Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Breather

As in, the one I'm taking.

Wrote gobs of fiction, that I wasn't too fond of, so I pulled it. This does cover my obligation for the last two day's, with a word count of over 4000.

Then I slept for twelve hours.

I think my writing schedule, along with all my other commitments, are taking their toll on me.

I'll be back for more soon enough.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

What Remains, part 9

The county coroner came to the residence. There were mumbled voices interspersed with Janice's sobs. She had been inconsolable.

Jim stayed in his room with the door open, listening distantly to the sounds in the front room. He felt broken, something in him had also snapped when Rachael died. But his was the knowledge that his daughter wasn't really his daughter anymore. Whatever this was that lingered over this house, over the family, had now invested his own flesh and blood.

Lisa's shadow had appeared, but lingered distant and silent.

The coroner collected the body with accompanied by a female assistant who appeared to know Janice. There were some consoling words, but Janice no longer spoke. The van drove away and the house was draped in a thick silence.

Jim was exhausted. It had been a long day, but he wouldn't be able to sleep even if he wanted to. After staring at the ceiling for some time, and not hearing Janice move from the front room, he swung his legs off the side of the bed and stood shakily. He walked to the front room.

Janice sat absolutely still in the same chair that she sat in just days earlier, inviting him into her home. He couldn't help but feel responsible, but he didn't know how.

"Janice?"

He waited a moment and she looked up to him, tears reddened her face, but anger was what darkened her countenance. Jim braced, feeling the anger reach toward him.

"She left me. She left me." She bit down on the words, then tears again leaked from her eyes.

Her face pinched and she bowed her head again.

Jim sat across from her and rested his hand on hers. She tugged away, her hands into fists, turning white with her grip.

"No, you're not going to do this." He said.

He felt his tears return and he moved toward her, kneeling on the floor. He wrapped his arms around her and held her until her stiff frame relaxed, tears flowing freely.

"You didn't let me go through it alone," he said, "And I won't let you."

They sat in the embrace while the wall clocked ticked away. Jim withdrew.

"You're a good man, Jim. Lisa was right to fall in love with you."

"I'd like to think that was a little bit my fault." He said, giving a sad smile.

He stood.

"Let me get you some water." He said.

He snatched a cup from the kitchen then moved into the bathroom. He rifled briefly through the medicine cabinet finding some ibuprofen and filled the glass. He passed, seeing Lisa standing in front of the bedroom door. It was unnerving that she was lurking like this, and it brought a chill each time he saw the shadow out of the corner of his eye.

He handed the medicine and water to Janice. She took the medicine then drained the glass.

"You're going to be dehydrated." He said, standing to refill the glass again.

"No. Stay," She said, resting her hand on his arm, "Please sit."

He looked down at her, his heart ached with her expression, it was a reflection of him. He wondered why she was so distraught. They had somehow defeated death, but that didn't seem to matter to her. She's lost her best friend.

"I want to speak to you of Lisa," She said, "We knew she was special from the moment Sarah brought her home. She was born out of wedlock and her father was both dangerous and solitary. Sarah had come here to hide her daughter and herself."

"Rachael and I, we took care of Lisa while Sarah found work. I couldn't understand why she wanted to be away as much as she did, but it was clear that she never saw herself as a mother. However, that gave Rachael and I a chance that we would never have for ourselves." Janice smiled at the memory.

"Lisa was that, and we raised her like we would have raised our own. I like to think we helped get her where she was, maybe even helped get her to you."

Jim swallowed, fighting the lump in his throat.

"She was her own. She was always been a force to be reckoned with." He said.

Janice smiled at his words.

"Her mother's indomitable will tempered by kindness, love, and a caring home." Janice said, "I hope that was us. But it's also true that she left because of us."

She sighed.

"Our heartbreak was complete when news of our lovely Lisa..." She paused, her voice catching, "And it all happening so far away."

Jim understood why, now, but he held the thought close.

"Now, I am the last. Rachael gave up. And only I remain." She said, her eyes probing Jim's own, "Only Abigail and Daniel remain as the last of our blood."

His thoughts turned. He could see Abigail reaching toward Rachael. He turned his head, avoiding the memory.

"The gift you gave to Abigail. It was originally intended for Lisa, wasn't it."

It wasn't a question. He said it with a quiet ache.

Janice looked surprised, but did not speak.

Jim read the expression, understanding what it meant. He stood looking down on Janice.

"You should rest." He said, "And so should I."

He moved to the hallway.

"Jim. It wasn't supposed to be like this." Janice said, her eyes widening, a hint of panic creeping into her voice.

He turned to face her.

"Tomorrow we'll talk," he said, he felt a smolder of anger lending an edge his voice, "Then we can talk about what this means to my Abigail."

Jim turned down the hallway and turned the corner, struggling to hold the emotion back. He pushed through the door. He dropped to the bed and began to sob. Lisa's silhouette stood at the foot of the bed.

"Abigail will be fine." The shadow's voice whispered, her voice pitching uncharacteristically high.

