A young girl swings while her brother drowns. Winner of SCREAMS!!! July 30 2023.
The tree has grown since the night Ariadne last sat in the swing. It is no more than a shadow against the dark sky, its shape outlined by the myriad stars. High above her head it hangs suspended. She looks up at it, contemplating the years that have flown.
That was when poor Robbie died, going under three times in the creek at the bottom of the field. Swollen with the rain of the previous week, the stream had been much stronger than he had expected. Three times he had called out for help and she heard his panicked voice in the darkness. She was swinging and did not want to respond.
Afterwards, when she returned to the house and faced the crazed weeping of the mother over the dead body of her little boy, Ariadne did not mention that she had heard his cries. She kept silent through all the grief and recrimination that followed, the mother blaming herself for inattention, the father grim and morose in his despair.
In secret, Ariadne excused herself the inaction that had kept her from admitting what she knew of that night’s tragedy. I was swinging, she thought, and nothing interrupts my swinging.
Many years later, when she was grown, the father dead, and the mother no more than an empty husk moping in sorrow from salon to bedroom, wringing the tears from a soaked handkerchief as she wandered in darkness, Ariadne had assumed command of the household, a cold and demanding captain of a long-sunken ship. She managed the father’s considerable fortune with care, ensuring that it lasted through the years and grew at times through astute investment and a grim refusal to indulge in any form of extravagance. Her dispassionate mind had no truck with such things, her pleasure being found in her isolation and separation from humankind.
It was superiority that was her drug, the feeling of being high above the common run of beings subject to emotion and the vagaries of experience. Not for her this wretched life of wracking pain or fiery passion twisted round some few moments of pointless joy. In this, her private world of controlled and icy dominion over all that happened, she stayed in hard, majestic existence, untouched by doubt and indecision.
In time, the mother had passed away in quiet and unremarked insignificance, perhaps relieved at last to be free of the burden she had made of her life. She lay in her bed for days before it was noticed that she had flown, so undemanding had the mother become in her final years. The servants fussed and wept until Ariadne dismissed them all on the day after the funeral.
If the house had been quiet at all, it became like a tomb after the mother’s death. Its only occupant, Ariadne, regarded the still, silent hours as they passed, never commenting nor doing more than the absolutely necessary to feed her cold and disdainful being.
The children of the village, those who dared, peered through the boundary railings at the crumbling house and ran away when they saw the pale, ghostly figure of Ariadne passing by the windows as she wandered from room to room. Years passed and Ariadne remained the same, silent, hard, unyielding to passion or compassion. Though the house mouldered in darkness, its shadow frowned upon the overgrown garden surrounding it, an ever present smear upon the landscape as viewed from the village.
So high did the trees and plants of the garden grow that, in time, they hid the sight of the place from the eyes of any who passed by. It passed from evil repute to worse.
And now Ariadne ventures out into the garden for the first time since poor Robbie’s death. The sun has long set beyond the tallest trees and all is in gloom as she makes her way down the mildewed and broken stones of the path that leads to the creek.
She is dressed in the long, flowing robes of darkest indigo that has been her habit for the empty years. Her hair, always long, is now grey, a ghostly cloud that streams from her head in the chill breeze of the night.
Before she comes to the creek, she stops and looks up at the swing, still suspended from the dark branch overhead. For some time, she stands motionless beneath the swing, apparently thwarted in her desire to relive the moment when she swung, carefree, while poor Robbie uttered his last cries from the water.
Then, still gazing upward and arms at her side, unmoving, she begins to rise up into the air. The night breeze wraps itself about her so that her dress and hair float outward and twine themselves around her ramrod straight form. And so she is lifted up, slowly, certainly, into the shaded darkness under the tree, until she can grasp the ropes holding the swing and transfer her apparently weightless form into its seat.
She begins to swing, backwards and forwards, in slight and emotionless movement, the only sound the tired creaking of the ropes where they chafe against the branch. Ariadne’s eyes are closed as the slight wind of her passing caresses her cheek and her ears hear cries for help from the direction of the creek. She swings until the ghastly light of the rising moon breaks through the tangled branches above her and lend a phantom glow to the faint aura of her drifting hair. For a moment all is still as she sits silent in the swing, a dark and ghostly tableau in the black night.
Then a rope breaks, worn to a single thread against the rough bark of the tree.
The swing tips Ariadne into the night, twisting as she leaves it, arms flailing for support in the uncaring air. Her arm brushes the rope as she turns and it wraps itself around her wrist and neck. She is arrested with a jerk from her plummeting fall, her shoulder dislocated by the sudden force and weight of such deceleration. The rope tightens about her neck so that she falls no further, but her head is twisted upward and the harsh cords of the rope rasp against the pale skin of her throat.
Her dislocated arm hangs useless against her side but the other hand scratches vainly at the rope, seeking to loosen it enough for her to gulp air into her lungs. But the effort is hopeless, her weight tightens the hold that is strangling her. Her legs kick in their search for support so that her body sways in wild gyrations, but always the rope’s grip tightens. And tightens.
Ariadne’s struggles grow weak and feeble until at last she dangles still and lifeless from the tree. The breeze strengthens and she swings now as she swung on another night while her brother drowned in the creek. To and fro she swings, to and fro.
Word count: 1,154
For SCREAMS!!! Week 29, July 2023
Prompt: Music Box video.