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Stones of Fate

Mel was the child of Wahl, the great and powerful tribe leader that ruled over ten fields, a forest and a lake. The hunter-gatherer clan under his control was a prosperous band- or about as prosperous as a hunter-gatherer tribe could be. The tribe lived in simple stick and meadow grass shelters in a thick field of shrubs and bushes. It was a field that was out in the open but the tribesmen would build their shelters deep in the tall plants and brush so that they were sheltered from the wind, rain and snow.
At age fifteen, Mel was hunting with the boys and she had proved beyond a doubt that she was no ordinary woman.
However, there was one thing that did weaken Mel. It was the sight of the handsome young hunter named Roe. He was tall and strong and a great hunter. In that village, hunting ability was all that mattered. Mel was twelve years old when she first saw Roe and she had been in love with him ever since. The thought of them being together forever made Mel daydream for hours on end.
But there was one thing standing in the way of forever-death. The thought of death and the concept of being dead forever frightened Mel. She would ponder death and wonder what happened after it. She worried about the unknown and where one went after death. Or even worse, at least in Mel’s mind- what if there was nothing at all?
The concept of being asleep forever, the concept of eternity, was impossible for Mel to understand. But there was nothing that she could do about it, so why worry about it?
However, Mel’s idea of death was what changed her forever. One day, Mel and Roe were walking through the fields and the forest, speaking with each other cheerfully.
They had been out looking for deer but so far had found nothing. The two decided to stop and sit in a quiet, peaceful clearing in the center of the forest and eat the berries that grew on the surrounding bushes.
Suddenly, a sparkle nearby nearly blinded Mel. She looked at the ground and saw a shiny, silver stone that stood out, making a sharp contrast against the soil.
“What is this?” she asked Roe, picking up the stone and feeling it with her fingers.
“It is a wishing stone. If you roll it in your fingers, you can make a wish. You can make only one wish though, no more than that” Roe explained.
“That is not true!” Mel cried, believing that Roe was joking.
“No, it is real” Roe said. “Try it. But think hard, what do you wish for?”
Mel thought hard, still doubting the stone’s validity. Then she put her thought of the fear of death in mind. She then opened her mouth and wished.
“I wish that I could live forever” she announced.
She looked at Roe, whose face had turned pale. “Do you know what you just did?” he asked. “This means that you will not grow old and die”.
“Yes, I will not know what death is like!” Mel replied with a smile. “This is great, Roe, isn't it?”
Roe only gulped and continued eating berries.
When they were continuing their walk, Roe asked Mel, “you do not think that stone could make you so that you could never die, do you?”
“Not at all!” Mel answered, “it was just for fun”.
The two stopped at a nearby meadow where a herd of wild horses grazed. Their favorite horse was a mare that they had named Madge. Though wild, she trusted the two and even allowed them to pet her colt.
When Mel and Roe got to the meadow, Madge immediately ambled over to them.
“Good day, Madge” Mel said, petting the mare’s neck. Madge was a liver-colored horse with a cream mane and tail and a small white sock on her left hind foot. She was not a very good-looking horse but she was sweet and gentle. The leader of the herd was a stallion named Peg. He was less trusting than Madge but he was never threatening.
On the way home, when the sun was going down, Mel and Roe gathered some berries to take back with them. The next day, Roe would be going hunting so the village would probably have food the next evening.