The memory of his little girl replayed in his head again, seeing her help Rachael pass to the other side and he did not feel fine.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

What Remains, part 8

Jim sat in the driveway, listening to the ticking of the engine as it cooled. The shade of Lisa was still there, her silent company was both healing and unnerving. He was afraid she would slip away, again, but as often as he'd seen her.

It was almost eleven at night when they drove up, and they had sat for a moment longer, in silence, listening to the children breathe. He had the windows down and could feel the breezes picking up as the night cooled. The moon was near full, now, and it made the plains shimmer as the swaying grasses reflected the light.

He looked at the attic window, then noticed pale light coming from beyond the children's room.

"It's a little late for Janice and Rachael to be up." He said.

"I'm not sure. It is probably Rachael, she keeps odd hours." Lisa paused, "You did shake them up a bit. If you could help them calm down, it would mean a lot to me."

Jim nodded.

"I'll get the kids inside," he said.

He leaned into the car door and moved outside.

"Oh, that's just weird." Lisa's voice murmured from the front seat.

"What's weird?"

There was no response.

He looked through the window and Lisa had vanished. His brow furrowed and his heart sunk a little. Then he realized he should roll up the windows in case any bugs decided to make the car their home. He opened the door and the shade jumped as he sat in the seat.

"Oh! You're back."

"I didn't leave, you... disappeared."

He turned the key to start the car, then rolled up the windows.

"I disappeared? Huh."

He opened the door again and watched the shadow as he backed out of the car, there was a moment where the cohesion of her image started to blur and all he saw was the doll sitting in the seat. He moved back in and the darkness coalesced again.

She let out a yip as he moved back in.

"Now that is scary." She breathed, "What are you doing?"

He wasn't sure, but there was a tug in his memory that told him it made sense.

"I'll tell you about it when I make sense of it." He paused, "So, uh, is that you?"

He reached toward her, pressing his hand through her darkness, in response, she let a disconcerted grunt.

"Please don't do that." She said with aggravation, "I feel unreal enough as it is."

He gripped the doll and pulled back and Jim looked it over. On the back of the doll was a small stitched name.

"Lisa." He read in the moonlight.

They were silent for a moment.

"It's not a very good likeness, is it." She said quietly.

Jim shuddered as realization hit him.

"All of the dolls? All of them?" He pressed his hand to his heart, feeling its tempo throbbing in his temples.

"I had an interesting childhood." She said.

"You sure did a good job at not saying anything about it." He said, incredulous.

"Would it have made a difference? Being crazy doesn't really reel in the guys." She said, sullenly.

He nodded at that. The reasons why she left were coming together. It made him think of how this would also affect him.

"I'm afraid to take this out of the vehicle. Do you think you'll be OK?" He asked her.

"It was how I got in, wasn't it?" The shade shrugged against the moonlit backdrop and Jim responded in kind.

He tucked the doll under his arm and stepped out of the vehicle. He leaned in and picked up Daniel first. The boy stirred warmly against him as he moved through the night air and opened the front door. As soon as he stepped through the door and Lisa's shade appeared to meet him, standing uncomfortably by the stairway, but she said nothing.

Jim moved upstairs, and saw the light from the hallways, where the Aunts kept their room. Janice's head was up and looking into the darkness of the hall and Rachael was laying back in the bed, wearing her usual nightgown.

He moved quickly into the bedroom and laid Daniel down, the moved back down the hall to where Rachael lay.

"Is she OK?" He asked.

Janice dabbed at her eyes and looked up.

"She collapsed shortly after you left. She's resting now, but I'm worried for her."

He looked over her features, she seemed barely more than skin and bones. He'd noticed since the first day that she had an uncharacteristically waif-like build to her.

"Is she sick?" Jim asked.

Janice shrugged, but didn't elaborate.

"I have to go get Abigail, she's in the car. I'll be right back."

She nodded and turned back to her sister. There was a mix of emotions, but a sense of loss bubbled above them all.

He unbuckled Abigail from the seat. Her dark hair spilled over her skin and the freckles that splashed across her nose and cheeks and darkened more from playing in the sun. He breathed deeply and pulled the string of her necklace up until it lay he could look at it more closely.

Then slipped his hand around the stone and squeezed it. He waited for a moment, stroking the stone between his fingers, but he felt nothing untoward. He thought back to Adam, and how it nearly stopped his heart. Jim could almost believe it was coincidence, but, likely, there was more to it. He let the stone slip from his fingers and gathered Abigail from the seat.

Abigail stirred.

"Jim?"

The word sounded odd to Jim. He looked at her, concerned, the word sent a chill down his spine.

"Yes?"

"Rachael needs me." She said, leaning back and looking up at me.

The moonlight caught her eyes, and they appeared darker than her usual bright blue.

"What can you do for her?"

"Be there. That's all." She said, then pulled into me, snuggling under my chin.

Jim's nerves jangled as he pushed through the front door and carried her up the stairs. She struggled a little as they neared the top and he set her down. She turned, without looking back, and put her hand to her chest. She fingered the red stone unconsciously as she down the hall toward Janice and Rachael.

