I enter the cemetery holding the jar tightly to my chest. The large gate swings shut as I slowly walk up the path. Bring my protecting wards around, I mutter Latin words under my breath. The cemetery is quiet, but that doesn’t mean it’s empty, the Dead are always here.
Stepping off the path, I feel the loss of its security. The grass wet with morning dew, soaks through my trainers. I weave through the rows of headstones, listening to the birds singing in the weeping trees and trying to ignore the almost faded voices calling out to me.
At a row of new graves, I find a white headstone with his name on it. His plain stone seems lost in a sea of bigger ones which are adorned with flowers and ornaments. I balance the jar on top of the grave and slowly unscrew the lid. I’ve come here to show him the results of his teaching. I speak to him softly in my head, telling him the things we all say to the departed and I let my heart whisper what I cannot say. I set the jar down and watch the small, dark purple butterflies flutter out for their first flight. Watching them disappear, I recall the first time we meet.
I walked through the woods, listening to the soft movements of nature on the ground and the trees. It was early spring and the air was shaking with an eagerness to burst into life. I stepped into a field and saw him kneeing by a bench, chasing something with his fingers. Seeing him alone, I crossed the field and went to sit on the other side of the bench.
He looked up at me and I saw the faded outline of a bruise on his cheek. His face was puzzled and there was a slight fear in the corners of his eyes. He couldn’t have been much older than myself, thirteen and on the cusp of teenage-hood.
‘Hi, what do you have there?’ I asked, nodding my head at his cupped hands.
‘You wouldn’t like it,’ he mumbled.
‘How do you know?’
Slowly, he opened his hands and I saw a spider resting in his palm.
‘Aren’t you scared?’ he inquired after a few seconds, ‘I thought all girls were scared of spiders.’
‘Well, not me,’ I replied.
He set the spider free and we watched it crawl under the bench.
‘I’m Becky,’ I told him.
‘Louie,’ he answered.
‘What do you have there?’ I pointed to the two jars at his feet.
He looked down as if they had just appeared beside him almost the rubbish. The jars were the same size and had paper lids punctured with holes.
‘A frog,’ he said slowly, picking up the first jar and letting me see the small brown frog floating in some dirty water.
‘What’re you going to do with him?’ I probed.
‘Take him home and put him in a tank.’
He shrugged, ‘I like watching them…..My granddad taught me…..’
I frowned and put my defences up. I had a feeling Louis’s granddad was no longer here and I wasn’t in the mood to be haunted by restless spirits wanting to pass messages on.
‘He was a bug collector and he liked studying them. He built a special room in the attic.’
‘Well….that’s nice….I should get home,’ I said quickly and jumped off the bench.
‘Me too,’ he breathed.
I smiled and walked away before the pressure of ghost voices broke through. As I headed for home, I had a strange thought. Louie was unlucky to have lost his granddad as he’d been protecting him.
Over that summer, Louie and I found a strange friendship in each other. He, like me, was an outcast, someone the other children thought too weird. So, we found delight and security in each other’s company and Louie taught me about his world.
He was sat by the small pond with a homemade fishing rod and a large hat on his head.
‘Hi, Louie,’ I called and ran to his side, ‘have you caught anything?’
He turned his head away and didn’t reply.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked, kneeling down beside him.
‘Nothing. Go away.’
I sat back and watched the water ripple in the middle of the pond. He started sniffing. I glanced and saw his face. There was another large purple and yellow bruise under his right eye and across his cheek.
‘What happened to your face?’ I gasped, ‘Did you fall down the stairs again?’
‘Yes….do you want to see my fish now?’
From a small wicker basket beside him, he drew out a large jar, which was half filled with water and had small stones and pond weed at the bottom.
‘He’s a tiddler,’ Louie said proudly, holding the jar up to the light.
I saw a small fish darting around inside, the sun just bouncing off his scales.
‘He’s very nice, but Louie you have to start being more careful!’
Louie placed the jar back, ‘I’ll try,’ he sighed as he reeled in his line, where a dead worm dangled at the end of a small hook.
‘Do you want to come to my house?’ he said swiftly, ‘I can show you my collection!’
I pulled a face….houses were worse than people. All that energy absorbed over time meant that voices and images come more clearly into my mind.
