The Corner of Main and Midnight
She’d dreamed of the old oak trees again. The ones that stood against the overgrown cemetery on the edge of town. How many years had it been since she visited that horrible old copse?
Not since Matt was alive.
How long ago was that? Eight years? Nine?
Don’t dwell on it. The dream wasn’t even scary. There was nothing wrong with that old place. Only a child’s fears exaggerated because Matt’s body had been found there. But there was nothing strange about the boy’s death. He’d been sick a long time. Leukemia, his mother said. Just a matter of time. If Matt died in peace beneath his favorite trees, it wasn’t a bad way to go.
This dream was different anyway. Instead of the clawing branches and inhuman faces of blood-thirsty trees, the old copse was filled with light, and there stood Matt—not the little boy he’d been, but a young man, tall and slender, handsome, as he smiled at Liv and waved. She ran toward him, but woke before she reached the trees.
Now Liv threw her blankets aside and staggered out of bed. She shivered as she wrapped herself in a bathrobe and stumbled toward the bathroom in the hallway.
Matt died on Halloween night all those years ago. Today was the first of October. The anniversary of his death was coming up. No wonder I dreamed of him.
Liv showered and slipped into a cozy sweater and denim jeans. She padded down the hall to the kitchen. Hot cocoa sounded good this morning. The sky outside was a thick grey blanket and wind rattled the panes of the old Victorian-style house she called home. Dad’s lunch sack sagged on the counter-top. Liv blew out a breath. He’d forgotten it again.
She shivered and retreated to the bathroom to blow-dry her hair.
After a quick breakfast of toast and hot cocoa, she bundled up and braved the outside.
The air smelled of wood smoke and wet cement. The trees bloomed bright orange and red, yellow and brown. Leaves crackled under Liv’s boots as she strolled up the silent street, passing familiar old houses over-grown with ivy, stuck in a time long ago. Everything about October Cove was old, caught in a memory, reluctant to live in the twenty-first century. She smiled. It was home; quiet, quaint, and safe.
Well, mostly safe. Liv faltered at the corner of Main and Midnight. Dad’s store hunched halfway down Main Street, boasting a drooping sign whose bulbs were blown: Hank’s Hardware. Liv’s eyes strayed from the sign to crawl along old Midnight Lane. It was a cobbled street, never updated when pavement smoothed the rest of the town’s roads. The residents of Midnight Lane wouldn’t hear of it. Even the street lights here were vintage, lit every night by Old Thomas Willow in nineteenth-century fashion. It was peculiar, no one in October Cove disputed that; but then, some old folks never bent to change, and the people on Midnight Lane came from ancient roots with long traditions.
Liv’s eyes traveled against her will to the Victorian mansion at the end of Midnight. It was the oldest building in town. Once, it must have been the grandest, too; but Cilia Frogley couldn’t be bothered to keep it up, and now it sagged and shuddered under the guard of thick ivy and leering trees so ancient they might fall at any time and take the old mansion down with them. Still, there was an eerie charm in that place, with its wrought-iron gate and ivy-twined red-brick wall surrounding the estate. The corners of Liv’s lips lifted. Matt used to live there.
Her eyes drifted beyond the estate, up along an over-grown path toward the old cemetery and those huge oak trees stretching their protective branches over the graves. She stepped toward it. One step, and then she halted. Her heart hammered. She drew back.
What was she thinking? No one went there now. Even the most stout-hearted souls in October Cove whispered it was haunted. Just like Frogley Manor.
Liv shook herself and crossed over to the other side of Main, clutching Dad’s lunch sack. She had no business on Midnight Lane. No one did, if they could help it. Best to ignore the old street and carry on.
The wind pushed louring clouds into the heart of town, but the sky was tinged with yellow from the harvest sun, painting the world silver and gold. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Liv passed the old theatre, now boarded up, because no one had money to put into fine arts. That is, no one but Cilia Frogley, and she’d never bother with it. Dad said Cilia’s late husband, Charles, had always advocated restoring the theatre and its adjoining ice cream parlor, but he’d passed away before Matt was born, sealing the theatre’s fate. Sealing Cilia in a world of grief. A world Matt had been born in and died in.
As Liv passed beneath a flickering street lamp, lightning galloped across the sky. She froze. A shiver ran the length of her body. Thunder drummed against the sky.
She shrieked and whirled around. Beneath the street lamp, one hand raised in greeting, stood a young man. He was dressed in a white button-up shirt, grey slacks and loafers, without jacket or hoodie. His hair was pale blond, almost white, and his eyes were a blue so deep, they almost appeared black in the growing storm. Liv stared at those eyes.
He smiled, hand still held up. “I didn’t mean to frighten you. Sorry.”
Liv shook herself. “Um, it’s fine. Did you need something?”
“Not yet.” He lowered his hand. “I just wanted to say hello.”
His movements, deliberate, graceful, pricked something in her mind. “Okay. Hi. Um, sorry, do we know each other?”
The young man’s smile fell. “We did once. It’s been a long time. I didn’t expect you to remember, but I do. It’s good to see you again, Olivia.”