Janice cupped her hand over her nose and mouth and tears began to stream over her hand. She shook her head as she watched Abigail come close to the bed side.

"No. Not yet." Janice said, heartbreak trembling in her voice.

Jim turned at and sat at the top of the stairs, he turned and watched quietly from the darkness.

Abigail spoke, but barely above a whisper, and Janice began to sob. Jim's earlier chill coalescing into goosebumps and his hands began to shake.

She put her young hand over Janice's that leaned against the bed. She removed the necklace and put it into Rachael's hand and they held it together.

Rachael shuddered, her form tensing for a moment. Her eyes fluttered opened and her back arched, then she slowly settled back, her eyes closing as she sunk into her bed as if she were sleeping. Jim watched for a moment. Rachael's chest was now still.

There was silence until Janice's voice, sounding thin and reedy, began to wail.  She dropped to her knees at the foot of the bed, gripping the quiet Rachael's feet through the sheets that lay over her.

Abigail took the necklace, replaced it on her neck, then leaned into Janice, where they both shook with sobs together.

Tears filled Jim's eyes, but he wasn't sure if it was for the loss of Rachael.

It was now impeccably clear that whatever was in that room was not his daughter.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

What Remains, part 7

The sun was setting as they left the city limits. Thoughts flew through his mind. He tried to talk to Abigail, but she seethed with an intensity that made his skin crawl. His jaw tensed and he watched her in the rear view mirror. Daniel was concerned at first, but the activities of the day had worn him down and he was drawing slow, long breaths before long.

He kept trying to find words, something that would reach her, but didn't know where to start. He needed to talk to someone, and she was very, very far away. He felt like he was losing his little girl.

Lisa would talk to him.

He sighed.

"I'm terrified, Abby." He said, looking at her through the mirror, "I need you to explain this to me."

She folded her arms and looked out the window. There was a gloss to her eyes, she was nearly in tears, but she didn't budge.

He watched ahead as the light began to fade as they drove. Soon, Abigail's own breath matched Daniel's in rhythm. Jim glanced back again, he could just make out that Abigail's eyes were closed and her mouth slightly open as she leaned against the door.

Jim reached back and put his hand on her knee, squeezing it gently. He then reached behind the seat and did the same to Daniel. He bumped something on the way back, gripped it and looked at it. It was the doll the Aunts had sent along with Abigail.

"You want to ride with me, girl? You can take the front seat here." He said quietly, with a weary smile, "Maybe you'll talk to me?"

He positioned the doll in a sitting position. He was considering putting a seat belt on her, but felt that'd put everyone in more danger than the role play would be worth.

"It's just you and me." He said to the darkness.

"Just you and me." Lisa's voice repeated.

He caught his breath with surprise and the steering wheel wobbled.

"Steady, cowboy." She said carefully, "No point in having me die twice."

"Lisa. What the hell." Jim's eyes widened forward and his jaw clenched.

"C'mon, Jim. Language."

"They're asleep anyway," Jim hissed.

"Yes, which is good because we need to talk."

He grimaced, he flicked his eyes toward the passenger seat. The silhouette was there, but the glow of the dashboard didn't touch her. The fear from last night, the fear of seeing something he didn't want to, began to slowly subside, but it didn't stop him from trembling.

"OK, we need to talk. But first, how do I know I'm not going crazy?"

She chuckled dryly.

"Oh, there's no easy way to make sense of this. Hell, I didn't realize you'd be so flighty." She said, sounding disappointed.

"Language, Lisa." He said instinctively, "And you were always worse about that then I was."

"Your words."

Her response caught him off guard. Emotion was building in his chest with the banter. Tears began to fill his eyes, but he was smiling. He let out a sob-lined laugh.

"Oh, Lisa, I miss you. I miss you so much." He choked out the words, then ran his hand over his face, but the smile remained.

"Hey, stop it. I'm sitting right here."

There was humor in her voice, but it was also touched with emotion.

"Then, explain it. Because I lost you and I'm devastated and there's no coming back." He said, his smile fading.

She sighed, the sound coming through the darkness.

"I tried be subtle, but it just threw you off." She said, "So, this is the direct approach."

"That doesn't explain anything." Jim said, bemused.

"No, but it explains me. And I want you to know that I had no intention of hurting you and I'm sorry if I did."

Jim nodded. His emotional palette was painting with all the colors, leaving purple and brown puddles of chaos. He breathed deep, trying to arrange the incredulous with the implausible.

"No, you haven't. You didn't." He paused, "And ... I don't really know what to say."

There was a visible shrug against the moonlit plains outside of the car.

They sat in silence for a moment. Headlights from an oncoming car bathed the cab for a moment. Jim risked another look and saw that the light did not reflect.

"I know. It's weird." She said.

"Yet, you're doing it."

"Being it. Doing it is something else."

Jim suppressed a laugh.

"No, no. C'mon, Jim."

He could almost hear her rolling her eyes.

"No, being whatever this is, what I am. I literally have no idea how it works." She said, sounding exasperated, "There are times I can see you. I can, uh, for lack of a better word, manifest."

