Frank and Cathy came to visit from time to time. Since they’d returned to Massachusetts, Frank had set up a successful carpentry business. Though never real close, Frank’s and KC’s families’ friendships were steady, and always there when someone needed something. As with everyone else, Frank and Cathy were shocked by Drew’s plane crash and very sad for the family’s loss.
It was their shared experiences that caused Frank to write a book. It was good, easy reading, and Frank even fantasized about a successful screen story in which he would cast (and fall in love with) the most worthy candidate to play the young and beautiful Oona. Yes, Frank loved his book and he wanted it to be successful. But it didn’t matter so much whether anyone else read his stuff. It was more about his own fulfillment; fictional versions of real people in his life mixed with real life recollections; stories of Anton the ghost, and times with Louis and the kids, his friend and cousin Drew, and Oona of course. And while he never actually met their common ancestor, Anton, Frank had played a critical role in his redemption. Frank set out to capture those pieces of his life, those very memorable events of four years ago. Back then Frank was a homeless and suicidal man in Boston. One day he was snatched from the jaws of death and a few hours later he was fucking Oona Neeci, who had to be one of, if not, the most beautiful women in the world. For Frank it was truly therapeutic and exhilarating to write, and he vowed never to bowdlerize away his imaginative zest and free-text principles.
Once Anton got on with his “life” or rather his “existence,” everyone else got on with theirs. The Boehme family returned to Massachusetts. Frank and Cathy reconciled their marriage and, with their son Andrew, moved to Westbridge, Massachusetts, to a modest house once occupied by Drew’s family.
It was the twenty-third of November when the Group assembled in the refurbished séance room which resembled a richly flavored mix of New Orleans and Moulin Rouge: rich in red; red, red, and more, red. Truth be told, there were a few browns and blacks and spots of yellows, but the room was mainly red.
There were plenty of billowing red velvet portieres which adorned the entire séance area. There in the former family room of the house, were a few soft red high-back chairs scattered around two love seats, both red, and an old, seasoned black leather sofa. There were plenty of pillows all around, and at least five old-fashioned lamps of various sizes, carefully placed around the room. And in the center of which seemed to be a book-filled wall, there was a high-set fireplace, with new old-stonework around the hearth’s face, in a mixture of red bricks and fieldstones high up to the ceiling. And at the far end of the room, centered before the large ground-level windows, there stood a six place séance table, easily large enough for more people, dressed in a thick, red, velvety cloth. The French doors stood to the right, and bookshelves were to the table’s left, and on which hung the old mirror. There were big, framed pictures on the walls; likely notables and possible ancestors of Oona Neeci, who was stretched quite thin at the moment.
Oona had not slept well for weeks. She battled bouts of self-doubt and depression while she frantically maintained her ontology practice and her full time role as a family nanny. Her unrequited affections for KC and her blind pursuit of her sexual desires brought many moods at unexpected times.
The night was fully upon them when the Group of Six finally gathered around the séance table. In spite of the grand design of the room, and the generally upbeat mood of its participants, Oona felt unsteady and as if she had lost control of herself. She felt detached from her touch and her core powers. Her mind was cloudy, not sharp at all, and lately it seemed Oona was never her “usual self.” Even her libido was a constant diversion and nearly out of control. Everything else was nothing more than a temporary distraction from her very intense passions.
Oona found it hard to concentrate on the mission of their séance and her mind drifted. She mourned the loss of her driver’s license. It was incredibly restrictive and already quite costly and burdensome. Taxis and drivers, the limo service, and other lifts, all collectively took their toll, and no doubt would continue to do so for months to come. At home, Oona’s ontology practice was a booming success. The house was abuzz with clients each day from nine till two, sometimes even into the evenings and on weekends. Oona was saddened that her Boston connections suffered greatly; professionally she simply could not tend to everything being tossed her way from Harvard or from the Mass General. She did what she could for them remotely.
