Relationships can be so difficult in the here and now never mind the spectral realms…
Donna Taylor Burgess
“Okay, let begin again,” the woman whispered. She was getting tired. She had checked her watch twice since coming in, but he was paying her. He wanted to have his story on tape--eventually on paper--even if it was just for him to see, but he was in no position to do it alone.
“When I close my eyes at night, I remember myself whole. I was whole until she went away. She left me when she found she could no longer stand my pitiful remains. War leaves a man that way sometimes--most times, actually. Remains… physical and mental, but my story is about Abigail. So I must start at the beginning, though it is difficult to chose which beginning to start with.”
He stopped again. “Shit,” he muttered. The woman, young and eager to be done and on her way, made some sort of noise in agreement.
“I was born unto another age . . . “
She came to Tommy the summer of his fifteenth year. His family lived in suburbia, just outside the wicked lights of L.A. They had a pink house and an aqua lawn that was watered once in the morning, and a line of small cactus along the driveway. They had a new car--a ‘61 Ford that had four doors and an air conditioner and got twelve miles to the gallon in the city.
He did not realize she was not alive at first. Later on, it did not matter.
Beethoven was what had drawn her to him. The music, she told him, was what made her find him, made her know who he was. At first, nobody could see her but him. Sometimes she would appear in the family room, just at the edge of his vision while he played the piano. Seeing her, his hands would rest a moment too long and his breath would catch. She was thin, willowy, her hair the color of sand, her eyes as gray as the ocean. She was ageless, or else he saw her as the age he wanted her to be. Like a moth to a flickering candle, beautiful Abigail would stand, hovering in and out among his family. He could smell the lilacs she had woven into her hair, the seaweed that was tangled into her hair the day she died more than a century before.
Sometimes she would kneel before his younger brother and stare, smiling into his eyes. From time to time a strange look would cross Eddie’s face, as if he sensed something... something not quite within grasp.
She was his best friend, his lover. She would whisper to him at night, and he could feel her warm breath on his skin. Sometimes she could penetrate his body, his being, filling his hands with hers like the slipping on of a glove, and she would share his pleasure.
But when she wanted to, she could lay her hands upon him and take him back to her lifetime, as short as it had been. It was in this lifetime that he came to know his Abigail.
Sometimes it was difficult to place the year: he was ten, or eight, or seventeen. His name had been Thomas.
Abby lived with them from the time of her birth. She was the result of a forbidden affair--no one knew who her father was; her mother was a house servant. Abby’s pale olive complexion and light eyes gave her heritage away. Her father was white--assumed one of the foremen. To counter a repeat of the scandal, Abby’s mother was sold to another house soon after she gave birth.
Abigail became his sister and his most cherished friend. They lived in greatness, sheltered by gnarled and towering oaks and canopies of Spanish moss draped like old lace. They surrounded themselves with rice and cotton, salt-water marshes and golden beaches.
The beaches became their playground.
They waltzed before their family to the sweetest symphonies and gyrated to the African rhythms of the slaves after sundown when they would slip like thieves from their bedroom windows.
Abby left with Tommy from his parent’s house just before his first year of college. He was moving barely across town, yet his mother cried like he was leaving the country. He could see Abby stretch out a vaporous hand and touch his mother’s soft cheek sympathetically.
His place was a pitiful studio apartment near campus. He bicycled to class because he didn’t dare spend his money on anything other than a piano. Unable to live without music, he saved the money he made waiting tables on weekends and in the evenings to buy a ramshackle Steinway from a seedy pawnshop. It was badly out of tune, but he felt he needed it to keep Abby drawn to him.
Thomas’ instructor was a man named Gerard--”Little Napoleon” as he and Abby referred to him, giggling behind their fists.
The man was a mini-tyrant. He began Thomas on advanced pieces, expected him to master them in quick time.
