If you grow up in Richmond, or any other Southeastern town, you know a thing or two about hurricanes—or candy canes as my little three-year-old nephew calls them. “Aunt Annie, did you know there’s a candy cane coming out there in the trees?”, he asked me during our last phone call together a month ago. And there was, and it did, and it dumped an epic quantity of rain all over the place, and we weren’t even really in the worst of it.
But that was in September, when hurricanes are supposed to slink up the coast. We had weeks to prepare. One of our beach friends told us that it was like being stalked by a giant turtle. We Richmonders had plenty of time to get home from vacation, and bring in anything that might try to fly away, and buy out all the candles, and generators, and bottled water, and of course, all the hostess cupcakes left in the store—you know, the essentials—and the thing still hadn’t arrived. When it finally did, it just rained until everyone’s basement flooded, and then we went on about its business—our annual September bashing.
Now that that was over with, we all thought we could get on with our business of fall; which meant next up was Halloween, that moment in the row-house filled downtown of our city when little fairies and ghosts and goblins swarm the streets demanding candy. None of that healthy stuff like stickers, or pencils, or pretzels, these kids want candy!
I knew there was a hurricane predicted for parts south, but I hadn’t paid a whole lot of attention. We never get hurricanes in October around these parts. I had checked the night before just in case; global climate change being what it is these days. It was only a category two, and it was way off swimming around in the Gulf. There was a whisper in the news about some rain for Halloween; but it was to peter itself out before 5:00 pm—the witching hour.
Well, I was heading to the store to round out my 300+ piece candy stash, when I began to sense we were in trouble. There’s a look the sky gets. It’s a look we southerners know—the sheer beauty of it is eerie…hauntingly so, one might say. The firmament turns a sumptuous blue, like the blue of a lover’s eyes in a fairytale, that kind that makes the princess melt at first sight.
And the clouds form up into pure white puffballs—I would swear you can see silver linings, maybe even an angel or two in those darlings. But here’s the thing—they are moving fast, really rip-roaring around in the sky. It’s the kind of moment when you think that you are in a fairytale, and you want to stand there feeling the magic and waiting for the fairies to show up to make the world stay like this forever.
But it doesn’t take long to snap out of it because deep down in your soul, you know that this is not good, that the only fairies anywhere around here are the little ones who are inside getting their sparkles applied for their Halloween début. And you have this gut feeling that these long-awaited little girl out-comings are about to turn into long-remembered pity parties lived out in a moldy basement as 11-year-old brothers, now dressed in their Dracula costumes, chase them around with fake blood on his teeth.
Anyway, I digress. So, indeed it did not take me long to snap out of the fairyland euphoria of this day. I pulled out my phone to consult the weather gods and sure enough they had been alerting and alarming all over my phone like a bunch stomach flu victims. It seemed that over night the storm had strengthened to a Category 5! This had never been heard of before. The thing was heading our way like a herd of angry werewolves looking for suckers.
I ran to the store, this time for provisions besides candy. I figured I wasn’t going to have to share that with anyone but my husband after all. There would be no children on the streets tonight. The words “shelter in place” were already being whispered in the grocery aisles.
As I headed for home the sky was darkening. The wind had begun to flutter and gust. Branches were beginning to break and fall to the sidewalks. By the time I got the groceries in, it was looking like the opening moments of The Wizard of Oz. My husband Joe was out in the yard gathering up the concrete Buddha, and the flowerpots and such. The rain began as he came in the door.
“Boy Annie girl, it’s something else out there,” he huffed as he shut the door tight behind himself.
Tornado warnings began screaming on those phones of ours driving us into a frenzy. We gathered our candles, and flashlights, and the now-screaming kitties and headed for the basement as the lights flickered once, twice, then out for good.
All went dark but for a few solar lights I had “planted” around and about outside. Their faint glow allowed us to see dimly through the two small shoulder height windows along the side alley (between our house and the next one over). It was just enough light to get our candles lit and set up our nest among the usual basement clutter.
There really wasn’t much decent food left at the store by the time I got there, so as the evening wore on, we dined (or should I say gorged) on the unclaimed candy as the storm bellowed over our heads.
