Introductions: An excerpt from Escape from St. David’s
Patty brought Wylder to meet Brenda. Brenda took Wylder for a walk through St. David’s Cemetery. “I will introduce you to some of my favorite people here. You already know Patty. That’s her husband Guy.” Grumpy, Wylder thought.
“Yep, he’s grumpy,” Brenda said. Wylder looked at her, a little stunned. It’s like she can read my mind, thought Wylder. Brenda smiled. Patty was standing by Guy, gently leaning into him, encouraging him to introduce himself. “I’m Guy,” he said, extending his hand. Wylder shook his hand and said hello. Patty put her hand on his back, and he continued. “Welcome to St. David’s,” and that was all she was going to get today.
Next, they saw Tom. A happy man in his forties. Tom walked right up and said hello to Brenda. “Who do we have here?” “This is Wylder. Wylder, this is my friend Tom.” Wylder extended her hand to Tom but didn’t speak. Tom welcomed Wylder with a smile and then went about his business, which mostly involved eavesdropping on the conversations of the living visitors to St. David’s.
Brenda and Wylder walked on. “Tom was killed in a motorcycle accident, in front of his wife.” Wylder’s face showed her discomfort. Bad way to go, she thought. “True,” said Brenda. Wylder watched her for a moment with a strange expression. “He asks me to check on his wife from time to time. I don’t like to do that stuff, but sometimes, I can’t say no.” Wylder had managed not to say a word so far but now her curiosity got the best of her. “How would you check on his wife?” Wylder asked. “Sometimes I can hear souls, living or dead. The better I know them, the better I hear them. I don’t know his wife, so I can’t hear her very well, but each time I reach her, it gets a little easier.” She can hear souls, thought Wylder. Noted.
As they walked on, Wylder saw a tall man strolling toward them. He was handsome with a jolly face and a big smile. When they reached each other, he hugged Wylder. She pulled away. Not because he was weird, but because she didn’t like strangers touching her. Why don’t people ask?
“Hi! My name is Steve. It is a pleasure to meet you. You are beautiful by the way, amazing skin.” “Thanks,” said Wylder. You have great skin too, but I’m not going to touch it without your permission, she thought, joking with herself. Brenda looked at her and laughed. They visited for a few more minutes before Steve was off to talk to Tom. “Steve is another sad story,” Brenda said. “Steve was in his sixties. A handsome, successful, sweet, man. He and his partner Brian were living the life — money, success, no kids.” That explains the amazing skin, thought Wylder. “Then one day he had a nagging pain in his abdomen. He ignored it for a few days, but eventually, when he couldn’t hide the pain anymore, he went to the doctor. He had a rare form of fast-growing cancer. Although he had money and access to experimental treatments, the treatments didn’t work. Four months after the first doctor’s visit, he was here. He left his partner with money. His partner bought a spot here, right next to his. He plans to join Steve here one day. He visits about once a month and tells Steve all the dirt about their friends, family, and pets.” Brenda kept Wylder busy by moving around the cemetery making introductions. She introduced her to Beverly, the genius, Joe, the elevator repair man, and then Joe’s mother, Jeanette, who was probably a hundred years old. “Who’s that?” Wylder asked, pointing to the only person who appeared to be under thirty in this whole place. “He’s so young.” “That’s Michael. Died by suicide. He doesn’t talk about it, just keeps to himself.” The last thing he needs is to keep to himself, thought Wylder.
“I want to say hi,” Wylder said, walking away from Brenda toward her only peer. Brenda followed. When Wylder arrived, Michael was facing the other way, gazing at the pink and orange clouds as the sun was starting to set. “Hi, I’m Wylder,” she said, not waiting for him to turn around. “Nice name,” he said, still facing the sunset. After a few long seconds, Michael turned around to extend his hand and look Wylder in the eye. “I’m Michael, nice to meet you.”
“Same,” replied Wylder with a smile. Wylder looked at his sandy blond hair and blue eyes. Up close she could see that he was slightly older, but not too much older than her. Michael turned back around to catch the last few seconds of the sunset and then walked off into a dark part of the cemetery.
“Yep. He’s hot,” Brenda said when Michael was out of earshot. How does she do that? thought Wylder. The introductions went on for about an hour and ended with Sandra, a thin woman with a genuine smile who didn’t have much to say. She gave a tiny hand to Wylder, said hello, and welcomed her to St. David’s.
When Sandra turned to walk away, Wylder turned to Brenda. “What’s your story, Brenda? Can you really hear souls?” asked Wylder, pushing herself to participate.
