As the big day approached I began to find out more about the manner in which things were run on Skera. Their take on society was certainly not built around anything close to the cult of personality. Once the surgeon who had founded the community passed away the ownership of the island was transferred to a communal trust deed.
There was no chosen successor. Instead, an island Council made major decisions collectively. The Council was non-elected. Three sets of couples held office for a fixed term of two years and then were succeeded by another three sets of couples. Terms of office rotated, so a couple might serve a number of terms of office. Mari’s parents had been council members on four occasions and were due, a few years down the line, for a firth term.
“Do you mind if I go off and explore on my own?” I asked Mari one morning after breakfast.
“Making the most of your freedom before they tie the knot?” she quipped.
Perhaps her use of the term they instead of we should have concerned me more. But at the time I just put it down to a slip of the tongue. “It would be good to get to know the place better,” I said.
“There’s loads of things I still have to do with Mum and Dad before the wedding. Off you go and satisfy your wanderlust while you still can.”
Again, maybe I should have read something more into that last remark.
It was around lunchtime when I came across the village cemetery. The first headstone I encountered was that of the surgeon, the founding father, Hamish Grayling. He’d died on the 23rd of October 2001. A second name was also chiselled into the headstone – Annabel Grayling (Loving Wife). She had died on the exact same day as her husband.
There were only six other headstones in the cemetery. That was hardly surprising. It was a small community and it had been established for less than forty years. What was surprising was that each headstone bore the names of both the husband and wife and in each and every case the date of the death was the same for both of them.
“Was it suicide?” I asked Mari when I returned to her parent’s cottage. “Could they not carry on with their partner gone?”
“More of a physical synchronicity,” replied Mari.
When she saw my brow crease, she gave my earlobe a playful pinch.
“Thing will become clear soon enough, Luke.”
Over her shoulder I watched her parents waltzing eerily side-by-side around the kitchen. The familiar shiver turned to a cold sweat that prickled at every pore.