Unexpected time

Lillie had all the time she wanted to read now, but it wasn’t how she wanted it. There is nothing but time to be had in the ICU waiting room. It was a good thing she’d brought her library book with her, but it wasn’t an accident. She always had a book with her. She’d even figured out how to read on her daily walks to visit James, just over 2 miles away. They lived off the main roads, so there wasn’t much traffic. It was easy to hold a book up in front of her and read while on the way. Of course, it slowed her down a little, so it took close to an hour to get there, but she didn’t mind. It was that much more time to read.

Her parents frowned on all her reading these days. They’d encouraged it when she was a child, even made a big to-do about her getting a library card of her own as soon as she could write her name. But now she was reading darker things, things they didn’t approve of. Long gone with the days of Junie B. Jones and Winnie the Pooh. Edward and Bella were more like it, or at least they were a few years ago. Aliens, zombies, conspiracy theories filled the bill these days. There was wasn’t much else for a young person to read anyway. It was either supernatural thrillers or ooey-gooey romance novels, and Lillie wouldn’t be caught dead reading one of those.

Of course, now wasn’t the best time to be reading an unusual book. Strangers shared the room with her, this strange room filled with dull grey lumpy armchairs and hard plastic tables covered with last year’s magazines. The only new magazines were medical ones, designed to make you worry about that slow healing spider bite or sell you some prescription drug you didn’t need. It didn’t take the other visitors long to run out of things to read, so they decided to make conversation. Anything was better than sitting still in silence, waiting and worrying until they were allowed back into visit their loved one, who was often too sick or too drugged up to noticed they were there.

“What you readin’?” The gruff boy asked Lillie, just loud enough to be heard, but not loud enough to have to pay attention to, she decided. Perhaps she could pretend she was deaf? Just because she was sitting in the same room as someone else didn’t mean she was obliged to chat. They may think it is rude of her to be silent, but she thought it was rude of them to not be. Surely he understood? Surely he could see she was reading – he’d asked about her book. So why would she want to talk? She was already in the middle of a good conversation with the characters in her book. She wasn’t interested in starting a new one with this person – this untried, untested character. He was probably dull. That was an easy guess based on the fact he didn’t think to have a book with him. Well, that and he was wearing denim pants and a flannel shirt. How boring! Plus she didn’t want to explain her book. Too many people judge you based on the books you read. She’d taken to bringing safe books with her when she had to go to her own doctor’s appointments.

But this was different. She was here for James, not herself. He called her late at night, saying his stomach hurt. It had to be bad if he was telling anybody about it. He said his parents were on their way to pick her up so she could stay with him in the hospital if needs be. They both were too busy to take time off from work for something as inconsequential as sickness. They didn’t even take off when they were sick, so they certainly wouldn’t for their son. Lillie was ready before she’d even gotten off the phone. She always was ready. It was part practicality and part preparedness.
Sure, everybody should have a go-bag in the event of a natural (or man-made) disaster. But Lillie’s life was a disaster. She never knew where she was going to have to go from day to day. Mom sometimes picked her up from school and took her home. Dad sometimes told her to walk to his girlfriend’s house. Sometimes she took the bus. Sometime she stayed after school to work on her homework rather than risk her books getting damaged at home. Sometime she slept at school, around the back, under the pine tree. Nobody seemed to notice her or keep track of where she was. It was better to have whatever she might need in her backpack at all times, just in case.

She always wore the same kind of clothes so nobody ever noticed that she didn’t go home every day. She’d been irritated when the school shifted over to a school uniform, but soon saw the advantage of it – nobody would notice her. Her parents were pleased because black wasn’t on the list of approved colors. She soon learned that she didn’t have to wear black to express how she felt. Angry and lost and frustrated could be expressed even in a khaki skirt and light-blue collared shirt. Seething wasn’t limited to black.

James was sick and the doctors didn’t know how or why or what. Not like they cared about the why, not really. All they were interested in was naming the symptoms and treating them, not the reasons for them. But his symptoms were troubling. High fever. Pain on his left side. Sensitive to light. His blood was full of antibodies, so there was some infection somewhere. The doctors told Lillie everything they learned. James’s parents had said it was okay. Sure, there probably should’ve been forms to sign for it, but this wasn’t the first time the doctors had treated him. They knew how hands-off his parents were, and how devoted Lillie was.

But since they didn’t know anything, it was time for Lillie to consult her sources. Others in her group would use runes or crystal balls, but Lillie had long ago learned something better. Those were the kinds of tools that people noticed in the wrong kind of way, or they got lost, or taken. Lillie was all about simple and easy, so she used a book. No, nothing as complicated or obvious as a book of shadows. Her book was whatever she had in her hands at the moment. The dictionary would do in a pinch. Words were good, but sentences were better.

You just held the book in front of you, one hand on top and one on the bottom, draw in your energy, focus on your question, and open the book to a random page. Whatever was there was what you needed. Then you read whatever your eyes fell upon. If you needed more insight, then repeat until clarity comes. Sure, she had to read between the lines a little sometimes. But meanwhile it just looked like you were reading a book.

The only problem right now was this book wasn’t exactly safe to have out in public. Sure it came from the library, but it still was going to raise some eyebrows here in the Bible Belt. The title was “Blood Infernal”. If the title didn’t draw attention, but the cover certainly would. Bright red, like fresh spilled blood, with a profile of a crow. Perhaps it was perching on a gravestone? Or maybe a skull? It looked like a satanic book for sure, but that was all most were likely to see. They wouldn’t take the time to learn it was about the Holy Grail, and banishing the forces of darkness back from whence they came.

