From The Dead
It had been called off. The sniffer dogs. The posters. The candlelight vigils. The media conferences. The orange lines of rescue volunteers trudging through the bush. All the resources we had at our disposal were exhausted and public interest was waning. She went from the headline, to second lead, to a comment between sports and weather. The police told us they would keep investigating, but after two weeks the probability of success drops. I’ve always heard it was hopeless after 48 hours. We were in that tortured spot beyond joyful rescue but before 'at least we have closure'.
I remember after that final visit from the police all of us sitting in the lounge room. Nobody was talking. For the first time in a long time we simply did nothing, we could do nothing. We were together in that room, myself, mum and dad, but each of us alone in our thoughts. Do we go back to work, to school? Do we prepare dinner instead of having takeaway every night or just not eating? Do we vacuum? Do the laundry? People were so eager to help in that regard when things were hopeful.
We sat silent for a long time. Until there was a familiar knock on the door. Playful and rhythmic, it was her knock, the secret language of family. We exchanged looks to one another, hopeful yet guarded. I think mine was fear. One second later we were at the door, Dad nearly ripped it off its hinges.
It was Amy. Dirty and tattered but all in all complete. I stood back and watched Mom and Dad envelop her. Alternating between hugging and inspecting. Dispelling disbelief through their senses. Touch, then sight, then touch again. Rationality came in spurts against enormous emotional power surges. We checked her for injuries and called an ambulance and the police.
In the chaos of emotions she exhibited none. She didn't cry, she didn't laugh, she didn't scream. She didn't say anything or do anything. The opposite of our hyper emotion. The doctors gave a similar diagnosis to our initial reaction. A little banged up, but all in all completely fine. The police would work with what they could, but Amy brought no evidence with her return. Until she talked, the case was stalled.
Now some weeks later she still hasn’t said a word. The doctors said it would be best for her recovery for us to try and keep things as normal as possible. The rest of the family couldn’t be more pleased to have her back, to have the everyday back. They accept she will take time to recover. She will tell her story in her own time. But to me she is a ghost just following the habits of her former body. I watch her awkwardly navigate the house, I see her eat things she normally wouldn’t, and she doesn’t sleep. When she catches my eyes I look away. She fills me with dread. Perched up on the bay window looking out into the moonless night.
All those search parties and prayers were in vein. All the doorknocking and police work a waste of time. When she first didn’t come home our thoughts became progressively worse. It started innocently as ‘she’s lost track of time’. That became ‘she’s staying late at a friend’s and forgot to call’. Then it changed to ‘she’s runaway and she’s hiding somewhere to punish us’. Before finally turning to something more sinister which we never could verbalise. At reaching the runaway phase of this worry I went to our spot, hidden away in the bush nearby. A makeshift cubby of sorts. I was hoping to find her there pouting or kicking cans angry at mum or school. She was there silent but not sulking. She was twisted, pale and cold, partly hidden under the brush. The police told me I was traumatised that they had searched that area thoroughly and I was just desperate to find her. They also threw in that it was a good lead and important to tell them things like that. I know what I saw. She’s dead and there is something else living in my sister’s room. My parents want me to go to therapy, they think I’m having some traumatic reaction or emotional overload, that’s why I don’t talk to her. I don’t care what they say I’m locking my door at night and keeping my bat under the bed.
'I'd love a shot of Bailey,' I said while rubbing my palms. The chilly wind had curled into the inn.
'Sure, son,' said my deaf aunt and began to serve the man next to me a mug of barley.
As usual, I did not complain for I was rather afraid of her smacking my head. My aunt who wore a smirk quite distinctly on her wrinkled face dished out piping hot shepherd pies. Again, she served the heavily built man who did not even bother to thank her or nod in acknowledgment. That man looked familiar, much too familiar to my liking. I scanned him from head to toe and stared at his bulky belly. I tried very hard to place him and then I broke into sweats when I realized who he was. I calculated how fast I could reach the exit. But I stopped short when I realized, I was not prepared for the tormenting weather. The roads were closed till morning.
The man turned around but he did not meet my eyes. It was as if he was peering through me and then I realised that he was much more interested in the young lady seated on the far end near a fireplace. She was making an Irish crochet lace; attaching lace roses to picots and finishing with clone knots. The traditional edging reminded me of baby breaths and spring. Her eye lashes fluttered very little, giving full attention to the intricate designs. It was as if a giant lumbered passing me by when he moved across the room to sit opposite the woman. She shyly nodded her head and smiled at him and I knew that very moment that he was smitten by her. I had to do something for I knew he was not right for her. I too found a snug corner near the fireplace. But the lady hardly looked at me.
Icicles were forming on the upper frame of windows and they were growing longer as the sun melted the snow on the thatched roof of the inn. I felt my heart getting icy cold when the lady in braided chignon let the man caress her work of art. I wondered whether she had laced her dreams with her nimble fingers. I had to watch silently. I had to be in a shadow as I did not want him to recognise me. But as time passed, I was beginning to suspect that the man did not know me.
'You create something magical. You remind me of my mother. She loves creating laces. But, she is no more. Bless her soul!' said the man in a husky voice.
'Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. I'm sure she had great pleasure in making them,' said the lady.
'Oh, yes. She would always give away her work as gifts.'
