A Halloween Story: Julie

Branches scratched at the window and the floorboards creaked.

The woman sighed and got out of bed.  She went through the house opening every door, searching every closet, looking under beds.  She got the flashlight and searched the cellar and the front porch.

She couldn’t find the baby.

Nearly every night she looked for the baby.  People suggested to her that what she was hearing was a cat in heat.  She told them, “No.  I don’t think so.”

The baby didn’t always cry.  Sometimes, she could hear it cooing.  Infrequently, the baby giggled in that sweet way that a child of four or five months will do.  Peals of laughter like angelic chimes.

Standing in the yard with her flashlight, she watched the October wind blow her nightgown around her legs.  It was warm for the season and she rolled up the sleeves of her nightgown.  She sat in the Adirondack chair on the porch, straining to try and figure out from what direction the baby’s faint cry was coming.

Robert had left because of the baby.  For thirty-two years, he told her it was her subconscious grieving for Julie.  “Myra, hun, I think you need to get some help with this.”  With that, he turned and walked out the door.

After she retired, she sometimes heard the baby during the day, but that didn’t happen often.  She kept the tv turned up too loud.

Robert had been gone for two weeks and three days.  She missed him.  She thought about his last words.

With the baby still crying, she opened the front door.   The baby’s cries were louder in the house.

Fishing around in the closet, she pulled out the phonebook.  She wondered how one went about choosing a psychiatrist.  She sipped hot tea while perusing the names.  She hoped one of them would jump out at her.

The tea was making her hotter and the list of doctors was frustrating her.  She returned to the front porch where it was cooler and the baby’s cries were softer.  It almost sounded like the child was trying to comfort itself – sobs interspersed with thumb-sucking sounds.

Myra walked down the front steps of the porch into the yard.  There was no moon and she had left the flashlight in the kitchen.

She found herself walking down the road to the cemetery.  “I should really go back and get the flashlight,” but she forged ahead.  It was only a mile or so.

At the cemetery, she quickly made her way to the three little tombstones all lined up in a row.  She couldn’t hear the baby crying amongst the ruffling leaves.  The wind was picking up, cooling the night and scattering clouds so that a waning moon lit her path.

She thought about that night.  She and Robert were preparing to go to sleep.  Robert went around checking to see that doors and windows were locked.  Myra straightened the kitchen before going upstairs to check on Julie one last time before crawling into bed.

Now that the baby was sleeping through the night, Myra wasn’t as tired, but found it difficult to sleep through the night herself.  She still found herself slipping into Julie’s nursery in the middle of the night to gaze at her.  She was perfect.  A little angel.  She never tired of watching the child sleep.

She stood in the doorway, hall light scattering across Julie’s nursery floor.  Something seemed wrong.  The room was too quiet.  Myra went to the crib and pulled the blanket up over Julie’s small body.  She was cold to the touch.

Robert found her rocking the baby, wrapping her in a blanket, trying to warm her.  Tears streaming down her face, she said, “She’s so cold.  If we can just warm her up.”  Crying himself, Robert took the baby from her looking for a breath, a pulse, a heartbeat.  It was the third child they had lost.  The other two had been stillborn.  Julie was the only one who had cried.

Myra sat down in front of the graves.  They had named the two who had never drawn breath Michael Paul and Lily Jeanne.  She traced their names on the small stones.  Tears begun to stream down her face.  A sound welled up from her inner core, the pain of three dead babies finding voice.  She keened.

Bent over with the sobs, she stretched out and lay among the leaves silencing herself.  She listened to her own heartbeat, calming. The leaves rustling.  The moon softly lighting all she could see.  For thirty-two years, she had not cried after that night.  She felt the tears stream down the side of her face as she gazed at the moon.

She heard the baby while the warmth seeped from her own body.  She closed her eyes.  The baby was babbling.  The baby was in her arms.  She was afraid to open her eyes.  Afraid there would be no baby.  Trying to draw warmth from the child, she held her close.

The baby struggled against being held too tight.  Myra opened her eyes and found herself staring at Julie.  Warm and pink.

Myra’s last words were, “There you are.  I’ve been looking for you.”

NOTE:  This post is part of Eric Douglas’s 2017 Halloween Short Story Collection.  Read more here

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Filed under January 2009, October 2017

Eclipse

He said he could hear the music of the spheres, and that Pythagoras got it wrong.  The music created by the movements of the sun, planets, and stars was not harmonious, but discordant and chaotic.  He said people were affected by the unheard music – the vibrations could be felt.  He said if you stand completely still, you can feel them buffeting your body.

I listened to him talk.

