This is a tale I began in 2009, writing half of it then and leaving it until February of 2013 to finish the other half. I started out wanting to write a horror story and ended up writing a ghost story.
In the dank, cobble-stoned basement of the Richmond’s summer cottage there sat many stacks of boxes filled with all sorts of old, discolored papers. Across some were printed faded headlines, being newspapers from decades ago; there were old tax forms; report cards; stories and love letters; simple letters, birthday letters, letters of greeting or Christmas letters. Avery wondered why his parents kept all that junk down there.
“Well,” his Father sighed, “You never know when it might come in good use.”
“Dirty old newspapers?”
“Some of those are historic,” his father retorted. “Like the day you were born!”
Avery looked uninterested.
“Besides, there’s much more than that down there.”
Avery was uninterested. But he was also a young boy and as he lay in bed that evening his curiosity would compel him to rummage further.
Avery awoke the next morning with itchy eyes. It was hay fever season and he hated it more than homework. His father was down at the edge of the lawn near the lake, doing some repairs on the dock and hoping to finish before too long. His mother was nowhere to be found. Avery poured a bowl of frosted-cheerios for himself and ambled down into the basement. The stones were cool and grimy on his bare feet.
There were stacks and stacks of boxes, some piled taller than he was. Most were labeled, but a few remained anonymous. What initially seemed like a junk pile now appeared to be a mountain of treasure before him. He smiled widely: he’d have to search all of them. He decided to begin with the labeled ones.
“October 20, 1982,” he read aloud, “Cardinals Claim World Series.” He threw it aside and shuffled through the box some more. November 30, 1982. Hype Reaches Peak as Jackson Releases ‘Thriller.’
Avery didn’t care much for this box—he wanted to find his birth-date newspaper. He shuffled further but had no luck, only finding a few from 1978 and ’79. He pushed the stack aside. Slurping the sugared-milk remaining in his cereal bowl, he spied the next labeled set.
He peeled back the packaging tape, springing open the softened cardboard top. Hoping to find some leftover or forgotten Christmas gifts, he was disappointed to discover it was all just cards and a few moldy tree ornaments.
Avery suspected his Father was wrong and it really all was junk. He started opening some of the unmarked boxes, trying to quell his rising boredom. This box had some letters tucked in the corner, tied together with what looked like an old shoe-lace. Dearest Jenny. Avery laughed and untied the lace, unfolding the first letter:
Your words are songs,
Their rhythm rain,
They tug at my heart
And relieve my pain.
I love the flowers
So moistened in Spring,
I love the violet
Your soft cheeks bring.
His Father’s handwriting was messy. Avery wondered how his mother could ever read these love letters as a kid.
He spent most of the morning in this fashion—opening boxes and scrounging for other treasures to smirk at or use to pester his father—until he came across an odd looking box that wasn’t made of cardboard. The box was smaller than the rest and looked like it was fashioned from dry firewood kindling. It had faded with age, its light burgundy paint peeling from the sides, but he could still make out the black ink on the side that read H. Richmond. There was a tiny gold lock wrapped around the latch, but it hung loose, unlocked.
Avery sat down on the cobbled floor and placed his uncle’s old box onto his lap. He slid off the gold lock and lifted the top. It creaked slightly and its hinges stiffened as it opened. The interior was almost bare: no cluttered papers or letters or tied shoe-laces. All that rested inside were a dozen yellowed cards with recipes written on them. He flipped through them.
Raspberry Almond Squares. He thought he recognized this one. His mother would bake something similar each year for the neighborhood bake sale and they were consistently the best seller. He read more: Singing Tea, Danger Repellent, Baldness Cure. He thought for a moment. Neither his uncle or his father had went bald.
They were all confusing recipes, with hosts of strange ingredients and very long, complicated preparation instructions. All except one: Love-spell. It was the last of the recipes and looked to be the most neglected. It was short and simple, with only four ingredients.
Avery was only slightly familiar with love, from what his parents said to him and to one-another, but he was fairly certain it was a good thing to have. After all, his Father would commonly hum to himself “Love is all you neeeed.”
