Phenelope unearthed her grandmother’s grave just before summer faded to fall. A night breeze swept through the cemetery, stirring the strands of hair clinging to her brow. She tightened the mask over her mouth against the poisonous yellow fog hanging low over the pitted earth and its endless rows of graves.
With a grunt, she heaved the last shovelful of soil up and out of the hole, casting the spade aside.
Breathing short and shallow, she pulled a titanium case into the grave. The latest barrage of earthquakes had wrenched the coffin, shattering one side. After prying the lid off, she stared down at the corpse. Floral shreds of a burial gown cradled brittle, yellowed bones.
Tears stung Phenelope’s eyes. ”I’ve come to take you with us, Grandma.”
A shiver worked through her as an icy breeze blasted into the grave. Goosebumps riddled her arms. Gritting her teeth, Phenelope steeled herself. She tugged a pair of latex gloves from her pocket and slipped them over her hands.
Her mask couldn’t block the faint, rotting odor as she reached out and tried to lift her grandmother’s corpse. The burial gown ripped and sent the bones tumbling from her trembling grip.
Phenleope stifled a cry. Biting her lip, she gently cupped her grandmother’s skull and placed it in the titanium case.
The wind picked up, blowing loose soil and crumpled leaves into the grave. Phenelope froze, the muscles in her back and legs tensing. Her hand still rested on her grandmother’s skull. “My god…You’re here,” she whispered.
“Where are you taking me, Penny?”
Phenelope shuddered at the quaking voice, broken by age and mellowed by love. Raising her head, she looked at the specter standing over the grave.
Grandma Rose. Her form flickered in the swirling haze, a body made of light that shimmered like a million pin-prick stars.
“Grandma?” Phenelope stood, forcing her wobbling knees to lock. “W-what are you…How?”
“Where are you taking me, Penny?” The question, almost plaintive, whispered from ethereal lips.
Phenelope wiped the tears from her eyes. “We’re leaving, Grandma. All of us. The world is… broken and we’re leaving. I couldn’t stand to leave you behind.”
The shimmering image of her grandmother disappeared and then reformed, standing over her own corpse.
Rose’s breath came as the night breeze, a cold, sad sigh. “Please, don’t take me, Penny.”
“But, Grandma, I need you-”
The spirit flickered, then breathed forward. Her long, glimmering tresses trailed in the breeze, eyes scintillating deep blue and violet. “I must stay. We must stay – the spirits of the dead have reveled so long in the earth’s embrace, Penny. I can’t leave our mother.”
“But the earth is destroyed, Grandma,” Penny cried, reaching out. Her hand passed through the spirit’s hand.
“Penny,” Rose whispered, voice laced with sorrow. “Someone has to watch over her as she fades. As you sat by my side, so will I sit by hers.”
Phenelope’s knees gave out, dumping her back against the grave’s earthen wall. Breathless, she stared at the bones and the spirit that danced above them. “How can I leave you? I’ve barely managed without you. You were…everything, Grandma.”
Rose drifted nearer. Tears sprinkled her cheeks like flecks of liquid diamonds, but underneath Phenelope saw the strength and the confidence she had always envied.
“You are not a child of Earth,” Rose said, passing her fingers through Phenelope’s sweat dampened hair. “Already there’s more metal in you than bone. You will survive, Penny. You are a child of steel, and you will flourish on your new world. You will flourish without me, once you know you can. Once you embrace your strength.”
The words echoed in Phenelope’s mind – a tender shoot of green that promised more. Blinking back more tears, Phenelope crawled forward. She lifted Rose’s skull from the titanium case and nestled it back in the coffin, in the earth’s embrace where it belonged.
“Are you sure?” she asked.
Rose smiled. “You don’t need me anymore. My dying mother needs me now.”
Phenelope pulled the glove from one hand. Her trembling fingers brushed the cracked and yellowed bone of her grandmother’s skull. A wordless touch to say thank you, to say goodbye – before the ships carried her away from the dying mother and all her ghostly children.
A lifelong fan of speculative fiction, Alexis A. Hunter has a passion for all things mythical, ethereal and out of this world. Thankfully, she types her stories out now instead of scribbling them in notebooks like she did as a child. To learn more about Alexis visit www.idreamagain.wordpress.com.