We hope you've been enjoying the wonder October Treats Clara and I have been posting for you during our Annual Break from Blogging! We're back tonight with a few tales that are ripe for the season, and just in time for Halloween! Hope you've all been good ghouls and zomboys. Even if you haven't, the Spatulans still have some treats (not tricks) for your enjoyment. :)
I surveyed the land stretched out before me. It was a modest place, old and overgrown. You could feel the history of the setting through the grass and up through the soles of your shoes, as if the land was trying to convey to you the importance of its past through every cell and fiber of your being.
I had worked the land for many years. I came here to be the Keeper when my mentor, Chris, a wise woman, asked me if I would be interested. Needless to say I jumped at the chance.
This job had been completely different from the one I worked before. My former profession was that of a lay minister. I had grown up in this same town, sadly receiving no formal training or education, married, raised children, and settled into the life and heartbeat of a humble, backwards community. And it is here that I remain.
Chris on the other hand was a woman of the world. She wouldn’t tell me exactly where she came from, but she often spoke of foreign places with the voice of someone who longed for the days when travel was easier and cheaper. She was older. I never asked how old exactly. Mostly out of Southern manners that you never inquire about a lady’s age, and also because I knew she would never tell me.
She was statuesque, even at her age of however many years. She was still lean and maintained a youthful figure. Her high cheekbones made her look intimidating and graceful all at once. She rarely cut her hair, and would only do so under duress. During the summer she would pile it high on her head, the stark white exaggerating the sharpness of her features, making her look even more commanding.
Never in my time of knowing her had I seen her without red lipstick and nails painted to match. She had classiness about her that I found unsettling at first, but after many years of getting to know her, I had come to respect everything about her.
We had an odd working relationship, Chris and I. She taught me how to take care of the property. Mostly just keeping the grass tidy, making sure the rows were even. Cutting around the stones in such a way that made them look presentable to visitors. Once a year I would have to scrub down the stonewall surrounding the territory, and those of the old buildings under the oak trees.
Today was a beautiful fall day. The trees had been blazing brilliantly for weeks now. The scent of spices wafted through the air. The downtown festival was held every year, and baked with the goodness of all things pumpkin, had taken place the night before. You could still smell the wood smoke from the oven where they roasted pumpkin seeds and orange bowknot biscuits had been baked. It was a heavenly scent, and one of my favorite times of the year. All Hallows Eve was upon us, which was the busiest time of the year for Chris and I.
We had been terribly productive all week. She took to her duties with youthful exuberance. I chuckled, seeing someone who could still be so excited over such small things was a rare and beautiful treat. I had lost the ability to be joyful and jubilant, and then Chris happened to find me and take me in.
We had met on a cold November morning; the rain had been hatefully drizzling down for four days straight. I was running late as usual to catch the train that would take me into work. All I can remember from that day was crossing the street, the raindrops pelting my face like tiny icicles. The sound of screeching tires and small children was all I could hear. The echoes of which reverberated in my mind for what felt like years afterward. Suddenly I felt like I was on a carnival ride and the world was spinning above me. The swirl of incandescent lights blurred through mist and rain.
I don’t remember falling, but I do remember being caught. A figure loomed over me, speaking comforting words that I could not distinguish. There was a moment where my body involuntarily winced from the pain, and then- nothing. Not the slightest tingle of dread or pain surged through me. I remember blinking back into consciousness and seeing the face of my rescuer coming into form. All I could make out at first was a halo of soft white hair in cascading curls, and the beautifully made up lips of a woman. It was her eyes of course that caught me completely off guard. They were the most arresting color of yellow-green, a color I had never seen before in my life. Her pupils were misshapen, possibly due to a birth trauma, causing them to look more like slits than orbs. I thought she was immensely captivating.
Her smile and tone of voice were gentle. “Hello, Stephen. I’m Chris. I’m here to be your mentor.”
“Stephen?” Chris came through the front door of our humble abode; lugging a large box of miscellaneous decorations and do-dads we used every year. The afternoon light following her over the threshold and reflecting off her pale skin and snow white hair. Her appearance was more apparitional than usual; I laughed to myself thinking about that.
“Hmm, yes?” I looked up from my morning paper and pushed my bifocals back up on my nose. I no longer needed them, but I guess old habits die hard, another amusement.
“When you’re done taking pleasure in your own witticisms, will you please retrieve the other box? We’re expecting a larger group than normal this year, and we’ll be needing all that we have.” She heaved the heavy cardboard box onto the table, glaring at me. I had been living with her long enough to know that the Stink Eye merely meant “Get in gear, or else.” I simply nodded, folded the paper before setting it on the table, and made my way to the attic stairs.
