Her hands slipped slowly and furtively into her coat pockets. She fumbled around searching for anything sharp, for anything that could make an impact into the flesh of some walking oddity that chose to walk around a graveyard in the early hours of the morning. Her fingers sifted through coins, fluff and an unwrapped sticky boiled sweet before finding her keys. She ran a thumb and forefinger up the serrated edge, pressed the tip and wondered briefly if it were sharp enough for the job. The job; suddenly she was entertaining moments of murder, or at the very least self defence. Already she had visions of a struggle storming into her mind. Screams of help, the clash of limbs and the warm breath of her attacker thawing her skin filled her head as her grip dampened with sweat.
She was hardly what one would deem vulnerable. Attractive to the eye and feminine to the last, she appeared to most as a refined young lady whose stark indifference towards derivative male compliments was matched by her ability to see through potential admirers as though they were pristine glass statues. Such qualities, however, were also paralleled by one unmistakable trait that rarely came to the fore; Mina had a temper.
"The only thing I'm currently considering is how to defend myself," she answered blatantly as she pulled the keys from her pocket and listened for any sign of abrupt movement.
"Against what?" the man asked.
"Against whom," she corrected him.
"I intend no harm towards you," he assured her as his eyes passed over the graves.
"Then why creep up behind me if you intend no harm?"
"I did not creep up behind you."
"Well I didn't hear you," she said as she brought the keys up to her chest.
"It's the snow. The ground is soft enough for one to move without being detected."
"Then it was your intention not to be detected," she said as she stood up quickly and span around to face him.
She held up the key in preparation as his eyes moved casually from its tip to her face. Within seconds her resolve floundered. She suddenly felt more intrigued than entrapped as she peered pryingly into pupils drowning in secrets. For a time she was indecisive, not knowing whether or not simply to run or remain there wide-eyed and vacant. The man, although not entirely untypical in appearance, vented an air of mystery that begged her attention. It was a beckoning of sorts. Mina wanted to know more and yet at the same time she toyed with the notion of fleeing. After just several seconds of being in his company, however, she did not feel in any danger, and her grip around the cluster of keys presently relaxed until they dropped at her feet. She blinked as though labouring to remove herself from unforeseen reverie and then raised her eyebrows in her own inimitable manner of arrogance that Hal had witnessed numerous times. She awaited an answer.
He did not smile. He did not frown and neither did his features appear in any way affected either by her presence or her question. At best he was distracted, and at worst he was indifferent. A small scar below his left eye lent something insidious to an otherwise stubbled middle aged complexion, while his eyes, the very ones that had unhinged young Officer James hours before, were emotionless and wanting, leaving nothing but night in lieu of life. The man was of course alive, but he did not appear to be living. She watched his attention rise to the sky and then drop slowly to her expectant gaze; and then he did smile. Mina experienced such relief at that moment that she could have mocked despair and taunted terror itself. Like her mother before her, she had always welcomed a good smile, one that altered the face rather than presented itself as a standalone supplement. A good smile told a tale; it offered a brief but descriptive sketch of the soul and replenished the eyes. Mina soon realised, however, that what at first appeared to be a disclosing smile was one that disclosed too little or perhaps too much. There existed a mute melancholy in his face that slipped silently from the eyes and descended habitually to the lips, upon which it rested and ravaged an already diminishing spirit. She half expected to hear a sigh, but none came; instead he faltered with his answer and blinked slowly with the lethargy of an old and tired soul.
"It was not my intention to scare you," he tried to assure her.
"You didn't scare me!" she shot back defensively. "But you could take a few steps back, nonetheless," she added as she looked him up and down.
He bowed his head in apparent obedience and did as she asked. Mina still watched with unbridled suspicion. As far as she was concerned anything could have been concealed under that long coat of his; a shotgun, a sword, a cricket bat. She stooped down and picked up her keys before once again finding the sharpest one with frosty fingers while he watched with that same nonchalant expression. It appeared as though the man cared for nothing, a consequence perhaps of already having seen everything. She even thought she caught a smirk occur briefly on his lips as he watched her forge the key into a weapon.