Most folks who would judge a book by its cover would do the same to a person. Decide she is damned, and turn away. Little did they realize that those such people with the very ones who needed their friendship the most. Perhaps they didn’t read the part that said a doctor heals the sick, not the well. Jesus had sharp words for anyone who thought they had it all figured out. Lillie knew this, but most folks wouldn’t think she would. They’d judged her just like they were told they shouldn’t. Maybe if they spent more time reading the Good Book instead of thumping it, they’d know better.

It was time for Lillie to consult her book. First flip. Her eyes lit upon a passage about blood. Another flip, also about blood. Well that was to be expected, being the subject and all. But maybe it wasn’t a mistake. Maybe he had an infection in his blood, maybe the blood itself was damaged somehow. But how? He’d not done anything unusual recently, hadn’t needed a transfusion. But wait! He donated blood, specifically plasma. It was a simple way to earn money when times were tight. Go to the clinic in the strip mall in Madison, fill out some forms, hang out for an hour and a half and get paid about $30 twice a week. It wasn’t enough to pay bills like a car payment or rent, but it was something, and after all, he was saving lives doing it. At least that was what all the brochures said.

Maybe something bad happened. Maybe his red blood cells got mixed up with someone else’s. Lillie dipped further and the next sentence talked about jealousy and unrequited love. Maybe the tech had a crush on him and was mad that he did not return the interest. Some people heard “I have a girlfriend” (or wife) to mean “try harder”. To them, having a partner meant you were good enough for somebody. It meant you’d passed some sort of test. Those kinds of people weren’t interested in people who were single. They figured there had to be something wrong with them. Of course, they didn’t figure on the raw truth that if you could be enticed away from who you were dating to date them, the same could happen again. Cheating was contagious.

Maybe the tech had put a hex on him? She’d have to go to the clinic to find out. She gathered up her things – water bottle, energy bar, book and journal with various pens – the standard hospital kit, checked with the nurses in the unit and hailed a cab. James wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and the doctors weren’t likely to discover how to cure him where they were looking. This kind of sickness doesn’t show up on a lab test, but it affects you just the same.

Lillie knew that all too often doctors look for symptoms and not causes. They treat the infection with antibiotics but not look for the source. This was like the insanity of rebuilding your house every five years when you live in a hurricane zone. Best to avoid the problem and live somewhere else. Or perhaps it was like putting a Band-Aid on an amputated arm – it just wasn’t enough. The people live like this, unwilling or unable to notice cause-and-effect. Perhaps they thought they were being polite. Like how it is considered rude to point out the obvious. Lillie’s Dad had died that way. 20 years of smoking and he had a bad cough. The doctor gave him cough medicine, meanwhile not even discussing the need to quit smoking. It was palliative care trying to soothe, to silence. It wasn’t helpful, or healing. It wasn’t directly harmful, sure, but it was certainly neglect of due diligence.

Lillie knew that now was the best time to go to the clinic because she was going. It had taken years of prayer practice to align her actions with God’s, but once she found the spot, she knew it. No more acting too soon or too late. Now she waited patiently upon the Lord and acted in the right time and in the right way. She no longer worried about having the right supply with her or having the right training. When she was walking in Christ’s footprints, she always had and knew what she needed.

James didn’t understand this way of being, no, not at all. He trusted only what he had control over, what he could do to affect the situation. Once left in other’s hands, who knew what would happen? He was used to being lied to, either intentionally or not. People made promises and broke them all the time. In fact, this was the one thing he could count on – that he couldn’t trust others. They’d proven it to him over and over. He wondered whether they knew they were lying to him, or was it simply the case that they were lying to themselves? Self-delusion was a horrible trap. It was better to have someone intentionally be deceitful. At least that way they knew what they were doing. It was bad, sure, but it wasn’t mindless. The mindlessness of self-delusion, of not being aware of your own actions and impulses, would lead to a wasted life. Socrates was right when he said “The unexamined life is not worth living”.

Lillie loved him anyway, and prayed for him that he might awaken. This constant reacting instead of acting was going to get him stuck in a corner he couldn’t get out of within a few years. Failing to plan ahead and having to be rescued with standard operating procedure for a teenager, and somewhat acceptable for someone in their early 20s, but certainly not OK for someone who was 45, for instance. He wasn’t there yet, but if he didn’t take care he’d be there soon enough. Meanwhile, she tried to help when she could but otherwise stayed out of the way. Picking up his messes would only cause harm to both of them. If she kept rescuing him, he would never learn to plan better because he would never had to fully experience the chaos that he created for himself. Pain is an excellent teacher, after all. To clean up after people all the time cheats them of the valuable lesson of learning how to avoid making that mess in the first place.

An Autumn Wander

Did you know that you can go on a Wander without even leaving your home?  Wandering is something that is internal, not external.  Plenty of people go on walks that aren’t Wanders.   They go to get somewhere, or something.  They walk just for exercise, or to catch the bus for school or work, or to visit a friend who lives up the street.  But Wanders are different.

b42e2129cd319834b272b5eb4548d216

You Wander when you don’t have a particular place to go, or even a direction.

b70810a945f81ee1abd210fafbe6ad1c

Your heart leads you – not a map or a compass.

67181444f770835a0e00a40fd191ab95

Turning and returning is the same.  You aren’t in a hurry.  You don’t need to rush.