I simply had to join in the conversation. But the door opened and two guests entered with the blatant northern wind trying to make its way into the inn. One of them walked to fireplace and while another ordered potato stew, roast stuffed turkey and ham, chicken Caesar salad and beer. There was not much choice on the menu. My aunt served the couple promptly. I admired my aunt for running this pub and restaurant in a traditional Irish ambiance for almost twenty years. She had kept this inn cozy and homely.
'Yes, the roads are closed. Dublin is still a long way from here,' said my aunt in a slightly louder tone addressing the couple who were on their way to Dublin.
'We're grateful for the food and shelter.'
'What did you say?'
The man repeated his words, a little louder and slower than usual.
I always wanted to travel to Dublin. Being a seventeen-year-old lad, I never had the opportunity to travel out of my village. Perhaps I could hitchhike a ride from this couple. My aunt would surely be cross with me if I ever mentioned it to her. She would get tired easily nowadays and expected me to be around. I should be grateful to her as she took me under her care when my mother died from pneumonia. I was torn between my love for my aunt and the need to explore life beyond my village.
The couple found a sofa near the fireplace and sat with their hands locked in each other. They started off introducing themselves. The big size man was Cormac while the lady was Arlene while the couple introduced themselves as Mr and Mrs Lorcan. No one bothered to ask for my name.
I felt like marching off out of this inn but I came to my senses. I quietly formed the right words in my head to persuade the couple to give me a ride to Dublin.
'We just got married and we're on way for our honeymoon in Dublin,' said Mrs. Lorcan.
My plan to travel to Dublin just got crushed. I murmured, 'Congratulations!' To ease my hurt, I curled up in a corner and listened to the clock ticking, glasses clinking, people chatting and Celtic music playing.
As morning arrived without a hitch, the guests were preparing to leave. I was feeling sorry that they had to leave especially Arlene. Cormac was very eager in pleasing Arlene by helping her with her belongings. I was afraid of Cormac as I remembered seeing him at an icy pond last winter and another flash of memory of me suffocating. I wanted to warn Arlene about Cormac.
Then I was hit by more vague memories of Cormac. I saw him again at the icy pond where a sheet of thin ice had caved in under my feet. The memory began to be clearer by the minute. I thought Cormac had pushed me inside the frigid cold water. But actually, he had tried to rescue me by pulling me out with the help of others. There were tears in his eyes as I did not survive. I realised that I had died in the incident. I had also seen him being detached from reality for a few months. I tried to converse with Cormac to convince him that he should not feel guilty for not being able to save me. Unfortunately, he could neither hear or see me.
I was a ghostly figure trapped in this inn. I had come from the dead to pay homage to my aunt and ever since, I could not leave this inn.
And of course, the two chief lapdogs, Marius and Romanie. They had wilted Henry's goodbye wave with as much thorough disgust and distaste as they had shown to Henry throughout his father's life, whilst seeming to remain immune to the ravages of time that had eventually brought down the old man. Marius had remained clean shaven for the fifty-three years that Henry had feared him, dark, bruise-coloured swathes of stubble had seethed under his jawline every last day that Henry had known and feared him, whilst Romanie had had little else for Henry except a stern, unsmiling face and open contempt, both of which she silently admonished Henry with now as she led the entourage around the corner of the ruins.
Leaving Henry alone with his dead father.
A week earlier, one of the middle-men had been good enough to visit Henry and let him know that his father had died a fortnight before.
Henry had gone blank. He had lived in a vivid fear of his father and his followers since he could remember and knew that around this wretched corner of the country, months of mourning would be observed. His death would not change his fear of the old man. It surprised him not that he had been not made aware of his father's decline, and eventual death until a week had passed. His followers had elevated the old man to a status that surpassed plausibility and reason, objectified him to the degree that his name was a law, a cult, a religion, an atmospheric gas that anyone wishing to prevail in this part of the country must inhale and exhale.
And now his decaying body had been bent into a chair and carried to his son, who would undertake the final phase of his passing.
Henry's legs began to shiver violently. The old man's face had died long ago, and been replaced by a slab that resembled a spreading of fungus that you would only expect to find in the darkest pit of the deepest woods, with no light or love to be found within its rank contours. And dying had only served to make his father's face resemble the scarecrow of death that Henry had come to see him as with an even greater amplitude.
His father's clumps of grey and black hair rose to a sudden wind, revealing a scalp riddled with pus, boils and something that seemed to be moving independently.
An anguished sob broke from Henry as he continued to regard his dead father.
'The scarecrows are just the dead amending for the past, boy.'
These had been the words his father had uttered to him when a young Henry had cried upon seeing a scarecrow being erected onto one of his father's cornfields.
'That is a dead... man, father?'
'Yes, boy. A pointless man who only toiled when drinking. So now he has to stand in a field and use his afterlife to keep the crows away from the fields.'
Henry had cried some more, attracting a look of particular disgust from Romanie, who had been tailing Henry and his father with Marius.
'He had his chance, boy,' continued his father. 'He could have eaten the death away before it took him. Any man who eats the flesh of his father when he dies is granted a blissful afterlife. Any man who refuses to perform such a noble task will end up, I'm afraid...'
Henry's father gestured towards the scarecrow, then bent down to his sobbing son.
'You will eat me when I die, won't you Henry?' asked his father, a rare smile growing across his already damned face like a dagger in a kidney.
Henry falls to his knees, his hands splaying across his father's lap.
He looks over towards the decaying row of scarecrows, their clothing flapping desultorily in his father's fields.
Henry claws a chunk of face from his father's left cheek and begins to chew.