The stone lay waiting. At one time, it had been chiseled and neat, but those days were long gone. It sat, nearly covered by the tall bowing grass of the meadow, soaking up the silence. The stone's front surface was covered by a sort of green lichen, some kind of primeval organism creeping through the weatherworn cracks. Near the top, bits had been rubbed off beneath battering wind and rain, leaving a rotting, decomposing mess of rock. The words on the front were barely discernible, not that anyone would have paid them any attention anyway. No one was around to pay attention anymore. The only inhabitant of the meadow was an owl; its large eyes were fixed on the stone, dialed in and focused. The owl's body did not move, except for the ever rising and falling of its small chest. The meadow smelled of wet earth, but the owl did not notice. It just kept staring in silence. And the stone kept waiting.
At one time, a house had stood in that meadow on the exact spot as that stone, but this was back in a time before owls or towering stalks of grass. In a sense, the house stood waiting as well, though what for, it was harder to say. Perhaps it laid waiting for that final gust of wind to tip it over, to end its endless misery as a forsaken shack. Whatever the case, its walls stood (albeit just barely) at odd angles, the rough wooden boards leaning in madly, as if trying to escape their unique restraints. It was as if they just couldn't wait to get into the ground faster. The roof was in similar disarray; water seeped through the jumbled straw days after storms, and in a few spots, small holes revealed specks of the heavens. In the summer, the house was hot; in the winter, cold. The floor was simply bare earth- whether sandy or muddy, it was always sufficiently dirty. Nevertheless, despite its inconsiderate rebellion, that floor was always there, and the house's sole inhabitant was glad for that fact, if nothing else.
He lived there alone and always had. The few villagers who knew of him simply called him crazy. He dressed scantily, if at all; a wool jacket, hanging down past his waist, was generally his only form of attire. Its brown material irritated his skin, but he never seemed to notice the countless pink splotches adorning his torso. Covered in bits of leaves and stained by several unidentifiable liquids covering the entire coat's body (a reckless stranger might be inclined to ask how exactly one spills coffee across the middle of his back), the jacket was a source of the man's pride. His life was a simple one. Each morning, he would rise from his modest bed on the ground and walk to the nearby stream. Disrobing, the mysterious man would sit on the bank of the stream, the whole time creeping increasingly closer to the water's edge, while making sure never to touch it. Water must have oozed some phobia for the man, but its source had no doubt been lost in the bowels of time. A canopy of trees loomed over his head, but the man always concerned himself only with the branch protruding from the side of a certain squat tree nearby. He had little knowledge of this tree or nature in general; he couldn't tell a hickory from an oak. But something unknown about this particular tree appealed to him in a way he couldn't have expressed even if he had felt compelled. He would invariably plop down on this branch, straddling it, letting both feet hang down around it. With the tips of his toes ever so gently caressing the dusty surface below, he would hear a bird call from far off in the distance and try to locate the offending creature. The man liked silence.
In his adolescence, the man was of quite a different nature. Neighbors depicted him as vibrant, vivacious, effervescent, if a bit quiet. He was the type to rise early and smoke his pipe on the wrap-around porch as the sun rose, soaking it all in: the preliminary splash of color, followed by that sudden burst of light cascading down his porch and finally dripping down his upturned forehead. He would smile and rock back in his chair with a creak, thinking of all he had. He had this house, of course, a magnificent piece of Victorian artwork if ever there was one. This structure stood unchallenged among the many fine estates of the countryside despite its age. He was well liked in town and had met plenty of high-ranking officials; a young prominent lawyer, he had more friends (and money) then he knew what to do with. And he had her.
Her. The mere mention of her name parted his cracked lips. Hair that could shame the most expensive of eastern silks. Lips full and vibrant- he could barely look her way without experiencing an unceasing desire to kiss her. Her body fit neatly against his, the other side of his puzzle piece. And her eyes… Oh, her eyes. He smiled again. The mere passage of time could do nothing to abate that memory. At times, he thought that wonderful peering pair of eyes might be the only thing that got him through the day. He could see right through those eyes, right through to her utmost being. He could see compassion. He could see understanding. He could see truth, fatally portrayed at last, and everything else he ever desired. He could get lost in those eyes for days on end- and did. He never even noticed the day she left.
