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Bella Luna

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Authors Note
 
This tale was created when an
invitation to a participate in a story circle
arrived on the eve of Halloween. 
It was written in an hour to be performed
the following night on October 31st.

A Rose Against the Snow

 

(copyright 2008 Ruth Keyes) 

 

      It was late in autumn when the Girl first came upon the grave, covered with a brittle brown scatter of leaves and dusted with hoary frost around the edges of the stone. It was a simple grave, the marker small and carved from rough granite, it's epitaph simple and yearning, plain letters cut into the cold gray surface.

 

Jonathan Montgomery,

 (it read)

Cavalry, CSA

1841-1863

A stranger far from home.

 

           The Girl did not know who had placed the stone, or the history of the young man that lay beneath it, but that cold dark Autumn, with Winter winging forward on the ice tipped winds of years end, found her a stranger far from home herself, and her heart was touched by the forgotten little monument to a soldier who was a long time dead and gone.  Reaching out with careful black gloved hands, the Girl brushed leaves from the hallowed little piece of ground, the only grave in the tiny little clearing in the woods. This was no cemetery, with sculptured angels and towering monoliths, carved marble witnesses to the wealthy and prominent deceased.   This was a forgotten place, a hushed and lonely place, and as an eerily keening cold October wind ushered in the winter with a muted shroud of snowfall, the Girl hugged her coat tighter around her shoulders and smiled sadly, wondering who in life he had been. 

        The hundred years that had passed since his death were merely a whisper against the sands of time, but to the Girl they stretched endlessly back into history, to her  mind a long, cold and lonely time to have lain there forgotten. When the light at last began to abandon the sky to the twilight, the Girl pulled from her hair a red rose, and placed it on the grave, as bright as a single drop of blood against the snow. 

          She came often to the grave that winter. Alone in the Northern mountains, far from family and home, the Girl felt a purpose in tending the little grave plot, as if by caring for someone else's place of rest she could somehow ensure that she herself would not someday be forgotten. She was not silent at the graveside. Slow halting whispers carried on the winter wind, soon gave way to musing and then to speaking, an outpouring of thoughts and feelings and sorrows from a lonely Girl to her only friend, the bones of one of the Southern Confederate dead. 

        Jonathan Montgomery felt real to her, someone as lost and lonely as herself, and she vowed that come spring she would plant on his grave vines and roses, green and growing, to stave off the memory of this winters sadness and desolation. The Girl returned daily to the clearing, her beauty a brushstroke of flame against the snow, her hands tender and reverent as she tended the resting place of a stranger. Never once did she realize that she was not alone.

           The Man stood at the edge of the clearing, his figure lurking behind snow shrouded tree trunks, watched over by forest Ravens and the ice cold winter sky.  He was gray as a winding sheet against the twilight, his hair shot with silver, his clothes of indeterminate color, and his eyes as cold as the frost that covered the mountain. He had seen the Girl come down the hill from old stone house on the summit, watched her tend the silent grave, and heard her weep and speak and whisper as if someone could hear her.   He recognized her sentiment, but belittled it even as he dreamt of violence and beauty, and even the ice on the bare ruined branches of the great Oak trees could tell that he meant to do her harm. One night in late December he ceased to watch her, and stepped from the shadows, phantom like and evil, the knife blade in his hand very sharp and very real.  The snow muffled his footsteps and the wind muted his approach, and the Girl did not hear or heed him until he had grasped her by the shoulder, torn away her reverie and thrown her to the snow. Towering, he gloated over her, preparing who knew what wicked endeavor, and the Girl cried out, alone, her trembling body and wildly pounding heart lying across the little grave plot where nothing alive would grow. As the Man stood above her, evil burning in his heart and painted on his features, there came a sudden commingled cry from the watching murder of crows biding in the Oak tree, as from the deepest part of the forest there came a sound that gave the  evil Man pause. It was a thudding and pounding, rhythmic and measured, solid and steady like the resolute heartbeat of some true and loyal soul.  As the Girl lay terrified in the snow, there came from the edge of the clearing an apparition astride a gallant horse, gray and silver in the winterlight, insubstantial yet somehow as real and as solid as loyalty. The gray eyes, gray uniform and gray features of the phantom belonged to the soul of one Jonathan Montgomery, son of Southern climates, one hundred years dead and forgotten under Northern soil until touched by the kindness of a stranger. A ghostly saber flashing in the twilight, the spirit bore down on the evil man with fury and determination, a keening wail echoing around the icy clearing like the cry of a soul lost and frozen forever.  In the breathless moment between twilight and nightfall Death had no chains on Jonathan Montgomery, and for that one night the grave could hold him no longer. The Evil stranger screamed, the knife falling from his nerveless hand into the ice topped snow. Turning, he fled into the forest, as the gray steed reared against the shadows, and its phantom rider looked down at the Girl. She never once had feared him, and she did not fear him now.  Wheeling the horse on hooves like flint against a gravestone, Jonathan Montgomery pursued the evil Man into the forest, not relinquishing the chase until the Man lay sprawled against the frozen forest track, his heart bursting with terror and with exhaustion. The soldier watched as the darkest shadows of the forest rose up to take the screaming figure to the place reserved for the souls of wicked men, and then, in a swirl of winter wind and snow eddies against the cold air, Jonathan Montgomery disappeared.

          In the morning, the people of the town found the evil Man's body lying on the mountain, his features frozen in such a mask of horror that he was unrecognizable.  Not long after, the Girl left the  house on the summit of the mountain and made her way South, determined in her heart to find the descendants of Jonathan Montgomery and let them know that he had, not only in life, but after death, proved himself a Hero.  In time winter began to lose its hold upon the mountain, and when the morning sun sent its tentative rays toward the little clearing in the trees, it was met with a curious cacophony of life, as the little grave on the mountain, once but no longer forgotten, bloomed with ivy vines and holly. And at the headstone, wrapped at the roots in a young woman’s shawl to stave off the ravages of winter, bloomed a tiny tender rosebush, the color of love and loyalty, bright as a drop of blood against the snow.

 

The End

  

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