The bells rang from atop the steeple as Savannah struggled to pull open the ancient wooden door of the church. When she entered, she saw the backs of the heads of dozens of people sitting in the pews. She stopped in the vestibule and awaited the organ music to announce her entrance. She ran her gloved hand over her dark brown hair, adjusted her pillbox hat, pulled the tulle veil over her face, and smoothed down her ivory wedding gown. In her other hand, she clutched a dainty bouquet of white roses with sprays of baby’s breath. The smell filled her nostrils.
After a few moments, the organist at the front of the church played a fanfare and immediately followed with the “Wedding March.” She inhaled deeply and took a small step forward. After a pause, she took another step…and another. She hesitated, thinking it strange that the crowd didn’t rise and turn to face her. She inched forward again, pausing between steps. Surely the congregation would rise when the minister instructed them to do so, but she didn’t know what he was waiting for. She put a smile on her face as she admired the sun shining through the stained-glass windows, creating a mosaic of bright colors across the room, but as she reached the halfway mark of her grand entrance, the room darkened. The sun had disappeared behind a cloud, and the vibrant colors that bathed the room turned a dismal shade of gray. Her smile vanished also.
It was difficult to see through the netted veil, but she could have sworn she saw something large sitting in the center of the altar. She narrowed her eyes and, yes indeed, something was there. At the top of three small steps that led up to the altar, a white coffin rested in front of the minister’s podium. It was surrounded by beautiful sprays of flowers—roses, carnations, chrysanthemums, daisies. The sight reminded her of her father’s funeral and her head swam with the painful memory. She looked down at her bouquet and closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them again, her breath caught deep in her chest as she watched her beautiful white roses faded from white to gray to black—black and dead. The leaves shriveled and a few of the petals gently fell from their stems, fluttering to the floor. She tightly clutched the bouquet and quickly pulled her left hand away when a thorn poked through her glove and punctured the skin of her palm. She saw the small hole in the satin fabric, but there was no blood.
She squeezed her hand into a fist to make the pain stop, and looked back up at the altar. Why was there a coffin on the altar, and where was August? Why was her groom not there to greet her? She staggered a bit as she took another step forward. The “Wedding March” kept pounding from the organ and she kept inching forward. She placed her hand over her heart in an effort to make it beat normally. Remembering the puncture wound, she looked down at her dress to make sure there was no blood on the bodice. She stopped dead in her tracks.
Her beautiful wedding gown was no longer ivory; it was now black. She thought she would faint, and looked up to search the crowd for someone to help her. When she looked through the mesh of her veil, she noticed it too had turned black. Panic rose in her chest and her throat constricted. The next breath wouldn’t come. She felt her knees quiver and she didn’t know if she could take another step. Her mouth opened and closed like that of a fish gasping for air, but she couldn’t form any words. She looked left and right at her family and friends, but no one looked back at her. They all stared straight ahead. It was as if they didn’t see her.
She stumbled forward a few more steps and noticed her soon-to-be stepdaughter, Emma, sitting alone in the second pew. She approached Emma and noticed tears running down the girl’s face, dripping off her chin and leaving dark spots on her pink cotton dress. She reached toward Emma, but stopped when the “Wedding March” turned into Chopin’s “Funeral March.” She looked up at the organ on the right side of the altar, but the organist did not look back at her.
Was Savannah in the wrong place?
She spun around in what felt like slow motion and looked at the stained-glass windows, the pews, the high, scallop-shaped ceiling. No, this was her childhood church—Fisherman’s Church. She had been coming here since she was a baby. Was she here on the wrong date? She turned again and looked at the people. She knew every one of them. She had invited every one of them. She knew it was August 25, 1936—her wedding day. Why was Emma here at a funeral? Why was she crying? More importantly, who was in the coffin?
She spun again and faced the coffin on the altar. Was she losing her mind? Where was August? Terror filled her as adrenaline rose like flames up the back of her neck.
Two men she had never seen before, dressed in black suits, stepped forward and gently opened the coffin’s lid, and Savannah saw the inside of the lid was lined with blood-red satin. Who is in there? And why was there a funeral here on her wedding day?
She climbed the three steps to the altar and placed her hand on the side of the coffin. She reluctantly looked inside.
It was a woman—a dark-haired woman in an ivory wedding dress.
She gazed down into her own face and heard a scream escape her lips.