A DARK SHADOW moved slowly through the cemetery, concealed behind a curtain of stealth and secrecy. Aided by a new moon, the shadow wandered amongst the tombstones, searching.
The still, cool air was as barren of life as the graveyard itself, as not even crickets dared interrupt the silent intruder.
Unseen by any other living soul, the shadowy figure continued to pause at each grave until finally discovering the one it had been seeking. Approaching the headstone, it reached out and rested a hand atop the marker.
After some time, the figure knelt beside the dusty epitaph, now placing its hand on the face of the memorial. And the figure began slowly tracing the words etched in stone with a finger …
Life is not measured
By the number of breaths we take
But by the moments
That take our breath away
In loving memory
Julian Marquis Dupré
1950 – 1977
The visitor remained at the graveside for over an hour, before finally rising. Looking around to ensure they were still alone, the figure quietly disappeared into the darkness.
But the visitor had not been as alone as believed. From a short distance away, stood another dark figure; one that had been patiently awaiting the arrival of this visitor for a very, very long time.
For not all living things have souls.
~ The End of Innocence ~
“Happy Birthday to you! You live in a zoo! You look like a monkey, and smell like one too!”
“MOM! HE’S DOING IT AGAIN!”
“Shut up, Sara! You’re gonna get us both in trouble!”
“Daniel Arthur Davison! Do you need some extra chores to do!!?”
“Then knock it off! And be nice to your sister!”
“Be nice to your sister.” Daniel repeated under his breath with a sneer.
“I heard that!”
“Are you dressed yet? We’re leaving in ten minutes!”
“Is your hair brushed?”
“Shirt tag in the back?”
“Are you sure?”
“Did you remember socks this time?”
“Mom! I’m eleven years old! I know how to dress myself!”
Susan came out into the living room, smiling. “Your father isn’t old enough to dress himself, sweetheart. Did you remember socks this time?”
She shook her head as she kissed Daniel on the forehead.
“Go put on some socks. CLEAN ones.”
“And make sure they match.” added Sara, as she continued drawing on her brand new birthday drawing pad.
Daniel rolled his eyes and stomped off to his room.
“Sara, can you run out to the barn and get your father? Tell him we’re just about ready to leave.”
“And Sara, can you make sure he …”
“I know, I know.”
“How come Daddy isn’t old enough to dress himself, yet?”
Susan laughed. “I’m just teasing, dear heart. Your father is certainly old enough. He’s good at a lot of things. But getting dressed just doesn’t seem to be one of them.”
Shrugging her shoulders, Sara closed up her drawing pad and skipped to the front door. Stepping outside into the beautiful Hawaiian sunshine, she took a deep breath, just like her Aunt Alana always did.
She ran the full distance to their family barn about fifty yards away, and knocked on the door. Her father had been insisting for months now, that everyone had to knock instead of just barging in. The only people who knew the reason why, were Uncle Michael, and her, of course. For she was convinced that she had figured it out a long time ago.
“Who is it? Who’s there?”
“Daddy! It’s me!”
“I’m sorry, but no one is allowed inside without the secret password.”
“I love you!”
“Okay, be right there.”
Sara heard several doors and cupboards close inside, and even the snap of a lock. She smiled to herself as she waited for her father to hide all the evidence. Finally she heard the click of the door being unlocked, and stood there grinning as he opened the door.
“What are you smiling at?”
“Uh huh. Still think you know what I’m up to, do ya?”
Sara gave him another innocent smile and didn’t answer.
Ben grinned at his daughter and knelt down to hug her. “You are so much like your mother, baby girl, did you know that? And just as pretty, too.”
Sara beamed at him.
Ben looked at her and marveled. Like Susan, she had shoulder-length auburn hair and sapphire blue eyes. She wore jeans and a blue t-shirt that just ‘happened’ to perfectly match those eyes. Ben sighed sadly at the thought of his little girl growing up.
“Well, to what do I owe the pleasure of this surprise, little lady?”
“Mom said we’re leaving soon.”
“Leaving!? Leaving for where!?”
“Are we going somewhere special?”
