Incident at Cemetery JunctionbyHandley_Page©
Bright lights were the last thing James saw, accompanied by the sound of a car smash. He had been trying to cross the road at what the local Council called the 'designated place' and the Volvo had rounded the corner with the shriek of tyres and struck him square on. When his head hit the windscreen there was a dull 'crack' and that was that. He thus missed the Fire Department, ambulance and police response as well as all the associated measurements, photographs and breath tests. Save being the principal participant, he also missed the autopsy. The well-attended funeral took place a few days later.
As he walked to the Church, the Vicar looked sadly at the grave. James had been a decent bloke, he thought as he walked slowly away. He cheered up; maybe James can find these so-called 'Ghosts', his thought process continued. Then he smiled and offered a prayer to the Almighty.
Choir practice tonight, he thought. Give 'em something to get their teeth into. . .
He 'woke' with a start to realize it was very dark. And very quiet. It was a while before his brain realized that there were no physical sensations with his wakened state. His mind wandered around for a point of reference seeking sight, touch or sound, but nothing happened. It seemed like an age before a voice crept into his mind:
"Do you mind moving a bit? It's tight in here."
Panic: What was that voice?
The voice repeated the question: "Would you mind moving a bit please?"
"How?" he asked after a little thought. "I don't seem to be able to move. I certainly cannot feel my body, and whilst I can 'hear' you, I do not know where I am and I cannot feel you. I'm not even sure just how I hear you." The thought did not occur to him that he could speak.
"Oh," said the voice, "You're here at last, eh? Well, trust me, you will -- sometime. I've been waiting ages. You are in Transit. My name's Mary, what's yours?"
"James," he said. "What's transit?"
"Transit is where we await our departure to our final destination," said the voice of Mary.
"Am I stuck in some sort of railway yard thing?" said James. Purgatory was beyond his imagination. He went on: "What is it, 'Goods Inwards'?"
"And what was the last thing you can clearly remember?" said Mary.
"A car." he said. "There was a lot of noise and bright light."
"A car? Is that some sort of vehicle? Sounds like you've been in a crash," said Mary. Her voice had slowly taken on a more physical dimension. His own voice seemed less an effect and more 'real'.
"Yes, it is some sort of vehicle. So where am I?"
"I told you; you're in transit. It's where we all wait for the next stage," said Mary. Her voice had now taken on a warm, dark tone. "If you wait a bit, you'll start to feel sensations in your limbs, although this is a mental thing; here, you don't have any that count."
James became aware of a tingle in his right hand. He flexed his muscles and then wondered why, if, as she said, he didn't have any. "Where are you?" he said.
"Well," she said, "in physical terms, I'm next to you. And you're still squashing me."
"How come," he wondered, "I can not hear anyone else? After all, if this isn't physical, and we are too close, where's anyone else?"
"That's because I am your guide," said Mary. "They put you next to me: A bit too next to me."
"So if I'm here as a crash victim, what's your excuse?" he said. He felt his voice getting stronger and more resonant. His fingers were feeling warmer, and he could feel his toes. He suddenly remembered he'd forgotten to cut the nails.
"I was in the water. I don't remember much else," said Mary. "Try moving your right hand outwards."
"Why?" he said.
"You'll soon see," was the reply.
He did, and blanked out like a switched-off TV.
It seemed like a very long time before he felt conscious, although time was a bit of an abstract concept he would rather not explore just yet.
"Oh," she said, you're back."
"What happened then?" He felt more puzzled than in panic. Curiosity was uppermost in his mind, but he was not in pain and experienced no cold or hunger.
"You went through your first transition," said Mary's throaty voice. "There will be more," she added.
He suddenly thought that if he & she were physical, he could be excited at that voice. It conveyed all manner of warmth and even a hint of promise.
"What do you look like?" he asked.
"You really don't want to know my current state, but I was dark haired, green-eyed, tall, widowed and over twenty-one. You do realise that we are what might be termed ghosts?"
"Why can't I get up and do some serious haunting, then", he muttered. "I'd love to scare the pants off the idiot that did for me. I take it you can see me, so to speak?"
