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Romance Mystery

Piles of timber were stacked up by the sides of the warehouse, hanging high up above Lethe’s head with only a narrow, shadowy passage in between. She tiptoed among them, head hunching down below the few wooden tiles sticking out that Mathew must have misplaced last week. Careful not to break her brittle lamp, she prodded each tile beneath her feet before shifting her entire weight onto it. The lamp threw a gentle orange flame that made shadows around her dance, making shapes as if someone was there with her. Lethe’s eyes flickered around. Maybe someone was.

Maybe she just wished it so.

Up in the windows by the ceiling, a blue light contrasted her warm flame as a cold sweep found its way through shattered windows and broken wooden frames, flickers of snow trickling down from the top of the timber stacks landing on her shoulders, nestling in her hair. The snowflakes brought the winter with them, making Lethe pull down her rolled-up sleeves and hug her elbow with her free hand while the other clutched at the lamp just a little tighter. The floor started creaking beneath her feet as she arrived at the part where the roof fell in just two winters ago, but despite it, she walked over it with an easy step. Too easy, perhaps.

“Gah!” She yelped as the ground opened below her foot and her leg slithered through the opening, her body pitching forward with the momentum, losing balance, crumbling down on her knees and elbows, searing hot pain cutting into her legs. Lethe gasped, suddenly out of the air, sickened, waiting for the pain to come. The lamp shattered on the ground not far away, but she saw a different kind of darkness. Many black dots at first, appearing in front of her eyes, slowly filling in the picture, making her head lighter and lighter, until all was dark.

Winter covered her with a thick white blanket by the time she blinked her eyes open. Slow and steady, she maneuvered her foot out of the hole, pulled her pants over the knee, and brushed her fingers over the wound, over the splintered edges of wood raked into her skin, over the warm blood slowly crawling out of it. Carefully taking out the splinters, she snatched the first thing she could grab from the wardrobe she trudged towards and started to wrap it round and round her wound. A scarf, it seemed. Hard to tell, scuffed and withered as it was. Red tears escaped the wrapping before she finally tightened it up with a knot Mathew thought her. Was a shitty knot, by all means, but a good memory, so her leg would have to settle for it.

The wardrobe swung open from another gust of wind, and there it was, resting right in the corner, her husband's old, patched-up cloak. Lethe tugged at one of the patches that slipped off as soon as she touched it. Not ideal, but it would do. I’d have to. The coat hung around her like a giant, weighing her down under its massive frame.

Same way back, a lot more caution and even more cursing under her breath as her leg reminded her of itself with every step she took with it. She tottered back sticking by the side where tiles were the strongest. Well, at least she hoped they’d be. Weighted by the heavy coat, she picked up the pouch she left by the door and pushed the front door open. The heavy wood creaked and complained, the hinges of it barely hanging on, but the door refused to let go. Didn’t want to realize its time was up, perhaps. And to think Mathew polished and fixed them, just days ago. Outside was not at all as cold as she thought it’d be. Yet.

She picked out the rose she carried in her pouch and twisted it between her thumb and forefinger, twirling it round and round, faster and faster yet. The individual petals of the rose slowly blurred, merging into one long, neverending petal. It smelled of cloves and lemon and as always, took her back in another time. To Mathew's first gift for her, the bouquet that, looking back now, might have just won her heart alone. She plucked the first petal and let it get carried by the wind.

Now just where would it land?

Perhaps the lush fields of grass, where she ran across with Mathew, hands locked together, brushing against the tallest colorful peaks, chasing the first tinge of red in the distance, the beautiful dawn. The path grew quite overgrown now, with only one set of boots making sure it remained. Lethe closed her eyes, intertwined her hands together, and enjoyed the slow rustling of grass in the wind, the chirping of the last remaining birds, the whistles of the wind cutting around the branches. Eyes closed she could almost imagine the hand that held her other hand wasn’t her own. Almost. But there was no familiar heat of his hand and the sun barely peeked through the dotted clouds.

Perhaps the slow-turning stream, gracefully pouring in between arrays of maples, water trickling over the giant river stones that blocked its path. The stream had many deep pockets, where they would go in knee-deep and watch the reflective obsidian coat their knees and fingers as they washed the day of work out of them, splashing each other with ice-cold water and laughing endlessly by the edge of it, waiting to dry. She laughed now, too but her smile long ago lost its sense of humor. She laughed because she didn’t know what else to do, arriving at the spot, seeing the stream turned to nothing but a shallow brook, if it could be even called that. She kneeled with her bad leg into the remains of water and watched the crystal blue get tainted by the blood until it was all red and blue until it wasn’t clear where the one color started and the other ended.

