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Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

Fallon Hotel – Chapter Fifteen

Drifting off to sleep, Jeri found herself continuing to hum the melody of “Hard Times Come Again No More” until the mild vibration of the slowing notes carried her off — far, far away from her cozy little room in the Fallon Hotel.

She found herself walking the streets of Columbia during the late afternoon, knowing that the last streaks of sunshine would soon be hitting the tops of the trees along Main Street announcing the arrival of dusk.  As long as she could remember, her favorite times of day had always been dawn and dusk.  But there was something a little more magical about the evening air, especially in the Mother Lode.  When the temperatures dropped, nearby residents started to put their fireplaces to work and the scent of burning cedar, oak and pine filled the air.  For a town historically scarred by fire, it was ironic that the aroma of burning wood brought such an inviting sense of well-being and warmth to the area.

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Commercial buildings slowly gave way to residences as she made her way up and around to Pacific Street and turned right, quickening her pace as she headed over to School House Road.  She looped around to the left until she came to the tall white entrance gates of the ColumbiaCemetery.  As a young girl, a late afternoon visit to a cemetery in Benicia, CA with her grandfather had left her feeling more than a little uneasy about such locations.  The cemetery in Benicia was overrun with peacocks who her grandfather said would “announce closing time with their high pitched mewing.”  They were beautiful birds, but the first time Jeri heard them utter their high-pitched call, she almost jumped out of her skin.  The sound was less of the mewing her grandfather mentioned and more of a mournful cry, occasionally bordering on a full-out scream worthy of a 1950’s horror film.  Jeri had rarely been angry with her grandfather, but misnaming the sound that came out of the peacock’s beak was forever going to be her one irritation with the man.

Despite her uneasy past with cemeteries, the final resting place of the past residents of Columbia never bothered her.  For one thing, the only birds on the grounds of this cemetery were a more mellow variety and not nearly as social.  Now and again one might spot a California quail, or a whole family of them, as they marched rapidly around the trunks of the tall trees that were filled with the friendly chirps and peeps of other birds that actually used their wings for flying, but there was no screaming here.  These birds were civilized and behaved with much more decorum and respect for the dead (and the jumpy living).

Walking through the giant arch that read In God We Trust Jeri was confident that she could most certainly trust that it would be quiet.  The sights and sounds of the ColumbiaCemetery were peaceful and strangely welcoming.

As she walked around the headstones made of sandstone or slate, she thought how sad it was that some of them were broken and listing from their original upright positions.  It was almost as if they were asking you to lean in sideways and read what you could of the occupants.  Most of the dates went back to the 1800’s, with some offering tidbits of information now and again about the dearly departed: such as where they originated from (“native of England”); how old they were when they were laid to rest; the organizations they were affiliated with (Masons and Independent Order of Odd Fellows); and/or what they did to make a living.  Some even told exactly how they died and who buried them, like one poor gentleman who had drowned at TableMountain at the age of 28 and had his headstone erected by his grieving twin brother.  While some graves were simply marked with headstones, others were enclosed by beautiful ornate iron work, sometimes enveloping an entire family that had been laid to rest.  It was always emotionally difficult for Jeri to read the markers that held the names and ages of children and infants, but standing before them now, as a mother with a young child of her own, she could feel her heart practically splitting in two.  Looking around at the stone and marble angel sculptures scattered throughout the grounds brought her little comfort, thinking of her own angel who was fast asleep in his bed among the breathing.

She gasped, suddenly wondering how she had come to the cemetery without Andy by her side.  A strange feeling washed over her because she fully realized that she was dreaming, and more or less sleepwalking (or walking in her sleep?) through the ColumbiaCemetery.  She glanced down at her wrist.  4:20pm.  She knew, from the sign on the entrance gate, that the cemetery would be closed at 4:30pm and the great white gates would close.  Oddly aware that she was dreaming, she wondered if the rules would and could be bent in this nether region.  It didn’t matter, either way, but she knew she needed to hurry.

