Our Kindred Dead
Disclaimer: Dark Shadows is a Dan Curtis production and I am not affiliated with it in any way
Quentin turned at the sound of footsteps to see Carolyn, Elizabeth, Roger and David trooping in to the drawing room, the two women bearing flowers, Roger looking irritated, and David sulky. He made an attempt to decipher the flowers and the expressions, and seeing him flounder Elizabeth provided an explanation. "We're paying our respects to our ancestors."
David grimaced at her choice of words and Roger's frown deepened. "I think it's absolutely ridiculous." Roger stated impiriously, as though he wanted no one to be in doubt as to his opinion concerning the matter.
Quentin had forgotten that today was Memorial Day. "Ah, going to placate the ghosts for another year." he said sagely, exchanging a grin with David.
"Quentin," Elizabeth scolded, though a faint smile played on her lips, "you shouldn't say such things."
Obediently Quentin aligned his features in to a serious mask. "Yes, well, we wouldn't want any of our ghostly family to come calling, would we?"
He kept his face void of emotion but Carolyn and David laughed, and even Roger allowed himself a smirk. Salvaging what dignity she could from the situation Elizabeth made her way to the door. "You will come of course."
This statement addressed Quentin and shrugging, he nodded. "I wouldn't mind spending a little time with my great-great-great grandmother."
He fell in to step with the procession as they exited Collinwood, David shuffling his feet alongside him. "This is so boring," he hissed at Quentin, "what's the point? We do this every year."
"It's to keep the restless spirits at bay." Quentin revealed in a dramatic stage whisper.
"Come on, Quentin, you don't actually believe that, do you?"
Quentin tried to appear wise, but the effect was less than convincing given the spark of amusement lurking in his eyes. "I have been to many places in my lifetime, David, and everywhere I went, people held some belief of apparitions. Why should the Collins family be any different?"
David didn't have time to comment on this because at that moment Roger's complaints overrode the discussion. "I hardly think a vase of wilted flowers is going to appease our deceased family members. They're long dead. why should they care if their graves are decorated?"
Elizabeth glanced down at the bouquet of lilies, baby's breath and irises, eyeing them critically. "These flowers are in pristine condition, Roger. I can't understand why you're making such a fuss over the situation. It will only take a few minutes."
"It's a matter of principle, Liz," he explained patiently, "I don't think the dead have any right to take up my valuable time."
Elizabeth didn't validate his complaint with a response, walking briskly but with no urgency, glancing back every now and then to ensure her entourage still followed. Carolyn fell back to walk beside Quentin and David, resuming their previous conversation. "I'm surprised at you, David. You of all people have been up close and personal with the supernatural. Remember Sarah, the little girl you claimed was a ghost?"
David scowled and Quentin wondered if this was a memory David didn't care to examine. "That was different, Carolyn," he pointed out, "she wasn't a scary ghost if you know what I mean."
"Scary or not, she was still an apparition," Carolyn pointed out logically, "and then there was Josette."
David heaved an impatient sigh. "All right, all right," he allowed, "they were ghosts, but they didn't come to haunt us. Their appearances were always for the purpose of warning us of danger."
She admitted this point, and feeling victorious David concluded, "I don't think putting flowers on their graves will keep them at peace. They come and go whenever they want. They don't need reasons."
Quentin beamed at David, pleased by his triumph. "He's right, Carolyn. Since when did ghosts ever need an excuse to make themselves at home in Collinwood?"
They were now approaching Eaglehill cemetery with its overgrowth of weeds and and Elizabeth turned to them. "It's a family tradition, and whether or not it keeps our ancestors at rest is beside the point. What matters is that we remember them. I don't believe one day out of the year is too much to ask."
"As long as it keeps them happy." Quentin muttered softly so that only David and Carolyn could hear.
Suppressing a smile Carolyn trailed her mother through the gate.
