Read the The Ghosts' Messenger!

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by Tim Burdick on 07 February, 2015


Chapter 1
All Souls Day in Milovec

“Every November second, on Dušicky, your Grandmother and I clean your Uncle’s grave,” Grandfather said as he brushed the dead leaves off the concrete headstone. “We had our first date this night. Replacing the melted candles with new ones, and putting fresh flowers on his headstone. After we had finished, we held hands in the cold.” Grandfather drifted off, staring into space and then said, “Petr, throw these out.” He handed me dead violets and pointed to a dumpster at the end of the row.

Grandmother’s disappearance made telling the story seem wrong, like throwing a party for someone who couldn’t attend.

“Sure, Grandfather, I mean, ano, dedecku.” I grabbed the dead flowers, walked over and tossed them. So much for practicing my Czech. A bitter chill hung over the tombs, so I jammed my hands in my pockets for warmth. When were we going home?

He sounded so happy sharing the date story. A creepy romance in the…what was the Czech word for cemetery? Hrbitov. Yeah, that was it. What kind of nut would fall in love here? Nobody but him. In fact today he had already told me the same story three times, even though Grandmother was missing.

As I returned, Grandfather was sitting on a bench with tears running from his eyes. With my freakish height, I towered over him. “Let’s go. The grave was clean. Grandmother would be happy.”

He wiped his nose and put away the handkerchief, “Petr, tonight, I’m meeting someone who might have information about your Grandmother. I’m not leaving until I speak with him first.”

A lump hit my throat and sadness filled my chest. My brain and emotions waged war over the reality of the situation. I mean, of course, I was going to help him find Grandmother. She had been missing for months. A memory of her smile lingered before I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand. Then a thought hit me. “Isn’t it strange that he’s meeting you here in the cemetery? What is he, shy?”

“Who said, I was meeting a ‘someone’. Be careful,” He switched back into Czech, “Svety živých a mrtvých nejsou tak daleko od sebe,” He spoke in a low voice, walking into a bank of fog. The silence stretched out for two, three, four minutes.

Wow, that was spooky. What had he said? The worlds of the living and dead aren’t so far apart. Wait, I couldn't hear his footsteps, breathing, or anything. I rushed into the fog bank, tripped, and fell. Oh man, my jeans were torn. Great. These were brand new. I got to my feet, doing a quick check. Grandfather was gone; only trees and signs loomed out of the fog.

“Grandfather, don't you think you have been working here too long?” I asked. No answer, only the thick mist rolling around me. “Grandfather?” Silence. “No jokes. I'm jet-lagged and tired. Please, this isn’t funny.” I circled around the grave. Where had he gone? My shoulders sagged beneath my worn windbreaker. Gray and white tombstones of every shape and size were scattered in unorganized rows. On my left and right, dirty white walls with shelves of broken crypts shut out the forest, but the cold air still crept over the flat brick ledges.

At night, the cemetery felt like a different world. The silence. The smell of wet earth. The flickering candles. Old photographs decorating the tombstones. Growing vines covered several graves with wet leaves. I exhaled, trying to stay calm. He had disappeared. This was not good.

What would I tell Mom about losing Grandfather? ‘Sorry, he’s gone.’ No, that was not an option. This wasn’t going to be like the ‘the basement’ episode like when I was five. Down there in the shadows, a monster lurked. Without leaving the bottom step of the staircase, I ran back and told her that I couldn’t find her missing glasses. She patted me on the head and said it was okay. A horrible pit burned inside. I hadn’t even tried. Well, not today.

Frowning, I pulled my damp scarf up around my face. Grandfather, where are you? I peered into the dark, but I could only see past a few graves.

This was a neat magic trick, but not tonight. I rubbed my arms, and jogged along the path. Despite the boots, and thick wool socks, my feet were cold. I reached the intersection of the main paths, where a monument of a cross was placed. A huge patch of lit candles spread across the ground around it. I hunched down and stuck out my hands. The flames warmed my fingers.

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