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  • Grandma’s Tales

    Prelude

    There was a certain trance like power to her stories. Where did they gain such power

    from?  – Any member of her audience

     

    Once upon a time…

    When I was a little boy I enjoyed my Grandmother’s stories more than anything. Each and every time, by the end of the stories, I was seized with fear. Soon thereafter, I would eagerly ask for another one. There is no rational explanation for this seeming self – torture, but I could not resist. And I was not alone.

    My siblings nearest in age to myself would often scramble, like a litter of puppies, to gather around Grandma’s chair when story-time commenced. It was always a bit of a

    wrestling match to find a seat as comfortable (as safe) as possible. Then, the story would

    begin…

    On those occasions when I was best positioned, winning in musical chairs, I would sit at her feet with my back pressed against her shins (in order to see whatever may be coming…). In the dining room, it could be in the middle of the day; and still, once the

    story began, the temperature would change, the walls themselves would dissolve into

    scenery weaved by her words: Something in me knew even then that these were not just

    stories.

    At times the mesmerizing effect of her stories would linger like a familiar smell. I noticed that the principal’s speech in the auditorium at my older brothers graduation, the

    broadcasters of great sport events, even the president’s state of the union speech–none of

    them evinced the captivating qualities of her stories.

    As time progressed, Grandma eventually declined, as all people do towards the very end of life; first into a sedentary existence, followed by a semi-conscious state where clarity surfaced only once every several days. No one else ever seemed to know, and I was not trying to share the information with anyone, but I could get her to tell me a story even when she was not in a totally clear state of mind.

    In fact, when I requested a story, Grandma would move with a mechanical effortlessness, as if by strings attached, into a half sitting position on one elbow, and begin the tale….Finally, it became the only time she was visited by lucidity at all was when I requested a story. Moreover, her tales began to take on theatrical proportions far-exceeding their former expressions. There were fluctuations in her voice that vividly painted the soul of every character; a narrative magic that sent one’s mind hurtling through the heavens, and a sense of gravity that took one straight to Hades at her merest whim.

    These stories bent the fabric of the universe itself. They became unbearably frightful. One day, with considerable trepidation, I made a request, and there was no response. I knew immediately that a certain vitality had gone, never to return. Soon after, with no more stories, Grandma passed away.

     

    The wake was in the evening. Actually, it ended up being at night because so many were

    traveling from afar.

    It was a dreadfully long service. There is something about those occasions where people get a chance at the microphone and they seem to never want to stop– as if this is the only sunshine they will ever get.

    Finally, as what seemed to be an endless period of time came to a close, the service ended and the only remaining formality was to visit the casket and do whatever it is that people do when that time comes. Some people talk to the corpse, some cry, some are too horrified to do anything but submit to the procession, anxiously hoping for the dreadful event to end. What caught my eye, however, was that there seemed to be far more people visiting the casket than had participated in the overall funeral proceedings.

    I do not know if it was the tears in my eyes, for I did cry for my dear Grandmother’s departure, or just the effusive display of emotions from everyone, but there were people there that I did not even remotely recognize. Well, I guess this occurs at funerals: they bring us all together at least for the event.

    As the line I was in slowly progressed, allowing each to wince or cry as he or she

    pleased, I could not but notice that the population within the room was still increasing

    beyond reasonable measure. Many of them were only lining the walls of the room, out of

    the light so that their faces really could not be made out at all. While nearly everyone was

    wearing black, they were wearing a very dark gray; the color of shadows. And, there was

    a distinct ‘something’, a presence of some kind, coming from them. And it increased as I

    approached the casket.

                Stop! Why did I ever ask for all those stories in the first place…I do not want to see Grandma anymore, I do not want her to be dead either, why am I here!

    Realizing that no one would understand if I fled from the room in terror, I caught hold of myself and peered into the casket. Grandma looked innocuous enough. She did not move (had I thought that she might?), her eyes did not open…but I perceived that I was surrounded by those ‘people’, which had been standing around the edges of the room

    Suddenly they were all standing around me at the casket. And still, even close up: they

    were shadow-colored, and had no faces!

    It was then that I realized no one else could see them. Well, what is at the far extreme of terror itself? Death. I simply froze and gave up my own existence.

