Sunday October 29th, 1995
Though the neighborhood legend would soon say that Old Man Medry was buried under a full moon on Halloween, the actual funeral was on a bleak Sunday afternoon. The cold mist made white noise against Piper’s umbrella as she looked down at the casket. She shuffled her weight uncomfortably. The grass squished beneath her feet. She and Oliver Blair stood alone in the Blair cemetery, but she could feel the eyes of the neighborhood on them, watching from behind their curtains. The official understanding was that Old Man Medry had died of a massive heart attack brought on by the excitement in the graveyard. But Piper, huddled under her umbrella, doubted his heart had anything to do with his passing.
In the awkward silence, Piper looked toward the road and was surprised to see Toady and Simon waiting. Despite their many attempts to visit, she hadn’t spoken with either of them since the attack. She hadn’t really spoken with anyone besides the police who took her statement.
“I was just looking for Old Man Medry’s secret tombstone,” she had told them. It was partially true, so Piper felt safe sticking to the story. She had become aware through her mother, however, that the town was not so quick to accept her innocence in the affair. The most commonly told story had her narrowly escaping when her midnight drug deal had turned into assault.
Additional controversy began when rumors spread that the police could find no record of William Medrier in their database. Most of those who believed the rumor felt it was most likely nothing more than a computer glitch since the mystery went away so quickly. But a small core of conspiracy buffs swore that Oliver Blair had put bribes in the right hands to make them stop asking questions.
Piper twisted her shoes against the damp grass and considered inviting Simon and Toady to join her at the graveside. She wasn’t quite ready.
From a tree-limb overhead, Piper felt a sense of loss that she recognized all too well. The gren crouched unmoving behind a cluster of yellow and orange leaves, his mottled skin invisible had she not known where to look. “More and more alike everyday,” she mumbled as she wiped a bit of moisture from her cheek. It might have been rain, but she wasn’t sure.
“I’m sorry. Did you say something?” stammered Oliver, shaken from his dazed contemplation.
“Nothing. I…I just don’t know what to say. I mean…I didn’t even know him. Why did you think it was so important for me to come here? I’d really rather be back home.”
Oliver nodded sympathetically. “No, you didn’t know him.” He glanced into the branches overhead, “…but you will. He was a…well, if not a good man exactly, certainly a good friend. I think you’ll be happy you came…later.”
A few moments passed before he continued. “I’m very sorry, Piper for everything that’s happened to you.”
Piper shrugged with feigned indifference.
“I know it’s been frightening,” Blair soothed, “and…certainly confusing. But, where we are now…all of us, is a good place for a new beginning.”
Blair fidgeted with his fingers as he spoke and Piper’s eye hovered on the gray-stone ring she had noticed previously. Compared to the other, more decorative jewelry Mr. Blair wore, the ring should have been completely unremarkable, but for one brief moment it seemed to shimmer with a soft jade iridescence. She blinked and found it was once again the same drab gray as the tombstones that surrounded them.
“I don’t know what’s so good about everything,” Piper retorted. “The whole town hates me and Medry’s dead.”
Oliver paused as he considered this. “Well, I wouldn’t say the whole town.” He nodded toward Banner Street where the two boys continued to wait in silent support. “And Will…well…Will had been ready to go for a while.”
A wave of grief washed down from the branches and Piper pondered the gren above. “So, what am I supposed to do about the gren?”
“Well, nothing specific. Just…get him out of that hole he hides in all the time.” He smiled at Piper. “And who knows…maybe he’ll do the same for you, eh?”
“I’m not hiding from anything,” Piper shot back.
“If you say so,” said Oliver flatly before changing the subject. “Look, along the lines of the whole… new beginning things. I wanted to give you this.” He pulled a key from his pocket and held it out for Piper.
“It’s to the caretaker’s cottage,” Oliver continued. “As far as I’m concerned, there’s still a tenant there who’s paid in full as long as he wants it,” he smiled up toward the gren, “even if he does opt to sleep out back. The cottage is…safe for the gren and you can come and go through the back without people seeing you.”
Piper took the key and started to speak, but realized she didn’t know what to say. She settled on a simple, “Thank you,” before turning back to the grave.
Oliver brushed a bit beaded of mist from his suit jacket. “I think I’m going to step away for a while. Roger won’t be back with the backhoe for a few hours, so take you’re your time if you want.”
“What?” stammered Piper. “That’s it? That’s the funeral?”
Laughter erupted form Oliver as he took a step away. “Yup. Will was never one for long-winded speeches. I think he’d be pretty pleased with how this service is going.” He started to turn but hesitated. “If you need anything…really, anything…you know where to find me.”
As he walked into the steadily increasing drizzle, Piper turned her attention toward Toady and Simon…and the neighborhood behind them. She felt the now familiar pull of the gren’s attention and for the first time since the attack, she relaxed and let him in.