"Is that better?" he asked casually.
"Who are you?" she replied, "and why are you walking around a graveyard at four o' clock in the morning?"
"I might ask you the same question," he replied.
"I asked two questions," she said warily.
"And I shall answer just one. I am here because this is where I need to be."
She waited for more, but no more came.
"Do you have someone dear to you resting in this place?" he asked as he looked down towards her mother's grave.
"What were you doing?" she asked him, ignoring his question entirely. "I saw you going from one grave to the next."
"I was doing what all who come to graveyards do; I was paying my respects to the dead. This is your mother," he added as his eyes dropped once more to the grave.
"You stay away from her!" Mina found herself warning him.
"Stay away," he repeated solemnly as some other thought ensnared him briefly. "It is as though they wait."
"Who?" Mina enquired. She was beginning to feel a little more confident.
"Those who rest," he answered. "The silence is pregnant."
"What are you talking about?" she replied with bewilderment.
"Knowing," he said. "I speak of those who have passed; they know more than those who have not. There are many that envy the dead."
"Only those who are unhappy in life," she responded as she let her guard drop.
The man was a touch bemused, perhaps even vacant in his delivery, but she was becoming more certain that he intended no harm, at least not towards her. Still, she could not help but recoil a little as she continued to monitor his face. Things were unfurling in that head of his, things that she had no mind to pursue. She was almost certain that he did not possess the mind of a killer, but she was very certain that he had the facade of a thinker, and she had no trust in those whose thoughts furnished the face with persistently impenetrable expressions. Did she feel in peril? - No. Did she sense peril? - Almost definitely. In just a few seconds a line had been blurred and then broken as he continued to look upon her with a blend of sorrow and something else that she did not dare pinpoint.
"Very true," he answered as a smile briefly penetrated his mystery.
Mina relaxed a little more.
"Will you sculpt The Last Supper?" he asked unexpectedly.
"For your mother's monument."
"No," she answered frankly, "it's too..."
"Ambitious," he finished her sentence. "How would one be able to capture the emotions of those long since passed, after all?"
"You empathise," she answered dismissively. "That has nothing to do with it, anyway. My mother wouldn't want anything..."
"Sorrow and bliss," he continued. "Was there ever such a splendid union? One can only imagine what was going through their hearts and minds on that last night."
"I can't say I ever gave it much thought. I'm not really religious," she confessed candidly.
"Why would you need to be religious in order to empathise?" he asked.
"I suppose I wouldn't," she replied with an inkling of uncertainty as he moved slowly forward. "What are you doing?!"
Mina's hand was already raised and her fingers directing the tip of the key towards him.
"Do you plan on using me as a door?" he asked.His remark would have almost been taken frivolously were it not for his unchanging expression. He looked past Mina and then walked past Mina. Seconds later he was kneeling at another graveside while she continued observing him from beneath the Willow. She had quite forgotten how cold it was. She approached him slowly and watched as his lips mumbled inaudible words that merged and fell with the snow.
"What are you saying to him?" she whispered.
He stood up and exhaled a lengthy sigh: "To her," he answered before turning to face Mina, "But there are no words in any language that can..."
He fell silent.
"Yes?" she urged him.
"Were you and your mother close?" he asked her as his tone switched from one of musing to one of guarded disquiet.
"Very close. Why?"
"Then perhaps it is to you that I should be apologising," he answered as his head hung seemingly in shame.
"Apologising for what exactly? What have you done?" she asked with a raised voice. The key was once again raised and she neared the grave over which he was standing.
"It is not what I have done, but what I must do," he replied cryptically and still with his head slumped forward.
"What's that supposed to mean?" she asked immediately as she eyed him with returning suspicion.
"When was the last time you looked up?" he asked after a few seconds silence had burdened the silence.
"Would you prefer to explain yourself to the police?" she warned him as her fingers tightened once more around the key.
