In Hades Kale Doesn't Light
We brought flashlights, though with the full moon, they were superfluous. Members of Club Dead squeezed through the chained gate and stepped into the town’s cemetery.
“Do you know what you’re doing?”
“Always the downer. Of course not. I googled it, okay? Most séances have from ten to fourteen steps,” Tuttle said. “It’s pretty simple. Maybe too simple. But I have to do something.”
“Lay it on. What’s step one?”
“That’s done. Gather participants. I think séances are for smaller crowds, maybe four or five people. But who’s going to deny Club Dead a chance to communicate with the dead?”
Carrie grabbed my hand. She wore mittens. I wondered if she thought I was afraid. Where was Brink?
Did Carrie experience fright?
I liked knowing other people beside me were afraid.
She pealed me off from the group, off into another direction.
“Don’t you want to participate in the seane?”
“Séance, smay-ance. That’s Tuttle’s gig. I want to show you something real,” Carrie said.
Mid-winter packed snow coated the ground. We followed a slick narrow worn path. We held each other and led ourselves straight on the path.
“Nothing’s funny, ha-ha funny. I laughed. It’s laughable. Two people holding on, not falling.”
“Maybe. Yes. Maybe I feel happy.”
“Right. I feel giddy.”
Carrie did not laugh.
“Next. I have asked Carrie to serves as a medium. She has experience in spiritual matters.”
“How will Carrie communicate? She doesn’t talk.”
“Spirits have the power to overcome the resistance of human silence. If the spirits want to communicate, Carrie will talk.”
“Where is she?”
Everyone looked around.
“We can’t continue with her. She knows the importance of her role,” Tuttle said.
“How about mixing up the ritual? There are steps, right?”
“Yes. Yes, I think we could do that.”
“How about the reading portion?”
“That is an excellent idea. Emig. You’re the literary one in the group. Did you bring your readings?”
“On your mark boss.”
Emig pulled a black small black notebook from his inside jacket pocket. He coughed, a sign for the members to be quiet.
“When you agree to take on death, you gain extraordinary capacity, a special power, you could call it, an ability to expand your consciousness.”
“That’s very good.”
“I’m not done: Everything becomes clear, like a fog lifting.”
“I’m not so sure I believe that.”
“You have an omniscient view of the world and see things you’ve never seen before.”
Silence reigned. The space became a wintery cloud as the collective breathing joined in on the meditation of death.
“Is that it?”
“Who wrote that?”
“A guy named Murakami.”
“He knows things.”
My vision adjusted to the moonlight. Black tombstones and naked trees punctured the white landscape. A crow swooped low, nearly clipping our heads. Carrie watched the crow until it receded into the dark.
I no longer needed to hold Carrie to find my way, but I did not let go.
Carrie stopped, so I did too. She looked to her right, then to her left. I heard Club Dead, an unintelligible sound wave.
She lifted her nose, breathed in and let out a steam of frosty air. She pulled me to the right.
Again we stopped. She relaxed my gloved hand and pulled her backpack from her shoulder.
Now mittenless, She handed me two containers.
“Make a rectangle. About this size.” She held her hands apart. “There.”
“What do I do?”
Emig read from a story by Chekhov, which most members agreed was not as potent as Murakami. But they loved this guy named Roth.
“What else does he say?”
“Oh, he says a lot.”
“Well, he writes about our attitude toward death, how it’s changed over time. A long time ago, everyone, there was this collective understanding, that we all die. Big deal. Then centuries later, people started to think like individuals and all their cared about was their own death, and their soul.”
“That’s my kind of era.”
“But that changed too. People started to write about death in a way that showed an interest in only other people’s death.”
“So he could dramatize it.”
“Why do that?”
“To tell a story? Who would write a story about death? That’s sick! We need more stories with happy endings.”
“It’s about catharsis.”
“Not who, what. Aristotle, you know.”
“Not what, who. You know, a story of death makes you feel better.”
“Emig, what are you talking about?”
“How about this. This is good and clear: Death is a terrible thing. You know. Death, it’s no good. So I wish I was never born.”
“He doesn’t pull punches.”
“But it’s so bleak. What do you do with that thought?”
“Wait. He goes on: Something always came along to make you want to keep living, goddamn!”
“Exactly! That’s why I’m going mad – I want to die and to live!”
“You think that’s good. You should read him on sex. He’s very good on sex. He’s out there. Naughty.”
“Emig, I’m surprised!”
“Got a title? I like naughty sex stuff.”
“Try Portnoy’s Complaint. You’ll never eat liver again.”
“People eat liver?”
“Once upon a time.”
Carrie whipped out and clicked open a six-inch switchblade. She knelt down and scraped a rectangle about the size of a breadbox into the frozen snow.