Brenda twisted some hair between her fingers. “I arrived not that long ago. I have to say, I was surprised to find myself here. I’m not often surprised. Even as a child I was close to the unknown. When I grew up, I was drawn to the Wiccan theology because it focused on spirituality rather than being tethered with rules like traditional religion. In life, I believed in Summerland, a beautiful place where beings go after death with grassy fields and cool streams. In death, I found that I have a purpose in the afterlife. I help people through the transition. Maybe because of my beliefs, maybe by chance, if I focus, I can still hear the thoughts of the living. I sometimes even hear the thoughts of those here in St. David’s. No one knows how or why I have this ability, but I think they all wish they had it too. I have to block out stuff and focus on what I want to hear. It’s exhausting, actually.”
So that’s how she knew what I was thinking about Guy and Michael, thought Wylder. “I was not planning to arrive for a long time. Now my husband Keith is alone. You know what? We never spent a night apart in all the twenty-five years we were married.”
“That’s stifling.” Wylder smirked.
“That’s romantic.” Brenda laughed.
“People of my generation aim for a pretty high body count,” mused Wylder.
“What does that mean?” Brenda asked.
“It means it’s hard to imagine being tied down to the same person, the same place, for decades.”
“That’s kind of the whole point,” Brenda said, smiling.
“Does your husband visit you?” Wylder asked.
“Keith talks to me every day, but he doesn’t know I can hear him. He and I had a deal that we would roam the afterlife together and haunt all the shitheads we knew. Somehow, I can tell when he is talking to me and I listen, intently, to all the details. That’s why I spend time alone. I want to hear his voice.”
“Patty seems nice,” Wylder said, changing the subject. “Are you all ‘friends’ here?” Wylder asked.
“Most of us met when we arrived and became friends over the years. Patty and Guy are married. They planned to be here together and made reservations years ago. Patty passed first, and Guy followed a few months later. Some people arrived much earlier than expected, like you.” Brenda twisted some hair again. “Like me.” “Patty was with Guy for over fifty years,” Brenda said, smiling.
Patty approached then. “I was just telling Wylder about you and Guy being together for so long,” Brenda said.
“Guy.” Patty smiled. “He is the love of my life. Stubborn as the day is long, but I love him.” Wylder smiled and Patty left them to their introductions.
“Brenda, just one question. How do two people stay together for so long and not go crazy?” Wylder asked sarcastically.
“I think every marriage faces an overwhelming problem at some point in the relationship. Patty will tell you; it is how you get past it — with kindness, respect, and forgiveness — that matters. A marriage is stronger when they have a big problem and overcome it together; people are too. Overcoming adversity builds character.”
“What big problem did Patty and Guy overcome?” asked Wylder. Brenda saw Patty and Guy sitting under the yew tree. “There was a time when she thought, but didn’t know, that Guy had been unfaithful. Guy was a police sergeant working nights. He had started coming home later than usual and was distant when they were together. Patty’s intuition told her it was more than just a heavy workload. Patty struggled with how to address it with him directly. If she knew for sure, she would have to leave him. It was killing her.”
“When she was ready to be without him, if it came to that, she suggested he go on one of his ‘Guy Weekends’ to clear his head. She said she wanted to clean out the house, that things had gotten inside which were unhealthy and dirty. Patty told Guy she was going to air out the house because she couldn’t live with it anymore. If she couldn’t get rid of the smell, she’d have to leave. She looked him right in the eyes and said, ‘When you come home, it will be clean and new. Be careful not to bring dirt into the house.’”
“As Patty tells it, the next forty-eight hours she barely slept; didn’t eat. Without saying it directly, she had given him an ultimatum. Sunday came, and she did not know if he would come home. She was sick to her stomach all day.
At seven p.m., he came home and asked, ‘What’s for dinner?’ He stood behind her, arms around her waist, and said, ‘The house looks great. All clean. I didn’t track anything in, I promise.’”
“They said, ‘until death do us part’ and it turns out, even longer.” Brenda smiled at the elderly couple.
“She wasn’t mad?” asked Wylder. “When you’ve been married to someone for that long, you realize you both make mistakes. Some bigger than others. If they could work as a team and find a way through the problem, she said that was enough for her. After that, they worked through each of life’s challenges together. They grew inseparable.”
There is some sweet but twisted wisdom in that, Wylder thought. “Tell me about Jeanette,” Wylder said, watching a very old spirit puttering around some flowers.
“Jeanette is a legend here. She was a hundred and two when she died. We think she may have been the first person here. She has great stories from her life. She got married young and had a baby. Her husband was a drinker. She says she was relieved when he was called to the military, and even more relieved when he died in action. The government contacted her to pay for the casket. She told them to go to hell and said, ‘I’m glad the bastard is dead.’”
