All writing and short story challenges will now be posted on this blog as my main blog was becoming rather cluttered with them. And in reality, this blog is a far more appropriate place.
More than half-way back in the large sanctuary, a man quietly stood. He was dressed in a simple tan dress shirt, no tie, and khakis, no belt. Although not in uniform, no one could conceive he wasn't a uniform type based upon his straight posture, his stance and his crew cut. He stood neither at attention nor at a parade rest, but something in between with his hands folded at his lower torso.
"I beg your pardon. I don't have an objection per se. But before the ceremony proceeds, I feel an obligation to answer a question Ms. Saunders once posed to me," he spoke quietly, but his voice carried throughout the old chapel.
The room of over one thousand people was eerily silent. The bride and groom turned around to face the sole standing man. From his neutral color choice to his average height and looks to his military styled sandy blond hair, there was nothing about him that would command the attention of this otherwise socially elite gathering of witnesses. Yet, at this point, every eye and ear was turned to him and waiting to hear what he had to say.
"Miss. Saunders, you asked me once if I was paying attention. I lied at the time. I'm an honorable man. What is given to me to protect and return, I cannot take. But what is given to me to protect and keep, I will fight to retain. Any of the men and women I've trained will tell you I won't leave anyone behind. I'm always at the end of their life line," he paused never taking his eyes off the bride.
"If I've misinterpreted the messages I've received, I apologize, extend my well wishes to the bride and groom and will take my seat," he spoke with dignity but no emotion. He continued standing as if he awaited a response. The thousand visitors remained stunned into silence.
The bride stood looking at the back of the room until the groom demanded, "What is he talking about?"
She turned to look at the groom for a moment, then removed her engagement ring and handed it back to him without a word. She dropped the flower bouquet on to the ground, gathered up her wedding dress and began moving quickly to the rear of the church...
... "I thought you weren't coming, I thought you lied." Her clear, lilting voice rang through the silent, still crowd. A collective sigh was sent up to the saints captured on the church ceiling. The standing man slowly raised his bowed head to bring his eyes to meet her sharp crystal blue gaze. A smile hesitently played around his grey lips.
"I did not lie, Miss. Saunders, when I made my promise. My only sin was a lie of omission when you told me of your plans. I did not maintain my attention and I missed the part where relayed this scheme. I did not take all you told me seriously, a grave mistake on my part. I am here to rectify that error."
"Merideth, I demand you tell me who this man is and what he is talking about! I am your husband and you will answer me!" The groom charged up the aisle his body shaking in indignation and anger. He reached the spot where she stood and leant forward to agitatedly shake his finger in her face. "Now, I tell you! NOW!"
The captive audience remained frozen as the tableau played on, not even the bejewelled attendants dared move to break this incredulous, theatrical scene unfolding before them. The three main players betrayed the only movement within the large church.
The bride slowly drew up the antique, chantilly lace veil with shaking fingers. Painstakingly the lace curtain rose, and she turned to her irate husband to be, "Herbert, count yourself lucky you are not my husband as yet. For if you were, you would be bound to accompany me..."
The man stood soldier-straight, solitary within the pews. "Now Meredeath, you know I cannot take responsibility for anyone other than you unless you are bound together in marriage." He took a cigarette from his top-pocket and lit it with a flick of his calloused fingers.
The bride turned to her shaking groom. "Still want to claim me as your bride Herbert? You can decide to come with me, just as I chose to go with George many years ago. He did not take me seriously enough, but you will, won't you?"
Her ashen-faced companion shuddered in revulsion as he gazed at her white, worn face. The vibrant, beautiful woman he had coveted was no more, instead he faced a hollow shell of shadowed splendour, evil seeping through the still crystal blue eyes. It was the only dash of colour remaining in her now malevolent aura.
"Now Meredeath, don't toy with the man. I tole you ah was sorry." The southern tone dripped through his chilling words, the good old boy act emphasising the soothing tone. George reached for the pale hand of the ghost-bride. "Ah won't evah believe you meant to leave me forever, ah just won't. As ah said before, what is given to me to protect and keep, ah will fight to retain. I won't leave anyone behind. Ah was at the end of your life line, and so you are mine to keep. You don't need the likes of him." He flicked a column of ash at the quivering Herbert, disdain dripping from the fleeting look he threw at the puddle appearing on the floor between the groom's shaking legs.
"George, if you ever ignore me again I will return here and abandon our ghostly realm forever. You know if it had been any later and we had been joined in holy ceremony, it would be solely my choice if I were to return to you or remain here? My deal with Satan gave me the power to return to the living if I found a worthy soul to return with at the end of our lives."
"Ah know Meredeath, ah know. As soon as I received your message ah came." Blood silently seeped through the left side of his shirt where the bullet of eons before had pierced his heart. He reached for his bride-to-be's other hand, turning her to him. Blood dripped from the open slashes above each of her frail wrists, trickling over their joined hands. With a gurgled gag the nearly groom crumbled to the floor, lying in his own bodily fluids.
Without a second glance at the prostrate figure at their feet, the ghostly duo gazed at each other, then turned towards the entrance of the church, vanishing with a grim ghostly scream of pleasure well before they reached the door.