    Then I could hear my Grandmothers voice:” Fear not, child, they have always been around you. You have always known that my tales were no ordinary stories. That is

    because they have always taken turns talking to you through me.”

    I looked at her. She was dead. No movement, no warmth, no nothing. These spirits were accustomed to using her voice.

    “ It will be uncomfortable at first, with them struggling with one another to spin the tale this way or that. But as time passes, you will learn to balance yourself, and let them join you in becoming the next storyteller of this family. They actually cannot do it without you. But you certainly do not want to deny them, either.”

    “Above all, remember to always tell tales of terror, or they will become rancorous and agitated, and they may even visit their horror upon you if you do not!”

    I wanted to fall to my knees and just cry. I wanted to jump into the casket with her

    because, who else would believe such an event if I should explain it to them. I should

    have told someone long ago about the very special nature of Grandma and her stories; but

    I was too selfish, and kept it all too myself. Now it, and all of ‘them,’ really would be

    kept to me alone. For the rest of my life, until someone, who likes my stories a great deal,

    visits me in my casket…

     
     

    THE END.

     

    Epilog

     

    For those who hunger for explanations, many people in the town at that time suggested that the deep well at the edge of my Grandmother’s property carried water, and souls, from the hills in the west where the treacherous US Army massacred an entire Indian nation. This was supposed to be the origin of the spirits that surrounded Grandma.

    Others insisted that the hills in the East had been the place of a long established

    coven of witches, whose worst thoughts and remnants of the cauldrons they boiled found

    their way into the well used by my Grandmother.

    All I really know now is that I will have to live with them, wherever they are from. Every morning when I wake; they are there, waiting: they do not sleep. I often hear them clashing for no discernable reason while I drive to work. At some times during the year, they seem to all retreat in unison, to the distant corners of the universe of my soul. Only to return with replenished vigor, and exaggerated potential for telling their story!

    Enjoy Grandma’s Tales via the author’s video submission,

    “Uncle Kenny’s Stories, Impromptu Reading”

     

     
     
     

    ♦ ♦ ♦

    The Cruise Ship

    Prelude

    “Not me! Not at any cost; I will not go to prison!”

    – Anonymous criminal determined not to face retribution.

    Once upon a time…

     

    This was to be the most wondrous of vacations. The sky was an unbelievable blue, this water …this must be an ocean more pure; cleaner than most swimming pools; It revealed everything down to the colored spots on the tropical fish meandering leisurely below.

    The tropical breeze was ‘hold onto your hat’ strong; but it was pleasant. The entire scene evoked such vast feelings of freedom; this was one vacation that promised to exceed the claims of the advertisements!

    Ahman and Celeste, married for forty plus years, both felt this to be a rejuvenation ordered up by destiny itself. Life goes too fast, children require too much; how immensely fortunate they were – and, in a manner that was utterly uncommon, how deeply this fortune was acknowledged by both; though completely unspoken between them. We are so very adept at not appreciating: this is a condition which runs rampant throughout humanity, but this old couple, were you to see them on deck just enjoying (perhaps worshiping) nature’s bounty, your pace would slow and your mind would become still as if there were something palpable exuding from the simple peace they shared.

    They reclined in lounge chairs near the left rear of the boat, far from the crowds playing games and music. They were near the railing separating them from the boundless ocean where the refreshing salinity could actually reach them.

    Ahman rose to retrieve a novel he had been reading, from their cabin. Of course, Celeste immediately conjured up at least seven items she too wanted from the cabin, in addition to four principles of re-arrangement he should address since he was going to the cabin anyway.

    Without the slightest degradation of mood, Ahman simply complied, feigning genuine interest and understanding, and turned to proceed the length of the cruise ship to perform the duties thus suddenly assigned, in their cabin.

    With his attention diverted, his straw hat was swiftly removed from his head and raced overboard like a bird towards the sky. With the speed of the luxury liner, and the wind racing the other direction, his hat was virtually snatched from his head and, once aloft, soared upwards, straight away, like a helium filled balloon – completely free of gravity, until it was simply out of sight.