"Was that you in the barn?" Jim asked.

Silence.

"Lisa?"

"Oh, sorry, I was nodding."

"You were in the barn, and that was about an hour after I arrived. What do you remember?"

She let out an exasperated sound.

"OK, let me rephrase, I don't know why it works. But how it works...?" Her voice tapered off.

"But ... what?"

"Jim, maybe this is too quick."

"What do you mean?"

"Coming to terms with this reality, whatever this is." She sounded unsure, "I know how you are. You want to know everything, right now. I think we need to take our time with this."

Jim sighed and shook his head.

"The more I understand, the more I know," his head bobbed erratically as he searched for the words, "Perhaps the less crazy and less scared I'll feel?"

"But you might not like how this all works."

He contemplated that, then spoke.

"You'd only say that because there's something you know I wouldn't like about it."

"Yes and no," She said carefully, "And not for why you'd think."

"Wow, took the long road around that one?" He said, rolling his eyes.

"How about this," She said, letting the words hang as she mulled over the thought, "What would you consider 'evil'?"

"Did I hear air quotes in there?"

"Jim. Really. What do you consider evil?"

"Anything that intentionally hurts others," he thought for a moment, "And, uh, enjoys it?"

"Then, what do you think of when you think witches?"

Jim paused.

"Are your Aunts witches?"

"No... not as much."

"Then, what the hell, Lisa? Just say it."

"And you said I was bad."

"Just. Say. It." Jim said pointedly, getting frustrated.

"You read June's journal, right?"

"Yes, but only a little bit." He said with a shrug.

"You only needed to read a little of it."

"I'm not sure," Jim said, confused then thought of his walk, "Wait, is this that 'piece of them' thing."

"Yeah, what did you think about that?"

"Yes. Wait, you can't read my mind or anything, can you?"

There was silence, but he swore the shadow glowered at him.

"It's a no, then." He stated.

"No. I can't read your mind." She sighed heavily, "This is not a superpower."

He nodded and fell into quiet thought. She made a polite noise then spoke again.

"So, then, what did you think of that?" She asked, prodding.

"Well, I didn't think much of it at the time. At first I thought it was just oddly phrased. it was eerie. Then I remembered the lock of your hair." He swallowed hard and then continued, "And Missy's."

There was a moment of silence.

"I saw her." She said, emotion catching her again, "Missy. She's beautiful."

Jim grip on the steering wheel tensed again.

"Sweetie, this is why we should probably ease into this." She spoke after a moment, filling the silence.

"So, you're saying your Aunts have something to do with you being here. They're not witches but they know how to do this. Whatever this is."

"Pretty much." She said simply.

He looked in the back seat again. Abigail sat, listening, she glanced up at the review mirror meeting his eyes. Jim's eyes widened with panic.

"They knew before you did." Lisa said, "The children. Well, not exactly before, but they had accepted it and weren't nearly as distraught as you were when I visited them. Probably one of those drawbacks of being old."

"Maybe we should take this slow, after all," Jim said with a sigh.

"I know it's against your very nature, but it might be best we did." She said softly, "I don't want to lose you again."

He nodded, his chest tightening with her words. He reached over and put his hand tentatively out to hold Lisa's. There was a coolness that pooled around his skin, and he looked over with a pained expression, seeing his hand engulfed in the eddying darkness.

"I'm going to miss your touch." He said quietly, his heart slowly breaking.

"Me, too." She whispered.

Monday, June 26, 2017

What Remains, part 6

The entry of the store was a typical pawn shop. One wall with a wire mesh cage contained numerous firearms ranging from lever action 30/30 with highly intricate scrollwork to modern high impact plastic designs.

"Welcome to Wyoming." Jim said to himself with a chuckle.

He had a child holding each hand, Abigail looked up to him, then at the guns.

"That's a lot of guns." She said with a knowing nod.

"Don't I know it." Jim said.

He made a short laugh, then began to look around then got down to his children's level.

"OK, here's how it goes. You can look, but you can't touch. If you find something you like, come get me and we'll look at it," he said, letting go of their hands, "Got it?"

They both looked up at him shaking their heads, eyes wide.

"And, Daniel, I'm watching! The limit is five dollars for each of you." He called to them as they began to look through the long building.

A tall, whiplike man watched the exchange with a craggy smile. He leaned forward on the counter and looked up at Jim.

"Does that work?"

"Surprisingly well, actually. Set expectations, the rest will follow." Jim said, shrugging.

"It's an enterprising idea. Wish we all got here with a similar set of instructions. Maybe we'd do as well." The man said with a fatherly smile.

A moment passed and Jim watched the children track separately for a second then Abigail called out to Daniel and they both ooo'd and ahh'd at her discovery. I was suddenly wary, and gave the man a sidelong look.

The man waved his hand dismissively. He had long gray hair capped with white fringes. It looked like he wore a hat often, but now his hair just looked hat shaped. His eyebrows and mustache matched the long feathered hair, but his chin was bare and he had a button of a dimple right in the middle.

