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   Chapter 17 Brownie Oxford and the Ashland Affair

Brownie Oxford and the Ashland Affair: Brownie Bk1 By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 27142

Updated: 2018-03-07 14:28

Chapter 17

That night, the dream returned and again I managed to picture my lamp and slide out of the dream. I sat up in bed grinning. "Woo hoo, " I said out loud, pleased with my repeat performance. Again, I waited five minutes before going back to sleep.

Days slipped by in a steady routine. I was able to call each of the residents in the Mayenfield cemetery by name without looking at their headstones and began to know them as though they had been my neighbors my entire life. As autumn gripped Mayenfield, the few remaining leaves lost their green and blazed in a riot of fall colors before falling to the ground. Bare tree limbs stretched to the sky and the morning dew began to frost the grasses by the side of the road. I completed my scarf and gloves, wearing them as I ran. I started on a pair of socks.

Each night, Matheson would pull me into the dream and each night I would pull myself out. This too became part of my routine. It didn't eliminate the dreams completely, which was my ultimate goal, so I searched the library for anything that would allow me to totally block it from starting. I came up with nothing. Lucy filled me in on all of the latest gossip in town and I began to know some of the living residents of Mayenfield, even though it was a vicarious sort of knowledge.

My wardrobe expanded and even though the garments perfectly tailored to me filled me with pride, I wished I had someone else to model them for as Martha was not exactly an enthusiastic audience. I was afraid to wear the new garments around town as I thought my change from t-shirts and jeans might draw unwanted attention.

As I hung each new garment in my small closet, I began picturing myself wearing the clothes out into a normal life that included friends and going out to the movies or lunch, coffee or a club. Occasionally, I stopped in to the Whistlestop Café for lunch, but I always felt conspicuous, sitting alone while the other booths were packed full to bursting. I ended up eating quickly, barely tasting the meal and leaving as fast as possible, no matter how confident I was when I entered.

"It's not that I mind sitting there alone, " I explained to Martha after one of my quick exits. "But if Matheson can't get to me in the dreams any more, then he is probably trying other ways to find me. If I stand out in the crowd, someone might notice me. It's why I only use cash to buy things and haven't gone on-line since I've been here. As well as why I'm not wearing my new clothes." Despite the valid justification, I still felt cowardly.

"When this is over, " I promised myself. "I'll sit at a table and not worry if I'm seen."

No news came from Swift, although I maintained my weekly check-ins with Paul. Mondays now involved a visit to the library, laundry and asking Paul about Swift. I pictured Swift slowly working his way through the office, searching for those in Matheson's pay, confirming their guilt and then pouncing. I wasn't quite sure what the pouncing would entail, but somehow I didn't think the NCS would take betrayal well.

"No news is good news, " I tried to tell myself, only half believing it.

As the days slid past, I was glad I had made myself a coat. Autumn gave way to winter and I had the feeling that my time running in the mornings was soon going to have to change. Thus far we had been blessed with good, clear weather, but I knew it couldn't last.

"I might have to run later when the sun is up and it's a little warmer, " I told myself as I stretched for my morning run, slipped on my winter accoutrements and let myself out of my apartment, locking both doors before tucking my keys into my pocket. I stepped out into the parking lot and felt the cold wind slap my face.

"We might be getting that snow soon, " I thought as I looked at the sky. Dark clouds were massed, blocking the early morning light and making it seem like the middle of the night. The air was damp enough to wring. I almost turned around and went back inside.

"No, " I decided pushing forward. "I need to tell Thaddeus that weather might alter my schedule, " I decided as I began. Most of the scientific work had been completed, so the schedule wasn't as big a priority as before. I had managed to keep my bilirubin levels steady and normal without once taking any of the pills Swift provided and felt like I could do so for the foreseeable future. I knew the residents enjoyed the social time though and felt indebted to them for helping me with my needs.

"That bench is getting awfully cold though, " I reminded myself. The day before I had taken my scarf off, folded it and used it as a cushion and still managed to leave the cemetery with a frozen tailbone. "Maybe I could stroll as we chat, " I mused. "At least that would keep my circulation going.

The bare winter tree limbs swayed in the stiff breeze moaning through them. I no longer heard the birds chatter and wondered if the last of the feathered denizens had taken themselves somewhere warmer or if birds naturally sang less in the cold.

"Maybe I should get that book about bird watching from the library after all, " I mused as I slowed my steps, coming to a stop in front of the cemetery arch way. My run had warmed me up and the cold on my face felt invigorating. My breath puffed white around my face, reminding me that invigorating would soon turn chilly.

With the bare branches and night dark sky, the cemetery was filled with long, deep shadows. The long grasses had turned brown and dry for the winter and were now frosted with icy dew, bowed low to the earth under the weight. Fog snaked along the ground making the cemetery look like a stage set for a horror movie. I shook the thought away and called my normal morning greeting before stepping into the cemetery.

The rising residents changed the atmosphere making it seem much more inviting and I smiled. Thaddeus greeted me with his wide grin and Julia, Stacy and Linda told me they were going to have a tea party. I pushed more energy into the cemetery and saw dolls manifest in the arms of the three little girls before they raced off to settle themselves under a nearby tree. A group of boys began playing a game that seemed to involve a ball and a stick, but resembled nothing I was familiar with. As they started to play, I had the feeling they were making up the rules as they went along.

I followed the winding pathways to my accustomed bench, realizing that there was little sun to warm my chilly perch. Along the way, I greeted the residents I had come to know so well and debated various topics for conversation starters to begin the day. All of my necessary questions had been answered, at least the ones that the residents could answer, which left idle chatter to pass the time.

