Sometimes a human mind can be greatly burdened by things unseen and inexplicable. Other times, the line between what is real and what is illusion is blurred, and we cross for a short moment into the realm of the bizarre.
The clock in the living room chimed wearily as midnight seeped beneath the cracks in the door. I groaned into the silence, only to be mocked by the echoes that followed. I arose from my chair and drifted to feed more wood to the fire blazing in the furnace. This was yet another sleepless night. The bed that stood in the corner leered at me through the shadows, begging me to rest my tired eyes. But alas, the thought of sleep repelled me almost to the point of retching. Things had not been the same since the shadow of Death, in its ragged black cloak, pointed its scythe at my family. I gazed around the empty house, imagining the inhabitants that used to mill around endlessly: a father, a daughter, a son. A perfectly happy family that was ripped apart by the same disease, leaving only one to grieve those lost in its ugly wake. For the four weeks since the disease took its last victim, I had not slept. Not one night, one hour, one moment, had I taken any respite. This had begun to take its toll on my health. Bones had begun to protrude in some places and my skin had lost all color. I was finally alone in the world. There was no escape for me. It seemed to me that tranquility never came as slowly as it did for the soul which longed for it most.
I had never imagined loneliness could be anything but lonely. Shadows crept into my mind, and demons tore away at my heart. I felt like I was slowly dying inside, being buried alive, praying for the day when the internal would take its beautiful external form. The ticking of the clock reminded me of how slowly i was wasting away; of how much longer it would be before saw my family again. Tears began to fall from my eyes and flowed down my cheeks in long, translucent rivers. I couldn't suppress my weeping any longer. Those tears had waited too long to fall. I trembled violently. Memories of my family screamed in my mind, sending waves of despair that pulled upon the strings of my heart. I could only think of one way to end the madness. I rushed over to the piano and found the keys. I slowly began to play a soft, sweet song. The tears slowed down. The memories drifted down the hall and out the door. My fingers gently pressed down each key, fueled by such passion that stirred and poured from the deepest depths of my soul. I gazed out the window.
The waning moon, although it was shrouded by clouds, still illuminated the world below, drowning it in an eerie silver glow. I could distinctly see the silhouette of a tall tree that loomed atop the hill. Its limbs stretched long, twisted fingers into the icy December air. A large ebony bird, which I recognized to be a raven, shone with a sinister brilliance from where it was perched among the branches. It seemed to be staring at me, reminding me of my solitude. It listened to my playing, sharply observing every movement I made. I found that I could not shift my gaze from its inauspicious figure. When I finally found the resolution to do so, I began to stare at something else. My eyes dwelled sorrowfully at the row of tombstones that stood cold and silent beneath the tree. Each one, I knew, bore the name of a member of my late family. The denial that dwelled in my conscious slowly faded away, and I was forced to face the finality of their passing. I forced back more tears. I asked myself what I had done so wrong to deserve such cruel punishment. Within my chest, I could feel my heart shattering all over again. I closed my eyes in a desperate attempt to keep myself from breaking down yet again. I begged my own mind to give in to insanity, for anything, any mental perverseness would be better than suffering through such pain as I felt within the late hours of the night. One tear escaped my eye and rolled down my cheek, leaving a cold trail along my jaw. I watched it splash to the floor, and I could hear the impact as clearly as I do the waves that pound the sands of the coastline. Still I sat with my lips agape and stared blankly at the stones, but not really seeing them.
Suddenly, a torrent of restlessness rushed through every fiber of my being as a tall figure cloaked in black glided to the top of the hill. It knelt by the first tombstone, that of my husband, and I could faintly hear sobbing outside my window. Then the faint, mournful cry of a violin arose in the night. It softly played a song that gripped my heart and turned it cold. I comprehended the song to be the requiem I had played for so many nights. I sighed heavily and listened in sadness as the violin continued its sorrowful song. When the music finally finished, freshly cried trails glistened upon my flesh. I heaved myself from the wooden bench and turned away from the window to wipe away my tears. I turned to look back out the window, but the apparition was gone. A sudden weariness fell upon me. I stumbled to my bed and closed my eyes. The world began to fade away into darkness, and I slept for the first time in a long time.
