All Stories, Fantasy, Humour, Romance, Short Fiction

The Caretaker’s Cottage by Leila Allison

-Prologue-

Ineffable Is As Ineffable Does

With a peaked roof topped by a small brass eagle, the “Caretaker’s Cottage” in New Town Cemetery is a seven-by-nine rectangle that stands long side up. A few years back the City of Charleston had money left over in the Parks Department budget; two thousand dollars was allotted for the creation of ten incomprehensibly cheap signs to mark various “historical sites” throughout town. It was one of those mystifying expenditures that governments make to discourage the expectation of competence. One of the signs stands in front of the rectangle. It says: “Former Caretaker’s Cottage.”

Outside being the ancestral home to untold generations of Grey Squirrels, the building is a tool shed added decades after the cemetery was founded in 1902. New Town did have a live-in caretaker once, but he dwelled in a long since razed house that stood at the foot of the hill in which the cemetery is seated. But the extremely typical Charleston city employee tasked with the sign job had to put something on the one set aside for the cemetery–so she pulled a fiction from where the sun never rises and literally engaged a sign maker (her fiance–who reaped a thousand percent profit). In fact, nine of the ten signs placed throughout Charleston are similarly procured fictions–with the other being only true about Hartsville, Tennessee–the boyfriend sign maker’s hometown.

This alleged Caretaker’s Cottage is seventy yards downhill from graveyard’s main gate, where the path splits in twain (the ends meander left and right, eventually reverse direction and later meet at the foot of the hill). About one person in twenty who sees the sign reads it; nineteen of the twenty who read it don’t give a shit; the one reader left over usually complains to the city about the obvious falsehood; but the city knows that people who read signs are not to be taken seriously.

Unknown items, however, when at last discovered, should be taken seriously. As stated by many Narrators of “speculative tales” (aka, stories also found where the sun never rises), the dimension of space-time perceived by humankind is but a single thread in the infinite tapestry of reality. For example, non-Narrators do not know that Enchanted Trees are common in other dimensions, and that once in a great while an Enchanted Tree will take root in our dimension. Such is the case with a heavily burled and galled Enchanted Oak that stands near the Caretaker’s Cottage. Somehow an Enchanted Acorn passed through a rift between the dimensions long ago and took hold in the cemetery. (F.Y.I.: No matter the make, Enchanted Trees cast shadows toward light.)

Sadly, an Enchanted Tree is about as useful as a laptop in the Paleozoic unless there’s an Ineffable Being of some kind around to use it. Fortunately, for this tale to continue, there’s an elemental Earth Spirit around who knows how to boot up an Enchanted Tree. This Spirit, called by some, Keeper, is a subatomic-sized yet vast intelligence fixed at a point deep in the Earth and has a cone-like dominion that tops out as a circle of influence about a mile in circumference at the Earth’s surface, and whose continuous existence has forced me to mix the tenses of this document. New Town Cemetery currently just happens to be in the center of Keeper’s domain. (Although Keeper is not remotely gendered biological life, your Narrator from here on out will refer to Keeper as her. A flipped 2005 U.S. quarter decided that; it could have easily gone the other way. Since there’s a “him” left over, the Enchanted Oak gets it.)

Keeper can exist in simultaneous realities without confusion. In one of her reality threads, the Enchanted Oak got that way by the hand of a Witch who connected it to Hell. But since Keeper preferred a secular, less prone to evil Enchanted Tree, she opted for the reality in which the acorn dropped from a parallel dimension.

“Ineffable” is an adjective employed by Narrators who wish to endow a creation with an awesome air of mystery while uncertain as to how to go about it without explaining too much. That’s the same as breaking open a Magic Eight Ball to learn its secrets. So, let’s just say the ineffable Keeper is also able to move back and forth in time and examine the corpses that have been lying in her realm for the last century or so and experience their life histories as though virtual reality. Yes, Keeper, from the tiniest bit of genetic material, mind you, is able to resurrect in her perceptions the first hand experiences of the dead–as they had been in their immutable pasts. Even more! With power culled from nature and ineffably stored in the Oak, Keeper can bring back the active mind of a dead person and have (in this case) him interact with a living person. If that ain’t ineffable, then I don’t know what is.

The Narrator has realized that any further musings on the pseudoscience of where the sun never rises are unnecessary. She (whose gender was not decided by a flip of a coin) knows that this is where the reader will either continue or give up. For those who dare venture on, the Narrator will do her best to be a good host. For those who choose to bail, well, screw you, too, pal.

