Fiction Fursday/A Missing Belt and Fine Shoes

Another Thursday and another story! This week I was provided with a prompt from Jason over at Aethereal Engineer. Jason has given me some great prompts before and he has done so again. His suggestion was that “a person discovers a portal to ‘somewhere else’ in their closet. What happens?” I thought that was a pretty good one!

Here’s what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy it.

P.S. If anyone would like to suggest a prompt for me to use another day, please let me know in the comments.

 

A Missing Belt and Fine Shoes

By Adam Dixon

Jerry Mackintosh was drunk again, but this time he was angry too. He had slaved ten years away at the local mill only to be replaced by a machine. Jerry had walked out of the gates clutching his final wage packet and straight into the pub, and had proceeded to spend half of it on stout. Upon staggering home, he had worked himself into a foul, dangerous mood.

“Jerry, keep your voice down!” Mary, his petite wife pleaded. “You’re frightening the children!”

“Oh, I am, am I?” Jerry sneered, casting about in search of the brats. “Mustn’t do that! Can’t scare the ungrateful little sods, can I?”

“Jerry, don’t, they’re not ungrateful,” Mary said, wringing her hands together. “They don’t like it when you come home late and start shouting, that’s all…”

“I’ll do whatever I bloody well like!” Jerry shouted, balling his hands into fists. His watery blue eyes were bloodshot and angry. “I’m the man of this house, and by God you’ll all know it!” Jerry swung and punched Mary in the stomach. She doubled over, the breath whooshing from her lungs. Jerry followed it up with a backhanded swipe which knocked Mary to the ground. He towered over her, swaying and breathing heavily. Mary began to sob and curled herself into a ball; she knew this part all too well.

“Where’re those fucking kids, anyway?” Jerry cried, his voice hoarse. “I’ll get those little brats! Teach them some respect!” He rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and reached for his belt. He then realised that he hadn’t worn it that day and cursed aloud. Jerry stalked up the rickety old staircase and into the tiny master bedroom. Wrenching open the wardrobe he began searching inside it, throwing moth-eaten trousers and dresses onto the single bed. He knew it was in there somewhere! Growling and gnashing his teeth, Jerry took a step forward and tangled his foot in a pair of stockings. He bellowed as he fell, bracing for the impact of hard wood against his head.

He was stunned when he landed sprawling on the ground. He lay blinking and felt gravel under his fingers and an unpleasant smell under his nose. He raised his head and glanced around him. He appeared to be in a small village, surrounded by people bustling to and fro, all of them wearing strange, dirty clothing. Jerry got to his feet with some difficulty as his anger gave way to confusion. It had been dark when he’d gotten home, so why was the sun burning down on his bald patch? Glancing around he saw wooden houses with thatched roofs leaning against one another and cobbled streets littered with straw and excrement. Jerry rubbed his temples. He didn’t realise he was that drunk!

Jerry’s attention was drawn by giggling nearby. He turned and saw two grubby children, a boy and a girl of roughly the same age, dancing around in a puddle. Jerry’s confusion was forgotten as his rage rose up once again like dead leaves touched by a flame. Sod the belt, he was going to give those brats a good hiding! He snarled and lumbered towards them. As his shadow fell across them the two children looked up. If Jerry hadn’t been so drunk or so angry he might have realised that both children had brown hair, whereas his children had blond hair. But he didn’t, and he cuffed them on their ears, knocking them into the murky puddle. Jerry heard gasps from people close by but he ignored them.

“Take that, you little shits!” Jerry said, towering over them as they sat up. The boy was rubbing his head and staring at Jerry in disbelief and the little girl began to cry.

“Don’t you give me those crocodile tears, young lady!” Jerry raged, seizing the girl by her hair and hauling her upright. The boy protested, getting to his feet and clinging to Jerry’s wrists. Jerry knocked him down again with his free hand and held the girl with ease.

“Ha, that’ll teach you!” Jerry said. “You’re not a man yet, sonny-Jim!”

“Oi, what d’you think yer doin’?” A voice called. Jerry turned, still gripping the young girl’s hair. A woman in a dress which may have been yellow once was staring at Jerry, her eyes wide in shock. There were other women in similar dirty clothes next to her, wearing the same horrified expression.

“None of your bloody business!” Jerry retorted. “Stay out of this, whoever you are!”