Memories washed over her. She saw Medry, his face noticeably younger and colored by the dancing light of a campfire. The smell of cooking meat and wood smoke filled the air and she recalled having caught a rabbit earlier that day. The Old Man was laughing, recounting a story, the details of which didn’t matter.
Piper smile and concentrated on a similar memory of her father…an unremarkable dinner-time conversation that she missed so much, but which filled her with warmth to recall.
The town still seemed petty and cruel in its rush to judge and condemn her, but Piper suddenly realized that she didn’t care so much anymore. The phrase “this too shall pass” had taken root in her consciousness and she found it suddenly difficult to get upset with the current mindset of people she barely knew. In all likelihood, she had a very long life ahead of her. And while the prospect of an average lifespan had seemed nearly infinite to Piper only a week ago, she found that a longer view had settled in her mind and had changed what she thought important.
Simon, for instance, who had placed himself in harm’s way to protect her in Critter’s basement. Toady, who certainly risked punishment just by being here. Even her mother, who struggled everyday to define a new life for herself in a world without her husband.
She felt warm despite the drizzle as she made her way toward her waiting friends. A song escaped her in a whisper as her feet splashed through shallow puddles. “All I can say,” she sang silently, “is that my life is pretty strange.”
Each boy launched into a barrage of questions as she approached, but she ignored them. “Guys,” she began. “I’m sorry I’ve been weird the last couple days. But…I need to ask for a huge favor.”
“You name it,” said Toady.
“Absolutely,” agreed Simon.
The sky was hazy and the crisp breeze was emptying the leaves from the trees behind the caretaker’s cottage. Glimmers from the surface of the lake far below sparkled through the newly bare limbs and through the mist she could just make out the ruins of the old Snyder castle perched three hills away. She thought of Guillaume Medrier, a life spent sequestered in this fieldstone house. He was vastly changed from the masochistic child he had been, but not enough to continue his friend’s growth. The gren had chosen her to further his understanding of friendship. It was a glorious gift and a horrendous burden.
She was pulled from her thoughts as a tiny shadow zipped behind the tree line and toward the back yard. Piper knew the gren would be waiting by the time they made their way around the back trail. She smiled warmly at Simon and Toady before saying, “I need you to learn sign language with me.”
Message from the Author:
Please sign the guest book
Thanks for reading. As many of you know, this is the first story I’ve completed since I was in college almost 10 years ago. It’s been a struggle to complete and absolutely nerve racking to share with the faceless void of the Internet. I know many of you have opted not to take part in the comment discussions and that’s fine. However, as I finish up the story, I’d really love to put a name to the folks with whom I’ve shared this story. For this final chapter of the story, please send a comment, even if it’s just “I read this.” If, however, you’d like to say more and you’re like many of my friends and family who claim to “not know what to say,” here are some easy ones:
1) Did ya like it?
2) Did you see what was coming or were you surprised by the events that unfolded?
3) Did you feel cheated that some loose ends were left dangling?
4) What questions do you still have?
5) Would you read another story in this series? (I’m hoping yes since I’m currently working on one)
I’m not sure when I’ll have the next story finished, but I’m hoping it goes faster than the first time around. If you’d like to be here for the next story but don’t want to waste a lot of time checking back here or setting up an rss feed, I can send you an email before I post the next installment. Just email me at jkb at acrossthe dot net.
This story is, among other things, about the loved ones around us that make us who we are. I’ve been particularly fortunate in this regard and would like to thank everyone who helped this story be what it is. Since that’s a huge list of friends and family, I’ll only name a few by name (but I hope the rest of you know who you are).
My wife, Moonshot, not only for forcing me to do much needed editing overhauls as she read and reread the story for me, but also for listening to me go on and one about the gren for the past 10 months. I probably would have strangled me months ago.
Simon, Mark, Jess, Elsa, Taltap, Emilie, Mouse, and Louis for letting me know what they were thinking along the ride. Silence can truly drive one to madness when he’s cumpulsivley wondering how people are reacting to his tale. Thanks for talking me through it in the comments section.
My brother, Jet. Not only did her contribute to my sanity by commenting, he also inspired much of the story by actually experiencing many of the hurdles Piper herself faced. He is, for me, the star of this piece.
A friendly nod to Cheeseburger Brown for continually proving that one can work a full time job, suffer through a commute, own an home with all the accompanying chores, spend time with his wife and kids…and still, somehow, find time to write.
And finally, to my daughter, Norah. Visions of one day sharing these stories with her inspired me to pick up writing again and also made it obvious that it needed to be a brave little girl who stood up to the gren. In addition, much of the story-plotting and daydreaming required to put this fable together was done while cradling her in my arms at ungodly hours of the night. This story would not exist without her.
Again, thank you for reading. I truly hope you enjoyed it. If you did, be sure to tell someone.
Your goblin-haunted guide,