All Hallows Eve by Marla F. Fair
A Young Rebels Ghost Story
The grave was lonely, but not alone. Beside it a second marker stood, its sad silhouette cut against a dying sky. Before it a woman knelt, her long dark hair billowing freely in the cold wintry wind. Beside her an elderly man stood, his face pale as the mantle of snow that cloaked the land. More like a sapling than an ancient tree whose roots should be firm he swayed, barely able to keep his feet. Far away, in the distance, church bells pealed, announcing the end of another day.
Jeremy turned and looked at Robert. They were on the top of a sloping hill, perhaps a hundred feet away from the pair. His brother held in a martial pose, his hands locked behind his back, a grim look on his handsome face.
“Robert, what is this?”
His brother looked at him. “Are you so far removed already?” he asked.
“Removed? From what?” Jeremy frowned, trying to remember the last thing he could recall. He had been in his house. Something had struck him. He had fallen. Then there had been nothing but Robert’s concerned face. “What happened? Where am I?”
His brother stared at him hard and then nodded toward the scene below. “Come and see.” With that said, Robert started down the slope.
Jeremy had to hoof it fast to keep up with his brother’s forceful stride. Though he was tall, over six feet, Robert was taller – and longer legged. Also, there was something that held Jeremy back. Something that made him not want to face the black-garbed man and the kneeling woman.
He didn’t know what.
Jeremy halted some ten feet away from the pair and waited. Robert continued on and did not stop until he had rounded the markers and turned to face him.
“Come and see,” he said again.
Jeremy shook his head. “No.”
“Captain Yankee Doodle, afraid? But that is not allowed.” Robert’s tone was harsh. “Is it?”
“I am not afraid….”
Jeremy took a step, but halted again. “Whose grave is this, Robert? Who are these that mourn?”
Robert’s lips quirked, not with merriment but with irony. “I remember being like you. At peace. Removed. Then I was given a choice, and I chose action. Come, little brother. Look.” His elder brother held out his hand. “Remember.”
Jeremy hesitated still. Then, walking slowly – giving the man and woman a wide berth – he came to rest at his brother’s side. The woman was weeping uncontrollably now. The man knelt and spoke to her. His words were hollow and held no comfort for her.
“Come away, my dear. You will catch your death.”
A sob. A shudder and a voice wracked with indescribable grief. “Then I will be with him!”
“Child. No. He would not want you to die. Not for nothing.”
“And what did he die for?” The woman’s face grew ugly with anger. Her fingers balled into fists of rage. “Tell me!” she screamed. “He was put down like an animal. I see no glory here. No great cause!” She sobbed again and shuddered, and then lowered her face into her hands. “And I was a part of this. I encouraged him. Aided him. I caused his death….”
The old man trembled as he rose, barely able to stand. “First Robert. Then, his brother.”
“General Lafayette owes me,” the woman breathed, her throat torn, the words a hoarse violent whisper. “He owes me!”
Lafayette. That name was familiar. Jeremy glanced at Robert. “Do I know them?”
Robert’s reply was odd. “Do you want to?”
Jeremy looked at the woman again. She was very young, and if anger had not deformed her features, would have been handsome – even beautiful. She was small-boned and slender, like a filly. Her hair a deep chestnut brown. Her pouting lips were rose-petal pink and plump.
Right for kissing.
Shaking himself, Jeremy turned from her to the man. He was old. Bent with time and grief. Almost transparent.
‘Father’, Jeremy thought.
“Elizabeth,” he said.
Robert touched his shoulder. “Yes.”
He pivoted sharply to look at his brother. “But who is it they mourn?”
Robert’s hand pointed down. “Look. See.”
Jeremy rounded the stone. He did not look at it, but instead knelt by Elizabeth’s side. “She cannot see me?” he asked.
From his vantage on the ground he stared at her. Elizabeth’s eyes were red-rimmed and puffy, as if she had cried for days. And they had grown hard. Her mouth was set, not in grief, but in silent condemnation of herself and the others she blamed for this death. Jeremy reached out to touch her hand and was startled when his own passed through her flesh. With trepidation, he turned slowly and followed her gaze to the graves.
One had a stone. On it was chiseled ‘Robert Larkin, beloved son’.
The other was only wood, as if it was of recent origin. It said, ‘Jeremy Larkin. Robert’s brother. My final hope.’
Jeremy leapt to his feet. “I’m dead?”
Robert nodded. “Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“No! Well, yes. But, no!” He turned toward his father and Elizabeth. “I never thought. I didn’t think.” Without looking, Jeremy asked his brother, “What will become of them?”
“Elizabeth never marries. And in time grows bitter and aids her uncle in plotting an attack on Lafayette’s camp. With her secret knowledge, the attack is successful. The general is taken. He is paraded before the English and hung.” Robert paused and then added, his voice breaking, “America still wins the war, but loses its heart.”
“No!” Jeremy could not imagine it. “Because of me?”
“Because you chose to die. And our father….” Robert walked to the old man’s side and stared at him. “Samuel Larkin will not live to see another winter. Soon there will be three graves….”
“Robert, no. This is unfair. You cannot show me these things when I can do nothing!”
“Why not? What do you care? You have chosen to remove yourself from their lives.” Robert left their father and came to his side. He indicated the slope they had descended earlier. At its top a brilliant white light shone bright as the sun. “Go, Jeremy. Enter the light as you desire. There, you will be free. And when you remember, it will be with no tears. No pain.”
