Till We Meet AgainbyRumple Foreskin©
warning: The following contains no sex and, except for what I've done to good taste and the English language, no violence or horror. rf
It was over. The last hymn faded into silence. The last prayer spoken. The last condolence given. Matt still couldn't cry—not yet. He lay down and fell into a fitful sleep with the same dream.
Flames and smoke boiled from the windows in the back half of the old, cross-shaped, wooden church. Framed against the stormy, night sky, the fire so dominated their minds no one noticed the parking lot was empty. All they knew was Jimmy's family might be inside.
They were coming back from a Halloween party, almost giddy with happiness and anxious to tell everyone the news. Jimmy said they should go alone. But the three of them were lifelong friends. Without his help, Abby and Matt might never have realized they'd become more. Both wanted him with them to share the moment.
In their excitement, the flames flickering through the rain and tall pines almost went unnoticed.
A sliding right turn put them onto the short, winding road that lead up to the church. The car was racing through the parking lot before Matt tore his eyes from the fire and braked. The old Ford skidded on the wet gravel, slowed, then came to a jarring halt, its left front tire wedged in a drainage ditch swollen with rainwater.
Jimmy struggled with the passenger door; in his anxiety, forgetting only the outside door handle worked. Matt tried to remind him, but Jimmy was past hearing. Abby, sitting between them, looked over at Matt, her fingertips touched the face of the life-long friend who had, just minutes earlier, become so much more. "I love you so much," she said, pushing away a lock of his wet hair.
"I've always loved you--always will."
As their lips met, the door swung open and Jimmy clambered out. Abby turned to watch, breaking the kiss. When she looked back, her expression had changed. "Come on," she said, scooting away from him toward the open passenger door, "we've got to make sure everyone's okay."
Matt opened his door, stepped out into the rainy night, and stumbled into the same ditch that imprisoned his car. The fall cost him a sprained ankle, one shoe, and time.
He struggled out of the ditch and hobbled around the back of the car. The rear of the church was in flames, but the sanctuary appeared untouched. In the illumination from a long flash of lightning, he saw Jimmy trying to open its double front door.
As Matt limped across the loose gravel, Jimmy triumphed and hurried inside. Moments later, Abby reached the open doors and paused to look back. She noticed Matt's limp, started to come for him, but hesitated and glanced inside the church. Fear for the lives of Jimmy's elderly parents overwhelmed everything else. She motioned for Matt to hurry, and dashed into the sanctuary.
Later, was it a moment, a second, a lifetime, he'd never know, the old wooden building seemed to groan in mortal agony. Unseen, the fire had spread into the cluttered attic. Flames started shooting out of holes which began to blossom like lethal red flowers on the roof. Weakened by this new assault, it began collapsing around the now useless main support columns.
The building shuddered. The walls began falling in after the roof. The once proud building was becoming a giant bonfire. Matt heard Abby scream, maybe his name. But her voice was lost in a wave of noise, heat, and flying embers as the roof and walls sank into the flames.
A blast of scorched air knocked him down. At first he just lay on the wet gravel, unable, unwilling, to comprehend what was happening to the church, to his friends, to the woman he loved, to his world.
He was up, racing towards the flames. From somewhere came desperate, animal-like screams. "No! No! No!"
Strangled cries of, "No. No. No" woke him.
He dressed and went outside. His old car was waiting in the chill, autumn moonlight, as if it knew he'd be coming and where they were going. It was a short drive. He parked and walked over to the old cemetery's newest grave—the one covered with fresh flowers.
He stood and stared, trying to make sense out of what had happened. But his mind wouldn't function.
With mechanical motions, he moved the flowers aside until raw, newly-turned, red clay earth came into view. He knelt and put a hand on the grave. But that wasn't enough. He lay down, rested his head on the mound and let the cool soil absorb his tears.
And then Abby was beside him: tall, slender, impossibly lovely. They kissed, touched, became as one, and then talked about what might have been and what once had been. The time when they were kids and went fishing with Jimmy and caught all those little fish. The high school game when she missed that crucial free throw and cried for days. The time, back in the spring, when they first kissed. This summer at the lake when he knew he'd always love her. Last weekend at the Halloween party, when she screamed "Yes!" jumped into his arms, and agreed that from then on, in every way that counted, they weren't just engage, but already an old married couple. And their last kiss, when Abby said she loved him. Those were their times.
A pale light defined the tops of pine trees lining the east side of the cemetery. Matt was alone. Though stiff and damp with dew, he felt rested and at peace. He must have slept. But there'd been no nightmares, just Abby. A blanket covered him; the same old Navajo they always used when camping out at her grandmother's farm.
It took an effort to force his body into motion. Once on his knees, he folded the blanket, then placed his palm back on the earth above Abby and closed his eyes.
This time his mind produced a mental image of Abby in his arms, smiling into his face, saying, "We're just an old married couple."
Matt leaned over, kissed Abby's grave, and whispered, "There's supposed to be a time and place for everything. I don't know about that, but it feels like this is my time to leave. But till we meet again, never forget, we are an old married couple—and that I've always loved you, and I always will."
This is an entry in the 2005 Halloween writing contest. Your vote and comment, whether brickbats or bouquets, will be appreciated. rf