These stories were told around a campfire in the Out of Character Lounge on Halloween Night, 1995.
This story, strangely enough, doesn't even happen on Halloween. This occurs on the turn of the year, New Years Eve, when all of the lost souls of the year gather. Everyone knows that the merriment goes to extreme during the Holidays, but sometimes, people tend to forget that.
Now, the biggest party of the year is, of course, on New Years' Eve itself. But, this year, Jean was sad, because her fiance Brian had died just a few days before, in an auto accident. Because of family coming and going, Brian's family had to have the funeral on New Years Day.
They wanted as many of their kin as they could there, for comforting. Jean had said that she wanted to spend time alone with Brian, before the crush of people took away what little privacy they had left. And the only time available, was, of course, New Year's Eve. So...Jean spent the night alone with her love.
The coffin was all prettied up, sitting in the small chapel of the church. Lots of flowers surrounded it, for Brian had been a well liked man. The night was quiet, being December 31st, and with the snow quietly falling outside. The church, being normal, was full of deep silences.
The hour was closing on midnight, and the only lights in the church was in the chapel with Jean and Brian, and those in the entryway of the church. The clocks ran their paths, working the hours towards the new year.
'The church clock struck the 11th hour, startling Jean in her thoughts. She felt a little silly, being startled like that. But she soon settled down, looking once again upon the face of her departed love.
She felt a breeze come stealing across the floor of the church, cold and sullen. She stood up, to see who had come into the church, but the doors were still closed, and there was no one sitting among the pews. Shaking her head, she once again sat down, thinking that it was just a breeze coming thru one of the many cracks. Soon, she started to nod off, for she had been up late much, not being able to sleep. But she felt she had to sit here with her love, to spend what little time remained together. Soon, she was asleep at the side of her love, with her head layed down on the side of Brian's coffin.
The church bells struck the midnight hour, bonging with great peals it's welcome of the new year. Jean woke, with sudden shock. She had not noticed herself falling asleep. The bells continued their pealing, ringing out each of the twelve hours. Again, Jean felt a cold wind blow against her ankles, and she shivered.
Suddenly, a hand came down on her shoulder, and Jean lept up, shrieking!
'Easy, my child', said the priest, as he came up to stand next to her. 'I just came to see if you were all right, and saw you sleeping.'
Jean practically fainted. 'Father, you scared the life out of me!'
'No, child. I would not want to send you off to be with Brian so soon.'
He patted Jean on the shoulder, and then walked off into the main church, to check on the altar. Again, Jean sat down at the side of the coffin, trying to slow her racing heart. The only sounds were those of the priest, making his rounds of the altar and candles. Soon, even those came to a stop, as the priest retired for the night. Again, Jean became sleepy, and laid her head down on the edge of the coffin, and soon slept once more.
She heard a voice calling her name, softly in the distance, and looked up to see Brian standing at the end of the coffin.
'Don't be sad, Love. We will be together again.'
Jean was terribly confused, but could not drag her eyes from Brian's face. 'This is impossible! I saw you dead in the hospital! You're laying here in your coffin, waiting to be buried tomorrow!'
'Yes, I know. My friends here would not let me leave without saying goodbye to you. Don't be sad, Jean!'
'Continue on with your life. Please don't do anything silly.'
Jean was still confused. 'Friends? They're all out partying up the New Year. I'm the only one that's here.'
Slowly, Brian waved his hand. Jean turned, to see that the pews of the church were full. Folk of every persuasion were calmly sitting, watching the front of the church, where Jean could not see.
'Come, love,' Brian said to Jean, and walked out of the chapel, into the main church. Jean, in utter shock, stood and followed Brian out into the church.
'These are my friends now, Jean. They would not leave before I had said my goodbye to you.'
Jean looked back and forth, noticing that many of the folk sitting calmly had horrid wounds, yet seemed to feel no pain. She heard a clink come from the altar of the church, and turned too see what had made it. There, calmly going thru the motions of the church ceremony, as the Priest. He was finishing the preparations for the sacrament of the Wine and the Bread. He raised his hands towards the congregation sitting in the pews, and they slowly stood up, and began to file forward. The priest came down to the railing, and began giving the folk the sacraments.
