The Quinqennial Mourner

Submitted into Contest #221 in response to: Write a story from a ghost’s point of view.... view prompt


American Historical Fiction

I eternally rest in the Peaceful Forest Cemetery, right over the ridge from Walden, Colorado, and not too far from our homestead in the Sage Hen Springs settlement. I died precisely 5 minutes and 5 seconds after my son Charlie was born in our home on May 5th, 1900. My labor was difficult as I was already 35 years old. He is my only child. The Doctor tried and failed to stop my bleeding; he said, “It’s a boy, Charlemagne, it’s a boy.” That’s all I remember about the end of that life.

But that’s not the end of my story; it’s merely the beginning. I have been given the greatest gift ever bequeathed to a spirit. Every fifth year of the anniversary of my death and Charlie’s birth, I can see my son, and he can see me.

I exist like an anadromous fish, just as the poor salmon migrating up rivers from the sea to spawn and then die, and I, the poor dead translucent specter, making my way from oblivion to my burial place only to spend a few moments with the living. I am now only my soul denied at the pearly gates as I have left much-unfinished business. 

Soon after my death, it was time for me to sleep. It was a good, long sleep. I saw the ocean again from my childhood room that overlooked the beach where I would run and play. My mother’s face was near, and her beautiful hands were again within my grasp.

When I awoke five years to the exact anniversary of my death, it was Charlie’s fifth birthday. He has asked to visit my grave. Things have changed just a bit here at my Peaceful Forest. I now have a tombstone. As I kneel, I read Charlemagne Hays, born October 1st, 1865, died May 5th, 1900. My dear, sweet Lord, both merciful and unmercifully, God has given my death date to Charlie as a birthday gift. I know my precious husband, Aaron, would not blame my child for my death, as Charlie is a delicate child. 

May 5th, 1905, came and went oh so quickly. I was excited as I waited by my tombstone and heard the bells on Buckwheat, our old gray nag. He came trotting along, pulling a buggy. And there he was, Charlie, the most charming boy, his face befitted an angel. He was seated next to his father on the buggy seat. Aaron had fixed the child’s fine Auburn hair, so it parted to the left, and his cowlick stood up in the back, insinuating his freckles. The boy was born out of love and looked like it with his raspberry doll-like mouth and large brown cow eyes. He was precious to me.

Charlie is the sweetest boy. Looking right at me, he jumps from the buggy and runs to me. He stops at my tombstone as the hard, cold stone is a barricade between us. My arms are outstretched to greet my boy, but his small flesh-covered hands penetrate my murky shape and go right through. I cry and then try to smile.

“Mommy,” Charlie says in his tiny voice, “Can you come for a ride with Daddy and me? We have a new buggy that I thought you might like.” 

Aaron is looking our way but cannot see me. He plays along with Charlie by pretending to help me onto the buggy. I laugh, and Charlie laughs as I stand on the other side. I float to join the two as our horse gently strolls through the peaceful forest. Charlie tried to hold my hand as I noticed the intensity of my glow had shrunk. By the time we say goodbye, my heart breaks as none of me remains. I return to my deep sleep.

Death curtailed my life. I have only painful thoughts that split me in two. After the first paroxysms of grief passed, I could fall back into my cryptic slumber. While in my deep sleep, I can hear my baby as he cries. His newborn lungs are strong. As I stand, I float towards him as I no longer walk. While cradling him in my arms, he responds to me and tries to suckle on my invisible breast. Through his blurry lenses, he sees me, oh baby of mine; I will love you through time. From afar, I see my newborn and my dear, sweet Aaron crying over my grave. And now I can dream of his adoring five-year-old face greeting me at my grave. And this, too, breaks my heart.

May 5th, 1910, was the next time I saw my Charlie. He is ten and excited about his rocks. But no more Mommy, now I am Mother. He brings his rocks to my gravesite and lays them out on the blanket Aaron has spread. I hesitate to appear as if they are not alone. A woman I have never seen before sits on the bench on the other side of the road. My beautiful, peaceful forest is no longer as quiet as it once was. There are several more tombstones near mine. The park bench where the woman sits is placed for mourners. Its placement did not wake me. 

“Mother,” Charlie shouts in a husky voice. I can tell he has been fed well as he has grown into a sturdy young man. He whispers, “That is Julie; Father loves her.” Then he holds up a rock and says, “Do you like this Agate?” 

I see Aaron holding Julie’s hand as he once did mine. I want to be happy for them, but I cannot accept this. I look at my son and ask him about his rocks. He happily obliges. I stare at the brightness of his brown eyes and the tone of his healthy skin and adore him while I can.