    This event did occasion a mild chagrin from Ahman. The hat had been secured at the cost of a lengthy bartering session in which his wife simply would not yield, if it cost all afternoon, while they were lying on the beach at one of the stops the ocean liner scheduled. Since he did not plan to engage in much activity of this sort, Ahman did not realize until this moment that the hat had secretly, unconsciously, become what was to be his souvenir of this vacation.

    Over the years Ahman had developed a place in his mind; a place where he could go in any storm, any turmoil, and nearly any onslaught of circumstantial negativity, which prevented his soul from suffering the prevailing infection. But he felt a genuine loss; which signaled an attachment, which was somewhat contrary to the methods he had employed all his life in order to retain an internal freedom in any circumstance.

    At the very fringe of his soul he actually felt a distant encroachment of a tumultuous storm; the weather he could see surrounding him was gorgeous, but he felt this storm nevertheless. This storm seemed to carry a deep, reverberating evil song within it…When Celeste, offering one of those comments that hurt more than help, sputtered “ Why did you let your hat go!!??”. Ahman did not respond, but did catch himself glaring at her, but, with perfect repose, he gathered himself, smiled, and proceeded across the deck to the cabin.

    And that was the first time he heard it, close to his ear…”I need your help…”. He turned quickly to his left, as that was where the voice seemed to come from, but there was no one there. There was no one near at all. But he had heard it quite clearly, although it sounded like someone driving by in a fast vehicle, where the voice rises and fades as the vehicle travels by.

    For long moments he stood there, turning slowly in a circle as if there must have been someone nearby, or someone who would be recognized as the speaker of these words. But there was no one. There were plenty of people on the boat, playing shuffleboard, some sort of bowling game, other activities, but no one close enough to have been responsible for what he had heard.

    At a certain point, we become friends to the passage of time, and ‘old age’ becomes the answer to everything. Besides, the sun, the margaritas and the motion of the boat could all easily contrive to produce illusions of sorts. And, this is vacation; Ahman quickly overlooked the illusion and continued to the cabin to get his novel.

    All his life he had loved the sun; and it felt like today’s sun would never end, just like it feels in childhood.

    Ahman stopped at one of the little makeshift bar huts on his way through the more crowded section of the deck. He ordered a margarita, with no salt. The bartender, as bartenders are prone to do, just began talking with his heavy Jamaican accent; “Tings come and tings go, sir. But some tings seem to just stay.” Just then, Ahman caught a quick glimpse of several people through the back window of the hut. They appeared to be huddled quite close together, and somehow, the area around them seemed quite dark, unlike the rest of the brightly lit deck.

    With some degree of alarm, after finishing the drink preparation the bartender seemed to slam the drink on the counter with thunderous reverberation . At least, it sounded so to Ahman. ‘Soon we be leavin’ deese troubled waters behind, sir. We will be settin’ sail again very soon.’  Upon returning his attention to the window at the back of the bar hut, there were no people there and it was just as sunny in the window as it was all over the deck, and indeed, as far as the eye could see.

    Drink in hand, Aman proceeded to their cabin.

    Ahman entered their cabin, having completely forgotten the tasks Celeste had assigned, and set out to retrieve the novel he was reading. It was not in the suitcase, nor on the nightstand by the bed, which is where he actually expected it to be. Finally, he sat down in one of the only two chairs in the small cabin, only to find that there apparently was a small pool of water in it , which he had not noticed. Now his pants were wet.

    He got up, rummaged through his luggage and found another pair of shorts, dry ones, and he proceeded to change. Putting his first leg through the pants nearly sent him sprawling to the floor because the floor of the cabin was inexplicably wet. He caught his balance enough to change his pants, and continued the search for his novel.

    He went into the bathroom, ‘may as well, before the long walk back to the sun deck’, and his novel was there on the sink. As he reached to pick it up he heard a distinct clanking sound. Must be someone at the cabin door trying to insert the wrong key into his door. Ahman went to the door, looked through the peephole, seeing no one, he opened the door to find not only no one, but no one the entire length of the hall in either direction. The hall was of prodigious length, so much so that no one could have been at the door making the sound and now be out of sight down the hall in either direction. But, maybe they entered one of the other cabins along the way: that would explain it. It would have had to be a very quick entry if that were the case…

    Before this last thought had even settled in his mind, he heard the clanking noise again: from behind him, inside his cabin. Ahman swung around to see…nothing. There was nothing there.