Not exactly sure why she’d come to the cemetery, Jeri had a feeling deep in her heart that she’d been drawn specifically to find something.  Maybe information?  Maybe closure?  Maybe someone.

She started to hum the chorus from “Hard Times Come Again No More.”  She felt she was doing so, less as an act of enjoyment or comforting measure, and as more of an invitation.  She’d made peace with the idea that her son had sung a song that could only have been taught to him by the ghost of Ezra, since there wasn’t ever a time, a CD or a reason he would have heard the beautiful songs of Stephen Foster.  A native Californian, it hurt her to think she’d not yet shared that with her son yet.  The thought that Ezra was present at all in Andy’s realm no longer upset her, because she now realized that she and Andy must be the ones to help Ezra, in whatever way they could.  If Ezra felt he could communicate with Andy and Andy felt he communicate with anyone (including the idea of a ghost child), despite his autism, Jeri would have to be accepting and open her heart and mind to the idea that she was there to assist, too.

Sunlight broke through the tall trees in slivers and lit upon a handful of graves, leaving others in shadow.  Jeri had sung in choir, so she knew a thing or two about projecting her voice, so she stood tall and still and opened her mouth, filling the cemetery with the beautifully haunting melody of Stephen Foster, not exactly sure – even in her dream state – how she knew the lyrics.  “Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wav, tis a wail that is heard upon the shore.  Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave.  Oh, hard times come again no more.”

She shut her eyes, now moist with tears, and felt herself trapped between two worlds, that of the shadows of the cemetery and the rustling of the cool crisp sheets around her feet as she slept in the Fallon Hotel.  She felt her head drop heavily into the soft pillowcase, even as she lifted it toward the sky and the trees of the ColumbiaCemetery and felt the late afternoon breeze blow through the shade of the trees and across her cheek.  In the distance, but moving slowly closer, she heard the sweet dulcet tones of Ezra’s young voice.  She could not quite make out the words, but recognized the dry and slightly scratchy voice as his.  Tears fell onto her cheeks as he began to sob.

Opening her eyes, whether in sleep or actually in the heart of the Columbia cemetery, she couldn’t be certain, Jeri looked down to see a mound of dirt, overgrown with weeds and broken bits of rock and slate.  It was hard to tell if it was once a grave or perhaps just a piece of land where the earth had shifted over the many years into its current shape, she wasn’t sure.  She dropped to her knees and placed her hands on the cool, moist earth.  The wind kicked up and she felt a slight chill.

Again, she closed her eyes and ran her fingers through the sparse grass growing on the ground beneath her.  She took a couple of deep breaths then stopped, as a small icy hand laced its fingers in hers and spoke, “Green grow the lilacs, all sparkling with dew. I’m lonely, my darling, since parting with you.  But by our next meeting I’ll hope to prove true and change the green lilacs to the Red, White and Blue.”

Knowing and doing are two different things when you’re confronted with what might be the ghost child from another time and another place.  Jeri tried to think quickly, in part to get some answers, but to also not come undone at the idea of a spirit child, restless soul or whatever Ezra was.  “We come in peace!  What do you want from us?”  Well, that wasn’t what she was hoping for.  Now she just sounded cheesy and petulant.

She realized her eyes were still closed.  She started to blink them open, when she felt the slender arms of the ghost boy wrap around her… a little too tightly and too cold for comfort.  She gasped and realized she could not open her eyes.

With a tinge of hoarseness, Ezra started to sob.  “So alone.  I’m so alone and I cannot bear this sorrow.  Everyone has their place, some with kin.  Others, next to those they knew, when their hearts still beat.  Help me.  Please?”

Jeri tried again to open her eyes, wanted desperately to see who belonged to the frosty arms that held her.  It was useless.  Her eyes were heavy and seemed glued shut, like the eyes of one locked in a deep, deep sleep.  She began to squirm, trying to break free of the boy’s grip.

Ezra’s small, but surprisingly strong arms, squeezed Jeri even tighter and she felt the air escaping her lungs like a slow leak of a flat tire.

Slowly, he began to hiss, mimicking the sound of her breath.  “Sssssad.  Sssso ssssad.”

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