“I shan’t!” the woman replied. “Who d’you think you are to come waltzin’ in our village with yer fancy clothes an’ beatin’ our children? You wait til Big John hears about this!”

“You’ll shut your mouth if you know what’s good for you!” Jerry said. He turned back towards the children but was caught by surprise when a skinny man with a white beard stepped forwards and shoved him in the chest. It was a weak shove by all accounts, but Jerry was so drunk that it threw him off balance and sent him stumbling into a fence. He gripped the fence and eyed the old man with contempt.

“Oh, you’re in for it now, old fella!” he said. The old man swept his bony arms around the children and hugged them tight. His mouth was a thin line of anger and his eyes blazed.

“I dunno who y’are, stranger, but no-one attacks my grandchildren!” the man wheezed, gritting his blackened teeth. “My boy’ll have yer guts for this!”

As Jerry’s stout-addled brain tried to process this information, a huge man with a black beard and a leather apron came charging towards him. Jerry had just enough time to stand up straight before he was lifted from his feet. Jerry was a tall man, but this brute was almost a giant. He choked as a gloved hand gripped his throat and lifted him two inches off the ground. He was brought close to the face of the bearded man and looked into furious green eyes.

“NO-ONE TOUCHES MY LITTLE’UNS!” the man said, tightening his grip. Jerry struggled and gasped, catching the sooty smell of the man’s apron and the sweat on his brow. The man grunted and threw him across the street. Jerry bounced off the cobbles and landed in a heap next to an empty wooden trough. He tried to stand but the man beat him to it again, hauling him to his feet. Stars exploded in Jerry’s eyes as the man hit him hard in the cheek. He felt the skin tear and was dimly aware of blood flowing down his neck. Jerry grasped the man’s wrists with shaking hands.

“No more!” he said, suddenly sober through fear. Like all bullies, Jerry was a coward when challenged. He knew he was in big trouble.

“I THOUGHT YOU WERE A MAN!” the man said, punching him again, this time in the ribs. Jerry thought that his chest would cave in if he had to endure another hammer-blow like that. The man walloped him on the other cheek before dragging him down the village, his feet drawing meandering lines through the straw.

“You’re goin’ to the Town Watch!” the man said, throwing in another punch for good measure. “That’ll teach you! Beat up my little’uns, will ya? Yer a disgrace!”

 

An hour later, Jerry was lying in a dark, smelly cell complete with iron bars and a pile of straw for a bed. His clothes were ruined, covered in mud, dirt and his own piss. He stank, his cheek and ribs ached and his head was raging with a hangover. He had never felt so miserable and he still didn’t know what was going on. He wasn’t dreaming, he knew that much; you couldn’t dream pain so vividly.

“Why did I go into that bloody wardrobe?” he groaned, massaging his head. He knew perfectly well why and as he sat in the cold and the dark, a familiar feeling began to creep into his heart. It was an emotion which had dominated his life ever since he realised that he drank too often, ever since that frightened look had appeared in his wife’s eyes. Jerry drank to stifle that emotion but that only made it stronger the next day. That emotion was shame.

“Oh God, what have I done?” Jerry said, burying his head in his hands. He began to sob and tug at his hair, promising the cell that he would mend his ways if he could only get home to Mary and the kids.

“Do you mean that, wretch?” a sibilant voice whispered from the darkness. Jerry almost yelped in fright and scanned the cell for the source of the noise.

“Hello? Who’s there?” he called, shrinking back against the wall.

“Your cell-mate, wretch,” the voice replied. It was coming from the other side of the cell, not three steps away. “I’ve been watching you since the Watch tossed you in here. You are in a sorry state, aren’t you?”

“I deserve it,” Jerry said, wiping snot from his nose with his sleeve. “I…I’ve shamed myself with my behaviour.”

“But you wish to make amends, do you not?” the voice said. There was a scuffling of straw. “Perhaps…I can help you.”

“How?” Jerry asked, squinting. He could make out a shape nearby, but he couldn’t see any features. “Come closer.” There was a moment of silence before the figure slid closer. As the meagre light from the window fell upon it, Jerry saw with relief that it was just another prisoner like himself. The man was thin with sunken brown eyes, his clothes were ragged and filthy and he stank of stale sweat. He was grinning at Jerry, revealing a dazzling smile which contrasted weirdly with his dishevelled appearance.

