The Curse of Blackwood Hollow: Part Three

Being dead, you know, gets confusing sometimes. I have to really work at things alive things don’t have to worry about. Like sitting on chairs. I only ever need to for Sybil’s sake, so I seem more like a person and less like a thing. Or like remembering the dimensions of human space. Humans have a lot of rules. Walk on the ground. Sit on things, not through them. High fives are supposed to kind of hurt and make a sound. Use past tense for things some things and the future tense for others. I always mix them up. Everything is present for me, and things don’t end where humans say they end and begin where they say they begin. That’s a thing you learn as a former human. Things is jumbled. All jumbled up. Everything.

I say that a lot to Sybil, and she thinks she gets it, and maybe she does get it more than most.

I can’t really say that I’m old. Sybil can say it, and does say it. A lot. I think she must be making jokes that are funny to humans, because she laughs a lot when she’s referring to my age. I don’t get them. I don’t feel old. I don’t really understand time anymore. Like I said, people have a lot of rules. For some reason it comforts them.

Not that I can say I’m much better off, being beyond the rules. I get wretchedly lonely. I talk with the trees sometimes. That’s a perk. And I have Sybil. But sometimes she misunderstands me and I never know what to do about it besides wandering around the earth and letting myself flow through underground places and high, unreachable-by-humans places.

The worst is a recurring moment called All Hallow’s Eve. It’s hard for me to separate seconds from the ones before and after, and days from years. But I always know when All Hallow’s Eve is now, and I hate it every time it comes.

Every time, I go to my gravestone, and Sybil goes with me.

I go to Blackwood Hollow graveyard—sorry, I guess I should say went. I went with Sybil to the little patch of dirt and weeds where us “old folk” are interned. I wasn’t the only one buried there, but I’m the only ghost. I don’t like to think about it.

I laid my hand against my gravestone. It took all of my concentration, and all of Sybil’s. I can’t do it without her. Then, suddenly, I feel the cold. In an instant, I feel the boundary of the stone. I feel where it begins and ends. Humanness seeps back into me. It’s a terrible feeling, in a way, like accepting a chain around your neck. But there’s always lurking in my mind the reason I must retain the feeling of limits, of a body. Why I must fight to stay on this earth.

I’m waiting for someone.

Now I feel the groundedness, the rules flood through me. I am renewed/ re-enslaved. Things can be both. That’s another thing you learn. A lot of things are quite simply “both.”

“I feel eyes.”

Sybil looks—looked at me judgementally. I didn’t mind. There was no point to.

I tried to explain. “Not… my eyes. His eyes.”

“Whose eyes?” she asked.

I closed my eyes and focused. My eyes. So I could feel them! That felt a bit good. “Someone watches.”

Sybil scowled out at the dark graveyard. She didn’t like people doing underhanded things. I was pretty sure she didn’t like people, period. “Who?”

I put a hand on her shoulder, and reveled in it. I could feel her shoulder. I could feel my hand. “Pretend I am still here. Talk. He will not see me.”

Sybil did not say anything for a moment, but after I moved away, she began muttering conspiratorially to no one.

He did not see me approach his tree. He did not see me loom behind him. He only heard my voice when I boomed, “Puck” and raised my hand.

It had to be done, every All Hallow’s Eve. That was the price of my staying. I had to do its bidding on this one night, and it always asked for blood. I hadn’t liked Puck from the beginning, but if I could have then, I would have told him to run. I raised my hand and brought it down until I felt his face split beneath my nails.

He howled unlike anything I’d ever heard, and I couldn’t help wondering what he was exactly. Then his eyes closed and his head fell back, but he wasn’t dead—I would know. So I went back to Sybil and told her to get him help. I had other things to do.

I went to the top of the hill, and sunk down beneath the earth, and waited for it. It got darker and darker, and the stars refused to shine, so I knew it was coming. At last it came, and I spread the blood before it. The blood sank into the earth and I knew it was pleased. A whisper ran on the wind, and for just a moment, I could feel the back of my neck. It crawled.

You do not wait in vain. She is coming.

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Vanquished Glass

All the glass in the world has vanished. The tall grasses thrash against my bare legs, dress pillowing and sucking against me alternately. Shelby is beside me, both feet planted firmly on the ground for the first time in his life.

The moment this strikes me, I can’t help but look over at him and shout over the wind, “How does it feel to stand?”

