The Figure by Mike Crow
I am delighted to post a short tale from the very talented Mike Crow.
I give you - The Figure. A swirling flurry of rooks coming noisily to roost. A burning fireball sliding toward the distant horizon. Gravestones painted red in the sunset. A church tower square and squat against a darkening sky. A welcome chill in a stirring evening breeze. He felt the cold from the marble seep through his clothes where he sat on a tomb, old with moss and years of decay. He looked out over the valley, the river glinting in a wide, lazy, willow lined arc. He tried to ignore the pain where his right leg used to be.
He always did. He coughed. A sharp barking cough tearing at the back of his throat. He swallowed hard, trying to stop the next ripping cough, the next surge of pain. He failed. He always did. In the distance a train moved behind a line of trees. It chuffed hard as it strained up the incline. He heard the engine's rhythmical beat growing louder and louder until it filled all of his head with its insistent repetitive thud. He saw the column of its blue-black oily smoke rise and roil into the sky, staining the light, filling his vision. He was back in the mud and mire of the trench. He was back to the numbing roar of the huge guns and their incessant pounding. The whistling of the shells. The clatter of the shrapnel. The shaking of the very earth itself. He was back in the burning and the smoke. And he felt once again the shocking pain as his leg was destroyed and then the choking despair as the gas slowly blew over him in the breeze. He was twenty four now and under an awful notice. The gas had damaged his lungs and they were slowly failing. Choking him. Not sustaining him. He tried to forget that he was dying. He failed. He always did. A tall stooping figure in a dark smock, broad hat pulled low over his face, moved silently out from the gathering gloom and glided over the uncut grass. The figure carried a long handled scythe on his shoulder. It stood just behind him a yard or so to his right. The figure had been expected. "Now? Is it time to go already? So soon?" he asked. "It is time. Yes." A deep voice, croaky and rusty like an old gate hinge, slow as if time had faltered. "I had found some comfort and ease in this place," he said, "until just now." "Then now is a good time to go," the figure said. "Come, the horse is waiting." "Is it all finished then? All done with?" "All finished. Yes." The scythe caught the red of the light and seemed covered in blood. "Well then. I will come. Lead on and I will follow." His crutch made him slow through a graveyard now chequered in dark patterns by the shadows of the stones. By the gate the figure held the head of a large black horse harnessed to a small black trap. The horse snickered and shuffled its hooves as he pulled himself aboard, hopping clumsily and pushing up with his stick. The figure carefully laid his scythe across the driver's seat, took his place and caught up the reins. The newly cut meadow opposite the church smelt grass sweet and bundles of hay lay freshly stacked to dry in neat rows. The last of the labourers could be heard calling and laughing as they turned the corner into the village, beer thirsty and meat hungry after a day in the sun. Up the lane the grand house was settling into dusk. He was consumed by longing, regret and sadness. The tall dark figure turned to face him and pushed the brim of his broad hat back up his forehead and wiped sweat from his brow. "You comfortable, My Lord?" he asked. "We'd best hurry along lest you be late for the dinner gong. And then M'Lady will be sore upset. And neither you nor I want that to happen. Do we?" He clucked at the horse and they started up the hill toward the great wrought iron gates, not yet closed up for the night. "No Joe," said the cruelly maimed young man. "We certainly don't want that." He leant back on the soft leather and listened to the gentle clopping of the hooves.
Tears ran uncontrolled down his face.
Tears for the past.
Tears for the now.
Tears for the future denied him. He tried to stop the tears.
He always did.