“I can send you home!” the man hissed, his eyes widening. “I can see you are not from this world: that much is plain. I have met a few wretches like yourself and I have helped to send them back.”

“You…you can get me home?” Jerry’s mind raced. He wasn’t sure what the man was talking about, but he was so desperate to get out of the cell that he was willing to believe anything.

“I can,” the man said, running a dirty finger along his stubbly chin. “For a price…”

“I don’t have anything to give!” Jerry said, on the verge of tears once again.

“Your shoes,” the man replied, pointing.

“My shoes?” Jerry was perplexed.

“Yes, the Watch did not deprive you of them, but I would like to,” the man said. “The leather is very fine, better than anything I may find in this village. Give me your shoes and I will send you home.” Jerry almost twisted his ankle as he tore his shoes from his feet and thrust them towards his cell-mate. The man received with a smile, running his emaciated fingers across them lovingly.

“Ahh, many thanks, wretch,” he said. “These will aid me more than you realise…”

“Now send me home!” Jerry whined. The man nodded and placed the shoes on the ground. He stood up and walked over to the corner of the cell. Jerry couldn’t see what he was doing, but he heard a low chanting in a strange language and the padding of the man’s feet. A blast of cool, fresh air struck Jerry in the face, raising goose-bumps on his flesh and sending loose straw scurrying across the cell like fleeing insects. A glowing rectangle stretching two metres high light up the man as it pulsed on the wall of the cell. The man turned towards Jerry and flashed his smile.

“It is done,” he said. “Pass through this doorway, wretch, and you will return from whence you came. Farewell.” Jerry stood on weak legs and shambled towards the doorway. The pale glow hurt his eyes after so many hours in darkness, but he didn’t care. He moved as fast as he could and passed through the wall with a cry of desperation. A warmth seeped into his body, rejuvenating his aches and lifting his soul like a hot bath. For an instant, Jerry was blinded by intense light and at bliss…

Jerry hit the floorboards with a thud. Winded and shocked, he looked up. His heart leapt as he recognised his bedroom. He twisted round to look behind him. There was the wardrobe, with its doors flung open and clothes strewn on the floor. Jerry kissed the wooden floor and scrambled to his feet.

“Mary!” Jerry called, his voice hoarse with emotion. “Mary! Kids! Where are you?” He staggered towards the doorway and descended into the kitchen. Mary was standing at the bottom, looking up at him with wide, relieved eyes.

“Jerry!” she said. “Where have you been? It’s been three days! Where are your shoes?”

“I’ve been away, Mary,” Jerry croaked, reaching the bottom of the stairs and pulling his astonished wife into a tight embrace. He breathed in the soapy scent of her neck and felt the flour dusting her cheeks.

“Jerry!” Mary said in surprise as he nuzzled her neck. “What’s gotten into you? Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, Mary,” Jerry said. “I’ve just realised what a brute I’ve been. But no more, I’m a changed man. I’ll never hurt you or the children again, I promise.” Mary was taken aback by the emotion in Jerry’s voice. She returned the hug, patting his back with a bewildered expression.

“That’s wonderful to hear, Jerry,” she said, pulling away from him and smiling. Jerry beamed at her and held on to her hands.

“Where are the kids? I need to tell them I’m sorry.”

“They’re at school, Jerry. It’s nine o’clock.”

“Oh, good. I’ll tell them later, I need to tell them.”

“Of course,” Again Mary was stunned by the depth of Jerry’s emotion. She fidgeted as she thought of something to say.

“Jerry, I know about the mill,” she said at last. “I’m so sorry to hear about that, really I am. But there might be a job for you in town. There’s a man who has just moved here, a stranger, and he’s set up a shop near the baker’s. He said he’s looking for hard workers to get his business going, so maybe you could speak to him?”

“Yes, yes, I’ll go right away!” Jerry said, grabbing his wellington boots and shoving them on. He walked out into the murky morning and breathed a long sigh of relief. He was home again, and now he realised what was important to him. He walked into the town, greeting astonished neighbours who had been worrying about him and assuring them all that he was very well, thank you very much. As he approached the town centre, he saw the new shop. It was a cobblers, with a freshly-painted sign boasting “Shoes of Fine Leather Inside!” Jerry smoothed his clothes before pushing the door open. A merry jingle filled the cool interior as the bell above the door was jostled. Jerry looked around and saw shoes of all sizes stacked on shelves and the almost-pleasant smell of leather filled his nostrils. He walked to the back of the shop and rested his hands on the counter, searching for the proprietor.

