It had been a long day, one of a series of long days. The old man sat on his front porch, methodically rocking in the old oak rocking chair he'd inherited from his Dad years gone past. The soothing rhythm, the familiar creak as he went forward and back, was almost hypnotic. He found his eyes starting to close, and to forestall the inevitable he reached for the glass of sweet tea on the little table beside the rocker.
As he took a long cooling sip he spied a tail of dust in the distance. That'd be someone coming down the dirt road toward their farmhouse. There were no other houses along the trace, so it was automatically company coming to see either him or his wife Fanny, or both. He had a pretty good idea who it might be and stirred himself, shaking off the sleepy feeling he'd been playing with.
"Fanny, company's a comin'!" he yelled through the screen door to the woman inside.
To the old man, his wife was Fanny, but not to anyone else. To younger relatives she was Aunt Frannie, to more mature kin she remained Francis Anne. She had a streak of formality that Bill had never succeeded in erasing. It was one of the reasons he loved her so dearly. Early on, she had made clear what she would and wouldn't put up with from William Ira Taylor.
Francis Anne Taylor neé Cummings came from inside, walked over to the rocker and put her hand on her husband's shoulder.
"Do you think that'll be Josh coming to see us, Bill?"
"I 'spect so, Fanny. He said he'd be along today if'n he got a chance to get away from school. Anyways, we'll know in a couple minutes."
Francis Anne sat down in the porch glider to await their visitor. As the dust got closer the cause resolved itself into an old green Chevy pick-up truck, one they both knew very well.
"Yeah, it's old Josh boy, sure enough. I 'spect he'd like a cold glass of your good sweet tea, Fannie. Reckon you can scare one up for him by the time he gets here?"
"I do believe I can, Bill." She smiled at her husband, arose from the glider, and disappeared back into the farmhouse.
The Chevy got closer and finally pulled up onto the parking area off to the right side of the house. The only thing denoting it as a parking area was Bill's old car and the fact that all the grass that would have been there, had it been part of the yard, was either dead or entirely missing in action.
The truck door opened and a towheaded young man of college age stepped out, smiling up at Bill who rose from the rocker and walked to the edge of the porch to greet the newcomer.
"Josh boy, it's sure good to see you. Get yourself up on this porch and take a load off your feet."
The screen door swung open and Francis Anne came out with a mint green glass in her hand. She went to the young man and gave him a firm one armed hug around the neck, followed by a kiss on the cheek for good measure.
"Josh, I brought you a glass of sweet tea."
"Aunt Frannie, you sure know what I've been missing."
Josh took the proffered glass and took a long pull on it, then licked the trace of tea from his young mustache.
"There isn't anyone on God's green earth that makes tea to beat yours, Aunt Frannie."
Francis Anne smiled and took the glass from Josh's hand, saying "Well, I'll just go back in for a moment and top it off for you, hon."
"Uncle Bill, I've missed you, both of you. It seems like I've been away at school for half a lifetime, though I know it's just been a couple of months."
"Good to see you too, Josh, and you're right, it feels like you've been gone years. I keep looking to see you around here like old times, but you've got other fish to fry. That's alright, mind you. Life is like that, nothing or nobody much stays in one spot too long except them what's in the boneyard. Don't you worry none about being gone from around here. It ain't much of a town hereabouts, anyways. A young man needs to get out, see the world, kiss a few pretty girls."
Aunt Frannie came back out to catch the tail end of Bill's commentary and said, with a slight tone of disapproval "Now Josh, don't you be taking too much to heart what your uncle has to say. He hasn't had anybody to talk to for a couple days except me, so he's a little over the full mark, if you catch my drift."
She gave Josh a wink and a smile to temper her comment and settled in to catch up on life's goings-on with Josh. There was a lot of quiet conversation peppered with "Did you hear", or "Do you remember". They got busy catching up on the sound track of each other's existence, there on the front porch of the farmhouse in the sweet fine tail end of October.
Aunt Frannie shivered as the sun sank low toward the horizon, sweeping the warmth from the autumn eve. The first star had just peeked out, high up in the sky where the royal blue was quickly fading to black.
"I do declare, I'm going to have to leave this little party. My old bones can't handle the cool like they used to. Bill, do you need anything from inside?"
