The graveyard was peaceful in the morning, as the suns rays rose slowly over the horizon. The soft hues of orange and purple painted the sky with a slight cool breeze that swept in through the trees. Jack loved this part of the morning, for it gave him time to think, time to reflect and marvel at the time that he had spent on the earth. In a way, it was almost like the earth was part of him, as every day he dug graves for those who have died. He was connected to the spirits, it seemed, and he was connected to them.
As Jack trekked across the graveyard's empty graves with his lunchpail and trusty shovel in hand, he embraced the warmth of the sun, lifting his head up toward the heat. He was a fifty five year old man, but he looked thirty three, and felt like he was one hundred with the with all the digging and the labor he's been doing for the past decade or so. He didn't care. Digging helped him stay alive.
He reached his digging spot and set down his lunchpail. Next to an empty grave was a plot of land, marked by a headstone, with the words:
"RIP, JACK RIPER 1912-1945 IN LOVING MEMORY."
He sighed, feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders as he stuck the blade of the shovel deep within the earth. With one flick behind his shoulder, the dirt and rock flew backwards, landing in a perfect pile behind him.
Jack stood with his shovel in the earth, ready for another lift. The voice behind him was famaliar-too famaliar. It was the voice of a woman who came every day to watch him and tell him stories, to keep him company while he dug for death. Her voice was the only thing he loved to hear in the otherwise silent morning of his every day routine.
"Marie," he replied, still not turning to face her. A thin, wry smile played upon his lips. "You came back."
"You say that every morning, Jack," she said with a sigh. He felt his hands wrap around his waist and her body press up against him. "When will you understand that I always come back for you?"
Jack shrugged. There was sometimes doubt in his mind that Marie would get bored of him. He wasn't very personable. He didn't tell many jokes, and even though he enjoyed the peaceful morning, Jack always told Marie he perferred the night. "Because," he explained, "you can look at the stars. You can't look at the sun."
"Sometimes I think that you will leave me when I'm done," he whispered softly. A shiver ran up and down his spine as her hands crawled up his back.
"Would you like me to tell you a story?"
He finally turned around to face her, his heart leaping out of his chest. He glanced over her, noting her pure, beautiful face and her large blue eyes. She wore high-waisted shorts that showed off her blinding white legs and her lips were a bright ruby red and matched her firey red t-shirt. He longed for her again, and he reached out to touch her. She was distant, but she gladly took his hand and led him to a log close to the grave he was digging. Marie leaned her head on his shoulder, and he listened to her story.
"Once upon a time, there was a Princess who fell in love with a servant boy, against her father's wishes."
Jack closed his eyes, picturing the story as she told it to him. It was one she has told a million times, but she knew it was his favorite.
"They secretly met out of the palace grounds and made love under the stars. She pledged herself to him, giving him her heart."
Jack smiled, remembering this part of the story. Sometimes she'd go in to detail, describing the way they made love and what she said when she pledged herself to him. Jack decided that Marie knew he had already heard it a million times, which was why she didn't care to explain. But Jack could still picture it, the star crossed lovers, deep in the woods, naked and embracing each other, skin to skin. He opened his eyes and glanced over at Marie, who seemed to be in her own little world as well while she continued the story.
"But a guard of the palace sought them out, and informed her father, the King, of their trouble making. The King then told the boy he was going to the front lines of the War. But he made the boy tell the Princess that he volunteered."
Marie lifted her head and looked over at Jack, a tear streamed down her cheek. "The princess was heart broken and devastated that the boy would ever think to leave her. So she cursed the boy!"
Suddenly she pushed him over the log and stood up abruptly, wiping the tears away from her eyes. "She cursed the boy, that he would dig graves for the rest of his life until every grave would fit every soul of every man he ever killed in the war. And when he was done he would be allowed to come back to her."
Jack stood slowly and tried to reach for Marie, but she swiped his hand away, leaving him stunned and unable to respond to her outburst. He stood emotionless and watched her as she tried to control the tears herself.
"You've never told me the end of the story, Marie," Jack said, realizing that out of all the times she's told him the story, he never knew the end. Until now.
"That was the end, Jack. He was going to finish what he was cursed to do so he could return to her."
"I don't think that is the end, Marie," he said slowly.
"Damn it, Jack!" Marie cried. "come back to me!"
Jack looked down at the half dug grave beside him, shaking his head. "I can't, Marie."
"Why not, Jack? Don't you love me? Don't you love me at all?"
"It's not that i don't love you Marie, it's just that the curse isn't broken. I have one more grave to dig."
"Who, Jack? You've dug every grave for every soul of every man that you've killed in the war. Whose grave do you have left?"
Jack looked at her, his eyes wide with pain and desire to touch her one last time. But he couldn't.
"The last grave I have to dig, Marie, is my own."
And the wind whispered through the trees.
Tara Fouts is a 23 year old California girl. She is an English Major attending Cal State East Bay with hopes of becoming a publisher/ author.
Writing consists mostly of the dark side, and tends to lean toward magic realism and realistic fiction. She also writes poetry, and has been published in three anthologies for Las Positas College. She also loves music, watching movies, not doing her homework and drinking way too much coffee. Oh, and she has a tiny obsession with Johnny Depp and James McAvoy.
Mari Mitchell lives in the high deserts of California. She has been married for over ten years, has two sons, two pet rats (who are actively plotting to take over the nearby space port,) and one very round, very loved cat (who is passively-aggressively taking over the couch and computer.)