Chapter 4 – The Fate of the Bride

He perched high up on the ledge, dwarfed by the massive space where the window once was, and surveyed the interior of the Church. It was destroyed - a bomb site. The floor was a chaos of dust-coated rubble; he assumed it was the remains of the roof, now crushed on the floor and lit by streams of dull neon-orange that poured through the windows and made all sorts of secret shadows on the far walls. A few lone pillars stood precariously, reaching up to the sky, they had no purpose now but to crumble into ruins. The walls were scarred, the plaster had mostly fallen off and the ancient bricks were blackened in places, with great cracks zigzagging through them. The building was a shell. It felt shaky and unstable.

The tower was the only element of the structure that looked safe. Its four walls were intact and it stood robustly on the far side of the church, unshaken and unharmed, despite the loss of its steeple. There was a gothic arch set in the tower at ground level; a black void that he presumed was the entrance to the stairwell. He looked up. She was there, hanging, very still now, her arms dangling hopelessly by her sides. In a fit of panic and adrenaline he began to climb down into the ruins, but his footing slipped and he crashed into the rubble, cutting his knee and grazing his palms. Warm blood trickled down his leg, but he had no time to worry about that now. He raced across the church floor, clambering through the uneven rubble, moving as fast as humanly possible while still taking care of his footing on the unsteady terrain.

She had seen him, her sallow face lifted slightly and her puzzled eyes followed as he struggled across the many obstacles. The nail that was holding her up had started to tear through the material; she was sinking, slowly at first and then faster. He had just reached the bottom of the tower when he saw her, descending in a jolt as the fabric gave way. His heart leapt into his mouth, but then, to his surprise, she lifted her perfect arm, she reached upwards and grabbed onto the ledge of the tower window. She had not given up, and neither would he.

He raced into the black opening. It was so dark inside that he could hardly make out the outline of the spiral stone staircase that ascended to the top of the tower. Time stood still as he climbed the stairs, his hands tracing the rough walls, his feet striding two steps at a time, trusting that the next tread would be where he expected it. Several times he tripped and fell, frantically scrambling to his feet. The stairs seemed to go on forever, twisting round and round. Every time he thought he had reached her he found another flight of steps waiting for him.

But at last he was at the window; her frail hand was still gripping the ledge. He grabbed it and held on for dear life. It was warm, and alive.  She smelled of rose and jasmine. She gazed up in desperation, her deep brown eyes locking with his, pleading with him. She seemed confused, and yet cautiously trusting. She was talking to him, tears were gently running down her pallid cheeks, but she did not make a sound. Her mouth was moving but she was muted, as her dark curls thrashed silently around her face, propelled by an imperceptible gale.

Her dress had come completely loose of the nail and the only thing holding her up was the grip of his exhausted hand. He held on with every bit of strength he had, but felt a pang of horror as he noticed a heavy sweat break out in his palm. She was beautiful, her dark eyes despaired but she still held on, even though her delicate hand was slipping. He was desperate for this to not be happening but he was powerless to stop it, the tighter he gripped the more her hand slipped, until finally, horrifically, her hand came free and she was gone. He saw her tumbling, a white swan shot from the sky, descending in a crumpled, ashen swirl.

He turned his head and closed his eyes in dismay.  A sickening feeling washed over him as he braced himself for the impact, preparing to see a pool of crimson leek out from that lifeless white rag all the way beneath him.

Instead, when he opened his eyes, she was gone. The street below him was empty, unstained and unmarked. He was completely alone in the quiet of the night.

The End

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