    Well, I have my novel now, and at this point, I am going back into the sunlight. At that moment, he heard it again, very faintly, “I need your help!”

    Unperturbed, Ahman left the cabin, locked the door and before he had taken ten steps he was completely back in relaxation mode, thinking about the sunshine above on the deck.

    ‘Where are my magazines!??’ insisted Celeste.

    Ahman had no recollection of such a request – if indeed it was made at all. But this was vacation. After all, he calculated that returning to fetch her magazines, which would then occupy her attention, a superior option to refusal, and suffering her endless capacity for complaint.

    Ahman again walked the length of the deck, admiring the way the deep blue of the sky made the fluffy white clouds look like they were material enough to lounge upon.

    Once in the cabin, Ahman did know exactly which magazines she had been engrossed in lately. He bent over to collect them from her carry on bag by the bed. Upon rising and turning around he was utterly shocked to find himself literally face to face with a black man, barely clothed at all, and dripping wet. Ahman gasped at the suddenness of this encounter, but before he could utter a sound the man was gone. He did not leave; he simply disappeared.

    Ahman did not know what to think, for several moments, he had no thoughts at all. However, he did begin to recollect what he had ‘seen’. The mind has an amazing photographic capacity that lends itself to later analysis. The ‘vision’ or ‘apparition’ was only there for the blink of an eye, but, upon reflection, there was no question that the man was dismally dressed, evinced a clear history of dejection, and had a searing appeal in his eyes. In addition to being soaking wet.

    Looking down, there was indeed a pool of water on the floor where the man had been standing.

    This is one of the problems with taking a cruise, he thought. If we were at home, at this moment I would collect my wife and simply leave town, taking nothing. But you cannot just leave a cruise ship, can you?

    In fact, Ahman again collected the magazines, which had fallen to the floor – this time without diverting his vision from the surrounding room. He then carefully made his way around the wet spot on the floor, eyes sweeping the cabin in front and behind him (as far as this is possible), until he finally ended up backing out of the cabin into the hallway.

    At the far end of the hall, approaching him was a gentlemen exquisitely attired in what was very nearly highly stereotyped sea faring garb of the very rich. As they approached one another, the strangers smile was very nearly luminous, and skin that had an inner radiance to it. His manner was utterly seductive and comfortable. They talked for several minutes, and, without remembering much, Ahman only recalled as he returned to the deck, that he had invited the young gentleman to dine with them that evening.

    Ahman also knew they were to wear their ‘best attire’ for the occasion.

    Any occasion to dress formally was not lost on Celeste, and she hummed a tune as she adorned herself for the evening. Ahman had a mild foreboding within his heart. He could feel currents within himself, as deep as beneath this ocean liner that felt fatal and final. And he could not forget the shabbily dressed man he had seen in his cabin.

    At their short rectangular table, where each of them sat at one of the more distal ends, with the third side snuggled against the ships railing over the water, as Ahman and Celeste toasted one another with champagne, almost magically, the young stranger joined them; they had not noticed his approach. Instantly another glass was ordered, delivered, and Celeste poured ‘him’ a glass, after which they all toasted to ‘life’.

    Ahman had a brief thought that he did not even know this gentleman’s name, and Celeste, the most inquisitive of all beings, did not inquire either. They simply acted as though they all knew one another, and that this was a planned event.

    As they enjoyed what seemed to be silence, it became apparent that it was actually preparation. The ambiance changed color entirely when the waiter returned to the table, and upon setting about the removal of the third arrangement of silverware from the middle of the table, he reached, effortlessly, directly through the young guest as though he were made of smoke, to retrieve the silverware.

    Ahman glanced at Celeste, with all the silent communication that only an aged couple can have. She too, had recognized that fate was indeed dining with them. Their Guest was immaterial – yet he was indeed ‘here’. The waiter dutifully collected the third place setting from the table and departed.

    “Who are you, sir?” inquired Ahman.

    “My name would roar in your ears like a thousand horns. No need for names” responded their guest.