“More solders this year you think? Been a rough one for them I’ve heard.” I shouted back over my shoulder at her.
“Yes, many more soldiers I’m afraid. War. So useless.” She put her hands on her hips, and stared down. “I’ll go ahead and get the flashlights all checked out, can you go ahead and get the name tags ready? I left the list on the counter.”
“Sure thing, boss. Be right back.” I bounded up the stairs. Something about Chris’ demeanor was troubling me, however. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Perhaps she knew someone else who would be passing through tonight? I would have to remember to ask her later.
I found the other box easily enough. Not many things were kept in the attic after all. A few boxes of clothes, a fold up cot, extra pots and pans, matches, et cetera. While we had no real need for any of it, simply having it made available gave us a feeling of comfort and familiarity. Both of us had simply come here with the clothes we had on our backs, yet somehow everything else was provided in the Keeper’s cabin.
Even Chris had to admit that she had no idea how they knew what size clothes she wore or what exact shade of nail polish she preferred. Being stumped was nothing new to me, but it unnerved her to this day. If there is one person who hates the unknown immensely, it’s Chris. As for myself, I had always believed in the good book. What I had not expected was any of this. I had made my peace with it, and accepted my position. I suspect Chris was not as easily pleased with such an outcome.
I grabbed the box and headed back downstairs. Being overjoyed time and time again that my knees no longer ached as they used to do. Even now it is the simplest things that brought great joy.
“Chris,” I plunked the box down next to hers, she was already working on checking the batteries in the flashlights. Another unnecessary activity, it’s only function to bring a sense of purpose to our days.
“Yes, Stephen.” She looked up at me as she always does when we talk. No matter how many years pass she always finds some reason to stare at me while holding a conversation. Occasionally she’ll remark that my hair had been graying beautifully, starting at the temples and working it’s way back and up, or that my eyes were a different shade of blue that day. I was also considerably shorter than her, so whenever she was seated I took full advantage of standing over her.
“Is there someone of interest coming tonight? You seem,” I couldn’t quite describe it, “displaced. In your thoughts, that is. I know we’re having a lot more brave men and women arriving tonight, but I can’t help but think they aren’t what’s troubling you.”
She sighed and dropped another D battery down the shaft of a maglite.
“Abigail’s going to be here.”
“What?” I nearly fell into the chair as my knees buckled upon hearing her words.
“Let me guess- it was the cigarettes, wasn’t it? All that smoking.” Chris wasn’t looking at me now; it was as if the dust on a bulb needed her immediate and undivided attention.
“I’m afraid so. Will you be all right? I can handle things by myself tonight if it will be too much for you.”
“No, no, no need for that.” I waved my hand dismissing the notion. “Thank you for telling me, it saved me the shock.”
“No problem,” She looked back at me now. “I was going to tell you sooner than later. I hadn’t known how to approach it though.”
“Fair enough, thank you again.” She nodded and resumed her work. “List. Counter. Get busy, Stephen.” I clicked my heels as I stood up and saluted.
With the name badges completed, and all the flashlights in proper working order, we were ready to greet the new comers. I had polished my fine boots the night before, and dusted off my favorite black evening coat. Chris was bedecked in an elegant black dress and a teal shawl draped delicately over her shoulders. Her hair was loosely curled around her face, lips immaculately painted as always, and a snake ring coiled round the fingers of her right hand. She brought out her cane although she didn’t need it; she used it merely for show.
Together we stood at the entrance, the sun setting quietly at our backs. The darkness brought out each of our guests one by one. Soldiers, as we had figured. Some teenagers, whose expressions were confused and nervous, several mothers clutching their tiny babies, roughly a few dozen older gentlemen and ladies. I saw her immediately, the same blue eyes and mousy brown hair twisted into a flouncey bun at the nape of her neck: Abigail. Immediately my breath caught in my throat; I stood there paralyzed, clenching my fists open and shut. Chris patted my shoulder reassuringly, and whispered in my ear. “It’s all going to be alright, darling. Trust me, this is something every Keeper goes through.” I nodded and exhaled slowly. Once everyone had reached the gates, Chris began the rehearsed welcoming.
“My dears, welcome to the Hamilton Memorial Cemetery and Garden. Please do not be afraid. We are the Keepers, and we are here to make your transition easier. If you would all please pass through the gates we will give you a name tag and a flashlight before we begin our tour.” The crowd shuffled through one by one, obtaining their badge and torch from my station. I handed Abigail her light, her face went pale when she recognized me. “Dad?” Her voice shook, our fingertips still touching.
“Hello, sweetheart.” I said and laughed gently at her expression. “What’s wrong my dear? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”