Mort’s Graveyard Tales

There’s Always a Morning After

Mort’s first day waking up as a ghost was not as disconcerting as one might think. He knew who and where he was, and grasped the circumstances, instantly, and was glad of it. What fun would it be to start your day off thinking you were a normal 15 year old boy waking up in your bed, waiting to smell what dad was making for breakfast, and then realizing you were dead, a ghost, now living in a graveyard where the smell of bacon drifting up the stairs and dancing in your nostrils was nothing but a teasing flight of fancy.

I think that we have spent enough time with Mort by now that there is no need to continue to come up with fancy ways to say that he didn’t really do the things he did – when it is said that he rubbed his eyes as he stretched, we understand that he didn’t, in fact, do anything of the sort. At least not on the corporeal plane that we are accustomed to. He did stretch, and he did rub his eyes as he woke, he just did these things in a ghostly manner.

He floated the rest of himself all the way up out of his grave, where he had chosen to lay his head and, despite Shmitty’s prediction, dream. The watery sunlight accentuated the translucence of Mort’s form, creating a hazy miasma of flotsam and particles that were his outline. As he gazed around the waking graveyard, he observed the same glittery shapes rising here and there, some already ambulatory at this early hour. There, shining outlines of an old couple, holding shimmery hands that were barely there until they passed through the shadow of a large tree, taking a morning constitutional ritualized more than a hundred years before. And there, there he saw to his delighted surprise ghostly kittens romping and rolling in the clipped grass on the bank of a small pond.

Feeling that this warranted further investigation, and possibly scratches or snuggles, who knew, Mort rose and wandered over. Happy mewing and mewling greeted him as he walked closer, the kittens abandoning their play to rub flanks against his ankles and purr in happy anticipation. As he bent to give the nearest one, a tiny little bruiser missing an eye and half of one ear, a pat on the head, the others, three or four he couldn’t tell, they moved around too damn much, all darted forward into a furry pile over his feet. Laughing, he sat on the ground and let them clamber and claw and climb all over him. Well, this certainly wasn’t the worst way to start his first full day as an officially dead guy.

As the kittens curled up, one by one, in his lap to take a ghosty little cat nap, Mort let his eyes drift from ghost to tree to sky without really noticing many details; his brain wasn’t in first gear, just idling, waiting for a thing to catch his attention, or demand it. Until then, he was oddly content in the moment. He could still feel a version of sunlight striking his flux of gathered bits and pieces, and for that he could only be grateful. He mimicked the act of breathing in deeply, exhaling slowly, just because it delivered a sense of comfort.

* * *

Sneed sat like a stranger-than-usual gargoyle, perched on the crumbling headstone of one Patrice Michaela Snodgrass, eyeballing Mort’s recumbent form. A woman’s bouffant topped head rose from the earth and passed through Sneed’s boot, to their mutual chagrin. “Damn it, Sneed, what in the hell?” Patrice pulled her head forward, causing particles making up Sneed’s boots to jump ship and vice versa with her hair becoming part of his footwear. “I thought we’d been through this. The last thing I want to see as soon as I wake up is the bottom of your filthy hobnails. Especially not when they abscond with my hair.” She huffed huffily and set about re-arranging her coif, an act that intrigued Sneed despite himself. After a few final flourishes she directed her full attention to the little man above her. He nodded towards the boy, and she swiveled around. “Oh,” she sighed, out loud and in her heart. So young.

“Name’s Mort. New arrival, just got in last night. Tell you what though, boy slept like one of the old timers, just went right down and didn’t see him ‘gain til just a few minutes ago.” He chuckled. “Went right for the kittens.”

Shoving Sneed over to make room for herself, in a very un-ladylike manner to his way of thinking, Patrice scooted up next to him. For all their cantankerous verbal jousting, she and Sneed had been very close for a very long time. She leaned into his shoulder a little and asked him for Mort’s story. She had left a son behind when she had died; ten years old, her Benjamin, sweet and smart, and as devilishly handsome as his bastard of a father had been.

Sneed shrugged his shoulders, a sack of potatoes shifting. “Don’t know much, really. I caught his mom talking to the old codger when they were picking his spot, something about a hit and run accident.” He shrugged again, this time with an agitated edge that betrayed a flair of temper he hadn’t felt in years. “He’s special, that one. Can’t quite put my finger on why, but he’s just slipped right into his life here so far without complaint. Suppose that’s enough to make one stand out around here.”

