A ghostly tale of a tragic love
The bell rang out and my soul, as if by reflex, cringed and shivered. I felt thin, full of holes, pocked and barren as a disfigured moon. My life was over, and yet still, I drew breath.
The bell rang out again, accusing me, as if to say, "I see you! I know your heart and what you’ve done. You’re a murderer. Murderer!”
In defense, my very spirit shouted back, "No! It's not true! We were in love...I love her still!"
I was not myself, my sanity wavered between lucidity and incoherence. I lay wet and trembling upon the desolate beach, the tone of the bell continuing to pound my soul like a smithy shaping molten steel. Desperately, I tried to remember what had happened, what had brought me to such utter despair and pain. I looked out to sea, watching the approaching waves, searching their swelling combers for any sign of my love.
But there was nothing. Nothing but the constant beating of my heart and the bell ringing out from the very crest of the cliff--resonating in every fiber of my being . . . Murderer! Murderer!
As if destined for torment, my memory came flooding back to me, like the sea washing along the shore.
She and I raced to the steep seaside cliffs, the waves hammering at the rocks behind us as they had done since the very beginning of time. She wanted to see the old church at the top of the hill, so we climbed, laughing, so full of love.
Over the years, large chunks of earth and stone had been eaten away from the battered and misshapened cliff face, leaving adequate handholds to help our quick ascent. I could smell the salty sea, taste its residue upon my lips, and feel its cooling spray on my back. It boomed and reverberated off the rock wall, as the breakers collided endlessly upon the cliff.
I’ve noticed the ocean tastes of tears. Perhaps that is what it truly is, God’s own pool of weeping, sorrow and lament. Or maybe it’s simply the teardrops of forlorn lovers, gathered and compiled in this one place since the very beginning. For me, the ocean will always be so, because I will never be able to discern between the taste of its waters and the tears of love lost. I will never look upon the great sea the same way again, not without thinking of her and how much I love her.
Halfway to the top, there was a small grotto in the cliff’s face, and as I clammered into it, I turned, and pulled her up to join me. As her body lightly brushed against mine, my blood ran fevered hot. I was blinded with lust, and I could think of nothing else but having her.
What a fool I was . . . what a fool.
We ventured just inside the cave’s opening to rest ourselves awhile before completing the climb to the top. Sitting leisurely at the grotto’s mouth, we looked out over the vast stretch of open sea. She lay back gently into my arms, propping herself against my chest, then started to sing.
“The endless tides cast all my burdens to the shore,
forever more . . . forever more.
The endless tides cast all my burdens to the shore.”
Her song was unfamiliar to me--eerie and hypnotic--and I was mesmerized by the very sound of her voice. I could have listened to her forever, as her long, blond hair, whipped by the ocean breeze, blew into my face and smelled of the open sea. Time itself had stopped, and I felt like we were the only people left in all the world, facing down the mighty strength of the ocean with nothing but our love.
She stopped singing, turned, and suddenly kissed me. My fevered lust rose and I wanted desperately to take her, but she resisted, saying that we should wait until we reached the summit of the cliff. I half-heartedly agreed, but it took every ounce of will I could muster to keep my hands from her. She was everything I wanted, all I ever needed, and I cared for nothing else but her.
I intensely observed her features: the slender nose that sloped down slightly like a tiny precipice hanging above wide, pouting lips, her dove-colored eyelids, that drooped half-closed over her bright blue-green eyes. I could see the ocean in those eyes, and staring into them, found myself being pulled out to sea and drowning there.
After our rest, we stood together, hand in hand, and readied ourselves for the climb ahead. Like a fool, I reached for her, and pulled her tightly to me. She stiffened and backed away, teasingly at first, with an angelic smile spreading casually across those lovely lips. Then she threw back her head and laughed, her shapely beauty framed perfectly against the backdrop of the glistening ocean.
Lost in lust, I rushed toward her, arms extended, determined to have my way, but she backed further from me, her feet dancing lightly upon the very rim of the cliff. Her eyes darted to and fro, looking for some possible way to evade me. Laughing, I blocked her only escape, and quickly grabbed her into my arms again. Her hands went to my chest pushing me away in jest, as my mouth fell heavily upon her lips, kissing her like it would be the last time we would ever kiss.
She pulled away, and began to cry, her tears piercing my heart.