“She raised Joey on her own in a time when women did not have any rights. She could not have a bank account. She could not own property. She rented a room for her and Joey from a nice man who let her turn his store into a restaurant. She was a great cook. He let on like he was in charge, but he was just her cover; she did everything. She hired and fired. She planned the menu and did all the cooking. She baked fresh pies each night. She was grateful for her friend; he was a good male influence on her son. He was in love with her, but she had sworn off marriage for good. She had male friends all her life but never married again. Joe, who you met earlier, is her son. Beverly is her daughter-in-law.”
“Wow,” Wylder said, impressed. “Jeanette sounds cool!” “She is. She doesn’t say much, but when she does speak, listen up — she’s going to say something interesting.”
“What about Sandra, why does she seem so sad?” Wylder asked.
“Sandra and her husband had bought spots here together. After her divorce thirty years ago, she gave up the second spot. Like Jeanette, she never remarried. She moved in with her mom, and they lived together until the day Sandra died. She worries about her mom and hopes she is being cared for like Sandra did when she was alive.”
Did I get her husband’s spot? wondered Wylder.
“You must have questions about living here,” said Brenda. “How can I help you settle in?”
“To be perfectly honest,” said Wylder, shrugging, “I don’t want to be here. I always thought when I died I would be free, but here I am, still in my little town.” Wylder shook her head. “Actually, it’s even smaller here at St. David’s. What do you do all day?” She kicked at the dirt and observed the various spirits doing basically nothing at all.
“It’s quiet most days,” said Brenda. “We get to know each other, tell stories, and listen to the chatter of the visitors. We can see the sunset, feel the rain, and enjoy the breeze. There is no pain. I hope you come to like it here.”
Wylder bounced her foot on the ground and put her palm to her head. “I doubt that,” she whispered to herself as she turned away from Brenda. It was dark now and there was a faint blue light coming from the far corner. Dark shadows moved around. Creepy, thought Wylder. Curious and a little reckless, Wylder wanted to check things out. She needed something interesting to do, so she started walking in the direction of the tiny blue glow.
“Wait, Wylder!” said Brenda. “We call that the Dark Side of St. David’s. No one goes over there. Rumor has it that people disappear there.”
Disappear? thought Wylder, frowning. But didn’t Michael just walk over there? “Who disappeared?” asked Wylder, a little more interested now. “It was a long time ago, so no one really knows,” Brenda began. “Maybe it’s a rumor but the people buried in that part of St. David’s stay over there, and the rest of us stay over here, in the main part. It’s the way it’s always been.”
More curious than ever, and disappointed, Wylder followed Brenda away from the ‘Dark Side’ and back to some stone benches. Behind her, she heard the giggle of a little child.
Over time, Wylder pieced together the rules of St. David’s Cemetery. St. David’s, like other cemeteries, was a community with a finite number of spaces. When the last reserved space was full, the community would be locked, and no other souls would be able to come in. The residents would spend eternity with only those inside St. David’s.
This was not a problem when there was an abundance of open plots. Some residents, like Steve, had purchased a second spot when there had been plenty to choose from. Others, like Tom, had not planned ahead and he had no way to tell his wife that she needed to reserve a space if they wanted to be together at St. David’s for eternity.
Not that long ago, a contagious virus had swept through this sleepy town where no one had believed the news about it on TV. Millions of people died around the world before there was a vaccine. Most healthy people could fight it off, but those who had health conditions, like Sandra, succumbed to the virus. That is what disrupted the balance at St. David’s.
All those unplanned arrivals were placed in a separated part of St. David’s, outside the perimeter wall, except Sandra, who had a reservation. Before the virus, residents had waited for their loved ones, knowing that they would arrive one day and tell them all about what had happened since they last saw one another. Everyone had years of questions banked. It was easy to be patient. It was only a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if,’ they would know all the juicy details. Until then, they speculated, plotted, guessed, and hoped about different outcomes.
Only when people started to arrive daily did fear creep in. The unclaimed spots were filling up fast. The community went from nineteen open spots to four. When Wylder arrived, that had brought the number of open spots to three.
“Nala! Get back here girl,” Nala’s mother said forcefully. “Why don’t you ever listen, child?”
“Mama, I’m just watchin’. Nothin’ is going to happen,” yelled Nala.
“Hush girl!” said her mother in a disturbed tone. “You’re going to wake the dead with that voice.”
“Mama, I’ll be along in a minute.”
Nala giggled happily. In nearly 200 years, she had never seen another girl here.
To continue reading, buy the book on Amazon Escape from St. David’s: Albers, Deborah, Keating, Keidi, Tieszen, Melissa, Gilders, Andrea, Meghnagi Bailey, Deborah, Onest, Amy: 9781736941867: Amazon.com: Books