They stood, watching the mourners from a thin clump of beeches that grew on the outskirts of the small cemetery.
Appropriate, thought Silas, looking at them. They were tall and thin, and white, like…bones. From their hiding place, Silas could make out himself. It was hard not to, he was wide, with shoulders a swimmer would envy, and his dark hair was still a mess, even though he had tried his best to tame it – he had even resorted to sticking some candle wax on there in an attempt to hold it in place after watering it down, but it was rebellious, and even from this distance, he could see it defiantly sticking up every which way.
Trevan had managed to get them back to right in the middle of the burial. They had arrived almost right beside the funeral party that was clustered tightly around the plot, like blood congealing around a wound. People were moving stiffly, awkwardly with heads bowed. Silas was standing next to Mrs Wencham, who, in reality was standing just a little ways down from the original Silas, the one who was experiencing the funeral of his best friend for the first time, not this new interloper. He spun away from them, catching Mrs Wencham’s sleeve as he did. She glanced in his direction, and then a look of confusion spread across her face. But by this time, Silas was striding quickly away, with Trevan and Eleanor on his heels.
Trevan grabbed him by the sleeve and pulled him into the skeletal fingers of the trees. “Stay here. We can’t have you see yourself. That’s one of the main rules of time travel.”
“What happens if you do?”
Trevan grimaced and shook his head. Silas waited for an answer, but none was forthcoming. They waited and watched as the group eventually started moving away in dribs and drabs. Silas watched himself. He was the only one that remained, standing next to the narrow rectangle of earth that his friend would be spending eternity in. He felt his throat constrict, and he tried to swallow the sadness down, but it crashed over him like a wave, and broke. Tears ran down his face, and he didn’t bother to wipe them away, only blinked when they blurred his vision. He watched himself kneel on the ground. He knew exactly what he was saying, word for word – each one burned like a cold fire into his memory. He realized with a sort of morbid fascination, that he was mouthing the words, as if he were repeating a speech he had memorized, and he was standing in the wings of a stage waiting to go on set.
“I know I shouldn’t be asking you questions, when you’re in no position to answer, but maybe what I need instead is an ear. Why did you not tell me about this before? Before it was too late, before I was left with these questions and no answers? I was your closest friend. We have…had…have, known each other since we were both just knee high to a grasshopper. I thought I knew everything about you. I thought we shared everything but…obviously I was wrong. Very wrong. This was the most important secret. If you’d have told me about it before…before… I would have taken it to…,” he paused a moment and wiped a tear that was threatening to fall off the tip of his nose, “not to be crass, but my grave. I wish you knew that you could have trusted me with that. I thought…well, I guess no one can really know another person, no matter how much you think you know them. We hide ourselves away, deep inside , like a watch hidden deep in your pocket, that you only take out once in a while, to glance at and then put back. And no one can really suspect who we are, or what we are. Not even ourselves, I don’t think. I guess we really are just strangers who pass each other every day. And a lot of the time strangers to ourselves as well. Most of the time I don’t even know who I am myself, let alone think about others, even you.”
From his hiding spot in the trees Silas watched his own shoulders rise and fall as he laughed, even though he couldn’t hear it. He continued to mutter his own monologue under his breath. “You must have had a good reason not to tell me about this. I know if it were me, I would struggle not to share it with you, and it would hurt me every day if I couldn’t. If I wasn’t allowed. It would eat away at me. I don’t know how you did it, but you did it well. I have even more respect for you now, than I already did. Knowing that you had this…this…gift. How long did you know you were going to give it to me, if it came to that? Was there anyone else?” He paused, waiting. He knew he would receive no answer from the person within the earth, but he waited and wondered. And slowly he climbed to his feet, and began to move away, plodding, in no rush to leave.
They left the safety of their hiding place once Silas had passed through the trees toward the farm house.
“I don’t want your help,” Silas said, as his shovel dug sharply into the fresh earth. “I need to do this myself. William was my friend.” Under his breath he added, “I can’t believe I’m doing this. I’m sorry William. I hope you understand there is no other way. The Consortium, they denied me.”
Ignoring him, Trevan grabbed another shovel and began digging while Eleanor stood, twisting her hands together, standing at the graveside.
tore the shovel from Trevan’s hands. “I told you, I need to do this! Alone. William was my friend. I’m to be
the secret carrier. This is my burden, not yours.” Despite the chill in the
air, and the cool breeze that swept across the land, sweat dripped from Silas,
and he wiped it away with a tanned, muscled arm.
