Willie's footsteps rustled through last autumn's withered leaves, the only sound on the dark deserted road. The lonely path accommodated his mood perfectly, a combination of gloom and frustration. He'd seen Maggie tonight, sitting with Joe at a corner table at the Blue Whale, laughing and talking animatedly, her eyes showing none of the bleakness of past events. It seemed she could forgive and forget much easier and was now taking advantage of that ability by renewing her relationship with Joe. Willie wondered if they were together as a couple, or if she was playing it safe, taking the friendship route for now. Did that mean he still might have a chance where she was concerned? Hope flickered momentarily inside him, fanned by the thought of the optimistic dream, then just as suddenly, spluttered in to nothingness, looking on with resigned unhappiness as Maggie took Joe's hand. He had his answer then, she was going to jump right back in to a relationship that had caused her such misery in the end. It was stupid to worry about her. She was an adult, capable of making her own decisions, she didn't need any of the warnings he wanted to fling at her. If she hadn't learned from her mistakes, he supposed there was nothing he could do for it. Still he wondered how long their relationship would last. He would always be there to pick up the pieces, if or when the time came for that, and in some small way the thought pleased him.
His bleakness was justified, seeing Maggie and Joe so happy together, the happiness she unknowingly denied him twisting painfully inside him, and so he'd left his untouched drink and the Blue Whale, only to find the depression had followed him in to the silence of a vacant night. Why was the town so deserted? Small though it was, Collinsport was always bustling with activity, people out for a stroll or browsing through the limited offerings of the shops, or having a last-minute nightcap at the diner, but even it was closed. He glanced at his watch then frowned. It was too early for the diner to be shut up. Something wasn't right. A bit nervous now, he quickened his steps through the oncoming darkness, wishing he hadn't spent so much time brooding at the Blue Whale.
He stopped at the post office to read the sign that had been hastily taped there, "Closed for Memorial Day" it read. He might have known! He had completely forgotten about the holiday, never having observed it before and having no need of it now. There was no one he wanted to remember, thinking of the past was mostly a painful chore he avoided, even the time he hung around Jason wasn't something he recalled with fondness. He didn't think he'd ever really been happy. His life had seen one trial after another, a father who'd left his mother before he was born, a mother who cared no more for him than what money he brought in from the state simply by existing, and a lonely childhood that had been cluttered with fist fights and bullying. He'd learned the hard way how to push people around, being bullied had given him plenty of experience when it was his turn to take that role. It had proved a means of survival for him, and when he'd left home at fourteen, he wasn't even sure his mother had even realized he was gone. She hadn't cared enough to file a missing child report, and it was easy for him to blend in with the crowd of cardboard faces of homeless urchins, all down on their luck, lost and hopeless, angry and bitter.
Three years of temporary jobs, scavenged food and loneliness had caught up with him by the time he'd met Jason, a smooth-talking, rebellious man who was fearless in his pursuit of wealth. He'd saved Willie from being arrested outside of a convenient store, the kid was obviously poor, couldn't the police release him in to jason's custody? He was sure the lad meant no harm and would be perfectly content to stay with him. willie had been so completely caught off guard by this unexpected act of kindness, he'd silently agreed, anything would be better than sitting in a jail cell for a stupid cup of pilfered coffee.
He owed Jason more than he wanted to admit. It was Jason who had taught him the proper way to steal without getting caught, how to say the right words to charm an unsuspecting old woman out of her money, or how to get what he wanted by sheer brute strength. their prospects had been excellent upon their arrival in Collinsport, there was no way Willie could have realized the strange terrifying events that would completely reshape his world.
In some ways the change hadn't been bad. He never had to worry about where he would sleep or where his next meal would come from, and while not respected by most folks of the town, he was barnabas's servant, a title that had kept people marginally civil towards him. That title had also brought about his stay at Windcliff, taking the blame for a crime he hadn't committed, only to return to Collinwood where he was further involved in the lives of those he now considered friends.
He leaned against the weathered gate leading in to Eaglehill cemetery and watched the sun on its downward slope in to night. He enjoyed watching sunsets, something about the vividness of the colors, the way they mingled to form a fiery globe of light, made him feel that at least one thing in his world was constant, sort of like a dependable friend. It was stupid to think that way, and if pressed he would never admit such depths of emotion, but alone here with only long-gone people of the past, he could feel without fear of scorn. "Hello."
Willie whirled around, startled by the sudden break in the silence. "Who's there?" he called.
"It's me, Sarah." the voice said, and sure enough, a young girl was materializing from the gloom, dressed in those strange clothes of the past.
Willie cautiously moved away from the gate, his body tensed for flight. "What do you want?" he asked, trying to sound firm, and hearing his voice come out shaky and unsure.
She moved towards him, but he completely ignored the smile on her face. "Stay back," he warned, "I dunno whatcha want, but I ain't got nothin' worth stealin'."
She held out her hands, her eyes begging him to trust her. Willie didn't come by trust easily, and although he'd seen her before and she'd seemed innocent enough, there was no telling why she'd appeared to him. "Don't be afraid of me," she pleaded, "I won't hurt you. I only came because you needed me."