He was, quite possibly, the most manly looking man he'd seen in a very long time.

"I take it you aren't here for a gun." He said.

Without waiting for an answer, he moved from behind the gun counter and set across the store. Sweat dampened the shirt between his shoulder blades. The store was using cooled using an evaporative fan and was doing a passable job, but certain areas were warmer than others.

They reached the other counter, further back in the store. He beckoned Jim with a wave of his hand and moved to a glass case. He settled into the same forward lean, his hands on the metal edge of the display case.

"You just have that look about you." He said thoughtfully, then added, "And you looked at those guns with wonder, not need."

"Many people come in here needing a gun?" Jim asked.

"Not often, but sometimes. I have had most of those guns for a very long time and people usually work in trade, not cash." He said, nodding at the caged case, "I've had some of those guns before."

"Huh," Jim said, with a smile, "Like a library for guns?"

The man nodded, pointing a finger of agreement at Jim and said, "Exactly."

"Now these," he pointed at the case, "These are unique. No stone is the same."

Jim looked at the arranged stones. There were pebble sized rounded stones of turquoise, smooth cut agates, highly polished crystals, palm sized geodes that sparkled with purple and white. The display case was absolutely full of stunning treasures. Each price tag had Jim gulp slightly. The palm sized geodes, had a small tag showing one hundred and fifteen.

Abigail said something that set Daniel to giggling. I stood up and watched them for a moment. then turned back to the display case.

"Is that a bloodstone, right there?" Jim said, pointing to a polished green stone with flashes of red, "I don't usually see them with the red. I guess that's why they call them bloodstones?"

"Especially if you're color blind." The man said dryly.

Jim let out a surprise laugh. Then put his hand to his mouth, subduing his own mirth.

"This is an odd side business you have, here." Jim said, looking at the grizzled man, "A tad schizophrenic."

"You do what you know, then you do what you love. If you can do them both, you'll be a happy man." He said.

"And you love rocks."

He cringed a bit at the words.

"You can get rocks over at the gravel pit. These are stones." He said, "Pawn and Stone, after all. We just made the 'and' really small. The wife said it would be clever."

"And you agreed, I'm sure." Jim said with a smile.

"Oh yes, and you'd know why." He said, looking at my wedding ring.

A pang hit Jim's heart and stomach at the same time. The man looked at his eyes and saw the shift, but he didn't turn away or change the subject. He regarded Jim for a moment, then nodded.

The children giggled again, and it gave Jim an opportunity to seek them out. He felt vulnerable.

"What are you guys doing?"

They still giggled. Daniel was looking incredibly shy, but Abigail was pointing at a Zippo lighter with a topless girl on it. Then she looked up at him and silently mouthed the word, "Boobs!"

Jim ran his hand over his face, suppressing a laugh, then rolled his eyes.

"Come on, you need to see this." He said, "They have stones here."

They both followed him over and he positioned them in front of the counter. They were his own little counter-adult shields. He began to focus them in on the various stones in the case.

"See, that's a bloodstone." Jim said to Abigail, then turned to the man, "Sir?"

The man looked at Jim, incredulous.

"Name's Adam." He said, waving his hand in front of him, then chuckled to himself, "Heh. Sir."

"Hello Adam, anything you can tell me about this stone?" Jim said.

He lifted the jeweled necklace from Abigail and she yelped and grabbed at it. Her eyes were wide with panic.

"Honey, I'm just... letting him see it." He was fending of her hands snatching at the necklace, "Hey, stop, it's just..."

She howled, infuriated and thrashing. He got an arm around her and held her close until she stopped struggling. Her heart was racing under his grasp, and she panted, eyes fixed on it. He put the necklace on the counter out of reach of Abigail and nodded to Adam.

"He's just going to tell us what it is, honey," Jim said, exasperated and still holding her fast, "What's gotten into you?"

"Very pretty, very even coloring. It doesn't look like a stone, though. It looks organic, like amber, but, ya know, more red." He said.

Adam lifted a magnifying glass and slid a piece of white paper under it allowing the light to reflect through the stone. After looking at the edges and focusing on the core of it, he touched the stone.

In a heartbeat, the man drew his hand back with a jerk and let the magnifying glass clatter to the display case. He sat up, gulping for air and rubbing his hand where he'd touched Abigail's stone. He stared at it, beads of sweat springing up on his forehead. Jim's grip loosened on Abigail and she darted forward, snatching the stone from the counter and bolted to the front door. Daniel looked confused and called after her, then quickly followed her.

Jim watched his children leaving and looked to the shaken man. He could hear the door open and slam as Abigail ran out to the car.

"Wait, I need to talk to you. I need to..." Jim said, his head bobbed between his children and the man, then he bolted toward the exit.

He burst from the shop and ran out to the car. Abigail was wearing the necklace again, shaking, and then turned, scowling at her father. He felt his heart shudder with the look. Daniel made his way to the opposite door and got settled in his booster seat. Jim opened the driver side door, started the car, and cranked the air conditioner.

