Trees shivered in the icy breeze. Moss lay shrivelled and dying against frozen bark, puddles were silent under their blankets of ice, and dew lay steady and still, clinging to frost-tipped grass like crystals that sparkled and shimmered in the muted sunlight. The old man’s breath coiled in the air as clouds of warm steam, vanishing in seconds like some sort of winter spirit.
Winter was drawing closer, and the trees were already shedding their leaves in preparation.
And yet they still cried.
The children, perching upon glittering branches, crouching among muddy moss, entangled within shimmering roots, always watching, crying, dying again and again before his eyes as they reached out with accusing hands and gnarled fingers. Their skin was bark, faces wood, hair moss, features scraped out of the trees and mud and mulch. Their eyes were empty sockets of anger, of fear, of hatred and of eternal suffering- and they tore at his coat and scraped at his skin in fitful attempts to force their burdens onto him.
But within their cries and their glares and their screams there was laughter of a young man, the giggles of joyous children.
The old man sped up, pushing through the children’s hateful hands and the trees’ protective clutches, looking for the man who laughed, the man who joked, the man who sang songs so sweet blackbirds had swooped from the skies to listen. His pace quickened and quickened until the old man was running, the children’s gazes turning from hateful to curious as he sprinted through entangled roots and twisted branches, looking, searching, following the voice he knew so well until suddenly the trees were gone and he skidded to a stop on the edge of a cliff. Alexander Ashbrook stood panting, yet as he looked up into the sky his breath was snatched once again as amazement filled him.
Thomas Ledbury stood within the clouds, conducting a group of young children whose voices, as they reached Alexander’s ears, were sweeter than any birds and purer than any crystal. Heavenly song swam around the old man, the music sinking into his very bones and through his soul, filling his heart and his blood, and he didn’t know when he stepped forward but he did, walking towards Thomas in a daze, then his pace grew hasty and he ran, and Thomas turned to him and smiled and extended his hand and-
Alexander’s body fell to the ground, dead.
Later they would say it was old age, heart failure. Melissa would pass soon after, leaving the estate in the hands of Aaron and Toby. People forgot about the kindly old man and his gentle wife within a few years, and so the story of the Coram Children was lost to time.
And yet some say if you go to that cliff today, you can hear the angels sing.