"No, I believe I'm good for now. I've got my sweater to keep me warm and some good company to talk with. Maybe you can get the spare room ready for Josh, if he's of a mind to spend the night with us? What do you say, Joshua Harris?"
"Depends, Uncle Bill. Do you think there's a chance of Aunt Frannie making some of her buckwheat pancakes for breakfast? I sure do miss them almost as much as I've missed you two."
Francis Anne smiled, rumpled her adopted nephew's hair and said "I think that'd be something I can handle. I've got the fixings and a pound of good bacon to go along with them. Do you think you could handle that?"
"Josh grinned and replied "Sure I can, Aunt Frannie. That'd be just fine."
"Turn a deal like that down, Josh, and I'd have to shoot you for a damned fool. If you refused, I'd whack you with my cane. Breakfast tomorrow will be the first time in a week I'll be free of oatmeal and bran muffins. She's been low fattin' and low saltin' me damn near to death lately. I can't just sit there and watch you wolf down buckwheats and bacon without sharing in the bounty, now can I? He's stayin', and that's an end to it, Frannie."
Frannie fixed him with a baleful eye and said "Bill, you know what Doc Willis told you. You are not going to die on me, you hear me, old man?"
"I hear you, old girl. Don't worry, I'm staying right here. I can't stand the sound of you tap dancing on the lid of my coffin. Don't you worry, go ahead and plan on going first, just leave me right here with all the damned bills."
"I can see I'm not going to get the last word tonight. You're wound up tighter than a rubber girdle. You men go ahead and talk yourselves out. I'm going in and warm up, maybe read a bit. Josh, the spare room will be ready when you are. Bill, don't you go filling that young man's head full of your blarney."
Francis Anne arose and went inside, closing the inner door so the men wouldn't have to worry about being overheard. She was good that way, giving Bill his space when he wanted it.
"Blarney, my aching butt. If you weren't here she'd say I was full of ze sheet of ze bool. Makes darned good tea still, though, don't she?"
"The best ever, Uncle Bill."
Uncle Bill was, to most of his younger relatives and associates, known as Wild Bill. The name came from his penchant to spin yarns that sometimes bore little resemblance to fact, laced with hyperbole and fancification worthy of the best yarn spinners.
The conversation went on by starts and stops, no real purpose exposed, just a seemingly random flow of talk between old acquaintances. Finally Bill brooked the subject that had been hanging in the air between them, unspoken yet demanding attention.
"So, Josh boy, I hear you got yourself a lady friend."
"Yeah, I do, Uncle Bill. This place sure hasn't changed much, has it? It always was hard to keep a secret around here."
"Boy, you know the only way to keep a secret between two people is for one of 'em to be dead. That's the way it's always been, and that's the way it's always gonna be. Best thing to do is to not do anything you don't want talked about. People can't just mind their own business, they got to have a little bit of yours, too."
"I reckon that's right, Uncle Bill. Anyway, you know Penny Davidson from when we was kids in Sunday School together, don't you? She's going to my school again, this time the state university. We met and hit it off, just like we never stopped being sweet on each other. I'm pretty crazy over her, Uncle Bill. What do you think?"
Bill scooted his bulk around in the rocker while he gathered his thoughts, looking for a more comfortable position.
"Yeah, I remember little Penelope Sue Davidson, sure enough. Her mother was married to my best friend Tommy Gordon. Penny was maybe five years old when her mother Jenna Davidson married old Tommy. I never did see too much of Tommy after they married; she kept him hoppin' trying to keep her satisfied. Tommy never did seem to manage to get that job done, but it wasn't his fault. Ain't a man alive could satisfy that woman. He worked himself into the grave trying, though."
"Penny isn't like that, though. She's sweet and understanding and well, I guess she's just about perfect, Uncle Bill."
"Don't you go foolin' yourself, Josh boy. Ain't no perfect women, same as there ain't no perfect men. You just have yourself a good set of them rose colored glasses on right now. That don't make you a bad person, just one that needs to open his eyes."
"What does that mean?" The Uncle Bill honorific had fallen by the wayside as this conversation had veered into seriousness.
"It means every one needs to be able to see their girl or guy, their potential mate, as they are. Frannie told me years ago that her Daddy told her to find a man who was better than she was. His reasons were two fold: first, the guy wasn't gonna be as good as she thought he was. Second, if he was, by any chance, actually better than she was, he'd tend to elevate her to his level. God bless her heart, she failed miserably when she married me, but I love that woman."
