Dead Men Tell Tales: rough draft

 

Skeleton_of_Urizen_from_A_Small_Book_of_Designs,_object_13_(Bentley_136-13,_Butlin_260-13)

Art by William Blake.


Recommended for ages 13 and up for morbid subject matter and involving a child.

Spring, sunlight, fresh flowers. It’s a time when the sun reaches down its rays and thaws away the ice, banishing the winter. The earth is reborn again.

Elizabeth Fairweather loved the spring and she loved spending it at her grandma’s out in the countryside. Her father had just dropped her off at her grandma’s house, and Elizabeth was excited. Elizabeth, having recently turned eight, joyfully bounded out of her father’s pickup truck, youthful vigor driving her forward, her neon green and yellow sundress flapping like a blur of light, the straw hat on her head almost blowing off, to the front porch and into her grandma’s arms.

“Oh, how beautiful you are growing,” her grandma reached out an old withered hand to brush Elizabeth’s bright red hair, and to run her old fingers down a young freckled face, kissed by the sun. They were gentle hands. Hands that had toiled long and hard, sacrificing for a family she loved. Hands that comforted the sick when she was a nurse. Hands that held newborn infants and comforted new moms. Hands that had left their mark on the world for the better.

Grandma Fairweather held Elizabeth tightly, and Elizabeth sunk deep into her bosom. Two generations of Fairweathers bound together with an unbreakable bond. Grandma Fairweather often aid that Elizabeth was the splitting image of herself when she was a child, both in mannerisms and looks. Elizabeth often wanted to grow up to be like her grandmother, a strong, kindly woman.

“How are you doing, Lizzy, dear?” Grandma Fairweather stroked her hair.

“I’m doing great, Grand-mama,” said Elizabeth.

The pickup truck backed out of the dirt driveway as Elizabeth’s father waved her goodbye.

“Would you like some cookies and lemonade,” her grandma asked her.

“I’d rather have some cookies and milk, if it’s not too much trouble, Grand-mama.”

“Of course not, dear. You come inside and you make yourself comfortable.”

Elizabeth followed her grandma into what was more than just an old house, but a gateway to the past. Inside was an old rotary phone, still attached to a line, an old 1970s television set, 1970s and early 80s furniture, including an ugly beige couch, and old books crammed into bookshelves. And that was only the living room, where the walls were still covered in 1970s psychedelic flower-power, orange and red wall paper. In the kitchen was a wall oven and a stove top dating back from the 1960s.

“Can I help you at all, grand-mama?”

“No, you just relax, dear,” the old woman said. “I’ve got this taken care of.”

Elizabeth took a seat at the kitchen table as her grandma got the Tupperware full to the brim with cookies and a pitcher of cold lemonade out. In the middle of the table was a picture of her grandma and her grandpa when they were young, in their early 30s, back in the early 70s. They looked so content together, like they found a happiness that could last forever. He with his right arm over her shoulders. She leaning into him, her face against his chest as she smiled. Both of them dressed for their wedding. Aside from Grandma Fairweather, the old photos that were peppered around the house were Elizabeth’s favorite thing about this old home. The photos were everywhere, in frames hanging from the walls, in frames on bookcases, tables, and nightstands, even attached without frames to the fridge with magnets. In the living room, through the hall, in the bedrooms, and in the kitchen. Photos of old aunts and uncles who had passed, some of old age, some from a war. Photos of children and grandchildren. Some of vacations and some of family birthday parties. But all of them reminders of precious moments consigned to the past, of loved ones lost. Elizabeth knew that her grandma especially missed her husband grandpa Fairweather, who had died before Elizabeth was born.

Elizabeth’s grandma came back with a plate of cookies and a glass of lemonade. “If you want anymore, you just tell me.”

“Thank you so much,” Elizabeth said, a wide smile crossing her face as she voraciously consumed a cookie from her plate. Chocolate chip! Her favorite!

She looked up at her grandma who was smiling gently at her. Elizabeth liked to think that all the lines on her grandma’s face that moved in unison with her smile were left over smiles from so many years of joy. And those eyes, they didn’t look the least bit cloudy. They still shone bright, like they trapped the light of childhood. How Elizabeth loved her.