“A little dizzying,” he says, grinning back. “Lot farther to fall.”

Shelby’s the kind of person who loves the ground too much to realize he was born with wings, says Mr. Mellark. Whenever provided the opportunity, he always chooses to sit on the ground, sit on something, or even just lean.

But today, tonight, he stands with us. We all stand in a line on Cherry Hill, holding hands. Except for Shelby and me. He didn’t offer it, and I don’t feel like taking it, so I just let Aunt Josephine clutch my other hand fervently. I try not to look at her, because she’s the type of person who would notice, but I can tell she’s crying. A lot of people are.

And singing.

It started out as a dull rumble, as we were marching out to the hill.

It was barely dark out when we all left our homes and banded together on the road, in one lumbering mass. Somebody near the front began a song, one of the sweet, melancholy folksongs that were made for campfires and nights of endless chess tournaments and knowing that you were part of something much more immutable than yourself.

“Why are we signing?” little Connie, barely awake, asked, tugging on my hand.

“With the proper high note,” said Mr. Mellark, contemplatively, striding beside us with his smoothly gnarled walking stick, “a signer can shatter glass.”

The Wall lies in the valley below us— or what is left of it. It looks more like a trail left behind by Connie, who didn’t realize she was tipping the salt container upside down. Nothing but a strip of white powder from up here— maybe a few sparkles if you squinted your watering eyes against the wind.

“What does it look like?” comes a croaking cry on the other side of Shelby. Blind, old Addison had, when he was very young, elected Shelby as his favourite. Intricate descriptions of the world he’d lost sight of was his favourite treat, and he was always instructing us children not to tell him that the moon was shining, but to “show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Shelby doesn’t say anything for a long time, and when I turn my face toward him, I see he has his face in his hand.

I swallow, reach out, and pry his wet hand from his wetter face. His April-storm eyes blink at me, red around the edges, scared and hopeful and alive. I wrap my fingers around his hand and squeeze.

“What does it look like, Shelby?” I say.

A shuddering breath rips through his body.

He says, “Freedom.”

“Mr. Addison,” I shout, as wind buffets us, “blue moonlight glints on the winding trail of shattered glass.”

Shelby squeezes my hand back.

I’m waking up.

I feel it in my bones.

We don’t know what lies before us. We never knew what lay beyond the Glass Wall. But it is ours. Whatever the future holds, it belongs to those who sang until the prison glass came crashing down.

The ones who see the glint of light on broken glass, because the moon shines for us tonight.

How Often Turns Into Dream

She stared at the setting sun. It was like a beach ball at day break, all bright and round and red. Sometimes hard to tell if it was rising or setting.

“Help,” she said quietly, almost to herself, or to the setting sun. What would have helped at that moment was a broom, she decided. She could ride off into the sunset and ask the sun herself.

She had transformed since her last visit to the shore. More crabby. She wanted to belong on that beach. She knelt beside a particularly slow and grumpy looking crab.

“It’s nighttime,” he said.

“Not yet,” she said.

“It will be,” he said, ever the pessimist. “I’m a realist.”

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Part Three: A Traditional Halloween Tale

Cidney Ellen had nearly arrived when she noticed her slipper was missing.

“Oh fiddle,” she said and turned around to search the soggy sidewalk she’d walked up. She hadn’t gone far when a large, lumpy toad hopped out of the dead wet grass and plunked down in the middle of the side walk.

“Hmm,” Cidney said, considered it an omen, and turned back in her original direction toward the steepled mansion at the top of the sodden hill. There was a certain… oh what was it? Cattiness? Yes, perhaps it was that, though she really felt the word unjust to feline-kind everywhere, after all, some of the gentlest friends she’s ever met were cats… but there she was, letting her thoughts wander away from her again. And anyway, there was a certain cat-like-ness in the air tonight, too. Cattiness, and something more: a creeping disinterest in reality.

Unusualness.

Hobbling up the front steps in just one slipper, Cidney straightened her glittering tiara, brushed down her ruffly, white, and soaked skirts, and rapped on the door in a rhythmic way.

One minute. Two.

Cidney began exploring the porch. It really wasn’t so bad of a place when you got down to looking at the roly-polies in the paint cracks of the window sill, or the way the creeping myrtle was curiously beginning to wind up the sides of the porch. Even the sharp October wind was alright because at least it wasn’t playing games with you. It shocked you down to the bone, but then that was that. Cidney didn’t even wish she’d brought a coat.