He wore a perfume that smelled like funeral flowers and at times when he put his hands on Thomas’, his skin was as cold and as dry as a corpse. He hated Abby, refused to allow her in the room during the lessons. He despised the fact that she was born of mixed race.
He began to teach Thomas Beethoven; the most difficult pieces to master of all music. He was a mere twelve years old.
“Feel the man’s thoughts,” Gerard would cry. Out of fright, Thomas jumbled the keys more.
“You are an incompetent little bastard, to ruin the Master’s art as you do!” With that Gerard would bring up his riding crop, his toy, his method of instruction and punishment. “Wretched,” snap “wretched,” snap “little” snap “brat!” With every shrill syllable, the leather would blister Thomas’ hands.
His poor fingers stung. Often times Gerard, in his rage drew thin stripes of blood across his small knuckles.
Grimacing, Thomas would stop to rub away the welts.
“Play! Play, little man!” Gerard would scream, raking his fingers through his curly hair like a madman.
Sometimes Thomas would sit at the keys and cry, for fear of him. Why had his mother and father subjected him to such suffering? He wondered. But Mother had been born in Vienna. She insisted he play. When Gerard was finished and storming away from the house, Abby would come from her hiding place behind the drapes and sit down on the bench next to him.
Once, she bent and kissed the marks on his fingers with her small, warm mouth.
“It is better?” she asked, her eyes wide and very gray.
Thomas nodded. Somehow, it was better.
She appeared at gatherings of his friends, slipping ghostly in and around them like a warm breeze. They wrote music and poetry, and they experimented with every kind of drugs they could get their hands on with their meager funds.
Tommy played his pawnshop piano--from Mozart to Jerry Lee Lewis to Monk. He saved Beethoven for when everyone had left, to draw Abby out of the smoky air and become a shape and a scent and a smile.
The beach was their place. They would walk down the sandy trails, watchful of snakes and bobcats and foxes because they were told to be.
The salt air puckered their lips the slightest bit as they neared the ocean. Abby talked incessantly of the old slaves’ tales and dolls that she played with, with the black children. She was enthralled with their religion and culture. They walked past the family cemetery, succumbing to weeds, the tombstones leaning and the gate perpetually ajar. Four generations of family were resting inside that gate. They paid it no attention as they walked by. Had it been at dusk, it would have been another matter entirely.
On the shore, Abby was like an angel standing before him, the sun catching her hair, making it almost blinding. She stepped out of her gingham dress and was already wadding out into the surf. Her petticoat clung limply to her legs as the waves licked at her.
“Momma’s gone tan yo hide!” Thomas warned.
But Abby only shrugged. A moment later, she moved back up onto the beach where she plopped down in the sand and began digging trenches with her toes. Behind her the sand swirled and danced on the dunes like flecks of gold dust. Finally, Thomas could wait no longer. He kicked off his boots and tugged down his stockings. He slipped his blouse over his head and was taking down his trousers as he stumbled toward the water, not caring if Abby saw him almost nude. They were still children, and at the time, their bodies were very much the same. He waded into the tide, his breath catching as the cold water rose and fell against him like icy hands.
Abby leaned back on her thin arms and smiled at the sky. “One day, I’m going to let the waves wash me away, hear? Then, Thomas, I’ll live with the mermaids and the angels.”
Those words followed him like a black cloud. It broke his heart that she could dream of being anywhere else but with him. He stared for a moment at his beloved adopted sister, smelling the perfume of the dusting powder she had used without Mother’s permission mingle with the saltiness of the Atlantic.
At night when the neon poured into his window like thin blood, he could feel Abigail’s sweet breath fall warmly on his cheek.
“One day I’m going to let the waves wash me away, hear? Then Tommy, I‘ll live with the mermaids and the angels,” she would whisper. And then she would take him back.
In a month’s time, Abby was gone. She was swept under by a wave that had pounded Thomas almost all the way back to the shore. Her small body washed up on the sand four miles south, fish bitten, bloated and gray. The gold of her hair had faded to the shade of sea foam.
