The Meeting of the Dead

Luminescent in the black fabric of the sky was one orange moon. Tonight the fabric was un-porous, allowing no stars to pierce the earth. Only grey clouds shifted along the skies, like wisps and fragments of a breath by a being above.

Below, a graveyard sat cold and still, colorless in the world. Nothing breathed, nothing moved, not a shadow slipped between the branches of the trees.

Until, a hand, a bone-white hand, shuddered up from the wet dirt and tolled a bell.

Immediately, the graveyard came alive. Rising over their beds, hundreds of spirits danced along the night, hopping between tombstones. Some were like poltergeists, cackling mischievously, and tumbling like bramble in the desert. Others were mournful shadows of old souls, and flitted up from their graves letting loose lonely tunes. Young children laughingly swung from tree to tree, awake for one night a year. One tugged on her mother's long-withered arm, saying, "Is it time, Momma? Are we going to be together tonight?" And her father smiled and patted her head.

The bone hand had pulled the rest of its skeletal body from the ground and now was calling his ghosts to encircle him. They all, with whoops, and dirges, and giggles and relieved sighs, gathered round to sit and convene in the Annual Meeting of the Dead.

A rumble ran through the night air as the skeleton coughed and spoke in a voice that rattled like his bones. "And we've made it to another All Hallow's Eve," he smiled, baring bone, at each member of the circle. He lifted a limb and a goblet flew into his waiting hand, wine sloshing at the sides. "A toast," he called, "To another day together."

And suddenly each ghost's whispery hand held his own goblet and were raised to meet each other in blessing. Slowly groups gathered here and there, socializing. Old friends gossiped about times long lost from when they saw their breath on chilly days. Sisters gave old hugs and huddled, remembering the forgotten years. Older men reminisced about the days their backs would ache and hips would break, and their phantom limbs would be left to amputate. Soldiers, mouths rimmed with silvery blood, gestured tales of the trenches, war stories of fear and death.

"Funny how things change, huh?" one remarked.

His friend sipped his drink, stirring it lightly. "What do you mean?"

"Well, back then, in the ol' days, we were so scared but we lived so full, 'cause, y'know, the scariest thing there was to die. And well, now we dead, and life ain't so bad, y'know. So, in the end, there never really was nothin' to fear."

His friend looked at him thoughtfully and then called, "Hey, Bradley, come here what Chester said." And he repeated the idea to Bradley who nodded, empty skull full with wisdom. Bradley then tapped Arthur, the old war general, on the soldier and whispered in his ear. Arthur passed a drink to Claire, the nurse from the Great War, and passed a thought or two with it. Claire was joined by Amelia, the young mother of three, all murdered in their small town. Amelia's daughters Edith, Imogene, and Darla jumped up and grabbed Claire's translucent palms, gibbering with excitement, and then quickly ran off to old Mother Graham, and put their small, soft faces to her leathery, brown-tinged ectoplasm. Mother Graham slipped a small smile and the children were off again to tell Freddie and Rachel, the children of Mom and Pop, while Mother Graham retold the reflection to mischievous Willie and none too quickly, word was spread to the whole arrangement of spirits. The skeleton soon overheard and was "ho ho"ing in laughter until he called the ghosts together once again.

"Well, it seems Soldier Adam has had quite a revelation that begs quite a question." The skeleton looked at each of them in turn, the perpetual merriness lose in the deep sockets of his eyes. "We all lived, we all died, and every year for reasons unbeknownst to us, we have one day that we may feel faint ghosts of our past life, one night and one morning where we may feel a small percentage of what it was like to live. Our time to create, to live the mystery of life, is finished. So, why are we still here? We have no unfinished business; we are all at peace in our rest, so why do we bother with these nights of remembrance? And we do this each year, but eventually we're going to come to a 'Now what?' point.

People, people, spirits of people, what is in store for us now? We don't age, we don't change, we're stuck in death, and I do find it quite dead boring, pardon the pun. I think Soldier Adam brought up quite a nice reminder for us. We drink to have liquids pour down our rib cages, we talk in futile attempts to fill our empty brains, our hearts have stopped beating blood long ago, so now what? What is the point?"

Mother Graham rocked back. "The point? Sonny, I don't think we're about the point much anymore. That's past, as you said; now we just are. We don't know why, I don't think we ever will, boy. I'm humble enough to accept that. We are happy, no? Content? Life's passed us by but we're still here. I think our point is that we are pointless. If we really have accepted our death, we have accepted that there is no more doing or change, life's stoic, hmm? What y'all say?"

A slow hum of ghosts of voices flew around the ears of the spirits.

Mother Graham continued, "My clothes have rotted, my flesh has flaked away, my soul is floating along who knows where, all that is left is me. I just am, that's all, and that's all I can do." She sighed back, slipping her smile again.

Pop spoke up first, in his low rumble. "It's quite exhausting to play this act, it is. Wearing the remembrance of the suit I was buried in, covering up the bruises I was beat with. I may be done with playing this part."

Mom took his hand and smiled, too, at those around. "We all thought we had moved on. I guess we hadn't." The skeleton was looking surly.

Celia and Paul, the newlywed couple who had lived but one day in marriage nodded. The man with half an axe protruding from the side of his head, who always looked too vicious for any of the others to ask his past, nodded as well. Soon the nod became a chain, floating in and up, down and out from each member of the convene, ending with the slight tilt of Soldier Adam's chin. And slowly, slowly each nod was followed by a fading. Like the brightest star winking out at a hint of daybreak, the ghosts were meeting the end of their purpose. The skeleton, who was still substantial white bone, grasped failingly at each translucent, transparent, near invisible body, crying, "No, we aren't done, we aren't!" And the spirits murmured, "Yes, yes, we are." "We are." "We are." It became a rousing chant, "We are, we are," spirits twinkling and vanishing from the graveyard, until only one was left, Old Luke, the one longest there, the father of them all, the one who taught each new ghost the tricks they could play. Old Luke gave a small, sad farewell of a wave to the Skeleton and, too, winked out of sight in a slight brilliance of sparks.

The Skeleton slowly settled himself into the ground, heaping the familiar dirt to be a stark contrast with his white bones, knowing there would not be reason to arise for a long time, and that there would be no one but himself to wake. So, he closed up his grave, the yard looking as undisturbed as before but for one small golden bell on his end, a bell that would toll no more.

The wind was again a susurrus in the trees; the stars blinked. The orange moon settled in its place, whistling its old melodies and nursery rhymes. The sky fluttered, like a very old tattered blanket, and then sighed, smothering the stars. And nothing breathed for one more year.