It took tremendous concentration to change course and start the séance in earnest. During this time of great transition and great need, Oona’s most precious possession and what had for years been her greatest support – Pi Gran Liv – acted like a spurned lover. Oona felt she was in sharp decline from fatigue and her inability to rest and replenish. Candles were lit by Charley who took his seat on the right side of Oona. To her left sat Louis, then KC, Frank and Cathy, and finally Charley. Everyone joined hands and looked downward to the table when Oona finally opened the conclave. Chants flowed from her lips in a strange tongue. Her beauty was utterly distorted in the low light of the room as she called to the higher powers to allow access to Andrew Gerhard Boehme.
Then Oona started with more familiar chants:
“His presence has passed; his present is past, the door now opens as I so cast.” Oona suddenly drew in a deep breath. It was as if she were already exhausted. “His present is past,” she said again…and again.
Since his arrival in the Hereafter, Drew could neither recall boredom nor sleep, nor doing anything at all with anyone other than Anton. He hadn’t met anyone else, and aside from some walks outside, most of his time had been spent in Opa’s corner office, or near to it, frequently with a cold beer in hand. Time, if one could call it that, passed invisibly. If Drew had one feeling, it was that he was on hold, he hovered in process for something else, and what, he did not know. Time surely did not matter. It was impossible to tell day from night. He had no need for showers or baths, though he was confident he could take either if and when he desired. He was still in his street clothes from the day he died. And they looked good! There was no dirt and no bruises anywhere on his body. There was no pain; no…nothing. Aside from thoughts of his former life, Drew had no feelings of loneliness or discomfort. And he continued to struggle with that predicament.
With measured emotion, Andrew stated, “I cannot be the only guy up here who doesn’t want to go into The Light.” They sat outside of Anton’s office now, comfortable on what was built to resemble a wide country porch.
“Lieb, we have talked about this time and again. You cannot return to Earth, and you cannot benefit at all from your stay here in Processing. Here you may NOT communicate with any of your loved ones. Once you pass to The Light, these things will change.”
Drew turned from Anton. He was wooden and expressionless although Drew was unable to feel despair. Then, finally, he asked about his children.
“Louis is often reminded of those times in the roof garret,” smiled Opa. “Your son portrays his father as he remembers him, and almost always in a positive light. Young Louis tries to leverage his connection with me to help him reach you, his father, and his successful breaches are, so far, more welcomed by me than any intrusions by the witch Oona. Your son and I are for certain two trusting and loving allies.” Anton went on to explain that, if he needed to, he could always apply family-friendly filters for young Louis.
“Thanks, Anton,” Drew conceded. Maybe Anton cheated a bit with his son; maybe Anton even gave him bits of information which he withheld from Drew. Maybe. Drew was numb to emotion, yet inspired to hear more.
“Do you send messages to Louis through family ghosts?”
Opa smiled over to his charge.
“Isn’t there some ‘wandering information’ for those ‘wandering spirits’?” Drew asked sarcastically. He widened his sea green eyes and invited some – any – response. Anything would do. “Look Anton: I’m immune to pain, man. I’m numb to pain! I’m Okay with the truth, Opa.” He looked down at the slightly spaced floorboards. “Even if my whole life just got dumped in the dumpster.” He paused for effect and then added, “Now, what about Charley?”
“Your son is quite well; he is the young master of the Boehme household.” Anton took a long puff of his briarwood pipe. “Your boy remains a great athlete. He is close with Frank and they share a passion for all their local sports. Charley is very intelligent and very handsome. And he is a young man, with Oona ever in his dreams.”
“I can imagine,” Drew muttered.
“Charley shall one day be a great sportscaster, whatever that is.”
“You know the future too?”
“Sometimes as a benefit of my position,” he said with a wink, “I can accurately surmise the spirit of a young man’s success.”
Drew quietly recited, “My oldest son, my youngest son…and my only daughter.”
“Your young daughter is a budding…witch. A gifted girl. Oona will nurture their skills…for the good of mankind, no doubt. Yes, Thankful will grow much stronger over time.”
“What? My baby Thankful?”
“She knew when you passed, Lieb. Remember: Louis is not your only child with otherworldly powers.”
Once Oona ended her repetitions, the Six turned to Louis. Louis in turn sought silent permission from Oona, which was granted unreservedly. The sorceress appeared un-sharp, even drunk. Oona pulled herself back from the center of the table, and further away from her crystal ball. She seemed to welcome a moment to regain her composure.