All except the pumpkin. It was a bit disheveled-looking, with lumps in unusual places, and sat forlornly on the edge of the top step, water droplets still pooling in the little divet at the top. Even if it had been the most beautiful pumpkin in the world, Cidney still would’ve shuddered. She couldn’t stand the sight of them; not since the accident.

The door burst open and a hand darted out and grabbed her.

“We need your help!” Wendy greeted her without ceremony, yanking her down the feebly lit main hall.

In the rooms they passed, Cidney caught glimpses of all sorts of unusual sights. A scarecrow doing a jig on the ceiling, and a nurse chasing after him with a needle and thread, catching his limps as they fell off. A werewolf howling at the little squares on moonlight on the floor. A long, rectangular, suspicious-looking box rattling and thumping from the inside.

Wendy dragged Cidney all the way up to the attic, an unusually spotless room, just for tonight. A dozen mice were dusting and scrubbing the floors and walls, even though they already shone to polished perfection. A tight-lipped, severe looking middle-aged woman sat in the lone armchair in the middle of the room, a compact mirror lying open in her lap.

“We must hurry, my child, it is almost midnight,” the woman said, beckoning Cidney forward.

Cidney knelt before the woman, and took the mirror the woman pressed into Cidney’s cupped hands. There was a certain resemblance between them, not exactly in their look as in their manner. Both seemed to have their heads in the clouds of a world that had long since passed them by. The cadence of their movements. The gestures of their voice.

Cidney closed her eyes and inhaled. Wendy and the woman looked on, and nobody spoke. Wendy glanced at her watch.

“11:59,” she warned.

“Cidney—” the older woman pressed.

“I’m trying! It isn’t working!”

“You must wish harder!”

The mice all spun in unison, and froze, as if they felt it. The gleaming wooden walls shivered. Moonlight grew brighter from the single oval window at the back of the room. A faint scent of roses tingled in the air.

“Midnight,” Wendy announced, frowning at her watch. Everyone exhaled together, even the mice.

All that work for nothing. She was never going to break the spell.

“We’ll try again next year, my child.” The woman patted Cidney on the arm with what she seemed to think was a consoling touch.

Dejected, Cidney nodded, and got to her feet. “I’ll help you clean up,” she told Wendy, who only shook her head.

“They were fine this year. Only one minor mess in the kitchen from the cowboy. And they’ll all have settled down by now.”

Cidney and Wendy descended together, walking back past the rooms of young people sprawled flat on their backs, waking up foggily and scratching their heads, murmuring confused statements to each other that weren’t even all the way to questions. The usual.

Wendy smiled sympathetically and waved a quiet farewell to her friend at the door.

“Happy Halloween,” she said by way of apologizing.

The words were finally starting to feel less foreign in her mouth, so Cidney turned and replied, “Happy Halloween.”

In the brisk moonlight, she hobbled back down the sidewalk, wishing for the millionth time she’d never said yes to pumpkin anything.

 

Smoke and Mirrors, an L.A. Tour Guide

I see a man outside civilization.

I smile at him and he rushes out the words like he himself is surprised at them, or maybe just surprised that I looked, and smiled.

“Can I have some change, ma’am?”

I smile silently and walk on, least I can do.

Very least. 

Think nothing of it.

I go in and buy my groceries. 

A good deal later, I come out the back of the store, and there he is, on the steps, a rag to his nose. 

At first I think he is crying.

He looks up as I pass.

“Can I have some change, ma’am?”

I nod and smile sadly. “It’s inevitable.”

L.A. twinkles brighter tonight than I’ve ever seen her—

A good rain can clear even the most malignant feelings.

Benevolence and glittering lights.

Smiles and ghost-rain.

Ah, how pretty you look from here

But please, don’t come any closer.

Hit-or-Miss

Kind of a lopsided thing, that

Miss miss miss miss

Hit

Miss

More like it.

The hissing of arrows whizzing

By the target

Usually drown

out the slap 

and shatter of clay

Pigeons.

More awkward stutters and 

Falling 

out of it

Than 

Graceful partings and double pirouettes.

Trying to console 

my soul

I make it sometimes.

I yell against the sea of

usually Not’s.