Fiction Contemporary Drama

Mildred Waters would lie in bed for days at a time. As if existence had curled up and folded upon itself. A cadence or pattern of monotonous arrangement. Truth muffled and shoved in a dusty corridor of contrition and remorse. Her head unclear and dizzy with unexplainable thoughts.  

She’d question what parts of life still belonged to her. She’d dream of all the loved ones passed. The Dixie fire had taken them all at once. A wicked spark that had torn her world apart never found. Although they had all died, Mildred blossomed from the cocoon of her ailment one evening a year.  

For Mildred, Halloween was not busy with saints, vampires or fairies clad in pretend garb. It was a laborious evening that lit the fires of Mildred’s passion for the holidays. The family it once occupied. Her family. Even in her illness, Mildred longed to be in their presence.  

Tonight was not merely part of the day. Nor was it part of a day. It was a location where loved ones gathered. It was when family reunited. It was a very special place. A safe place. A refuge. Unconfined by the memory of that suffocating inferno named Dixie.

Throughout the year Mildred would float like a delicate butterfly through wind and rain, planning some of the festivities herself. Many tasks delegated to the lively young nurse that cared for her full time.

“And how are we doing this fine evening, Mrs. Waters?”  

Mya Clark vibrantly bounces to Mildred’s bedside completely shocked to see her sitting at the edge of the berth after napping. Erect. Filled with life and the Spirit. Almost glowing. Ready to embrace the twilight when they all came back to her.

“Well, I’m mighty fine today young lady,” Mildred says. “Did my grandson Nickolas invite you?”

Mya has ensured that the evening would be in order. Everything down to the bronze glimmering caramel apples, the thinly sliced carrots and celery in a green Jello salad, and the pumpkin shaped crust adorning Mildred’s world famous lemon meringue pie.

Mya entertains Mildred’s assumption with a polite nod and says, “He sure did, Mrs. Waters. Along with your stunningly handsome husband.”

“Jonathan has always been soothing to the eyes,” replies Mildred.

Mya was the perfect caregiver for Mildred. Her imagination bloomed with wonder and excitement when she received the letter from the hospice attendant committee at Trinity Junction. She recalls the descriptions of Mildred’s rapid onset of Alzheimer’s and the immediate need for a jovial young live-in nurse.

Mya lost her own mother in the California fires and has since loved every moment with Mildred. Her soulful patient. Her own conduit for healing. An endless source of the mercy and grace only God was capable of giving.

Most days were very quiet. Many of them proved monotonous. Some, even discouraging. Nevertheless, in the subtle and still moments of life, death, and the struggle in between, Mya had learned that through all darkness and chaos is a light that can only be glimpsed through the hope of unconditional love.

While the majority of residents would complacently endure Halloween and its’ pointless antics, Mildred maintained that it was the most important night of the year. The to-do list she created throughout the calendar on the good days would build to a crescendo of mystery and delight beyond ghosts and goblins.

“Could you be so kind as to help me dress and prepare for the evening? I have so much to do and not enough time,” says Mildred.

“I’d be glad to, Mrs. Waters,” says Mya.

“And what was your name again? Jonathan never mentioned your arrival. You know how flippant men can be when it comes to the holidays,” says Mildred.

The blood red Fall dress Mildred had asked Mya to order six months prior had been waiting in a shipment box from Barney’s. As Mya zips the back she studies how well it adorns Mildred’s delicate frame.

“And who might you be?” Repeats Mildred.

“My name is Mya Clark. I’m a good friend of your granddaughter Jessica,” she says. “I mean, Nickolas invited me. Jonathan introduced us at Stanford.” She corrects her skewed story although Mildred pays no mind to the discrepancy.

“Oh, Jessica is going to be so excited how the Lemon meringue pie turned out. And my famous green Jello salad, it’s her favorite,” says Mildred.

When the house burned, Mildred was grocery shopping fifty miles outside the perimeter of the wildfire. It consumed her husband Jonathan, her granddaughter Jessica, and grandson Nickolas within minutes. Their German Shepard barked until squealing a final breath.

The Waters’ son Matthew and his wife Andrea were the only survivors. They had both been in Portland, Oregon for their medical residency that summer. In a way Matthew blamed his mother for their loss. A wound too deep and complex to heal. A scar bearing a penumbra of regret.

Mya had only met Matthew once. He was reluctant to involve Andrea with the care of his mother following the family tragedy. When Mildred’s memory withered so rapidly, so too did Matthew’s relationship with Mildred.  

Often, men cannot face things so horrific that there is no way of fixing. As if the worst moments in life are treated as an outdated pair of jeans. Matthew considered the emotions connected to such a calamity an unwanted fashion that suited him poorly in the pursuit of a career in medicine.