Jean could only watch, as the dead folk of the year slowly passed her.
Soon, Brian turned to her, and said, 'It is my time. I have to leave you now.'
'Brian, no! Please stay with me!' Jean cried out, seeing that the end of the line was drawing near.
Sadly, Brian shook his head. 'No, Jean. That cannot be, and you know why.'
Tears slowly began to crawl their way down Jean's face, in a slow, endless procession. Numbly, she nodded her head. 'Wait for me, my love. Wait for me!'
Brian again shook his head. 'No. This is something that you cannot do.'
A group of the congregation near Jean stood up, and walked over to Jean, standing between her and her Brian. Brian joined the end of the line, and looked up at the priest, as he gave the sacraments. Soon, all were once again seated in the pews of the church, even Jean's Brian. The priest stood before the altar, and raised his hands in supplication.
'Go, now, and forever be in peace,' he intoned. Jean could not take her eyes off him, as he slowly turned to face the congregation. Jean turned also, and saw that the church was once again empty. She whipped about, to ask the priest one of the hoard of questions boiling in her mind. Only to find that he, also, was gone.
Limply, holding her hand out to balance herself, she stumbled back to her chair, and sat down. Jean cried out the pain of her soul, the tears pouring down her cheeks. Slowly, the tears came to a stop, and she hung her head down low.
Again, stillness reigned all through the church. The bells were silent, and the gently falling snow dampened the sounds of the revelers outside.. Silence. Gentle silence.
Suddenly, Jean sprang out of her chair, shreeking, as a hand came down on her shoulder!
'Heaven's forbid, child!' exclaimed the priest behind her. 'I only wanted to wake you to listen to the bells as they rang in the new year!'
At that moment, Jean heard the church bells peal out, ringing twelve times, as they rang in the new year.
'One night, everyone had gone to bed, but I couldn't sleep,' Kale says.
Kale says, 'I went downstairs to get some water.'
Kale says, 'As I finished putting the glass in the dishwasher, I heard a strange noise coming from Upstairs.'
Kale says, 'So I went back upstairs.'
Kale says, 'I listened at the top of the stairs and the noise was louder.' 'It was a heavy breathing and a soft tapping,' Kale says.
Kale says, 'I slowly walked down the hall, very very quietly.'
'I listened at Mother's door, and she wasn't snoring, so it wasn't her,' Kale says.
'I got to the door to my room, and I noticed that the noise was coming from Morgan's room,' Kale says.
Kale says, 'Normally, I don't like to go there because Morgan is a big baby and I don't like him very much.'
'But I knew Mother would be upset if I didn't check on him,' Kale says.
'So I went over to his door,' Kale says.
'It was slightly ajar, so I peeked in,' Kale says.
Kale says, 'Morgan was tossing and turning in his bed.'
'And there was a moving shadow coming from under the closet door.', Kale says, 'I pushed open the door and squeezed myself into the room.'
Kale says, 'I tip-toed over to the bed.'
'Morgan was breathing heavily and covered with sweat,' Kale says.
Kale says, 'The tapping sound was getting louder.'
Kale says, 'A faint reddish glow was coming from the cracks around the closet door.'
Kale was very very scared.
Kale says, 'But Father would go over to the closet, so I knew I could.'
Kale says, 'I went over to the closet and listened even closer.'
Kale says, 'The noise was more like a soft rapping.'
Kale says, 'And the red glow was almost constant now.'
'I had a really really bad feeling about this,' Kale says.
'But I knew I had to open the door,' Kale says.
'I put my hand on the doornob and Morgan started moaning really loudly,' Kale says.
Kale says, 'I pulled on the doornob and nothing happened.'
'The door was stuck!' Kale says.
'Morgan started thrashing around and crying out in his sleep,' Kale says.
Kale says, 'So I went over to him and tried to wake him up.'
Kale says, 'But he wouldn't wake up.'
Kale says, 'Not even when I shook him really hard.'
Kale says, 'So I went back to the closet.'
Kale says, 'I tried the doornob again, and this time it turned.'
'So I took a deep breath and pulled the door open really fast!' Kale says.
Kale gulps nervously.