On the card, just under the title, was written:
The gift of love will be bestowed upon whomever creates this potion. One drink of this tonic and the object of desire will be forever infatuated with its concoctor. But be wary of its use, for love is a fickle thing.
Avery wasn’t afraid of the warning, it only made him more interested. But he did feel uneasy now, in the dank basement. He tucked the small card into his shirt pocket and closed the lid of the fragile box.
Avery sprung around quickly, scared by the noise, but it was only his mother, holding a brown bag from the bakery in town.
“What’re you doing down here alone?”
“It’s beautiful outside! Here,” she said, holding out a couple of sticky-buns, “still warm. Bring one down to your father. He’s been at that racket since sunrise and he needs a break.”
Avery snatched the buns and bounded up the stairs. His mother noticed the dirty cereal bowl on the floor.
“You forgot something!”
But Avery was already out on the lawn.
“Hey look, a sidekick! Come to help?”
“Nope. But I brought you this.” He held out a sticky bun.
“Well, better than nothing.” His father took the bun and sat on the dock, dangling his feet over the water.
“I saw your silly love-letters, Dad,” Avery laughed. “You had bad handwriting.”
His father shrugged between bites. “Silly maybe, but she married me didn’t she?”
Avery didn’t know what to say, so he kept chewing. Then he thought.
“I couldn’t find my birth-date newspaper.”
“Oh no?” His father licked his sticky fingers. “Well it’s down there somewhere. Find anything else interesting?”
Avery felt the stiff card in his shirt pocket.
“Yea I think so.”
“Well good then!” His father hopped up from the dock. “I know it’s only Thursday, but why don’t you go get a few flowers and run up to the church to visit Uncle Harold?”
Avery thought about what he took from the box. “Alone?”
Avery picked some azaleas from the side of the cottage and headed up the winding, dusty road towards the church. He walked passed Old Mrs. Carter’s cottage, just up the lane from theirs. She was a bit of a hag, Avery thought, but she sometimes gave him lemonade so he didn’t mind her that much. After her cottage was the Loed’s place, where his friend Lukas lived. It was still early and Lukas’ family was from America and usually only came up for July and August. June was often a lonely month.
He reached the church grounds and wiped the sweat that had beaded on the nape of his neck. The church was an old building, small as well—but only about thirty people attended regularly each Sunday, so it was suitable. The graveyard beside it, however, was comparatively much larger. Avery wondered why such a small church had such a big graveyard, but he never did ask. Quite frankly, the graveyard scared him, even during the daylight. He couldn’t say why, maybe it was the looming stone gargoyles or eerie gothic pillars. Or maybe because he never saw anyone go in there other than his parents.
He walked along the first rows of headstones, just inside the gate. Almost all of them were crumbled, or else so faded they were no longer legible. He stopped at one that looked oddly out of place.
‘Gone but not forgotten’
“I brought these for you.”
He laid down the azaleas on the crest of the stone. His eyes began to itch. “Ouch,” he whined, scratching feverishly.
“Who are you talking to?”
Avery was startled. He looked up, squinting through his puffy eyes to see a little girl, probably his age. She was wearing a tidy, blue and white checkered sundress, with white stockings and shiny black shoes. She had silky, auburn hair and a pale white face. She was smiling.
“No one really,” he mumbled, still scratching. “Just my uncle.” He pointed to the grave.
“Oh,” she replied. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. He died when I was just a baby. My mom’s side of the family thought he was rude because he never came around much.”
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Avery Richmond. I live down the lane. What’s yours?”
Avery looked puzzled. “Like the months?”
“Yea…” she sighed. “My mom really loved springtime.”
“It’s very pretty,” said Avery. “Just strange is all.”
He kept scratching at his eyes with one finger, as he forced his other hand into his pocket. “Are you new here?”
“No. I’ve lived here for a while. I just don’t come around much.”
“Why are you dressed so nice? Sunday is still a few days away.”
“I dress pretty all the time,” she said. She tilted her head to one side. “What’s wrong with your eyes?”
“It’s this stupid hay fever! It lasts for months.”
She studied his face for a second, then turned around and ran down over the hill of the cemetery.
“Where are you going?” he shouted, but she was out of sight.