What had I said, or done? I desperately tried to kiss away those salty tears--attempted to console her even as the sun’s setting glare struck me full in the eyes, blinding me.
I stumbled forward.
She moved suddenly, choosing that moment to try to run around me, and to my dismay, I bumped her and saw the cliff’s edge disappear from beneath her feet. We grabbed for each other as she momentarily hung there suspended in midair, her arms stretched outward with a look of horror and incomprehension on her face. Then she fell away, dropping swiftly out of sight.
My mind broke then, as fear and desperation pulled me toward the edge of the cliff and forced me to look into the foaming sea below. “My God! No!” I thought. I saw her as she lay face down in the water. I screamed her name like a war-cry that slowly turned into one long, piercing snarl of pain.
The bell rang out from the church on the hill.
Climbing down madly without thought or caution, I dangerously jumped from the cliff’s wall even before I was halfway down. The jump alone should have broken my legs, or even killed me, but I didn’t care, my only thought was to reach her.
Standing breathlessly at the base of the cliff, I plodded the water’s edge, but couldn’t find her. I splashed up and down the shoreline through the foaming surf, hopelessly searching for her body. In my panic, I dove into the freezing water, feeling its icy touch upon my skin. The great sea tugged at me, towing me outward, farther and farther. I carelessly followed.
As I swam in desperation, I bumped into something, and I saw my love’s long, blond hair floating on the face of the water, fanning and stretching outward like a living, breathing creature. I quickly wrapped my hand in a tuft of her hair and pulled hard--felt the heaviness of her body.
She slowly rose to the surface like a fleshy piece of driftwood. The sight of her dead body made me gasp for air and almost retch. I braced my hands beneath her back, and lifted her to the surface. She gently floated on her back alongside me, her eyes closed in death, her skin already changing hue. I could see no abrasions around her head, and to look at her, she appeared to be only sleeping--still beautiful as ever. In my jumbled brain, I tried to wake her, stroking her forehead and cheeks, apologizing to her over and over again. I could not help myself and tenderly kissed her cold, salty lips.
Her eyes shot open.
I was startled, and gulped sea water, trying frantically to pull away. I felt her arms encircle my neck and pull me to her. No longer did she resemble my love; her skin was puffy, water-soaked, with cracked and open lesions running across her bloated and marbled skin. She crushed me to her, smiling a ghastly, evil grin, and showing jagged and crooked teeth like a fiendish ghoul. She laughed, a flemy and gurgling sound, as she tried to pull me under, her lips stretched in an expired agony as she offered up her kiss of death.
Desperately, I struggled to release her iron grip from my neck, but she clung to my body like a bloodsucking leech, wrapping her legs about my waist with supernatural strength.
My mind screamed, “God, this can’t be happening!”
Feeling the ocean floor, I pushed off from the bottom as hard as I could, breaking free of her and shooting to the surface. Gasping and coughing for sweet air, I struggled to locate her in the cloudy water around me, backing away and kicking my legs at anything that came close to me. In a maddening frenzy, I swam hard toward the beach, even as seaweed grabbed at my legs and entwined about my arms. I felt as if the ocean itself refused to let me go.
I finally stumbled to the shoreline, shuddering from the exertion, and fell drained and exhausted upon the wet sand. I lay there awkwardly, trembling in fatigue and unable to get control of myself as the cold surf licked at my feet.
After a time, I sat up and tried to clear my head. I felt my mind had taken a sudden leap into a new and nightmarish reality that I could not fully grasp. Darkness withered my heart, and I was filled with a nauseating sympathy and stunned horror at what had just happened.
The bell rang out again, accusingly, and called me forth.
I tried to stand, but my legs were weak and quivering. My mind was drawn toward the ringing bell, and I staggered from the shore like the living dead toward it, stiff and with a hollow gaze.
Slowly I walked toward the long and winding uphill path leading from the beach to the top of the cliffs. I trudged wearily, eventually mounting the last hill to the cliff’s plateau, and stood face to face with the old, seaside church.
As if in response to my presence the bell rang out.
The church was small, but its steeple stood lofty and proud, rising like a glorious finger of God pointing toward Heaven. There was an old, Spanish priest kneeling beside an unadorned wooden cross that stood alongside the washed-out building. He wore a heavy, gray robe cinched tightly about his waist with a plain, white cotton rope. His grizzled beard hung down like a tattered flag and when he saw me it was as if I had interrupted his deepest thoughts and wounded his very heart. He stood stiffly and approached me, his lips bowed in a placid smile, and a look of sincere kindness upon his old face.