    “What can we do for you?” queried Celeste, with utmost concern, and an amazing lack of fear.

    “I have a story to tell you, and a favor to ask of you. Let us begin with the story…”

     

    The ‘story’ was conveyed in images; no words were involved. They could see, no, they could feel an old 19th century cargo ship thrashing about in a relentless storm as sometimes plagues the Caribbean seas. There was a man, clearly in control, undoubtedly the captain, who was storming too and fro more than the weather itself. He shouted and struck the others in the crew if they did not immediately follow his instructions, as impossible as they may be, for the storm was completely overwhelming to any mortal adjustment whatsoever.

    His ship was being pursued by two other ships. Unfortunately for him, he was a known criminal and these ships had laid in wait for his return to the Caribbean Sea, where once and for all they would exact the price upon him that he deserved.

    Captain Fein, had for all of his adult life, pursued riches and fame. He did so to maniacal extremes. It had become increasingly difficult for him to secure participants on his voyages as time went on.

    As the English ships closed in on him, Captain Fein became obsessed with a fury seldom known to man. Slavery had been outlawed for over a decade, but it was the Captains only known trade and expertise; he could drive a crew of sailors and subdue 450 slaves from West Africa to the New World with regularity. He knew nothing else and felt no remorse for over 30 years. And, though illegal, this was to be his last trip. The final effort to ‘cash in’ on his expertise – and this time he would not squander the reward.

    Suddenly, what the Captain thought was only two ships, turned out to be even more. Not only was he being chased from behind, but even through the driving rain he could see that he was cut off from the front also.

    As if fed by the very storm itself, Captain Fein’s unreasonable rage erupted beyond all bounds. With lightning for a background, he drew his saber; continuously slashing at the ships railing as he stormed about, and injuring several crew members that simply happened to be nearby.

    The dark skies unleashed a rumbling roar of thunder that must have collected over eons to account for such ferocity. At that moment, Captain Fein knew with complete clarity what he must do. His capture was now inevitable as he was ultimately contained by English ships before and behind in addition to land on both sides.But, there is no crime if there is no bounty. He allowed himself an unstifled roar of laughter at this: how much more clever he was than those who pursued him!

    Captain Fein looked skyward, triumphantly, as he had resolved to address all issues, but, questioningly almost as if he had heard something from somewhere other than this earthly plane.

    On the cruise ship, with clear skies and an extraordinary sunset, their guest evinced an air of emergency, and, eyes shining with electricity, he exclaimed,

     “I need your help. They need your help. This opportunity arises only on rare occasions and time is upon us. We have the chance to alleviate the damnable suffering of hundreds, if we are only willing to make the sacrifice!”

    Ahman: “What is this suffering you speak of, and, who is it that suffers?”

    Celeste: “ Who are you?”

    Stranger: “I am what you might call an Angel. And the answer to whom it is that suffers lies in the remainder of my story.”

    With that statement, both Ahman and Celeste were returned to their vision of the intractable storm; storms both climatic and behavioral, upon the ship of Captain Fein. With nearly regular frequency, you could hear the howls of a crewman as he was swept overboard, knowing that he would never be saved, and that Captain Fein would not even consider an attempt at retrieval.

    You could see the mounting detachment in the eyes of Captain Fein. They were so wide as to reflect the limits of the horizon, and yet see nothing on board in his immediate vicinity. The Captain had gone mad.

    But madness has its talents. While surrounded by black, vicious and stormy waters, the Captain could ‘hear’ that there was a plot afoot in the heavens to thwart his plan. But he would not be deterred; he would not be apprehended with a ship full of slaves years after the transport of slaves had become illegal.

    Captain Fein ordered that the slaves be brought on deck. A sailor very near him immediately recognized the problem that would be introduced. Upon objecting to his Captain, his head was immediately removed with the saber.

    No one else objected. No matter how much it promised to complicate matters with this raging storm, the slaves below were all marched onto deck. The clanking of their chains could somehow be heard even above the prolific storm that would not abate.

    Angel: “I am counting on your strength to continue pursuit of this story.” Ahman and Celeste could hear the Angel as if from very far away, but quite clearly through the ancient storm, which they could still see.

