in Short Story, Writing

A Caretaker Giveth

Two figures danced among the far off twinkling of the city lights in the distance, at once present, and then again fading into the mists to discard much notice.  The figures, intertwined in the crush of black velvet midnight, are lovers of a sort, lost then found in the dance they perform every evening.  A lone witness sat observing their dance, smiling in his reverie, appreciating the dark forms as the swirled and turned in their obsidian murmurations, like two swallows alighting upon each other’s wings then parting again urgently.

“Why watch them?” A soft voice asked the man.  “They perform this dance every night.”

“And every night that I can, I shall watch them.” The man replied without looking at his partner of conversation.  “This… spinning… turning… chase is what matters right now.”

“It will be hundreds of such dances until they converge and are made one.”

“Perhaps it is ironic.”

“Why do you say that?” The soft voice intoned.

“Because nightwraiths are only suited for other nightwraiths from the same burial ground.  They are so rare, that they will only ever have one partner…”

“So all the dances are unnecessary?”

“Perhaps,” the solitary man said. “But the dance is what they create.  It brings beauty into this world, and this world is short on beautiful things.  Too much is taken away.  Not enough is created.  Ever forward, the world marches on, and time takes it tolls upon the beauty of this world, but…”

The man trailed off.

“But?” The soft voice asked questioning.

“Yet.  Yet, these two nightwraiths, at the end of their time as people, at the end of their time living, sleeping, eating, and all the things that humans do, after all that!  They still fight it.  They dance unnecessarily, only to bring the beauty of it into the world.  The rage against the dying of the light.”

“A quote?”

“After your time.” The man replied solemnly.

“Why do only a select few become nightwraiths?” The quiet voice asked.

“Why do a select few become gaunts?  Why do a select few become ghosts?” The man replied rhetorically.

“Passion?  Desire?  Fear?” The quiet voice said.

“You are a ghost, Deidre, why do you exist?” The man said quietly.

“I was afraid.” Deidre said sadly, her voice was quiet, but a whisper of a whisper, but the man understood her plainly.  Her pale form stood, barely perceptible behind a nearby headstone.  She appeared to be crying. “It hurts, even now.”

The man continued to watch the nightwraiths, their dark forms coalescing and separating in a dance they would continue for years to come.  Yet every performance was completely unique, as the the observer would not be able to discern their purpose in the movement.  They would not see or understand the motion of thought, feeling, and expression that existed between the two dark creatures spinning in the night.  It was soundless, yet the man thought he could hear the music of their movement, the rasp of their touch, and the soft sighs as the nightwraiths come to learn each other’s essence of being. The man was envious he would never experience such a thing himself.

The man turned away from the dance, and looked in Deidre’s pale face.  The trees behind her moved lightly in the wind, and the branches of early spring buds danced through her features as if she was made of smoke from an extinguished candle. She must have been beautiful herself once, when she was under the blossom of youth, untouched by the unfurled fingers of death himself.  She had died of the plague, leaving behind her suitor, and the plans to live a life worth living.

The Caretaker folded his hands over his shovel and rake handles, and with a sigh stood up.  His knees creaked, and his joints complained about every movement and step.  But he would be in this ground himself soon enough.  He had a job to do until then.  Tonight they were expecting company.

“Deidre, wake the others that you can.  We have someone new arriving.” The old man told the specter still wiping at her invisible tears.

“Who is it?” Deidre sounded distant. Her ethereal form was already gone.

“I don’t know yet.  But something tells me he will be here any moment. I can smell his blood on the wind.” The old man starting walking towards the cemetery gate, and dropped his tools near the shed.

Wounded, and bleeding, the young man stumbled into the gate, his hand clutched against the gunshot wound at his shoulder.

“I… I…” The young man stuttered. His face was very white from the blood loss, and his eyes fluttered as he passed out.

“We won’t like his kind here, Gustav.”  Another shadowy voice spoke from the edges of the old man’s consciousness.

“And what kind is that, Harold?” The caretaker replied.

“He is… a negro.  You know, a colored.”

“It is just a boy,” another voice said from the near the oldest oak. “He is so young.”

“He is old enough,” the caretaker said. “He was brought here, tonight, because he was meant to be here.  He is to be my replacement.”

“I will not be taken care of by a nigger.” Harold said emphatically.

Gustav knelt down to lay his hand on the ugly seeping wound. But for a moment, he looked up from the ashen face of the fallen boy. “Then go take care of yourself, you racist ass.”

Harold faded from sight as the other voice near the oak spoke again. “How will you heal him, Gustav?”

“I will bless him.  It will knit.”

“But you will die.”

“Then you all will have to teach him.” The old man sighed. “Mary, you most of all.”

“Will he listen?  What if he runs?” Mary’s misty voice asked as a groan issued from a nearby mausoleum where a gaunt pulled itself from behind its heavy door to find out what all the commotion was.

“He won’t run, Mary.  He will be bound to all of you, as you will all be bound to him.  The blessing of being a Caretaker will come to mean a great many things to him, and he will be better for it.  I can see he is the right one.” The old man lowered his hands to the boy’s chest. “I will need all of your help to do this.”

“We are with you, Gustav.” A voice called.

“We will miss you, Gustav.” Another said softly.

“We love you.” Mary said.

The ghosts all came close to lay their hands on their dear friend. At that moment, the mists parted upon the hill of the graveyard, as the moon peaked from behind the clouds.  The moonlight illuminated the spirits, and gaunts, and wraiths that continued their dance, and all at once, the forms of many people stood encircling the old caretaker and his dying protege.  The young man was unconscious still, as his bullet wounds leaked his life blood onto the dark earth underneath him.  The entire cemetery came to witness the transition.

Gustav looked at all of his long friends standing around him, smiled once, and died.  The young man next to the old man’s cooling form laid still, yet his breathing grew stronger, his heartbeat surged, and his body started to tie its wounds back together as if they had never happened out on those dangerous city streets.

Mary floated near the corpse of her blessed friend.

“Close my eyes, will you?  I look silly.”  A voice called behind her.

“I will, Gustav.  Safe travels.”

Mary pushed the old man’s eyes closed and laid her ghostly hands on her new Caretaker’s warm face, as he slept peacefully under the moon, the stars, and the careful watch of all of his new charges.

Harold muttered underneath his breath at the edge of the circle. “I can’t believe its a negro.  The indignity.”

Another specter slapped him over the head viciously.