3cd167a7ec1ffcdd60f45e39cb03d63e

Slowing down, we can take the time to really see what is there – not what we think is there.

4abfa2d29c2897d18ebbf861076975db

Slowing down, we can feel with all our senses.  We can smell the leaves. We can touch the flowers.  We can delight in the many colors our eyes notice.  We can hear all that is around us.

0b66f2776d3cc13f731b4397fc287919

Perhaps more importantly, when we slow down, we can finally hear all that is within us.

e88363b071619747f3294309c05f178e

“Solvitur Ambulando” – “It is solved by walking.” – said Diogenes. Thoreau repeated it.  Walking solves a lot of things that concern us – inside and out.

a37cf9c85664975cf3660c8f21f70899

But be sure to walk slowly.  Savor.  Saunter.  Amble.  Mosey.  Don’t be in a hurry, or you’ll miss the whole point of the walk.

b25fa2ba67f60f2405623f77b5727e64

Just go.  Trust.  Be out in the wilderness of your heart.  Know that you are safe, wherever you are.  Listen to the still small voice inside.  It will never lead you astray.

edb7cfc87f78c431104e97ff8bba6329

So many of us have forgotten the sound of our own voice. So many of us have forgotten who we are.

1d047437ea93377e934a56bd5586020e

There is hope!   You aren’t lost.  Your voice is quietly waiting for you to seek it again.

c267210d3b7eb9f4890c4df7c93783f9

On your Wander, you can practice being You again – the You that got forgotten, or ignored, or pushed aside for the rest of the world.

7ba5349f93bdfa85403151be4cd58f7d

On a Wander, you finally have the time and space to be the person you’ve always wanted to be – Yourself.

650f2c1a615d5ee99e424f0606050e62

(All photos are from Pinterest, and are copyright to their respective owners.)

Alien Walkers (short story)

All the ones who survived had learned to incarnate. There was no way to relay this information back – the signal wouldn’t cross the membrane barrier. It was sink or swim as best you could. It was a sure way to weed out the ones who couldn’t adapt quickly.

It was an ugly way to go for those who couldn’t shift, who wouldn’t, who didn’t know how or didn’t think to. Their thin gray bodies desiccated in the Terran environment, reducing them to wrinkled bags of flexible chiton in a matter of hours. Or the crushing gravity pulled Them down, rendering Them unable to move, unable to find enough nutrients to support Their hummingbird-like metabolism. Their silica-based skeletal structure was too flimsy for this planet, so much larger than Their own, with so much more gravity. Or Their eyes, large and round like ostrich eggs, black as a waterless well, were quickly blinded by the intense rays of a sun three times larger than Their own. The natives who saw one of Them as They truly appeared were either seeing one who’d just arrived or as a thought hologram.

They’d had some preliminary forays the safest way possible (for Them) over the years using that technology. Why bother with a true hologram which required a transmitter to be physically present, when the same information could be simply beamed directly into the brains of the intended audience? Getting the signal right had taken quite some time. Too many otherwise sane people had been reduced to drooling idiots after they saw one of Them this way. They all had to be institutionalized, blathering on about aliens contacting them. These were the ones who had money, or relatives with money, of course. The rest shuffled off the chains of modern life and took to living in shacks they made out of cardboard and adopting mangy rats as pets. Fortunately they didn’t know the difference. To them, the rats looked like the pets they had abandoned when they went walkabout.

Some of the early visitors chose to “walk” into those unfortunates after the fact. They were like abandoned cars – all shell and no spark. The visitors were taking advantage of their loss. Best not to leave a good vessel to waste. Sure, the person was alive, after a fashion, but it was no life worth living. There was no return trip from the place their mind had gone. Back where the visitors came from it was considered a mercy to not let a friend or family member continue in such an empty existence. There, early termination was normal. Perhaps the soul / body match was off. Perhaps it was the wrong timeline to incarnate in. Better to nip it in the bud before it grew into an ugly weed with thorns and rotting fruit. There just wasn’t space, money, or time for that kind of indulgence.

As a result, there was no homelessness, no poverty, no addictions of any kind where They came from. No pandering, no excuses, and certainly no jails. One example of self-or-other harm was enough. There was never a second. If the citizen didn’t realize their misalignment, others close to them did and took care of matters for them. There were EVAC tubes in every town hall for just such occasions. The soul was released, the body pulverized and scattered, returning the elements to the land from whence they came. Prayers were said, rituals performed. Within a month and a half the soul had found another body to incarnate in to try again. During that between time the souls attended a sort of rehabilitation school, and because they weren’t stuck in a body, they didn’t have to sleep, eat, or work to keep it from falling apart, so school was continuous

Everyone on the planet had been through this process countless times. It was what you did. Rather than suffer through an ill-fitting soul / body match for the duration of the life expectancy of the body, just try again.

After the first few visitors traveled bodily to earth and had such difficult transitions, They learned. The ones who survived took the closest body They could, be it eagle, skunk, or human. It didn’t matter as long as it was mobile. A few had “walked” into cacti or trees and found they were stuck. Not only could They not locate others (either of Their kind or local), but They also couldn’t leave Their new vessels like They were used to. There were no EVAC units here, and once They tapped into the collective unconsciousness of Their hosts, They learned it wouldn’t ever be likely to be an option here. Locals preferred to tough it out or make the best of a bad situation. They held on for the sake of holding on, not realizing that path was full of unnecessary suffering.