In the candlelight glow we became drowsy despite mother nature’s violent tirade. Both of us snuggled down deep into our makeshift bed of pillows and cozy comforters and fell into a deep sleep.
At first I thought it was the Halloween candy giving me hallucinations. But then I realized that Joe was sitting bolt upright in the “bed” too. We had been awakened abruptly by that sound—the one you really never want to hear—the sound like a train roaring by where there shouldn’t be one—the sound of a tornado touching down somewhere close by.
Tornadoes used to be rare in Virginia. Lately they seemed to be a regular occurrence. I had heard one once before, many years ago, but that one was small and far enough away that it posed no danger. This beast seemed to be rushing down our back alley. Then it was gone as fast as it came—in it’s wake, a deadly silence.
We clutched each other in terror (cats included). It was still pitch dark but for a bit of solar light still coming in the side alley windows. As we sat there trying to gather ourselves, we saw something quite strange. First, a pair of men’s trousers atop shiny black old-fashioned shoes floated past the window. Dainty slippers accompanying a lacy white gown followed. These beings appeared to be floating rather than walking as they trespassed between the houses. They were traveling from our back garden to the front.
Who on earth were these fools out in such a madness? Drunken revelers from one of the local bars, too messed up to realize that there was a storm out there? They clearly appeared to be costumed. But something seemed wrong with that supposition, because as far as we could see in the dim pre-dawn light their clothes were quite clean and dry. The mystery of it all compelled us up stairs to see if we could catch a better glimpse.
When we peered out the front door sidelight both of us were startled. “Annie!, Joe exclaimed, “Those people are sitting on our front porch”.
“What do we do, Joe? I asked.
“”I don’t know, honey.” He replied.
“OK”, I said, “It’s our front porch after all. Let’s open the door and find out what the heck is going on.”
“All, right. If you say so,” Joe put is hand on the door knob.
“Wait a minute”, I whispered, “Get the baseball bat first. Just in case.”
“In case what,” he said.
“I don’t know, “ I said, “Just do it.”
So he did, and we opened the door, only to find a tiny, thin and young, yet, at the same time ancient looking couple making themselves at home in our favorite porch chairs. They appeared to be dressed in their “Sunday best”, but from another era all together.
The gentleman looked up, grinned and brought forth a ghostly utterance, “Well good evening Anna May and Joseph.” We, Joe and I, looked at each other and both became a bit wobbly. No one ever called Joe Joseph, and I had gone to great pains to shed my southern double name. Who were these people and how did they know these people about us?
We plopped into the side chairs as the woman said, “I do like what you’ve done with this garden, Anna May, so natural. A shame the storm has made such a mess of things.”
Joe and I replied, in unison, “Who are you people, and what are you doing on our front porch in the middle of this storm?” We sank back into our chairs and waited for an answer.
“Well darling”, the woman began, her voice somehow tender, yet equally as eerie as the mans, “We own the place. Or at least we did back a few centuries ago.” I could see her eyes brighten with the memory of this. It was as though she had something primal attached to the place we called home. It sent a shudder through me. I found myself mesmerized by her preposterous story.
Joe wasn’t quite so drawn in just yet. He followed with, “What the hell?” Slightly unoriginal, but it was hardly a moment for creative comebacks.
“Now, now Joseph, no need to panic. My wife is telling you a truth. Back then this whole place was our farm—25 acres of land. Small for that agrarian time, but we eked out a living before the war came and scattered it all to the wind.” The man continued, “Names Elwood, and this here is my wife Rose.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance in this life,” Rose grinned. “If you don’t mind, we’ll dispense with the hand shaking. It tends to unsettle people on this side.”
They both giggled, then they turned to each other and Rose continued, “It’s good to be about in the world again, Elwood isn’t it? And look at what we’ve got on! It appears like they buried us well when they found us—our best Sunday meeting clothes. You look as handsome as ever, darling man.”
“And so do you my love; so do you.” He looked down at his hand, “And look, they even let us keep our wedding bands.” Elwood replied with a teary-eyed grin in his wife’s direction.
About this time Joe had had all he could take. He reached for his cell phone causing Elwood to rejoin us in the conversation, “I’m afraid that thing isn’t going to do you any good son, as of tonight those contraptions are of no use anymore.”