“It wouldn’t be somebody’s birthday today, would it?”
“You’re being silly again!”
“Didn’t I tell you to stop growing up?”
When Sara stuck her tongue out at him, Ben grabbed her and began tickling her.
“Stop it Daddy!” she laughed. “We’re going to be late!”
“Fine, be that way.” he chuckled. “Is your brother ready?”
“He forgot his socks again.”
Then Sara looked at Ben’s feet and frowned.
“Oh … did I …”
Sara gave him the look.
Ben’s eyes widened in surprise.
What? Not you too!? You’re only eleven!
“And hurry up, Daddy! I don’t want to be late!”
Ben sighed again.
I can’t believe my little girl just gave me the look. They grow up so fast!
“We’re in Hawaii!” he complained. “We don’t have to wear socks!”
“Fine.” Ben chuckled. “I’ll put some socks on.”
“And make sure they match.” she added.
“Anyone ever tell you, you’re bossy?”
“Is your shirt tag in the back?”
Ben rolled his eyes and sighed once more.
*** *** ***
Inside the house, Ben had just finished tying his shoes when they heard the honk outside.
“They’re here!” Susan shouted. “Daniel? Are you ready?”
“COMING!” he yelled back excitedly, running into the living room.
“Hey, slow down, pardner!” scolded Ben. “This isn’t a race track!”
Ignoring his father, Daniel kept running and disappeared around the corner.
“Daniel! What’s the deal!?” Ben asked, following him into the kitchen.
Ben got his answer the moment he turned the corner; for he was stopped in place by a suction dart stuck right between his eyes.
Daniel burst out laughing. “SCORE!!!” he crowed in triumph.
Ben immediately ducked for cover, hiding behind the kitchen counter. “Not fair! I’m unarmed!”
“Your problem, not mine.” Daniel cackled.
Ben smiled and reached around to grab the dish cloth hanging on the oven door.
“Oh no you don’t!” exclaimed Daniel as he tried to knock it out of reach; but he was too late. Ben grabbed it and the chase was on. He made three attempts to pop Daniel with the small towel, before their exploits were suddenly interrupted by Susan. Stepping in between them, it was her turn to give Ben the look.
“What part of ‘They’re here’ did you not understand?”
“Well he started it!” Ben complained.
“Never grow up…” Susan muttered under her breath. “Come on, boys. You can finish your war when we get there.” Then Susan looked at Daniel and held out her hand.
Now Susan gave Daniel the look. With a reluctant sigh he handed over his dart gun.
“You can have it back AFTER we get there. Now GIT!” she scolded, making a playful attempt to spank him as he walked by. Laughing, he ran to the front door.
“Do we need to bring anything?” asked Ben.
“We’ve already taken care of it all; I just need to get you there without riling up the kids.”
“Right behind you.” Ben grinned as he watched her walk to the front door, wearing his favorite jeans and a black t-shirt. He always liked her in that combination, and whistled.
Susan smiled back at him.
“Mrs. Davison, have I ever told you how hot you look for a 30 year old?”
“Why don’t you tell me again later, Mr. Davison; when you can do something about it?”
Ben grinned again. “Why Mrs. Davison! I am going hold you to that!”
“You better!” she grinned back. “Come on you two.” she said, herding the twins out the front door.
Chuckling, Ben followed them out the door and closed it behind him.
“Hey guys!” he said in greeting to Michael and Alana. They were sitting in the front seat of Michael’s new red truck.
“Happy Birthday!” Alana said to Daniel and Sara.
“Thanks!” they grinned as they climbed in the back seat.
“And Happy Birthday to you, too!” Susan said to Jenny, sitting up front with her parents. “That’s a very pretty blouse!”
“Thank you, Aunt Susan.”
Just like her mother, Jenny had dark eyes and long, straight, jet-black hair; it was so black it almost seemed blue.
Susan noted the white blouse Jenny wore with her jeans. “Michael, you do know there are more colors than white.” she teased.
“You know I like my women in white.” he chuckled.
“I seem to remember you liking someone in jade.”
Michael grinned at the memory.
“I bet Jenny would look very pretty in jade, don’t you think?”