“It’s Liv now. Olivia sounds like a grandma’s name. But, um, if there’s nothing else, I need to run this to my dad.” She shook the sack.
“There’s nothing else. I’ll see you around, Olivia.”
Is he deaf? She tried another smile. “Sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
He took a step forward, hand outstretched. “It’s Matthew. Matthew Bartholomew Frogley. We were childhood friends.”
With a gasp she jerked back.
“Olivia?” His tone was a cautious note.
Her breathing rattled in her chest. She dropped her eyes to the sidewalk. Dark spots appeared against the cement. It’s raining. “I, um. Sorry. Do you think that’s funny?”
“Matt—is dead. He died a long time ago. I went to his funeral. If you think this is a joke, it’s pretty sick. Please leave me alone.” She started toward the hardware store.
She halted, though she couldn’t say why. Glancing back, she found the young man still beneath the street lamp. Illuminated in the storm, almost glowing. “I am Matt.”
“So, what? You’re a ghost? Like I said, not funny.”
“No, it’s not. I’m not messing with you, Olivia. I mean it. I’m Matt. I’m your Matt.”
“Then you’re dead.”
His smile flickered back, sad and quiet. “I didn’t die of leukemia. My mother lied.”
Liv clutched the lunch sack. “I saw you in that casket. Him. I saw him. I don’t even know who you are.”
“Yes. Well. Cilia Frogley has her ways.”
“Please stop.” Liv bit her lip. Inhaled and shut her eyes. “Whatever this is, please stop. Matt was my best friend.”
She looked up, hands shaking as her insides writhed and burned. “What?”
“I am Matt. Mother lied. You and I used to visit the old oaks near the cemetery. Remember how we used to talk? You wanted to be a singer when you grew up. I wanted to become a magician. Remember? You came there with me when you were upset, after your parents divorced. I gave you a magic rock. You called it Ruby, even though it was green.”
Liv trembled. She stared at this young man, grown and handsome, so different from the frail little boy. But the smile was the same. The gentle, kind, big-hearted smile. And those eyes. So deep. Nearly black. Seeing and knowing and feeling.
“But you died. You died, Matt!”
“I know it looked that way. It’s how Mother wanted it.”
“What does that mean?”
He shrugged. “She sent me away. It’s how things are done. Mostly they have daughters, so it’s not a concern. But when she had me, after Father was already dead, it complicated matters. She faked my illness, faked my death, and sent me where the other sons go.”
Olivia stared. “What are you talking about? You’re not making any sense.”
Matt sighed. “Here isn’t the best place to answer your questions.” He glanced up at the sky. “Take Hank his lunch. Keep out of the rain. It’s going to be a bad storm. Meet me under the Three Warlocks tonight after ten. The rain will let up by then. I’ll explain everything.”
She shook her head. “No way. No one goes to the old copse. You died there. I won’t. This is weird, Matt. I can’t—”
She met his eyes.
“No, sorry. I can’t. Maybe I don’t want to understand. I, I have to take care of my dad. He’s sick. I can’t leave him.”
Matt’s gaze traveled to the store. “What’s his diagnosis?”
“Early on-set Alzheimer’s. Why?”
“Hm.” Matt nodded. “He must have seen something.”
“Seen something? What are you talking about?”
Matt sighed and shoved his hands into his pockets. “I can’t say much out here, but I have reason to believe your father’s illness is…well, it’s not real.”
Heat seared Liv’s cheeks. “Excuse me?”
“Not that he isn’t suffering, that’s not what I mean. But I think it can be cured.”
“So, you’re a doctor?” Rain splattered her cheek. She winced. Big fat drops hammered the ground. The hum of rain stilled the cry of the wind as the world darkened.
“No,” said Matt. “Not exactly.”
Olivia folded her arms. “Give me one good reason why I should believe anything you say?”
“Because that’s what friends do, Olivia. They trust each other.”
“Which begs a question, doesn’t it? How am I alive again? I can give you answers, but only if you find me. Consider, Olivia. I hope to see you tonight. I won’t be alone. I have a friend. He can back my story.”
“No, thanks.” Liv trotted to the hardware store and glanced back toward the street lamp. Matt had been swallowed in the brewing storm. She drew a steadying breath and slipped inside out of the rain.
A Girl Named Silence
The rain let up around nine o’clock that night. Liv sat in her living room, wrapped in a warm blanket, a cup of tea on the end table beside her, a single lamp illuminating the pages of her open book. A book she couldn’t focus on reading. Her thoughts were too full of Matt.
When she’d entered the hardware store, she was too shaken to tell Dad what happened. What could she say? Dad forgot little things these days, but his long-term memory was intact. He would remember Matt’s funeral as well as Liv did. Maybe even better, considering she’d been seven years old at the time. Bringing up that event now would hurt Dad. He’d cared as much for Matt as she did. He was like the son Hank never had. After the funeral Dad began to show signs of forgetfulness. He was thirty-five years old. Doctors were baffled.
Matt said it wasn’t Alzheimer’s…
Liv closed her book.
“If you’re tired, go to bed, Livvy.”
She smiled at Dad, who sat across the room, until now engrossed in his own book.
“I’m just restless.”
“The rain’s stopped. You could take a walk.”
