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Let Her Rest in Peace
As far as Echo could tell, dirt didn’t feel anything. And most of it smelled nice and felt good on her skin.
Echo wouldn’t mind being dirt.
But, she thought as she dug into the ground with her chipped fingernails, dirt can’t sing. Or hum. Or pick up an instrument and play music that made someone cry. Maybe being dirt wouldn’t be so good. It sure sounded peaceful, though.
Echo looked at the verdant canopy above her. What about… a tree? That sounded wonderful. Like wearing a brown dress covered with green lace. Beautiful.
Echo stood up, and wiped the dirt off her hands. She looked at the stone plaque below her. “Mary-Kate Schneider: Mother, Wife, Daughter, Friend”
Well, Echo thought, Mrs. Schneider would probably enjoy seeing her gravestone all polished up, with the grass around it trimmed and edged. Echo moved on to the next grave marker, Brian Avery's.
She liked it here, in the gravefield. The trees made the grass below them look dappled and the sparse, but pretty flowers smelled wonderful. And the graves were… peaceful. Echo walked among them everyday and didn’t feel scared like she was supposed to. Even when she was little she never felt sorry for the people lying in the earth. These days she even envied them. They were protected and at peace, numb to pain. The very thought of such an existence made Echo salivate with wanting.
The true reason she stayed in the gravefield was because of her grandfather. She had promised to live like he did, doing thankless tasks behind the scenes for his whole life. Every day since she had left was spent here, restoring the graves of the forgotten. Echo might find food every few days, but that was merely to keep her alive. She never felt hungry anymore, but common sense told her to eat. Besides, it wouldn’t matter soon. She felt like something was ending. Her life, most likely. That held no fear for her. All she wanted to do now is to finish all the graves. And then die.
After several hours, maybe at eleven o’clock, Echo stopped. She picked up her tools and began to walk further back into the gravefield, traveling on worn paths that were now familiar to her. Echo stopped at a plot near the edge of the field, and dumped everything on the ground beside her.
This was where everyone she loved rested in the earth.
She went to see each grave, starting with the oldest. She greeted Granma, Grandfather, Mother, Father and then Baby. Baby had no other name. She had only breathed for five minutes, so no name had been given. It was just ‘Baby’.
Baby gurgled when Echo said hello. Granma and Grandfather smiled with wrinkled lips and her parents nodded their heads with warm salutations. She continued talking to them about anything. Weather, names on the gravestones, and everything else. Then Echo curled up between Baby and Mother’s gravestones and slept.
Echo barely perceived the passage of the next days. She was like a robot: trim the grass, edge the stone, polish the stone, move on to the next. After spending more than half the day working, Echo moved to the next grave in line and fell in a ditch. The filthy water shocked her back into full consciousness. Looking around, she realized that her task was finished.
There were no more graves left.
This awareness surprised her almost as much as the water did. I have no purpose, she thought. There is nothing remaining for me to accomplish.
Echo walked, still stunned, back to her family’s grave plot. She cleared a few autumn leaves that had fallen on it during the day, and greeted all of them again. The acted in their predictable fashions: gurgle, smile, nod. Echo didn’t speak to them, but lay on the ground and started to sing. She didn’t know what the song was called but it must have been from school. A chorus piece, maybe? Something she worked on by herself? That didn’t matter. It sounded pretty to her, and sad. But still pretty.
Echo looked up from where she lay to see her family, singing with her. Even Baby, who looked like a toddler now, warbled the song. Other people began singing with them, all the owners of the graves Echo had fixed. The song began to end, and Baby teetered up to her and embraced her lovingly. Her vision, at the edges, started to turn fuzzy, like after looking at the sun too long. Echo smiled, the weight gone from her shoulders, and began to drift away.
She remembered about the tree from days earlier.
“I wish I was…”
A tree. That was all Ainsley saw that was left of the Echo girl. It was a little sapling, maybe an apple tree. Ainsley felt a little stab in her heart every time she looked at the tree afterwards. That poor girl, trying to do a nice thing. It was crazy to believe that the Echo girl was really a tree, but Ainsley wouldn’t be telling the truth if she said she was sane. She remembered her first encounter with the Echo girl, a month ago. She had been walking around and spied the girl, ripping through tough prickles with her bare hands, obviously disregarding the blood and pain.
“What are you doing here, girl?”
“What are you doing here, girl.” the she had said back.
Ainsley wasn’t fazed. “Are your parents around?”
“Are your parents around?”
Ainsley was confused, but then laughed. “Okay, Echo girl. That’s what I’ll call you.”
Only a week later a missing person notice went out. She wasn’t sure if it was the same girl; her eyes were failing her. So she kept quiet. The Echo girl didn’t seem like she wanted to be found anyways.
Ainsley still visited the gravefield every day until she died, fifteen years later. People afterwards would notice that a small plaque had gone up in front of the cherry tree, now growing larger.
“Here Lies Echo. Let Her Rest In Peace.”