After they were summoned they met around a firepit, as was Custom, four figures in boots, overcoats and scarfs, robed and wrapped in layers of fabric, though the fire was roaring and of course they had no fear of cold or need for warmth.
It was unclear yet who had summoned them, or for what purpose—for whom. They began with the stories of their deaths. Grandpa Earl explained how he’d been out of his mind in a nursing home, raving and crying for Grandma Jessalyn, who was then already dead, to tell the doctors to set him free, to let him go home.
Grandma Jessalyn herself told about three years earlier, how she was awoken by an ocean’s roaring in her eardrums, how she staggered into the bathroom, splashed her face with cold water, took deep breaths to calm herself; how ants seemed to crawl out of the face cloth when she brought it to her lips, just before she collapsed.
Uncle Douglas spoke of the weeks in the hospital, the last days filled with his children’s visits, though he could no longer speak, or nod his head, or move his hands to write them a message, and all he longed for was the power to form the words, ‘Love you always.’
Only Aunt Eileen stumbled slightly when she told her story, of driving home after a party, the sliver of light from a single headlight that appeared for the briefest of instants before impact. When she finished she shivered as the night wind howled; something fell from the folds of her robe. A book with a silver cover.
‘So it was you,’ Grandma Jessalyn said.
Eileen nodded. She picked up the spell book, tucked it away. ‘For Charley.’
For her husband was ill, she told them, at the end of a long tunnel of disease, of wracking pain, nausea, unending spasms of cold; in fact, his remaining time was short. Eileen explained that he was fearful, that she had never guessed how afraid he would be; that he kept tissues in his pocket to catch the tears, for his eyes were always leaking; that he didn’t want to close them at night for fear he would never open them again in this world.
‘So if you could only let him know—let him see this isn’t the end,’ Eileen asked the Three. ‘You were three of his favourites. If you could only…’ Here she had nothing more to say. She bowed her head. ‘I’m sorry to disturb you.’
Yet they agreed. Eileen waited outside the bedroom door while the Three entered, crossed the floor in floating steps, surrounded Charley’s bed. There was no sound, only a soft cloud of warm light that billowed out from the Three to touch Charley as he slept. His body went rigid, then relaxed as he opened his wet blue eyes and reached out both hands in a sort of ecstasy as he saw, as he understood, as they let themselves be Known to him.
Author: Timothy Boudreau lives and works in northern New Hampshire. His work has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Microfiction and a Pushcart Prize. His collection Saturday Night is available through Hobblebush Books. Find him on Twitter at @tcboudreau or at timothyboudreau.com.
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