This is my submission for this weeks Master Class. It’s a continuation from Mort’s Tree, which explains how he ended up there in the first place.
The dirt around the trunk of Mort’s tree began to shake. He eyed it thoughtfully from his branch, looking down on clods jumping up and bouncing around, a pagan circle of soil in a ritualistic dance around his headstone.
He experimented with his new phantom molecules. Instead of clambering from the tree, he imagined himself boneless, a liquidy bag of pictured skin. He elongated and dripped to the ground in a puddle of Mort. He imagined again and in a blink of non-existent eyelids he was standing upright. An average sized fifteen year old boy, maybe a little on the skinny side. Dusty brown hair flopped over one chocolate brown eye and he shook it off his face.
He watched as the dervish began to coalesce, chittering bits of flotsam from the air pulling together into barely discernible shapes. Leaves whipped from Mort’s tree and joined the fray, filling in empty spaces, offering a leafy clarity to the outline of what was quickly becoming a rickshaw-like contraption, complete with ghostly driver, floating a few inches from the grass.
Mort felt the smile spread across his face and resisted the urge to clap like a pre-schooler at the circus. Then he figured resistance was useless and clapped anyway, the sound a beat behind the action as spectral hands tried to remember what noise they should make. “Hi,” he grinned. “I’m Mort.”
Dust mote beginnings notwithstanding, the driver and his carriage were now as solid as they could get. His top hat, a band of moldering leaves wrapped just above the brim, was cocked at a jaunty angle on top of what appeared to be half a head. The other half was staved in, empty space where an eye socket should be.
“Aye, I know who you are son. Mortimer Ramsey, just moved in today. I’m what you might call the welcoming committee.” He smiled a smile that would be disconcerting on a living man. “My name’s Sneed. I’ve been the real caretaker here for the past, oh, I guess we’re coming up on ninety years now.” He pointed a finger at the concave side of his skull with a rueful shake of his head, a fine spray of dust floating from it. “I got a tad sloppy with an ace up my sleeve. Can’t say they took it too kindly around the table.”
Mort took a few steps closer. “So what do you do, exactly, in your capacity as welcoming committee? Make sure I’m comfortable, happy with my view?”
Sneed stared at him for a moment before roaring with laughter, the same half a beat behind sound as Mort’s clapping had been. “Well, I gotta tell ya, son, I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone take this in stride the way you are. Most people go about moaning or acting all confused. Oooo, what’s going on, why can I see through my hands, where am I?!?” He swooned dramatically, the back of his hand to his forehead. “What the hell, is what I say. If you can see through yourself and you’re surrounded by headstones, give up the ghost (pardon the expression) and admit that you’re dead.”
Mort looked at his headstone. There was a weight where his heart used to be when he saw his name on the stone; when he thought of his parents it got a little heavier, and when he thought of ice cream and kisses and scratching his cat into a purring ball of furry ecstasy it got a little heavier still. He imagined that it always would. He hoped that it would.
“I dunno,” he said, scuffing a toe in the dirt. The disturbed particles immediately zoomed to Sneed and became a part of the flux that made up the man and his ride. “I mean, it sucks. I’d rather not be dead. I’d rather be eating dinner at home with my mom and dad right now. It’s not like I have a choice.” For a moment the expression on his face was that of a much younger Mort, a child who wished for a band-aid for his boo boo and a warm blankie to snuggle under.
Sneed’s face fell. He hadn’t meant to bring this on, he hadn’t wanted to make this laughing boy sad. He started to reach out, but what was there to say?
Mort’s form shuddered and he offered Sneed a wan smile. “I’m okay, really. This is just a different adventure. I’d never imagined it would be anything like this, I have to admit. I don’t know what I thought it would be, heaven or hell or nothing or whatever. But I definitely didn’t think that it would be like this. Watch.”
He twisted himself around, turning his torso in tighter and tighter circles until his middle resembled a knotted rope. His arms stretched out to either side, growing longer and thin as strands of spaghetti. “I’m like Mr. Fantastic,” he laughed. At Sneed’s blank look, he laughed harder.
“Anyway,” he said, slowly unraveling back to normal, “what do you do? What’s this contraption?” He patted the side of Sneed’s ride.
“Oh, well, this here is my carriage.” Sneed was glad to be back on lighter ground and happily began to espouse the many uses he put his carriage to. “I pick up the new ones and take ‘em around, introduce them to other ghosts they’d prolly get along with. Show ‘em the boundaries and all.”
“Boundaries? You mean I can’t leave the graveyard?”
“No, m’boy, I’m afraid that you can’t. Don’t worry, after a while it kind of becomes, like, a whole world all on its own. You won’t even notice.” Before the kid had a chance to process this new limitation, he patted the seat behind him. “Hop in. We’ll be just in time for the sunset.”
Sunset had always been Mort’s favorite time of day. His phone had been filled with pictures of them, ugly grey clouds sliding into darkness without fuss, brilliant explosions of pink and orange streaking the sky as if fighting the night with every color in their arsenal. He wondered if it would look any different tonight.
“Sure, why not.” He climbed in and settled onto the seat, which had somehow even produced the illusion of a spring popping through the ripped cushion.
Sneed noticed him looking and chuckled. “Graveyard joke. Can’t have things looking like they aren’t in ruins, it would wreck the ahhhmbience.” They were flowing smoothly over the ground, hovering a few inches in the air.
Mort was watching the landscape so intently that he didn’t immediately realize that Sneed was no longer seated next to him. He craned around and saw the funny little man standing a few feet away, falling farther behind every second.
“This moment’s just for you,” he called out. “A minute to enjoy the quiet you won’t always be able to find around here.”
The sunset struck so brilliantly into the traveling carriage when it gained the hilltop, that its occupant was steeped in crimson.
The journey stopped with a thought. Mort turned his face up towards the sky, face illuminated by an inner light that rivaled the show the sun put on. He smiled and settled down to appreciate the calm, and an adventure begun.
This weeks Master Class line was chosen by the inestimable David Wiley at Scholarly Scribe: http://scholarlyscribe.wordpress.com/ - check him out, this dude can write. He chose his prompt line from one of my all time favorite books A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens: The sunset struck so brilliantly into the traveling carriage when it gained the hilltop, that its occupant was steeped in crimson.
Prof SAM let the inmates rule the asylum and place the line wherever we wanted it in our story (CHAOS!!). Thanks, teach Check her out, and the other writers who link up (because they’re all awesome, seriously) here: http://frommywriteside.wordpress.com/
Thanks for reading