Lucia’s strengthened presence in the house had clouded Oona’s mind like a deadly gas.
Around the séance table, Louis, spoke softly. “Opa: this is Louis. Mom wants to know why Dad went to Washington. She wants to know what Dad’s big secret was. Can you help me, Opa?”
The boy looked around the table, and then again over to Oona who smiled him on. Louis was pretty sure something was going on in the house that seemed bad, even…evil. It was not Oona, but, it seemed it was something like Oona. “Dad? Can either of you hear me?” he asked stubbornly. He listened for something, anything; any hint of anything. “We need your help,” he called more loudly.
At that very moment, and as the dark lady commanded them so, Thankful and Little Andrew were on a bike under the cover of night, on their way to Harrison’s Funeral Home, a little more than a mile from home.
Anton suddenly rose and left the porch on the way toward his corner office. Drew followed him inside. There, Anton took his place behind his desk and quietly motioned to Drew for a beer. Anton listened intently; he stood and listened.
“The boy’s powers are quite strong; remarkable really. The séances undoubtedly help, but young Louis is quite good, with fine skills indeed.” Opa waited for Drew’s return. When he did, Drew held two open bottles of his favorite pilsner.
Anton looked at his descendant and mused to himself. “Tell me, Lieb,” he finally said, “What business did you have in Washington on the day of your passing?” The sponsor smiled inquisitively at Drew, who occupied his “usual” seat opposite Anton.
Drew took a long sip from his ice cold pilsner. Then he let his words flow freely. “I knew KC would never approve of it, so it had to be kept secret. It was a sure bet to make substantial and quick returns on a small dollar financial investment in a significant state-of-the-art project. I had to do it in person; that was the catch. I had a big one time commitment in DC, a series of intense gatherings of anonymous investors. And I needed to get there in a hurry.” He leaned toward his sponsor. “It was my road to Hollywood, Anton. It was for the success and security of my family.”
“What was it?”
“It was 3-D Porn,” he said and smiled. “It, the meetings, aimed to take the lead and seal the deal on an innovative adult film project.”
“Uh, yeah. I guess you wouldn’t understand.” Drew’s head faced downward. “But yes, the money would have been the deposit on the porno project, as I used to call it in private. But it was much more than that, Opa. It started out as a Kickstarter thing. More than a get rich quick seminar. DC offered the best place for a blend of venture people, who saw promise with such a project, and great capital wealth. Anton: there was great need for talented people to come together as a team: small investors, producers and writers, visionaries, business people, PR and legal wits.
“How much of the venture was opened to small investors was to be determined that day – the day of the crash – and the project required only a few outside investors, more for their entrepreneurial acumen than their relatively small monetary investments. It was all pretty ‘Hush, Hush,’ by design. There was no apparent shortage of interested and avowedly discreet individuals who would spar among themselves and with major players to grab a piece of the action.
“With follow-up contacts and other folks, cold calls and cryptic messages, there was really nobody who managed this…event. But I tell you: innovations were all over the place. The costuming, you name it. Flesh-colored leggings, colorful G-string designs. Eye-popping trademarks. And the 3-D venture into soft porn, really; it’s part of an industry that discovered some of the most promising young starlets of Hollywood.”
“Of course,” Anton nodded. He drew long on his beloved pipe.
Drew took a long breath and added, “Very progressive stuff, Opa. So I made a small deposit out to someone named ‘D. Smith,’ a broker. As I said, the bigger investments were to be in time and purpose, and imagination. And my time was cheap. Once I actually spoke with Smith’s office, I planned to leave right away with the check in hand, and with the details for the conclave to follow. Obviously, the check was never delivered and never cashed. The pitch said, ‘If you want in on this project, be here at 1PM Saturday, October ninth.’ I was ready to sign the contract, and everything looked good that morning. I was so sure it was going to be easy money.”
Anton was naturally interested in Drew’s story, though many parts made little sense to the nineteenth century man.
The Annals shall finally be written.