Confusion clouded his face. He didn't like riddles, trying to figure them out only made him nervous, and with nervousness came panic. "I don't need you," he scoffed, "I ain't Barnabas. I don't have an obsession with the past. If anyone's needin' you, it'll be him."
She shook her head mournfully. "He doesn't need me right now, but you do. I don't know why, but I just thought I should come here to see if I could help."
"Well, you can't help 'cause I don't need anything."
There was a few moments of silence in which Willie was planning his escape, but her next words drove all such thoughts from his mind. "You're lonely. I know what it's like to be lonely. It makes you sad and scared. Why are you lonely, Willie? Don't you have a mother or father?"
"Stop talkin' like that," he ordered, feeling her words strike painfully somewhere near his heart, "you don't know nothin' 'bout me. Go back where you came from."
"I can't," she said, "not until I'm finished here. Did your mother and father leave you by yourself? Is that why you're sad?"
"I ain't sad!" he shouted, "so jus' leave me alone!"
"You scare people away when you get so angry." she pointed out calmly. "Perhaps if you were nicer and didn't shout so much people would want to be your friend."
"I don't want no friends," he said, his voice now sullen, "and you ain't got no right pokin' in to my business."
An expression of bewilderment crossed her face. "Pokin'?" she asked, "what does that mean?"
Exasperated, willie turned and threw up his hands. She wouldn't leave, at least not until she got what she came for, and since he didn't know what that might be, he had no choice but to stick around. Walking away would be useless, she would only follow him, it was best to get it over with as quickly as possible. "It means you're bein' nosey."
unperturbed by his attitude she continued to smile. "Oh, yes, mother said there were times I had occasion to be pesky, although she never really minded all that much. Why do you mind?"
"You ask far too many questions, kid." he muttered.
She ducked her head, whether from embarrassment or sadness he couldn't tell. Finally she said, "I just want someone to talk to. I thought since you were lonely too, you wouldn't mind some company."
His grumbling collapsed beneath the weight of her tearful admission. "All right, kid, I'll talk to you, although I ain't got much to say."
Instantly she brightened. "I have lots of things to talk about. My mother bought me this doll a long time ago."
She extended the doll for his examination. "Yeah, it's nice." he commented, uncomfortable at being placed in the awkward position of boosting a child's morale.
She didn't seem to notice his discomfort. "her name is Samantha. Do you like that name?"
"Sure." he lied.
She clutched the doll to her chest, her eyes filling with a desperate longing. "Sometimes she's the only one who cares about me. She's my best friend."
Willie felt a stab of pity for this child who seemed to be trapped between two plains of existence, caught in limbo between life and the afterlife. What would it be like to never be able to complete that journey, to be eternally alone, adrift in a world that provided only minimal contact with people? Even his existence, miserable though it sometimes was, allowed him contact with others, even if they didn't particularly like him. For almost two hundred years she hadn't felt the warmth of a human hand or the embrace of a mother. At least he had his limited friendship with Maggie to soothe the loneliness, and Barnabas had become a friend in his own right, and even the folks up at Collinwood were civil towards him. Still, there were times when he wished he had a true family, some sort of connection to others who shared his last name, who wouldn't mind spending time with him, people he could call his own.
He felt a sudden kinship with this child, a child who had weathered a stormy family life but who had still loved her family. She had payed dearly for that love, her devotion to be with her brother was directly responsible for her untimely death. Maybe it was better not to love if all it brought was pain. Sarah had loved, and in the end it had gotten her nowhere. Willie had tried to save Maggie out of something close to love, at least friendship, and that had earned him a stay at the Collinsport hospital, then an even longer stint at Windcliff. He had tried to find friendship with Jason, but that too had ended with each of them going their separate ways. Love was a useless waste of energy, but was that the emotion keeping Barnabas's ghost sister here? Suddenly curious he asked, "Why do you stick around here, kid?"
She thought about it for a moment. "I have to watch over everyone. They need me."
That clinched it then. She was definitely staying out of devotion, which was rather pointless since most times she kept herself invisible. "Can't you go on to somewhere better?"
he was surprised by his continuing curiosity, that had been an emotion Barnabas had effectively beaten out of him years ago, but the sadness in the kid's eyes really got to him. "I will only leave here when my work is finished." she replied, sounding very much the adult.
It was sad really, that she had to stay around simply to fulfill an obligation to watch over a family so far in the future, never knowing peace for herself. "Well, when you do go back to wherever you came from, you come tell me you're leavin', okay?"
This time the surprise he felt didn't catch him off guard. he allowed the warmth of her smile to seep in to him, and when she moved to hug him he didn't flinch from her. "All right, Willie," she promised solemnly, "I won't forget. But I'll always be close by, even when I do go away. I don't ever leave my friends."
It was strange that a child's embrace could so easily rob him of words, but before he could find his voice, she was gone, a warm breeze against his cheek the only sign of her departure. Turning, he made his way from eaglehill. There was something he needed to do.