-1-

Nader Was Right: “Unsafe at Any Speed”

“Carly Simon walked into a bar and the bartender said, ‘Hey, why the long face?’”

Those were the final words John Mallory heard in life. He was preparing to cross a downtown Charleston street on Saturday, 1 July 1978 when one guy on the sidewalk said that to another guy. Mallory glanced back, caught his foot in a hole in the pavement, fell and hit his head on the bumper of a parked 1963 Chevrolet Corvair. Hard. He suffered a fractured skull and died in the ambulance en route to the hospital. Poor fellow was only thirty-two. He (as you might have guessed) is buried at New Town Cemetery–smack between the Oak and Caretaker’s House.

Irony was not John’s friend that summer day in 1978. Ten years earlier, he’d been drafted into the Army; but as his unit prepared to be shipped to Vietnam, somewhat clumsy Mallory suffered a badly broken right shoulder during a final training drill. It required two operations and never healed properly. The injury prevented Vietnam and earned him a medical discharge. For the rest of his life, John couldn’t raise his right arm any higher than chest level–but he considered that a fair trade because his unit suffered a fifty-percent casualty rate. Still, if John had the normal range of motion in his shoulder, he would have been able to protect his head from striking the Corvair’s bumper.

More than forty years after his sad demise, Mallory got drafted again. Recently, Keeper chose him to be her dead familiar. It’s a strange situation. It’s ineffable to the degree that the Narrator feels obliged to share the only joke that ineffable works in, even though it takes up precious words and has nothing to do with the story: “The woman in the chastity belt was ineffable.”

Maybe that should be un-effable.

-2-

Enter Number Two, A Movie Queen to Play the Scene

Gwendelyn Cooper is the rare person who knows about Keeper, the Oak, John Mallory, the Caretaker’s Cottage and even a thing or two about the Narrator–but not nearly as much about the last item as she thinks. If Gwen did fully understand the ineffable ways of the Narrator she’d wonder why certain items that should not be, are.

For instance, Gwen is an extremely attractive young woman in both personality and form. She’s a special beauty whose singular thereness proves a Supreme Being; for the light in her eyes, the sheen of her mane, that little hitch in her voice and what the seafaring folk of yore referred to as “the cut of her jib” suggest that such a pleasing arrangement of atoms must be an on purpose conception of God and not nature’s version of a winning lottery ticket.

Goddamn–Gwen’s good looking! Thus entitled to another descriptive paragraph although the subject has not changed. And she’s smart, too–and kind-hearted to the degree that she almost always applies the brake upon seeing children playing in the street. What else should we ask of Gwen Cooper? And yet for some reason she can’t get a date. Her non-existent love life usually happens only in Julia Roberts’ movies of the nineties–and yet it is. It’s as though a feckless godlike hand is playing Gwen’s lack of a love life for a plot device.

A couple of years ago Gwen and a Corgi named Lady MacBee cut through the cemetery during their daily run–as was/is their habit. Keeper (whose ability to see the future is accurate but limited due to constantly changing possibilities) had glimpsed an accident lying ahead in the pair’s immediate future (as in minutes) and “woke” John Mallory to prevent that from happening.

To cut to the chase, what we have now is a post Girl Meets Ghost, Girl Loses Ghost and Girl Gets Ghost back sort of thing. And we are now dealing with that non-place called the Happy Ever After, which makes this a speculative tale of the highest fishyness. Lady MacBee won’t appear today due to word count issues. But rest assured that she is fine–and happier to be at Gwen’s mother’s house chewing stuff to ribbons than she would just sitting around in the Caretaker’s Cottage.

To spend time with her Ghost, Gwen convinced the city that New Town Cemetery needed a volunteer weekend Caretaker. This appealed to the city because it neither had to pay her nor overtime to the employee who used to grouse about having to open and close the gates on his days off. Gwen was the only applicant for the position she’d created, which she got because even though she cannot get a date, she’s still pretty goddam charming. The gig gives Gwen the key to the Caretaker’s Cottage.

-3-

Never Wear a Dress to a Cemetery

“Excuse me, Miss,” a man of perhaps eighty said, upon reading the sign, as Gwen was about to enter the Caretaker’s Cottage last Saturday, “but this is a tool shed, never a home.”

As already established, Gwen is spectacular, even dressed in a flannel shirt and green work pants, so I won’t describe her further. But if you need her to have raven hair and green eyes, knock yourself out, it’s your mental theater.

