The light of a waxing moon flashed cyan and white across thousands of glossy leaves in the canopy of an ancient Banyan tree, which arched its branches over the stones. One stone was older, worn from years of heat and cold, rain and sun; the other new, giving off a polished sheen which outlined the sharply carved letters on its face:
Henry William Theyer
1909 – 1945
Beloved Father, Husband, and Friend
You Will Be Missed.
Before the newer stone, a honey-oak casket hung suspended over the six-foot-deep abyss, gleaming in the flickering lamplight.
There were perhaps a dozen mourners present to bid farewell to the recently deceased, standing in a tight line before the priest and the box. Henry would leave behind only one living relative. He had been one of the lucky few spared the terrors of the War, allowing him to stay home and care for his daughter. However, three nights prior, the Reaper had at last called him home.
At the foot of the casket stood a girl of seventeen in a plain black dress, and cinched around her waist was a black silk sash once owned by her late mother. Her eyes shone through unshed tears, and the comforting embraces of her two dearest friends loaned much-needed strength as she clutched a snowy rose with intense concentration.
The tears had long stood, threatening to fall, but she refused to break. She had to endure. She had been through this same scenario once before, for the one whose stone sat quietly beside the fresh grave. It was something she could not have stopped, something so far out of her control that all she could do was refuse to let her tears take control. If nothing else, she would not lose to this. Her mother had taught her strength, and this was her test. She would see her father off with dignity, the only proof of her love that she could offer now.
Somewhat apart from the main group, her caretaker and in-home teacher for the past seven years stood in silence. His concern for the girl’s well-being was apparent, but no one noticed him watching the night just below the brim of his hat. There was still much that he hadn’t explained, and many secrets slept in darkness, waiting until the time was right. For the moment, he was content with waiting.
In time, the priest finished his eulogy, and the straps were released to slowly lower the casket into the darkness below. The girl stared, fighting the rising panic, the terrifying knowledge that she would never see her father again, that she was now an orphan, that death had once again stolen her happiness away.
This time, there was no one to blame.
Once the casket reached the bottom, the pallbearers removed the straps. The cemetery’s caretaker took a single shovel of dirt from the nearby mound and spilled it onto the lid, letting rocks and soil clatter off like the rattle of Death himself.
The priest uttered a prayer, but Henry’s daughter couldn’t hear it over the blood ringing in her ears. Steeling herself, she stepped forward and dropped the rose into the grave, watched it vanish into the endless abyss of the Earth.
“Goodbye, Dad. Be happy with Mom,” she whispered.
“It’s okay to cry,” said one of the boys when she returned to them. He planted a gentle kiss on her hair. “Sam and I will always be here for you.”
The other twin nodded his agreement and rubbed comforting circles between her shoulders. “Come hell or high water, we’ll be your family for as long as you need us, Lynn.”
“Indeed. You are not alone,” her tutor said with certainty. He peered into the darkness beyond the lanterns’ small pool of light. Nothing…but something…
Lynn’s façade gave way under the weight of her tears. She hooked her arms around the brothers’ necks and let them be her last remaining anchor in the world. “Thank you,” she managed, before breaking down at last.
* o * o *
Less than a hundred yards away, a figure dressed in black—though not for the funeral—watched the little event from his seat atop one of the oldest tombstones. His clothes were crisp and clean, tailored to show off a lean, tall frame. Dense raven hair trailed lazily down to brush his neck and wisp across his pale forehead in the light breeze. He watched with eyes like chips of sapphire, glittering in moonlight which played shadows across his skin. His gaze held the intensity of a predator watching a potential meal.
Passersby noticed the beautiful man and murmured to each other as they dispersed, but he remained still and observant, ignoring the gossip, perched like a curious raven.
The girl at last allowed her friends to lead her away, and the watcher’s eyes narrowed slightly as they walked back to the brothers’ old truck. In particular, he watched the guardian, who was too preoccupied with Lynn’s distraught state to do anything more than silently request that she be left alone.
Long after the mourners had gone—and long after Lynn, her guardian, and the twins rode off—the stranger at last stood with a relenting sigh and walked over to the open hole. The caretaker would return soon with more people and shovels. He stared at the white rose, contemplating his next move, cursing himself. In the end, he nodded.
“I’ll leave her to you, Simone.” He spoke to the air, reaching into his coat and withdrawing a deep crimson budding rose. A flick, and the rose floated down to cross stems with the white.
He frowned at the flowers then added after a thought, “And though I will forget for now, if the opportunity arises I will take her from you. Time is my greatest ally, and none of my enemies are capable of stopping me.” A sweet rush of air carried a familiar scent, and he gave a sad smile. “Goodbye for now, Lydian.”
Within moments, no sign remained of the stranger, but for a red rose lying with the white—evidence that would vanish forever when the diggers returned to cover Henry’s grave.
Time froze. Memories were locked away where pain couldn’t reach. Life moved on, oblivious to the past, and more than fifty years would pass before the wheel of fate again resumed its natural spin.