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.