“I might have tried to get Trix to do the 3-D porn. Remember our old baby sitter, Anton, the beautiful Dutch girl? But she was like Joan of Arc, you know: all prim and proper, and pure, and beautiful. Her dad Loek and her mom Jeannette were great people. But in the end, Trix was just a fantasy, conjured up by me as if it were true. So my starlet would never be Trixi. Let me tell you though, that girl Trixi is ’all growed up’.”
“Yes, of course,” Opa concurred.
Drew smiled. “I had my contract and a day’s worth of personal belongings with me, and I set out from Boston that morning. It was a high risk scheme that I knew would really piss off KC if she ever found out about it. It would have been a disaster,” he smiled wryly, “if she found out before I took off. Anton: There was potential for huge earnings. And it would be a silent success – a secret – from my wife and kids.” Drew sank deep into his seat and silently wept.
Opa was lost in the words. His ordinarily quick eyes visibly lacked meaning.
“Oh, you wouldn’t understand,” Drew said from beneath his cupped hands. “Believe me, Opa, KC would have been pissed. The result was that nobody knew my plans for that day. Not one person among that consortium knew or cared whether I was coming that day. Yup, I was headed there, ready for a big breakout success. I’d sign up and be on my way, part of a great innovation in a booming industry.”
“So, Lieb, would you say these things now to your loved ones? Would you ask for their forgiveness, for your deceit, your secrecy?”
As if he did not hear, Drew continued. “I rushed down there to get in on the movie. I bought into it madly after a number of secret pitches. I was sold on the budding 3-D porn genre before I boarded the plane. It was really such an excitement for me to get into the movie industry, even though it was at the bottom of the barrel, just porn.”
“Porn? What is this thing?” Opa seemed to still have no clue.
“You know, like naked women.”
He nodded and said nothing.
“What is Title XVIII compliant?” he then asked.
“Uh, that’s acceptable porno. You know, Opa, to mitigate the sleaze factor.”
"Tell me, is there something you would have your loved ones see, perhaps, to tell them about this porn?”
Drew toyed with his ancestor. He took a last sip of his beer and asked, “Are you reading my mind?”
“This too suggests a less than honest person, Andrew.”
“Well, yeah, it was gonna be a new angle adult film production. This is 150 years after you died, Anton. Times have changed and sex – having sex – is big business. Remember ‘Hooker’s Ladies’?”
Anton nodded with a small smile.
“Well today there’s a whole acting industry, filled with people that look like that.”
Anton listened. There was no longer a smile.
“And one of many I had hoped. No, nobody knew why I went to DC that morning. I suppose my emails and links could show them something, if anybody’s interested,” he added. “I’m pretty sure no one can make that connection.”
“So I suppose, Lieb, that that is a good thing.
“Sure,” he stated. Then he quickly recanted. “No, not really. I guess I’m still not that proud of my choices,” Drew confessed. “I just wanted to make some extra money and doing something I enjoyed, and to use my mind to help make it happen. That’s all it was.” Drew could see the puzzled look on Anton’s face.
“Is it me or computer stuff, Anton? You look like something’s up. I’m sure you use similar lingo; I know you do.” Drew took a good swig of a new cold beer, as if drawn from a bottomless keg. With a brief pause he looked away from Anton and then added, “You know I told KC: ‘It’s killing me but I can’t tell you’.”
As he listened to Drew, Anton also had heard Louis’ pleas. “I shall do what I can to give the boy anything I am permitted to,” he thought. Rules are rules. “And there are genealogical renderings which should be passed on from Louis to his brother Charley. I shall remember to send the boy warm messages. And while there are prohibitions never to reveal the status or condition of his own dear father,” Anton recalled loving ancestors, “Nabby Goodberry and my own brother Hansy among them, would love to visit the boy to chat, comfort, and strengthen him. I will enrich the family tree and help Charley maintain that which was built by you, his beloved father.”
Drew was silent; clearly not impressed.
“At thirteen years of age, young Charley is the newly anointed Boehme family patriarch, and will be most eager to carry on the responsibility of maintaining ‘The Tree’.”
And a very powerful tree that includes dozens of Salem witches.