The body sat waiting, waiting deep below the surface, buried by countless layers of soil with more accumulating all the time. It was odd for him to lie so inactive; his legs felt a need to burst free, to run and scamper about and just look, really look at the beauty looking back at him on all sides. He had wanted to drench himself in it, just completely immerse himself in this sea of splendor. He had wanted to take it with him. Now he regretted that he could not- those six crooked sides of wood forbade it. He wanted to erupt through to the outside. How surprised they would be, he thought, when he sprouted once more, alive again, back with a vengeance for life itself. How odd they would think it to see him once more roaming his old haunting grounds. He would finish all those things he had left undone. He would appreciate all the things he once had. He would be happy at last. He would find her.
But down below the surface, with his root companions and his maids, the worms, he knew this was an impossible fantasy. He had lost it long ago, somewhere in the mists of time. He desired to feel her hand again, that smooth palm resting so slightly upon his, almost hovering in the thin air. He needed to hear her laugh again, that sweet but at the same time condescending call caught somewhere between a giggle and a snicker. Sometimes, he remembered, she would snort when laughing too hard, then cover her mouth and shrug her dainty shoulders, imploring some unknown cohort how such a thing could happen. But he knew it was all gone. He had lost it in those eyes.
Back in his youth, he knew no such feelings. In truth, he knew few feelings at all. His teachers had always called him a dreamer, mocking him with their piercing gazes. Always lost in a thought, that one, they would always say. Yet they had no idea the subjects of these thoughts, nor did anyone else. All they knew was that this boy spent his recesses sitting alone, usually beneath some behemoth of a tree, alternately staring straight upward and straight down.
If they knew. If they knew his thoughts… Who knows? Would they still have laughed? Maybe. Would they still have hassled him at school, calling him strange and odd and peculiar and all those other names reserved for the boys who think such thoughts? Probably. But he was happy enough alone in that corner of his mind, that deep pit that he always kept waiting for him and his favorite playmate. It was always there waiting when he was ready.
It all started off with so much promise. A miracle child! Born without a pulse, face a shade of white matching his meager little bones, there was little hope for that one. Unnaturally large, the doctor remarked- biggest he'd ever seen. That's what probably done it, at least. But without a moment's notice, a cry rang out the likes of which haven't been heard since. A cry of joy, a cry of anguish, a cry of pain, bliss, suffering, mercy all in one. A cry of life!
But it was not to end in such a way. No cries of joy. No cries of anguish. No cries of anything at all. Standing on a chair, a piece of twine in hand, he contemplated the roof beams. He gave the rope a test tug; pointless, he knew. He knew it was just stalling, stretching out those last already lengthy moments. Just at that moment, he caught a glimpse of his past. Her. Face beaming, locks tossing in the wind. She was running. He had risen even earlier that day than usual, such that the pale glow of the moon was his only guide. He crept out to the porch, his usual hiding spot, and there she was. Skipping around out in that field before him. Her patched skirt bounced lively as she sprinted across his view, bounding up hills and leaping across prattling creeks. She turned toward him abruptly and stopped in her tracks. The man pulled back, sheepishly, tucking himself behind a pole much thinner than he. And she smiled. He stared longingly down at those perfect white teeth, lined up in those perfect little rows. Her smile breathed pure radiance- never had she looked so beautiful. And he smiled too. At that moment, everything else seemed insignificant. He caught her in his embrace and held her tight, hands snaking their way across her back, locking her into place. Seconds turned to lifetimes. He vowed never to let her go; he promised her that. After an instant, he released his clamp, and watched her fade away into the dark trees circled around the house. And, stepping off the chair, he smiled to himself. He allowed himself to laugh, the first time in a long while, the first time in as long as he could remember. He dropped the rope to the ground and stomped on it with his bare foot. He walked away, and left it sitting there alone on the ground.
The stone lay waiting.