In the approaching twilight the mausoleums bordering the graveyard's cobblestone path cast fantastic shadows that seemed to sway with the trees in the evening breeze. Neither brother nor sister paid much attention to their surroundings as they strolled into the cemetery.
More than a year had passed since they had laid eyes upon each other's face. It was evident in their uncomfortable embrace upon meeting and the physical distance they kept between them as they walked into the past.
"I didn't want to tell you in the letter," April began. "If I had known it was going to take six months for you to get here, I might have."
"Tell me what?" David asked.
"How she died."
"Didn't her cancer came back?"
"Jeez, so you really haven't talked to anyone since you got my letter."
"No, I haven't. So she didn't die of cancer. A heart attack, then?"
April stopped walking and turned toward her brother. David kept his distance but April's eyes seemed to be trying to bridge the gap. She took a breath and tried to find the words. She found them.
"David, Mom killed herself."
Tightness clutched David's chest. He felt as though he was learning of his mother's death all over again.
"No, she wouldn't." David's voice trembled. "Why, dear God, why?"
April threaded her arm around David's and they started down the path again.
"That's why I wanted to meet you at the cemetery gate. It's about a half-mile walk to where she is, and I'll have time to tell you the story. I don't know why she killed herself. Her note seemed to have an explanation, but it was all about this ridiculous obsession of hers."
"I'll tell you what I know. Maybe you can make some sense of it. About a year ago, in fact, a year ago tomorrow, I picked Mom up from the mall. She started telling me about this crystal ball she saw at the magic shop."
"The one we used to go to as kids?"
"I think so. I wasn't with her. Anyway, she got into the car and started telling me about this novelty crystal ball. She described it as looking like a snow-globe, but it had electronics in it and it could answer questions, like those magic eight balls."
David followed April's words closely but couldn't fathom what this had to do with his mother's death. "Okay," he said, encouraging her to continue.
"For whatever reason, she decided to ask it a question, and it gave her such a bizarre answer she thought it was broken. So she asked again: 'Where do we go when we die?'"
"Was death and suicide on her mind?"
"Death maybe; killing herself, no. That day was the anniversary of Dad's death, and I know she was thinking about whether or not they would be together in the afterlife. She mumbled something about it on the way over. Anyway, after asking the second time the crystal ball returned the same answer."
"Thought those kind of novelty things were suppose to shuffle the answers."
"Well what did it say?"
"One, seven, five, three."
"One, seven, five, three? Can't imagine they sell a lot of those."
"The store clerk apparently overheard the ball's answer and said it was probably broken because that wasn't one of the twenty or so programmed answers."
"What does any of this have to do with Mom's death?"
"She became obsessed with that thing's answer. In the car on the way home she kept asking me what I thought it meant."
"No. I talked to her just two weeks later and she was running her theories by me. First she thought it was a date. 1753. She researched everything that happened in that year. Then she got the wild idea that maybe when we die we get reincarnated into the past and that is where she was going when she died. She even asked if I thought Dad was there waiting for her."
"Did Mom seem like she was..." David searched for the word, "unbalanced?"
"Not as much in the beginning, but later definitely. A month went by. I hadn't heard from her, so I invited myself over. David, she had star charts all over the walls and a huge telescope out on the back patio."
"What was she doing with a telescope?"
"She had learned that stars were designated with numbers and she was trying to find some correlation between distance of stars with corresponding equations or some such thing. I tell you, David, at that point I just wanted to cry. Mom was gone."
"What did you do?"
"What could I do? I tried to get her to go see someone. A doctor." A single tear fell down April's cheek. "She just kept talking about the cosmic significance of prime numbers and something about the Cabala. Do you know what that is?"
David thought for a moment. "I think it's a Hebrew text or practice that deals with numerology."
"Well that would explain the Hebrew lessons."
"After she died, I went through her checkbook. She was paying for Hebrew lessons. David, what the hell was Mom doing? You should see how much she spent on psychics and fortunetellers. That telescope cost $15,000."
David shook his head and he stopped walking for a moment. "How did she do it?" David asked. He didn't want to know, but he needed to know.
"In the garage. She sealed it up and left the car running. 'Affixation,' I think it's called."
"Who found her?"
"I did," April sighed. " It had been about two weeks since I'd heard from her so I went over and..."
"It must have been..."
"It was. But that was six months ago," April stood up straight and forced the image of her mother slumped in the Buick's bucket seat, her face a soft bluish gray, back into the box her mind had created for such memories.
"I'm sorry I wasn't here," David said remorsefully. "I should have helped with the funeral. Were you able to pay for everything?"
"Dad took care of it before he died. The plots were paid for. He even picked out her coffin. After she died that end of it kind of went on automatic pilot. Dad's old lawyer friend made all the arrangements. He's retired now but still did this for us. Come on, it's this way," April said as they continued. "The last time we spoke, about two weeks before she died, she claimed she'd figured it out."
"What one-seven-five-three meant?"
"Yeah. I don't remember it all, but she said it was the combination to unlock the gates of heaven."
David shook his head as his sister continued.
"She named a bunch of texts whose insanity she had combined to create her theory. According to her, you had to position the lock or dial to start at the number one, for the one true God, then forward to seven for the Seven Deadly Sins that represented temptation from God, then back toward God by going to five. I don't remember what five was suppose to be. Something about elements. Then you were suppose to continue on to the final number three, which represented the Holy Trinity."
"Doesn't sound like Mom at all. What exactly did she say in her note?"
April stopped walking and fumbled in her purse. She then pulled out a neatly folded piece of stationery.
"Read it for yourself," April said, as she handed it to David.
David read aloud. "Dear April and David: I know what you must be thinking. How could I have done this? But if you only knew what I know, you would ask how could I have not. I have succeeded where countless others, even the Devil himself, have failed. I have discovered the key to afterlife and I believe your father sent me the clues. Although I could have waited and let nature take its course, the curiosity is killing me and I have to know if I'm right. I feel in my heart that I am. God bless you. God be with you and please be good to one another. Love, Mom, Marian Campbell."
David read it again to himself.
"What do you think?" April asked.
"It's so unbelievable. 'God bless,' 'God be with you.' Mom never said things like that."
"I know. It's like she became a different person entirely." April started looking around the graveyard. "Don't try to figure it out all at once. I've had six months and came up with nothing." David continued to stare at the paper. "Come on, David. I want to get home before it gets dark." April nudged David along the path as he continued to try to make sense of the note.
After a few steps, April stopped and scanned their surrounding. "Damn, I always get turned around in here." Then, with a look of relief, she announced, "There's Mr. Davenport, the caretaker." April hurried over to the man, who was bent over doing masonry repairs on a small headstone from the 1800s. "Mr. Davenport!" she called.
The middle-aged man got to his feet.
"Hello Ms. Campbell. Haven't seen you here in a while."
"Yes, it's been a few months. My mom's headstone went up yesterday, so I thought we'd take a look."
"Well, if you're here to see your Mom, you've come too far."
"Oh, good, you remember where she's at." April was relieved.
"Of course. See back there by that willow tree?" April turned to see where he was pointing. "The row just before that is seventeen. Turn right there and count about fifty headstones over and you'll find her. She's in plot 17-53."
The Harrow: Original Works of Fantasy and Horror. ISSN: 1528-4271
The Harrow is published by THE HARROW PRESSSM