Even in the daylight of a bright morning, Eaglehill cemetery was gloomy, the headstones cast in eerie shadows, concealing from the world their occupants' secrets. The air was different too, carrying with it a faint trace of ghostly whispers so that even the birds refused to nest in the skeletal branches of the trees. A breeze ruffled Quentin's hair and inwardly chiding himself for his fanciful imagination, wondered if it might be a passing spirit. Dawn never quite seemed to touch the graveyard, its attempts thwarted by some unseen hand that pushed it just out of reach. Why was he doing this? Quentin thought in self derision, conjuring up notions that customarily never plagued him. He didn't make time for melancholy, instead preferring lighthearted conversations where he could make use of his charm. On the rare occasion worry found him, he cautiously nudged it aside, keeping as far distant from it as possible until it had been neatly tucked in to the recesses of his subconscious where it couldn't bother him. With practiced ease he squelched the sudden depression that fell over him, but glancing at the others, he found he wasn't the only one adversely effected by the dreary atmosphere. David's defiance had vanished, replaced by quiet submission, and Roger's stream of grievances stopped, his expression growing contemplative. The two women, who had already been respectfully subdued were even more so now, glancing anxiously around as if expecting the shadows to take on a life of their own. With his habitual charm Quentin made an attempt to lighten the mood. "At least the flowers you've brought should add a bit of color to the place. It could use a little improvement."
His voice sounded oddly magnified in the muffling silence, brash and irreverent, surprising even him by its tenor. The wind rattled the bear tree branches disapprovingly and obediently Quentin fell silent. There was only so much an imagination could conjure, and the sudden unease he felt was not the product of overactive musings. This was an actual feeling imposed upon him by the sinister chill penetrating him, and the restlessness of the women.
He fell back as the rest of the family filed in to the mausoleum, a sudden urge to be alone taking his footsteps to a few graves gathered together in a lonely portion of the cemetery. He new what had drawn him here, understood the true motivation that had brought him to the graveyard in the first place. His heart had acknowledged what his mind refused to tolerate, the constant ache of guilt and sorrow that tugged at him during waking hours, and that had free reign of his dreams and nightmares when asleep. But among these desolate graves, he owed them the courtesy of his anguish, a cheap price to pay in light of their fate.
Kneeling down on the dry grass, he tenderly brushed aside the dead leaves covering the inscription, a fate carved in stone, irreversible in its finality. Nothing could bring her back, not the bone deep remorse, or the promise of endless torment. "Jenny Collins" the letters read, know birthdate or death date given, her name the only tribute to her existence, a gypsy's grave. But she had been so much more than a roving nomad, so much more than he had given her credit for, and in the end his callousness had cost her dearly.
He could still recall the first time he'd seen her, dancing by the light of a large campfire, her bracelets accompanying the flamboyant music as she whirled wildly, a small tornado of energy that fascinated him. She'd finished the dance, and upon glimpsing him at the fringe of the camp had flirtatiously invited him to join them. She claimed that for a few coins she could entertain him, make him forget his troubles for a time. He hadn't told her her that he was a man of few concerns, instead allowing her to spin a magic web of song and mysticism around him. That one enchanting night had begun a short intense romance, and by week's end they were wed, despite the misgivings of her older sister. Looking back he could now see the foolishness of their impulsive behavior, Magda had been right in predicting the outcome of their union, a prediction that didn't rely on gypsy insight.
His family had vehemently been opposed to Jenny joining the family, but since they'd married without informing Edward or Grandmama Edith, their was nothing that could be done to reverse the situation. Judith had been the strongest opposition to their marriage but Grandmama Edith's insistence that they should remain at Collinwood was firm, and not even Judith's pleading could persuade her otherwise.
It was Grandmama Edith who had welcomed Jenny for what she was, going so far as to have her palm read. Jenny had been reluctant to perform this request, wanting to put all gypsy ways behind her in order to conform to the expectations that came with marrying in to the Collins' family. She had truly loved him, Quentin now realized, a love so strong that she had sacrificed the very essence of herself to be with him. He should have never have let her change, should have encouraged her to continue to maintain her cultural identity.