Upon the trio leaving, I hear Julie say to my dear, sweet husband, “You should not let Charles come here and talk to the air. People will think there is something quite wrong with the boy.”

Hearing those words, I fell back upon my grave, shrouded in the darkness of my broken heart. My hubris would not allow me to think with an open mind. Charlie and Aaron belong to me, not her, I kept repeating as I disappeared. I have the power within to frighten them away if they return, and that I shall do. Consequently, I spent the next five years in a restless sleep.

I dream this time of courting Aaron. Oh, how in love we were. Already a woman of thirty years, we courted for five years as I suppose that number was somewhat an omen for what was to come. I was not of rare beauty, nor was I a spinster; I had chosen to further my education and teach, but this was not the path that God had chosen.

When Aaron pushed me on the swing Father had placed in the old oak tree in the back of our New England home, it was as sensual to me as Fragonard’s painting of the precocious girl on the swing. I could feel Aaron’s lips as we kissed sweetly in the summer sun, and all of my ambitions melted as if merely snow. 

It was on our wedding night that we conceived our dear, sweet Charlie. Aaron made love to me in a sweet and gentle passion. With each stroke, I fell in love with him more incredibly than before. I carried his offspring proudly in my ever-growing belly, the proud wife of Aaron Hays. Then we came west to Colorado on the train, but the trip was strenuous for one with a child. I awoke from this dead sleep to a sickening feeling.

May 5th, 1915, came, and Aaron arrived just like clockwork on Charlie’s 15th birthday. Their buggy has no horse. What became of our old horse, Buckwheat, I do not know. Aaron stepped out first. He was balding slightly and wore spectacles. I did not recognize Julie as she had gained weight. I saw why as twin girls around four years old playfully jumped from the backseat. But where is my boy? Is it ironic that I, as a ghost, meant to frighten them, but in return, they have terrified me? My Charlie was sitting in the very back of that transportation with his collar high and his arms crossed. He did not look my way.

Aaron dropped to his knees as if praying to both God and me. He prayed, “Please, I need your help. Charlie has become insufferable as he hates me, his stepmom, and his little sisters. I am at my wit’s end for what to do. Please forgive me, Charlemagne. I am going to the train depot to send him to the East for guidance and therapy.”

I floated to my son and put my arms around him; he did not hug me back. His discord changed my spirit. I became angry and somewhat vile, planning to keep my beloved boy here with me by scaring off his unfaithful father and his new family. My grief made me feel sthenic, like a Dickens ghost of Christmas future. 

But why did I want to frighten my dear, sweet family? It’s as if God heard my intentions of scaring them away for me. Please forgive me, Aaron. I held his shoulder hard as I did. he stood up, and while rubbing it, I thought he felt me. I put my head next to his and repeated, please don’t send my Charlie away. I will not be able to bear it. As I spoke, Charlie heard me and got out of his seat. He moved towards his father and helped him to his feet. “I won’t be coming back out here with my father,” he said in a manlike voice, “He can’t take it, and frankly, neither can I.” Charlie then turned his back on me and walked away. His intentions were unambiguous, and I thought I would never see them again.

I then slept a horrid, restless sleep. I dreamed of ghouls and demons and a horned man-beast that would put his great cloven hoof upon my throat when I tried instead to dream of Charlie but could not. I felt like my punishment handed down by the hand of heaven was I would never see my sweet son again. However, it was only Aaron and his replacement bride that I never saw again.

On May 5, 1920, Charlie returned. The fact that he was alone on his 20th birthday puzzled me greatly. 

I appeared to Charlie as he drew closer; I could see he looked somewhat pitiful, hobbling on a cane and heading not to my gravestone but to the stone placed next to mine as I slept.

It was Aaron’s grave, and Charlie placed wildflowers upon it. I touched the flowers, then felt the newly established stone that read, Here lies; Aaron Hays died December 23rd, 1918.

Charlie told me that much had happened to him since his last visit. He said that visit changed everything for him and his father as Aaron became the best parent anyone could ever hope for and stayed by his side through his turbulent teens. 

When Charlie had gone off to War, Aaron waited diligently for his return and celebrated like no other when Charlie, although injured, stepped off the train. A world war is why he limps and why now there are so many others buried nearby. “But your father was too old to go to war; how did he die?” I asked. 

He told me his Father and Julie had not survived the influenza that swept the State when he had returned. His little sisters were in the care of Julie’s relatives back east, where her body was shipped. He felt remorseful that he could not give them what they needed. “I loved them all,” he said. 

As he visited, he set slouching on my stone, nervously throwing pebbles now and then. He told me he had applied for a job with the new oil company in Walden, although I found it hard to comprehend. What is this kind of oil of which he speaks, I thought but did not ask? I saw the desire in his eyes and told him I would pray with and for him. He stayed for a couple of hours on that visit. And I accepted those actions as an apology for our last time together.

