Chapter 21: Finding homes
Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby
I was beginning to get chilly, sitting there on the hilltop, when I heard noises indicating someone was approaching. And then a figure came into sight down by the mine cave-in. It was Mac. “Up here, Mac,” I called to him.
He came up, plunked down beside me, looked out toward Farnham. “Taking in a view of the old home town, are you?”
I nodded. Funny that he would put it that way, now that I actually felt that way.
We both stared out at the town for a bit, and then Mac asked, “Took care of all the ghosts, did you?”
“The miners and their women, yeah. Still have Charlotte, Terry Bruno, and one of the tourists, a guy who told me his name is Mortimer Green, left to deal with.” I couldn’t help but smile at a name like that.
“Yep, I laughed at the name, too. What happened to the other tourist?”
“I think the soul-eater got him before it left town. He wasn’t in the group tonight.”
Mac shook his head. “Too bad. You OK?”
“Guess I didn’t need to come rescue you, then.”
I grabbed him in a hug, buried my chin in his shoulder. “You silly man, climbing in the ravine after dark to come save me.”
Mac disentangled himself. “Whoa, there, girl. I may not be Ivy League smart, but I know enough not to go climbing in the ravine in the dark. Nope, there’s a track that runs around the south end of the ravine that fetches up about half a mile from here. I drove here, Sanderson. Hope you don’t like me the less for it.”
I had to laugh at that. “How’d you know where I’d be?”
“Oh, Thompson described the place so well, I was pretty sure I knew.”
At this point, I couldn’t even get annoyed at Valerie Thompson’s perfection. It was going to save me the effort of getting back to town, and I even mentally thanked her for it as we got down the hill and hiked out to Mac’s truck. Though I did have some second thoughts after getting tossed around in the cab by the “road” conditions, if you could call that goat track a road, and Mac’s driving at what seemed like literally breakneck speeds on it.
I managed to get an hour or two of sleep before having to get up to see Angela Farr off at breakfast. The Decatur County historian alternated between bubbling with delight over everything Hank Jones had told her, and staring at me as if I were some sort of zoo creature. But that was OK, I guess I sort of was. The only thing that bothered me was that Doc Helen hardly said a word the whole meal.
Mac noticed Doc’s silence, too, and tried to draw her out by telling me about the argument they’d had last night over what kind of bird I looked like. Mac said I looked like a turkey vulture, “but prettier,” Doc had called me a raven, but Angela Farr was an amateur birder, and said I was a common American crow, although she qualified that by adding, “mostly.” I could accept that. I was common, that was for sure. And crows are bright. I’d have to look at actual pictures to get a better idea. To me, they were all “black birds.”
Wednesday was a fortune-telling day, so I went back to bed for several more hours of sleep. I got up, missed Doc at lunch, ate, and gave Mac a call to explain my wonderful scheme. He was against it, of course, not wanting to break the law or anything. Eventually, we compromised, and I agreed to change things so I didn’t break the law, and he agreed to furnish the transportation to make it work.
So with that settled, I got through my fortune-telling hours without a problem. And I finally caught up with Doc at dinnertime. She still was hardly saying a word, and it wasn’t until we’d both opened a beer while waiting for the food to finish cooking that I decided to force the issue. “Helen, is there some reason you’re not talking to me unless you have to?” I was tempted to add, “Or should I just call you ‘Doc’ from now on?” but remembered Mac’s warning not to give her any lip, and didn’t.
I was leaning against the sink, she was leaning against the refrigerator, and she didn’t look pleased by my question. She ran her free hand through her hair a bit before answering. “I know. It’s not deliberate, Seffie. What I mean to say is I’m not deliberately ignoring you.” She swore inaudibly before continuing. “This is coming out all wrong. And that’s my problem. It’s like, it’s like, well, I called you a porcupine, and now it turns out you’re a flying porcupine.” The evident absurdity of what she was saying caused her to bark out a laugh. “I’m having to rethink who you are, Seffie, and I don’t know quite how to deal with that yet.”
I was dismayed. “That’s how my mother and I fell out.” I didn’t call her my mother/aunt to other people, as that was too confusing.
And then Doc shocked me. “Yeah, well maybe your mother didn’t like how it made her feel.” There was a lot of anger in her voice. It shocked her, too. She quickly added, “I shouldn’t have said that.”