For the remainder of the morning and early afternoon, Elizabeth helped her grandma around the house, even though her grandma insisted that she didn’t have to. Of course, the chores, which weren’t backbreaking to begin with, were finished that much faster because of Elizabeth’s help. Until about 3 PM, she spent time talking with her grandma as they worked on putting together a puzzle. The two of them then played card games until dinner, in which Elizabeth helped her grandma. After dinner, it was bedtime.

Elizabeth was sleeping in the upstairs bedroom when she heard a tapping on the window near her bed. She rubbed her eyes and looked over at the window. She didn’t see anyone knocking on it. However, the moonlight illuminated the dead ok that was at the side of the house. One of the oak’s twisted branches was only a couple of feet away from Elizabeth’s window, and on it, glittering like black ebony under the moonlight, was a crow.

Caw, caw, caw, the crow said. Caw, caw, caw.

Elizabeth stared at the fowl. For some reason it made her uneasy. Caw, caw, caw, caw, kill, kill, kill. Elizabeth hid under her covers, hoping the bird would fly away.

When she looked out from the covers, the crow was gone. She chalked it up as just a bad dream before falling back to sleep.

The next day, Elizabeth went to town to shop with her grandma. When they got back at 3, she told her grandma that she wanted to go outside and explore nature. To this her grandma consented, but told her to stay close by, keeping her range within the fields and the meadows, and not to approach the tree line. Elizabeth happily agreed.

She ran outside, her legs carrying her to the hills behind her grandma’s house. The sun felt like love and warmth hugging her body, and a gentle breeze tempered what could have been unbearable heat. White dandelion petals were blown by the breeze, swirling through the air in a pattern like they were a flock of fairies. From atop the first hill, Elizabeth obtained a perfect view of the meadow and its hillsides covered in fresh grass dotted with yellow, red, and purple flowers. In the far distance, she could see the tree-line and the mountains. Elizabeth would honor Grandma Fairweather’s wishes to stay in the meadows. Though the mountains, their peaks still covered in snow, looked inviting.

Elizabeth ran and tumbled down the hills, not caring if her summer dress got torn or dirty. She was just happy to be outside among the flowers and under a sky of azure blue with clouds puffed up like white cotton candy. She picked some flowers from all the colors that the meadow offered and made herself a wreath for her head. It was something that her grandma had taught her, something that she had learned at some place called Woodstock. Come to think of it, she would make two flower crowns, one for her and one for grandma too. She was giggling while making the crowns when a big butterfly passed by, bright yellow with black stripes. Closer examination showed that there were numerous butterflies fluttering about, of all different colors. They were slating their thirst with the nectar from the flowers or they were flapping their wings in colorful unison in the air.

But it was the yellow and black striped one that locked onto Elizabeth’s eyes, catching her childlike wonder in its own net. It made her think of a flying tiger. And with that thought, she laughed at the absurdity of all it. Watch out, all you other butterflies. I’m a tiger with wings and I’m going to eat you. She decided to chase after the butterfly, grasping her crowns as she did so. She chased it over the hills. Those wings, they were hypnotizing her, pulling her like a puppet on strings. She had lost track of the time as she chased the butterfly over another hill, and another, and another.

At the top of one of the hill, Elizabeth lost her balance and she went tumbling down the small slope in front of her. It startled her but she was okay, though a bit dazed.

When she came to, she found she was still within the field of flowers. But that’s not all that was there.

The bright foliage couldn’t obscure the horror in front of her. Laying on her back, she learned as much when she reached her hand to her side and touched something that felt dry and brittle. She picked it up, initially with the idea that it was an odd shaped rock. Such was not the case. Bleached white, as though having laid to rest for years, were the intact bones of a hand, the finger bones perfectly attached to it. Elizabeth dropped them, her eyes widening and her heart thumping as she sat up.