Thomas wondered if it were possible to live with such despair. Such guilt.
They had played in the surf for an hour or more--the waves choppy and rough. They giggled as they were washed under, left to resurface, exhilarated, on their knees at the water’s edge. The salt scent was pungent, heavy, the heat sultry.
As the tide began to come in, the surf grew angrier and they teased it, asking it to knock them to their knees.
Then a wall of water crashed down upon them and Thomas was plunged face first into the salty waves, his thin limbs battered this way and that, scraping the sandy ocean floor.
Shortly, he was washed to the shallows. He scrambled to his feet, breathless and gasping. The game was over now. The ocean had won. His eyes and nose stung dreadfully. His tongue ached for a drink of fresh water.
Suddenly he remembered that Abby had been at his side when the wave broke. He snapped around to find her.
Whitecaps appeared like teeth, teeth that had torn his Abigail to bits. Panic seized him. Turning in a confused, terrified circle, he screamed her name.
Then glancing up to the beach, he was overcome with relief. Standing on the dunes was her tiny shape, her petticoat glued to her by ocean water, just a slight silhouette.
Thomas was a bit confused still. How she had gotten up the beach so quickly?
He moved up the shore toward her, the sun glinting into his eyes and ruining his vision momentarily. When he was able to see clearly again, she was gone.
Feeling he had lost his mind, he ran up and down the beach, calling her name. It was almost sunset when he returned home, alone.
Even as he opened the door of his house, accosted first by the servants, then his parents because of the late hour, he expected Abby to appear in the doorway, smiling devilishly, proud of herself for tricking him.
The lights of the boulevard frightened her, though she never let it show. She did not enjoy going out to the nightclubs and bars, she did not like the sound of the music of the time--it was not elegant or romantic as Beethoven; it was not tribal and filled with ceremony and religion as the slave songs. To her, it was trivial. Tommy gave up trying to explain its significance to her. He was losing sight of its meaning himself.
They went to a place called the Whiskey-A-Go-Go with a group of his friends, those so-called musicians from school. They were amateurs, pure and simple, having picked up their instruments out of visions of what they thought was the prestige of rock and roll, but not to music itself.
Abby faded in and out of the lights like vapor, becoming as whole as Tommy himself one instant, the next, one with the smoke of the place.
The singer on stage had a face of an angel and the words of a devil. Much of the night he delivered those words with his broad back to the crowd. Then he would scream madly and with an arrogant toss of his brown mane, he would give them a fleeting glimpse of his face.
Tommy drank away most of his paycheck. The alcohol put a flame in his gut, and before the band’s set was finished, the heavy smell of smoke and cheap beer on an empty stomach had overcome him. He began to feel sick.
He staggered to the men’s room, not surprised to find it even staler than the barroom. In the first stall, two young men were engaged in a long, drunken kiss.
His throat catching fire, he kicked open the door of an unoccupied stall and fell his knees in the filthy, piss-stinking floor. Vomit cascaded over his lips in a liquor-foul gush. His nose and eyes stung. His belly seized up as if an invisible fist gripped his middle.
He retched until he thought he might faint, cursing between heaves. When his stomach was emptied of alcohol, he vomited blood.
The sight of the blood staining the toilet frightened him. He wondered if he was dying. “God damn it!” he muttered, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Then feeling his belly contract with another onset of dry-heaves, he began to cry. He was going to die in the pissy floor of the men’s room of a dirty bar. The walls, a dingy gallery of pornographic puns and drawings danced before him. The toilet darted away and he fell over, opening an angry gash under his eye.
Spit and blood trickled from his lips onto the floor. Beneath the partition wall he could see two pair of boots in the next stall. One pair was straining on tiptoe, then resting flatly, in a rhythmic little dance of lust.
Tommy pressed his face on the sticky floor, reveling the coolness against his feverish skin.