Gwen smiled and motioned to the man to come closer. “We got it from where the sun never rises,” she whispered in a just between you, me and the tombstones sort of way.

The man walked away with a just for him bit of Gwen Cooper in his heart, like a flower in his lapel. A little something to stand up against the dismal gray sky and not having much better to do than visit a graveyard on a Saturday morning.

I don’t know about you but your Narrator finds it awfully freaking awesome that Enchanted items are not subjects of the tiresome laws of the Universe. This allows Keeper to feed a thread of energy culled from sun-, moon- and starshine from the Enchanted Oak through the brass eagle that tops the Caretaker’s Cottage and give substance to the form of John Mallory inside the erstwhile tool shed. Keeper, however, isn’t a luddite. She uses Gwen’s iphone to give Mallory his voice, which passes through a bluetooth speaker.

Gwen entered the little building and closed the door behind her. Anyone looking in would have seen an expected clutter of rakes and such, but the instant Gwen shut the door, the room expanded into an antique sitting room, complete with comfortable furniture and a fireplace. This, of course, was an illusion, just like most other good things in life. But as far as illusions go, it was a dandy, and although she was in actuality just standing there. Gwen moved about freely in her mind.

John Mallory, however, wasn’t an illusion. He needed to be summoned by “phoning” 1978. Upon doing so he appeared instantly. Still, the apparition of John Mallory, though three dimensional, was obviously that of a ghost. You could see through much of him save for his face. Keeper did manage to put him together as he had been prior to his death, as not to horrify Gwen with what forty years in a hole does to a body. Keeper also changed Mallory’s wardrobe, from items she found in John’s memory. Though ineffable, Keeper is not up on styles. She “dressed” John in a rugby shirt and bellbottomed jeans. Which would have been fine if last Saturday were in the late 1970’s–but for decades such an outfit is seen only on Halloween.

Perhaps thinking such, Gwen smiled and said, “Trick or treat.”

John, proving that a guy is still a guy no matter what side of the grave he’s on, smiled in return; perhaps thinking she had made a flirtatious advance; perhaps thinking he “had it together.”

“Hi, Gwen,” he said.

Every time Gwen saw John, she compared his eyes to city rain. Sometimes, when she wanted to indulge in sadness, Gwen thought about him being born forty-eight years before her and if he hadn’t died would be two years older than her one surviving grandfather. Time and death had placed barriers between them, but only death remained.

“Are we ready to make the world a little better?” she asked.

“Was there a man out there?”

“Eightyish and alone?”

“Hardly narrows it down, Gwendy.”

“Call me that again and I’ll have Lady MacBee pee on your grave.”

“I apologize.”

“Have I ever told you your eyes are like city rain?”

“Is that a good thing?”

“Depends on what’s coming out of your mouth at the time.”

The shape of John Mallory intensified and an aura shone about him; Keeper was feeding him the necessary charge for him to pass to Gwen so she could make the world a little better.

-4-

Eternally Sighing In a Leonard Cohen Afterworld

Gwen exited the Cottage and immediately headed downhill to where she knew the man she had seen earlier would be.

Ever since they began to meet in the Cottage, Keeper would feed John a strange energy which he’d pass to Gwen through the representation of a kiss.

She knew no more of the content of what she carried than a messenger bringing a sealed letter, but the feeling of just having it was narcotic.

Gwen didn’t find him weeping over a grave, but sitting on a bench at the foot of the hill, eyes glazed, exuding the cruel impression that it was hardly worth his time to drive back to town. Upon seeing him she knew his name was–

“Frank, Hi. I have something for you,” she said, sitting down beside him on the bench. Questions gathered in his face, but he hadn’t the time to ask, for Gwen kissed him on the cheek, and the energy, the message, was delivered to its intended recipient.

Frank fell into a dream and saw himself as he had been at least fifty years ago. He saw himself in the kitchen; he saw himself through Evelyn’s eyes, thinking her thoughts, those gleaned by Keeper from Evelyn’s grave. The thoughts had no specific shapes, for Keeper knows no words, but the emotions were there–the small power of love that, like Keeper, in its small realm, is all powerful; and trust and the desire for it always to be this way. Just another something for Frank; but a something much finer than a whisper from a pretty stranger; a something to keep and carry as protection from despair.

Epilogue

Gwen returned to the Cottage and called 1978.

John reloaded, this time in a sky blue leisure suit.

But his eyes were still like city rain.