While Mildred struggled through the loss of her memory, Matthew toiled with actually wanting to remember. Matthew thought that if something cannot endure to be remembered, there’s only one place for it to go; the realm of the forgotten. Mya prayerfully felt tonight could be a healing experience for him. Perhaps, even a potential remedy for her own sorrows.

“Would you like help with your makeup today, Mrs. Waters?” 

“It couldn’t hurt, I suppose.”

Mya had ordered Mrs. Waters the finest MAC had to offer. Mildred only painted the barn, as she called it, on Hallow’s Eve. It was neither a costume or guise, as the occasion conventionally called for. It was an expression of honest and sincere hospitality.

Mya smiled warmly when the soft foundation, sharp eyeliner, and rosy lipstick had covered Mildred’s aging face. She thought of her own mother. She next thought of God. Mya contemplated how the Shekhinah glory of God must have shone through the tabernacle.  

Mildred’s face representing her ideas of the holiest and most sacred of places. The settling of the divine presence of Jehovah. The mastications of her own mother’s delightful expressions.

Mya casually wiped away a tear. Standing behind Mildred, she looked in awe through the vanity mirror. Mya wondered for a moment if Mildred understood that this Hallow’s eve would be authentic. No trick or treat. Nothing plastic. Nothing horror. Everything real. Grace. Mercy. Love.

The harmonic oscillation of a subtle doorbell rings.

“I think we have company, Mrs. Waters,” says Mya.

Mildred’s eyes held their own shining, never glimpsing the difference between the reality of the living and the ones she kept resurrected in her mind.

“Oh Mya,” says Mildred. “Didn’t you know we’ve had company all along.”

October 24, 2021 17:59

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Kaylee Aleece
20:16 Nov 02, 2021

Hey Dustin, I learned about your page because you liked my story. Thank you for reading my story, and following me! You brought me into your realm of stories, and I have to say Mildred's story made my day. The way you describe Mildred's emotions and notions, made me feel like I was in the room with Mildred and Maya. You made Halloween special in a way that I did not convey. I loved what you did here. Thank you for your time!


Dustin Gillham
19:03 Nov 03, 2021

Kaylee, Thank you so much. I am honored by your comments and I am grateful you enjoyed when they come back. Your talent for creating rich scenery is apparent and I love how your Halloween story introduces malevolence with beauty. I am glad you approached When they come back with an open and loving heart. I was attempting something apart from the conventional Halloween horror this year. Keep up the great writing Kaylee. Blessings, Dustin


Kaylee Aleece
21:31 Nov 03, 2021

Thank you so much Dustin. Your kind words help boost my confidence when it comes to how my audience percieves my work. Mildred reminded me of my grandmother, and that connection to your story made it so beautiful for me. You definitely made me feel like Halloween was more than just costumes and candy. I loved it. Thank you for the unique perspective!


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Swan Anderson
23:59 Oct 30, 2021

Hi Dustin, This is stunning and gives new depth to the idea of "All Hallow's Eve." The prayerful bond between Mya and Mildred is absolutely beautiful. I often do music therapy with people with Alzheimer's, and their souls can still shine - it's like the beam of a lighthouse that comes and goes through the darkness. My favorite line of yours is: "Mya had learned that through all darkness and chaos is a light that can only be glimpsed through the hope of unconditional love." I look forward to reading more of your stories!


Dustin Gillham
22:15 Nov 01, 2021

Swan, I am grateful and honored that you took the time to read my story. My hope was to take a different angle from the conventional horror I am so used to writing for the Halloween season. My experience with my grandmother's Alzheimer's disease allowed me to put my heart into When They Come Back. Blessings, Dustin


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Nichole Anderson
12:30 Oct 26, 2021

Your story reminded me of my own grandmother that succumbed to dementia. It was always nicer for her to live in the memories of her past and we obliged. I really like your last line. "we've had company all along". It made me feel happy for Mildred knowing she was oblivious and not suffering from the absence of her family.


Dustin Gillham
22:21 Oct 26, 2021

Thank you so much Nichole for reading my story. I’m glad that you enjoyed it and that you saw what it represented. Sincerely, Dustin


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Graham Kinross
07:45 Nov 26, 2021

“Mya Clark vibrantly bounces to Mildred’s bedside completely shocked,” careful not to switch between past and present tense. “penumbra,” time to google the word… That was sweet. If only everyone could have someone so caring looking after them in their twilight years.


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Charlie Murphy
18:37 Nov 02, 2021

Great story! I particularly liked Mildred's backstory.


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