Then Abby was there with him. He could feel her ectoplasmic touch on his hair, soothing, comforting. She was crying as well.
“What are you doing to yourself, Tommy?” she whispered.
“I’m dying,” he managed. “I need to get home.”
“We’ll get home,” she reassured him.
After a while, he was able to climb to his feet. He staggered to the sink and washed his face and rinsed his mouth, spitting out the residue of blood and puke. The cut below his eye was swollen, grinning like a fighter’s worst. He pulled off a wad of paper towel and held it there to stop the blood. Abby’s beautiful, worried face shimmered in the mirror, just over his left shoulder like a guardian angel.
They left the men’s room, Abby’s ghostly arms around his waist and found the barroom in chaos. People were screaming and laughing, bottles flying.
Joey, the fellow Tommy had come with found him standing shakily at the bathroom entrance, watching the commotion.
“Fucking band’s gone, man,” he told them. “Got thrown out. Singer went crazy, ya know? Talking about laying it to his mother or something.” He took a long, healthy pull on the beer in his fist. “Got thrown out,” he repeated, unbelievingly. “Damn!”
Tommy’s knees wanted to come unhinged, but Abby held him upright. Joey narrowed his eyes and grinned slyly. “Who’s the girl?” he demanded.
A tremor shot through Tommy. Could Joey see her? Had she finally become something . . . more? He smiled a little, despite what his body was going through.
“You never introduce me, man,” Joey sulked playfully. “I’m Joey,” he said, sticking out his free hand.
Tommy waited for Abby to touch the outstretched hand, his heart lurching along even faster than his churning stomach now. Would they touch, or was she still only vapor?
“My hands are a little full right now,” she said, drawing Tommy closer into her warmth.
Joey laughed. “Guess they are, aren’t they?” Another long drink of beer and the bottle was magically empty. He shook it before his face, surprised. “You need a ride, Tommy?” he asked, meaning hoof it, the night is young.
“We’ll make it okay,” Abby answered.
It rained the day of Abby’s funeral. Thomas’ parents held themselves quiet and dignified, despite the fact that they had come to love Abby as their own.
Thomas imagined she was there beside him, instead of inside the small pine box that lay at his feet.
Abby would have asked all sorts of questions about death.
Thomas could imagine the sound from inside the coffin as the dirt struck it--the sound of pebbles on a tin roof. He could imagine the smell of the coffin--her smell--he wanted to think it lilac and not decay… green wood and dusting powder, not ocean stink.
Beyond the gate was Gerard, head bowed like an intruder. Thomas hated him for being there. Gerard never knowingly allowed Abby to be in the room during lessons, yet here he stood at her burial.
After the service, Gerard stalked about the place like a panther, impatient to begin the lesson. He was obsessive with the fact that Thomas was to be at the keys every day. He crossed the parlor, the riding crop snapping tartly across his open palm.
Finally, Thomas seated himself at the piano and began his scales.
The pads of his fingers caressed the keys, yet his mind was filled with salt water and sand, the struggle for air, for daylight instead of the gray underworld of the ocean. He had seen it that day himself. Oh, to suck in a precious breath, even if it felt like nails scraping the raw walls of his lungs! Poor Abby will never have breath again, he thought. Her small lungs had become bags filled to bursting with water.
Yet she had walked upon the dunes soon after, just for an instant! If he could just make her come back again.
There was more to death than burial and a few fairy tales of angels and streets of gold.
Tears spilled from the rims of his eyes, running down his smooth face. Gerard raised his crop to punish as Thomas stopped playing a moment, but lowered it when the boy resumed the halting and confused music.
Beethoven lay beneath the ivory and Thomas wanted to bring it forth. Just for Abby.
He could remember her dancing, giggling as he played in his ham-fisted manner. “Pathetique”--the second movement, it was atrocious, yet she had smiled and danced, the flowing lace of her dress gathered into knots in her fists.