    And they emerged; endless streams of them: hundreds. They were clearly ancient, all in several lines because they were chained together, to a long chain that ran between them. The captain of their vessel, was about to be apprehended on the high seas with a huge cargo of slaves after slavery had been abolished in the new world. In his madness, he ordered that the ships anchor be attached to the end of their chain and thrown overboard, before the English ships could overtake him and first punish him for breaking the law, and, second, steal his ‘cargo’.

    When the anchor hit the water, the main chain dived deeply with it; and panic stricken Africans immediately began their inexorable, mortal dive to the bottom of the Atlantic. The screams welled up into an orchestra of terror, for there was no escape. Real horror is when it can be seen but not escaped.

    Men, women and children, were all helplessly plunged into the abysmal sea; with no hope, no recourse. Even those at the end, who could anticipate their fate in time to latch onto some stable structure, found the sheer weight and momentum far too much for any one to resist. All were taken to the bottom.

    These were the souls that tread the halls of the great and luxurious ocean liner passing above their unsanctified graves. They bore no genuine horror for the guests; not intentional, nor could they move on given the sudden and criminal nature of their demise. People may die in automobile accidents without warning; but they are just that: accidents. And they are attended to by those entities that are ‘on duty’ at the time. But very often, people who are intentionally killed, without provocation, without reason, with full malice and particularly en mass; these souls cannot all be retrieved in time: the window closes. And they fail to pass over.

    It is exceedingly rare, but, sometimes the angels are stricken with such grief that they miss the ‘window’ in time where souls must be retrieved…for while they themselves are timeless, all mortal beings, dead or alive, are time bound. Even Angels cannot alter these formulae. Imagine entering a blazing wall of flames; that is how Angels experience human suffering – far more acutely than any mortal can. And it is dreadfully painful.

    Ahman: “Why are you showing this to us?”

    Celeste simply grasped Ahmans hand across the table with a knowing conviction.

    The Angel saw this, leaned back in his chair waiting for Celeste to reveal what he knew she was aware of.

    Celeste: “You were the one who could not garner all those souls that night. Weren’t you.”

    Angel: “Yes”.

    Celeste: “And you need our help to open the door again, to complete your task.”

    Angel: “Yes”.

    Ahman was amazed at the sagacity Celeste displayed. Though staunchly religious, she had never exhibited any clairvoyant tendencies, belief or even interest in such things. Now, here she was, completely awash with what seemed to be preternatural capacities.

    Ahman: “What do you mean by ‘open the window again?” he was asking both Celeste and the Angel.

    Celeste: “He wants us to die. It is the only way the door is opened; it is the door of mortality.”

    Their discussion continued for some time.

    This ‘Angel’ was asking him to give up his life in order to create a doorway to lead the others to their proper resting place. The Angel could not just abduct whomever he wanted at whatever time. The scheme of things imposed limits on Angels too. This condition had been  over a hundred and fifty years in preparation; the Angel needed a soul wide enough to create momentum that would draw the others through to the place they needed to be.

    But the Angel was not only asking Ahman. He needed Celeste too. Together they could, if they would give up their lives, create the necessary condition for the Angel to pull them through along with all the others that had suffered so unnecessarily for so long. And it had to be tonight.

    Lastly, the Angel could not kill a human; not directly. But he could accurately detect the recurrence of certain conditions.

    At this moment the ‘Angel’ pointed over the edge of the ship to the water and moved his finger in a slow circular pattern. Ahman and Celeste understood to look in the direction he was pointing. They could see a small whirlpool in the midst of utterly calm water. There was a small glowing light at the far end of the whirlpool.

    The Angel grabbed an orange from the fruit bowl on their table and tossed it directly onto the edge of the whirlpool, where it immediately began to traverse the edge, passing the strange light on each revolution. Each time it did, the light was refracted into a nearly blinding orange glow with rays that spread out to what seemed to be eternity.

    Angel: “Not all of time is straight. Sometimes it goes in circles. These are rare conditions but they occur sometimes when extraordinary events take place. We have the opportunity to pass the light just as you see in the whirlpool. Tonight.”

    This task however required their consent; their sacrifice. The final circumstance necessary was for both Ahman and Celeste to experience the original tragedy. They had to chain themselves to the center chain holding all the others, and follow them into death.