“Of no use?!” We both cried at the same time. This was unimaginable. How could any red blooded American live for five minutes without their cell phone? “What the hell?”, Joe continued.
Rose shifted in my wicker rocker. She straightened her white lace skirt and began, “Well honey, that’s what we’ve come to tell you. Everything’s changed as of tonight.”
“What on Earth,” I moaned.
“What on Earth is exactly the question Anna May”, Elwood chimed in, “What on Earth indeed? What on Earth have you progeny of ours done to our sweet earth?” A bit of rage began to form in his voice. “Can’t ya see, you’ve destroyed it? Or at least pretty near that. Storms are raging and seas are rising and you still won’t listen to reason. Reason I say. It’s the Earth. It’s what we are made of…”
“Now, now Elwood, calm down honey.” Rose said, patting his arm gently. “We’ve already scared them half to death with just our appearance.” Then she turned to us and continued, “I’m afraid it’s over now. We can’t let you manage things on your own anymore. We are going to have to take things into our own hands. As of tonight forget about anything that runs on coal, or gas or anything that clogs the air. You are going to have to rethink that thing you call technology. We’re pulling the plug.”
Elwood continued, “That’s right folks, Rose is speaking the truth young folks. You people wouldn’t listen to your own scientists, your own gardens, your own animals, or even the icebergs out there melting in the ocean, so we are taking matters into our own hands. You got wind and sun to work with. You’re going to have to figure it out from there.”
In my incredulity, I managed a question, “But who on Earth are you? I know who you say you are, but really? Who are you two, and how are you going to pull such a thing off?”
“Oh Anna May, sweet Anna May,” Elwood replied, “We’re the ancestors, the voices of all souls. We’re here on this All Souls night to deliver a message from the great beyond.”
“From the divine one!” Rose added, her voice becoming quite forceful.
“You know, the beginning, the light of all light, honey.” Continued Elwood. It was like an old timey revival was taking place right there on our front porch.
“It’s got to stop, this thing you are doing.” Rose took over again, “We have given you time, sent you scientists, and all of these signs, but even you Anna May, you who loves this earth so much, you can’t stop yourself from what you are doing everyday—driving that stinky car all over creation, and burning those artificial lights, and running that refrigerator thingy.”
I moaned, yet again I moaned. In fact I was becoming a moaning fool, “But what are we supposed to do? How will we live? Who will help us? How are Joe and I supposed to solve all this mess, as you describe it? I don’t disagree, mind you. We humans are making a mess of things, but what am I going do?” I tried. I recycle, and I by my clothes at the consignment store. We even only eat meat two or three times a week. And I tried to vote those climate denying scoundrels of power.”
“When you’re on this side, Anna May, you are not Republican or Democrat—your not even American or African or Chinese or anything—you’re just people, “Rose replied.
Joe and I stared at each other. She had convicted us. “Well Honey, I guess they’ve got us pegged, haven’t they?” Joe groaned.
“You’re not the only one getting this message tonight, sweet things”, Elwood said, “We know you can’t do it alone. And you certainly can’t do it while your staring at those machines all the time instead of talking to each other. That’s why we have all fanned out this evening. Ancestors are visiting houses all over everywhere tonight, delivering the same message. Put the toys down, come out of your houses, meet in the streets and figure it out.”
And with that the two of them got up from our chairs. They walked over to each of us a planted a gentle, if icily cold, kiss on each of our foreheads and floated off the porch. As they made their way down the sidewalk, we saw other such souls appear on sidewalks all over the neighborhood. In a cloud of mist a train appeared right there in the middle of the city street. And all of these souls greeted each other as they floated aboard. The train pulled away quietly…and faded into the dawn.
People did come out into the streets then up and down the block, and the city, and the country, and all over the world they came out. We began piecing it all together. We dug up all the science we had. The stuff we had never used. We harnessed the solar and the wind power. We thought about what we were doing, and eating, and buying and we put our world back together again. It was difficult, but it was peaceably done, because none of us could get this Hallow Cane out of our minds. None of us could forget the night of all souls.
JEHW © 2018