They cannot say on what accord that this testimony reigns true. But within the court of law, the plaintiff has exonerated the defendant by incriminating himself in front of the entire court. His account is as follows:
“I am not a man of faith,” I told the young priest while walking through the ancient woodlands towards the spot of the burial of my own family. This is a forest like no other; it has been in tradition for many millennia to bury one’s dead within these woods, and plant a sapling over the body. The resulting trees sprout from the life essence of the deceased. The trees arealive.
The priest, who was following behind me, had no words. He seemed very nervous, as for the sun was setting; it only meant that he had little time to return within the city walls before the guards locked the gates for the night. As we approached the twelve tall oaks in the burial ring of my family, I saw in the corner a sad and withering sapling over a recently filled hole roughly in the shape of my former beloved, Olivia.
It was customary in our culture for the family of the deceased to spend a night in the woods after their loved ones passed. I was the last patriarch of the King family; I will be alone. The priest was only there to send me off on my spiritual journey.
The fair haired priest spoke softly as we strolled to the center of the ring, “Daniel, I know that you miss her more with every passing minute, and by God, her killer will be condemned on the morrow. The courts will find swift justice at the earliest hour convenient. I hope you’ll return from your pilgrimage before then.”
I kneeled down before the earthen tomb of Olivia with a heavy countenance and said: “By God, he will burn for this.”
The priest, behind me softly whispered, “Let the souls of the woods speak to you tonight, but be careful to not approach it with a heavy heart—it will change you.” I turned my head around to question the priest, but he vanished, nowhere to be found.
As the final rays of the sun’s warm embrace disappeared from the twilight sky, I laid myself down against the tree of my forefather, facing Olivia’s sapling. What have I done?
In the distance, the city’s bells tolled nine times. The gates were locked. There was no turning back at this point. I do not believe in the undead—I do not.
For many an hour, I lied down against that oak, hands in my overcoat pockets. The moon was waning, so I had limited vision. I craned my ears to hear everything. Maybe it was a wood shrew. Maybe it was the wind. I am a coward.
A gust of wind rustled the many leaves of the living forest. I listened closer. Millions of whispering and inquisitive voices crowded my head. Dear God! The wind’s pace quickened to a tempest and the voices droned louder, louder, LOUDER STILL. I covered my ears from the hideous and eerie sounds of death, but to no avail; for the voices were in my head! Get out!
I jumped up from my position and ran to the center of the ring, looking up as I screamed: “What must a man do to erase his guilt?”
A low and piercing voice uttered through the millions of whispers. “Confess your sins unto the spirits of the woods, Sir.”
I spun around to pinpoint the direction of the voice amongst the sea of whispers. A blinding light floating above Olivia’s grave caught my eye at once. Shielding my face from the florescent aura as my eye adjusted, I inquired, “To whom do I have the privilege of speaking?”
The brilliance of the light faded, revealing a beautiful apparition—Olivia.
Wearing a white robe, Olivia was stunning even in death. Her skin massively decayed and rotten, the hollows of her eyes emitted a blackness so complete that my bowels lost control. The poltergeist floated effortlessly toward me, illuminating the forest in a glorious white light. The millions of whispers quieted as the ghost opened her jaw: “I know what you did, Daniel. But, why?”
Standing there, completely dazed, I could not move my mouth to answer. She lifted her decomposing arm up towards my face as she glided ever so closer. A chain was dangling from her clenched fist, a brass heart-shaped locket hung at the bottom. The murder weapon.
“It was you who killed me, not that man set to be condemned to death tomorrow! Why would you ever do such a thing? I loved you!” She came closer and spoke louder with every syllable, until she was screaming. I stumbled over a root as I tried to back away from her growing anxiousness. Falling back on the ground, I tried to reason with myself: Daniel, this isn’t real. Be a man.
“Oh it isn’t real?” The poltergeist shouted as she swooped down towards me. Her bony face almost connecting with mine, “I’m not real?” She took her other hand and touched my quivering face with her cold, skeletal digits, and deeply scratched my fleshy cheeks. “Of course I’m real! You condemned me to death with my own locket!”
I was too shocked to do anything. I put my hand against my face and wiped off blood. The shrill scream that exited my mouth in complete terror of the realization of my current situation awoke hundreds of crows and sent them flying. This is real.The hairs went shooting up my spine as I tried to answer Olivia’s original question: “I’m sorry!” I said between intense sobs of fright, “I am a murderer!” I cried.
“A murderer indeed! Daniel, you shall burn in eternity for this!” the banshee screeched, with each word piercing the inner workings of my skull. “Why did you end my life‽”
As she hovered dangerously close right above me, the locket dangled from her fingers directly over my eyes. Every bone in my body was shaking to its core as I tried to explain my irrational thinking: “y—yes, I am your killer. It was jealousy, the demon the possessed me and forced me to take your life.”
The specter showed no sign of emotion as it hovered directly above me. A globule of freezing water splattered onto my forehead. And then another followed suit. Tears?
I stared deeply into the dark and lifeless eye sockets and found nothing. The void of those black holes petrified me far greater than any ghastly scream could.
“P—please give a response you—you demon! I cannot bear this anymore!” I wailed pitifully as I writhed in mental pain on the ground.
Dark clouds formed above in the break of the trees and started to swirl. Olivia let go of her locket and it landed around my neck. With a movement so swift and light, the ghost ascended into the cloud formation above.
The forest became quiet at once. I then realized what a mess I have become.
That man set to die tomorrow is guilty of no crime; other than the attempted theft of my beloved. O what have I done? I then stood up and faced the sky and spewed an expletive yet heartfelt apology until the rain fell in saddening torrents. My tears intermixed with the rainwater and blood as it slid down my remorseful face. I must make things right.
* * *
With the light of day and the toll of the morning bells, I sprinted with all of my might through the woods like a madman. I was accompanied by the rustle of the fallen leaves and the snapping of twigs. I ran past the open city gates, my feet smacking hard against the cobbled streets. The people of the city looked at me as if they had seen a ghost, but it was I who had seen it. I arrived at the brick courthouse just as the proceedings started. In a wild motion I barged the massive oak doors open; the whole courtroom turned their heads to face me and gasped. A disheveled and bleeding lunatic is what they think of me. With my failing breath, I exclaim: “I AM THE MURDERER! I KILLED MY BELOVED OLIVIA, NOT HE!” and with that, passed out from exhaustion onto the cold floor.