“Will you take me to meet him, Sneed?” She hopped off the stone and held out a hand to him. “Oh! Do you think we could get everyone together in time to do a show tonight?” He snorted. “What,” she bristled. “I know it’s been a while, and I suppose they’re not always cooperative…” She trailed off under the weight of his cocked eyebrow.

“Cooperative. Really, woman? Trying to get these ghouls to agree on a single damn thing is well nigh impossible, let alone getting them cooperate with each other for an extended period of time.” They walked towards Mort, who had opened his eyes and turned his head to watch them approach, careful not to jostle the sleeping litter in his lap. As his face split into a grin and his eyes warmed, Patrice felt the strings around her heart sing a lilting little melody. There really was something about this boy, she thought. She could see it from here.

As they reached him, Sneed pulled his hat off his head and bowed with a flourish whose affect was only slightly marred by the sunken shape of one side of his skull. “Boyo,” he said. “You are in for one hell of a treat as soon the sun goes down.”

* * *

Stay tuned for the next episode, ladies and gents ~snicker~ the ghosts in Mort’s graveyard cooperate to put on a show after all. This is episode 4 (I think..?! I’m pretty sure) in Mort’s Graveyard Tales. On the odd chance that you’d like to read them all, there’s a handy little link over on the left hand side…

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Categories: Fiction, Mort's Graveyard Tales | Tags: , , , | 10 Comments

The Dead Can Dream

this is an installment in Mort’s Graveyard Tours. If, perchance, you find it entertaining, feel free to check out the others- just click on the link for ’em over to your left…

Sneed rocked down onto his haunches amidst the roots of Mort’s tree. He quietly watched twilight paint bleeding colors onto the scrim of the horizon; plum blended into smoky grey and patchy pearly leavings of light. He fingered the brim of his hat. “Now, it’s not that we need sleep as such. There’s some as prefer a lie down of an evening anyway.”

Mort was standing at his graveside, studying the pretty calligraphy that spelled out Mortimer Ramsey. He felt thin; the required concentration for holding his particles together in this form was waning.

“Do we dream?” he asked quietly. “Do the dead dream, Sneed?” He found that he felt rather anxious about the answer either way.

Sneed reached up a hand and scratched at the bashed in ruin of his face, fingers mixing right in with the foggy apparition of his skull. “Yeah, sure, sometimes. Ah, it usually takes a while though. You have to, ah, be sort of relaxed into the finality of the whole thing, ya know?” Sneed’s smile was both ghastly and oddly reassuring. “I don’t think you’ll drop deep enough just yet.”

Mort crossed one foot in front of the other and sank onto the freshly turned earth mounded over his grave. He skimmed his palms across the grass to either side, imagined that he felt the tickle and bend of individual blades against skin that no longer breathed. He looked up. “I feel like I’m trying to have a séance with myself.” His grin was real, but tired. “It feels like it’s all a dream now anyway. But I’d rather rest without them tonight, I think.”

Sneed’s where-his-heart-would-be twinged as the grin faded from Mort’s face. “Then you will,” he said. He clapped his hands together, a disconcerting sight without the expected accompaniment of sound, and his tone slid from jovial to gentle. “Just rest up now, boy. It’s sorry I am to have met you here and now, but I’m glad of it all the same.” The bowlegged man bandied his way over to his carriage and climbed in. With a noise that sounded half chuckle and half cluck he sent his horse trotting away, around a bend and gone, leaving Mort alone.

Leaving Mort, he thought, mortally alone. He sighed. He was well and truly as alone as it was ever likely possible to be. A phantom burning rose where his tear ducts used to be, and he pushed phantom fingers into his phantom face to make it stop. It was like a cousin to grief, once removed – he felt that he was sad, but he didn’t feel sad. He decided to lay his head down and curl up under his tree, holding tight to Sneed’s memory and hope for tomorrow. A leaf fell, slowly drifting down and through his cheek to the ground beneath, a good night kiss. Comforted, he slept.

*****

The dream wasn’t so much a dream as a memory. A gift straight from Father Time, who remembered past present and future like they had already happened somewhere within infinity. A present of the past, if you’d like a bit of cleverness.

