Summer 2007 Volume One Issue Three

Only Time - Pete Tzinski

A fact not known by many is that there are two All Souls' Days, both of which fall on exactly the same day, at exactly the same time, but in two entirely separate worlds. There are very few who are aware of the two worlds.

Or rather, it could be said that everyone knew of both worlds, but only knew of one at a time, as it were.

In our world, the first world, the world that we all know, All Souls' Day comes early in November, is mostly ignored by the world as it trundled on in the wake of Halloween, heading for Thanksgiving and eventually, Christmas. Ignored is not forgotten, merely silenced. Candles are still lit beside gravestones, prayers are said, old friends recalled. Perhaps an affectionate toast of wine, to old friends long gone but dearly remembered.

It's a cold day in late fall, when the wind blows harsh, but the smell of burning wood is somewhere in the air, along with dead leaves and mold, and the crystal clarity in the air that only comes when the temperature starts to drop. The sky is never bluer. The wind is never colder. That is our world.

The other world, the second world, is reached by dying, is populated by the deceased, and is a lonely place, a cold place, a small place full of frigid pieces of the ether which one might call 'souls.' All Souls' Day was special. It was freedom. It was hell.

It was the day that Sarah Hamil lived for.

As though the very sound itself did it, the moment the bells and clocks tolled midnight and the beginning of All Souls' Day, the very chains which kept Sarah imprisoned in her coffin were loosed and she drifted away from her body, what little there was now, and floated through six feet of earth and up into the world.

The world that she saw looked exactly like the world that a living person might see. All of the same buildings and landmarks were present and indeed, all of the same people were present. The thing of it was, everything was gray and washed out, as though Sarah could see the whole world in the way that someone can see a room faintly when their eyes are just beginning to adjust to darkness.

She wondered as she moved through the mist, as she did every year, if it was Purgatory, and that was why it was so dark and so very hard to see anything around her, no matter how she focused. She wondered if those souls who went to Heaven were living in a mist-free world full of sunshine and warmth, full of gentle breezes and the fresh smell of a just-past spring rain, alive with the chirping of birds. She wondered too if Hell was the middle of the angriest thunderstorm, the sort which awakens a primal fear and an animal need to bolt, freeze, hide. In between, Purgatory was just a sort of gray, murky, chilly place to spend time.

She didn't know. She had no way to find out. There were no answers to be had in the mostly-darkness, and the mostly-cold of the world.

In unison with the rising of her spirit, others were drifting up out of their own graves. Somewhere in the other world, the living world, there were living beings in this graveyard who were saying kind things to the long-dead who could no longer hear them. The living saw nothing of the spirits who rose from the graves and knew nothing of it, save perhaps for a faint passing chill that could be dismissed as a November breeze, save perhaps for a faint whisper in the back of their mind, in a language they no longer really knew.

Some of the spirits tried to shout and talk to the living, as a few always did, but it was a useless thing to do. Some congregated and talked, low and fast in hushed whispers, desperate to get as much in as they possibly could.

Sarah moved away from the graveyard, fast as she could manage, and headed across the town in which she'd lived, died, and been buried.

She passed through people, and it made them uncomfortable for a second. She passed through buildings, through equipment, through cars and lampposts. She passed through, and floated past, cats who perked up their eyes and studied the traveling ghost, and dogs who took notice, accepted, and went on with their canine lives.

She couldn't move very fast, which frustrated her, but by her own reckoning, it took her two hours to reach the small church cemetery across town from the place where she'd been laid to rest. Time meant nothing, of course. The twenty-four hours of All Souls' Day was an arbitrary concept and went a great deal faster in this world than in the world of those with warmth. It would be over here too soon.

She made it into the graveyard by the church, where there were more ghosts, some heading out into the town for a look at loved ones or at grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She passed through some of them, but it affected them not at all. She looked around . . .

There. Stationary over a grave, looking anxious, lonely, beautiful, magnificent, was Will Hamil, her husband.

He saw her at the same time, and smiled. Despite the anxiety that she was also feeling, she couldn't help but grin too.