“Don’t be ridiculous, man!” Trevan said, taking the shovel back forcefully. “We’ll be here all day if it’s just up to you, while we stand around twiddling our thumbs like children trying to avoid their chores. This isn’t pleasant work, what we’re trying to do. And,” he glanced nervously over his shoulder towards the small building at the edge of the small cemetery, “It’s not something we should be doing in the first place.”
Silas sighed and his shoulders slumped. “Okay, fine. You’re right.” He handed the shovel back to Trevan and the two started to dig.
“I’ll just…oversee,” said Eleanor who made no move to do anything at all, other than to stop twisting her cap nervously in her hands, and move to picking at the hem of her apron.
The tip of Silas’ shovel hit something hard, and he was relieved that he was the one to do it. He got down on his hands and knees and brushed away the thin dusting of soil that remained over the coffin. The wood still looked new and fresh, as if not a moment had passed since it had been put in the ground. Because it just had.
“Can you let me do this part myself?” he asked, staring up at Trevan and Eleanor who stood raised above them on the ground. Trevan nodded.
He tugged at the edge of the coffin, splinters from the lid slicing into the soft pads of his fingers. It resisted and then came open with a pop. He lifted the lid away, and rested against the earth wall.
William lay with arms folded serenely across his chest. His brown hair was combed neatly. He looked as if he were sleeping, and Silas had a sudden feeling that William would open his eyes, smile and laugh, and punch Silas in the shoulder saying it was all just an elaborate joke. For a brief moment, Silas waited, and then shook his head. “You’re being ridiculous.”
Trevan kneeled beside him. “Let me help. We need to…get to his back.”
With some effort, Silas and Trevan managed to turn William over.
Eleanor readied herself with a pad of paper and a pen she had brought along. Her part was coming up very soon.
Trevan removed a sharp and wicked looking knife from his belt, and glanced at Silas. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry to have to do this to your friend.” He ran William’s suit jacket between thumb and forefinger. “And such a nice suit, to boot.”
Silas shrugged. “I understand. It has to be done.”
With a sympathetic look, Trevan nodded and then grabbed hold of the collar of William’s navy suit and ran the knife down it, as if gutting a fish. The material parted with a quiet whisper of tearing. The material flopped open, exposing a pristine white shirt underneath. Trevan glanced sideways at Silas before repeating the process and grabbing William’s shirt collar. This time he was a bit gentler. He couldn’t risk cutting William by accident and marring whatever information he carried with him. He moved the shirt aside as if it was tissue wrapped around a parcel.
Black ink flowed in strange patterns, swirling and joining together. It was beautiful, intoxicating. It seemed alive.
Above them, Eleanor started scribbling madly.
And then they heard a noise that they dreaded more than the thought of standing over a dead body in an open grave.
a voice shouted, loud and angry. “What are you doing?”
Eleanor gave a squeak of fear, but continued writing. “I’m almost done!”
Trevan’s eyes flew across William’s skin which was pale as parchment, the black ink standing out crisply. He shouted at Silas. “Try and remember as much of this as you can, just in case –”
Silas looked at Trevan wildly. “I-, I can’t!”
Above them they could hear the sound of feet pounding towards them.
“Run!” Eleanor screamed and disappeared from view as she fled.
Trevan grabbed Silas by the shoulders and shook him. “Why the bloody hell not?”
“I-, I can’t read!”
Trevan grunted with frustration. “Then go! Run! I’ll do what I can here, I’ll be right behind you.”
Silas nodded. “My place.”
Trevan had turned back to the words and was muttering them under his breath.
Silas jumped up and scrabbled for purchase on the soft earth. He pushed himself up and out, as if climbing out of a swimming pool. He jumped to his feet and nearly collided with the cemetery caretaker. “What in the Emperor’s name-!” The man’s eyes grew large as he saw Silas. The anger dissipated, replaced by confusion which swept across his tired, worn face, and dark grey eyes, as quickly as the clouds above them. “I-, I don’t understand.”
“I’m sorry, Mr Blakeley. I really am, but I can’t explain right now.” He ran, tossing a look back over his shoulder. He saw Trevan climbing out of the grave and was relieved that Mr Blakeley was still staring at him.
Mr. Blakeley recovered himself. “It’s against the law to do what you’ve done! And more than just the law. It’s against…against humanity, is what it is! I’ll be contacting the authorities, St. Claire!” The man had raised his fist and was punching the air. “You can be sure of that!”