The visitors soon learned the religious stories of the objects of Their study. Several had discussed reincarnation. One even had as a central figure a man who had reincarnated in an unheard-of three days – but he had said that he was the heir of the sovereign deity of that region. Perhaps he was more advanced due to his lineage and didn’t need as much rehabilitation as Their souls did. It had long been suspected that certain bloodlines ran more true, but on Their planet, admission to these families was by merit, not by lottery like all the rest.

But then Their planet started to get full. There weren’t enough new bodies being created to fill the need for souls to inhabit. As a collective, the citizens had realized the need to maintain green space. For a long time They had treated undeveloped land as “scrub”, not understanding that the plants cooled the planet and made it possible for them to breathe. Once they understood, they intentionally chose to limit how many citizens could reside in an area and also required everyone to plant a garden to produce their own food as a permanent solution.

Once they all realized the dire dilemma that was facing them, all citizens chose to limit themselves to only one offspring per couple. Singles who were already celibate became so, and partners negotiated who was going to be sterilized if they’d already reached their quota. It was simple, really, and it made sense until there was no place for the spirits to return to.

Some started beaming directly to earth to incarnate. Very few souls wanted to stay in the null-space that was the existence after being dis-incarnated. It is uncertain who introduced the idea to who, but the Catholic Church referred to that space as purgatory. It wasn’t quite enough of a word, but it was close. It wasn’t Nirvana as the Buddhists called the next level on, the one where you had learned all you wanted to learn and became one with the All That Is. Nor was it as milquetoast as Limbo. It was a bit like reform school, or rehab, or where you took your car to get the dents hammered out after an accident. It wasn’t a place you wanted to stay at for long.

There were difficulties with the first downloads, as would be expected. The natives had to invent new words to express what was going on. The Germans came up with “doppelgänger”, the Vikings with “berserker” when adults were taken over. In England the word “changeling” was used to indicate a child who had been swapped. Perhaps “possessed” was the right word in all these cases, as the soul of the original occupant of the body remained but was suppressed. It was as if They were carjackers, who instead of stealing the car while it was parked outside of Walmart, took it at a stoplight and threw the driver in the trunk. It wasn’t ideal, and many of Them hesitated to do it, but They overcame Their reticence once They saw how backwards and unevolved the earthlings were. It was exactly the same as how the Europeans could justify the murder and eviction of the Native Americans. They were seen as less than animals, or even as animate beings. It is easy to oppress others when you don’t think of them as people, or even alive. They thought they were doing the inhabitants of favor.

But then there were individuals who were able to coexist with the visitors, those whose spirits were strong enough due to their own unique soul-work they had (fortuitously) done before the unexpected occupation of the “walk-ins”, or those who were naturally blessed with flexible minds. Rigidity of thought was a certain predictor of the occupation not going well for the original soul. Trying to maintain a sense of normalcy while suddenly living in a vastly more-dimensional world was tenuous at best for those who had never contemplated anything more involved than who to vote for on American idol.

In times past these people who adapted to an extra presence and sensory experience would have been called seers or prophets, but in a world suspicious of anything even seeming to refer to religion, they chose to remain quiet about it. Some would read the works of mystics from the past to develop words for their own understanding of what was happening to them. Some read science fiction for the same purpose, while some wrote it. It was an odd awareness, this other knowing, this extra way of feeling and seeing before and between and beyond. It was precognition, to be sure, but it was so much more. It was hearing sound after a lifetime of deafness. It was seeing a rainbow after being born colorblind. It was everything all at once and with no warning.

Most native souls retreated during the onslaught of sensation that was the norm for the visitors, the aliens, the occupiers, making it easy for them to control the body-vessel. Enough of random access memory remained after the upgrade for the visitor to integrate virtually seamlessly. Passwords were remembered, along with names of pets and friends and where their house was located. The more adept “walkers” made it seem like nothing had changed it all. The moment of the possession had seemed as unremarkable as the lights flickering when a storm was in the area. Out for a second while the transfer overlay happened, and then back to business as usual.

It was discovered that those who were able to not only endure but thrive during the overlay experience either had a lot of gold in them or on them. In some cases they had gold rings on their fingers or crowns on their teeth. Some naturally had gold in their bodies, the same as most people had copper or zinc. But gold, unlike these metals, wasn’t something you’d find in a multivitamin. Some had unknowingly obtained it by walking barefoot in the forest, while others had consumed a sample bottle of Goldschlager schnapps on a dare in college. However the reason, the gold worked as a conductor and a buffer, retaining the best of both personalities and enabling both to work peaceably together.

A watery resurrection

Marley awoke and there was water everywhere. Dark, murky water filled her mouth and lungs, but she didn’t need them anymore, because the same water filled her grave.

She’d resurrected the moment Jesus appeared in the sky overhead. Even though there was 6 feet of earth and well over 20 feet of water between her and the air, she still knew. She knew the same way Bradford pears knew it was time to bloom, when all at once, seemingly overnight, every one of them burst into shimmering snowflakes of petals, all over the city. How did they know? They just did, and scientists still couldn’t figure it out. But it made sense after all – scientists couldn’t measure the Spirit, and that was what was it work, both with the trees and with Marley.

She was lucky she’d been buried before “professionals” took over the laying out. When she died, her mother and her aunts had cared for her, just like they had done when she was born. They took her down to the creek, an arm of the Stones River, and washed her body. It was like a baptism she’d never had. She’d died at 11 in 1843 of diphtheria. One week she was fine, and then she got a sore throat that seemed to take over all of who she was. It weakened her heart and that was enough to send her out of this world. Little did her family know but if that disease hadn’t killed her, the strain of her having a child years later would have. Better to die now, with no obligations, nobody beholden to leave behind.