“Pour along the edges,” she instructed me.
I removed my gloves and unscrewed the top of one of the cannisters and poured out hot water. The edges melted.
“Okay, move in.”
I poured and watched the center of snow disappear.
Carrie jabbed at the softened ice, picking up chunks and flicking them to the side.
“Pour the other.”
I opened the other flask and poured more water along the edges and then into the middle. I stepped back and Carrie jabbed some more. She worked quickly. I saw sweat appear on her brow. I heard a soft grunt.
She scrapped the surface, revealing a flat piece of black rock, a footstone, lying flat on the ground. She dug the blade into the engraving. She stood and huffed out a cloud that engulfed me.
“I read biographies too,” Emig said. “Ones about people my pop’s age. River Phoenix was born in the same year as pop.”
“An actor. I’ll read about River acting in Indian Jones and think of my pop and wonder what he was doing.”
“Does it comfort you?”
“It’s not about comfort. It’s about proximity. When I read about River I think about him, then I think about my pop.”
“My life is a problem that I’m trying solve.”
I didn’t know what I was looking at. I read more.
“Died February 29, 2000.”
“That’s today,” I said. “Leap year.”
“My birthday,” Carrie said.
“You can do math. Smart girl.”
Carrie took her sunglasses off and whipped away the tears with her arm.
“You’re lucky to have a mom to make your bed.”
“I’m starting to understand that.”
“You know, I’m not going to dump Brink for you.”
“Because I have a mom?”
“In class we studied the myth of Psyche. It’s the Greek word for butterfly. They believed that the butterfly was the soul of the dead.”
“Psyche was a girl.”
“She fell for Cupid.”
“Was stupid for Cupid.”
“And was sent to Hades for punishment.”
“The Greeks were believers.”
“I could use some of that Greek believer stuff.”
“How did she die?”
“Dumb question, CJ.”
“I was just giving you the chance to talk.”
“Right. Sorry. Hard to talk about her. Don’t know much. Aside from what papa tells me.”
“You really want to hear?”
Carrie clipped close the blade and stuffed it in her back pocket.
I grabbed her hand.
“Yes, I do.”
I was not sure what to make of Carrie’s story. I didn’t know if what she described was for her or for me.
Especially when she told me about the crows.
“I slept fitfully for years, in the attic space. No, it’s wasn’t a prison. I loved that space. Private. Comfortable. There were two small dormer windows, one opposite from the head of my bed. One night I wake. I’m looking at the window. The light from the moon made the window space look light, almost white. From the bottom I see ears.”
“No, the wolf.”
“You say that as if you knew the wolf.”
“The wolf visited regularly.”
Carrie rarely made jokes.
“The ears rose and the head appeared. I couldn’t see any of the wolf’s features. No nose, ears, or mouth. Just the silhouette. And then it lowered, at the same speed, and was gone.”
“How high was you house?”
“That was my cue.”
“To go outside. I was being called.”
Carrie proceeded to tell me a story that left me wondering about the nature of reality. As if I could take any more of that.
“I went outside, into the back yard. It was late autumn. Cold. Dried leaves covered the lawn. I stood to the side, near the edge of the house. I heard soft crunching. A crow appeared. It went to the middle of the lawn. Then more crunching and more crows appeared. The formed a circle around the first crow. They looked at me.”
“Oh, now, Carrie, I mean…”
“Don’t be such a doubter. Just listen. They started to caw in unison. Except for the crow in the middle. Then the others closed in on the solitary crow. It disappeared among the others. The heads of the crows rose and fell upon the one crow. Leaves flew. The racket of those crows cawing has never left me.”
Carrie stopped talking and stared at her mother’s grave.
“Carrie, what did you do?”
Carrie snapped to attention.
“Well, the crows walked away from the center of the lawn, stopped cawing and walked off into the woods. I knew I had to see the solitary crow. I walked to the middle of the lawn where a pile of leaves had been formed.”
“Are you the solitary crow?”
“CJ, I’m not describing a metaphor. This isn’t an English class asking you for an interpretation.”
“I mean, well…”
“That crow was real.”
“Were you frightened?”
“It prepared me for life. Nothing scares me anymore.”
“And in the middle? What did you find?”
“I can’t tell you that. It was only for me.”
“It’s hard to take in. It just sounds so fantastic.”
“Fantastic? You think that was fantastic? Here, let me show you fantastic.”
Carrie took off her mittens, pulled me close, and unzipped my jacket. She unbuttoned my flannel shirt to my navel. I had a t-shit on underneath. On this she placed the palm of her hand.
“Close your eyes.”