Their happiness endured for a scant four months and in that time Quentin could feel himself gradually drifting away from her, and inexorable slide that went unchecked until it was too late. the adventurous spirit he'd tried to tame rose up to tantalize him and when Edward's wife had begun spending more and more time with him, the novelty that was Jenny began to diminish. Laura was a new conquest, a woman of mystery waiting to be discovered. If only the present had afforded him with its knowledge perhaps he might have been able to curb his enthusiasm, to appreciate Jenny for herself. Then again, maybe force of habit would have won out in the end. He could wish he'd given Jenny more, wished he would have been faithful to her, but wishing couldn't erase his past mistakes and there was no way to make amends. He hadn't truly loved her, not in the pure sense of the word, he'd been infatuated by her beauty, her mystique, but the feelings hadn't run deep. She had deserved so much more than to be lured in by a man who was incapable of giving her his heart. Heartache was all he had left her with. "I'm so sorry, Jenny." he thought in anguish.
He wasn't certain what he was apologizing for, his shabby treatment of her, his infidelity, for leading her in to a marriage whose vows he hadn't intended to keep, or for ending her life so brutally. He hadn't meant to kill her, only to stop her from harming Beth, but whether he'd meant to or not, the deed had been done. Would he be considered a murderer, even if he'd intended it in defending another? The wind repeated his words, echoing them back at him and with his heart heavy he turned to the next gravestone, yet another failure.
Beth Chavez, a woman of rare compassion and bravery, a woman who had made the mistake of falling in love with him. She'd known to love him was to risk heartbreak, and yet she'd made no attempt to conceal her feelings for him. She had been devoted to him even when his foolishness had made her furious. her devotion to Jenny was even more admirable however, she had taken on the responsibility for her existence after he'd so carelessly abandoned her, giving her the companionship she so desperately craved. He'd been the coward, leaving his family to pick up the splintered pieces of Jenny's heart, and through it all Beth had been there, a rock in his tempestuous life. Upon his return to Collinwood she'd been coldly polite to him, confronting him about his ill treatment of Jenny, giving him no room for remorse. Jenny had become her life, her reason for remaining at Collinwood, or so she had told him. He couldn't help wonder if some small part of her had stayed in hopes of his return, or if his arrogance was trying vainly to soothe his battered heart.
He had returned and wanted to begin a relationship with her, but she was having none of it, he was still married, and her only concern was for Jenny. He'd been annoyed by her rebuff, and seeing this as another challenge had continued to pursue her. She hadn't objected, but neither had she reciprocated, giving him hope that he might still have a chance with her.
After Jenny's tragic demise, Beth had reluctantly begun spending more time with him and for the briefest of moments he was happy. It was Magda's revenge that had ended that happiness, the curse she'd placed upon him, which he would bear and pass down through all generations of his descendants, a curse so horrific, in its implications that Quentin had wished for death. After futilely begging Magda to lift the werewolf's curse, and her refusal to do so, he had thought no hope was to be found. But Beth, sweet brave Beth, had gone to Magda herself, pleading with her to end Quentin's torment, using Quentin's children as leverage in her desperate attempt. Magda, shocked and dismayed by the fate she had unknowingly unleashed upon Jenny's children, had tried to reverse the damage but to no avail.
Every full moon triggered his terrible transformation, and not wanting to endanger Beth, he had demanded she leave him. Stubbornly she had stayed, and although he could see the fear in her eyes, she hadn't given in to it, simply watched as he turned in to something inhuman. He'd depended on her steadying presence more than he'd cared to admit, studying her eyes for the bravery he lacked, knowing with absolute certainty she would be with him once he took human form again. Every morning, despondent and weary, he had searched her face for disdain or condemnation, but had only found love, a love he'd clung to, a love he'd knew could never last. She'd wanted to leave Collinwood, to escape the tragedies that plagued the house, possibly discover a cure for his ailment, but embittered and ashamed of what he'd become, he'd slammed that door shut with such finality she hadn't opened the subject again. She could have left Collinwood then, nothing had held her there, but stalwart and tenacious, she had stood beside him, prepared to protect him from his self pity, and from anyone who might do him harm.