Right beside her, nestled in the flowers, was an adult skeleton. Its rib caged was split open. In-between the separated ribs grew bright red flowers. There were sparse sections of the flowers where she could see a mangled and twisted spine. The right arm and hand bones, from the side she didn’t land by, were detached from the skeleton and spread about not far from each other. The pelvis was twisted, along with the lower spine, at an abnormal angle. The left leg bones were broken apart where the kneecap met, and the right leg wasn’t even there. It was as if it had been torn and taken out by some creature or someone.

But it was the skull that that Elizabeth found most unsettling. It stared up at her with hollow eyes. A face, if it could be called such, smiled at her sickly. There was a large crack running down the left side of the skull, down to near the jawbone. That smile, it was as though it was laughing at Elizabeth. And the eye sockets, despite being devoid of eyes, peered deep into her, peeling away the layers of her skin and flesh in order to reach her heart. In turn, she peered deep into those empty sockets, falling into them as though they were an eternal abyss.

Knot in her throat, she forced it down to ask the dead how he or she died. And she could swear the skull, though its mouth remained closed, was speaking to her. How did I die? Who’s to say? Maybe I died of old age, and some animals pulled my corpse apart. Maybe I was out walking in the wood nearby when a bear came out and mauled me. Or perhaps I was alone in my house when someone broke in, robbed me, and beat and chopped me up, only to dump my body out here. Then again, it could have been someone who just hit me with truck, and too ashamed to face the facts, took my mangled body out this pleasant meadow. Who knows? So many ways to die.

               Elizabeth, paralyzed with fear, was only able to scoot back on her bottom only a few spaces. Those empty eyes and that hideous grin held her. Oh, you’re so beautiful. So young, so naïve. Don’t get too comfortable, my pretty. Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It isn’t all love and laughter. That pretty red hair will gray. Your skin will wrinkle and sag. That’s if you’re lucky. Who’s to say you won’t be hit by a bus at school? The dice may be rolled landing on you getting struck by lightning. That’s not uncommon. Maybe fate will dictate that you will be killed by a rabid dog. Death might draw a card, the fool, in which you are foolish enough to choose the wrong man. A man who will kill you instead of love you. It matters not. Either way, the earth calls for you. It calls for all. And all must submit to the portal of the dead. This has fate decreed.

               Elizabeth felt a wind coming from in front of her. She looked up to see that the forest was only ten feet away from her. It didn’t look inviting in the least. The trees closed in together, the branches shuddered under the wind, and they groaned like they were giving homage to oncoming darkness. Was there something in the forest?

In answer to her question, the skeleton said, there is death everywhere.

Then, with a fluttering of wings, out from the right eye socket that same crow that Elizabeth saw the night before hopped out. And in a different voice than that of the skeleton, it said Caw, caw, caw… kill, before flapping its wings and flying off.

               Shocked, Elizabeth ran back up the hill. It was getting late. She could see the sun setting in the distance. Night quickly approaching. Thankfully, she could still see the home, though it looked so far from where she was.

With no time to spare, she ran as quickly as her little legs could carry her. The hills, which had once looked lush and green under the sunlight, were now dark under the coming nightfall. She had to get back.

And return to her home, she did. It was amazing at how rapidly Elizabeth was able to run.

She flung open the front door and rushed into the house, yelling “Grand-mama. Grandma-mama. Are you home? I’m sorry I’m late.”

No answer.

Elizabeth, heart thumping, blood flowing, sweat pouring down her locks of hair and staining her face and sundress, walked to the living room in the hopes that her grandma was there, sitting in her favorite chair and giving her the silent treatment. She would absolutely deserve it.

Only a dim lamp on a small end table was on in the living room, with the rest of the surroundings wrapped in blackness. The end table was by her grandma’s favorite chair, the club chair. And from the right of the club chair, its back facing Elizabeth, her grandma’s arm could be seen hanging down.

“Grand-mama?” Elizabeth asked, her feet lightly touching the floor in trepidation. “Are you okay? It’s me Elizabeth. I’m home.”

When Elizabeth got to the chair, she took Grandma Fairweather’s hand and said, “Grand-mama?” Her grandma’s hand was cold and stiff. “Grand-mama.”

Elizabeth looked at the front of her chair, to see her grandma lying there lifeless, her eyes without light. Death had arrived and taken what was his.

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