He had a pair of eclipse glasses and passed them from one hand to the other.  He told me the total eclipse of the sun would be different.  As the moon moved west to east to align with the sun, the music would then, and only then, achieve Pythagoras’s perfection.  Those that could feel the vibrations would now hear the Universe murmuring its love.

He was excited, and agitated, to be in the path of totality.  The moon will engulf a star many times its size and engulf the bruised people with the most perfect notes if they will only listen.  His voice rose even as he began to cry.  They must listen.

This, he said, is why we cannot look at it.  We must hear it, but first we must feel the vibrations.

He ripped his glasses in half and sobbed.

Why won’t they listen?

___________________________________

This is a piece of fiction written for the Going Dark:  Free Fiction for the Eclipse project.  Eric Douglas was kind enough to let me participate.  Other submissions can read at: http://www.booksbyeric.com/going-dark-free-fiction-eclipse/

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Filed under August 2017

Sunday Morning Gospel

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Filed under August 2017, January 2009

Sunday Morning Gospel

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Filed under August 2017, January 2009

Sunday Morning Gospel

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Filed under January 2009, July 2017

The 1972 Ford Galaxie

railroad crossingShe didn’t scream.  With preternatural calm, she said to her passenger, a young man of casual acquaintance, “We’re going to hit a train.”

It was 1 a.m., the time of day when the old folk of the world have been in bed for hours and the young are just getting started.

Only 19, she was part of the latter group.  Cold sober, she lost control of the car when it hit a patch of ice.  She had already been braking for the crossing train, foot off the accelerator, when the car went sideways.  She managed to straighten it out, but not stop.  It was an out-of-body experience as she watched the 1972 Ford Galaxie she was driving slide into a moving train.

It took the train ten minutes to stop.  A full ten minutes.  An eternity.  The car would hit the train, the train would drag it a bit, release and then the ice would push the car back into the train. Again and again, like a yo-yo in the hand of God.

Milwaukee winters are mean.

ford galaxie.jpgThe Galaxie was a trooper.  When others’ newer cars wouldn’t start in the dead of winter, the Galaxie would fire right up.  It had been her dad’s car and the one she had used to take her driving test.  Daddy gave it to her as a Christmas present just the year before.  The car had always been good to her.  It was her first accident and, in typical fashion, the Galaxie came through.  She was unscathed though the car was not.

Her door was stuck, but Jim’s opened easily enough.  They were standing in the frigid night of a Midwestern February trying to make sense of it all.  The sound of the train engineer talking on a two way radio wafted through the air as the railroad crossing lights continued to flash.

The first officer on the scene said to the woman, “I expected to have to scrape you out of this car with a spoon.”

milwaukeeShe inspected the car while the visibly shaken policeman wrote his report.  He would write for awhile and then ask, “Are you two sure you’re okay?  Should I call an ambulance?”  They both assured him they were fine even though Jim was bleeding from a small cut on his forehead.  He had been troubleshooting a malfunctioning 8-track player when the young woman announced the imminent collision.  The cassette tried, again and again, to change tracks, but Bob Seger remained silent.  Bent over, on the passenger side of the car, Jim’s forehead slammed into the stereo controls on the first impact.  He straightened up, wiped his forehead, and braced both arms on the dashboard as the car hit the train.  Again and again.

The front hood of the car was wrapped up and over the windshield.  The windshield was intact, but otherwise the front half of the car was destroyed though Seger was finally going to Katmandu.  She quietly whispered, “Damn.  I love this car.”

As he stamped his feet to keep the cold at bay, Jim thought he should put his arm around the woman while she inspected the totaled car, but she seemed in shock and he didn’t want to startle her.  He wrapped his arms around himself and bounced from one foot to the other, wiping his forehead again and again.  It was just a surface cut, but it wouldn’t stop bleeding.

The old folk of the neighborhood began turning on porch lights and peering out of windows as more police cars and a fire truck arrived.  More porch lights came on when the ambulance showed up, siren wailing. The train engineer had called for it.

She saw the tow truck pull up which is when the young woman walked to the closest house where an elderly woman in a bathrobe and curlers stood peering through the storm door.

“May I use your phone?” Agreeing, the woman led her to a rotary phone on the wall in the overly warm kitchen.   The young woman dialed the familiar number one digit at a time watching the dial go round again and again.  She unzipped her coat.  She waited a long number of rings before there was an answer on the other end of the line.

“Mama, I hit a train.  Can you come get me? They’re going to tow the Galaxie.”

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Filed under July 2017

Sunday Morning Gospel

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Filed under January 2009, July 2017