Eliza shuffled uncertainly from side to side, glancing down at her frayed knotted laces on her worn canvas shoes. Her Aunt Beatrice dusted off her floury hands, gazing up at her from the opposite side of the kitchen. She sighed loudly.
“Eliza! If you’re not going to help me with my baking, you may as well go out and play. Put on your overcoat, it’s not so warm today.”
Eliza swallowed and nodded. Without so much as a word, she pulled on her lightweight overcoat, hastily fastening up the toggles in dire attempt to get out from Aunt Beatrice’s feet.
“Oh Eliza! Don’t look at me like that. I have a village fete to bake for. My cakes are in high demand. I promise that we can spend some time together later. How’s about that?”
Eliza nodded glumly as she lifted up the latch, glancing over her left shoulder once more at her Auntie, before wandering out into the fresh spring air.
She padded carefully down the sandy path, inhaling the salty sea air as it rustled through her long blonde hair. Eliza took the ribbon from around her slightly discoloured wrist and knotted her hair back into a ponytail, the wisps of baby hair framing her face. Eliza clambered over the hill to one of the highest parts of the cliff and was seated, catching her breath. She crouched up once more, spreading her skirt beneath her. Eliza closed her eyes, picking a small handful of daisies, proceeding to make a daisy chain. Her youth began to show, as she soon grew tired of her insignificant task. She yawned, laying flat on her back, staring up at the opal sky with it’s floating clouds. Eliza counted them, one, two, three, and four. She created a small frame with alternate thumbs and forefingers, gazing through it as if it were an imaginary camera lens.
Eliza gasped, sitting bolt upright as a sharp stone imprinted uncomfortably into her back.
“Horrid stone!” She cursed, picking it up with her thumb and forefinger, tossing it carelessly over the opposite side of the cliff. She shook her head and laughed, her face soon fell as she heard the most frightful, blood-curdling cry. Eliza gasped, picking up her skirt and shuffled over to the edge of the cliff.
She could see nothing, and dared not venture any further. Eliza descended the long line of steps to discover were the cry may have come from. As she reached half way, she noticed a man, crouched with his hands over his mouth. Eliza shuffled nearer, reaching the bottom only to catch sight of another being, lying upon the dusty ground. The man placed a hand to his mouth.
“He- he’s dead! Did you just throw that God damned stone?”
Eliza gasped. “Dead? DEAD!” She repeated over and over.
“What is it with kids and throwing bloody stones?” He barked, his face reddening. He mopped his sweat soaked brow with a handkerchief, placing his hands on his waist to reveal the growing damp patches underneath his armpits.
“Well?” He continued. “Did you think that it was a very clever idea? Did it not even cross your mind that there might be people walking in the under path?”
Eliza’s small mouth gaped open like a codfish.
“I-I didn’t check, I forgot to.”
“Course you did! Aren’t you too old to do something so foolish? A little girl shouldn’t be out alone on a day like this. What kind of irresponsible parent lets their child play on the cliff tops anyway?”
“Both my parents are dead.” It was true. The man’s facial expression softened ever so gently.
Eliza gasped at the flaccid body of the innocent man upon the cold ground, his shocked eyes wide open with specs of curdling blood in the corner of his mouth.
“Are- are you sure he’s dead?”
“Oh I’m certain, no pulse.”
“Oh my goodness.”
“Oh Lord would be more suitable.”
“Isn’t that blasphemous, I mean to take the Lord’s name in vain?”
The man shrugged. “Some might say it was.”
Eliza slowly sat upon the banking, placing her head into her hands and wept, as the cruel realisation of what she had done was brought home.
“Crying isn’t going to bring him back kid.”
“I’m 13. That’s not so little. My name’s Eliza.”
“My name’s John and that was Charles, but we call, I mean called him Charlie.”
“Oh don’t! Don’t put it like that!”
“He’s dead Eliza, gone forever.”
“Oh John! His poor Mother and Father, however will I tell them? We need to get help, we must tell someone immediately.”
“Sit back down!” John ordered.
“Eliza, Charlie had no family there’s simply no-one to tell.”
“No-one at all?”
