First I want to thank Rhys Jones, photographer extraordinaire, http://www.photomaestro.wordpress.com for allowing me to write a short story in conjunction with his beautiful photograph of The Town Mill Market.
It was the year 2015. A perfect early autumn day, the leaves not even beginning their change yet to brilliant hues, but the tourists and market-goers knew that was just around the corner. Everyone wanted to enjoy this spring-like day because no one knew how many more there would be before cold winds whipped over the remains of The Cobb or Harbour Wall that protected The Town Mill Market from the roaring English Channel. It could get downright nasty in the freezing winter months, but the sea was beautiful in every season, swirling drama from comedy to tragedy.
Everyone was happy and basking in the sun, enjoying the idyllic scene around them. The stones of the Mill reflected earthen colours, the door open and inviting. There was an Art shop proclaiming its wares in the second story window, a restaurant with outside tables shaded by large umbrellas, a museum, and most important, The Town Mill was in working order again after eons of silent decay, grinding flour so all could see antiquity come alive before their very eyes!
The plaque stated the Mill had been in use since 1340, but historians believed there had been a country mill on the site since 1084 a.d. The old lantern beside the two broken windows on the dark third floor, just below the wooden planked chute for grain, looked like slit eyes peering from beyond this world.
Young couples strolled hand-in-hand; children dashed to-and-fro with squeals of delight; some older folks sat on stones dredged up from the riverbed centuries ago by the sweat and muscle of men working in tandem, by-hand, to build walls to protect the coastal town from The Channel. Even the red bricks of the adjoining building were hand-made by archaic masons, long dead but not forgotten.
Flowers were blooming; a slight wind rustled through trees, touching faces and tousling hair; the sound of currents was calming as droplets skipped over rocks and down the flat, worn riverbed.
A woman was standing on the bridge, alone, her long skirt tossing around her ankles. She was staring straight ahead, her black hair twisted haphazardly, her elbows balanced on the narrow handrail. She seemed to be totally removed from the gaiety. She was absorbed in the scene around her with intense scrutiny. What did she see that no one else saw?
My name is Cassandra, no, no, wait! It’s not! It’s something else. Why am I so disoriented? I’m not even from here, not from England at all. I’m from the United States of America. How can this little village seem familiar to me?
Her name was Janice Maria Franzoni, a native of Newark, New Jersey, with a distinct Italian heritage. She had come to Great Britain with a group of students from college. Her colleagues had decided to tour The Tower of London, which Janice had no desire to see. She took the rental car and drove for hours, ending up in West Dorset, 40 kilometers from Exeter. It was a tiny place. She didn’t know what had brought her to this obscure location that seemed to attract tourists. Maybe she was just tired and needed a break. Yet, it was nice to be out in the country, away from the big cities.
Janice had wandered by herself around Lyme Regis reading the historical plaques. Everything had looked vaguely reminiscent to her, like she had been there before, but it wasn’t until she got to the bridge that the vertigo, shortness of breath, and confusion overwhelmed her. She stopped in her tracks, keeping herself on her feet by practically falling against the rails.
As she looked off in the distance, she saw an old Abbey. Thoughts rushed to her mind, but where were they coming from?
My name is Brother Frances. I lived in Sherborne Abbey. The Abbey had been there since the town was called “llif,” welsh for stream. Oh, how I suffered! I became sick, so very sick, helping the poor and helpless at “The Leper’s Well.” I ended up living and dying with them.
She glanced down at her hands, and they were but bloody masses. She had to look away from the carnage of her male person. Sores covered the body, seeping with yellow pus. Pitiful tears stung as they dripped down the hideous face. The Abbot, whom Brother Frances had so loved, had denied him and exiled him from the Abbey, calling him “unclean.” He had dedicated his life to God, and God had forsaken him. He died in excruciating agony, having lost his faith.
Janice almost lost consciousness from the vision. She had to hold herself up by gripping the bridge. She saw small houses, mere hovels, across the marketplace. The name Cassandra surfaced again, and she knew she had once lived in one of those small crofter’s huts. She was a young maiden. She saw herself in the reflection of the river, much wider and deeper than it appeared today. She was very young, pale, with tawny blonde hair. She was wearing a long skirt as she was attired now, but it was full and heavy, not slim and sheer.
She felt the skirt dragging at her legs as she ran through the dense foliage, tripping her. She screamed, but no one came to her aid. She was so frightened she could not breathe!
Where am I going? All I know is that I must hide. Two men, not from the village of Lim, are chasing me. Stop, stop! They grab me, tear at my clothes, and hurt me so, so badly! My screams bring my father and brothers to help me. They kill the men, but then shun me forever.
Cassandra had ended up bloody and near naked at the Chapel of Saint Mary and the Holy Spirits. She was to become a nun, a sister of The Church for her evil transgressions. When she was found to be with child, she was locked in a room with no interaction from the other devoted sisters, they bringing her scant food and water, never uttering a word to her no matter how much she pleaded.
I feel the forlorn loneliness that lasted for many phases of the moon and then the pains began again, ripping my body to shreds just as the filthy men had done. I scream and no one comes. Many torturous hours later the Mother Superior comes to me. “Help me,” I beg. She tells me to be silent, to push, and expel the demon from my body. I don’t understand. A baby cries, the lights grow dim, and my life bleeds away. I never see my child.
Janice Maria Franzoni withstood the sadness by turning her attention to The Mill. She peeked into the broken windows that watched her every move. She didn’t know how she could see inside.
The large gears are made of wood, edged with metal. They grate together with screeching harshness. The stalks of grain are crushed, and I can smell the nutty, earthy scent. It is almost pleasant, but I am very tired. I am a young man. I work at The Town Mill all day and all night during harvest season. My name is Anniston…Joel Anniston. I am but a poor lad, and I must labor for my bread. All must work hard in the township of Lyme Regis. It comes to mind that Queen Elizabeth had confirmed the name of our town just this year–in the year of our Lord 1591. It was chartered in the year of our Lord 1284. It has been many centuries that our inhabitants have fought for recognition as a sanctioned township by the Crown. We are proud, and we have taught our children the history, every generation by every family.
She knew that Joel had worked hard, married, had children, loved his family, and taught his own sons to work in The Town Mill. He lived a long life, almost 50 years, and left his position at The Mill to his eldest son. He knew peace and harmony.
Janice was finally able to take a deep breath and admire The Town Mill in front of her. She heard the water trickling in the stream, a lovely sound in a place that was now her own. She smiled at the tall, stone structure. She could see the happy people around her. It was as if she knew them, and they had all lived here with her before.
The market place was alive with joy. She watched the rays reflect off the two broken windows and knew that Joel Anniston and his sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons had seen this same scene from the third story loft where sweet waves of grain filtered in from whole countryside. The Town Mill had been their home and their haven.
Janice wasn’t sure whether her visions could be true or not, but she would return to America and search for the people that she had been in The Market Place of The Town Mill…and she would find them.
NOTE: This is not the first time this scene has drawn an author’s attention. Maybe this is part of why I was so captured by the scene, enough to search the history of this small town with a population of just under 4000 souls. Jane Austen’s novel “Persuasion” used The Harbour Wall, “The Cobb” in its lofty pages. British author John Fowless used the township of Lyme Regis and the surrounding countryside in his novel “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” with an American film by the same name produced in 1981, starring the incredible Meryl Streep, also presenting a past-life theme. This small area in West Dorset is steeped in history and paranormal energy. Somehow it captured me as a writer and Ryan Jones as The Photo Maestro.
“Thank you, John.”