‘It’s all right my dad won’t be there,’ Louie concluded. He stood up, smiling and holding his hand out to me.
‘Well…just for a little while,’ I resorted and took his hand…..
Big mistake! I saw a flash of white light and images poured into me, speeding by as if someone had hit the fast forward button. My head pounded with a migraine and things that shouldn’t have made sense appeared to unravel; laying the future bare of me to see.
I snatched my hand back and Louis stared down into his palm.
‘What was that?’ he muttered.
‘Nothing,’ I cried, ‘so your house then?’
I learned the hard way not to tell people once before. It’s not just ghosts that come to me, sometimes the future will come too. And that future is unchangeable. Sometimes, I hate having a gift that lets the dead whisper to me and shows the future fate via one touch.
He walked down the path, which was hidden in the grass and drew a key from under a statue of a Jack Russell dog. He went up to the house and unlocked the door, I felt goosebumps run across my arms and something seemed to warn me against entering.
‘Do you want to come in?’ Louie called, when I didn’t follow.
‘Its’ okay, no one’s here.’
‘Okay, but I have to go home soon.’
I stepped into the tight hallway and he shut the door. There was a room to my left and then a flight of stairs. The hallway was empty, the wallpaper faded and peeling at the top.
‘Follow me,’ he said.
We went upstairs and I threw my protective energy field out in preparation for any arriving ghosts. At the top, Louie turned and went to the farthest door. He opened it and turned on the light. The room was painted a sickly green colour and there was a low bed with a cupboard next to it, a scattering of toys and a scruffy teddy bear sit on the floor.
‘Is this your room?’ I whispered, stepping in behind him.
‘Yes, but I…..don’t really use it. This is my room,’ he said, nodding towards a door he had just opened in the joining wall.
I looked up the steps, but couldn’t see where they led to. He went up and I followed him.
‘Oh, it’s an attic!’ I cried, reaching the last step.
‘My granddad made it. Remember?’ he said, switching on the light.
I stepped into the small room and saw that there was a range of tables and shelves. Two covered windows let in thin trickles of light and dust was dancing close by them.
I felt a shiver run up my spine as I looked up at the shelves and saw a range of dead bugs in glass boxes. On the largest of desks was Louie collection. There were two large tanks and some large jars. I went closer as he drew the jar, which contained the baby fish he had caught, out of the basket.
‘This is my fish tank,’ he said pointing to a tank filled with light grey water. ‘The frog is in there.’
The frog who was sitting on a rock jutting out from the water, give a croak and jumped down with a large plodding noise. Louie giggled and taking the lid off the jar, he lowered it into the water and set the fish free into the tank. We stood and watched the fish swim around in circles.
‘I should go,’ I said softly.
He nodded, ‘Alright, but you have to come again.’
The last time I met the bug boy it was late autumn. Winter was trailing his icy fingers across the air, making his presence felt on still warm skin from the long summer. I knew I had to be there in the woods that day….
It was raining and he was sheltering under some trees. I hurried over to join him, but he moved away when he saw me coming and I paused just under the branches.
‘What happened to your arm?’ I questioned.
He frowned and half raised his arm that was in a sling tied around his neck.
‘And your face! There’s more bruises!’
‘I…fell over… on the street,’ he answered.
‘Really?’ I scowled.
‘You’re not going to tell are you, Becky? Oh, please don’t!’
‘But, someone has to do something!’
He shook his head and sniffed, ‘It’ll only cause more trouble….look….I caught a butterfly.’
He lifted up a jar and inside there was a large white butterfly, its wings were tapping against the glass.
‘I…have to go now….’ he said and dived out from under the trees.
It happened that night. I woke up with a sudden sense that something was wrong. I immediately thought about Louie and dressed quickly in the pressing darkness. I didn’t think about it as I left and walked to Louie’s……I just knew that I had to go there.
The rain started falling as I reached the house. I listened on the doorstep, but I didn’t hear anything and none of the lights were on. I took the hidden key and let myself in. I knew where he would be; in the attic amongst the smashed bug display boxes. I crept up there, the attic light was on and his small body was crumbled across the floor.
My face became a wash with tears and I went to kneel down beside him. I picked up his cold hand and held it tightly .