"Stay here," He said, gulping with a mounting fear, "Please, don't ... don't touch anything."

He ran back to the store. Adam had made his way to the front of the store. He stood by the door. Keys were in his hand. Jim pushed the door and the man held up his hand.

"I'm going to close up." He said.

Jim was dumbfounded.

"But I need to understand what's going on!" Jim shouted, then quickly backtracked, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I don't mean to yell."

The man shook his head slowly for a moment, looking introspective. He took a deep breath and checked his pulse briefly.

"Stones have power. You could say that each stone has a specialty." He said slowly, "Stones can pick up certain vibrations and patterns, some would even say that can store energy, or catch thoughts."

"What does any of that mean?" Jim said, his brow furrowed.

"Well, stones pick up the energy around it, but that doesn't only apply to stones. It can apply to old buildings, books, containers, things that have a certain structure, a place for energy to reside. While that isn't a stone, it's something with structure that I ... hadn't experienced before. Not sure what it is. But whatever it is, it's not for you, and definitely not for me. It's hers." He bobbed his head toward Abigail in the car.

Jim's shoulders slumped.

"I have a heart condition." Adam replied, "It isn't in the best shape, and that did a number on me. I know you have questions, but, son, I wouldn't have any good answers."

Jim slipped through the door.

"Good luck." Adam said, that melancholy touched his face again and he nodded.

The lock slid into place.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

What Remains, part 5

The bustle of the mornings activities were well underway when he finally walked in through the front door. Jim was on the ragged edge. An eerie pressure settle back on his shoulders as he walked through the door. The fear he'd been fighting all night had turned into a smolder of anger.

His eyes moved between the Aunts.

"I'm not sure what's going on here," his eyes were draw and his jaw flexed, "But I think you do."

"Jim, did you not sleep well?" Rachael spoke, stepping forward with a sincere look of concern.

"No. I did not."

"I'm sorry to hear that." Janice said with an edge, responding to my sharp response.

"I don't know what it is, but this feels like a trap," he said, after a moment, "It feels wrong."

Rachael swallowed hard, but Janice's face remained blank.

"I can't stay here. I... I need to go." He said, gruffly, "I'm taking the kids into town."

Rachael looked irrationally hurt while Janice looked almost hostile. She narrowed her eyes at Jim, but he returned a hard look as a challenge.

"C'mon kids," Jim said, trying to keep his tone light, "We're going to explore a bit and get some breakfast in town."

Daniel smiled, but Abigail hesitated. Turning toward the aunts. Janice nodded in response to the look. Jim suddenly felt a bone deep hurt, Abigail was in on it. He clenched his jaw then held a hand toward Abigail, beckoning.

Janice recovered, gaining her footing.

"You shouldn't explore without snacks," she said, her voice shifting to be more lively following Rachael's usual cadence, "Let's send you off with some water and perhaps some trail mix?"

"Why not?" Rachael tried to respond cheerily, but her guilelessness amplified her sudden pain.

Jim knew there was something going on, but felt it was all way above his head. Maybe Abigail could shed some light on what felt so wrong, since she seemed to be in on it. Perhaps this was what drove Lisa so far away? Something that seemed so perfect was a well framed manipulation.

Jim moved into the room where he'd slept and a chill ran over him. They must have thought he was still asleep or the bed would have been made. The leather journals were on the bedside table, too. He pulled out the cardboard box he'd brought the journals down with and secreted them away. He'd have to return them later.

He stepped out of the room and shut the door behind him. Rachael was in the far room of the hall, folding a blanket over and over again. She glanced his direction and their eyes met for a second. She looked back down to the blanket quickly, looking sheepish.

He took long steps into to the hallway, then turned left.

"C'mon kids. I am not going to ask twice. " Jim said loudly as he pushed through the front door.

Daniel teetered with a glass bottle full of water and a bag of granola. He had a small knapsack that they'd tossed on him, but hadn't managed to fill in the time. The boy looked adorable in the over sized bag. The thought softened Jim slightly, but anger flared up again as Abigail lagged at the door, likely being fed words by the aunts. It infuriated him.

She came out wielding nothing but a doll. Jim's brow furrowed. She had never even liked dolls. And she was too old to be carrying one. The aunts came to the door and waved briefly as he spun the car around and pulled away in the the early morning light.

The dirt road gave way to paved and soon they were cruising South down a two lane highway toward the town of Afton.

Miles passed before Jim started to feel a certain clarity set in. The tension drained from him and his hands held loosely to the steering wheel. He hadn't been aware of angry he was until he started recognizing the beauty around him. He began to point it out to the children, calling out birds, horses, and the frequent roadkill.

Daniel engaged, his eyes watching the endless march of fence poles flit past the cars. Abigail looked tense, her grip on the doll was suffocating and the red stone was just visible from under her shirt. She looked him in the eyes through the rear-view mirror, her facing holding an unreadable expression.

"Abigail?" I asked, "What's up?"

Her gaze didn't waver. She played a loose shrug.

"I just needed to be somewhere else," I said, with a pained smile, "I think I am beginning to understand how mom felt."

