The paint was peeling on the old doors, but there were no plans to fix it. In the eyes of the caretakers it was a sin to change things from the original. That was the paint that Ebenezer Crimmins put on those doors, lo, those 127 years ago. Yes, they knew exactly how long it had been. They kept track of all of that, and even more. Every tiny detail was documented and filed in triplicate for posterity. It wouldn’t do to have something forgotten.
Sure, they couldn’t see the pattern now, but they had faith that it would surface later. Everything made a pattern one way or another if you sorted it right. Sometimes it was the focus you put on it – duration, frequency, type. Sometimes it was interval – how much time between. They knew it had to surface somehow, but only with enough data and the right person or computer to do the sifting. But now was not the time. Now, nothing made sense except to save everything, change nothing. Who knew what would be the final clue to unlock the mystery? Not them, not yet. But they knew enough that some when, someone had to find the solution.
For shortly after old Ebenezer Crimmins painted that door marking the completion of the house, he disappeared. Not went away. Not was kidnapped. No, nothing as easy as that. Simply disappeared, as easy as you please, fading away to nothing as the paint dried on the doors. He put the paintbrush down and had begun to remove his paint spattered overalls and it just started happening. Passersby thought it was a trick of the light, being odd as it was on that late December day.
It was a rare sunny day, and warm for a change,
that December 20, the day before the solstice. The light was slantwise that
day, all shifty and strange. Most people didn’t take note of it, but Ebenezer
did. He didn’t trust it, no sir, but the door needed painting before the rains
came. It wouldn’t do to have the bare wood unprotected. All that work on the
house would be for naught if it wasn’t protected.
The house was like every other house in the village, small and squat. The walls were thick, made from the local clay, fired in a kiln built on site, purpose built just like for every house in the village. There was a kiln as part of every yard – they all stayed. Used to fire the bricks to make the house, then afterwards to make whatever pottery the residents needed. Some had small stoves built adjacent, to take advantage of the heat but not mix the materials. It wouldn’t do to get the clay mixed into the food.
All the houses were built by the community as a gift to the new inhabitants. They were not expected to construct their own house, or even to design it. Each house was made for the family in accordance with its needs and the prophecy determined for it. Manys the family of three that were surprised to move into a home with six bedrooms, only to discover they were more fertile than expected or in-law had to move in because of illness. Likewise, manys the family of eight that had to squeeze into a house with four bedrooms, only to discover tragedy came soon after.
For families were not allowed to move once they were in their own home. Once built, you were there for better or worse. Children could move away only upon marriage. There were no apartments, no dorms. Everyone lived with their family and never alone, even in the case of death. If a spouse died, the member returned to their homestead. Houses stayed in the family for generations, until the family died out or the house deteriorated. Sometimes the two happened at the same time.
But this tradition had come to be questioned by the very people it excluded. The loners, the misfits, those alienated from their family – they wanted to live apart rather than endure living together with people who didn’t understand them. Yet there was no place for them – not until this house. Constructed quietly, without council oversight, it had appeared almost overnight and remained empty, with no official resident listed. The villagers who built it had worked quietly, unofficially, and were known only to each other. Only Ebenezer would be public in his actions, finishing the paint job on that fateful day.
After 130 years, the villagers finally understood what had happened to him. He disappeared because they chose to not see him, to pretend that he was not doing this thing. It wasn’t planned. It wasn’t spoken aloud. They just looked away, out of embarrassment perhaps, or consternation. They didn’t know what to think about what he was doing, so they chose not to think about him at all.
So he disappeared, slowly but surely, and soon there was nothing left of him. Nobody ever stepped foot in that house, for fear the same would happened to them. Nobody ever tried to build another home for singles either.
It took all that time to develop a pattern to see, truly see, what had caused the disappearance. It would take a dozen more years to learn where, or rather when, Mr. Crimmins had gone. For he’d not just faded from their sight, he’d faded from their timeline. He’d gone nearly 150 years into the future, many times the normal period of reincarnation.
It took 49 days for Tibetans to reincarnate, which was a comfort in that culture. There was no need for a protracted grief. You knew your loved one was alive again, and soon. There was no need to wait for the resurrection – it was happening all the time. Mr. Crimmin’s culture had no such consolation. The resurrection happened just the same to them, but they didn’t know it. It wasn’t like anybody had ever come back and told them. Until now.
Because Mr. Ebenezer Crimmins came back, looking exactly as he did when he left. He got to pass go and collect $200. He won the game and lived to tell about it – really. He was so thankful the town had archived his life so he had proof he was who he said. Otherwise they might have locked them up or cast him out. Because that was what most cultures did to people who spoke truth that seemed better than they could believe.
A quick resurrection wasn’t what they wanted. They were programmed for death, and guilt, and waiting, and never seeing the other side any time soon. So they didn’t like the idea of this walking ghost, this man their grandparents knew, standing among them telling them it wasn’t like that at all. They didn’t have to fear death. They all would get a second chance, and a third, and a 27th. He might as well have told them that they didn’t have to worry about money, or sickness either.