(Published in A Long Story Short as story of the month June 2011
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The motor coach rolls to a stop, edging itself into the end of a line of busses parked in the muddy lot. Off goes the engine. The ensuing quiet belies the group of us scattered in seats in the coach.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is now Noon. We will depart promptly at 3 p.m. Please don’t be late,” says Marie, our tour director. Most of us just nod; a few mumble. It is, by now, a familiar routine.
She walks slowly up the bus aisle, handing out brochures. Before anyone asks, she points out the restrooms, where we can purchase a cup of coffee, and where the gift shop is located. We all move quickly and quietly down the steps of the bus and make our way toward the sidewalk.
The day could not be more fitting. Everyone wears raingear; several of us clutch umbrellas. The fog is so thick it has spread a thin film of moisture on the grass and the trees. Following Marie’s lead, we walk toward a bronze statue the brochure says depicts “the spirit of brave youth ascending from the waves.” Droplets of water hang suspended from the overhanging trees as we stand in front of the bell tower. We just look; no one speaks.
Some of us are here just because. Some have come to visit the fallen and with directories clutched in damp hands, they search for names. Some are history buffs. Others aren’t sure why they are making this trip but know they could not be nearby and not come. You and I hold hands. I feel a lump in the back of my throat. There is beauty here in the relatively undisturbed French countryside. The geography and the few nearby villages remain much as they were.
Some shed tears, some are giving thanks, many pray. We, along with the others, walk among the more than 9,000 who are gone forever. Stars of David and crosses all face toward home. Even in the Garden of the Missing, flowers are laid in appreciation. At the top of the windswept bluff, overlooking the long flat beach, we stand in silent awe. The beach below stretches to the ocean far in the distance. The jagged harbor is visible because it is low tide. We can see vestiges of ships and armaments, green with moss or brown with rust, as they lay embedded in the dark sand. The fog now drips. We walk slowly, stopping to read names and dates, as we make our way to the small chapel. You seem to be searching for something, a long forgotten name, perhaps. I see your eyes fill. You squeeze my hand.
Suddenly the damp air holds a tune. The bells sounding in the tower are mournful as they left a melody to the sky. Hats are removed, hands cover hearts, heads are bowed, and several people drop to their knees. There are no dry eyes as the bells sound taps.
Author: Laura T. Jensen firstname.lastname@example.org