attendant upon you, shaken by your beauty
Shaken by your beauty
–William Carlos Williams
I was sitting back enjoying a cold Carlsberg and savoring the hygge of relaxing with Mel on a sunny afternoon.
Melody Bride is my book shepherd, literary agent and at times, my secret passion—especially when she’s dressed to kill.
Other times though, she annoys me enough to kill her—but not today. Today, I’m feeling mellow.
“I want to go for a drive,” I say dreamily.
She looks up from her book. “Where?”
“Out in the country,” I sigh.
“Can you be more specific?”
I lift a hand and make a throwaway gesture. “You know—Big Sky country.”
She’s biting her lip now and growing impatient.
“C’mon, cowboy—we live in Canada, third largest country in the world—actually, second largest if you discount Antarctica. That’s a lot of real estate. So, where specifically do you want to go?”
I sigh resignedly, “Okay, I want to drive out to Willow Grove.”
Her face lights up with mock enthusiasm and she says drolly, “Um, would that be the same place you decided was your forever home?”
I grow uncomfortable.
She puts on her syrupy, sweet little girl voice and it’s dripping with sarcasm.
“You know what I’m saying, Jay—how you dragged me out there, only to turn around six months later, and drag me back here?”
I color with embarrassment. “Well, there were extenuating circumstances. C’mon Mel—my bloody house was haunted!”
“Right—and that’s why you intend to go back?”
She blinks her huge brown eyes at me.
Damn! This girl has missed her calling—as a prosecuting attorney.
I take a few deep breaths, calm down a little and try reasoning with her.
“Actually, the fact my house was haunted is exactly why I want to go back. That whole damn town is filled with ghostly manors. I need a spooky house as a setting for my next James Randall Murder Mystery—you remember that best-selling book series that pays your salary?”
I can’t resist giving her a little of her own.
“Don’t play coy, Jay—it doesn’t suit you,” she sniffs. “Besides, I may be your book shepherd, but I’m not your Muse!”
“Yeah—you sure about that?”
I give her my boyish grin—I’m told it disarms women, but Melody has always been immune to my charms.
I wait patiently for her to reply, but she’s gone silent and just when I figure I’ve lost the argument, she pipes up, “Okay, Jay—you win. Give me a half hour to get ready and we’ll go.”
I suppress my boyish grin and meekly nod.
She heads upstairs to use the spare bedroom as her wardrobe room.
Why women need a half hour to put on makeup to become gorgeous just to go for a ride in the country is beyond me—but chalk one up for the good guys.
But now I’m beginning to have second thoughts.
I really meant what I said about Melody being my Muse—she gets these vibes, and they always turn out right. So, if she’s feeling queasy about going, that’s probably a bad omen.
I’m thinking maybe we should stay home, but there’s no way I’m going to say that now, not after getting my own way.
If Mel is having second thoughts, I’ll gladly let her off the hook, and feel a whole lot better as well.
But within the half hour, Melody is dressed, if you can call it that—She’s distractingly beautiful in a skimpy tank top, jean shorts and flip flops. It’s not exactly hiking gear, especially if we have to get out of the SUV and go spelunking, or climbing over walls.
Yeah, well I probably won’t be doing that either—but just saying.
We take old Garden Ave. and head down ye olde Cockshutt Road—and, of course, Mel laughs hilariously at the rude-sounding name. She’s so immature sometimes, but yeah, it’s funny, so I play along.
“Take this side road,” she orders. I hate it when she acts like co-pilot, but even more when she turns navigator.
We drive about half a mile before she orders me to slow down as we crest a hill.
“There’s a historic plaque near that gate over there—I want to read it.”
She gets out and spends five minutes decoding every comma, dash and semi-colon. I’m drumming my fingers on the steering wheel.
She waves me over. “C’mere Jay, you gotta see this—it’s an old pioneer cemetery.”
I’m growing impatient. It’s hot and dusty on this side road, and I was hoping to drive into town and grab a cold beer—Okay, a soft drink, knowing Melody—not that she’d offer to be designated driver.
“Why do I have to see this?” I growl.
She links one arm in mine and smiles up at me sweetly, “Because we can read the dates on the tombstones and get an idea of how old the houses must be around here.”
Her logic is impressive—that would never occur to me.
I creak open the rusted Iron Gate and we enter the cemetery. It’s more an abandoned wreck than an abode of the dead.
For some reason it strikes me as a swamped ocean liner, listing on its side. The out-of-kilter tombstones are the ship’s masts, and the whole rotten structure is on the verge of slipping into oblivion beneath green waves of windblown grass.
Everything about this cemetery seems surreal.
I picture Mel and me as deep-sea divers moving in slow motion, inspecting a shipwreck. That’s how it seems in the windy field as we’re swaying like seaweed, and plodding through rocking wreckage, reading inscriptions.
It’s obvious these are the graves of the people who built the haunted manors in Willow Grove—the names of these dead people just happen to be the street names of the town.
It chills me being here, even though it’s sunny and the sky is piled high with fair weather clouds, It feels eerie as if I’m twenty thousand leagues under the sea, and in danger of being attacked by giant sea eels.
I’m about to ask Melody if she feels the same vibe, when she starts screaming. My blood freezes.
I turn and look back at her and all I can see is a slithering mass of wriggling snakes gliding out of the long grass and heading right toward her.
She’s frozen to the spot, and half bent over as if she’s about to puke.
I grab her from behind and carry her, kicking and screaming, to the edge of the cemetery and unceremonially, dump her over a crumbling stonewall.