Well, no you shouldn’t have, Doc. But maybe it’s just as well you did. I always thought about my mother/aunt’s problem with me was me; I never thought of it as being something about herself. And something about me being me was hitting Doc hard. I didn’t know what. It was something else to think about, but not just now.
Doc had been watching me while I was thinking, and said in a small voice, “Are you mad at me, Seffie?”
“No.” I meant it. “Confused, bothered, and bewildered, yes. Look, Helen, Mac and I are going out this evening to lay more ghosts. It’s not going to be like last night, I’m not going to overdo it, so I don’t need a doctor. But I could use another friend. You want to come?”
She thought about it a bit and shook her head. “I’ve had enough of ghosts for now. Maybe in a few days.” She smiled just a little bit. “But thanks for asking.”
We more or less silently agreed to set our troubled relationship aside for the time being, and talked of indifferent things during the meal. And we managed well enough. But every so often, I noticed Doc looked at me as if she were seeing something she wasn’t quite sure of.
Mac came to pick me up at 7 PM, and we drove for an hour and a half to get to our destination. Eileen Harbison had taken Charlotte Smith’s two kids to live with her, and that was where we were going. Mac had the address. It turned out to be in a fairly new and nice development. Eileen was clearly doing better than her sister had been.
We pulled up a bit down the street by an unbuilt lot, and I got up and walked out behind the Harbison house. Luckily there were no dogs around to reveal my presence. There was a back entrance, which was good. I scoped out the house a bit, trying to get a feel for it, and had to strip off my gloves to get enough of a reading to make sure the right people were within. I got out my silver bar, handkerchief, and whiskey, and called on the ghost of Charlotte, and Charlotte alone, to appear.
Charlotte appeared, looking in as good shape as she had last night. Good. She looked around, saw me. “Where am I, Sanderson? I don’t recognize this place.”
I pointed toward the house. “Can you see the house?”
She looked at me as if I was daft. “Of course I can see the house. Do you think I’m blind?” Charlotte had to be getting used to being a ghost; her character was reverting to normal.
“Well, that’s your sister’s house, and your kids are inside. You want a chance to say goodbye to them?”
Charlotte didn’t wait for another invitation. She hurried over to the back steps, walked up them, and tried to rap on the door. Of course, that did no good, as her hand just went right through it without affecting it. I called to her, “You can just walk right through the door. You’re a ghost.” And that, after a moment, is exactly what she did.
My original plan had been to wait until after midnight, break in, wake up the kids, and then summon Charlotte. But Mac had nixed that plan. And then I had thought to summon Charlotte, walk up to the front door, ring the bell, and see the surprised look on Eileen Harbison’s face when she saw the ghost of her dead sister. But I gave up that scheme, too. It was too petty a pleasure.
My whole problem was that I wanted to be vindicated in the eyes of Sally and her brother, by being the one to bring them their mother. But that wasn’t the point. I was supposed to be making it easy for Charlotte to go to her rest in the cemetery and pass on, not rack up points for myself. And something of my problems with Doc made me have second thoughts, too. I wasn’t looking at this business from Charlotte’s perspective, or that of her kids. Once I did that, I gave up on the idea of witnessing their meeting. Whatever Charlotte had to say to her kids before I took her back to her grave in Farnham was their business, and their business alone. When I reached that conclusion, on the ride out here, I felt better. I knew I’d gotten it right.
So I stood out there and waited. And then I felt something rubbing against my legs. It was Blackie. Either they let him out or he snuck out, but he remembered me. So I got down on the ground and played with him for a bit. It took my mind off waiting, and Blackie’s purring was pleasing.
And then all of a sudden he backed off. The next moment, I felt like something had just hit me. It took me a moment to realize what it was. It was the energy from Charlotte. And I’d realized I hadn’t quite figured it all out. That energy meant that Charlotte was gone, that she’d passed on. She hadn’t had to go to her grave to go home. She’d just needed to see her kids. Wherever they were was her home. I should have known it.
My job here was through, and I was happy with that. I got up and started over to Mac’s car. Blackie came right back to me and followed me all the way. I gave him a long pet before I got in the car, and made sure he was clear before we took off.
Maybe I’ll have to get a cat.