A short story of the supernatural – Part 1
The round spectacles at the end of his nose fogged from the hot tea the Right Reverend Wrinkle sipped, annoying Marie past her short level of tolerance. He’s not even listening to me, she thought. He must be deaf or stupid, haven’t figured out which. The wiry reverend set the delicate cup back down in the saucer at his side table. He stared off out the window watching the dark clouds roll in.
“Storms a’comin,” he said. The old bloodhound lying by the front door perked her ears at the word storm. Marie lost her patience with the man. Her limit was reached
“Have you even heard a word I’ve said?” She got up from her chair in frustration. “They say you’re the only one around here who knows how I can get back home, but if you ask me, you don’t know a damn thing!”
The Right Reverend Wrinkle sat calm as could be and continued to glide gently in his rocker. At last, he spoke again. “I know many things, but you never can tell with a storm. They kinda’ just do what they want. It’s as if God let’s a little chaos roam free once in a while. Hard to find your way home in a storm, they say.” He reached down with a lazy hand and brushed off some of the bone dust from his sleeve. Then he put his index finger behind the tight white clergy collar and loosened it. The low rumble of distant thunder rolled across the churchyard outside.
“Yep, this storm’s gonna be a good’n. Best to keep inside, I think, eh Sticks?” The dog got up and moved to the reverend’s feet, careful not to get her tail under the curved runner of the chair.
Marie sat back down in a heap, burying her face in her frustrated hands. “Alright, let’s try this again, shall we?” She sat directly across from him, looking down at the dog. Sticks looked back up at her through tired and droopy eyes, groaning as she rolled to her side to sleep. The reverend peered down over his glasses and took another sip of his tea.
“Look, I’m sorry about running over your mailbox and smashing the headstones. Can I just use your phone? I’ll call my dad to pick me up and send a tow truck for my car. My cell phone is in my purse but I don’t remember where I left it. I promise, he’ll write you a check for the damages.” A strong gust came up as the first drops of rain streaked down the window. Another roll of thunder boomed, giving the windows a rattle. Marie sighed. “Oh great… now it’s raining. I’m gonna be stuck here forever!”
She stomped her foot and looked out the window. The accident scene looked worse from here than she remembered it. The side of the first mausoleum lay in rubble under the front of her red two-seater convertible. It was her 18th birthday present. She loved that car, but now it was junk. Rutted tire tracks smashed through the front fence, the mailbox, several headstones, and coming to an end where she crashed into the side of the one crypt in the cemetery. Marie noted that had she been going a little faster, she probably would have hit the church building, too.
“Next time, I won’t swerve to miss a cat. That’s what I get for being nice, I guess.” He got up and stood beside her, also surveying the damage and shook his head.
“You know, it’s not really about the money, is it? Oh, I can just hear it now… Them Rigbys are gonna be hoppin’ mad that old lady Eleanor’s tomb was disturbed. They said she was mean in life, but Ellie would be a sight meaner in death!” He chuckled and took back the rest of the warm tea in one swift gulp. “Well they were right about that one. I remember ol’ Ellie Rigby back when I first got to this parish. She wanted nothing to do with a shiny new deacon-in-training. Almighty, that was a wicked woman. Only one who ever took a shinin’ to her was that ol’ Father Mackenzie, but he liked everybody anyhow. Ah well, couldn’ta happened to a nicer lady!” He looked down again at the old hound, and she looked back up at her master waiting for his instruction. “Well, whaddya say, Sticks? Should we go find the phone and get somebody out here? We’ve got work to do.” Sticks woofed in approval.
“Ugh. Yes. Finally!” Marie said, and then felt bad for it. This lonely old parish priest probably never got visitors this far out in the country. He’d been kind and just made idle chat once he tended to her wounds. Even though she’d just wrecked her car and smashed his crypt, the guilt of her rudeness took control. The reverend reached down and rubbed to old dog’s head. The dog looked at Marie and gave a tired woof in admonishment for her poor manners. He rubbed her head again between the ears.
