A tale of hope to warm the cold winter nights by John Pink
John’s story The Fall of Charon was shortlisted in the Fall Writing Contest sponsored by Shorting Fiction Break & Becoming Writer!
Based on Kansas’ 1975 single, Lamplight Symphony
In a candlelit room, the light of the full moon romanticized Arlo Gates’ boudoirs. The glare spanned across the vast yard and crystallized the scenery of topiary bushes and shrubs, the light snow, and the shape of the blowing wind. A winter’s night, cold and bright, with the stars shining resplendently.
In the uppermost room of the estate sat a lonely, old Arlo. Broken down by the lack of the thrill of business, the unforgiving pace of age, and loneliness. Sitting on a bench with an open book
reminiscing about those loved and lost. Perseverance had made him a hard man for Nature to kill; neither age nor disease had sealed his fate like it had for so many of his friends. His desire to live was
always stronger than his willingness to accept whatever destiny had in store for him: a quality he now regrets ever having. He had no energy, company, or joy to help speed up his days.
Yearning for a life gone by, he shone a lamplight on the pictures of faces of the past. Faces that made his childhood innocent; others that inspired him to be the ambitious young man he was always remembered for; many who also helped his business flourish; and others that influenced his life in other ways. He recalled events with strangers and allies alike. Memories are now his one and only joy.
He finally turned the page to his favorite part, the single-most thing that gave his life more meaning than any business or any friend: Anne. The muse for his inspiration and the drive for his
ambition. A companion, a friend, a lover. Sorrowfully, she wasn’t there to make his heart race any longer. There was no more flare, no desire, no more whiskey-driven revelries, or late-night
conversations. Arlo remained alone with nobody to warm his bed.
The old man saw a picture of him and Annie in their youth; her pushing him on a swing. Their complexion was innocent, their eyes full of life, and their smiles brimmed with happiness. A single tear fell from Arlo’s eye. Forgotten dreams flashed through his weary mind.
Next, he saw a picture of their wedding night, Anne alight with a white and silver dress. Her face shone with serenity, and he remembered her delicate march down the aisle. Though they had met at an early age and had known each other for what seemed like forever, their faces still glowed with new-found love.
Turning to the next page, he saw a memorable event. A grand ball that had taken place in China. He had been invited there as part of a gesture for completing a business venture with the Chinese. They were both gallant and splendid that night. They shared the euphoria of taking the Gates name to new heights, the chivalry of breaking the world’s expectations for modern business, the excitement of being together and having what the rest of the world only dreams of having: each other. Amidst the festivities of the night, they both managed to elude their host and his security and scurried into a little alley. The excitement proved too much to resist putting their hands on each other. Hidden and silent, they made love against the wall of the alley. That night, he was sure: they had conceived their first son.
Lastly, he saw a picture of one of the last of Barnum & Bailey’s Circus shows before ole’ P. T. Barnum kicked the bucket during a performance. No freak, atrocity, or spectacle could best the innocence in Anne’s eyes as she expressed fascination one act after the next. The light in her eyes was a reminder that she would always occupy a place in Arlo’s heart.
The only place Annie occupied now was a small grave in the backyard of his family estate, on the access to the cold and chilling forest. He took his lamplight and placed it near the window to gaze
at the humble gravestone that marked where her lifeless body lay. The slumbering wood made the visage somber. He put his hand to his heart as if reaching for something he couldn’t find anymore. A
sudden flash of how the love of his life was whisked away from him in an unexpected instant appeared vividly before his eyes, a memory too painful to recall; he brushed it off.
Instead, the old man remembered how stubborn she was when he asked for her hand, how she completed him, gave purpose to his actions, how he had known her since they were children, and his
life with her was clear the moment he made contact with those piercing hazel eyes. More tears flowed across his cheeks.
“Oh, what I would give”, he said in a soft voice. A once successful businessman who acquired quite a fortune. He placed his family name in a prestigious echelon; he had servants who catered to his every whim; he could afford every comfort known to man, yet, he would have gladly given it all away to be reunited with his wife. He would have given anything to raise the one who lies beneath the snow.
Arlo took a chug of the last bottle of whiskey he had received as a gift upon selling the company. He sat on his bed, a cold and dry reminder he would fail once again to get any sleep. He beheld the picture of the swings and gave a small whimper, which then turned into a sob. He looked to the side and pretended Annie was still there, comforting him and guiding him through the dark and
lonely night. Tired of crying, he threw the empty bottle into the fire, causing a fiery crash that quickly dissipated. He laid on the bed and was able to close his eyes, with the lamp still lit, placed on his
In a sudden fit, he aggressively awoke from his restless nap in the middle of the night, short of breath and delirious, as if waking up from a nightmare. The lamp was still lit, though only the last drop of oil-fueled its fire. Arlo sat up and placed his feet on the hardwood floor and found it freezing and pleasant at the same time. Chills went up his spine, and he was prompted to stand. Bent over and trying to regain his composure, he caught a glance of the picture he took to bed.
Startled, he grabbed it for study. He saw himself as a young lad, he saw the swings and the black-and-white grass, he saw the clouds and the sun, but there was no one pushing him on the swing. His younger-self was looking behind him, laughing at someone, but there was no one there. Perplexed, Arlo ran his hand down his mouth.
Arlo stopped breathing and experienced horripilation as he felt another presence in the room. Suddenly, he was called by the echo of what seemed like a beast awakened from its slumber. He lifted
his gaze and saw a celestial apparition. The room was grey and the light emitted from the ghost created no shadows, only a peering glow ran across its shape. Arlo’s frail lips trembled; he was simultaneously amazed and appalled at what he was seeing. The ghost came closer and the lonely old man knew not what to do; he froze. As the specter became clearer, he could recognize familiar traits; characteristics that made him lose his fear and become indulged.
Standing before him, the vision seemed to have peaceful glowing eyes. The ghost wore a long thin dress, was barefoot, and had her hair down, completely still. The shapeless aura that adorned its silhouette made it warm against the cold of the night. It was clear to see: her lips, her eyes, her complexion, unmistakable and unforgettable features. It ran its fingers through the old man’s right hand, which he was hesitantly holding up attempting to touch the phantom of his wife. The blowing of the snow became as audible as the man’s bewilderment. Filled with fear but fueled by joy, he
gingerly embraced the ghost of his wife and was impelled into a music-less dance.
After a short waltz, akin to the dance on their wedding night, the ghost caressed the old man’s face, smoke protruding from her fingertips. “I’ve come to soothe you”, she whispered. Their eyes
locked, and with a sigh of relief, their mouths pulled closer to each other. As soon as their lips touched, the lamp oil ran out and the flame went, along with the old man and the ghost.