Michael snorted. “Maybe when she’s forty.”
Everyone laughed, while Michael waited for them to get settled in and buckled up. He then turned on the motor and began driving away from the ranch.
No sooner had they left the gate when Jenny turned around. “Did you remember your socks?” she asked.
“YES!” Ben and Daniel both answered.
Susan and Alana both snickered.
“Turn around, dear.” said Alana. “Especially while your father is driving.”
“What!? What do you mean while I’m driving!? What’s wrong with my driving!?”
Ben started chuckling.
“Oh, don’t you start in again.” Michael complained.
“Dude, I ask you. Why is it, that the only time idiots ever come out on the road is while YOU’RE driving?”
“You know, that’s about as funny as a horse with a kickstand.”
“That’s enough, you two.” Alana scolded. “I want you BOTH on your best behavior today.”
“Yes, M’lady. You have my word as a gentleman.”
“Thank you, Kind Sir.” she smiled.
Michael and Alana then leaned over and kissed each other.
“EWWWWW!” exclaimed all three of the eleven-year-olds.
Susan laughed. “Someday you won’t mind so much.”
Daniel crossed his arms and scowled. “You don’t know that.”
Susan and Alana looked at each other and smiled, but said nothing.
*** *** ***
The beach by the cliff top was nearly an hour away from the ranch. Having once again become their favorite place for outings, awaiting them would be Frank and Kiyoko, who had gone on ahead earlier that morning with the food, presents and decorations. It had become the traditional birthday party spot for the kids over the last few years. And now, with all three having the same March 15th birthday, it had become quite the annual event – especially where Frank and Kiyoko were concerned.
There would also be two clowns waiting for them. Literally. Unknown to the kids, Stuart and Zagnut had actually rented two clown suits! Their wives, Michelle and Roxanne would also be there, with the new babies.
They had gotten a late start, as both Stuart and Zagnut had waited until they each received their Ph.D’s before finally getting married. Dr. Stuart was now a Professor and Scientific Director at the University of Hawaii, and Dr. Zagnut was a Psychologist with his own practice in downtown Honolulu.
Frank, Ben and Michael had already built three more guest houses – two on Frank’s larger ranch and one on Ben and Susan’s own smaller ranch. More often than not, one or more of the guest houses were always occupied, as Ben and Susan’s families were always coming up with reasons for coming out to visit their grandchildren. And with the brand new additions to Stuart and Zagnut’s households, even more visitors were expected to begin showing up on a fairly regular basis.
*** *** ***
“Oh no! I forgot it!”
“Forgot what, Daniel?” asked Susan.
“You mean your descrambler?” Ben asked.
“Daniel …” sighed Susan.
“Mom! I wanted to show Uncle Stewart! I worked a long time on it!”
Susan closed her eyes and shook her head.
“It’s okay.” interceded Michael. “We’re running a few minutes early, anyway.”
“Are you sure, Michael?” Susan asked.
“Are you kidding me? Why do you think we’re running early?” he teased.
“You PLANNED on him forgetting something!?” asked Ben.
“It was either gonna be him or you.”
Ben grinned at him. “Thanks, Michael.”
“No problem. Lemme just turn around…”
“It’s at the school.”
“That’s where I left it.”
Michael sighed. “Oh, great. Now we really WILL be late.”
“Please! It’s important!”
Michael looked at Alana, who was smiling at him. “That’s half an hour out of our way!” he complained.
“It’s okay, Michael.” Susan said. “Maybe this will help teach him to…”
“Please, Daddy?” pleaded Jenny on Daniel’s behalf.
Michael looked at Jenny in surprise.
“It’s his birthday!”
Michael looked over at Alana once again. “You know she sticks up for him for constantly now?” he complained. “More than ever before!”
“Please, Daddy?” she repeated again.
“Fine. Okay, fine.” he said, shaking his head.
“Thanks, Uncle Michael.” said Daniel.
Michael saw Susan smirking at him in his rear view mirror. “They’re only eleven!” he complained. “Just!”
“Uh, huh.” she said, smiling.