“Hello?” he called. “I’m sorry to disturb you, but my wife told me that you are looking for workers. I would like to offer my services.”

“Ah, I think I might have some use for you!” a voice hissed behind him. Jerry whirled and was stunned to see a familiar face. The man rubbed his now clean-shaven cheeks and flashed his dazzling smile.

“It is very good to see you again, wretch!” the man said. He threw his head back and laughed as Jerry stood dumfounded before him. He wasn’t sure what to make of this development, but it had to be better than sharing a cell. He swallowed and shook the man’s hand. For better or worse, he was a changed man now and he intended to prove it. He couldn’t help wondering what other surprises his life had in store for him now.

 

Fiction Fursday/The Boy and the Oak Tree

Hello, everyone! It’s Thursday again, and time for another story! This week’s offering was prompted by a fellow blogger and fiction writer, Sarah. Sarah suggested that I write a story about a ghost who is haunted by a human who won’t leave them alone. Well, I thought that was a bloody brilliant idea and so I went for it. Thank you, Sarah!

Here’s what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy it.

P.S. If any of you lovely readers out there would like to suggest a story for me to write on another Thursday, please tell me so by leaving a comment. Thanks!

The Boy and the Oak Tree

By Adam Dixon

“Heaven preserve me, not again!” Catherine groaned as she saw the boy approaching. She’d had it up to her undead neck of his gawking but she could not dissuade him from returning night after night. She considered vanishing from sight or disappearing into the gnarled oak nearby but dismissed the thought. The cursed lad would only hang around anyway! So instead she was forced to wait until he had crested the grassy hill and strode eagerly towards her. He looked like a hound loping towards his master. Idiot boy.

“So, here you are again, boy,” Catherine sighed, resting her hands on her hips.

“Course I am, Cathy!” the youth squeaked, his pimpled face lighting up. He was roughly eleven or twelve years old, rather small and bespectacled. “I told you I’d be back, didn’t I? I don’t like to think of you being stuck here by yourself.”

“I have managed perfectly well for over a century, thank you very much!” Catherine snapped.

“Yeah, but now you don’t have to!” the youth said. He brushed aside lock of lank, greasy hair as it strayed across his eyes and winked at his pale companion. “I’ve got your back, Cathy!”

“Will you stop calling me Cathy!” Catherine shouted, her neat hair springing loose from beneath her bonnet. “Really, young man, you are far too familiar! A woman of my station should be addressed as “my Lady”, never by her Christian name, or by any ludicrous shortening of it! If you must insist on invading my solitude then you must learn to address me correctly!”

“As you wish, my lady!” the lad chuckled and bowed low, sweeping his right arm around in a flourrish. He glanced up from his stoop, frowning at Catherine.

“By the way, Cathy,” he asked. “What’s your station, anyway?” Catherine raised her eyes to the sky and wondered what she had done to deserve such a tiresome companion.

“In life I was the Lady Catherine Seymour of Somerset, boy,” she replied, standing straight and regaining her poise. “I did not suffer fools then and I do not intend to begin doing so now! Consider yourself warned!”

“Sure thing, Cathy!” the lad winked again and sat down on the grass. Catherine longed for the dawn and wondered if all modern children were as irritating as this one. She grumbled to herself and stalked over to the other side of the oak, wishing that the boy would leave her alone.

 

A few years passed and the boy continued to return. Catherine’s annoyance had lessened somewhat but she still found strong words to say to him.

“Young man, why in God’s name are you wearing that awful shirt?” she demanded, her stern face darkened by a frown. The boy glanced down at his t-shirt. He had grown a few inches taller and had the feeble beginnings of a moustache growing above his lip.

“It’s just a band shirt, Cathy,” he replied, scratching at his bony elbow.

“It has the image of a lunatic displayed on it!” Catherine protested.

“Oh yeah, they’re called Iron Maiden, and that bloke’s their mascot. They’re awesome! I’ll bring my iPhone next time and play you some of their music!” The lad was grinning with excitement.