He remembered himself hand in hand with her, waltzing, to a poor symphony’s rendition of the Third Symphony at a ball only months ago.
At times the images would become confused--Abby dancing like a darting princess, yet her hair was the color of sea foam and she was as bloated as a slab of waterlogged timber.
As horrific was those visions were, Thomas knew it was better than no vision at all.
The draft notice appeared in his mailbox not a week after his visit to the Whiskey. The inevitable, Tommy felt that he had found his death warrant lying between an electric bill and a flyer for the supermarket down the street.
He cried a while, sitting on the floor of the tiny, musty apartment, the west coast sun pouring in on top of his head like a comforting hand. His sobs drew Abby to him, in all her transparent splendor.
“I’ll be with you, Tommy,” she breathed into his ear, her ghost-scent the smell of pine trees and sunshine and sea.
“But you can’t save me,” he whispered. “Just like I wasn’t able to save you.”
Most of what Tommy witnessed his first week in Vietnam was boredom. He lived in a small camp set at the foot of a mountain that he thought resembled a filthy shantytown. He stayed dirty, constantly sweating. Men sat around drunk, playing cards, smoking, and getting stoned if they were fortunate. They listened to tiny transistor radios and wrote letters to wives and girlfriends back home. Tommy did not make friends; he did not want the burden of loss, if they ever saw fighting.
And the fighting would come.
It rained constantly, it seemed, but the rain did nothing to alleviate the heat. The humidity was as heavy as a wet blanket hanging across his shoulders, never allowing his skin to dry completely.
He slept much of the time, a light doze that allowed Abby into his head. There she would hum the sonata he loved to play for her, making his hands ache for the cool smoothness of the keys. There she would carry him into the past life and escape that jungle hell for the lush coastlands.
Life without Abigail was unbearable. His entire being seemed hollow. More than a year had passed--everyone else had put Abby behind them. He had lost weight; his young face grew angular and catlike. He appeared older than his years. His eyes portrayed a sadness of decades.
His parents worried about him, to the extent of having the servants, or more often Gerard, spy on him.
He walked the empty beaches, hoping, hoping she might appear again, just as she had after she had been washed away.
Gerard often stood behind the cover of the sea oats, watching Thomas’ anguish, secretly happy to witness such despair.
The teacher smiled to himself hearing Thomas’ voice crack as he called her name. The boy was crazy, indeed! He sometimes wondered if Thomas might eventually try to take his own life.
At dusk, Thomas moved in the shadows behind the slave quarters. Though Abby lived in the main house with the family, she spent much of her time out here, learning what she felt she must to stay true to her heritage.
Sitting in the deep shadows one cloudy evening, listening to the soft chanting, he also remembered her tales of magic that belonged to her mother’s people. Voodoo. She’d told him stories of luck in love, of revenge. She told him that the most gifted and faithful of the practitioners could perform acts he could never imagine.
This thought he had carried with him from the time of her death, but dared not act upon it. It offered a glimmer of hope. If he tried it, and it failed, all he had would be lost.
He did not want to bring Abby back to him as some walking dead ghoul, stinking of the ocean floor.
But perhaps even that was better than the nothing he had now.
Gerard witnessed Thomas’ firelight rendezvous within the old slave’s quarters. Later he watched from the cover of the oaks as Thomas took the same man on horseback out to the edge of the plantation grounds, presented the reigns to him, and turned away as the man disappeared into the darkness.
He ran at breakneck speed to get word back to Thomas’ father.
What punishment would he render the boy, he wondered. What would be stiff enough a penalty to set the boy on the right path once and for all?
Night crept up and cold seeped in around him like icy water. Father’s punishment was indeed stiff, and cruel. Thomas knew he had only Gerard to thank.
In the past twenty-four hours, he had seen no evidence that the old man’s spell had worked, but as consolation, the old man was still free.
