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Clement's Corner: The Riddle Of The Tombstone

...My wife and I decided to try a new route back to Sydney from Brisbane. The New South Wales country town we drove into seemed somehow strangely familiar. "Have we been here before?” I asked...
Owen R Clement tells us of the strangest day he has ever known.

It was strangest day I have ever known.

My wife and I decided to try a new route back to Sydney from Brisbane. The New South Wales country town we drove into seemed somehow strangely familiar.

“Have we been here before?” I asked.

“No – never; why do you ask?”

“I don’t know: It feels as if I have. I can’t say why - but –it does.”

“It’s not possible. Come on let’s see if we can find somewhere nice to eat later”

Not to be put off I said, “For instance, I am certain that there’s an old stone church around that corner with an equally old oak or some such tree in the churchyard.”

“Don’t be silly, how could you know that?”

“There is nothing silly about it. Maybe I was here in a previous life!” I said half-jokingly.

“Oh! Don’t talk rot.”

“’There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio’.”

Joan took my arm and said, “I don’t believe in any of that supernatural nonsense.”

“As you know, there have been a few inexplicable events in my life. I like to pride myself that I have an open mind.”

“There is a rational explanation for everything. Now come along.”

“Have you never had a sense of déjà vu or a premonition?” I persisted.

“Not that I know of!”

“Of course you have. What about when you decided to ring your brother recently and found out that he was in trouble. It’s not that you keep in regular contact.”

“That’s different, he’s my brother.”

“What does that mean?”

“He’s my brother.” Her irritation began to show.

“Okay. How about when you woke me in the middle of the night recently after having a nightmare of a bad accident! Sure enough there it was on the news later that day virtually as you described it.”

“Yes I do remember that, but that too could have been sheer coincidence.”

Defeated, I led us towards the corner.

It was a humid afternoon. Ominous clouds hovered above. Lightening flashed occasionally in the distance making us quicken our steps. I was momentarily stunned when as we turned the corner, there was the church, the tree and an old cemetery behind the church wall just as I had imagined.

Joan giggled nervously as a gust of wind scattered the litter on the road.

All I could feel was relief.

Joan turned around ready to continue searching for a restaurant.

I however, was determined to investigate the churchyard. “Come on, “I said, “you and I could check the epitaphs”.

“What are we looking for?”

“I don’t know yet, but I’m sure we’ll know when we see it.”

“I’m nervous about this; shouldn’t we leave well alone. I heard that some seances for instance, ended with very tragic results.”

“Oh! Rubbish. There’s nothing evil in a churchyard for heaven’s sake.”

“You don’t know that for certain. Come on let’s not tempt fate.’

“Look, why don’t you go back to the motel and I’ll see you later?”

“I’m not leaving you.”

“My prediction was right wasn’t it? I’m telling you, I’ll be fine. I must find out whatever it is that’s calling me.”

Annoyed she said, “For God’s sake, you sound positively weird.”

“Please dear, with your negative thoughts you could very well queer things for me.”

“Well - thank you. - besides, you have no rain wear and as you can see, there’s a storm brewing.”

“You don’t understand – I don’t know why, but I must do this. I’ll be back in time for dinner, I promise.”

“I - I –“She began.

Before she could continue I kissed her cheek, turned and quickly walked towards the churchyard.

As soon as I reached the weathered stone wall I turned to give her a wave but she had gone.
I begin examining the tombstones, as I was certain that they held the answer. Time was getting on; darkness was only an hour away. As the elements had worn away many inscriptions, my time restraints meant that I would have to bypass the ones where the inscriptions had virtually illegible. This job had to be done today as we were leaving around dawn and I knew that Joan would never agree to our returning.

I strode quickly past fresh and dying flowers and broken vases with plastic floral tributes taking in whatever words I could before moving on.

After checking almost every grave and was feeling somewhat frustrated I came across the tomb of John Evan Bartlett, the son of John Arthur Bartlett and Emma Mary Cord. He was born in 1902 and died in an accident 1944,

Bartlett was a family name. This had to be the object of my quest.

I jotted down the details in my note pad, turned and made my way back to the motel as the first large drops began to fall.

I knew that I could never tell Joan of my discovery, because just as I left, I felt a distinct cold chill of unease at the back of my neck. All the same, I vowed that one day, I would try and solve the riddle of the tombstone.

© 2005


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