I awoke late the next morning to the sound of crows cawing in the treetops. Rain fell heavily onto the ground. The sky was cloudy and gray, giving one the urge to simply turn around and stay inside. I pushed those compelling thoughts aside and swung open my front door. The rain greeted me with a bitter comfort as it fell upon my skin, tingling wherever it landed. I turned my face upward and smiled slightly as it ran over my saddened countenance. I walked out to the row of gravestones. I noticed no footprints in the mud, no traces of anyone ever passing by. Had it been a figment of my imagination? Had I been dreaming? Was it possible that insanity was finally blessing me with its sweet control? Just the chance that I was being driven into madness uplifted me into a state of euphoria that cannot be described by words alone. I walked back to the house and continued the busy rushing of the day, blocking out all thoughts that still haunted my subconscious.
Later that night, I saw the apparition again. This time, it went to the second grave, the grave of my son. Once again, I heard the violin music, playing that song of despair. I lit a candle and held it to the window in a futile attempt to see the ghost's face. This time however, I did not turn away form the window as I had done the night before. The poltergeist turned and looked at me. I held its shadowy gaze for a long time. It reached out a hand. From beneath the wraps of its black robe, fingers of bone beckoned. In terror, I fled from the window and into the safety of the far corner. The figure turned away and drifted off into the blackness of the night.
I feared sleeping that night. I forced myself to stay awake, staring at blank stone walls, shivering although I was warm. My stomach churned as the hours ticked by, and I tossed endlessly while I dreamt. I cannot begin to express the relief I felt when I opened my eyes to see sunlight filtering through the window and falling in long golden streaks across the floor. I went about my chores, all the time thinking about what I was going to do when night fell upon me. I questioned myself regarding whether I should meet the phantom or simply wait until it finished its horrible visits. When my decision, although I was still unsure of it, was finally made, I sat in a velvet armchair and awaited the stroke of midnight.
As I had fully expected, the apparition appeared again. This time, however, it did not go to a grave. It stood at my window and beckoned to me. I nodded to it. For a moment, I thought I saw a malevolent smile cross its face, but I could not tell because of the shadows. I thrust open the door. A burst of wind gusted across my frame. I stepped out into the bitter night air. The specter stood beside the final tomb. As I trudged through the grass, I noticed that the grave was not as it should be. I rushed forward to see that the ground had been turned over, and a hole stood wide and deep where the body of my daughter should have been. I began to scream and cry in anger and fear of what had happened. The figure reached out a hand and muffled my sounds. It knelt down and pointed to the coffin that lay in the bottom of the cleft. I shook my head, not understanding what the spirit was trying to tell me. It opened the coffin lid, to reveal a strangely inviting emptiness.
"What have you done with my daughter?" I questioned.
The phantom reached up and placed an ivory hand on the edge of its hood. "Why, don't you remember me?" it said as it pushed the hood back. "I am your daughter."
I lurched forward and almost fell into the gaping hole in the ground. I stared into the countenance of my daughter. Her face was pale, her eyes sunken, glimmering with an ebony flame that must have been fueled by spirit of Satan himself. She reached out her hands and placed them on my shoulders. Suddenly, I realized that she was pushing me backwards. I fell into the pit, screaming the entire time for someone, anyone, to pull me out. I tried to escape, but only sank deeper into the mud. I looked up, and the gravestone had my name engraved into it. My daughter's smile dripped with malice as her lips parted, but only to allow a few words to escape.
"It was surprisingly easy, bargaining with the devil. One life for another, nothing more, nothing less. I love you mother."She hissed.
Unable to help myself, I whispered back, "I love you too," as she closed the coffin lid.