen her wearing in the procession. But Jared couldn’t really see her. He only saw Samantha. To him it was her. She had become her. Despite the fact he knew it couldn’t be.
He watched her from across the street as she made her way passed the graves. Then she paused and presented him with a look of resentment. As if apprehensive of his imminent presence. Aware of him lingering from a distance, like a wraith, before she continued on her way out through the lych-gate.
The wind howled through the yews, which persuaded him again to pull his hood up over his head as he followed her around the stone wall that separated the churchyard from the street. It soon became apparent the woman was aware he was following her. She bent her head further to the ground and hurried more determinedly along the terraced street, then up the icy hill towards the cul-de-sac.
At the top of the incline there was a set of steps. Steps that would normally be avoided in such icy circumstances. Had he not been so immersed in his own invention he would have had the gumption to help her up the steps, though his cognition at the time had been temporarily sectioned, causing him to do nothing as he watched her slip. It was as if the incident was not actually taking place but had already happened. Upon reaching her, he turned her over to find her pale cadaverous countenance exsanguinated upon the ivory ground.
Jared could not quite believe what was happening. He could not determine whether she was alive or dead. He checked for a pulse, or a sign of breath, though he could discern neither in his panic. He called for help, though his calls were suppressed by the oppressive nature of the wind. So, without thinking, or any thought for himself, Jared ran up the steps towards the cul-de-sac in the hope of knocking upon someone’s door. He had to save her. This was the reason that he was there. This was his destiny. Just before he reached the penultimate step, Jared too slipped and fell. He cracked his head upon the edge of the steps. There he remained lying, looking up into the perpetual whiteness that had once been the sky. His head haloed by the round hood of his parker. As he lay there, he saw the procession once more. He saw the woman with the long ivory coat.
‘Samantha,’ he whispered through his final breath as he saw the hooded figure turn towards him. Recognising the face that had been obscured, until now, he finally accepted who it was. He’d known all along. While the snow continued to fall upon his lifeless body, and the wind howled, then dropped, howled, then dropped, then howled forever more.