Her Granny had told her about Jesus, about his coming back, so this wasn’t a surprise. There’d been many quiet talks over the years while they quilted together or snapped beans out on the back porch for the evening meal. They were looking forward to next summer when the preacher came by to do the yearly baptizing in the creek to formally include her in the local congregation. Sure, she went to church, when she could, when she remembered, when there wasn’t something she had to do at the house. There were always chickens to feed or weeds to pull, and these things didn’t do themselves, as Marly’s Pa was always saying when she tried to put the chores off until later. “Best do them now, Marley girl, before something else comes up what wants tendin’.” He was right, of course, but all those “have to’s” took away from the “want to’s” and the creek needed swimming and the flowers needed picking and the insects needed catching in her mind. The days were positively filled with things to do that had nothing to do with chores, but there was no way of getting around to it all.

But Marley always kept the Sabbath in her heart all her days. She was a simple girl, never one to pry or gossip. All children start off good, the only problem is that the clever ones were a quick study on how to be bad. It took smarts to figure out ways around the rules, and Marley was lucky in that she never had cause to worry about that being a problem. Normally her days were filled with daydreaming about playing with her dolls, once the chores were done, of course. There was no school to go to, not for her, not for anybody in Old Jefferson. There weren’t enough families to pay for a building and a teacher, and there weren’t enough children to fill it. The nearest school was a three hour’s walk away and her family couldn’t spare her for that long with so many things to do around the homestead.

She knew it was time to rise from the grave, the same as if it had been school bell calling her. The call was silent but just as insistent, just as impossible to ignore. And why would she? Who would want to play hooky from heaven? She pushed against the rotten pine boards of the coffin, sending them swimming lazily to the side along with thick clumps of mud. It took her about 20 minutes to reach the surface, which in this case was the bottom of the lake. It didn’t take long after that to swim up to the air, but it was hard work, hard for muscles that hadn’t been used in over a century.

Why was the grave underwater, she mused? Where did the lake come from? Where was her house? For that matter, where was the rest of her family? Surely they’d be rising with her, but she saw none of them nearby. Perhaps they were buried elsewhere? She didn’t dare consider that they might still be in the ground, like iris bulbs that had gone mushy, with no spirit left in them to bloom reborn from the dark earth in which they were planted.

The Corps of Engineers had flooded the town of Old Jefferson late in 1966 to make a hydroelectric dam, big enough to bring clean, reliable power to them and half a dozen other little towns to boot. Only trouble was that the towns had to relocate to higher ground to benefit from that progress. Power doesn’t do you any good if your farm is at the bottom of a lake.

Moving the people and their livestock was hard enough, but then someone remembered the graves. There were hundreds of family cemeteries in the valley, often tucked away at the ends of farms, at the highest point, so that the well water wouldn’t be affected. Here the dead were laid to rest at the tops of hills in order to be closer to heaven. But with the water coming, all the dead had to be relocated the same as the people. It wasn’t an easy task – living relatives had to be located, permission forms had to be signed and notarized. Many of the dead were moved to the Mount Juliet cemetery, but some stayed right where they were laid to rest however long ago that was.

Sometimes the family had moved on or died out so they couldn’t be asked for permission. Otherwise, the remaining relatives decided it was more respectful to leave their loved ones alone after seeing some of the other graves exhumed. Plain pine boxes and fancy mahogany ones all rot the same after a few years under the pressure of 4 tons of dirt from a standard size grave. It was a hard sight to see, all those coffins being dug up and falling apart. It wasn’t respectful, to their mind. Better leave them where they were.

In Marly’s case, it was a little of both. The family had moved away not long after she had died, too distraught to live in the same place where their child had died. It didn’t make sense for her to go so young. Mama blamed herself for not taking better care of her, while Pa lamented that he’d not had enough money saved up to take her to the doctor, who might have been able to do some good for a change. They’d left rather than have to answer all those open questions hanging around like dead fruit. It didn’t solve the problems, of course, just pushed them off until later. Unanswered questions always have a way of not staying quiet.

The family had left the tending of their graveyard to the neighbors, who promised to keep the small plot mowed and free of trespassers of any kind. They assured her kin that they’d treat them like their own, and sent them off with sandwiches and a jug of fresh apple cider on moving day. In return they got the house and the farm signed over to them. Her family was ready to start again from scratch. They figured it was the only way to make up to Marly for letting her die the way they did.

When the time came to move that plot, the neighbors had said no, in part upset at the hullaballoo created by the other exhumations, and in part hopeful that the Corps would give up on their plans. They thought that if enough people left the dead where they were, the government would have to relent and let the living stay. They didn’t count on the fact that the government doesn’t have feelings.

It sure was a sight to see the dead come up out of the grey-green water that late August day. It was a Wednesday when it happened in Davidson County. The Rising had started a day earlier in Israel, and had traveled like a wave over the world, spending just as long in each area as the number of dead required. Some areas took longer than others. Some were full of the faithful. Some took barely a moment, in spite of the many thousands of graves there.

The Messiah appeared in the sky, exactly as promised, trailing clouds of glory. Signs and portents had pierced the skies for weeks beforehand, but only a few people heeded them. Likewise, dreams and visions occupied the nights and days of many people, but most wrote them off to stress and took another Xanax or drank some Nyquil. They complained about their insomnia on their Facebook pages, not taking notice of how many others were having the same experience.