"So, what are you saying, Uncle Bill? I don't get where you're going with all this."
"Did you know her mother, Jenna?"
"No, Uncle Bill, I never had the pleasure."
"Pleasure? Son, take it from me, knowing Jenna Davidson was no pleasure. She was the meanest damned woman in three counties. She was so ornery, when she took a crap she'd turn around and growl at it. She didn't work old Tommy to death, he did that all on his own. I figure it was the only way he knew to get out of that marriage without breaking his vow to that woman. One hell of a lot of good it did him in the end. Tommy wasn't cold yet when she up and married some rich fool down Catoosa County way. She finally came home again when she went toes up, too darned tight to give up the plot of dirt she had Tommy buy in the church cemetery. She outlasted old moneybags too, you see. Came home to lie down beside poor old Tommy, probably lying there giving him forty kinds of hell, just because she can."
"Uncle Bill, Penny isn't like that at all. I don't think she has that kind of personality in her."
"All I know, boy, is this: my Daddy told me long ago that if you want to see what kind of wife you're gonna have in 30 years, just take a good long sober look at her momma. My Daddy wasn't an educated man, but he did know a thing or two."
"I don't know what to make of all this, Uncle Bill. I guess you've given me some food for thought."
"Speakin' of food, boy, we better turn in or we'll still be jabberin' when Frannie makes them buckwheats. What say we call it a night?"
"I suppose that'd be a good idea. I'll see you in the morning, ok?"
"Yup, that works for me."
Bill stood, spent a moment working the kinks out of his old legs and led the way inside the warm farmhouse. He showed Josh to the spare bedroom where Frannie had already turned the sheets down.
"Make yourself at home, Josh. You know where the 'fridge and the bathroom is; if you need more than that, God help you. See you about 8:00 in the AM, ok?"
"Sounds fine, Uncle Bill. Sleep tight, alright?"
"Yup, you too, Josh boy. G'nite."
Bill shambled down the hallway to visit the bathroom, then continue his journey to the bed he'd shared with Francis Anne for going on 45 years. He was greeted by the sounds of her gentle snores. He undressed, got his aging body under the sheets, patted his bride on the hip and kissed her shoulder before rolling over to inspect the inside of his eyelids.
The next morning dawned bright and glorious, the trees showing off their newfound colors in the bright light of a new day. The buckwheat pancakes were fantastic, as was the bacon and the strong coffee. Nothing was said about their conversation of the previous evening. There was more chatter about people and places. The time came for Josh to leave, having some friends in town he wanted to catch up with on his short visit. Bill didn't feel the need to relay anything he'd said to Josh about Penelope Davidson or her deceased mother Jenna Davidson.
About 10 days went by when Uncle Wild Bill and Frannie were getting ready to have their breakfast. They were back to the oatmeal and bran muffin routine, so much so that Bill had been muttering to himself "I sure as hell wish somebody would come stay over so I can get a decent breakfast once more before I die."
As was her custom, Frannie had on the little portable TV which she watched as she did her kitchen work, be that cooking or some other chore. Bill was cradling his first cup of hot coffee, enjoying the first sip when he was interrupted by a God awful shriek from Fannie.
"What in the mortal hell is going on with you, Frannie?" He turned to see her, but her eyes were glued to the little TV.
"Turn it up, let me in on what in the world has got you going."
Francis Anne reached down and turned up the volume. Bill heard a newsman reading a report. He levered his bulk free of the chair and moved to where he could see the picture. There was Josh Harris, standing belt buckle deep in a freshly dug grave, surrounded by police officers in the darkness of the previous night.
"Last night former local resident and current student at state university Joshua Harris has been arrested for digging up a body from the local cemetery. In a strange twist, the grave was that of the mother of his current girlfriend. Harris has been taken into custody and remains incarcerated in the county jail, awaiting arraignment for grave robbing."
Wild Bill bolted toward the door, slopping coffee onto the table as he set the coffee cup down, getting his momentum going.
"Bill, where are you off to like the devil has set your britches on fire?"
"I'm going to jail, Francis. I'll be home later."
Bill was huffing toward his old car while muttering to himself "I swear, I should have remembered he always was a literal minded little son of a gun."
Necronodecon: The 2008 Halloween Horrorquest