“Hmph!” Catherine said, grimacing. “Keep your ridiculous fashions to yourself, please!” Catherine folded her arms and sat down beside the oak. The lad sighed and settled on the hill next to her. After a few moments of silence and picking at blades of grass he spoke again.

“Cathy, I’ve been reading up about ghosts,” he said. “And it’s got me thinking. I reckon you’re a lost spirit, held here because of unfinished business during your life.”

“Fascinating.” Catherine replied, rolling her eyes. The moon was full that night and she enjoyed the way her ethereal form seemed to absorb its lunar glow. She almost felt beautiful..

“I was thinking that if we can find out what yours is, we can help you move on. You know, to the afterlife!” The lad’s eyes shone behind his spectacles. “You could finally rest, Cathy!”

Catherine tutted and glared at the lad.

“Do you think that a few books will reveal the mysteries of the afterlife to you?” she said. “I am bound here because of the life I led and the manner of my death, nothing more. God has not seen fit to allow me into Heaven and this is a reality I must accept. Clearly, you have been guided towards me as part of my punishment!”

“Oh, don’t be like that, Cathy!” the lad looked hurt. “Come on, there must be something we can work with? Maybe your death! How did you die, anyway?”

“I took my own life on 8th June 1867.” She turned her head, her ghostly eyes meeting the lad’s shocked ones.

They did not say anything for the rest of that evening.

 

“Hi, Cathy,” the lad said, although in truth he was no longer a lad. He had grown tall and his body had filled out leaving him looking healthy and strong. His pimpled face had smoothed and his cheeks boasted the stubble of a man. He looked rather fetching, although Catherine would never tell him that.

“Hello again,” she said, scratching her nose with pale fingers. “It has been a month since your previous visit. I was beginning to believe that I had finally gotten rid of you.”

“Ha! Never that easily!” the man chuckled. He became serious and stepped closer to Catherine. “Listen, I’ve been reading more on unfinished business,” the lad’s voice had taken on a bass rumble which reminded Catherine of father. She found the faded memories it evoked unsettling.

“Have you, indeed?” She asked, inspecting a translucent nail.

“Yeah, I have,” the man replied. “I think it’s time you moved on, Cathy. All the books I’ve read tell me that you need to move on soon or you’ll lose what’s left of your mind. You’ll end up like a wraith. Now, I’ve spoken to a local reverend who can talk to spirits as well and I think he can-“

“No!” Catherine said, quivering with sudden rage. “I refuse to be examined by any priest! It is bad enough that you are still visiting me! No, I forbid it!” The man sighed.

“Alright, alright,” he said as he shrugged his shoulders. “No priests. But I’d still like to help you, Cathy. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do since I found you here.”

“Your concern is neither desired nor appreciated!” Catherine lied. She had warmed to the man over the years despite her better judgement. She found his drive to help her to be sweet, if rather annoying at times. If only she had received that level of dedication from her family…

“You’ve still got such a way with words, Cathy,” the man laughed and shook his head. Catherine turned her back on the man, hiding a smile as it crept across her face.

 

“I think it’s time, Cathy,” the old man said. Catherine had watched the man shamble up and over the crest, feeling pity overwhelm her excitement. By then she openly looked forward to his visits, although she couldn’t remember when that had occurred. She found a sense of solace in his company which she had lacked during the century she had stood alone.

“What do you mean, young man?” she asked. She still insisted on calling him “young man” despite his physical seniority over her, her trump card being that she had existed for almost two centuries and him not quite one.

“I’m dying, Cathy,” the man wheezed, mopping at his sweating brow with a tissue. He looked terrible: his eyes were sunken in purple pits and the pallor of his skin was akin to Catherine’s. Catherine gasped, moving towards him.

“What? But…you can’t!” she spluttered. “You can’t die! I…how will you visit me?”

“I won’t, that’s the real kick in teeth,” the old man replied, a wry smile tugging at his lips. He closed his eyes and grimaced, a hand over his heart. Catherine reached out to touch his hand. Her arm passed through his body without resistance and in that moment she became aware of the weak fluttering of his pulse. It was like a fly struggling against the paper which held it stuck.

“Ooooh, don’t do that, Cathy!” the man laughed, pausing to cough. “I’m cold enough in this bloody gown!” The hospital gown was already grass-stained and it rustled gently in the wind. Catherine withdrew her arm, desperate for something to say.