The day count Petofi had entered their lives had been the beginning of the end for them. He'd brought Quentin's salvation with him in the form of Charles Delaware tate, who had painted the portrait that had absorbed the curse and given him immortality, but that was the only positive outcome Petofi shared. His insane scheming had led to Beth's tragic death, her life ending in fear as she'd hurled herself off a cliff, trying to escape the man she thought was Petofi. Quentin could only watch in stunned helplessness as she plummeted to the jagged rocks below, her screams reverberating all around him like a thousand terrified voices. Her death was instantaneous, she hadn't suffered, although she'd suffered greatly by associating herself with him. He had never gotten over Beth, he still carried a part of her with him, holding dreams of her close when he slept, treasuring them for the gems they were. Dreams were the only way he could have her, a temporary solution that relieved his burdened heart. His memories were a pale shadow compared with the exquisite joy she had brought him, a dim reflection of hopes unfulfilled. His love for her was genuine, a love that spanned time, a love that couldn't die. Tenderly he touched the headstone, trying to bridge the gap between the moments with her and the lonely emptiness with out her. "Beth." was all he could say as tears rose to choke him.
Blindly he forced his eyes to the last grave, not wanting and yet needing to see it, to pay homige to the son he had never known. It was a small grave marker, befitting the little one who slept beneath it. Years of grime layered the letters etched in to the stone and Quentin vowed to have the grave kept in better condition. It was the only way he could be a father to the child. He hadn't been able to care for him in life, he could at least care for his resting place. It was scant consolation, but he grasped any comfort he could find. He despised himself at this very moment, staring down at the tiny dreary grave, knowing all too well he had inadvertently caused his child's death. One decision made in the heat of defense had trickled down to him and to the innocent child he hadn't known he had. He would give anything to bring his son back from the doom he'd condemned him to, but sacrifice wasn't an option. Only a long life sentence reliving the knowledge of his boy's existence and knowing he'd had to give his little girl up to keep her safe, was the only way to pay for his crimes. Two innocent lives had been forever changed, his little girl never knowing her parents, his little boy cheated out of living.
He shuddered as emotion welled within him and the tears he'd kept pent up for so long spilled on to the stone, the salty water washing away some of the dirt. Sobs shook him violently, making breathing difficult. His throat constricted with the agony of loss, of his own part in making his existence so bleak. His chest was being crushed with grief, an enormous weight that threatened to squeeze the life from him. In a cruel twist of irony, he knew he couldn't die from a broken heart, so the pain would continue on interminably, forever haunting him more effectively than any ghost could. The tears dissolved the pitiful scene before him, and when he had finally regained tentative control over his emotions, blinking away the moisture, the graveyard had vanished!
Surprise evaporated any lingering sadness as he took in his surroundings. He was in a meadow with wide open spaces, a plain of green grass stretching as far as the eye could see. Wild flowers splashed their vibrant colors about, a warm sun reflecting the tranquility prevading this place. Bird song floated majestic on the gentle breeze, and looking up he saw a large oak where several birds perched. Where was he? How had he gotten here? Stiff from kneeling so long, he struggled to his feet, but had taken no more than a few steps when three figures in the distance stopped him. They were too far away for him to recognize, but they seemed happy, their eyes bright with laughter as they drew closer. "Quentin!"
The woman's voice startled him, so out of place was it that for a moment he forgot to respond. Looking around, he wondered if Elizabeth or Carolyn had called his name, but seeing no evidence of them, he thought it must have been one of the approaching figures. He raised a hand in greeting and the trio returned the gesture. He knew he should be afraid of the faces smiling back at him, but an odd sense of sorrow was all he could feel. The little boy held a ball, then grinning, he tossed it to Jenny who caught it, then threw it to Beth. the ball exchanged hands for a while, then with one last catch of the ball, Jenny turned to face him, hands outstretched in welcome. "It has been such a long time, Quentin." she said placidly, "we've missed you."