In my relief at finding another living soul, I ran to him, falling to my knees and clutched at the hem of his robe sobbing wildly. He knelt beside me to offer his comfort, as if he had done it a hundred times before.
I told him everything.
During the course of my story, I noticed the priest had become quite distraught, and I observed him secretly glancing toward the path to the beach as if he were expecting someone.
“Father, are you all right?”
“Yes . . . yes of course.”
But his face reflected his doubt as he crossed himself several times and mumbled something I could not hear. Finally, he sat down beside me upon the grass, looking out toward the ocean. Then, in a heavy Spanish accent, he told me a tragic tale.
“There was a beautiful young girl from the local village,” he said, “that was raised by a strict and overbearing father. The two of them attended church here regularly, until the day the girl met a handsome young man from Mexico who had just arrived to this area. When they saw each other, they could not help themselves, and fell madly in love.
“The girl’s father angrily refused to let his daughter marry beneath her station, and he immediately arranged for her to marry the son of a wealthy landowner. But his daughter rebelled against him saying she could never love another and would kill herself if forced to do so. So, in sin, the two lovers would climb the cliff side every evening at sunset and secretly meet at a small cave there.
“This went on for several months, until one fateful day, the man told the young girl that he could see her no more, and was leaving for Mexico in the morning. She begged him to take her along. But he refused, finally confessing to already having a wife who was with child and that the time had come for him to do what was right and return to them.
“The girl became frantic, falling into fits of mad laughter and despair. As he attempted to console her, the girl accidentally fell from the cliff to her death, and her body was never found.
“The girl’s father, upon hearing the news of his missing daughter, became a crushed and broken man. And finally realizing what his inflexible pride had wrought him, turned to God and joined the priesthood. The young man’s wife was perhaps not as lucky, for when she learned of her husband’s infidelity, she committed suicide, taking her unborn child with her.”
“And what of the young man, father? What happened to him?”
The priest slowly shook his head and expelled a sigh that sounded as if it carried the weight of the world upon its short-lived flight. “The young man, in his frantic attempt to save the girl, jumped from the cliff and was drowned.”
“When did all this happen, father?”
“It happened many years ago, my son. Many years ago . . . but on this very same day.”
The priest led me back toward the church, gingerly watching where he placed each step that he took. Then he leaned against the old, wooden cross, and appeared as if he would start crying. “She comes here often,” he said, holding back his tears. “Comes to sing to me when the church bell rings.”
As he spoke those very words, the bell ominously rang out, and the wind blew as hot and unnatural as a gust from Hell. And, as if on cue, I heard her sing.
The air became thick and sultry, as though the approaching darkness were sweating in apprehension. The bell continued to ring, its deafening sound too heavy for me to hold. I felt dizzy and unsettled as if in a stupor, and was drawn toward the edge of the cliff like a magnet.
Then, in mid-ring, the sound of the bell stopped.
A perfect calm crossed the plateau like a gentle breeze, and I abruptly turned looking back at the church, but the priest had disappeared and the structure I once beheld, now lay in total ruin. There was no bell tower standing tall, no bell. The place was nothing more than a dilapidated old ruin with an adobe roof collapsing in upon itself, weather-worn, and partially rotting away.
Then I heard her voice call to me, and facing the sea again, I found myself standing at the cliff’s edge and looking out upon the blue-green brine. A thick mist was drifting in and I felt as if a piece of my very soul were missing and lost within its foggy depths.
Suddenly, she appeared. I could see her in the water below me with her arms upraised, calling in a hypnotic voice for me to return to her. She was beautiful once again--so very beautiful. I listened intently to her melancholy song, and the memories of our long ago love came flooding back to me, smothering my senses as if they were pinned and caught drowning beneath the waves.
It was I the repenting priest had been talking about. He was her father, and I was the young man who had jumped from the cliffs those many years ago.
Below me, she continued to sing. The melody played over and over in my mind, across the labyrinth of the sea’s brave crash of breakers and the fresh tang of salt. I found myself singing with her, mouthing the words.
“The endless tides cast all my burdens to the shore,
forever more . . . forever more.
The endless tides cast all my burdens to the shore.”
Without hesitation, I stepped from the cliff and rushed to greet her.