“I…but…you can’t…” Catherine had never felt so terrified. She had become familiar with her solitude in the previous century, but the time before she knew the boy seemed aeons ago. She was afraid to go back to those long lonely nights. Horribly, mind-numbingly afraid.

“It’ll be alright, Cathy,” the old man said. He lay down and ran a skeletal finger across his white moustache.

“But why…are you here?” Catherine managed to ask. “You’re sick…surely you ought to be with a doctor, or at least a family member or a friend?” The old man smiled weakly.

“I was, but I managed to give them the slip,” he chuckled briefly before a series of racking coughs stopped him. Catherine’s heart wrenched with every one, her eyes widening in alarm as spots of blood flew from the man’s lips and decorated his gown. He finally stopped and rested his head again, panting.

“I…had to see you…again,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. His eyes flickered towards Catherine. “One last…visit.”

“But what shall I do without you?” Catherine wailed, feeling wretched and helpless. “You brought light to my existence when all I could see was darkness! My family and friends never cared a whit for me, not like you do!” She cast her head about to and fro, as if her denial could prevent the inevitable. “I never even asked you your name!” She cried, half in disbelief. Had she really never asked him that?! The man smiled again and spoke, his voice barely audible over the sound of the blowing wind. Catherine leaned in close, afraid that the jealous breeze would snatch away the man’s words.

“Can still…help…unfinished…business…” the man’s eyes closed and his final breath stumbled from his throat as a rasping sigh. Catherine stared down at the body of her only friend, aghast and dumbstruck. She felt the unbearable weight of loneliness crashing down on her ghostly form, twisting her heart into painful knots which could not be untied. She squeezed her eyes shut against the tears which would have flooded her face if she still had the capacity to weep.

“Damn you, boy!” she croaked, her throat constricted with emotion. “You have abandoned me…just like everyone else!”

“Oh, don’t be like that, Cathy!” A voice squeaked behind her. Catherine whirled and stood facing the spectral apparition of a young boy. Her boy! There he stood, looking as scrawny and puppy-like as the day they had met, with the familiar huge grin on his face. He scratched at his elbow and laughed as Catherine stood agape.

“What? How…?” Catherine stammered. She looked behind her to confirm that the body of the old man was still there. It was, and it lay peacefully under the oak tree.

“Unfinished business, Cathy,” the boy replied, winking at her. “All those years you sneered at the idea and here I am!” Catherine stared at him.

“But…what business have you left unfinished?” She asked, her mind a mess of confusion. The boy stepped towards her and touched her hand. Catherine gasped as she felt his cold fingers encircle hers.

“You, Cathy,” he said. “I still need to help you move on, remember?” Catherine trembled with emotion, startled by the first feeling of contact she had had in so many years.

“I figured out what’s been holding you back, too,” the boy said, taking Catherine’s other hand. Catherine looked deep into his eyes, marvelling at how beautiful they were now that they glowed with pale light.

“You never found anyone who cared about you enough,” he said. He moved a half-step closer and slid his arms around Catherine’s waist. He embraced her fondly, resting his head on her chest. “Well, now you have” he whispered, as if to a lover. Catherine’s eyes opened wide. The bubbling cauldron of emotion within her spilled over and she threw her arms around the boy, trembling.

“Oh, it is you!” She said. “After all this time waiting and it has been you all along!” She wanted to say more but could not find the words. Instead she held the boy tightly, not daring to let go. They stood for a several glorious minutes, clinging to one another like reunited sweethearts. Finally, the boy looked up at Catherine.

“It’s time,” he said with a smile. He took her hand and begun to lead her away from the oak. Catherine was afraid again, feeling the first beginnings of panic flare in her breast as she glanced back at her death tree. It had been a solid, stalwart reminder of her past for countless days and she felt uneasy about leaving it. But one look back at the boy’s eager face banished all of her doubts. The boy released her hand and made an exaggerated bow.

“After you, my lady!” he said. Catherine laughed long and loud, the joyous sound echoing into the night. She moved confidently towards the moonlit field beyond, taking the boy’s hand once again. In an instant they had disappeared together, their ephemeral bodies vanishing like smoke before a breeze. The wind blew through the now empty field, and even the old oak tree seemed to sigh. Catherine Seymour had moved on at last.