****
The news was shocking and horrifying. Mel was stunned with grief for many days afterwards. While hunting for a stag, Roe had fallen off a cliff and had perished in the rocks below. A group of hunters had discovered his body and had brought it back for burial.
Roe was laid to rest in a grave in the forest clearing. He was buried with his hunting spear, necklaces and a few pairs of antlers from the stags that he had killed. Mel was shaking with sobs as she stood at the side of the grave. The last image that she saw of Roe was a picture of his face, stern and cold. Then he was covered with dirt and was left to sleep there for all eternity.
As Mel left, she noticed a beam of golden light shining on the grave. Then, as if by magic, a fine, powdery dust like snow rose from the disturbed ground and sailed off into the forest.
For several days afterwards, Mel wandered back to the grave site and sat next to the loosened earth. As summer turned into autumn and the air grew colder, the earth on the grave hardened and became smooth. But Mel still came back even when the winter snows covered the spot.
She had never believed that the wishing stone was magic. She now felt old and tired and sad. She knew that she would age and die just like everyone else. She never had the courage to go back to the village so she stayed within a two-hundred-foot radius of the gravesite. She waited for the day when she would finally die and be with Roe.
Years passed and Mel still grieved. But there was one early spring day that changed her forever. She looked at her reflection in the pond that she drank from and she saw that she was still fifteen years old. She began to cry and her tears dropped into the clear water. She knew now for certain that she would never be with her lover.
Forever after that, she told herself that she would stay close to the grave. Months turned into years, years turned into decades, decades turned into centuries and centuries turned into millennia. Still, Mel stayed in her little corner of the world. Nothing changed. She did not change. Even after eight thousand years had passed, the forest still looked the same as it did in the ancient time of Roe’s death.
But it was then that Mel caught her first glance of civilization. She saw a legion of Roman soldiers- riding on horses! Much had changed after all. People now rode upon horses. If only Madge could see this now- but Madge had been dead for eight thousand years.
Two millennia passed. Mel still lived in her little area, cut off from the outside world, still grieving.
But finally, millennia of being alone and in grief finally drove her seemingly mad. One day, she had a longing to see the face of Roe again. She had not seen that face in such a long time and she wanted to gaze upon that handsome complexion once again.
She threw herself upon the grave and began digging at the earth. She tore at the hard, caked soil with her fingernails and she finally felt something. It was the necklace. She held it in her hand and she became more hopeful and excited. But then she stopped and looked at her discovery in shock. Staring back at her was a cold skull, clean of flesh. The teeth were rotting and some had already fallen out.
Mel could not stand to look at those empty sockets. She sobbed and began covering the bones again. Then she ran away from that horrid place and charged through the forest. She ran until her throat was sore. Then she stopped.
But then, a panic seized her and she continued to run. Suddenly, she heard a horse whinny and an angry voice yell, “hey, watch where you’re going!”
She stopped at a horse. It was wrapped up in leather straps and towing a cart. An angry driver wearing fine clothing sat in the cart. Behind him, Mel saw a man look at her. Then he got out of the cart and walked up to a stunned Mel.
“Who are you?” he asked.
Mel did not answer. The man then took her by the hand and placed her in the cart. He then got in and the driver whipped up the horse into a smart trot.
They drove on until the cart reached a tall, magnificent building. Mel had never seen such colossal man made structures before. They got out of the cart and the man gently led her inside. He took her up to a room that contained a desk, chairs and a number of shelves filled with books. The man placed Mel in a chair across from his desk. Mel looked around, confused but curious at the same time.
She then stared at the man. He was old and wrinkled with a beard and large, wise blue eyes. “Well, dear girl, why are you in such a mangled state?” he asked.
Mel was blank at first, but suddenly, she found strength and, for the first time in ten thousand years, she spoke.
“My name is Mel” she said, timidly.
“Mel, what? What is your surname?” the man asked.
“W-what?” Mel asked. She had no idea what a surname was.
“What is your last name?’ the man asked.
“I do not have a ‘last name’. It is just Mel” the girl replied.
“Very well” the man said. “My name is Professor Thomas Heckington. I teach here at the university” he explained.
“What is that first name of yours?” Mel asked.
“Thomas” the professor replied.
“No, I mean that first thing you said, a pro-” Mel stuttered.
“A professor. That is someone that teaches here” the professor explained. “This university is one of the most prestigious in Berkshire”.
“What is that?” Mel asked.
“My dear girl, did you just come out of the stone age?” the professor replied, astonished by Mel’s lack of knowledge.
“Sir, I have something to tell you” Mel said. She then told him her story, beginning with her fear of death all the way up to the time that he discovered her near the forest.
The professor listened to her story and she expected him to laugh at her.
Instead, however, he told her, “I have heard of that condition before.” Then he said, “Remember what you said about a fine powdery dust rising and going into the forest?”
“Yes” Mel replied.
“Well, you know what that means” the professor said. “It means that his soul was going to the afterlife. Had you died as well, you would have gone to the afterlife. But you chose instead to wander the earth in eternal purgatory”.
“What am I to do?” Mel asked.
“Well, why don’t we buy you some decent clothes and find you a place to settle down. “Let’s give you a proper name but one that will not strip you of your identity. How about Melinda? But when you are around me, I will still call you Mel” the professor said. Mel nodded in agreement.
“Maybe we can try to marry you to a nice young man with money” the professor suggested.
“No!” Mel said, shaking her head vigorously. “I could not love anyone else, just Roe. I should not be with another man”.
“Why not?” the professor asked.
“The man will die and I will live on. Then, I will find another man to take his place and then he will grow old and die as well. I will end up in grief for all time for all of those men that have died while I went on living. It would only compound my sadness” Mel explained.
“Well, now, that is a good point!” You are starting to get some sense into your head!” the professor cried with approval.
“I've had a long time to think” Mel replied.
“Yes, now, where’s your lover buried?” the professor asked and Mel told him. The professor thanked her and then he ordered a butler to show Mel to her bedchamber.
A few days later, she asked the professor why he had asked her about where Roe was buried.
“I have relocated his remains” the professor replied. “Would you like to see where they are?” he asked. Mel nodded. The two went to the station and boarded a train headed south.
At another station, the professor’s son, John boarded the train and joined his father. The professor introduced Mel as ‘Melinda Bowler’. John thought that Mel was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life. The professor preferred not to tell John about what had happened to Mel.
In a couple of hours, they had reached the seashore. Mel followed the professor as they walked along the beach.
“By the way, do you name your years? I noticed when you were writing something the other day, you put some sort of symbols down and called it the ‘date.’ We did not name our months or days” Mel remarked.
“Yes, the year is 1879” the professor replied.
“Father, I think I will take a walk along the beach for a while” John said and he turned and began to walk away. “Goodbye, father!” he called.
“So, where is Roe?” Mel asked, anxiously.
The professor took her up to where the waves were crashing on the shore. Mel’s feet became wet. “He is there” the professor replied, pointing out to the horizon. “I had the bones cremated and put in the ocean so that you would never be tempted to go back to the grave site” the professor explained.
Mel was stunned.
“But now, I do not know exactly where he is” she stammered.
“Mel, you don’t need a physical object to remind you of Roe” the professor said, quietly. “he’s in here” he said, putting his hand on her heart. “His memory is in here. You’ll go on. You are his legacy”.
They stood there for a while as Mel took it all in. John came back and he and his father talked.
“Father, I’d like to know if I could have Melinda’s hand in marriage?” he asked the professor, looking at Mel.
The latter shook his head. “No, my boy, I’m afraid not” and he put his hand on Mel’s shoulder. “This young lady will never love another man as long as she lives”.



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