“That’s right Sticks, you go on an’ tell us all about it now.” Reverend Wrinkle opened the church office door and they cut across the empty and silent pews to the vestibule at the front door. The old dog wandered between them. Not overly excited about anything except just because the reverend was going somewhere, his faithful companion followed without hesitation. On a side table by the vestibule door sat Marie’s purse. She couldn’t remember bringing it inside. The purse had a large blood smear on the side right across the gold Coach emblem. She must have hit her head harder than she first thought.
“Oh no, my purse is ruined! Ah well. My phone is probab—”
Reverend Wrinkle picked it up and started rifling through it.
“Hey wait just a minute! What are yo—”
“A-ha! Here it is!” He held up her wallet. “Now let’s see who you are, lil’ missy.” He opened it up to her license. “Andromeda Marie Olson. Andromeda? Who names a poor kid something like that?”
“Well, excuse me for having parents who like science fiction. My dad was an actor,” she said as she swiped at her wallet. The reverend held it just out of reach and she missed. “Hey, give me that!”
He ignored her and opened the vestibule door. Marie gasped. On the table at the center of the room lie a young woman in her early 20s. Her head wrapped in a bandage, soaked through in red. Her eyes were open wide and dilated. Sprawled out on the table before her was Andromeda Marie Olson, and she was dead. Reverend Wrinkle looked down at the old brown Bloodhound, who quietly woofed back at him.
“I know it, girl. Poor little Andromeda. I guess there’s worse places to die than a cemetery in a churchyard, eh Sticks? Well don’t just sit there, ol’ girl. We’ve got rites to administer.”
“OhmyGodohmyGodohmyGod…” Marie repeated frantically. “This isn’t happening. This can’t be happening!” She wrapped her arms around herself and started to cry. “That’s why you can’t hear me… Oh my God, I’m dead!”
“Now there’s where you’re wrong, Andromeda Marie,” Reverend Wrinkle said. “Well, right and wrong, I suppose. Yes, you are dead, but I can hear you just fine, and so can Sticks.” He went to the cabinet and pulled out a plastic tablecloth from some long-ago church picnic and covered her body. “It’s hard on everybody when they first see their own mortal vessel layin’ there all cold and stiff, but it does get a little easier with time.”
“This isn’t happening…”
“It is happening,” he interrupted. “It is, and it happens around here more than you might think. I got more spirits haunting this place than ol’ Sticks has fleas.” As if on cue, Sticks scratched her ear with a hind leg. “Only question we have to answer now is why are you still here?”
“We?” Marie asked through the tears.
“Well in case you haven’t noticed, it’s just me and Sticks here, that’s who. This is what we do.” He sat in the wingback chair against the sidewall and crossed his legs while Sticks curled up by his foot. “You see, Andromeda—”
She held her hand up. “Please stop calling me that. I go by Marie.” She sat at the table next to her covered body, arms across herself, and unsure if her form would fall through the chair as she was now a ghost.
“Now don’t interrupt, Andromeda, or I won’t be able to help you. As I was about to say, you said a certain phrase back in the parlor that gave me all the inkling I need to know about your current predicament. It could be worse.”
Marie started feeling angry again at his choice of words. “Predicament? Predicament? In case you haven’t noticed, I’m dead, you moron! How much worse of a predicament could I be in?”
The reverend leaned forward with a squinted and piercing gaze. “Careful now, darlin’. There are worse things than being dead.” He said back with a grin. “Much worse.” With that, emotions resumed control and Marie broke down in sobs of anguish. Sticks sauntered over to her and rested her head on Marie’s leg to offer comfort. She looked down at the dog but saw something different this time. The warmth of the dog’s jowls on her leg was soothing; comforting in a way she couldn’t describe. All the sadness she felt over her own demise dissipated. The droopy eyes of the old hound sparkled like crystals. They offered a comfort unlike anything Marie had ever felt.
“You feel it, don’t cha? See, Sticks there, she has a gift. A gentle nudge from her and suddenly all seems right with the world. Ain’t it a grand thing?”
“It’s unreal,” Marie said and extended her hand to the dog’s head for a rub. “Can she feel me touch her?”