Avery sat in the grass in front of his uncle’s grave. He traced the inscription with his free finger, while the other still scratched away. He felt the swelling throb.
He looked up. April-May was holding out a mason jar half-filled with water.
“It’ll make your eyes better.”
He eyed into the bottom of the glass. “It’s just water from the spring down there.”
“No, no, drink it!”
Avery eyed the mason jar.
“Just take it!” she laughed. “Trust me.”
Avery reached out for the jar. It was freezing cold. He drank it down in three long gulps and it was delightfully refreshing.
“That will do the trick,” she said. Then she headed back down over the cemetery hill.
“Where are you going now?” he shouted after her.
“But what about your glass?”
She smiled. “Keep it.”
During supper Avery was rubbing his eyes, wondering how they didn’t really itch.
“Where did you get the nice mason jar, dear?”
“From a girl down by the church.”
“Oh that’s lovely! Now you’ll have someone to stick around with before Lukas arrives.”
As he lay in bed that night with his desk lamp on, Avery took out the recipe card he’d hidden under some books in the drawer and read it over again. The ingredients seemed awfully simple for such a powerful potion. He put the card back and fell asleep, thinking of the cemetery.
The next few days were filled with chores. Avery usually hated doing work he had to do and much preferred doing work he chose to do. But he particularly enjoyed helping his father finish placing the dock. Boating was one of his favourite things up at the cottage and he eagerly wanted to try out his new paddle. Their long, red canoe bobbed on the lake, swaying in the ripples from the spring breeze. His father was working on the engine of the jet ski when his mother hollered out that lunch was ready.
By the time Sunday morning rolled around the dock was situated. Avery also managed to help his father get the fire pit built, garage cleaned and the shed stacked with campfire wood; he couldn’t be more upset he was wasting the sunny day sitting in a pew at church. The people around him were listening intently, periodically standing to hum hymns and other things of no interest to Avery. He spent the majority of the time looking at the stained glass pictures, or studying the faces and outfits of the people attending. Mrs. Carter had a sky blue pantsuit on, with a matching sky blue hat and pair of dainty sky blue gloves. Her gloves she had taken off and held in her hands, probably from sweat Avery thought, since she was quite a fat woman. She caught Avery staring and glowered back, immediately forcing him to look at his feet. Soon his eyes strayed again, this time to Mr. Leonard. Mr. Leonard was a very tall man, about as tall as he was old, thought Avery, which was very tall and very old indeed. His white hair was combed back over his mottled scalp and he had waxed his moustache to curl up on both ends. He wore a brown suit and matching vest, with a forest green tie that seemed far too tight around the loose skin of his neck. His arms were folded, with a hand popping out to hold the prayer book in front of his face, when Avery noticed he was nodding off to sleep. Avery was shocked to see, sitting behind Mr. Leonard, the young girl from the cemetery. She waved shyly at him and he waved a secret, subdued wave in return, before he felt the grasp of his mother’s hand.
“Pay attention,” she hushed.
When Avery looked back April-May was gone.
After the service ended, Avery’s parents spent a moment at Uncle Harold’s gravestone before walking back to the cottage. The attendants cleared out quickly, as there were only about twenty or so, but Avery stayed behind waiting for the girl to show.
“It’s pretty boring, isn’t it?”
She was sitting on an oak bench in the large meadow of gravestones. He didn’t see her come up over the hill, but there she sat in front of him, in her blue and white checkered dress. He looked around and saw no one else.
“I only come because my parents make me,” said Avery. “I think it’s foolish.”
April-May just nodded.
“Do your parents make you come, too?”
“No,” she said. “I haven’t got any parents.”
“Well who do you live with?”
“It must be lonely.”
“It really is,” she said, swinging her dangling feet from the bench. “Do you have any friends around here?”
“Just one, but he won’t come until July.”
“We could be friends.”
She said it more like a statement than a question, but Avery agreed.
The yellow light of his desk lamp shone on the recipe card as he lay in bed and read aloud the first ingredient: “Rainwater, any amount will do.” He placed the mason jar on one of the concrete patio stones outside his room. Avery had a large patio door, going straight to the backyard from his bedroom and could see it from his bed, glistening in the moonlight. He turned off the light and wondered when it would rain next.