I look back to see the snakes—hundreds of them, streaming toward us—quickly covering ground by using an undulating, sidewinding motion.
I jump the wall, grab her by the hand and pull her toward the SUV. Once we’re both safely inside, I floor the accelerator and leave the ghost ship graveyard to rot and rock in silence for another hundred years.
We barrel down the dusty road raising a ghostly cloud behind us.
Finally. Mel gets her voice back.
“Oh my God,” she gasps, “why did those snakes attack us?”
I look over at her skeptically, like she’s the one with the forked tongue.
“Are you crazy, Mel—why the hell do you think they attacked us? They’re bloody carnivores. Think about it—they tunnel in the ground—so what do you think they’ve been feeding on in that rotting graveyard for the past centuries?
“Stop—Stop!” she shouts.
“All right—all right!” I yell, my ears ringing from her shrill voice.
There’s a small stone bridge over a creek, so I hit the brakes and the SUV skids to a cloudy stop in the dusty road just before it.
“Satisfied?” I hiss.
She grabs her water bottle, jumps out, and rushes over to the wall of the bridge and pukes into the water below.
I roll my eyes and gaze heavenward.
“Great—just great, Mel!” I call out. “That’s probably some poor farmer’s drinking water you just contaminated.”
She’s still spitting like a snake, trying to get rid of the awful taste in her mouth.
Finally, she’s chugging back mouthfuls from her water bottle and loudly gargling. I’d hate to listen to that every morning for the rest of my life.
She stomps back to the car bristling with anger. “Don’t say anything, Jay—just don’t. You’ve said quite enough for one day.”
“What—what? Am I talking?”
The cold dead stare in her eyes is menacing as a snake’s, but I wisely shut up and continue the drive into town.
Just another Pleasant Valley Sunday, I muse.
Ten minutes later we’re at the Chinese restaurant in town having lunch—Well, actually I am—Mel’s sipping on a huge glass of ice cold lemon tea and still grumbling about the bad taste in her mouth.
“We’ll stop at the pharmacy and get some mints,” I tell her.
Why does everything become a drama with us?
Mel takes a long sip of lemon tea and nods docilely. Maybe we’ll be able to rescue something from the trip after all.
I’ve seen a huge, old, abandoned manse on a hill nearby and plan on exploring it. As far as I’m concerned, Mel can wait back in the car if she still has qualms about snakes.
Sure enough, as soon as we pull up to the side of the road, she puts her foot down. “I am definitely not going up there,” she declares.
I shrug. “Suit yourself. I’ll just scope out the house and grounds and take a few photos—maybe make a few notes.”
“Why not use the voice memo feature on your cell phone?” she suggests.
“Good idea!” I smile.
Mel comes in handy sometimes, when she’s not screaming shrilly in my ear.
I get out and climb up the steep slope toward the house. The grass is dry and littered with downed tree branches, and so I have to be careful as I pick my way to the top.
When I crest the hill, I’m awe-struck by the grace and beauty of the old manse. It has obviously been deserted for years though—the windows are all boarded up, and the white, pillared portico that shelters the main entrance door is sagging from decay.
Still, it is impressive and must have been a beauty in its day.
I snap several photos and add some observations by using the voice memo function on my phone.
“You’re trespassing on private property, you know.”
I recognize Mel’s whisper, and decide to ignore her.
I take another photo of the old glassed-in conservatory—such an elegant wreck.
“I know you can hear me. Don’t you think it’s rude to ignore me?”
“Okay, Mel, excuse me for being frustrated,” I shout.
I turn around to face her, and my jaw drops.
Standing beneath a huge oak tree is a girl who resembles Mel, but is eerily different. Her red hair is longer and tied back with a black ribbon into a loose pony. She’s wearing a period dress that looks like it’s from the 1890’s.
Great! They must have turned the house into a historical museum.
“I’m sorry—I thought you were my literary agent,” I mumble.
“Oh, well that explains everything,” the girl smirks. “Women who work for you obviously don’t matter.”
My face falls. I must look like an insensitive dolt. “Naw, It’s not like that—Mel and I are friends—sort of.”
“I see. I suppose it’s all right then to be impolite toward her.”
I’m digging myself in deeper.
“Look, I’m sorry I trespassed—I thought the house was abandoned.”
The sunlight filtering through the leaves lights up her hair and ignites a fire in me—she’s so feminine and elegant she makes me feel boorish and crude in her presence.
Suddenly my charm deserts me and I feel as awkward as a common laborer encountering a sophisticated lady.
If I had a cap on my head, I’d remove it, and wring it in my hands with eyes lowered. As it is, I’m so ashamed I hang my head in embarrassment.
When I finally look up, she’s gone.
I stare dumbly at the deserted patch of sunlit grass where the girl stood—and then, I come to my senses, spin wildly around, and gaze furtively in every direction looking for her, but to no avail.
The lady has fled.
I approach the spot where she stood and inhale a faint scent of lavender—it seems elusive and haunting as if the air itself were scented with the distilled essence of her.
I slowly descend the hill and return to the SUV.
Melody is curled up in the back seat sleeping—her red hair a copper and gold alloy in the sun.
She looks so lovely sleeping in sunlight that a pang of regret stirs in me.
I realize how desolate I feel.
I want to awaken every morning to her soft whisper—her fiery hair scattered on the pillow—her breath gentle as snowflakes.
I sit sideways in the front seat, shaken by her beauty—shaken, but still wise enough to let her sleep.
© 2016, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.