His full arsenal of charms and amulets hung from his tool belt, ready to amplify any incantation. He filled each pocket of his carpenter’s apron to bulging with herbs and specialty salts for binding, and a second band of crystals circled his wrist.
Any layman would surmise that Goodwood Duxford, ghost wrangler at Gramberly Cemetery, was armed for an epic battle with his most treacherous spirit. In truth, Goody was seeking a boy, a small lad who appeared to be no more than eight years old.
Master Gregory Mathieson was an established resident of Gramberly. The bane of Goody, his father, and his father’s father. He was the long-deceased scion of one of Pepperidge Township’s founding families. To the targeted residents of Gramberly, he was an insufferable brat.
The latest complaint about Gregory was from the newest Gramberly resident, Lilith.
“That brat needs to stay out of my shit,” Lilith said, showing Goody a broken decorative urn that usually adorns the entrance to her family plot. “I was trying to sleep.”
When he was on the loose, Gregory was destructive, disrespectful and devious. He was also the only Mathieson interred in Gramberly who wandered. The general opinion of the other Gramberly residents was that Gregory’s family stays buried to finally get relief from the miniature menace.
“I’ll see to it that the vase is replaced,” Goody said, taking the pieces of ceramic from Lilith. “He’s only looking for attention. There aren’t many other children for him to play with.”
“He doesn’t need a playmate,” Lilith said. “He needs his ass smacked.”
“He’s not a bad kid,” Goody said. “He is from an era when children were seen and not heard. They were left to nannies or shipped off to boarding schools. They were given little maternal love and tenderness.”
When Lilith noticed the expression on Goody’s face, she knew what he was thinking.
“The kid needs a woman’s firm hand, but not mine,” she said. “I am not the motherly type. I was child-free by choice. All those harpies at my service were nieces and nephews. Don’t you have a wife or girlfriend who would help you keep the little beast in check?”
Goody blushed then shook his head.
“Are all wranglers male?” Lilith poked Goody in the shoulder.
When he nodded, Lilith threw her hands up in surrender.
“You’re here, so there must have been wrangler baby-mommas,” she said. “Don’t wives ever get involved?”
Goody shook his head again.
“There has to be someone here who could act as a surrogate mom,” Lilith said. “Someone who would benefit from such an arrangement.”
Looking over the cemetery, she tried to think of possible candidates.
Goody made a small gasping noise.
“I know who would be perfect,” he said. “I can’t believe I never thought of this before. Lilith, you’re a genius.”
Stopping by his cabin, Goody dropped off all of his tools then went to visit the one ghost who would understand Gregory’s need for a parent’s love. On his way to the familiar plot, Goody clipped a bouquet of roses from the cemetery garden.
The object of his consideration was sitting on the same bench, under the same magnolia, as he always found her.
“Miss Fiona, you are as pretty as ever,” Goody said, presenting Fiona with the bouquet of roses.
Accepting the flowers, Fi tried to smile. The scar that bisected her face pulled her lips into a mangled grimace.
“Goody, sweet talk like that will get you everything.”
“I have a favor to ask of you,” he said. “I believe you are the only one who can do what I need.”
Goodwood set out his plan, asking Fiona to act as guardian and guide to young Gregory, giving him the attention and direction a boy needed.
“It will give you a chance to be the sort of parent you always wished you had,” Goody said.
Her earlier smile turned to fearful hesitation. Her hand went protectively to her face. A gesture Goody had never seen her make before.
“That won’t matter to him, my dear,” Goody said, taking her other hand. “He longs for a tender touch. Little boys always believe their mothers are beautiful.”
The two walked arm-in-arm to a nearby playground where Gregory was building sand castles. When he saw Goody, he tried to hide.
“Gregory, it’s all right,” Goody said. “I’m not here to discipline you or take you back to Gramberly. I want you to meet someone very special.”
After introducing Fiona to Gregory, Goody left the two of them to get acquainted, moving to the outer perimeter of the playground.
Soon, Gregory took Fiona by the hand and pulled her over to the swings.
“Higher, Fi!” The boy squealed with delight. “Higher.”
Goody left them to play.
Several days later, Lilith stopped the wrangler while he was making his rounds of the cemetery.
“Hi, ghost whisperer,” she said. “How’s it going with the devil spawn?”
“If you mean, Gregory,” he said, “there haven’t been any complaints about him since I introduced him to Fiona.”
“You’re welcome,” she said. “Oh, have you seen Fiona lately?”
“Come to think of it,” Goody said, “she hasn’t gone wandering since then either.”
Lilith just nodded.
Goody went looking for Fi and the young master.
He found them at Fiona’s favorite spot. Gregory was napping beneath the magnolia on a hand-sewn quilt that Goody knew had been buried with Fiona. She sat beside the boy, stroking his hair. When she heard Goody, she turned her face up toward him.
The sight stopped Goody mid-stride. Fiona’s countenance was radiant and nearly whole. The scars and angry wounds had begun to heal. Her face once again graceful and young.
“What happened to you, Fi?” Goody said, breathless at her transformation.
“You were right, Goody Duxford,” she said, her smile eager and warm. “He did think I was beautiful.”