When I did something happened. I was not asleep but not awake. Somewhere in between. I felt great. Like I was in warm water. I entered a story. I’m certain much time passed while I was in this story, but when I opened my eyes, Carrie told me only ninety seconds had passed.
I spent much of this time in a tree. The tree had many thick branches, all very close to each other. I played on these branches, with a bounty of happiness. I saw myself smile. I hopped from one branch to another, lowering myself down to the ground and then into the ground. Tightly bunch roots filled the ground. I swam though the roots, as if I were some slithery thing, a worm, an eel or a snake. I felt the comfort associated with a good home.
And then I awoke.
“Well?” Carrie asked, putting her mittens back on.
I re-buttoned my shirt and zipped up my coat.
“I don’t know. But I think I feel better.”
“That’s what I do.”
“Until Carrie and CJ get here, I’m going to do a little archiving,” Fretwell said.
Fretwell stared at a tombstone and penciled his pad with notes.
“What are you writing?”
“I record the facts. Name, birthdate, date of death, epitaphs, pictures. Look at that – “Our beloved child…”. What pathos! It gets me every time.” Fretwell scribbled furiously.
“How can you absorb so much anguish?”
“I see it as a duty. I can take it.”
“Do you like certain ones, you know, over others?”
“Like? I’m not sure. I’m drawn to things. Juniors and III’s attract me. They’re evocative.”
“That’s sexist. Only guys get those things.”
“Oh, I’m an equal opportunity archivist. Girls, boys, I even visited pet cemeteries.”
“But I thought you only archived teens.”
“Right. I try to find pets that correspond to human age.”
“I get it. So a two-year old dog would count. It’s fourteen, right?”
“That seven year estimate is wrong. It depends on the size of the dog, among other factors. Don’t even start me on cats.”
“They grow exponentially fast. Sixteen human years equals eighty-four years for a cat.”
“No way! You have got the wildest hobby in the world.”
“Death keeps me busy.”
“My mom was part Nipmuc and part Welsh. She left me a potent pedigree.”
“What’s a Nipmuc?”
“A New England indigenous tribe. Freaked William Bradford out. And the Welsh part involved Druids.”
“And what do you do with what you know? I think I’d fall off the world.”
“I keep it stored, in here.” Carrie tapped her head. “There’s not much I can do about it. It’s me. And when I can, I try to help people out.”
“You are sorely misunderstood. People at school think you’re anti-social.”
“I am. People are not my favorite species.”
“Screen says that too. Is that why you let me touch your tattoo? Was that like this touching?”
“No. I found you sexy and wanted to flirt.”
“Carrie, you’re not an easy one to follow.”
We kicked ice chunks around.
“I’m not dumping Brink for you. While I’d be in favor of multiple loves, Brink is traditional, fiercely monogamous. In time, that girl will mate for life. She found me first, so…”
“That’s quite a way to live at fifteen. Poor me.”
“Yes, poor CJ Stark.”
We kissed some more. Cold lips.
We turned and headed back to the séance.
“So, CJ, what are you going to do with your new-found knowledge?”
“Make my own bed.”
“Nice job Emig. You make me want to read. Step three - choosing whom to contact - is done too. Jimmy Swindle.” Tuttle displayed a remarkable calm, an improvement over the time he left the stage in rage.
“Welcome back. We thought the goblins had abducted you.”
“No, just a little stroll,” I said.
Carrie and I received a thorough going-over. But if the group suspected anything, they kept it to themselves.
“Okay, you missed the readings. Emig can share them with you later. But now we can move on. We set the table. But with no table I’ve chose this area. It’s flat and doesn’t sit over any dead body. Now we have to set the table. Tallie? Do you have the sage?”
“They were out of it at the farmer’s market. I almost bought some basil. I wasn’t sure if that was good for a séance. One of the famer’s convinced me kale would do. So I bought some kale.”
“Tallie, kale doesn’t light!”
“But neither does sage.”
“Dried sage does.”
I thought about how Emma’s liked to sprinkle sage on pizza.
Tuttle’s calm was brittle.
“I have some pot,” Emig said.
People looked at each other.
“No! No pot! We’ll get stoned and think we’re seeing things when there’s nothing to see.”
“I brought some incense,” Dawn said. “I thought it would be cool.”
“Dawn, I think incense is perfect,” Tuttle said, steading himself. “How about we gather in a circle and you stick it in the ground in the middle?”
The members made a very large circle. Dawn stood and walked several steps to reach the middle. She jabbed the incense stick into the ground and lit it with a bic. A thin wisp of smoke rose. A light wind pushed it around and everyone smells its desserty aroma.
“I have brought some candles. These allow Jimmy to see.” Tuttle placed the candles around the incense. “Three. I brought three. Whatever is put out here for Jimmy must be divisible by three.”