“No child, I looked out for Charlie, he was like a brother to me.” John sniffed, wiping a tear from his eye.
“He was the best of men, one of the kindest people I have known. He was the definition of goodness, and now he’s gone!”
“Oh don’t!” Eliza begged. “Surely I didn’t kill him, I know very little, but surly a stone wouldn’t bury itself into someone’s forehead like that? Not that deep! A stone couldn’t cause that much damage!”
“Yes! Yes it would if a young fool was to hurl it off a cliff edge in the way that you just did!”
Eliza shook her head. “I don’t believe it. You’re lying!”
“You would be a liar to deny murdering him! You’re a child, you wont go to prison, but we can’t just leave the body up here either. You must stay here with Charlie while I get help.”
“It’s too late for help!” Eliza wailed.
“You can’t just leave the body here to rot! Charlie deserves better! The best!”
Eliza nodded, mopping her teary eyes with her white lacy handkerchief.
She shuddered at the though of being left alone with a newly deceased corpse, an innocent man whom she’d unintentionally murdered.
“I won’t move.”
She whispered, her voice choked with resentment.
“You better not!”
“I promise that I will not leave Charlie’s side, it’s the least I can do.”
“I’ll have to bring the police.” John sighed. “This is manslaughter. Do you understand what that means child?”
“Little girl and child! Stop giving me such silly labels John! Yes I think I know what it means, killing someone by accident.”
“Precisely what you just did. 23 years old, old enough to be your brother!”
“Please stop! Are you going to get help or not?” Eliza snapped.
“I just thought that you ought to know the facts Eliza! Poor Charlie!”
Eliza glanced up at John with large eyes, too afraid to examine Charlie’s body too closely.
“You better be here when I get back! This is only a small town! They’d soon find you!”
“I wouldn’t dare John.”
John turned on his heels, running down the steep, sandy path.
She was alone with a corpse, someone who had once been so happy, so full of life. Eliza shuffled closer to the body, squinting her eyes to haze over the ghastly wound. ‘This is all your doing’ She scolded. ‘At least have the decency to look at him properly and take responsibility for what you’ve done.’ Eliza opened her eyes, staring full on at the bloody wound upon his forehead, which was spattered with fresh blood. Charlie’s brown eyes were wide open, his lips parted slightly to reveal his perfectly straight white teeth.
’23 years old’ she thought. ‘He was only 10 years older than myself.’
“Oh Charlie I’m so, so sorry. I didn’t even know you, yet I feel so much pain in my inner self! I killed you, there’s nothing I can do to ever make this better, no recompense I can give. What will become of me? I’m not a murderer, I can at least promise you that. I just hope that God has mercy on me when it is judgment day.”
Eliza reached out her hand, grasping his pale one in hers. It was not a worker’s hand, he was perhaps a scholar, she thought. She stroked his slim fingers.
“Charlie, I only hope that you did not suffer greatly.”
Eliza sat in the chilly spring air for over two hours, with Charlie’s stone cold hand still pillowed in her lap. Eventually the sound of voices came into earshot, the heavy clattering of footsteps nearing. Eliza trembled as three middle-aged men surrounded her. But where was John?
“This is all my doing.” Eliza sullenly confessed. “I tossed some stones over the cliff edge a few hours ago, I did not realize that two men were walking in the undergrowth below and- and one hit Charlie and killed him.”
She whispered. The tallest man gazed at them, examining the wound upon Charlie’s forehead.
“This is a wound of far more impact.”
“I’m only 13, I don’t understand.” He gazed at Eliza, smiling ever so slightly.
“My dear, you are not to blame for this.”
“Did you hear anything while you were taking your stroll along the cliff tops, before you threw your rock?”
“Nothing.” She stated truthfully.
“I suppose the wind might have carried away any trace of the sound.”
The second, smaller man adjusted his braces, rubbing his chin.
“My dear, you are not to blame. Dear God! Where is the other gentleman now, the one who came to fetch us? He said he would not be far behind.”
“Sir, I threw the stone which hit Charlie. The evidence is there as clear as day.”
“Little girl a more serious weapon caused this young gentleman’s death, a bullet from a sniper. This was no rock.”