"Too early for haunting," she said. "You'll have to wait a while first. And it isn't as much fun as it used to be. Now, try moving your right hand outwards. And yes, I can see you, if seeing is the right word. You don't look too bad."
To his surprise, he noticed sensations of touch in his hand. He discovered a smaller, warm hand. Without thought, he clasped it.
"That's better," said Mary.
Her voice had dropped half an octave and it sent shivers down his spine. He tried to shift his hips, but the effort was too much and he blanked out again.
The Vicar sat at his desk trying to write his sermon. He'd planned to speak on the subject of the Commandments, but his thoughts kept returning to the reports of noises and commotion in his graveyard. There were simply too many to be written off as 'kids'.
Mrs Claverton was a widow and a member of the Church Committee. She'd been most insistent: "There is something nasty going on out there and it isn't the local lovers trying to find somewhere to plight their troth," she said, at the last meeting. "Something needs to be done."
She was tall for a woman, and slim with brown hair which, when let loose from the customary bun, was streaked with iron grey. The villagers spoke to her when they needed some help about matters they did not want to take to the Vicar and were of no interest to the medical profession. If Mrs Claverton said, "things will be all right" they invariably would be, such as when a person went into hospital, or a child's exams.
The two Church Wardens, who could usually gossip with the best, remained curiously silent about the goings on in that corner of the graveyard and steadfastly declined to give an opinion one way or the other when asked by the Vicar.
"I'll write a letter to the Bishop, then," he said, but, as he reported at the next meeting, there had been no reply yet other than a brief acknowledgment of his letter.
Some serious Praying was due. He went into the Church to do just that. Perhaps it would clear his mind. The door creaked open and the Vicar entered, closing the door behind him. He flicked a couple of switches and walked forward to the Lady Chapel. Kneeling down, he began to pray. It was like talking to an old and trusted friend.
"Welcome to the next stage," said Mary. He noticed that her voice was now a physical entity, and her warm hand was still in his. It felt nice; more than mere comfort, somehow. It never occurred to him to be frightened. The absence of light somehow did not bother him.
"Are you still squashed?" he asked.
"No, you managed that move very well, considering," said Mary. "It's a bit more comfortable, like spacing out in a narrow bed."
"I cannot recall ever doing that, myself," he admitted. "Girls were never particularly high on my agenda somehow. I never seemed to understand them and escaped to do other things. I was always the one in the corner of the room watching all the fun with either the drunk or the dumpy one with glasses and/or a bad attitude to soap. When I did manage to take a girl out, it was not particularly serious. And attempts at sex were a disaster. For want of a better expression, I was never taught; maybe that should be - never learned. I do know that I was not attracted to men. I suppose it's a bit late now. What about you?"
"I was sentenced to drowning as a witch," she said. "I wasn't one, but I'd always felt a certain ability to help folk, particularly births and so on, and my old Granny taught me the ways of plants. She was taught by the Good Sisters at the Convent where she worked as a lay sister until she married the gardener." Her voice had a pleasant country burr.
"And when was that?" he asked. "And how come we share a small space?"
"When you get to the right stage you will see my old stone in the corner of the churchyard. It wasn't holy ground then, but the cemetery was extended after some war or other. I've been here a long time, waiting for someone like you. The next thing I know is that you're here; and it's a tight fit."
"So we share a grave?" he asked. He was beginning to worry about spending eternity with a very old woman with a nice voice. But she didn't sound that old.
"Yes, we do; roughly," she said. "I was cursed to stay here until some good man would release me from my bonds, but with the right to help another. You're the one who can close the circle for me."
"In how long?" The question was out before he could stop it. He forgot that time was relative.
"Oh," she said, "about four hundred of your years. My daughter was sent away. I presume she married someone. We are, or were, a very matriarchal line back as far as the Conqueror. We have always been able to help people. I suppose my daughter carried on the good work of helping. It's in the blood."
"You know, if my daughter had family in the usual manner, there's a chance she'd be helping the sick."
The idea of being helped by a bloodless, four hundred year old, ghostly, widowed mother did little to calm him. Trying hard not to panic, he forced himself to concentrate on her hand. When the worst passed, he said, "Mary, how come you don't speak in old English?"