After the third sunny day he expressed his frustrations to April-May. “It always rains when I want to go hiking or boating, but never rains when I want it to.”
“I enjoy the rain,” she said. “It’s like the instrument of nature. It sounds good on a roof, but sounds best on the lake.”
“How old are you?” Avery asked.
“Ten, I think.”
“Why aren’t you in school?”
“I get home schooled,” said Avery. “How come you aren’t in school?”
“I guess I don’t really need it.”
“I wish I didn’t need school.”
Avery’s mother became curious about his new friend. “So when are we going to meet April-May?”
“She’s shy,” replied Avery. “But I can ask her.”
“Where is she from?”
“Around here, I think.”
Avery looked out the window from the dining room and saw the rain begin to fall. It did sound like an instrument, as it pattered off the shingles of the cottage roof. He wondered what it sounded like down by the lake.
He hauled on his boots and coat and ran down to the dock. Raindrops splashed off the surface of the water, causing distorted images of trees and murky clouds in the reflection. It sounded like the clapping his uncle used to make on his knees whenever he sang around the campfire.
When Avery woke the next morning he brought the mason jar in from outside and saw it hadn’t rained very much at all. There was hardly more than a few gulps in the jar and he didn’t think it was enough. But the recipe did say any amount would do, so he looked for the next ingredient: A piece of silver smaller than a thimble. He rushed to the kitchen counter where they kept the change jar but remembered that nickels and dimes only looked silver, but weren’t actually.
“Do we have any silver here?”
“Well there’s the dining set in the buffet and hutch,” his mother said. “Most of that is silver, except for the gravy dish. And I think the weather vane on the shed is silver, as well. Why, dear?”
He couldn’t fit a silver platter or weather vane into the jar, not to mention they weren’t smaller than a thimble. So he decided to head back into the basement.
It seemed darker than before, even with the morning sun glinting off the tiny, archaic crystal windows in the basement. Avery shuffled around some boxes, poking in a few, finding old dinky cars and board game pieces, but he was pretty sure those were just metal and plastic. He spent a long while in the basement, moving on his hands and knees from box to box until the afternoon sun had shifted from view and it was considerably dark. He turned on his flashlight and read through more labels. A large one said Baby’s Room, another Fishing Tackle. Finally he opened one that said Wedding Reception. There were Polaroids of young people Avery sort of recognized, but he couldn’t say from where; there were thin sheets with lists of songs; a large menu, bottle tops, a corkscrew, unlit tea candles and a napkin with a red wine stain. Avery wondered why his parents kept such odd things. He shifted some more things and found a black bow-tie and white piece of lace that looked like a headband to him. Then the flashlight flickered on something tiny. He reached to the bottom of the box and pulled it out. It was a small cufflink (but Avery didn’t know that) about the size of his thumbnail. It was cold and not as shiny as it could have been, but it definitely looked silver. Avery slipped it in his pocket and folded the top of the box.
As he was getting up, he noticed the light burgundy wooden box. It was sitting neatly on the top of the other cardboard boxes he had gone through days before. The lid was closed with the lock secured, but Avery didn’t remember locking the box. He rushed quickly up the stairs.
He was surprised his mother or father didn’t bring it up to him that evening, but he said nothing. He felt guilty about taking the silver piece, but figured they probably didn’t know about it anyhow. It made a tiny plop when he dropped it into the mason jar and watched closely as it sat on the bottom, bulging largely, refracted by the rainwater.
Avery took out the recipe card from his drawer and read the next item on the list: A key that opens no locks.
Avery ran out to the shed. There had to be some rusty or broken keys in there, from his old bike lock or when his parents made him use a lock for his locker during swimming lessons.
“Avery, what are you looking for? It’s time for bed.”
His father stood at the entrance of the shed.
“Do we have any broken keys?”
“Broken keys? What do you want a broken key for?”
His father shuffled around the workbench for a moment.
“I don’t think so, son. If we did, I probably replaced the lock itself. Come on, bedtime.”
Every searched the shed some more the next morning, but to no avail. He looked in the kitchen drawer where they kept things like paperclips or letter openers, but couldn’t find anything. He almost went downstairs but decided he’d just go to the cemetery instead.
