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All sat with solemn face within the protective walls of the church, grasping each other desperately in the hope of staying above the feared darkness that so often threatened each soul. When the procession started, the preacher, who did not personally know the deceased beauty, began interrupting the thoughts of the mourners with a story of love and forgiveness in the hope that her murderer would seek refuge in the heart of faith and repent all his soul that very day in church.

Tears already poured but perhaps doubled when the town’s organ player struck a particularly mournful tune, the echoes of whispers and whimpers weaving in and out of the bars and doubling in intensity, rising to a deafening decibel that no one could stop from growing, like a noxious, but invisible, gas thickening in the air around them.

With a final, drawn out note, one of the room’s instruments ceased to play, and in silence’s stead, the preacher once again stepped forward to call family and friends to the stage, to say a short piece on the topic of death in the specific. Knees weak, eyes worn out from crying, not a person had the energy left to stand without the support of another and no one, so deep were they in their personal grief, could offer what each other needed so desperately.

Before the preacher, uncomfortable with an empty stage, could return to the microphone, however, a sleight, dark girl with downcast eyes and deeply pink cheeks rose from her seat and shakily stepped forward so quietly that no one would have noticed her had the preacher not suddenly cast a severely hopeful glance in her direction. Moving slowly, yet boldly, forward, the girl met the podium, stood upon it carefully, and met the audience with an uncanny gaze.

Brown eyes forward, she began to speak of a girl she knew very personally, and from the moment her voice began, it seemed to sing life into the stale and melancholy air, paralyzing everyone with some kind of wonderment; though they couldn’t exactly place her face, every one of them was sure they’d heard her sweet and gentle voice somewhere before, a voice which began then to speak of the girl in the casket at her back. After the service, all would swear they’d heard the girl speak of a different memory, one they’d been privy to personally, but then,at that moment, strange and warm recollections entered every heart present, especially of those who bore the worst damage, lighting shy smiles on every face, every hand moving to cover a mouth, a hearts, an eye, or, in one case, a throat.

As they all drifted, remembering her smile that never seemed to end, her graceful voice – the perfect balance of both beauty and pain – grew more fervent at the climax of her memoir, her eyes flashing toward the heavens, her melodic tones reverberating from the ceiling. All eyes on her, she dropped her voice and in a low whisper ended her speech:

“For leaving I am sorry, but must wonder at your sadness for my moving on, toward another life, another chance to live. I will see some of you again, but must insist that you all remember I am but a voice-distance away. Please speak to me easily, and without restraint, and I will remember to keep the answers to your questions close to my heart for us to talk about when we meet once again.”

As she finished, and before their eyes, her own faded from bright brown to a dull hazel and her cheeks lost some of their luster. Some in the crowd recognized her as a fellow mourner, but were positive it was not she that had stood there just before. The girl, now fully aware she was on stage and suddenly shy, shook her head, and smiling foolishly proceeded to the back of the church where her parents sat wondering whether they’d ever seen her leave.

No one spoke, but all saw him rise among them, different than the rest, guilt heavy upon his face. All had suspected, but none had known; violence erupts from the inside. Two of the town’s police officers, the one’s who had found her, rose not too far away and sped toward him though he made no motion to leave.

A single tear fell down his cheek as they dragged him through the church doors, his eyes unblinkingly focused on the point where the girl had been, where the girl he killed had been standing just moments before.

 

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