“Three is a very powerful number,” Screen said.
“Not as powerful as seven?” I asked.
“No. But it has heft.”
“Emma wasn’t interested?”
“We believe it’s important to stay true to our own ways. This is my gig, not hers.”
“Plus, she’d think we’re loony.”
“Your sister has more tact then you give her credit for.”
“So along with candles, I asked you to bring three different things that Jimmy might needs in the afterlife. Please put your things in the middle.”
The circle filled up: three CDs, three pairs of ear buds, three comic books – Avengers Versus X-Men Infinite, Lord of the Rings and The Album – three packs of Gummy Bears, three cans of energy drink, three skateboards, three bus tokens, and other things, including three carrots.
“I was told to bring food.”
“I like carrots. Who knows what Jimmy has to eat.”
“Who brought the necklace of garlic?”
“We’re not after vampires.”
“You can’t rule them out being attracted to this. I wanted to be prepared.”
“Okay. This looks great. Nice job guys. Next, we gather round and hold hands.”
That was easy. I grabbed Carrie’s.
“We have to summon Jimmy with a chant. Any chants?”
We chanted Club Dead.
“Quiet. Dawn, you’re up.”
“Jimmy, it’s Club Dead. You don’t know us, but Tuttle wants you to know…Tuttle, what do you want to tell Jimmy?”
“I hadn’t thought.”
“Tell him I am very bothered by his death and that I hope he’s not lonely.”
Dawn repeated Tuttle’s message.
“Now read the rest.”
Dawn pulled a piece of paper from her jacket pocket, unfolded it and read.
“Jimmy Swindle, be guided by the light of this world and visit us.”
“Now we wait for a response.”
We stood quietly for some minutes.
“Can we talk?”
“I don’t see how that could hurt. But let’s whisper so if Jimmy contacts us we can ask him our questions.”
“How will we know he’s contacting us?”
“He knocks on wood. Once for yes, and two for no. Frank, did you bring the wood?”
“Right here.” Frank put a two foot two-by-four into the circle. Frank had become a valuable go-to guy.
“But if Jimmy wants to talk, he may speak through Carrie. If so, we can have a more involved conservation.”
“Will Carrie’s voice change?”
Carrie looked indifferent to having a spirit speak through her. With my new knowledge of her, I suspected she’d handle it adroitly.
I thought about roots. And Emma, mom, dad and Grant, in that order.
“How’s the play?”
“Set to go. Tallie, you have the makeup?”
“And the fake blood?”
“Speaking of blood. Heard about you and your last school,” I said.
I could tell Screen wondered how I knew that.
“And what’s up with the pigs? You’re making Blok nervous.”
“Why have you been talking to him?”
“He wanted me to rat on you. Find out why you took the pig. Then they hang you by your toes and make you take trigonometry during the summer.”
“Are you a spy?”
“Do I look like the spy type?”
“No one knows what makes you tick. That’s what Emma says.”
“Yes, Emma, big sister, the great commentator.”
“Well, are you going to report on me?”
“Report what? You haven’t told me anything.”
Screen possessed a great, quiet psycho-look.
“I will test you.”
“I need no tests.”
“I need allies.”
“For what? You planning to take over the school? I got you my uncle’s ashes. What more proof do you need that I’m an ally? Heck, you said you weren’t the joiner. What’s all this ’I need allies’?”
“A sense of belonging is important to solitaires.”
“I get that.”
“I buried it.”
“It didn’t look good in that jars.”
“You are one weird potato.”
“That’s not making me feel like I belong.”
“Look, there’s nothing wrong with weird. Look around. Anything weird going on?”
“I just don’t like to see dead things unattended.”
“I can accept that.”
“Shush! I think I hear a knocking.”
There was no knocking.
“How long do we wait?”
“I don’t know. But once we break our circle, contact will be impossible.”
“Let’s give it another fifteen minutes.”
“Got some place to go?”
“Yes, the bathroom.”
“And it’s cold.”
“And I’m stiff. My legs are asleep.”
“Is this any way to confront death?”
“Okay, fifteen minutes. But before we break the circle, we must thank the spirits.”
“Look, that’s the twelfth step. It says thank the spirit.”
We talked some more, then released our hold on each other. Tuttle blew out the candles. We thanked the spirits. We took our offerings. I handed Frank the wood. Many of us patted Tuttle on the back and said “Good job!”
“He may not have revealed himself, but I think I felt Jimmy’s presence,” Tuttle said. A couple of us said the same thing.
“What’s he like?”
“I think he’s shy,” Tuttle said.
We walked home with the moon lighting out way, with Carrie and I still holding hands.
A flying crow cut across the white of the moon.