April-May wasn’t there, so he walked around the graves a couple times, before walking around the church. He knocked on the entrance but no one responded to the booming echo. He leaned his shoulder against the heavy wooden door, grasping the brass handle with both hands and gave a forceful push. The door moved open slowly. Avery wondered why it wasn’t locked, but then there was nothing to steal from a church other than boring books. The pews were too heavy and the statues even more so.
He walked around the aisles, stopping up front to stand behind the lectern. He wasn’t tall enough to see over it into the room, but got the sudden feeling he was being watched and quickly stepped away. There were tall and spindly candlesticks that surrounded the organ, though none of them had candles attached. He sat at the organ, too afraid to touch the keys in case it made a sound. The keys.
He knew they were called keys, but was that the official name? It might work. He didn’t want to push down to see if any of them were loose, so he chose one at very right end. On Sundays when Mrs. Estella played during hymns, she just sat in the middle of the bench and barely moved her hands at all, so she probably wouldn’t even notice. Avery took both his thumbs and tugged up on the key. It barely budged. He looked for something to pry it with, eventually landing on the stone doorstop at the front. He tried again, squeezing it under the key and then pulled up hard. There was a loud crack and the stone slipped out of his hands and landed on the carpeted floor with a thud. Resting not far from it was a chipped piece of the organ key, with the rest still attached to the organ. Avery snatched the piece from the ground and ran out the front door, dropping the doorstop back where he found it.
The chipped piece of organ key looked like a soggy piece of chalk when he dropped it into the jar. He put the concoction aside and read the last item on the list: A lover’s dream.
Avery didn’t know what a lover’s dream was and he certainly didn’t know how to put one in a jar. He became frustrated and put the card away.
When he woke it was Sunday. His mother and father had slept in a bit and were rushing to dress him and themselves to get down the lane in time for church.
Today Mrs. Carter wore a long, frilly, pink dress that dragged along the floor, with a tight green scarf tied round her neck. Avery was sweaty in his Sunday vest and only imagined how hot plump Mrs. Carter must be. He managed to quickly look away when she turned her head, avoiding her glare. The sermon dragged on and Avery sat with a lump in his throat, wondering if they would speak about the organ key. No one seemed to have noticed and after a while he amused himself by studying everyone again. He didn’t see April-May this time, but noticed all the married people were holding hands, his parents included. And that gave him an idea.
His parents took the canoe out for a paddle that afternoon and normally Avery would love to join, but he decided to stay behind, saying he was going to meet with April-May. When his parents were sufficiently far enough away from the dock he ran up to the cottage, took the mason jar and brought it to his parents room and put it under their bed.
He walked down to the church and sat on the old oak bench for a while. The wind was blowing the tall grass gently, but Avery knew he wasn’t alone. Suddenly April-May was sitting beside him in her blue and white checkered dress.
“How do you do that?” he asked.
“Just sneak up on me like that.”
“It’s a secret,” she smiled. “I could teach you someday.”
He chewed his lip nervously. “I broke one of the organ keys.”
“You were watching me?”
“I only like playing hide and seek when I know I’m playing.”
April-May frowned. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” said Avery.
“I’m glad we’re friends,” she said.
The next day his mother took the car into town to run a few errands and grab groceries, while his father was down at the dock getting prepared to take Avery out on the jet ski. He quickly sneaked into his parents room and took the jar out from under the bed. The objects were gone and the rainwater was all that remained. At first it looked pink, then maybe red, but after a moment it was just the clear colour it had been before, minus the objects. His initial thought was his parents found the jar and returned the items to their places, but if that was true then he definitely would’ve been scolded for the broken organ key. Maybe the spell had worked it’s course? He tightened the lid on the jar and put it back in his room before going out on the lake with his father.
After supper, Avery took the jar and went down to the cemetery. The pale gleam of dusk was shining just above the trees of the forest as the sun set. April-May was sitting on the bench when he arrived.
“I decided not to sneak up on you this time.”
“Thanks. I made this for you”. Avery went to put the jar in her hand but she pulled it away from his touch.