Abigail looked hurt, by that, "I like it there."

"I'm sure you do." I said, somberly, "I'm sure you do."

Mountains, fields, and the occasional passing car offered a distraction. There were dozens of ranches and small clusters of houses the lie just off the road. Some properties held a variety of gutted cars while others were neatly maintained farmhouses. Big agriculture business likely made being a local farmer unlikely. Most of what he was seeing, he expected, were likely people who had retired and continued as they saw fit.

The sun crested the mountains as they turned into the valley that overlooked the quaint town. Small clusters of houses gave way to industrial buildings and the speed limit began to drop as the same highway they came in on turned into the main street.

The first place that looked like a diner felt a bit more commercial than Jim was expecting and it left him feeling a touch dissatisfied. They ordered their food and he sipped at the coffee. Daniel was drawing on the place mat with a marker while Abigail avoided her father's gaze.

"What did they tell you, Abby?"

She shrugged again and Jim shook his head.

"That doesn't work for me. You need to tell me what's going on. I am tempted to call off this whole trip." He said, the heat coming back to his face.

Abigail was young, sure, but he'd talked to both of his kids like adults since they started to communicate. Daniel was still a bit early, but Abigail responded to challenges with a spirited tongue. He could see her working out what to say and waited patiently, sipping coffee.

"They want us to stay. They miss mom and they want to get to know us." Abigail said, with some struggle.

"I get that, but there's more going on. I can feel it pulling at me every time I walk into the house," he said, scrunching up his shoulders, then leaned his head forward, "And for some reason, I think you know. What is going on?"

There was a glimmer of fear in her eyes, her grip on the doll loosened. Then her eyes sparkled fiercely.

"They're afraid you're going to take us away from them." She said, her usual self now peeking through, "They have a gift for you, but it's a surprise and it won't be ready for another couple of days."

Jim's mouth drew into a tight line and he thought for a moment.

"I wish this secret didn't feel like something they were doing to me instead of something they are doing for me." He mused, mostly to himself.

Abigail nodded, she wore a weary look of consternation; a look that didn't fit her child's face.

"Two more days," Jim said, "Then we say our goodbyes."

At that point, he let it go, feeling that the decision was now a weight off of his shoulders.

Jim drove around the small town after they finished up at the diner. As they drove, he would use them as a way to gauge his own interest. Daniel would give a thumbs up or a thumbs down and Abigail relaxed and got in on the game, too. Everything was more fun when they were having fun, anyway.

Jim eyed a pawn shop, and nearly dismissed it until he saw that they had a large display of cut rocks and gemstones.

"You guys want to look at some pretty rocks?" Jim asked.

Both Abigail and Daniel gave an excited thumbs up.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

What Remains, part 4

Jim awoke with a start.

Something had touched his hand. He sat in the darkness for a moment, his heart pounding.  He looked around groggily, seeing the well kept room. It took him a moment to remember where he was. Moonlight pressed against the curtains and bathed the room a soft, blue light. He moved his hand and felt one of the leather bound journals, it must have slipped down and bumped his hand. With a calming breath, he reached for the light.

"Don't, Jim." Lisa's voice slid from the darkness, quiet and almost breathless.

He paused. His pulsed raced, with both mind and heart giving different suggestions. It took everything for him to return to his position, laying back against the pillows. He chanced a look and the silhouette was there, just like in years past. Her shadowing laying in bed, facing him in the darkness.

He took a deep breath and let it out, his voice shaking.

There was a warm, familiar chuckle.

"So dramatic. One of many things I was ... that I am fond of about you."

While it had been a statement, the thought ended like a question. It made the hair stand up on Jim's neck. He couldn't think of what to say, any words he attempted got caught in his throat.

"I'm new to this. I've seen it from your side. But this," She said, her voice thoughtful, "This is very strange. I'm not sure how it works."

He carefully pulled the journals from his lap and began setting them on the bedside as quietly as possible, wondering if the voice would fade or the apparition would disappear if he made a noise. There was no motion from the shadow, just her voice.

What would I see if could? Her lifeless with sunken eyes? Her emaciated form, ravaged by cancer?

His thoughts ran wild. They made him tremble again. Tears began to form in his eyes.

"Oh, no, Sweetie," she said, her voice suddenly caught with emotion, "I didn't meant to upset you. I thought it was time. I thought I could..."

Silence blanketed the room as he began to weep. To hear her voice was everything, but he couldn't comprehend what he was experiencing. It had been wonderful, but now the implications were unsettling. Talking to himself or, perhaps...

He wouldn't let himself complete the thought. He pressed his hand to his chest, trying to press out the grief that was driving this. He dared not look toward the sound of her voice. It cut him open every time he heard it.

After a moment of silence, he chanced a look back and the shadow was gone.

"Lisa." He whispered, then pressed his hands to his face.

Tears rolled over his fingers and scattered down his clothes. He had fallen asleep just after putting the children down for a nap. He rested on the comforter, his shoes and socks sat loosely by the bed.