Pawley’s Cemetery, a place that had scarcely ever entered Thomas’ mind, became a place of his nightmares. Abby’s burial, and now this!
Father had two of his most trusted men take Thomas there, just before dusk. Autumn in the low country wasn’t cold . . . during the day, when the sun beat down. But at night, when the fog rolled in off the wetlands, it would become quite chilly. Thomas’ teeth began to chatter and click as they stepped through the rickety gates of the graveyard, but he could not determine if it was due to the cold or his anxiety.
It wasn’t until one of the field workers brought out a long length of rope that Thomas realized what Father’s punishment actually was. The two men begged his forgiveness, even as they pushed him gently to the ground, before one of the leaning tombstones, tied his hands behind him, then bound him to the stone itself.
“I’ll be back for you at sunup, Master Thomas, sir. I promise,” the younger of the two whispered. His dark face gleamed, shining blue with perspiration in the moonlight.
Thomas opened his mouth to reason with him, and then stopped himself. It would do no good.
He closed his eyes as he felt hot, frightened tears begin to swell.
“Yo Daddy don’t need to know I brung this,” the man said, spreading a rough, worn horse blanket over him, tucking it around Thomas’ shoulders and neck.
“Ain’t nothin’ gone hurt you out here. Nothin’.”
Thomas nodded without opening his eyes.
When the two men left him, the silence of the night was nearly deafening. Dark sounds, he had heard Abigail call it once--the stealth, creeping noises of the animals, the hum of the insects and the hollow snap of branches giving underfoot.
Darkness settled deep and heavy. The fog would not allow the moon’s soft glow to penetrate. Pawley’s Cemetery had become a cave.
Thomas would have surely given up the rough old blanket for a lantern, if given a choice.
He wished he could go to sleep, but his back ached from being pressed against the icy stone. His arms and hands had gone numb from the ropes.
It seemed he had been there an eternity when a movement drew his tired gaze. Yet it was not so much a movement as a sudden presence.
His heart began to pound, recalling old tales of spooks and wild things and full moons.
“Who’s there?” he stammered.
A comfortable scent touched his nostrils--lilac and lavender dusting powder and ocean water.
“Thomas, do not be afraid of me,” came a soft reply from the shadows.
Thomas’ heart beat all the harder with the knowledge that his dream was about to be faced.
“Abby?” he whispered anxiously. “Let me see you.”
Out of the darkness she moved, a silhouette that was black, yet transparent, the slight shape of a healthy young girl.
He was suddenly filled with such delight, much as he had been on the day she had been swept into the sea, only to appear on the dunes, waiting. He began to pull at his ropes, struggling to get to his feet and embrace her.
“Be still, Thomas,” she whispered, laughing. She vanished a moment, like a flickering flame, then reappeared on the damp ground beside him. “Be still, my dearest.”
Abby pressed her hand to his chest to calm him. It was a sensation he had never felt before--warmth, flesh, yet weightless.
She moved her face to his and began to kiss him, his eyelids, his tear dampened cheeks, his lips.
“How I’ve missed you!” Thomas moaned against her.
“But I am here, now. There are no more sorrows.”
Abby pulled the rough horse blanket away, then straddling him, the faint glow of the moon illuminating her throughout, she opened his trousers.
They made love in the dark loneliness of the old cemetery. Thomas served out his father’s punishment in Abby’s vaporous arms.
The fighting did come.
Machine gun fire, screams, the thunder of explosives, the drum of rain, those sounds became the only symphony he knew.
The jungle camouflaged death, but he could smell it there. It burned his nostrils like charred pork, an odor he would continue to smell long after he returned home. Chemicals made his eyes tear and his lungs ache for a fresh intake of air.
He could not smell the ocean or the sun or the pines anymore.
Abby stayed away more and more. She was afraid of this place, as she had been of the boulevard, but more so. She was frightened for him. When she did appear, her face was distorted with her pain. Her sweet humming was ruined by her sobs.