Tears burned his eyes at hearing the familiar voice, a voice that had once entranced him by its song. The welcome sounded sincere but how could it be when he'd been the one to cause her death? She must be mocking him, taunting him with kind words, only to lash out at him when he least expected it. "Jenny," he said, his voice tight with emotion, "Jenny, I never meant to..."
The movement was so quick, so fluid, one moment she had been standing with the others, the next she was beside him, a gentle hand cupping his cheek. "Don't be sorry, Quentin," she said quietly, "life is too short for regret. I know it was an accident."
She leaned close to kiss his tear dampened cheek, then turned, gesturing to the little boy. He came forward, his smile wide and full, the smile of pure innocence. "This is your son, Quentin." she explained.
"No," Quentin moaned, falling back several paces, afraid to see the accusation in the boy's eyes.
"Hello, daddy," the little voice chirped, "please, don't be sad."
Snap! He felt the pain of his heart as it splintered in to a million pieces of anguish, the tears once again streaming uninhibited down his youthful face. He should have been the one to die from the curse, not his beloved son! He had been the one to make the decision, he should have been given the opportunity to pay with his life! A small padding of feet made him look up, but unable to see, he could only hear the small voice's kind entreaty. "It's all right, daddy. I'm safe and happy. Please, don't cry."
He fitted himself in to Quentin's arms, twining his small arms around his neck. The soft scent of him filled Quentin's senses, his warmth, his love, his inocense. "I'm sorry," Quentin choked out brokenly between sobs, "I'm sorry, so very sorry!"
He clung to the boy, slowly rocking back and forth with him, clutching him as if he was the only lifeline in his sea of salty emotion. His son gently released his hold from around Quentin, lifting his tiny hands to gently wipe away Quentin's tears. "It wasn't your fault, daddy," he whispered, "and mommy and Beth are here to take care of me until you can come to us. We love it here in this beautiful place. Please, be happy just like we are."
There was no mistaking the intent of his words, the purity of a child's truth could not be disputed. The boy hugged him once more, and this time Quentin returned the embrace fiercely. "I love you, son." he whispered, "don't ever forget that."
The child beamed up at him, delight radiating from him. "I love you too, daddy." he said fervently, "and I won't forget."
He turned in Quentin's embrace, smiling at the two women. "Come say hello to daddy, beth." he urged.
She needed no further prompting and moving forward, she laid a hand on Quentin's shoulder. "It has been too long, Quentin."
His eyes were again swimming as he clutched her hand. "Beth, oh, Beth, how I failed you!"
Now it was beth who filled his arms, Beth who surrounded him, who filled him to the brim with mingled regret, longing and sorrow. "Hush, Quentin," she soothed, "you didn't fail me. If anyone is to blame, it's that wicked Petofi. I should have believed you when you told me it was you and not Petofi that day. I'm the one who's sorry for not believing you, for giving in to my fears."
He mopped at his eyes, not wanting to see her face blurred with tears. the earnest expression on her beautiful face seeped in to him, slowly unclenching the heartache within him. She didn't blame him. None of them did. "We are happy here," she was saying, "there is only joy in this place. What happened in the past belongs in the past, and although we can't change it, we can choose to live in the present without remorse holding us back. You've known sorrow for too long, Quentin. It's time to let go of it, to move forward. If you must pay tribute to our memories, do it by being happy, by being the best person you can, and remembering us with fond affection."
His eyes were clear from tears for the first time since he'd arrived in this place, clear to look upon each face, to see they bore him no ill will, only love and hope for his happiness. The burden began to lighten, the weight he'd carried around for so many years beginning to lift from his heart. "Can you be happy, daddy?" the little boy asked hopefully.