Swallowing hard, he looked around again. None of the shadows looked out of place. He finally reached over and thumbed on the light. It hurt his eyes for a moment, but now everything was in focus. He swung his legs out and leaned over the bed, resting his right hand on his face.

Time passed as shuddering sobs rocked through him until they began to slowly subside. That pressure reset itself again. He wiped his hands down his face, feeling both heartbroken and frustrated.

Jim looked to the journals, trying to remember what he'd read. His head was full of thoughts, but he needed a distraction, a focal point to shake whatever had gripped him. He was well rested and doubt he could even attempt to sleep, much less what for his mind to spin yet another tale.

He put on his shoes and crept to the door. The floor creaked with each step, but not another soul in the house stirred. He pulled the door gently and a note fell from the door jamb.

You looked comfortable. Janice and I took care of the children. Rest well.

There was a artfully penned capital R at the bottom of the note. He rubbed his fingers across the paper and nodded, thankful. His eyes narrowed and he looked at the script R. It resembled the flowery A journal addressed to Abigail in the trunk upstairs. There was a twinge, but he couldn't understand why it unnerved him as it did.

He moved toward the kitchen then slipped out the back. The moon waxing, last night was the half moon. With the lack of light pollution in the area, it was surprisingly bright and he had no issues seeing the wide prairie around him. The stars were magnificent, he felt he could likely see just as clearly if the moon hadn't been out at all. He crunched down the drive to the road. Then paused to decide which way he would go. He turned North and began to walk.

It was an unconscious thing for him, to walk and think. Moments like these, he would collect his thoughts and walk for miles. All of his most important ideas had come from this exercise. Out here, it was a vastly different environment, but the process was the same. Crickets blended with the breezes. When the breezes lulled, the warmth from the surrounding land would rise up again. The world appeared calm; with everything drenched in the wholesome blue light from the moon.

Jim recalled what he'd read from June's journals. Reading through the diaries was difficult in many ways. Her education was thin, at best, making it difficult to grasp what she was saying. The dates were clear, however. A series of dates from the 1850s dotted a few of the more comprehensible pages.

The first of the numbers were when she had immigrated from England with her family. There were some other dates with month and year that were associated with names. It was some time before Jim realized that these were death dates. There were state names scribbled in, which took some time sounding out. Illinois being the most difficult to decipher.

June's writing became clearer, more thought out just after this. She began to write complete thoughts and her spelling became better. There were descriptions of the days activities and, while brief, notes on her disposition. A man entered her writings, his name was Roane, then a child, then both were lost. She went through a dark time, writing infrequent and anguished entries.

Jim sighed, and stopped walking. It fallen in line with Lisa's own experience. She'd been terrified after Missy died, clingy and wanting. It was disconcerting, since Lisa was so very independent then immediately wanting me closer, to stay home from business trips, and from driving long distances. It now made sense, like she had been curse with her family's own past.

And it made sense why she found old self after Abigail was born; then Daniel came along. It broke the past that held her in an icy grip. He nodded with the comprehension, feeling like he had worked out what he needed to. She had shrugged off June's legacy.

He felt he'd walked nearly three miles by then. He looked up at the moon on it's way to the horizon, then turned on his heel and began walking back the Aunts' house. Shadows flit by at the edges of his vision. The road itself seemed to churn and crawl at a distance and the motion deeply unsettled him. He was sure it was an artifact of the moonlight and the residual heat rising from the sun-baked ground, but he wasn't sure of much anymore.

June's sadness crept into him, though. She had mentioned keeping a piece of Roane and her lost daughter with her. The phrasing was odd and it brought an odd thought, but then he thought of the locks of hair that Lisa had placed in her own journal; one from Missy and one from herself. Jim thought about it and wondered if this had been a fixture in their family?

Jim always felt that loss was a fact of life. Whatever you gained, you eventually would lose. To him, it didn't make sense to hold all of this. Forgetting and being forgotten was just the way things were; life as he knew it. Death is what it is and, while you didn't have to like it, you had to accept it. For those before you, for those around you, and eventually for yourself. Fighting it was a fools errand, to say the least. But everyone had the ability to go gracefully and Jim was willing to take that for himself when the time came.

It was a hollow perspective as he wasn't a religious man. Yet he could see that satisfaction that came from belief in things that would persist past death. The hope of a continuous path where experiences were saved from the past and brought forward so that it would never be lost. Protecting the past from the future. Keeping experience from dissolving through hundreds, thousands, or millions of years.

From a long ways off, he saw a light on in the attic window. He turned down the drive to the house, the crunch of the rocks echoing distantly from the house. The light flickered like a candle and it made him shiver. It hadn't been there when he left, he was certain that he'd turned to look at the house when he walked away.

Was he certain? A flickering flame in that attic could spell trouble and he began to move more quickly toward the house.

Then the light went out and the window went dark.

He caught his breath and goosebumps rolled over his body. He stood, looking up at the window, then sat down in the dirt driveway next to his car. He watched, quietly, each disturbing thought danced in his mind, but he refused to acknowledge them.

Jim sat in the driveway until the sun began to lighten the sky.