Drew spewed on, perfectly relaxed now, as he should have been right along. “I thought of letting Frank or Loek in on the project early on, but decided against it. You know, the fewer people in on it, the better the rewards for those who were.”
Anton politely nodded. “This suggests ‘Greed’ mein Lieb.” Yes, all Six Chapters of the Annals shall be collected and written quite nicely now.
“The cat was already out of the bag but, you know, the fewer the better.”
Anton shook his head in disagreement.
“Vast earnings and exposure, I tell you, Anton. Plenty of both were waiting for me in DC.”
“You were fortunate to have made it this far in your life’s journey.” Anton raised his brows and nodded a few times, in testament to his usual faith and ultimate compassion.
“And of all the things to get into,” Drew added. “But it wasn’t as if I was doing anything criminal, it’s just that doing it would have been intensely opposed by KC. I knew that – not because it broke any law – but because of what it was: Porn. Yeah, my plan was for quick success before she even had time to find out what it was.”
“Lust and deceit,” Anton tisked.
“And then it would be too late and wouldn’t matter so much anymore, because of all the money we’d be making. Yup, that was the plan, Opa.”
Anton opened his mouth to speak but could no longer dismiss young Louis’ appeals. All the time his father gushed, the boy had stayed on messaging him, the boy’s Opa. Anton focused now on Louis’ next words.
“There’s something going on here, Opa,” he said. “And I think it’s something bad.”
“Louis!” Oona suddenly admonished him. And the Chain faltered slightly but held.
Then, just as suddenly and with great affection, Oona chimed, “As testament to the man named Andrew, beloved father and husband, we most humbly seek the reason for travel on the day of his passing.”
The Six waited patiently for something and the Chain held strong. Then, there were faint rumblings which were quickly overtaken by shocking images on the old mirror which snapped alive now to show full color impact of the fiery crash. The candles flickered and Oona’s reflection appeared in her crystal ball and also on the old mirror. Her face lingered and then the clarity and brutality of the crash images returned, in all its ghastly realism.
And, unexpectedly, Oona appeared greatly relieved. Her powers were assured.
Thankful had scoped out old Harrison’s with her brothers beforehand. “There’s more than an acre of yard here,” Thankful said to Little Andrew. Then, in her natural boastful fashion, and as if to demonstrate her acquired knowledge, the girl added, “This place is surrounded with trees and well-kept shrubbery.” She tugged at his arm. “Come-on. Let’s go over there, downstairs where Mr. Harrison has his workshop.”
“The sign says it’s a funeral home,” Andrew innocently offered as they walked toward the structure. Through bonds of a common ancestor, Anton the ghost, the two were very distant cousins and good friends.
“Yeah, silly; It’s also his home. There’s a small room upstairs for crying people, you know, old people mostly from Westbridge; people who go way back.” Then she shot out, “He handles dead bodies out of his house.”
“That’s creepy,” said Andrew and he stopped walking. Sure, her cousin had agreed to do this all on a dare, but the truth was Andrew would never leave her alone in a place like this. He would never say, “No” to Thankful.
“It’s not that creepy,” she replied.
After a brief pause, the boy continued to walk at Thankful’s side. The pair arrived at the “workshop” and easily entered the downstairs of the Harrison’s house. They entered through an unlocked door which opened into a low lit vestibule, and where several boxes of disposable gloves were heaped generously in baskets at each side of the mortuary entrance.
Thankful held hands with Andrew and whispered comfortingly, “Some lady, like 90 years old, somebody’s daughter I think, just died, and she’s inside here.” By luck or by trick, neither the house alarm (which a small sign on the lawn publicized) nor the mortuary’s alarm had been set that evening by old Mr. Harrison.
The dark lady’s spell had successfully been cast a great distance – over a mile – and caused the old man to forget to lock up and set the alarm that night. And as remarkably, Lucia’s Spell of Forgetfulness was gleaned neatly from Pi Gran Liv. Though still not strong enough to project her gathering body beyond their house, the spell was a clear testament to her growing power.