Kale says, 'The red light filled the room and Morgan started screaming.'
Kale says, 'I blinked a few times and noticed that the light was coming from under a pile of dirty clothes.'
'I grabbed the clothes and pulled them aside!' Kale says.
Kale gasps in astonishment.
'With my eyes closed, of course,' Kale says.
'When I managed to open them and look down, I knew what was causing all of this,' Kale says.
'It was Bunny,' Kale says.
Kale says, 'Alex left him in the wrong room.'
Kale says, 'So I picked him up and gave him a hug.'
Kale says, 'The red glow went away and Morgan settled down.'
Kale says, 'I went out into the hallway, closed the door, and brought Bunny to Alex's room.'
'I put Bunny on the bed next to Alex, who grabbed him firmly by the arm and bashed him into the wall in her sleep,' Kale says.
Kale says, 'I tip-toed out into the hall, and went back to bed.'
It was a small church.
It was a small church and Father Juan tended it carefully, every single inch. He sanded down the old wooden steps to keep them clean from the tramped-in mud of the parishioners. He washed its whitened walls every week, alone in the biting wind off the plains, with his fingers raw and cold from the frigid water and aching from the harsh soap.
Every morning Father Juan made the walk to the well, along the small pathway bordered with its bedraggled flowers., along the exposed rock face with its nooks and crannies where the wind whistled on winter nights, to the well, where the moss grew thick and sagged under his feet as if ready to fall down a deep dark cavern.
And there he drew water--the crystal waters that sang in the bucket as if the moon had dripped drop by drop into the earth's arms and melted.
It was late fall, and the morning air was chill. Rumors had been spoken in the village of the rise of the armies in Madrid, but Father Juan did not care. He was drawing his water as usual, saying his rosary as he tugged the bucket up with the rope, a prayer for every twinge of muscle. And as usual, when the bucket tilted over the lip of the well, he seized it by the edges and drew it to him, to take the first sip of cold mountain water. But this time, his eyes closed as he let the water slide against his tongue and down his dry throat, he felt something--soft and bobbing.
It bounced against his lips, floating on the surface, and he spat the water out, catching just a glimpse of the two eyes in the water.
But when the bucket fell, there was nothing there.
Ay, Maria y los santos, he said, and crossed himself. An omen, he thought. For omens came often to the villagers, though he had never seen one himself.
And so he walked back to his church, past the nooks and crannies of the rock face, along the edge of the bedraggled flowers, back up the scored and scarred wooden steps.
It was that night that the first of the children came.
He awoke suddenly in the darkness, his heart knocking at his ribs. He stumbled his way to the great wooden doors that creaked upon opening--the doors that swung heavy like stone. And there, where he had expected a messenger with flaming torch and excited eyes come to tell him of the death of old Mother Ana, was a small figure. A little boy. Rags were draped from his shoulders, and the rippling of his ribs at every breath was a sight that moved Father Juan to great pity. But it was the eyes that caught him and held him still--the eyes wide as saucers and rimmed with tears.
They seemed fevered, moving across his face as if they searched for familiar features.
They seemed cold and pallid, as if they were born of a fish that dwells in the cold currents of the faraway sea.
And they seemed to know him, Father Juan.
With a cry, the priest slammed the door, and the echo reverberated through the small vaults of the church. Father Juan spent that night kneeling before his Christ, head bent, but sneaking furtive glances side to side. By morning his knees ached terribly, and he was full of guilt. It was only a poor ragged orphan child, he told himself. A boy run away from his family the next valley over. A refugee from the coming civil wars. I was uncharitable and unChristian, he told himself, and steeled himself to be more generous should the child knock again.
And that morning Father Juan walked to the well.
He trod carefully down the wooden steps and slowly past the near-dead blossoms and then more quickly past the looming rock face. He came to the well, and took hold of the bucket in his hands and dropped it down the rope's length to the shadowy waters below.
As he looked down, he caught just a glimpse of night stars still reflected in the water. As if the sun had forgotten to wash them away. And when he pulled up the bucket, he could not drink, and set the cool waters aside.
That night the second child came.