Mort sat at his dining room table, in his customary chair, across from his mother and to his father’s right. “He’s called you his right hand man since the day you were born, you know,” Patty Ramsey used to say to Mort, brushing his hair behind his ears before kissing his cheeks good night.

Dream Mort’s feet dangled above the hardwood floor, and he guessed that he was about six. “Dad,” he said. “Hi!”

His dad laughed. “Hi yourself, weirdo. How was soccer practice today?” He steepled his fingers under his chin and opened his eyes wide to stare at his son. The fingers waggled. “Was MA-deline there?” he asked with exaggerated interest.

Mort’s grin widened. “Yup,” he confirmed. “She ran down the field faster than anyone, and then when she got the ball guess what she did? Guess, Dad!” Without waiting for an answer he rushed on. “She passed it to ME and I got to score the goal!”

“Well, no kidding? So when’s the wedding?”

Mort threw a pea at him. “That’s not funny,” he said seriously, and then burst into an embarrassed fit of giggles. “Shut up.”

Throughout the encounter, Milly sat, quietly eating and smiling, listening and watching. These were some of her favorite moments; the byplay between her two strange and wonderful guys, good food at a comfortable table. Flying peas. At times like this she was more than happy to remain an observer, grateful to have been given admittance to this club that was her family. She kissed Mort on the top of the head as she walked behind him into the kitchen to refill her water glass.

*****

The ghost of Mortimer Ramsey opened his eyes.

Categories: Fiction, Mort's Graveyard Tales | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Mort’s Graveyard Tour

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.

Storch-Badge-Master

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 🙂

Categories: Fiction, Mort's Graveyard Tales | Tags: , , , , | 20 Comments

Mort’s Tree

This is my entry for Trifecta Week 76. The word this week was blood, using its 3rd definition:

*****

The tree was still a baby on the day Mort’s mom shuffled across the soft carpet of grass in the cemetery, a broken bag of bones in sensible shoes. Its trunk was a hand span across, tendril-like roots just beginning to quest deeper into the soil.

Mrs. Ramsey stopped next to a fledgling branch and wrapped her fingers gently around it, swaying with it in a quiet private dance. “Right here,” she said, pointing at the unbroken ground. “Mort loved the woods; never saw a tree he didn’t want to climb. He was only fifteen, you know.” The official made appropriate noises, nodding. “Right here,” she repeated, with a watery laugh that was part sigh, part sob.

On the day of his funeral, Mort sat on the same branch his mother had danced with. He bounced on it experimentally; it never would have held his flesh and bone weight. A leaf fluttered to the ground. “Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t know I could do that.”

Intermittent sunbeams dappled strange patterns on the silly looking casket that his parents had chosen. Mort had to laugh. As wonderful as they were, they sometimes showed a distinct lack of taste. Evidenced, he supposed, by naming their only son Mortimer. He laughed again, figuring that Mort had suited him just fine.

When the time came for his father to pull his mother from the grave site, she stared up at him as if surprised to find him there and stumbled awkwardly to her feet.

He crab walked next to her as they started away, glancing back again and again towards the tree that stood sentinel to his son’s headstone. There it was again – a branch moving on its own.

“Milly,” he whispered. “Look!” The silly grin on his face got through the haze her brain was surviving behind and she turned. Two leaves drifted towards the ground as the branch bobbed a goodbye.

“You take care of my boy,” she told the tree. “He’s your blood now.”

****

For the second time in a year, one of my son’s friends was killed in a hit and run accident. The first one I didn’t know; he was from a different city and it was a friend of a friend kind of thing. The second one he was closer to, played basketball with. I’d met him a few times, knew his name. He died right around the corner from where we live, last Thursday night. As if losing your child isn’t bad enough, to know that someone left them there, more worried about themselves than the one they left behind, has to be so crushing that I can’t even imagine the pain. I guess this is my way of trying to offer something back. That, who the hell knows, I’m really not even sure what I’m trying to say here. Regardless, this is for them, the only small thing that I’ve got to give. My soundtrack today? My kid in the background on his Xbox headset, because I’m incredibly lucky to have him sitting in the next room right now.

******

Categories: Fiction, Mort's Graveyard Tales | 25 Comments

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