by Cerri Lee
A Samhain Tale
The shiny, dark grey gravestone sat looking slightly forlorn covered in the wet leaves that had blown across from the tall Beech tree across the path. It was new to the grave yard and not yet fully bedded into its place at the head of the fresh grave. All around there were many patches of ground in various states of repair, but this patch was fresh; the ground only just settling back into place after the coffin had been placed within. The gravestone felt into the earth beneath and tried to make a connection with its charge, but she was sleeping soundly and not very communicative. The little stone had her name, date of birth and death and a legend emblazoned across its face, so tried to gage an understanding of her from the words that the family had committed to the stone. She was loved that much was obvious by their words; A wife, mother and a grandmother ‘taken before her time’, so she had lived not so long, by these days reckoning at least, but it seemed a happy life. That was good, a happy task for the little grey stone, marking the place of someone who had loved and been loved.
The wind blew another handful of wet leaves that slapped against the face of the stone. Some slid down to join the soggy mess already accumulated at its base whilst others pressed flat to the stone’s face, like a man afraid to fall from a high ledge. It was late autumn now and would soon be winter. The little stone had seen so many winters on the mountain side, watching the seasons, the aeons and epochs pass. The ice age had come and gone leaving scars carved across the mountains, changing the land. The animals had come and gone with the varying weather patterns, fragile and changing like the leaves on the trees each season budding, bursting, living and dying all blown on the winds of time. As part of the great landmass it held so many memories, but most of all it remembered feeling part of a whole, part of the mountains, the very bones of the earth. Being a tiny piece of stone in a graveyard would take some adjustment.
The new environment was full of tiny slivers of ancient mountains cut into various forms. There was the tall and imposing angel that stood behind with one arm raised to the sky, the other reaching toward the grave below her. Her pale stone skin looked soft after the years of weathering and was covered in patches of yellow and white lichens. Her eyes, gentle and beneficent, gazed down on the scruffy patch of ground beneath her plinth; she seemed resigned to her vigil. On either side of the fresh grave there were two more established, their stones larger and with more names engraved on them. They too were softer around the edges, but still their faces’ had a shine to them. Whole families lay beneath at final rest together in death as they had been in life. Further out across the hallowed ground lay older stones reaching back through the centuries. Some who’s faces had faded to the point where the names were nothing more than a faint impression. No one came to clear their fallen leaves or place new flowers any more, the families were mostly deep in the soil themselves, but still the stones held the vigil. That was their task after all, to proclaim the memory, continuing to silently voice the name of the incumbent, calling attention to anyone who would walk past, for only when the name is lost are they truly dead. And, once in a while a descendant from a far off place would make a pilgrimage to the graveyard. Having traced their roots they would wander through the graveyard to find their families’ sentinel, having found it, they would reach out to trace the words etched upon it. No matter how grand or modest the stone, they were connected with an older part of their ancient story, understanding more of who they were and from whence they had come.
Footsteps sounded along the tarmac path and then ventured gingerly across the wet grass to stand beside the new grave. The old man bent and brushed away the sodden leaves from the gravestone and placed some fresh flowers in the pot beside it. He spoke softly to the sleeping form beneath the damp earth, patted the little stone and then went to sit for a while on the bench under the Beech tree, and read his paper.
Beneath the stone the slumbering soul stirred then, as a ghost of the woman she used to be, rose up and made her way through the soil and leaves. She moved silently on the breeze over to where the quiet man sat on the bench and watched as he read his paper. She touched his face and he looked up and smiled absently, then looked puzzled, his gaze went straight through her.
After a while the sound of young children rode up on the wind. The couple looked down the path to see a young couple with two young children making their way toward them. The ghost watched as they greeted each other with hugs and kisses the children jumping boisterously clamouring for their grandfather’s attention and waving the pictures they had drawn, one him and the one for their grandmother. He took the pictures and appraised them with exaggerated care giving them due praise for their sterling work. Then the children looked at their mother who nodded and they all walked over to the grave and the ghost followed. They all held hands by the grave, the younger man bent putting a hand on the earth above his mother’s sleeping form and spoke in the same soft, loving tones of his father. She bent down and whispered words that were whipped away by the breeze. He lifted the stone pot for flowers and looked at the quiet sad faces of the children. They bent down and placed the picture for their Grandma under the pot and told their Grandma they missed her. They told her their news from the week, how boring school was and how “Mummy and Daddy and Grandad were a bit sad, but not to worry as they would look after them, and they would come again next week and tell her what they had been doing and bring her another picture.”
Then the boy grabbed a handful of wet leaves to throw at his sister who screamed and ran off, laughing loudly as she speed across the grass to avoid the next leafy assault. The adults all laughed, but after a few moments they did not fight the urge to let the tears fall as the children ran around the grave yard shrieking with laughter and playing, they all agreed on how much Mum would have loved to see them grow; Mum agreed.
The rain began again in earnest, so the adults called the children to come along and say goodbye to Grandma as it was time to leave. They grumbled but dutifully headed back to their parents, said their goodbyes to Grandma and kissed the little stone. The woman sat on the little stone and together they watched the family walk back along the path. The ghost looked down at the little picture under the pot as the rain splashed down on it and sighed, time to sleep again. After a time the little grey stone reached out into the earth below and felt the contentment of the sleeping woman and settled a little deeper into its place.
Cerri Lee. See Cerri’s website.