“Oh yes, she can feel it alright.” He scooted his chair a little closer to them and leaned in. “Just cause you’re dead doesn’t mean you can’t interact with the physical world. It takes some practice, but you’ll be poltergeistin’ in no time.”
“Her eyes…” Marie continued to stare into the deep, dark pools of the dog’s red-rimmed eyes. They looked as if the whole universe was just on the other side of them.
“With the slightest touch, Sticks takes the fight right out of someone right down to the point of docile so I can talk some sense into them. You ready to hear some sense now?”
“I don’t want to talk,” she said as if in a trance. “I’m ready to go… Just let me go…” The reverend snapped his fingers under her nose and broke the spell Marie was falling under.
“Hey, hey… Andromeda. Hey, don’t go there yet. You’ll get to travel down that river eventually, but first I have to do my part.” Marie looked up blinking. “Yeah, there you are. Okay now, stay with me on this. In all my years of actin’ the ferryman, I’ve found this the easiest way for the newly-deads to get a grip on their situation. You ready?”
Marie was trying to pay attention to the reverend but could not shake the feeling from Sticks’ touch. Her mind was foggy with the euphoria of the revelations laid before her. She was dead, yet here she sat in a church vestibule with a priest and his dog talking about why she was still here as a spirit. This was definitely not how she thought the day would go. Sticks laid down by the reverend’s chair, breaking their connection. The emotion of her realizing her death crashed back in like a wave on the sea.
“Okay Andromeda, try this on for size. You told me I was the only one who could get you home. That’s how I knew you were dead. It’s the same phrase everyone says when we first meet.”
“Yes, that’s right. You’re the only one who knows the way back home.” Marie couldn’t figure out how she knew that, but she just knew.
“That’s partially true. I’m not the only one, but I’m the only one around here. Sticks has her gifts, and so do I. You see, certain people attract spirits; spirits with unfinished business here in the mortal realm. What I’m gonna tell you here will be a bit of a shock, but it’s my job to be your guide.”
“Yep. Hear me out. Psalms chapter 23, verse 4, you know it? It’s a famous one. Even the most heathenistic amongst humanity has heard it at least once. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me. Sound familiar?” He leaned further forward, only inches from Marie’s face. “That valley is a real place and right now, you’re in it. But you can’t toil in there for long. Death only gives me so much time with you because it is his valley and he don’t suffer visitors much. I’m your guide out.” The storm outside increased to a fevered pitch. Marie could hear the rain pound on the tin roof above and the wind whistled through the trees outside. The reverend continued. “What we have to do is figure out which end of that valley you’re going out of.”
“This is crazy,” she said. “I have to be dreaming this. What in the hell is going on here?”
Sticks’ ears perked at the mention of hell. The reverend chuckled. “Funny choice of words there, darlin’, but you hit the nail pretty close to the head. That option is at one end of the valley.”
“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon Marie… wake up. Wake up!”
“Andromeda Marie Olson, you are not sleeping, you are dead! You sit here in this room before me as a spirit separated from the body. The Book of James, chapter 2 verse 26 starts For as the body apart from the spirit is dead and I’m tellin’ you sweetheart, you are indeed dead. Sooner you accept it, the sooner we can get you goin’ home. Now, you ready to hear me yet?” He sat back and folded his arms awaiting and answer. Marie slumped is resignation.
“I’m truly dead…”
“Yes, you’re truly dead and for that I am sorry, but we’ll have time to mourn later. Right now, I need to get you on a path so I’m gonna need both those radar dishes on the side of your ghostly head pointed in my holy direction. We’re going to figure out what’s keeping you in this valley, and we should be quick about it. Just ’cause your dead doesn’t mean Death is finished with you yet. The Moonlit Man is coming and we don’t have much time. So now, are you ready to tell me which direction you wanna go?”
to be continued…
More coming soon from Andromeda and Reverend Wrinkle. Stay tuned!
Based on the song, Reverend Wrinkle on the album Folklore and Superstition, by Black Stone Cherry. Let me know if you want to read more!