Tommy’s memories had become his life. His real life had become nothing but a hazy nightmare.
He had become as deft with the rifle as he had with the piano keys.
Time with Abigail seemed like a dream. Thomas spent more hours than he ever had at the keys, and the music drew her out of the air to him.
Gerard watched all of this, pleased to witness what was surely the boy’s descent into madness. The poor thing actually thought the girl was there with him, now. How absurd!
As time passed, Abby’s presence grew more evident. There were moments that she became so whole that she cast shadows. When she lay upon Thomas at night, he could feel her weight. To him, it was bliss. If it were all a dream, he prayed never to awaken.
Finally, she became flesh--slipping from thin air like moving through an invisible doorway. Gerard himself began to see her, standing at Thomas’ side during his lessons.
Her presence frightened the old teacher. A ghost! He abhorred the child when she was alive, and here she was back from the grave to haunt him. And how bold she had become in her death! She would dance around the room as Thomas played the music she adored.
In the summer of Thomas’ eighteenth year, Gerard had gotten his fill of her. Gripping his scared riding crop in one sweating fist, he began to shout.
“To think your parents are fool enough to allow this! A ghoul, and conjured from some old nigger chants, to enter this house!”
He staggered away from his seat beside the piano, waving the crop wildly.
“It’s a perversion, to have her here, boy!”
Thomas smiled and played ever faster. Abigail twirled in the dusty sunlight of the parlor room, laughing at the cruel old man.
In a rage, Gerard left the house, swearing revenge on them both.
The bastards attacked at night, like animals. The white noise of the jungle was suddenly swirling in a tornado of chaos.
The darkness erupted into fire, smoke billowing orange and yellow above. Screams, men’s voices reaching pitches he thought impossible.
It was over as suddenly as it had begun. Not that it mattered--Tommy had gone down with the first explosion. Pain erupted from the ends of his fingertips and spread like fire up his arms. Then from the wet forest floor he watched with the detached stare of one in deep shock as death danced above him.
Blood rained down onto his face and he ran out his tongue and tasted it on his parched lips. The numbness made it impossible to tell if it belonged to himself or another.
Consciousness slipped from his torn body as the blood drained away.
Abby hummed the sonata to him as he sank down, down. “Are you going to come to me, Tommy? To where the angels and the mermaids live?”
When he woke, he saw nothing but the stark, sterile tile ceiling of a hospital. A stern-faced doctor greeted him.
“Welcome back to the world of the living, young man.”
Then Abby’s face swirled into focus just over the doctor’s shoulder.
He hid among the high dunes, camouflaged by sea oats, waiting for Thomas’ daily walk along the shore. The sun was only just rising, the sky brightening slowly, beautifully. Heat was already hanging in the salty air.
It was not long before Thomas appeared, strolling along the wet sand with the phantom at his side.
She was whole now, damn it! There were no telltale transparencies as she moved along. She was as real as he himself.
Crazed with excitement, he crawled to the top of the dune. In his hand he held a pistol. Gerard was not a good shot--the girl would have to be quite close before he could fire.
From that close range, the ball would surely tear away a portion of the girl’s skull and send her straight back to hell.
He waited, his lips pulled back in a gruesome smile.
The “pop” of the shot pierced the stillness like an explosion. It was over in an instant, the air filled with the scent of smoke and the sound of screams as the slug traveled through Abby’s ghostly form.
Thomas fell to the wet sand, his face ruined by the slug, his blue eyes already dull.
“What have you done to us?” Abby cried.
And she remained bound to the living world even as Thomas left it.
He sighed and roughly wiped away his tears with his wrist.
“She came to me a few time after I was home from the jungles. Sometimes I would sit at the piano, these fucking stumps lying useless on my lap. I couldn’t draw her from the air anymore because I was silent.
“I am silent forever.”