It was a lot like when the first raindrops started to fall when the Flood happened. Nobody but Noah and his family thought it was going to keep on raining. It was a lot like when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed – all those people died, and only Lot and his daughters were mindful enough to leave. Noah, Lot, Joseph – they all heard the voice of God and took it seriously and lives were saved. Only those who took the messages seriously were saved.

This time, many preachers told their flocks to ignore the messages, because they hadn’t heard the voice themselves. Surely God would speak to them, they thought. Why would God waste God’s time on the sheep and forget the shepherd, they mused. The problem was that they forgot that Jesus was the Shepherd, and they were the same as their church members. They’d forgotten that they weren’t in charge of anything at all. When they’d decided to take up the role of minister and do all the talking, they’d given up the most important part of following God – listening. Only those who’d remained humble pastors were called this time to the great awakening. They were the ones who remembered Who was the One who was the true leader of the Church.

Marly was listening, that was for sure. She rose up, high in the sky, and was greeted personally by Jesus. She asked him how this could be since she wasn’t baptized, and he said that she’d been baptized with the only baptism that counted, the one of the Spirit. He told her that a water baptism is something people do, for show. It wasn’t real. It was a hope, a promise. It pointed towards the real thing, but it wasn’t it. It didn’t mean anything at all when it came to being saved. That was something between the person’s soul and the Spirit, the presence of God in the world.

Like called to like in that case, with the Spirit calling and the soul responding. Water wasn’t necessary, because the Spirit could use any element it wanted. An element from the Earth was helpful, because it was a sign to the body. The soul knew when it was recognized by the Spirit, when it was welcomed home. The body needed a little more convincing, however, so some sort of ceremony was needed to remind it. That was all baptism was, he said, a reminding, a remembering, a joining back together with the side that had been forgotten during childhood. We are created in heaven, in the Spirit, and as babies are still attached to that world. Marley, having never truly left it, didn’t have any work at all to do to be part of that world again as a soul in a body.

Many others had a lot more work to do, because being a soul in a body was distracting. It was so needy, the body, so demanding. It made them forget their commitments by replacing them with cravings. It provided daily (sometimes hourly) reminders that they couldn’t possibly survive in this world without constant and persistent re-turning towards the Light that is God.

Gerald’s big truck

Gerald got a Ford F-150 years back, and he was never the same. He had always been mild-mannered, meek even. Never spoke up at work or home, never insisted on his way. It wasn’t like he was content with his life, just complacent. He’d spoken his mind before but nobody paid him any heed, so he just quit trying.

All that changed when he got his truck. He wasn’t even looking for one. The lease had run out on his Chevy Malibu and he no longer needed a car with all that passenger space. The dealer noticed he was tall and suggested a truck. “This is just like the one I drive!” the dealer said as he steered him over to a huge red truck. “All the big strong guys drive trucks these days” he said with a slap on Gerald’s back.

Gerald didn’t like the slap or the big booming voice of the salesman, but he had never thought of himself as being big or strong, and he certainly wanted to make the salesman happy, even though he’d already forgotten his name. Two hours of paperwork and a test drive later and he was the owner of a brand-new pick-up truck and a five year loan at 3% interest.

It didn’t happen overnight. It wasn’t obvious at first. But over the first month, Gerald changed, and not for the better. It seemed better at first, sure. He was more confident, more self-assured. Something about sitting way up high in that all-American piece of machinery made him feel he could do anything. He’d never felt so bold or brave before. His confidence carried into the rest of his life, and he started telling people what he thought for a change. Since he’d had no practice at it before, he would state his mind and not wait to see if there was a rebuttal. He ran over other people in conversation, and before long he was cutting them off on the road as well.

No more mister nice guy, he was a truck owner now so he feared nothing and no one. Nobody could tell him he was wrong, and nobody could get in his way. He’d transformed from an inchworm into a snake and there was no turning back.

Molly under cover

JlnkreP
The Eames children could not bear to be without their mother. Simply losing sight of her would set one, and then all of the children to wailing. Even after she returned to the room it took a good solid ten minutes to assuage them. Really, it was a worrisome thing. You’d expect it from babies. They are so helpless. Their every need has to be taken care of by an adult, and often that was their mother. It stood to reason they’d think she was God. Plenty of adults acted the same way come to think of it. When everything started to go sideways they forgot themselves and made it worse with all their worrying.

Perhaps it was because the children were so close in age that it kept happening, the self-reinforcing feedback loop. The boys were only a year apart. For Molly Eames it felt like she was pregnant two years running. She had no intention to make it three so she simply told Mr. Eames that there would be no sex for year (at least) until she felt like going through that ordeal again.

She’s not expected marriage to be like this. Her mother, either out of modesty or meanness, never told her where babies came from, or more accurately how they were created in the first place. She was horrified to learn the secret and was incredulous at first. How is that possible? Much of her life was a mystery to her. Her parents were conservative on many fronts and had homeschooled her to keep her from being “infected by the disease of the world” as they so often informed her. It was for her own good, they said. It was like she was a time capsule, a frozen moment in a fictional time when everything was safe. Their greatest hope was that she’d be a beacon of light in the dark times they knew were soon to come.

Her lack of education chafed at her once she realized it. If she could get pregnant from something as simple as a part of her husband’s body, then what else could happen? What else had been hidden from her? After her first check up at the obstetrician she went straight to the library and got every book they had on biology. Three weeks later she returned them all and decided to start at the beginning of the nonfiction section and work her way through the entire collection.