She saw him the way he'd looked when he'd proposed. Twenty years old, wearing a ratty old red varsity jacket from high school, one knee muddy and wet from proposing to her accidentally in the middle of a puddle. His hair was sandy and it hadn't started thinning yet, still just a bit too long. His form was all a sort of gray, or maybe a sort of blue, and so she couldn't see his startlingly bright green eyes. Memories supplied her image of that, and that was enough.

"I love you," she said when she was in front of him, because if all else failed, she had to say that. And she had to hear . . .

"I love you too, babe," Will said, cocksure and happy enough to melt a heart she no longer had in anything more than a metaphorical sense, "God, I've missed you."

"Me too," she replied, "I hate this, only seeing you once a year. It's so hard."

"That's my family for you," he frowned, "Nothing like having a family plot without including my family in it. How've you been, Sarah?"

"I'm tired, cold, lonely," she said, shivering at a breeze that she didn't think was actually there, "It's been fifteen years now, Will. My body's gone and there's nothing left but some rotting wood . . . and me. Why are we still here? Is this it?"

"I don't know," Will shrugged, something which occurred in slow motion, yet which blurred the space around it. "Maybe. I just . . . wish I could get closer to you."

She wanted to cry. Scream. Laugh. It was so confusing. She was absolutely delighted, completely ecstatic, to see her husband again after a year apart . . . but at the same time, it gnawed at her that she would only see him a bit longer and then be alone again for a year, every year, for the rest of eternity. Eternity is not a concept that the living mind can wrap itself around properly, but once the living join the dead, eternity becomes a crystal clear fact, not a concept, and it is one of the most maddening things possible to comprehend fully.

"There's no one by me to talk to," she said quietly, "What about you?"

"No, no one," Will said. "And there won't be, either. This graveyard is closed now. We're all that's ever going to be here. Eventually, we'll be forgotten and abandoned."

"By them maybe," Sarah said, "Never by me."

Them. The living. Those who breathed and held each other and loved each other and laughed and cried and lived, damn it, lived and took it all for granted, cheerfully ignoring the very breath in their body until it was gone. Were she ever alive again, Sarah wishfully thought sometimes, she would savor each delightful suck of air into her lungs, she would taste it completely, and then she would reluctantly let it go. She would lie naked in grass fields just to see what it was like. She would taste sea salt. She would live.

Wishful thinking, she knew.

Something between a sob and a moan escaped her lips, as she realized that it was getting harder to stay in front of her husband. Like the sort of strong wind you have to lean into to walk anywhere, it felt as though she was leaning against an unrelenting, strengthening wind that would pull her back to her grave, her prison.

"I just want to rest, Will," she said quietly, quickly, "More than anything, I want to rest."

"I know. Me too, babe."

She reached out with her long fingers and brushed his chest. Rather, she tried. Her hands passed through him, an unsubstantial piece of the ether, just exactly like she was. She could remember what it had been like, once upon a time, to touch him. She hung onto the memory desperately, because she would never get to touch him again.

The wind was getting stronger. She was drifting a little, she knew.

"Will," she asked, "How do you see me? How do we look to you, when we meet?"

Will laughed, and it was the world's most magnificent sound.

"You look just like you did when we had our daughter," he grinned, "Just like you did when you used to look in her crib and say she's real, she's ours to me and smile. You look like that, and it makes my heart swell."

Even if those were the images of tears running down her cheeks, it did Sarah no good to try and wipe them away. Her fingers couldn't touch her own skin any more than Will's.

She was drifting faster. She was moving away.

She shouted, "I love you, Will. I love you."

"I love you too," Will called back, "Always."

And then, the chains reined her in and she was back, six feet beneath the dirt, lying more or less where her coffin had been laid before it had fallen apart, along with her body.

She sobbed to herself a bit, a sound that was lost amidst all the sobbing of all the ghosts who were once more chained. Eventually, the sobs subsided, as they did every year. Eventually, she started to try to blank out, to sleep the endless time away.

Before she faded, she realized for the first time that it was not thunderstorms which made up Hell.

Then, she rested.

- END -

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