"Please," he beseeched with a raised palm, "put away your weaponry," he smiled as his eyes glanced over the key. "I told you I mean you no harm."
"Perhaps you don't intend any harm towards me, but that doesn't stop you being very weird and dangerous."
"Weird and dangerous," he pondered with a sigh, "is it as easy as that to form judgments about people?"
"Just the weird and dangerous ones," she replied hesitantly, not wishing to provoke him in any way.
"I once knew a man who thought he could change the world," he replied softly as his dark eyes almost fell into hers. "He did not see people, he experienced them. In truth I believe he despised people, which was why he wished for nothing more than to change them. Those who came to know him thought they saw love in his eyes; as for me, I saw only hate. Would he have seemed 'weird' or 'dangerous' to you, I wonder?" he deliberated as he walked slowly forward, at which point Mina took several cautious paces backward.
The slender streaks of white in his hair suddenly gave him a much older appearance, and for that Mina felt inexplicably all the more safer. His skin seemed to grow suddenly paler than the snow itself and captured beams of moonlight that had, until then, been concealed by dense discharging clouds. It was a most unusual sensation, but Mina imagined that she felt everything congeal. The air grew thick and the snow seemed to fall heavier and with an unhurried descent. Her heart, still pounding with apprehension, now felt clutched by some invisible and ethereal grip, and her head sensed the presence of an immovable stillness that drew more clouds over her thoughts than there were in the slowly dawning sky.
"He judged them harshly," the man continued completely unaware of his listener's unfathomable lapse into reverie. "Far too harshly," he continued. "On occasion he used to stand and stare at his reflection in the lake. He never knew I watched him. Once I saw him on the shoreline. He struck the water so hard he hit the bottom and broke several fingers. He was the most sorrowed soul I had ever encountered."
"Why are you telling me this?" Mina asked after the man had remained in silence for several seconds.
"I seem to tell everyone this," he answered aloofly before walking past Mina and towards another grave.
She now watched him with a sense of bleak understanding and confusion. One moment there was some semblance of passion within him, and the next it was evacuated as though a bucket had been recklessly tipped over. She saw him and yet he was somehow invisible, merging with the world and its woes until he himself became part of the weeping vista. The man was there in the cemetery, but he was elsewhere. He was a soul adrift, a mind left to roam within the confines of the skull. A stranger he may have been, but there were times during their swift exchange where his eyes spoke louder than his tongue would permit. There were brief moments when Mina had found the man oddly alluring, but she soon arrested such unruly desires.
He knelt down as his coat folded into the snow, and there he remained in silence while intermittent movements of the lips implied a silenced dialogue that only he could hear. Content that he posed little to no threat either to her or her mother's grave, Mina made motions to leave. She tendered whispers of love to her mother before leaving the sanctuary of the Willow, whose branches oscillated in a seemingly farewell gesture as a momentary chilling breeze nudged the foliage.
The walk back to her car was accompanied by sensations beyond definition. The desire to return and question the man further was marred by the simple fear of discovering the answers. Usually, when anything remotely uncanny occurred in Mina's life, her first impulse was to blot it out with common sense. Common sense was the panacea for the strange and inexplicable, and there was indeed something strange and inexplicable about a reticent man who favoured walking around a graveyard during anti-social hours. Common sense, however, failed to triumph in this instance. Mina's pace quickened.
Moments later she was back on the road. The radio was turned on and turned up. Something was playing; she did not know what it was. Somebody was speaking; she did not know who it was. For several minutes Mina did not even know where she was.
As the man in the graveyard watched Mina's car sink into the unlit lane, his gaze lifted to meet Eventide. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the silence. He voiced the same words he had voiced a hundred times already over the past two months and waited, and just as before silence prevailed. His eyes then descended despondently upon her mother's grave. Kneeling at its side he reached down, grabbed a handful of soil and ran his thumb slowly through the centre before watching it powder to the ground.
"Forgive me," he whispered as he returned his attention to the grave moments before pursuing the diminishing glow of Mina's car headlights, "please forgive me."