Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Time-consuming (02/24/11)
TITLE: Hearts of Stone
By Eric Wharton
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He pulled the collar of his jacket around his ears, thankful for the momentary respite from having to look at the neatly manicured rows of granite as he walked past the small church and entered the unpretentious cemetery. A chill rattled through him. He wasn't sure it was from the bracing wind or memories that had brought him here.
Brian turned his attention to the flowers that spotted the landscape. He glowered at the sight of turquoise, ruby, and gold contrasting the pale, somber shades of granite and marble. The more he tried to ignore the splash of unseemly color, the more they intruded. What on earth possessed people to plant flowers? There was nothing here to hallow, only the warm breath of decomposition.
He passed among the neat columns and approached a familiar place. It should be over now, but still it continued. Even from beyond the grave his father reached out with slimy fingers.
As Brian stared at his father’s gravestone, a shadow appeared from nowhere. It advanced across his sight, first touching the still granite and gradually moving to cloak his own shadow. It’s passing sent a chill racing down Brian's spine. He turned.
"Tidyin' up a bit, young fella?" The voice was clear, but sounded raspy.
The face Brian saw was old ... very old. It looked like the earth itself, cracked and mottled with streaks of alabaster and iron. Yet there was a certain vigor. The old man held trimming shears and a bucket, but it was his eyes that overwhelmed Brian. They blazed obsidian.
Great, thought Brian, now I have to deal with some grizzly old caretaker. Fortunately he didn't verbalize the thought. Instead he said, “Yeah, I guess," turning his head back to insinuate deep contemplation of his father’s grave. The last thing he had come for was conversation.
"I been noticin' you comin’ here lots o’ times … maybe too many,” said the old man.
“So what,” said Brian, curtly.
“Why’re you here?”
Brian turned back to face the old man, annoyed. He stifled memories with a clutched sob in the back of his throat. He didn't have to explain himself or his actions to anyone. “None of your business,” he said.
“Bitterness is a time-consuming emotion. It's the dross left over from squandered time.”
“What makes you think I’m bitter?”
“Folks don’t come here as often as you do unless they got remorse or bitterness drawin’ ‘em back. You don’t look like the remorseful type.”
Brian’s ability to control his emotions suddenly disappeared. “My father did unspeakable things to me," he said angrily, as if accusing the old man in place of his father.
The old man nodded his head a few times as his eyes remained on Brian. With almost pre-ordained purpose, he pulled a well-worn book from his back pocket and flipped through it for a few moments. When he settled on one spot he handed it to Brian. “Read the underlined spot.”
Brian glanced down and saw the word “Ezekiel” flash up to him from the heading of the page. “Look, I don’t believe in--“
He raised his eyes as he began to respond, but found only an empty space staring back. The old man had disappeared. Brian glanced around before shrugging his shoulders, and then began to walk away. Looking back down at the old man’s book, he walked past row upon row of stone. He came to the underlined passage and read, ’I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’
The crunch of loose gravel under his feet echoed in the stillness as Brian walked toward his car. He paused as he reached it, his hand gently resting on the cool metal of the door handle. It seemed to reassure him--the touch of something real. Maybe it was time … time to connect to the joy of the living, not with the bitterness of the dead.
Perhaps it was time to mine the wisdom of the book he held in his hand.
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