"Just because I've been here a long time," she said with some asperity, "it doesn't mean that I'm ignorant of the current state of things up in the world." "I have seen the different clothes they wear and the horseless carriages; all sorts of things. And before you ask, when you can see, I'll look like I was before I drowned."
Her hand squeezed his gently and he was reassured but nervous, rather to his surprise. He became aware of a perfumed smell. "What's the perfume?" he said.
"You're getting better," she said. "It's a mixture my Granny taught me to make. Do you like it?"
"Yes," he said. "It's very nice. If you were physical, I'd love to get closer. I'd like to have taken you dancing. What is it?"
"As we are sharing a grave, it's difficult to get any closer, but dancing is out at present; mind you, I used to do a mean madrigal. And the perfume is based on Roses and Night Scented Stock," she said. She giggled and it was as if her laugh tinkled across time and space.
He moved a leg and, to his surprise, felt another. "Yes," she said, "that's me. We'll get together sometime soon, I think. I hope they'll leave us alone for a while. I'd hate to be interrupted."
"Doing what?" he asked.
She giggled, "It's been ages since I had a man."
Suddenly, he felt a gentle kiss. He blanked out before he could do anything about it.
The Vicar was reading his mail. The letter from the Bishop's Office was not very encouraging, with phrases like "there is still some doubt about the supernatural, particularly these days," and an offer to put him in touch with the Librarian. Another letter from the Librarian went on to refer the Vicar to some very old books, which would be made available to him "in the event he really thought it worth the effort".
"Yes," he thought, "it really is worth trying". He started telephoning the Bishop's palace librarian. He had some studying to do.
"Ah," said Mary when he could think again, "that was maybe a bit early, but you are coming along well."
"I'm beginning to feel things," he said. A note of wonder crept into his voice as he realised what he had said. "But I don't know how; or why."
"You will," she said, "but don't rush it. These things take time and we've all the time in eternity." She blew a warm gentle breath into his ear. It tickled.
"Ooh," he murmured, "I take it that these sensations are not actually physical?" Tingles went down his spine and frightened him witless. He stopped to wonder about that but decided it was too complicated.
"Yes," she replied. "Try moving your leg again."
He did and found another leg next to his. He wiggled the foot against soft skin.
"But. . . " Before he could finish, he experienced a feeling of dizziness, like being drunk. Then his head cleared and he became more aware of her body.
She noticed his efforts. "Can you move any other limbs yet?" she asked.
He made a tentative flick of a few muscles and was surprised to discover he could. What amazed him was that there was even less an effect of cramped space and it felt as if the available space had expanded.
"Yes," she said. "We've done that together. It now more resembles a double bed." She did not elaborate. He felt her hand move to his chest. He became aware of a head on his shoulder.
"Have you ever made love to a woman?" she asked quietly.
"A few fumbles in the dark", he said, "and an extremely embarrassing event in a hay loft, a few attempts from time to time, but apart from that, nothing of any note. Anything I know is from a book, just like most other things in my last life."
She giggled. He realized that he could feel her body on his arm. It was warm and soft. Then suddenly he noticed no head on his shoulder and no body on his arm. He felt a feeling of relief, but could not think why.
"Now try and move your arm outwards," she said. He did so and the head returned to his shoulder. He was very aware of her breathing. But he found he had to control his reactions, rather like when Dorothy tried to get him in the hayloft.
"How come you can breathe?" he asked. "Not that I'm complaining, it's very nice, but I cannot feel myself breathing, if you know what I mean." If he'd had a heart to beat, it would have slowed back to normal.
Warm breath wafted across his throat. "It's a bit of a trick. You'll get the hang of it when you need it," she whispered. There was companionable silence for a while as he made his fingers explore. He realized he was touching skin; warm fragrant skin.
"Try it," she said. "I won't break. Gentle strokes please."
He did, as feelings of touch explored her back. It wasn't a particularly bony back, he could feel muscles under the skin, which was smooth and soft. Her perfume was very noticeable and somehow, nice.
"That's very nice; and rather comforting," she said as he ran his fingers up her spine. "I've missed this so much. Can you move better now? Try rolling my way."