“This is SO not right. I mean … ever since they were little …”
“What’s not right, Daddy?”
“Never mind, little girl.” Michael sighed.
“Mommy, are they going to get married?” asked Sara, matter of factly.
“WHAT!!?” exclaimed nearly everyone else in the truck.
“What? What did I say?”
“Sara!” exclaimed Ben. “Why would you even SAY such a thing!?”
“What’s the big deal?” she asked. “It’s just a question.”
“This is just SO not right.” Michael complained, yet again.
“Relax, Michael.” said Alana, rubbing his shoulder. “Like you said, they’re only eleven. Take a deep breath.”
“Daniel, sweetie.” Susan said, quickly changing the subject for Michael’s sake. “The school is probably all locked up.”
“Awww…” Daniel whined.
“No it isn’t.” said Sara. “The janitor is there until 2:30.”
“Maybe you can take the shortcut.” suggested Ben.
“But I just washed the truck!”
“Dude, it’s a TRUCK! They’re SUPPOSED to get dirty!”
Michael sighed again. “But … but … okay, fine.”
“I don’t want to go that way, Daddy.”
“Why is that, Jenny?”
“Mr. Jingles.” answered Sara, as she continued drawing on her pad.
“Uh … what?’
“Mr. Jingles.” repeated Daniel. “The creepy old man who lives in that haunted house.”
“Oh, not this again.” Michael complained.
“Well, it’s true!” argued Daniel.
“There is NO such thing as a haunted house, Daniel.”
“Sure there is! Mr. Jingles!”
Susan laughed. “Where did you kids pick up that name, anyway?”
“That’s what ALL the kids in school call him.” Jenny answered.
“And you say he lives in that old, deserted house?” Alana asked.
“A lot of kids have seen him.” said Daniel.
“And you believe everything those kids tell you?”
“Uh … no…”
“I don’t want to go that way, Daddy!” repeated Jenny, as Michael began to turn onto the dirt road.
“Look, Jenny, I’ve told you before. There’s no such thing as a haunted house. And there’s nobody living in that deserted old shack.”
“Sure there is, Daddy! Mr. Jingles!”
“Alana … please say something.”
“Jenny, when we get close to the house, just close your eyes, okay?”
“It doesn’t work, Mommy.”
“What doesn’t work?”
“Every time we go by his house, I close my eyes. But I still see him.”
“WHAT!!?” Alana exclaimed.
“When do you guys go by his house!?” asked Ben.
“Wednesdays.” answered Sara.
“Right, the school bus.” Susan explained. “It goes that way every Wednesday because of the cattle crossing.”
“Wait, Jenny!” Alana continued. “What do you mean you still see him!?”
“I always close my eyes. But I can still see him.”
Alana looked at Michael in alarm. Michael himself looked very nervous, and shook his head. “What do you see, Jenny?” Alana asked.
“She sees his shadow.” replied Daniel.
“How do YOU know what she sees!?” Michael exclaimed.
“Duh. We always tell each other everything.”
“Michael, would you please relax!?” scolded Susan.
“This is SO not right.” he complained yet again.
“Jenny, tell me what this shadow looks like.” Alana said, nervously.
“I don’t know … just … a shadow.”
“What do you see when you close your eyes?”
“She sees…” Daniel started to say.
“That’s enough, Daniel.” Susan interrupted. “Let Jenny answer for herself.”
“Jenny, what do you see?”
“Well, if my eyes are open, I see the house.”
“And if your eyes are closed?”
“The house goes away. And all I see is Mr. Jingles.”
“His shadow, you mean?”
“Do you any of you know what Mr. Jingles looks like?” Susan asked.
“No.” answered Sara.
“Nobody does.” said Daniel.
“Then how do you know somebody is living there!?” Ben asked.
“We see his shadow in the windows.”
“You see his shadow, too!?” exclaimed Michael.
“Not like Jenny does.” Sara answered. “We only see his shadow when our eyes are open.”
“Jenny sees his shadow when her eyes are closed.” explained Daniel.
“This is SO, SO, SO not good.”
“No, Michael.” agreed Alana. “This really isn’t.”