She glanced out the window between the lace curtains. “I might.”
But should she? Was Matt waiting in the old copse for her? Was he really alive? Or was it some prank? Had she imagined her encounter, on the heels of her dream and memories of Midnight Lane?
She rose, crossed to Dad, and leaned down to kiss the top of his balding head. “Maybe I will turn in. Try to sleep, ‘kay?”
“Good night, Livvy.”
She padded down the hall to her room, shut her door, and leaned against it. She found the wide window looking out on her backyard. She loved the pretty little plot, well tended by her father’s worn hands, enclosed by a tall wooden fence. Twin trees rose high over the three-story house, and between them creaked the old bench swing Dad had made for Mom years ago, back when they were still in love. Before Mom grew restless of quiet country living and moved far away. Remarried. Formed a new family, and abandoned her old one. Mom had always been disappointed in Liv, like she was never good enough, no matter how hard she tried.
Just as well. Liv could stay in October Cove and care for Dad, uninhibited by outside obligations. She was free to love Dad without the usual bickering and games between ex-spouses that came with most divorces. Liv knew the divorce was Mom’s fault; Dad had never wanted it.
Liv crossed to the window and peeked out at the yard. A single lamp near the old swing cast shadows across the lawn and fallen leaves glistened with raindrops. Liv lifted her eyes past the fence, out into the darkness beyond. Somewhere in that silence rose the oaks and the old cemetery.
Those trees were here first, so everyone said. The three oldest oaks were said to be three hundred years old. Liv didn’t know if oaks could live that long, but these were special. Everyone agreed. The oldest residents of October Cove called them the Three Warlocks. During the Witch Hunts of Puritan times, legend said a warrior priest had chased down three men known to perform magic, and here he caught and killed them. From their blood sprang the three oaks.
It was a pretty legend, in its way. Like the rest of October Cove, Liv appreciated the romantic notion that this little town had a colorful story of its own. Historians claimed there was no truth to the old folktale—and that was all right too. Tourists bypassed the town on their way to Salem or some other historical attraction, and October Cove stayed as it always had.
But was it the same?
Liv’s mind jolted back to Matt beneath the street lamp. Was he real? Was he alive?
He couldn’t be a ghost. Ghosts didn’t exist. Same as witches and warlocks and the Great Pumpkin.
Liv pulled her curtain shut and went to bed.
Morning ushered golden hues of sunshine under a blue October sky.
Liv got up in time to be sure Dad took his lunch with him, then set about making her own midday meal for school. At a quarter to eight, she left home and strode the four blocks to October Cove High School, with its two-hundred students. Her classes boasted around twenty-five students each, all of whom she knew by name.
When school finally ended, Liv swung by the hardware store to check on Dad, but he was busy with several demanding customers, including crotchety Jerry Kinghorn, so she ducked out and walked along Main toward home. Passing beneath the street lamp where Matt had stood, she shivered but kept moving. Soon she reached the intersection of Midnight Lane, and her eyes wandered to the Frogley mansion against her will.
“Oh, hello. Olivia, isn’t it?”
Liv whipped around and came face to face with a young woman she’d not seen in—gosh, what was it, two years? She forced a smile to her lips. “Hi, Silence.”
The older girl, Cilia Frogley’s daughter and only living family member, had left October Cove as soon as she graduated from high school. When she left, she broke many boys’ hearts and left all the girls rejoicing. She was flawless as porcelain and cold as January snow. Her long pale hair and blue-black eyes were so reminiscent of her brother Liv had always struggled to look at her.
“Wow, Olivia,” said Silence. “You’re almost pretty these days. But I suppose the ugly duckling did turn out to be a swan in the end. You have hope.” Silence’s eyes flicked up and down Liv, and her smile was as false as her long eyelashes. She wore the cutting edge of fashion. An ensemble Liv couldn’t identify in words: it just looked expensive.
“What brings you back home?” asked Liv to be polite.
“Oh, a family reunion.”
That would be something to see; Cilia Frogley, unpleasant, somber woman, and her unpleasant, vain daughter. Alone, together. Miserable in each other’s company.
Silence shrugged. “It’s kind of a big deal. October Cove is going to double in size, you know. All the relatives are coming.”
Liv’s eyes widened. “Wait, you mean… So, it’s not just you and your mother? But why?”
“It’s a special anniversary. Three hundred years. Mother is hosting it.”
“An anniversary for what?”
Silence shrugged again. “Sorry, it’s a family matter. Outsiders aren’t allowed to know. You understand.”
“Right. Sure.” The old uncomfortable feelings were seeping back into Liv’s heart, weighing it down. She hated dealing with this preening, self-absorbed girl. She’d never liked her. Silence had been cruel to Matt, even when he was sick. “Well, I better get going. Need to make dinner.”
“Oh, right. Your father’s probably pretty useless nowadays, huh?” Silence’s painted lips curled upward. “How’s he doing?”
Liv’s patience snapped like a twig. “Like you care. Stop pretending. It’s none of your business.”
She hitched up her backpack and whipped past Silence to march up the street. She could hear Silence laughing behind her: a high, singsong, horrible sound.