It came accompanied by the sound of gunfire, the echo of planes zooming overhead like great black bumblebees heavy with pollen. When he opened the door, flames seemed to lick at the wood and at his hands, and the sky outside was a glowing red like the heat of a forge. And the child's eyes looked up at him, red-rimmed and crying--a little girl, her eyebrows singed and her face scarred and torn.
The eyes were flat as if they had seen too much to behold and absorb.
The eyes were deep as if they had been holes bored into a soul.
But most of all, felt Father Juan, the eyes accused him, for they knew him all too well. And Father Juan fled to the back of the church, by the altar, and lay there in the shadow of his cross until dawn stretched its fingers through the humble windows.
Father Juan did not go back to the well that day.
He drank the old water in his cups. He sipped sacriligiously of the holy water. He licked at his sweaty lips, the salt on his face stinging his tongue.
And that night no child came.
The rumors of war were more intense--the word was of shootings. The poet Lorca was gunned down in the street. The soldiers were pacing the village and asking questions no man should have to answer.
Father Juan was very thirsty.
Finally at the twelfth knell of the bells, as the moon was high in the sky and round as a melon, he crept to the great wooden doors. He lifted the wooden bar and set it down by the lintel. He stepped down the old wooden steps, and cringed as they sighed a long whispery sigh that called out to the clouds. He walked past the dead blossoms, fallen like silk rustling, at his feet.
As he walked along the rock face, he trailed his fingers along the dark and cold stone, feeling the slivers of stone try to tear at his fingertips.
The child was waiting at the well.
It was wrapped in its rags, and its eyes hung deep in the dark folds of its robes like small moons.
He approached the well slowly and cautiously, watching the eyes as they twitched when he took every step. He reached for the bucket he had looped by his belt, and walked to the other side of the well from the child.
Father Juan drew the bucket up out of the deep darkness of the well, face averted from its echoing chamber, eyes always on the child, who stood gravely watching him. He strained to bring up the bucket, which to his leaden arms seemed so much heavier than ever. As it crested the lip, he could not help but peer into the water, and drew in a ragged breath of surprise.
There, caught in the water, were the moon and stars, dripping wet and as cool as the dew on a fresh morning. The silver light they carried shone from out the bucket, the glow catching on the rusty iron handle and making it glint like secret gold.
The child looked at Father Juan in mute yet eloquent request, and Father Juan knelt before the ragged robes and handed the thirsty child the bucket.
And the child lifted the heavy bucket, and held it to his mouth, stars washing down past his lips and staining the front of his chest, the moon barely big enough to slide down his starving gullet. And then the child smiled at Father Juan, and held the bucket out to him, and Father Juan took it.
For just an instant their fingers touched, and as long as he lived the priest never forgot. Never forgot the feeling in the fingers of a ghost.
It was mot many months later that the soldiers came for Father Juan. The great doors of the church were axed open. The wooden bar was tossed aside. The refugees Father Juan had come to keep hidden safely in his cellar were taken from there.
Outside the doors the glow of the fires in the village was red and aching. The wind blew in stinking of ash. They took them all outside and there in front of the newly flowered blossoms, past the creaky wooden stairs, they shot the prisoners.
The men died with their eyes turned defiantly down the barrel. The children clung to their parents' skirts. The mothers cursed the names of the women who bore the fascists and nursed them though their first year.
And then they brought out Father Juan.
He stood against the rock face, feeling behind him with his rough fingers. He felt the crannies and crevices in the stone. It felt like stone, nothing more--not like salvation. He scrabbled in panic as the rifles were lifted, and his fingernails skittered across the rock like helpless leaves blown by the wind.
It was a very big moon that night, he thought irrelevantly.
And when they opened fire, his fingers found what he had unknowingly been questing for, as a tiny hand slipped into his, and squeezed it confidently.
He dared not look down, so he looked up at the sky. And as he died, he opened his mouth and with a great cry, let the moon and the stars wash over him and enter him, like cool liquid.
It felt, to him, like a long drink of water from the coolest well, as he lay there, imbibing the heavens, and exhaling his last breath, tinged with the light of the Milky Way.
This all happened in the year of the great Civil War, when they shot the poet Lorca, in a place where the sky is round like a bowl, and the moonlight gathers in the waters of very deep wells.