“Any new messages yet, lover?”

Leila Allison

13 thoughts on “The Caretaker’s Cottage by Leila Allison”

  1. Since I’m in the middle of miserably failing to write a story using omniscient perspective at the moment, allow me to simply express my admiration for someone who can do it properly. Thanks for the example to learn from!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. By placing a sign showing historical details in front of the ‘Caretakers Cottage’ ensures the local government can justify extortionate expenses for its upkeep. Just as well for Gwen, who has at last found love with John Mallory and feels she is passing on the universal keeper’s energy in her calling by providing social services for the elderly with her kiss of life. There will be many women who are jealous of Gwen, whose lover has more life in him than their husbands or boyfriends.
    I always find graveyards full of otherworldly visions and need cheering up with more than just flowers and weeds.
    All the great fables end with ‘Happy Ever After,’ so why not have that engraved instead of RIP?
    I enjoyed this story confirming life after death through the medium of a time bending ‘Caretakers Cottage’ and Enchanted tree. A story that shows fantasy is not the sole propriety of municipal administrations but available for lovesick raven-haired spinsters, who will always have a special place in my life.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you James
    I spent a lot of my life living across the street from the cemetery in the picture (I still live within a mile or so of it). I noticed the dopey sign in front of the tool shed a few months back. It actually has “You Are Here–Former Caretaker’s Home” on it. HA!!!! Maybe a Munchkin sized Caretaker. Oh well it gives the place added flavor.

    Nice post on you Friday Fictioneer site as always.
    Leila

    Like

  4. I always enjoy entering the Keeper’s realm, which abounds with humor (last line of the Prologue made me laugh out loud) and imagination. Fine imagery (eyes like city rain), too. I’m happy for Gwen and John … and maybe most of all Frank. A fine piece of writing through and through.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, David.
      Ha! I write that so often that when I tap “Thank you” on my phone, “David” immediately pops up first in the keyboard cheat boxes!
      Still, it is always sincerely meant, as it is now.
      Leila

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Leila,
    Those are some very perceptive and excellent comments.
    Mine are, well, maybe not so well thought out…They were spontaneous but I suppose that makes them reactive and if they are positive then you have an initial positive reaction. (No wonder I was shite at physics!! – Maybe that is an actual physics thing that just shows how shite I was as I don’t recognise it!!
    Anyhow –

    Transparency and all that!!
    Here’s my notes.

    – The enchanted tree idea is stunning on all levels (See what I did there!!!)
    – Loved that you specified ‘The Keeper’ as her! A twenty year old writer would have surely used ‘Their’!!!!!
    – I reckon that Carly looked at the barman’s forehead and said ‘I think you are having a stroke as ‘You’re so vein.’
    – What a cracking piece of irony description.’
    – I have a love for the name Gwen (But I don’t emphasise that much!!)
    – The word fishiness is tragically underused!!
    – “‘Excuse me miss’… ” “line is a nod to classic punctuation. (See what I did there!! Probably incorrectly!)
    -The use of italics on ‘that’ was very clever!

    And any reference to 1978 makes me fill up like a filling up thing!!!
    (World Cup…Scotland versus Holland and wee Archie’s goal – We were able to dream for a short time anyway!!)

    Exceptional as always!!
    Hugh

    Like

  6. One (notice genderness) could have used “it”. I kept seeing a tag team of writer and back seat critic driving this machine. Right about government and nether regions of storage. Imagine can be funny, but it can also be weird city. Takes me back to Invisible Woman with the attractive Virginia Bruce. Keep On Rolling With It In The World Of Taxes. Two gov emloyees – one digs holes, the other fills them. Why? Union rules – the man who put the poles in the slots had the least seniority and one of the three had to go.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you Doug,

    I attempted to find up just how many different Unions there are involved with the federal government. Thousands. Maybe millions, one or every employee. I’ll have to form my own.

    Thank you for coming by–
    Leila

    Like

  8. Masterful as always. I love how it takes a turn from the slightly cynical, factual voice describing the history of the cottage then starts to explain how enchanted trees take root – genius! Great sense of humour also – love the bit about a useless laptop in prehistoric times! The description of Gwendolyn is superb – a particular standout phrase for me is ‘singular thereness’ – it’s phrases like that that make the reader stop and think. Another brilliant line is ‘proving that a guy is still a guy no matter what side of the grave he’s on’.

    As always, thought provoking, mind bending, entertaining writing.

    Liked by 1 person

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