    Celeste spoke up, and insisted that she would do this, if the children could be spared. But, the Angel replied that they were already dead; no bodies available for their souls, nothing he could do. Celeste insisted that he at least pray, at least for the children to be spared. The Angel agreed, knowing it to be in vain.

    Ahman: “What children do you speak of?”

    Angel, surprised “You did not tell him, did you.”

    Celeste ”No, I did not know how.”

    Angel: “Ahman, she saw the children from the ship, well, their souls anyways, walking down the corridor towards her last night. Just as you saw one of the men from the slave ship earlier this afternoon.”

    Celeste had seen silhouettes of these children long before this voyage began. In her dreams, she had seen them in straight lines or in circles, but always close together. The vision would begin with them playing but end with their violent removal from her view, accompanied by screams of absolute terror.

    Ahman: “And just why could this task not be completed when it occurred. Why must our lives be involved?”

    At this the Angel brought his hands from underneath the table and thrust them forth, palms down, for Ahman and Celeste to view. They were charred, burned and cracked. There were still glowing embers visible underneath the cracked and curled sections of what used to be skin. This Angel had nearly forsaken his own existence in his effort to gather and guide the departing souls, but the sheer burning pain had overcome him, and he too had been suffering all these years: the doors of mortality had literally closed upon him in the midst of his efforts.

    Celeste gave the Angel a look of resolution that he could not quite fathom.

    There was an unmistakable portentous element in her continence. It was resolve. She now understood the dreams she and experienced. She knew why she was on this ship, in these waters, at this time.

    The Angel thought that, amazingly, she knew even more. Uncharacteristically, with a touch of desperation, and contrary to his covenant, the Angel revealed “I was directed to you, by someone that you know…”.

    For long moments Ahman and Celeste looked deeply within each other’s eyes.

    Celeste: ”Could I speak with my husband alone, please?”

    Angel, with utter respect, and divine remorse: “ Yes. Please, I must implore you to be mindful of time.”

    The Angel stood up, turned away from the table, and in the space of three paces he was simply ‘gone’.

    Ahman: “This is beyond unbelievable, this…is…”

    Celeste: “This is where we are.”

    Being together this long, each knows the others ‘buttons’ of sensitivity. They very nearly fell into this valley out of sheer habit as emotions were running high, but the gravity of the situation prevailed, and descending into argument was not a realistic threat.

    Celeste, imploringly: “Ahman, I saw them. They were only children. I could even feel the pain of their plight, being utterly lost, and completely aware of it. The tragedy he showed us still fresh in their minds – and all this time!”

    Ahman, seeing where this was going: ”And what of our daughter, Akira? And her two children? Do we not have a duty in that direction, one that is solely ours?”

    Celeste: “Akira and Hassan will be fine. They are obviously doing a great job with their children already. And what of the hundreds of souls that both you and I are aware of? What of them? When will the light he showed us be approached again? ”

    Ahman:” I don’t know…how can he ask such a thing in the first place? I do not believe this is happening!”

    Celeste: ”You know it is happening. And, the question is; how does one walk away? Could you live with that?”

    Reaching that plateau, the tears began to flow down Celeste’ face. Ahman too was beginning to yield to convulsive abdominal sob’s. Ahman got up, walked around the table to Celeste’s chair and bent down on one knee (his good knee). He folded his arms on the armrest of her chair and her arm encircled his neck. His head down in her lap, and the heretofore tearless Ahman began to cry.

    Celeste looked out over the great ocean and thought about her mother. A human rights pioneer before the advent of mass communication; when the world was not watching, and such activity at this time demanded a courage that rarely walks the earth. There were endless testimonies to her mothers bravery, resolution and determination at her funeral. Celeste could not help but feel that her mother was watching now.

    She remembered how, even though her family was of substantial means, they were taught lessons of value and humility at every opportunity. There was one Christmas where a not-so-close family of relatives had suffered a serious fire in their home. Celeste’s parents not only sent them substantial support, they also involved Celeste and her siblings by not having Xmas gifts that year in recognition of their relative’s plight, thus allowing them to send more, and allowing their children to share in the sacrifice.