He tried a bit of a wiggle and moved his legs. He was surprised and he started to panic and stuttered: "B b but . . ."
Her hand stroked his face. "Easy," she said: "Relax."
Gradually, he did.
"Assuming," he said as he regained some control, "that I could see, what would I see?"
Her breath was just a whisper on his throat.
"Ah, she said. "Seeing is about the last thing we get, and that takes practice. Naturally, if and when you rise up, you'll see quite well and in remarkable detail. In here, I don't bother with sight so I'm a bit out of practice. If you could see me, you'd see an adult woman with long chestnut hair. I'd have to concentrate on clothes, though; I don't know much about how they dress these days. It's been a while since I was up there. But I was wearing a shift when they buried me."
Her hand reached out across his chest and started gently massaging a nipple. That woke up so many feelings and sensations that he blanked out.
He did not hear her "Oh, Drat".
The Vicar had been doing his homework. The books had arrived and he found several passages and prayers of real interest. If nothing else, he thought, it would make for a different service and the choir might actually enjoy it. He'd even discussed it with Mrs Claverton, whom, he knew, could be relied upon to keep the confidence.
She suggested St. Gertrude: "Prayers to Saint Gertrude (patron Saint of the newly dead) would definitely help."
There was also a copy of an old Anthem, which, a hand-written note said, would 'banish the evil ones', although the words were in Latin and he had trouble with that. Well, he thought, that's a problem for the Choir.
He picked up the telephone and called his Church Wardens, the Organist and the Choirmaster.
"Sorry," she said as he re-surfaced. "Perhaps I was a bit forward for a minute there. But you must learn to relax. Sex is natural."
He heard the giggle and felt teeth on his chest. A tongue played with his nipple and then vanished. There was silence. He panicked but managed to concentrate. He separated his mind from anything else; he was surprised how easy it was.
"I don't mind at all," he said when he felt her nudge him, "but can we take it in smaller bites until I get the hang of being recently dead? Are there still flowers on my grave?" She vanished. He felt very alone.
He became aware of her presence again. "Yes, there are flowers on the grave," she said.
"Please tell me next time you're going to vanish. It's quite upsetting. How long," he wondered aloud, "have I been here?"
"Not long." she said. He felt her hand return to his chest. She went on: "Time is not a thing to be measured down here, but it has been a while for them up there."
"So what happens after transit, then?" he asked.
"You could go back; that's not too common, but it is done, depending upon the circumstances of your death," she said. "You could also go Up or Down. You could also hang about like me, waiting for something to happen, like you. They must think I have a chance or you probably wouldn't be here. Of course, there's always the chance of being re-assigned."
"What do you mean, 'go back'?" he asked.
"You go back to where you left. It might not be quite your original body or even time, but I think they try to make it as close as possible", she replied.
Her hand continued to stroke his chest, flicking a nipple from time to time. This time it was not so disembodied; it felt like a real person. And it was nice; much better than anything he'd experienced in life. He took what would otherwise have been deep breaths and concentrated. He became more and more aware of 'being made flesh'. He could feel and move his limbs. Breathing was a bit tricky, but it was good to know he could breathe into Mary's ear.
"You're getting the hang of this, aren't you?" she said, and giggled.
"Know any good ghostly jokes?" he asked flippantly.
"No," was all she said.
Her hand traced gentle patterns on his leg as she pressed herself closer. Just as he was getting accustomed to the idea of being made flesh in a useful way, he felt a jolt in his head and squirmed.
"Easy", she whispered; "everything will be all right. No need for panic. You just rest here a moment whilst I slip out". He was suddenly alone and confused.
It hardly seemed any time at all before she said: "I managed to get out and look round. It's changed a bit round here. It used to be near a cornfield. What's a hospital?"
"A place to heal the sick", he replied.
Without thinking, he turned and kissed her. Her response was a returned kiss; slowly, gently and with increasing passion. Her hands caressed his face. Her skin was very warm and smooth as silk and his fingers traced the curve of her ear. Holding his face with her hands, she slipped her tongue between his lips. The kisses went on a long time and he reflected that breathing was an unnecessary option, and their tongues worked.