An edited and improved version of this story is now available for purchase as part of the ‘Prophecies of the Drowned Oracle’ collection.
Taking a leisurely stroll through the cemetery, Lucia looked up sharply as the clock-tower struck. Her footsteps unconsciously fell into the rhythm of the bells.
One two three
It was a beautiful place. More like a park than a cemetery, really. Old headstones bordered new ones. Some grown over by ivy and moss, others carefully maintained including vases of fresh flowers. The winding pathways going around trees and rhodondrendon obscured a full view of the place. Every turn revealing a new surprise. A statue here, an entire fountain there.
But this cemetery held no more surprises for Lucia, as familiar as she was with the place. She knew every turn, every dent in the path where rain would pool on overcast days.
Six seven eight
Today was no such day. It was a bright midsummer, the heat visible in the air, the headstones radiating warmth like furnaces. Even without the clanging of the clock-tower, the heat would have drowned out any birdsong.
Nine ten eleven
She passed an empty picnic-table to her left. This was not a sterile place, usually. A place where the living and the dead could mingle, unobstructed by heavy tombs or cement floors. This was a place where everyone could return to nature, skin meeting soft earth, roots caressing buried flesh.
The sun was at it’s peak, so high above her she nearly cast no shadow at all. And when the clock-tower struck the 13th hour, even that little shadow fell away.
Most people, when talking about the witching hour, would only think of the time right after twelve at night, when one day ends but the next one hasn’t yet begun. When the night is at it’s darkest and the world is asleep. But Lucia knew better. For she knew of the 13th hour.
Between noon and 1pm, when the sun is at it’s brightest and all shadows fall away, time momentarily stops. There’s no sound, no wind. The world turns white in the brightness, and it’s so white-hot you stop feeling the heat entirely. For a moment, just a moment, the world isn’t quite real anymore.
It’s then, at the 13th hour, that Lucia comes to a stop.
She stands before a headstone. One not quite old, but too worn to be new. A familiar name, still easily legible. She traces her thumb over the carved words. They’re not carved deep. In some years, she’ll come here and they won’t be there at all.
She eyes the two dates carved underneath. Older than she thought he would be, that’s for sure. She remembers the day she met him, all bright eyes and hair, stumbling over perfectly even ground, yet landing exactly where he needed to be. She remembers talking to him, his words as bright as his eyes, and she remembers thinking;
This guy is going places. Not old age. But places.
Poor impulse control and a can-do attitude. The best and worst combination. He was the kind of guy who would sweep you off your feet and crack both your skulls open because he couldn’t balance the extra weight.
Gently, as if handling a newborn, she places a fresh tomatoe before the headstone. For a moment, she sees him standing behind it, grinning like a loon, professing his hate for funerary flowers. She smiles and stands. The vision vanishes, and shadows bleed into her surroundings once more. A breeze catches her hair, and she hears a single bird twitter in the distance.
She gives the headstone one more salute, then continues her stroll. It really is a beautiful place.