That single question threatened to start the tears again, but they were tears of tentative belief, wanting to be happy, to find peace. "I don't know," he admitted honestly, "I'll try. I miss you all so much."
Beth hugged him tighter. "I love you, Quentin," she whispered in his ear, then more loudly so they all could hear, "we all love you. We miss you too, and know you'll be with us someday. But until then, live your life to the fullest."
"You can do it, daddy," the boy encouraged, "I know you can."
"You have the strength within you." Jenny added.
Beth stepped back from him, moving to join the others. "Live in peace, Quentin." Jenny whispered.
"Remember us with joy." Beth reminded.
"I love you, daddy." the little boy said.
They raised their hands in farewell, the smiles on each of their faces transcending the beauty of earthly comprehension, then they were gone. The meadow, the trees, the singing birds, all of it was no more, as if it had never existed.
His hand still rested on the child's headstone, the trees were still tangled and drooping, but the absence of bird song was the most jolting. Had he dreamed the entire episode? No, it had been too real to be cobbled together from his subconscious, so if not a dream, then what? He could find no evidence of anything in the graveyard having been disturbed but his inability to explain what had just occurred didn't really trouble him. He'd experienced too many supernatural events to truly be unnerved by them, and besides, this particular one hadn't been in the least frightening. If anything ,it comforted him. The only thing that puzzled him was their claims that someday he would join them. If the place he'd been to was heaven, how could that be true? The portrait made death impossible. Had dying given them insight in to the future? It was plausible that something might happen to his portrait someday, and he would be free to leave this earth. He couldn't understand it, but just now he didn't care to dwell on it. His heart was too full of joy to think on the matter further. Death would come when it would come, his job would be to live life with peace until it did. For the first time since their passing, he felt hope and peace. He would try to be happy, for himself and so he could more fully appreciate the people they had been. The cemetery no longer seemed bleak and desolate, although there was no denying it needed to be cared for, and he intended to do just that .Wherever his loved ones were, they were happy and whole, they didn't blame him, and now he could begin the process of forgiving himself. He could do it. He would do it!
Footsteps brought him quickly to his feet, and David, Carolyn, Elizabeth and Roger came in to view. He greeted them with a light heart, and the smile he offered them was genuine. "How was it?" he wanted to know.
"Boring," came David's predictable comment, "all we saw were some old coffins." Then his voice became a little wistful. "I saw Sarah's coffin. You know, sometimes I really miss her."
Quentin moved to lay a hand on David's shoulder. "Do you know something, david? She's in a beautiful place, and she's happy. She wouldn't want you to be sad because she's gone. She would want you to think of all the good times you spent together."
Roger eyed him dubiously. "This is a sudden change, Quentin," he observed wryly, "what brought this on?"
The experience was too personal, too exquisite to share, so he only smiled mysteriously. "Let's just say I've had a change of heart."
"I for one am glad we went." Elizabeth announced.
"So am I," Carolyn chimed in, "although this place looks a bit lonely and sad. We should clean it up, maybe plant some flowers or trees, something to make it less dreary."
"I agree," Elizabeth seconded fervently, "it's high time we gave our ancestors a better resting place."
Roger, looking thoughtful said, "Well, it certainly couldn't hurt to clear away some of these dead leaves and weeds. I'll hire some men to do the work."
They all turned to him in astonishment. "You will?" Elizabeth asked.
"Well, Roger, perhaps the spirits of our ancestors had more of an affect on you than you realize." Quentin pointed out, grinning.
"Stop looking so shocked," Roger sniffed, "it gives a bad impression to the people in town if we can't even keep our own graveyards looking nice."
"Of course," Quentin agreed with his trademark smile, "we wouldn't want the townspeople to have a bad impression of us."
They began walking toward the gate leading from the cemetery, and looking back, Quentin glimpsed one lone robin perch in the bear branches of a tree, and in the wind, he thought he could hear the musical laughter of a child.