Thursday, January 24, 2013

Prompt: An Empty Grave

All Hallows Eve. I’d already handed out Halloween candy to about a hundred kids in the neighborhood and blown out the candles in my jack-o-lanterns. I’d bring them inside when I got home, so they wouldn’t be smashed. There were some customs I didn’t like.

I sat in my car and reviewed my notes. I wanted to make sure I was ready. There was always a lot of confusion, and I wouldn’t have much time. I kept an eye on the dash clock. 11:40, time to go.

I climbed out, switched on my lantern and walked into the cemetery. This was a nice one, kept up by the church next door. Wide straight paths meant that the headstones had probably been moved around at some point to make it easy for the lawn mowers. That lent to the confusion, sometimes. I had walked the rows earlier in the daylight to make sure I knew my way. I headed straight for my first target. I found Mr. Jones’ headstone, with his wife Ollie’s nearby. He had died in 1927. Hers had a blank date.

I checked my watch again. 11:58. I turned off the lantern so my eyes would adjust to the moonlight. Lights were hard on their eyes. I started humming the tune my grandmother taught me, “I am bound for Canaan Land.” At midnight, I sung the lines, “There, I’ll meet my loved ones gone on, and the others who’ve gone before.”

I never saw them approach. There was no flash, no mist, no hand rising out of the ground. He just stood there, looking around. He looked normal, although his haircut and suit were old fashioned. I knew I could touch him, but I didn’t like to do that. I called his name. “Mr. Jones? Mr. Jones? R.C.? I want to help you, sir. I want to tell you about Ollie.”

He turned to me with a broad smile. “Ollie? Is that you? I’ve been waiting so long. Are you ready at last?” He faltered when he finally focused on me.

I shook my head. “I’m sorry, sir. I’m not Ollie. I want to tell you about her. She went back to live with her mother, Almedia. They moved out to Texas in 1932. She was buried out there in 1977. Sir, she’s not coming. You don’t have to wait for her anymore.”

“She’s not coming? Why not?”

“R.C., I’m sure she didn’t know you were waiting here for her. I bet she is waiting for you now. You should go on. Will you let me help you do that?”

He looked around, lost. He’d been waiting all these years. It always made me sad, their disappointment. When they realized whoever they had waited for was never going to come. I tried to help them see the upside, that they might meet again when they moved on. I resisted the urge to look at my watch while he worked through things. Finally, he nodded to me. “What do I do?”

“You let go, R.C. I know that might seem hard. You’ve been holding on to here for so long. Let go, and you’ll go on. They’re there, waiting for you. Your mother, your father, Ollie. She never remarried. She’s going to be so happy to see you, R.C. Close your eyes and think about them, and go to them.” I hummed the tune again. I don’t know if I had to, but that’s how my grandmother taught me, and it always worked.

He was gone. No fanfare, no lights. I stood alone in the dark. “Goodbye, R.C. I hope she’s there for you.”

I picked up my lantern and switched it on, checking my watch as I headed to the next grave. 12:10. If they were all this easy, I might clear off my list for this cemetery at last.

The sweet old lady stood next to me in a long skirt and high-necked blouse, with a simple, elegant feather pinned in her hair.

“Mabel Hutchens? Mabel? I want to help you.”

Dogs in house:
Houdini, Brindle

“Dance in the Graveyard,” Delta Rae

January word count:

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