I felt comfort in my return to sleep and dreamt of my childhood bed with a mattress filled with the finest goose down taken from one of my father’s hunting trips. It was comfortable beyond reason. I dreamt of how I wished for it while sleeping on our homestead bed filled with straw and prairie grasses. It was the bed upon which I died. By the end of my horrific childbirth labor, my white coverlet was scarlet red, the color of my blood. The Doctor insisted, “push, push hard.” I obeyed his wishes but to no avail. Something was wrong. Charlie was a breech birth, and I could not force the child out myself. The labor continued for hours, and now, the scarlet red appeared black like oil in my dream. I hoped it was not a premonition for Charlie. It wasn’t.

On May 5, 1925, Charlie turned 25, and the world was his heaven. He drove up in a striking new red automobile with a beautiful petite brunette in his passenger seat. “Hey Ma, this is JoJo,” he said, then shouted. “She is my girl, and this world is our playground!”

He spoke like a man in love or possibly lust, “So, Ma, you should have seen Josephine’s face when I told her about you, how I could talk to the dead. You know she nearly fainted.” 

Josephine smiled and waved at me, but I could tell she did not see me. But I could see that she was in love with my son. 

“Gee Ma, I forgot to buy you flowers,” Charlie said while holding the young woman’s hand. “You should see Walden Ma; that town has grown. They have made a roadway from the old wagon road to cross the pass and easily travel down. We have a market now that carries groceries, and sometimes flowers brought up from Denver.” 

His enthusiasm was only second to how he held the pretty young woman’s hand. So gently yet passionately. He reminded me of his father. 

Charlie and Josephine were the two young lovers I dreamt of in my next round of deathly sleep. My mind filled in their young, vibrant faces with mine and Aaron’s. How beginning our marriage with pregnancy did make things rough at first. I was always sick, and Aaron said I became a stick in the mud like his mother. I dreamt of my baby’s face dressed in a white cover, awaiting the birth of his son and holding the screaming naked infant while his Doctor cut the cord. I dreamt the same dream twice in a row, and this time it was a premonition.

May 5, 1930, brought about our sixth visit, which was not nearly as cheerful. At 30, Charlie and Josephine were married and had two sons. Times were hard for them as he had lost his job at the oil company and had taken an office job with the railroad. “I’m lucky to have a job at all, Mother. Be happy in death as times are tough for the living,” he said and then continued by changing the subject, “This fine young man is Aaron,” 

I noticed the way Charlie was aging by his posture while he was pointing at the young child standing at his hip. This boy was a replica of my Charlie at five. I wanted to bond with the child, but he did not see me.

Then I tested the toddler, my Grandson Luke. I saw that he did inherit their father’s ability to see me. At only two years old, the child reached for me. “My grandson can see me, Charlie!” I shouted with delight.

“I’m not sure if that is a good thing, Mother; I think of it as more of a curse than virtue,” Charlie replied 

“Please, my boy,” I begged. “You and your precious family are all I have now in my death. I cannot rest until I know you are happy.”

May 5th, 1935, was a fantastic day, like finding a treasure in a turbulent sea. Josephine had fried chicken, and even I could smell the delicious aroma. My little family came to picnic with me. The picture in my mind I shall treasure beyond forever. 

Charlie was seated on Aaron’s grave with his handsome nine-year-old namesake, politely asking for more. Seven-year-old Luke sat by my side and held my hand as best he could. But then a change occurred as I felt exhausted and drained, and I apologized for my apparent lack of appreciation for their visit.

I pointed to Grandpa Aaron’s tombstone, as my grandsons call him, “It seems he must have gained access into heaven right away following his death, as none of us dead have seen him since.” 

“I have not seen him either, grandmother,” spoke my dear sweet Luke. 

“Mother, my dear sweet Mother, what is happening to you?” Charlie asked, then rushed to where I was floating. But I did not have the strength to answer. I felt light and limp, as if I was being absorbed into the moment. 

Charlie cried, “You are being called home, for your unfinished business is done. I am happy. We are happy. Rest now, dear Mother, next to Father, and I will join you right here someday. I love you.”

Luke followed with, “I love you too, grandmother,” and his big brother Aaron followed suit. Josephine sobbed, “My Charlie loves you, and therefore, I love you,” she spoke in the voice of an angel. “I shall never forget you.”

That love is the last thing I heard and felt as my mist left the earth.

October 23, 2023 15:41

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Andrea Corwin
02:12 Nov 02, 2023

Great story!


Connie Elstun
16:25 Nov 09, 2023



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