Fiction, Ouroboros

Ouroboros (An Excerpt)

Beneath a deep blue sky, down from mist-wreathed, ice-capped mountains and through a purple wood snaked a silver river whose waters emptied into a vast, gray ocean. Those waters, guided by the probing fingers shaped by the shore’s sunken delta, pointed the pathways those wayward waters must follow where they mingled with the salted sea, cold meeting warm and where thick fog hung like a curtain between two immensely different worlds.

The delta itself reached out to the falling white sun like a mendicant’s hand as if beckoning it to stay, to linger just a bit longer. The star’s yellow, light-giving rays dimmed with each passing moment and with every arcsecond of descent.

The waves of the great ocean beyond the shore undulated like a liquid meadow, cresting and crashing with thunderous force as the waters touched land. To the right (north) of the river and delta some one hundred feet and set back among and shaded by the trees of the darkened wood, there stood a cabin in the pre-colonial style. Solid timbered logs made up its four walls while heavy thatch composed the roof and the eaves, the latter providing cover for a wrap-around porch. Through the cabin’s shuttered windows, which now were thrown wide, the flicker of firelight shone within, while outside on the porch, near the front door, two chairs rocked to and fro due either to the soft ocean breeze that rustled the verdant leaves of the surrounding trees or as faint echoes of the idle bodies that had only moments ago occupied those carefully crafted seats that were like modest thrones to the ones who had occupied them. For from those solid, decorative throwbacks to bygone days, the two who had once rested there, rocking rhythmically as they sat in contemplative silence or engaged in playful banter or reminisced in solemn tones, they would have had unobstructed views to their own dreamt-about kingdom that stretched far and wide from their present spot. They would have been prime observers to the slowing and stopping of time as it was relative to them. Just as the hand of the delta beckoned the sun to slow and suspend its descent, these two would have inhabited a single, shared life that eschewed the dictates of a ticking clock, turned its back on the unassailable march of time, and bent time’s straight arrow.

But all of this had been his dream—his vision. Had it ever been hers? Sadly, she would never know.

First Interlude

The sun burns high in an azure sky. Ribbons of snow-white clouds drift aloft on currents of cold air. Two figures walk alone beneath the heavens, trudging upon sodden earth made so by the previous day’s rain. They walk arm in arm, one slightly taller than the other and leaning against her companion as if for support. They both have the same flowing, brown hair that fans slightly in the gentle breeze—a breeze that cannot totally obscure the day’s modest warmth.

They thread a path between headstones. Some are gaudy and ornate, marked by master scroll-work and poets’ words chiseled into stone. Here is one that reads:

Alexander Cabot

1892-1967

“In darkness, his brilliance

Will forever light the way.”

Above the epitaph, the headstone is rounded with a relief of a rising (or setting) sun fashioned into the stone.

Another reads:

Rebecca Ludlow

1933-1943

“Given to God by a loving Mother.”

It is crowned with a golden cross. Below the epitaph, carved into the stone, is an image of a pair of arms, cradled as if to receive the offering of this child.

Many of the markers are adorned with flowers, lilies, roses, or carnations. But most are simple stones with simple inscriptions—forgotten testaments to forgotten lives. They are the ones that have no flowers, have seen no thoughtful bloom for years, decades. They are obscured by moss and scarred by years of punishing wind and rain.

There are other people at this cemetery, but this pair pays no heed to their presence or grief. They are consumed by their own purpose, lost in their own memories.

In moments they have reached the marker they have sought. The two sit down before it, legs tucked beneath them, each holding the other’s hand.

This grave they are visiting contains no body for the simple fact that upon its occupant’s death there was no body to recover. For that reason, no coffin was ordered. Instead, buried there is a simple wooden box with a golden ring inlaid with a ruby cross placed lovingly within.

*   *   *   *

“I’ve never known anyone else quite like Thomas Applegate,” Catherine Witherspoon said. Her eyes were closed and she clenched her daughter’s hand as if Catherine were trying to will all of her memories to come forward and use this bridge of contact to channel them to Emily. She didn’t want to relive them—the good or the bad. But she knew she must and hearing and listening to her own words was the only way she would be able to finally make sense of those years when Thomas colored her ordinary black and white life.

“How come you never talked about him before?” Emily asked.

Catherine opened her eyes and let her daughter’s hand drop from her own. She took a moment to study Emily’s face—its smooth, rounded shape, framed elegantly by glossy strands of straight brown hair. Her eyes were a deep, dark green like two perfect emeralds. Full lips curled more often than not in smile. A delicate nose dusted with tiny freckles. She was pretty in a girlish way, but there was a wisdom and maturity to her manner and the way she carried herself that hinted at a woman much older than her sixteen years. It was often said that mother and daughter bore a striking resemblance to one another; they could have almost been identical twins.

“I don’t know,” Catherine said, barely above a whisper. She felt herself beginning to drift back to those days with Thomas. She could see herself with him; she and Joseph and Susan and Saul with Thomas—just like old times. Just like it should have always been. Allowing herself to relive that collage of countless moments, Catherine wondered if Thomas had seen the same lovely girl in her as Catherine did now in the daughter before her. It had been so long since she thought of him, but now all of the memories and feelings came rushing back, and she remembered how she loved him then. And yes, he loved her, thought her beautiful, and found her more remarkable and miraculous than life itself. She believed he had actually used those words. But in the end, his life had belonged to another.

Would he have died for me? She immediately scolded herself for such a selfish thought. He would have, though. He would have died for us all. That thought made her want to weep, because in the end, he endured his unfortunate fate because of them all.

Chapter 1

Winter

1.

Winter is a time for dying, and William Applegate caught his death on a cold, clear day in late February. It was a time verging on spring and in the spirit of the twilight of one season and the dawn of another, William’s fate made possible another’s life…

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