Taleflash: Caretaker

The story below is a Taleflash– a single scene set in the universe of the Spiralchain. This particular Taleflash is set between Gatemaker and Mindshaper. Taleflashes are canonical and often provide a bit of back story to something yet to come…

Kathy Anderson was not a common woman. Only a few months shy of fifty years old, Kathy had worked for the city of Des Moines for more than half her life as a groundskeeper. It wasn’t a glamorous life, but it had helped her put two kids through college. For the past few years she had been working almost exclusively at the Mount Grace cemetery, a nondenominational graveyard on the city’s south side that, she was proud to say, had greens that many golf courses would envy.

As the spring gave way to summer each year, Kathy would set about mowing, fertilizing, and all of the other tasks of her profession with vigor. She was the only woman on the city’s crew of groundskeepers just now—there was a lot of turnover in her profession—and she was convinced that when the time finally came for her to retire, no one would ever say that she hadn’t done the best job possible.

One of the things that made Kathy so good at her job was attention to detail. She wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, and as she walked the grounds this afternoon in her tan overalls, she had a pair of sturdy yellow work gloves pulled over her calloused hands. She did her weekly weed walk, keeping a keen eye out for the various little plants that would spring up in the shadows of the headstones. Attention to detail was everything in her line of work.

Kathy worked her way through the oldest part of the grounds first, as was her habit. The cemetery had a number of grand statue pieces, including a ten-foot angel that was simply breathtaking. Kathy didn’t know anything about sculpture, but she was certain that whoever carved that particular piece—a focal point of Mount Grace for generations—had earned a special place in Heaven. The Grace Angel, as it was called, sat in the center of what was referred to as the Original Plot, the large circle of headstones that had stood longest in the cemetery, dating back more than a hundred years and featuring the names of some of the city’s most famous families.

Each of the stones in the Original Plot was a massive affair, often adorned with individual statuary accents and designed to mark the graves of not just one or two people, but whole families. Mount Grace did not feature any above ground vaults, but the parcels of land that comprised the Original Plot were in fact quite large, and as she walked the shadows of the headstones, Kathy watched carefully at the two stones that had most recently been updated.

As members of each family perished, their names were inscribed upon the great family headstones—but the old families of Des Moines were growing thin. There was little activity, and still less burial, in the Original Plot these days. But in the past year, both the Coopersfield and Alders stones had added new family members to their subterranean protectorate.

The Coopersfield stone had a sad story to tell—Kathy recalled it clearly from the Daily Register. Andrew Coopersfield, the youngest child in the family, had died last September, struck by a car that had raced around the school bus as little Andrew departed. The boy had been six, and Kathy was somehow pleased to note that no weeds grew around the Coopersfield tombstone. Kathy told the others, when she had occasion to talk about her job, that she always imagined a clean green as a sign that a soul was at rest—that it had found its way home.

She continued her circuit, stopping here and there to pluck a thistle or, worse, a dandelion. She approached the Alders tombstone, and thought about how its most recent occupant had come to be here. This story was less tragic, but slightly more enticing—there was a mystery involved after all.

The Alders family had all but died out years ago, and the last child of the original bloodline was a businessman named Jamison Alders. He had run for some minor public office younger in life, and had fallen in with the government and the military in his later years. Interestingly, Kathy had met Alders—back in the summer of 1990. He had been an abrupt man, but he had a bit of a philanthropic streak in him, and Kathy had met him when he’d donated a few thousand dollars to support the renovation of her oldest son’s elementary school auditorium.

In the past few years, Alders had largely stepped out of the public eye, but most accounts said that he’d soured greatly in his old age, caring little for who he hurt and who he offended on his quest to… Truth be told, Kathy had no idea what a man like Jamison Alders had really wanted out of life. From her perspective, he already had everything he could ask for.

But back in January, Jamison Alders became newsworthy again when he was found in a coma lying in an alley downtown. For over a month he’d been kept on life support at the hospital, and with no family to say otherwise, he had eventually been allowed to pass away. His body was now interred here, with the rest of the Alders family, and most, Kathy included, considered the Alders headstone to have now taken in its last soul.

Kathy knelt in front of the grave marker and touched her gloved hand gently to the clean-etched lines of Jamison’s name on the stone. He’d lived a good life. She did have to wonder, like so many others, what had become of all that Alders fortune, however.

Musing about what it might be like to, just once, not have to worry about money, Kathy wandered to the back of the stone, where its massive rectangular shadow fell across grass that she mowed twice weekly without fail.

Where the shadow of the stone fell, no grass now grew. Instead, there was only ash and soot, the greenery and the soil itself burned away down to bare bedrock.

Curiously, Kathy bent down and slipped one glove from her hand. She carefully lowered her palm towards the black patch, and she could feel, even now, the heat rising from the charred stone. She recoiled and felt her stomach churn.

Making the gesture of the cross in front of her, Kathy Anderson recited a simple prayer and made her way back to her cart. Something about that place was not right—not natural.

If a clean lawn was a sign of soul that had finally found its way home, what in the Hell was this a sign of?

Gatemaker is available now.

Mindshaper releases worldwide on January 1st, 2014.

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