Perhaps not all is lost. Perhaps the petal would get picked up by stronger gusts of wind and fly up the hill, to the lonely maple tree that sat there, offering a circle of dry grass beneath its snow-bearded crest, a place where Mathew rolled up a log and cut it into a bench. Their place to watch the sunsets. Winter really did come a little too early, as a few red leaves still hung among the branches of it as she arrived, unwilling to realize fall isn’t coming back any time son.

Not wanting to realize it, maybe.

The log was now nothing but a broken, rotten churns of wood covered by slimy moss and surrounded by wild patches of undergrowth, the sunset barely visible through the pattern of the trees' wooden fingers stretching far, swinging loosely in the wind. Hesitating for a moment, her eyes peeled forward, but seeing the past, Lethe let the coat slip off her shoulders, placed it on the rotten log, and half-sat, half-crumbled down on it, ready to wait, again. She fished for an iron stencil out of her pouch and found the two ragged lines, cast into the tree. Two days of waiting, now to be joined by the third mark. Two days of wives celebrating the soldiers' return, two days of her tears swimming in her eyes, clinging to straws of hope every time a lonely black dot appeared on the horizon. Another soldier finding his way home. But there were dots before, all revealed to be a soldier and a man, none of them bearing the familiar name or beloved face.

Perhaps the leaf could even get picked up by a higher current of wind, fly above it all. Over the snow-crested trees. Over the streams and the hills. Just above the white peaks of mountains, so far beyond she had to squint her eyes to see them. Then perhaps, over whatever is after that, the petal could fly and search, soar through the air and find. Find him, and swirl down into his lap, if he is sleeping, or into his hand, even if the hand is busy sweating tightly around the trigger, even if his palm is still bloody around a knife. And he would look at it, and remember, and drop whatever he carries with him, and come back.

Lethe glanced at the three thin lines carved in wood again, this time with teary eyes. Two previous ones were all covered in moss and faded with time. Time she did not want to unearth. Might be the same kind of lines marked Mathew's new home in a country far beyond, or a dull gray cell he can not escape, or a grave only a few of his comrades would visit once upon a year. Slowly, a small tear escaped her eye and carved a path down her cheek, over her wistful smile, and stayed on the chin, waiting for others to come.

Because she saw the past and walked by the present. Because something between them did not quite click. Because now she knew, that the roof of the warehouse Mathew build didn’t cave in after a week or two. The windows and frames didn’t shatter overnight. She knew that the pathway through the field wasn’t overgrown due to her not passing by a couple of days. Saw her beautiful stream got caught in between the deadfalls of trees that fell down two winters before. Felt the log she sat on didn’t rot in last night's rain. No, just a little longer then that.

Because for each passing memory, for each puzzle that didn’t quite fit into Lethe’s story of three days of wait, another tear rolled down her cheek, one by one, until the tears became a stream, until her vision became a blur.

Because she could know something else, too. Maybe just didn’t want to realize it. Knew a day of waiting was the longest day of all. Turn that day into many, few and hopeful at first, many and blurry soon after, until the many days become one, until a year and a day weren’t quite so different at all.

But another distant black dot hovered in the distance. Another shape slowly closing in, slowly forming into a stick figure, slowly forming into a man. Could it be Mathew, this time?

So Lethe sat by the oak, and waited.

June 25, 2021 15:51

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4 comments

Esther :)
23:16 Jun 26, 2021

Good job! The mystery was very captivating! I don’t know if you meant taught instead of thought in this sentence - “Red tears escaped the wrapping before she finally tightened it up with a knot Mathew taught her.

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The Rookie
11:58 Jun 27, 2021

Oh yeah definitely misspelled that one, thank you!!

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Esther :)
17:07 Jun 27, 2021

Anytime!

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The Rookie
15:54 Jun 25, 2021

Only took me a couple days to write another story following the last one... This was nothing like the usual stuff I write so I've no idea how it turned out Oh well Feel free to expose the plotholes I rewrote this twice and I'm lost in the text :D

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