Amphelice

A gentle breeze drifted across the heath, lazily tickling the long fronds of grass into a rippling wave and sending a light cloud of dandelion seeds over the small group of people at the base of the hill. Their uniformly black garb stood out against the hazy greens and yellows of the midsummer's day. From the crest of the hill, Amphelice watched them huddle together as if the sunshine could harm them. In the centre of their group, a man in long flowing black robes intoned over a rectangular hole in the ground. A simple casket sat beside it, adorned with scarlet flowers that didn't quite match the countryside surroundings.

The zephyr brushed a tangle of Amphelice's waist length flaxen hair over her face. With a flick of her fine-boned wrist, she swept it aside and continued to watch the little ceremony. Though the wind carried the priest's words away so that she could not hear them, she knew the gist of what he said. The usual litany of remorse and pain laced with a desperate hope that life continued in another plane. Amphelice had never lost her fascination with the morbid ritual even though she had witnessed so many.

Why did they continue to lavish so much attention upon the sorrow of a loved one's passing? Why couldn't they say goodbye and move on with their own lives? They had so little time of their own, why spend so much of it mourning for others?

Time passed and the people in black drifted away from the grave like leaves caught in a wayward wind, tugged along by currents that they could not control. Amphelice supposed life must feel that way to them. And eventually, those little leaves would wither and fade, becoming lost in the earth. When none of them remained, still Amphelice would stand atop the hill and watch a new procession of mourners huddle around a new hole in the ground.

Her white dress fluttering in the breeze, she resumed her walk across the heath. Yorkshire spread out all around her, an undulating landscape of endless greens under a light blue sky. Far above her head, wispy clouds streaked across the sky and blurred with contrails into a white lattice. Unless she looked down into the vales, Amphelice felt online on the heath, a solitary smudge of white. She walked at her own meandering pace, delighting in the sensation of grasses under her bare feet and rubbing against her legs, enjoying the sun's warmth on her bare shoulders and letting the wind guide her home.

A proud village had nestled in one of the vales once, long ago. Now only a few stones remained in the tangle of trees and bushes. Time had slowly but surely erased Fossley until none but Amphelice knew of its existence.

She entered the vale by a wild creature's narrow little path through the undergrowth. Thick shade surrounded her and from somewhere came the familiar tinkle of a minute waterfall. Following the path, she wound her way through brambles towards a small glen. The brambles left faint scratches on her fair legs but she barely noticed; with time she had grown accustomed to experiencing lesser pains.

When she stood in the centre of the glen, old and rotting twigs and leaves under her feet, a beam of sunlight setting off the golden tones in her long hair and shining into her pale blue eyes, Amphelice saw the metre-high waterfall bubbling out from the nook of the vale. She walked to it and ran her hands under the cool water, letting it run over her long, fine fingers. From the far distant past she remembered running out in the early morning to collect water from the fall, filling her wooden bucket right to the brim and taking every care on the short walk to her family's rickety home. Until the winter when the waterfall froze and everyone died. Everyone except her.

The craw of a nearby crow momentarily reminded her of the old woman's cackle. That awful noise, as the wasted woman lay in her filthy, soiled sheets and laughed at the young woman who had given herself to a man other than her own. The baby from that deed had died in the winter, the last of the villagers to be buried. And Amphelice had sat atop the graves, wondering when she too would join them.

Every time Amphelice returned to the ruins of Fossley, she wondered if one day time would finally snatch her away just as it had all the others.

She sat on a fallen tree for hours, watching motes dance through sunbeams that had pierced through the canopy above, listening to the ceaseless tinkling of water and the calls of wild things all around her and she knew that no, not this time, she would not go this time. Time did not desire her yet. A broad smile spread across her face and she danced up, kicking leaves into flurries as she whirled through the woods, her shrills of delight ringing out with the birds'. Why fade away when life continued to hold so many hidden treasures?