    Celeste learned the meaning of sacrifice early and often in life. She willingly accompanied her mother on missions of mercy and developed a genuine ardent desire to ‘serve.’ Ahman often accused her of abandoning logic, but Celeste felt that it was not logic which would prevail in the larger scheme of things anyway. Celeste had made her mind up. And she knew that neither of them could walk away. That was the pivot upon which her thoughts anchored; not whether you could do something, but whether you could live with not doing it.

    She also now knew who had directed this Angel to her.

    Ahman rose from his kneeling position, eyes now dry, and returned to his chair. They continued to talk. The waiter constantly refreshed their meaningless drinks with absolute attention. It appeared so inconsequential as to be nearly humorous to Ahman – ‘if he only knew’ Ahman thought.

    The Angel, unbidden, returned. He had no choice but to be scrupulous about time at this point. He said nothing. His eyes said everything.

    This time Ahman noticed the difference. Before he could gather the words to form his question the Angel revealed: “ Yes, I have an effect upon people by my very presence. I do not influence them or their decisions, but I do calm souls. You have no idea of the tumult the immediately departed can experience. It is a necessary quality for my task.”

    Having made her decision some time ago Celeste stood up, Ahmand followed, and they embraced one final time. Then, with the Angel between them, holding their hands (the scars he revealed were now repressed – and his hands were certainly material enough, even warm), the three of them simply walked towards the front of the deck of the ocean liner until they emerged, unheralded, upon the deck of the 18th century cargo ship. Day turned to night in the midst of a storm that had to be inspired by hell itself.

    Instantly, Captain Fein’s antennae shrieked with alarm. Not only was (so called) heaven out to disparage his plans, but they were here now! Somewhere! Even this fateful, vengeful storm could not mask their proximity. The captain, given the extremity of his evil, was attracting insight and support from hell itself.

    Captain Fein raced to and fro, killing several crew, several slaves, and simply striking out wildly because he had no idea where the intrusion to his plans was coming from. But he would not be denied. He knew ‘they’ were here this time!

    Fighting the immense intensity of the storm, the Angel guided Ahman and Celeste into the midst of the chained slaves, only moments before the fateful instant where they were all attached to the ships anchor. Without drawing any attention whatsoever (as their fine evening attire had transformed into filthy rags as were worn by all the others), the Angel saw to it they were attached with shackles to the main chain, which now had the ships anchor at the end of it. Even this prodigious storm could not stifle the odor of human waste and despair.

    One of the crew cried out, feeling the eternal damnation of such an act. He was immediately slaughtered by the captain.  The anchor was secured, and the scene was replayed exactly as before, with the addition of Ahman and Celeste being present.

    However, before the anchor was thrust into the water, Celeste noticed that there was not just one main chain to which every one was connected. There were at least two tributaries, one of which had at least 70 children attached to it. And, thank God for hairpins! She removed it from her mouth…

    This time, Captain Fein, in his fervor to insure his plans were not thwarted, stumbled into the midst of the slaves as they began to careen overboard. His leg became hopelessly entangled in the chains and he too was sent plummeting to his death, as if to open a balancing doorway in another direction…and the horror repeated itself to conclusion, for the last time.

     

    On the news that evening, it was reported that seventy-three naked, black children were found washed upon the shore in South Florida. No one knew who they were. They did not speak English. The children were healthy, but very, very hungry.

    Some had shackles with broken chains on their wrists.

    The End.

    About The Author

    Kenneth G. Gary, Sr

    Kenneth G. Gary, Sr. was born in Atchison, Kansas, grew up in Minneapolis, MN, and moved to Boston, Massachusetts where he earned a degree in Biological Anthropology at Harvard University. Professionally he is an IT Architect working across the nation and internationally. He has six siblings and has been a storyteller in the oral tradition for his children, their children, his nephews and nieces and their children. It is a strong family tradition. Writing is a recent passion in his life, discovered through his past and with one of his sisters. The two of them have written a book containing 12 short stories, “Haunting Spiritual Stories.” Their second book is underway.  Read publisher bill berry’s interview with Kenneth:  http://aaduna.org/fallwinter2014/conversations/conversation-with-kenneth-g-gary-sr/