She told no one in her family what she was doing, least of whom her husband. She even made sure that her library record was private when she got her card. She figured if her family had hidden important knowledge from her, then they must think she wasn’t worthy of it, or that it wasn’t worth their time to tell her. So it wasn’t worth her time to tell them otherwise.

Molly Eames couldn’t hold off from sex indefinitely, however. Her husband was becoming insufferable, as if he was a prisoner of war in his own home. If he’d to endure months of nausea, none of his clothes fitting, and even his fingers and feet swelling, not to mention the painful and embarrassing ordeal of actually giving birth, he might think differently. Ten minutes of fun wasn’t worth nine months of feeling possessed by an alien being.

Giving birth was the most difficult thing Molly had ever been through. It wasn’t joyful at all. She simply didn’t understand the chittering from her neighbors and friends who gushed about how wonderful it all was. Maybe they were lying. Maybe they were insane. Maybe the whole experience had turned them permanently crazy with no hope of recovery. The worst part wasn’t even the pain, which was so bad it created a whole new category of suffering. It became her new ten on the pain chart, a place formerly occupied by having her arm set without anesthesia at 12 after she fell out of a tree.

She never climbed a tree again after that. Just like with sex, the risk wasn’t worth the fun. It’s not like her husband was any good at it anyway. He called it “making love”, never “having sex” but it wasn’t lovely at all. It was sweaty and awkward and strange. Perhaps other people were used to being naked in front of others, but Molly wasn’t. There was nothing exciting about it. She was always trying to cover up with the sheets. She wasn’t trying to hide how she looked so much as not be cold. Her husband wasn’t much to look at either, and he only took a bath once a week, and then only if she insisted.

The “being naked” part of being an adult was a great shock. Her parts most certainly weren’t private when she had to go to for her checkups when she was pregnant but at least that was just the doctor. When she gave birth, it seemed like the whole hospital was staring at her nether regions. She briefly considered selling tickets to offset the bill.

Even though her two children were very clingy, she had agreed to produce three when they had that discussion. It was important to work out such things. Children or not, standard of living expected, minimum expectations of signs of affection – all of these needed to be negotiated before you said “I do”. Too many folks didn’t see marriage as the legal contract that it was, hoping love would right all wrongs and mend all wounds. Without clear agreements it caused more trouble than it cured. There was nothing to it except to do it, so she determined her most fertile time from some of the research she had done and had sex once more to provide her end of the contract. Better get it out of the way, like ripping a Band-Aid off. To prolong the suffering was pointless.

Walter Eames wanted a picture of the children, but not of his wife. He was sick of who she had become – no longer meek or mild. She seemed more confident, more aware. She certainly wasn’t the person he had married – someone he could push around all day long with nary a peep. Not like he thought he was pushy or manipulative, no, never. Being assertive and decisive had gotten him to where he was at work, but it was getting him nowhere at home. Debate and compromise weren’t part of his repertoire.

But there was no way to photograph them without her. The moment she would walk away from them, they’d set up a wail worse than a tornado siren. It was nonsense. She couldn’t even go to the bathroom without them pitching a fit. It was embarrassing to go out in public with his family, so he didn’t. Far from being a source of pride as he had expected before he got married, he now frequently left them at home and went out by himself. Even though he’d worked all day and she stayed home with the children (that one attempt at day care changed any plans they’d had of her working outside of the home), he was happy to spend even more time away. This was not turning out to be the life he’d planned as an adult.

So when it came time to get a portrait made, he had to get creative. His parents had asked to see the kids for years. He refused to make the six hour drive with her, and they were too frail to make the drive themselves. A portrait would have to do. He looked around the studio and his eyes landed on a backdrop. “That’ll do!” he exclaimed, and snatching it up, pushed his wife into the chair, dropped the fabric over her, arranged the kids around her, and ordered the photographer to snap away. Other than the sound of the shutter release, the room was silent. Nobody other than him could believe it was happening.

The Mungeon house

2

Very few people really knew where Mr. Mungeon lived. It wasn’t like it was a secret. It was just that his house wasn’t easy to get to.

You could drive to the address, that was easy enough. 216 W. Church St. was right in the middle of town, just off the town square. The Presbyterian church, the big one, the first one, made of substantial granite stones, weathered brown with all the years they’d seen, was just across the street. The house just simply wasn’t there, not as far as anyone could see.

Mr. Mungeon had lived there all his life, as had his parents before that, and their parents before that. They had moved to this town as soon as they’d saved up enough money after arriving by ocean liner from Romania. That trip had cost them all they had, scraped together over the years and added to in the last month before they left by selling all their furniture and most of their clothes. Not like they could have taken any of it on the ship. They were lucky they could take as much as they did, as everybody was subject to a weight restriction.

Mama and Papa were sure they could make the grade, but they weren’t sure all of their five children could. Every ounce counted. Once a week they weighed themselves and their belongings, all together, on the scale down at the local hardware store that served the farmers. Every week they had to pare back more, unsure what more they would have to give up the next week. Papa started exercising to lose weight. Mama cut her meals in half to do the same – not like she could afford to, stick thin as she was. After they had sold everything they could, it still was obvious that as a group they were over by 46 pounds. It was decided that the oldest child, their eight-year-old son Bogdam would stay back with his grandparents. There were tears of course, but it was for the best. If it wasn’t him, then two of the younger children would have to stay behind. He promised to be brave, promised to make his parents proud by working hard on the grandparent’s farm, promised to obey them as if they were his own parents. That was many years ago, but the effects of that separation were still felt.