I unfolded my scarf and folded it into a cushion on the bench. I pulled the half-finished sock I was working on from my pocket and set the ball of yarn on the bench beside me. "So, " I said, as I sat down. "Does anyone know if the town was built here because of the mineral springs or if the spa with the springs came later?"

"A very interesting question, " Jacob, a former local historian said, pushing forward. He pushed his glasses further up his nose as he began his lecture. "Mayenfield was originally built as a mining community. While the mines, such as they were, petered out fairly quickly, that wasn't until after the railroad had been built. Mayenfield was incorporated as part of the line that ferried agricultural goods into the larger towns east of here. The springs were discovered shortly before the mines played out and as mineral baths and such were all the rage at the time, the resort was built. So you see even though the resort at the springs was not the reason the town was built, it is the reason the town managed to survive the closing of the mines."

Harold Jennings pushed forward. He smiled and tipped his hat a little to the side. "The resort was my idea, " he told me. "And trust me, it wasn't an easy sell, let me tell you." He rocked on his heels, his thumbs hooked in his lapel, the chain o

outh and turned. The dead were waiting.

"You have to put them back Brownie, " Dave told me. I nodded. "Have them take my body and Matheson's with them so no evidence is left behind." Again I nodded, glad that someone else could add details I would have missed. He looked around as though studying the scene. "You might want them to remove our wallets, keys and cell phones before taking us to the ground."

"Why?" I said, stalling as I tried to figure out how to put zombies back into the ground.

"A ringing coming from an old graveyard is bound to bring unwanted attention, " Dave told me, with the same lopsided grin I had found so appealing in the bank. "Matheson also has the keys to the rental car. It was rented two days ago when he learned your location. He used a fake name and rented the car for a month."

"I could use it to leave town, " I said comprehension dawning. Dave nodded.

"And Matheson used cash for this excursion, " he told me. There is plenty in his wallet and additional locked in the trunk in a strong box for emergencies. The key to the box is on his key ring. It should pay for gas and whatnot for a while."

I nodded in understanding and looked at Dave. "Why help me?" I asked. "I'm the reason you were killed."

Dave shook his head. "Matheson was the reason I was killed, " he corrected. "And you need to be safe. The NCS is not safe. Their files on you are in a box in the trunk as well."

Again I nodded. As Dave and I spoke, a few of the residents had put his suggestions into actions. A stack consisting of two wallets, key rings and cell phones had been placed on the bench. Next to them was the knitting I had dropped. I swallowed a hysterical laugh that threatened to erupt from my lips and turned towards the remains of both Dave and Matheson.

To my surprise, they were gone. Only dark smears of blood remained to smudge the dry grass. I looked around, the irrational fear of Matheson rising from the dead only to try and kill me again momentarily gripping me. Instead I saw one of the better preserved corpses carrying Dave's body and many others carrying bits and pieces of what remained of Matheson. I decided not to look too closely at the bits.

Dave told me where the car was parked and what make and model I was to look for. I nodded, filing the information away for later. I took a deep breath and as the scent of rotted flesh filled my nostrils, I instantly regretted it. The smell clawed its way down my throat and I coughed and spat to get it out.

"Okay, " I said aloud. "Let's put everyone back." The corpses shuffle stepped back to their graves and lay down as though preparing for a nap. With no better plan in mind I tried picturing the earth as I had in my dreams. This time though I was not putting up defensive walls to block a scorching wind. It was more akin to the first night I found I could bury myself in the dirt.

"Only the bodies not the spirits, " I whispered as I pushed energy into the cemetery ground. The dirt parted as it had for Matheson and the bodies sunk back into their graves, taking the newly dead with them. I held my breath and waited. Once the earth settled down into its normal appearance, the residents began to rise, once again freed from the confines of their rotting flesh. I sagged with relief.

"Well done, my dear, well done, " Thaddeus boomed, relief written clearly across his face. He smiled at me. Once again his large belly stretched the material of his suit. I had never been so relieved to see anyone in my life. "And so I suppose this is farewell. Good luck to you in your endeavors." One by one the residents bid me farewell. Some offered quick advice for travel, much of which was centuries out of date, others merely offered me their well wishes.

As they stepped back I gathered my scarf and wrapped it around my neck. I stuffed my knitting, along with the wallets, keys and cell phones into my pockets, thankful that the pockets were zippered and I wouldn't have to worry about things falling out as I ran back to my apartment. I checked my watch and with surprise realized that the entire situation had taken a little less time than I usually took in the cemetery. I swallowed a half hysterical laugh.

"I can always blame the cold for my early return, " I muttered. I turned to the gathered residents, which now included Dave, although oddly enough, did not include Matheson. Apparently his death was too… enthusiastic to allow him to rise. I repressed a bone deep shiver.

"Goodbye, and thank you for everything." I told them. They smiled and drifted away a little.

"For what it's worth, " Dave said. "I'm sorry." I smiled sadly at him.

"I know, " I told him. He drifted towards the crowd and I slowly pulled my energy from the Mayenfield Cemetery. The residents, including Dave, faded and disappeared. I was alone. The shadows had not loosened their grip and I shivered from more than cold. I skirted the bloody patches of grass and made my way to the cemetery gate. Under the wrought iron arch, I paused and turned to look over the sleeping rows of the dead.

While I knew I would miss them and remember them fondly, today's events had tainted this peaceful place for me and I knew that even were I to remain in Mayenfield, I would not find the solace I had found before. I sighed, stretched to limber up my body and ran back to town.

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