He leapt onto the window ledge, swinging long legs over the casement. Determined to follow her, not be deserted again, he landed in mud on the other side of the window, struggling past the hedge as the wind and rain tore at him.
He fell once, slipping, lunging upward, in pursuit of that voice calling him into the night.
Howling currents, drone of thunderheads, monstrous formations engulfing the skies, lit by sheets of blue-white, flickering light, bleached his vision in the dark. He stumbled across the western causeway, dilapidated slave cabins, losing his footing, half-tumbling, half-crawling down a terraced slope.
Brambles conspired to catch, snag his clothes, ripping into his skin. He grunted, pain shearing his ribs when he skidded on his stomach, in a mulch of gravel and clay.
A strong man, Thomas fought the driving gusts of sleet, heaving himself to his feet.
He whirled about, finding himself in a grove of hickory, elm and poplars. The thrashing limbs bare, silhouettes of gnarled branches formed a net, sheltering him from the edge of that buffeting, ravaging wind.
“MARTHA! WHERE ARE YOU!?” words splitting the night, an invocation to darker powers.
The raging tempest dropped, the space of a breath, trees stilling their ecstatic motions.
A moment of respite, her voice reached out him, suddenly clear, cogent in his ear.
“I am here, Thomas.”
His physical senses were addled, bludgeoned by the elements, vision burned to sightlessness by sporadic lightening, numbing wind icing his fingers; yet, against all rationality, he heard those words, as clear as his own thoughts.
Her voice, treasured music to his heart, it left him bruised, raw as the savaged earth, peace of his days, grace of his nights, for the last ten years.
Her light touch at his elbow, from behind, just to his right, was a tangible pressure.
“I am here,” soft-spoken, a whisper at his ear.
He closed his eyes, turning to that siren-call, her hand on his arm, not caring anymore, sick of sorrow.
Thomas opened his arms to embrace the presence of something he would not question.
They sank together, to their knees, holding each other upon the soaked ground.
Her lips were cold as they never had been in life. She responded to his kiss though, mouth opening upon his—simple explanation that the cold gale, like that first night of their wedding, coming out of a blizzard, covered in snow and ice, made her skin, her lips, feel like frozen petals.
Their fingers twining as they clasped one another, the fresh turned dirt of her grave, compacted over the weeks of her death, was damp from the rain, molding to their bodies.
He resurrected flesh by touch, out of mind’s eye, lids remaining shut, not wanting to corrupt this sudden manifestation of grief and love. Hands shaped to the contours of her body, the sinuous waist, soft belly, the weight of her breasts, relearning the taste of lips and tongue, sensitive creases of skin.
Tattered clouds sped across the face of a full moon, infernal winds scoring the dark heavens, split by tassels of fire.
A Raven was perched in the majestic, bare-leaved branches of a towering oak tree, guarding the family plot of the Jefferson-bloodline.
Uncanny, how its black, feathered form seemed untouched by the raging elements, the Raven cocked its head, angling a beady eye, peering through the storm-driven night, upon the man’s writhing form, frantic union and dark congress, amid drenched dirt piled over the grave.
The marble tomb-marker was slick, ghostly white in the pouring rain.
In those first blithe years of their marriage, they had invented a game such as all young lovers indulge. Sheltered by a brick-walled single room—foundation of a home yet to be—he would hold her in the sweet aftermath of lovemaking, bathed in moonlight, husband and wife, quiet, content to simply be in each other’s company. In the soft peace of the night, he and Martha would see how silent each could be, straining to hear each other’s breath, the swish of each other’s heart. She would tease he was so serene, at times she could almost listen to his thoughts.
Into that strange void of silence between them, shutting out the thrashing gale, obscuring the looming thunderheads above, he said, “I can’t hear your heart,” head pressed to her breasts.
“And you will no more,” she whispered back, icy lips taking his, her kiss, cold as the grave and her flesh.
Part 4 Coming Soon!