Thankful and Little Andrew shared one flashlight and entered the freezing cold concrete room – it was like a fridge – and they scanned the interior of the small morgue. Both kept their fears to themselves. Along one wall they saw two coffins with two casket covers upright beside them. Another wall had shelves with several low-sided white metal trays. There was likely a body underneath one lumpy opaque plastic cerement which covered one tray. The place was cluttered with chemicals and devices for practicing the old man’s grim profession. There were bottles and cans everywhere on shelves and on the floor. To the kids, the whole place smelled like somebody spilled a bottle of bleach.
“They’re gonna bury the lady in the morning so she must be in one of these boxes.”
For the old Yankee Colburn family, it was customary to meet at the old town cemetery at dawn and bury their dead without fanfare. They had been doing it this way for many generations, for over three hundred years.
The two children walked over to the two open caskets, both covered with the same opaque plastic sheeting as the white tray on the other wall.
“I read the death notice and know the schedule.” Thankful said with a forced calmness. In truth, the young girl was more afraid of the dark lady that she was of dead bodies. “They want to get her buried before Thanksgiving.” Thankful used a step stool to rise up to the first casket and pull back the plastic. She gasped but kept herself strong. It was the deathly mass of a short haired young man. She stepped down and moved to the next box where she did the same.
Even though Thankful scared him to death, the loyal and loving Andrew would be strong for his little cousin, while at the same time ready to flee. Little Andrew adored the young girl and would have done anything for her.
“She said to wait a moment before sprinkling this stuff.”
“Who said? And what stuff?” he asked.
“Never mind,” Thankful whispered hurriedly.
“How many moments are in a minute?” the boy asked.
“I don’t know,” she finally said. “I think it’s in seconds.”
“Then, just do it,” Little Andrew finally insisted.
“Okay, okay.” Thankful went about her business and opened a small conjure bag she borrowed from Oona. She tried not to look too much at the dead body, but could not help but notice. It was small and very old looking. She could see in the shadow, the face with heavy layers of makeup, hard-looking, like wax. The hands held a plain dark cross and were of the same wax-like skin. Her eyes were closed, fortunately. The old lady had an old-style dress on her body which went down to her knees, and she had simple old-lady shoes with stockings.
Inside the bag were a number of small items, and a dry powdery mixture which she first scattered around the inside perimeter of the coffin. It contained crushed up brown leaves, salt and rice from the kitchen, and a few unknown herbs from Oona’s inventory, which the dark lady instructed her to collect. She also had small sticks and a small handful of dirt from an old local graveyard. When she was done with the preparation, she motioned for Andrew to join her on the step stool.
This Andrew did with great hesitation and only with his eyes closed. In his fright, he was barely able to hold the light for Thankful who went about her business with what seemed like the guiding hands of someone else.
“It’s like everything is sucked out,” she said to her cousin. “She’s like cardboard.”
“Get it done. Get it done, Thankful!” Please, please, get it done.”
The five year old could not help but tear the old lady’s dress as she pulled it off her body. The smell was now awful and Thankful needed to hold her breath for even longer than she could hold it in the pool. On the way off, the dress snagged and tore on a couple of unknown impediments, but finally the dress was off completely, and there lay the scarred and hole ridden, sunken body of the old lady, completely undignified in her unfinished transit status to finality.
And, with a pause to collect some air and more courage, Thankful returned to replace the old lady’s dress with Oona’s. The air was different in different places, varied and all awful smells. She climbed back to her place and again, she manipulated the hollow body while her cohort continued to hold the light for her. Thankful regretted she hadn’t used the gloves at the door, but she was sure they would have been too big anyway. She managed to “dress” the corpse though she couldn’t get it to look as nice as when she saw it on Oona.
And where there might have been a risk of someone noticing a flowery Caribbean dress on the body of a 91 year old Massachusetts Yankee woman, which belonged to a woman clearly not her size, that risk was actually very low.
She thought she was done when she heard the dark lady’s voice command her hands to put on the dead lady’s old dress over the new one. This she did with great care and difficulty.
For how long Andrew could keep their little secret was anybody’s guess, but for now Thankful used the dark lady’s Krampus monster to keep him afraid. The children were meticulous. They wiped their track marks and searched for any stray debris. Then, finally their work was done. Thankful and Little Andrew had executed the plan and they left the way they entered. Unnoticed.