“Sorry,” she said. “I… what is it?”
“A juice I made. I’m not sure if it will taste any good, though.”
The sun had set below the trees and April-May looked more pale than usual.
“How come you’re always wearing the same dress?”
“It’s my favourite dress, so I got a bunch made just like it.”
Avery knew she was lying, but he didn’t say anything.
“I better go home before it gets dark.”
He got up from the bench.
“Thanks Avery” she said, lifting the jar. “For the juice.”
Over the next few days, Avery wasn’t sure if the drink in the jar had any effect on April-May or not. Their conversations seemed much the same as they had been, even though she said it tasted wonderful. “It was like drinking a memory,” she recalled. “One I forgot about.” She didn’t say anything more about it than that, but Avery did start to see her more often and not just in the cemetery. April-May followed him home from church one Sunday, came to their deck one afternoon when his parents were at lawn bowling and Avery even saw her one night at a Richmond family campfire, but she didn’t come down further than the driveway. Her appearances became more and more frequent, until he began seeing her two or three times every day. Avery became very fond of April-May, forgetting all about her jar and what he made from the recipe.
“When are you going to want to meet my parents?”
April-May shook her head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Parents don’t understand things like us kids.”
“I bet Lukas would. My mom was on the phone with Mrs. Loed this morning, they should be here next week.”
April-May seemed upset. “I don’t even think Lukas would. You’re the only person I can spend time with.” It looked like she was about to cry. “You’re the only one I want to spend time with.”
Avery couldn’t sleep that night. He was laying in bed thinking about his best friend Lukas and his new friend April-May. Why couldn’t she be friends with both of them? He didn’t want to have to explain the situation to Lukas, he might not believe him, but he couldn’t abandon April-May. She had no friends at all before him and Avery didn’t want to let that happen again. He thought about her all alone at the bottom of the cemetery hill. It made him frightened to think of her all alone out there at night. He couldn’t get into a comfortable position so he sat up in bed. His eyes drifted to his patio door. She was standing on their lawn, the moonlight shining off her blue and white checkered dress and he thought she might be crying. She beckoned for him to come outside.
Avery got up out of bed and put on his slippers, pulled on the closest flannel shirt he could find and carefully and quietly slid open the patio door of his bedroom and stepped out onto the cold stone slabs. April-May was further down the lawn now, it seemed, so he walked down to the water’s edge. When he reached the bottom she was out on the dock, standing at the end by the lake.
“I was thinking…” she sniffed, letting a tear stream down her face. “I was thinking maybe I wouldn’t get to see you again. You know, after Lukas comes.”
“I wouldn’t let that happen,” said Avery.
“Do you promise?”
April-May sniffed again, regaining her composure.
“I’m not like other kids.”
“I know,” said Avery.
“Yea. Ever since the third day I saw you in the same dress.”
She let out a small laugh. “My lie didn’t work?”
Avery shook his head. “Besides, no one is that good at sneaking up on people.”
“You’re right. I cheat.”
“I’m the only one who can see you, right?”
“Unless you wanted others to?”
She nodded again. “But I don’t want them to. And I don’t want to live without you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t grow up like you,” she said. “I don’t want you to grow up without me.”
They stood in silence for a moment before April-May reached her hand out and went to touch Avery’s face. Her milky white fingers passed right through him and Avery shivered.
“I can touch things but not people,” she sighed. “I want to touch you.”
Avery tried to swallow the lump in his throat. “How will you do that?”
April-May took a step off the dock into the calm, red canoe. It didn’t even bob. “Come in and I’ll show you.”
Avery stepped cautiously into the back of the canoe, as the front lifted slightly from his weight. April-May pointed out north into the lake and Avery picked up his paddle from the bottom of the canoe and started the direct them there. It seemed like they were paddling for an hour before she told him to stop.
“This is where it happened to me,” she said.
Avery looked over the side and down into the night-black water of the lake, with silver streaks of moonlight creeping across the ripples around their boat. He looked up to see April-May staring right at him. He placed the paddle back along the bottom of the canoe.
“Will it hurt?” he asked.
She shook her head. “It’s as simple as falling asleep.”
The last thing Avery remembered was the cold water on his face.