After the family had endured the poking and prodding and paperwork at Ellis Island, along with all the other hundreds of newcomers searching for a new life, they stayed in the cheapest housing they could afford, tucked away in a narrow back alley, a warren of an immigrant neighborhood in New York. Papa Mungeon, Ionut by name, worked hard at the shipyard while his wife Beata took in laundry and watched other people’s children for a few pennies a day. It took them nearly 2 years to save up enough money to relocate.

All during that time they never mentioned Bogdam. It was as if he’d never existed. It was easier that way. In many ways he was dead to them because this trip had been one-way all along. Everyone knew it. “The American wake,” the Irish called it, mourning their living at the docks because they would never see them again. Letters were possible, of course, but they took months to travel across the sea. But it wasn’t as if anyone in the family could write, or read, for that matter. No, this way was for the best. A clean cut heals faster.

The house was perfect for the family when they finally saw it. Ionut had bought it on faith, having heard about it from another immigrant he met in the shipyards. Members of his family had already moved to this town, so far away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It took nearly a week of travel by rail to get to it, and after the sleeper cabin, not to mention the nearly 2 years of being packed like sardines on the fifth-floor walk-up apartment they had in New York, almost anything would have been an improvement. But this was palatial to them. Three bedrooms, a living room where they could all sit in chairs and visit at the same time, an actual kitchen, and even a bedroom with a real tub. It was a dream come true. Sure it needed some work. What would you expect for a house for $20,000? But Papa was good with his hands and had learned enough while working at the docks to do most of the work himself. You had to do a little of everything to get by.

The family history was well-known to the current Mr. Mungeon who occupied the house, all except the part about Bogdam. When there are many generations living in the same house year upon year, the history tends to stay intact along with the heirlooms. No need to pack up the fine china by putting plates, saucers and serving trays in a big pieces of brown butcher paper to prep them for a move when you stay put. No need to divide up the bedroom furniture among the grandchildren. No fights over who got the dining room table or the coveted rocking chair that Grandpa carved. It never left – any of it. They never had to buy housewarming gifts, never had to have going away parties. They never had to fool with undertakers or coffins either, because they created a cemetery in the backyard.

At every funeral they opened with a recitation of all the previously deceased members of the family, and that was when the problem started. Everything was fine until Bogdam died. Since they had omitted him for their story, they had no way of knowing their mistake. He died unnoticed, unremarked, all those many miles away in Romania. He was living alone by then, the grandparents having died years before. He kept up with the farm, same as he’d done since he moved there. Nobody in the village knew how to contact his family in America when someone finally went to check on him nearly a week later, so they buried him without any ceremony and went on with their lives.

The first funeral in the family in America after his death, there was a pause in the air, heavy and expectant, after they read the customary list of names. It was the same kind of pause a parent imposes while waiting for their child to say “thank you” after someone has bestowed a kindness upon them. Everyone felt it, but no one thought twice about it.

Until it happened again, eight years later.

Then, when Papa Ionut died, it was more present, more dense, as if silence can have presence, as if silence can take up space. It was as if there was someone else in the backyard with them, someone they had forgotten to invite.

Every year after that the presence grew heavier, denser, taking up space in an invisible yet present way. Every year it sought to make itself noticed and known to them. It focused on the bricks of the house itself. One by one it made them disappear to the eye. They were still present, still a part of the building. One by one they just weren’t there, but yet they were.

The spirit of Bogdam hoped that they would come to question it, wonder about this happening, wonder how something could be there and yet not be there at the same time. It hoped they would see it as a sign, or maybe an omen. What else was missing? What had they forgotten? Who was absent in their hearts? Secrets cannot stay that way for long. The burden is too great. They spring forth like jonquils, pushed up out of the ground all of a sudden one spring morning.

Yet they never noticed. The secret had been unspoken for so long it had stopped being a secret, had stopped being real to them. The memory of Bogdam had not been suppressed, so much as erased. It wasn’t even like a palimpsest – there was no trace of the former message. It wasn’t as if the page had been pulled out of the family records book. It was as if they had created a whole new book from scratch.

Over the years, the house had simply faded from sight. It wasn’t as if the walls were see-through, though. Anyone who went inside vanished from view as well. There was no trace of furniture at all. It was all there. It was simply that the house and anything inside it was not visible from the outside.

Because it happened so slowly, the family did not realize it had occurred. They rarely invited people over, so friends never mentioned anything was off about the family homestead. Because the furniture was still visible once the family members got inside, they never even suspected anything was wrong. It was as if their minds simply expected to see a house, so they did.

The mailbox and front steps near the street were still quite visible, so they still got mail. The postman had gotten used to it the same as they had, and since there was little turnover and nobody else ever bid on that route, the same postman served that street for nearly 25 years, the time it took for the house to fade from sight. By the time he retired, his son had taken over the route and he knew better than to question. Nobody bothered him at the house. Not children, not dogs. The mail was collected daily – it was never left to the vagaries of the weather. Who was he to question? They never seemed to order any parcels that needed to be signed for, so he never had to negotiate that potentially awkward situation. If he had, he would have discovered the house was just as real as it had always been. It was just as solid, just as present as ever. Just like Bogdam, who was still part of the family even though he was out of sight (and out of mind).