“But they are in pain!” he shouted.
“That is because they are alive. To chose to live is to accept certain risks, little brother.”
Jeremy stared at Elizabeth. She had risen to her feet, and she and his father were supporting each other as they walked slowly from the grave site. He swung sharply back toward Robert. A terrible thought had occurred to him.
“What of Henry and Isak?”
Robert placed his hand atop the wooden marker. “Do you want to see? Can you face what your selfish choice has brought to those you called your friends?”
Jeremy hesitated, and then nodded.
He had to know.
“Very well.” Robert held his hand out and as Jeremy took it, said, “Come.”
In the wink of an eye they were transported to a dark rank place that smelled of old ale, smoke and vomit. Jeremy recognized it as the inside of one of Chester’s more notorious taverns. Robert moved forward, literally passing through the crowd. He stopped at the farthest corner and turned back, waiting. Jeremy hesitated and then followed, feeling somewhat sick as he moved bodily through the wooden tables and the denizens of the tavern who occupied them. As he came to his brother’s side, he noted there was a man hunched over a corner table. The man’s head was on his arms and he was weeping. His elegant clothes were disheveled and rank with sweat and the scent of his own filth. His reddish brown hair was unkempt. It hung over his sleeve and brushed the scarred surface of the oak table. In his fingers were a pair of gold rimmed glasses, crushed and broken beyond repair.
Jeremy opened his mouth to ask his brother ‘who’, but just as he did a buxom bar-maid crossed to the table and rapped on it top sharply with her knuckles.
“The tavern-keep says it’s time for you to go, jack. Your pockets are empty and he for one ain’t buyin’.” She waited a moment and then rapped again, louder. “You hear me?”
The man raised a palsied hand and waved her away.
“Right. That’s what he said you’d say.” The barmaid looked over her shoulder. “Benson! Marks! Come and escort the ‘gentleman’ outside, will ya?”
Jeremy turned to look and barely managed to side-step in time to avoid having the pair of muscled toughs pass right through him. He twisted and watched as they gripped the arms of the drunk at the table and drew him to his feet.
“My good fellows,” the auburn-haired man said, slurring his words, “there must be some misunderstanding….”
It was a shock but Jeremy recognized him. “Henry? Good God, Robert, no! Henry wouldn’t stoop to this….”
“Wouldn’t he?” Robert looked at his friend with pity. “Henry Abington arrived at your father’s house as soon as he could after the shooting. He did everything in his power to save you. He should have been able to save you, but you chose to die.” Robert walked around the table and faced him, gazing over Henry’s shoulder. “Henry was present in camp when Lafayette was taken. He escaped, but Elizabeth betrayed him. Under torture Henry named names. Now, he has been branded as a traitor.” Robert held his horrified gaze. “You were his strength.”
“No. Henry….” Jeremy was breathing hard. He watched as the toughs drug his friend across the tavern floor and threw him outside. “Does he live, Robert? Does Henry live?”
“He lives,” Robert answered as he came to his side. “But his mind is ruined by the drink. He will die an imbecile.”
“No. No!” Jeremy was trembling so hard it was difficult to speak. “Why are you doing this to me?”
“I have done nothing. You did this to yourself. You made a choice.” Robert’s tone was stern. “A choice which took into consideration no one but yourself. Not your family. Not your love. Not your friends.”
Jeremy’s head was spinning. “Wait. What of Isak? He would have cared for Henry if I was gone. Where is Isak?”
Robert nodded, indicating the room behind him. When Jeremy turned, the tavern was gone. It had been replaced by a smithy’s shop. He recognized it as Isak’s, but the hearth had grown cold. Isak’s precious tools were untouched – there was a light coating of dust on them. The shop had an air of abandonment.
“Where?” Jeremy asked.
“Gone. With you dead and Henry a turn-coat, Isak lost heart. He remained for the ceremony honoring the general, and then moved away. The one thing Isak Poole cherished was freedom. He will live, but will die a broken man, enslaved to a past he cannot change – and will not forget.”
“Dear God, Robert! So much grief. Such waste. Can I go back? Can I make a different choice?”
His brother shook his head. “It is not that simple.”
“What sort of Divine Providence would bring me here and show me this,” Jeremy gestured toward the empty hearth, barren as his heart, “and then tell me that nothing can be done? It would be better if I had never lived! Then this grief would not have been known. You bring me here and show me the destruction wrought by the death of Captain Yankee Doodle – Elizabeth warped and twisted beyond recognition, my father killed by grief. The general dead. Henry driven to drink and the death of intellect. Isak abandoned. You show me all of this, but give me no chance to make another choice? Well, I make one anyway. I choose not to become involved. I choose instead to be the man I only pretended to be. Let Jeremy Larkin live and kill Captain Yankee Doodle instead!”
“Is that the path you truly wish to walk?” Robert asked quietly.
Jeremy did not hesitate. “Yes. Yes, if it will bring them back to who they were. If I cannot go back to the life I led and save them that way, then yes – yes! Let me be feckless. Let me be a wastrel! I do not want to be responsible anymore.”
Robert approached him. His brother’s handsome face was sober, but the flicker of a knowing smile teased the edge of his full lips. As his fingers touched Jeremy’s forehead, Robert whispered.
“Be careful what you ask for, little brother….”