A picnic basket was packed with cold fried chicken, still warm buttermilk biscuits slathered with amber honey, slices of homegrown tomatoes, fresh juicy strawberries and chocolate cake with buttercream frosting. Goodwood Duxford graciously declined Jonny’s offer to come along to play his drums, well as Roger Oakley’s offer to loan his 1931 Model A to the young couple on their first date.
Lilith coached the anxious bachelor on what to do and say prior to his first official outing with the lovely Frankie Harp, barista, and owner of Grinders Cafe, and great-granddaughter, umpteen times removed, of wandering Gramberly ghost, Madie Harp.
Goody managed to flirt with Frankie well enough that she agreed to an evening picnic at Juniper Lake. He asked if she wanted to join him in feeding the ducks, Ezra and Levi. Since the two male gallinules had been spotted at the lake, they had become local celebrities. Goody knew they were really the Judson Brothers inhabiting new vessels after being cursed by the descendants of the Cahill Sisters.
It was a story Goody worried would scare Frankie away. As the hereditary ghost wrangler at the graveyard, he was uniquely qualified to tell those tales. He wanted to gently introduce her to his charges at Gramberly Cemetery.
He need not worry.
“Here he comes, Frank.” Frankie Harp’s co-worker, Janis, noticed the extra attention she gave to Goodwood Duxford, and that he drank an inordinate amount of Ethiopian coffee.
Frankie threw a towel, then tried to act nonchalant when Goody walked into the Grinders Cafe. She couldn’t hide her constant smile and nervous laugh.
While the smitten couple made small talk, Janis surreptitiously closed the cafe then sat outside to divert patrons until the two finished chatting and made plans for the next day.
The evening was warm but a cool breeze rustled the grass and trees and sent small ripples across the surface of the lake. Frankie set out their food as Goody uncorked a chilled bottle of sparkling cider. The sunset would be stunning.
They kept their small talk to innocuous topics – books, movies, music. They sat close together on the blanket, their hands sometimes touching, their words sometimes stumbling over each other.
Until Frankie blurted out the one thing Goody never expected.
“I think I’m being haunted by a ghost,” she said. “Can you help me?”
Goody could only open and close his mouth without speaking.
“I know who you are, what you are,” she said. “I was actually born in Pepperidge Township, but my family moved away when I was very young. I moved back here on my own because of the stories my parents told me about the cemetery and the Township. I thought you might know or be able to find out who or what was visiting me, and why.”
“So, all of this was just you wanting to pick my brain?” Goody scooted away from her. “You don’t really… like me?”
“No, that’s not it at all,” Frankie moved closer to him, talking very quickly. “I liked you before I even knew who you were. Janis just told me last week what your name was.”
Goody didn’t move away again, but his whole body was rigid, that twisted knot between his shoulders was back.
“Can you describe this entity?” Goody’s manner was serious and professional. “What exactly does it do when you see it?”
Frankie shifted around until she was facing Goody, legs crossed, her hands gesturing rapidly with her every word.
“It is a woman, maybe my mom’s age. She is wearing a dress that could be from the late 30s or early 40s. I’m not afraid, I don’t think she means to harm me. She just seems very sad, like her visits are melancholy occasions.”
Goody visually relaxed, letting out the breath he was holding. He let Frankie tell more of her story of how the entity would come to her when the light was almost gone, when the shade was translucent and shimmering.
“I can see her lips moving, but there is no sound,” Frankie said. “When she is near me, I can feel something touching me, a tingling in my neck. I don’t think it’s panic, maybe worry or anxiety. Like that nervous energy you have when you’re waiting for news about something, and you’re not sure if it’s good news or bad.”
When she finished she just looked at Goody, trembling with anticipation. Throughout her story, Goody had remained silent, only nodding in agreement with things Frankie said.
“Do you know who it might be?” she asked. “Is it one of the wandering Gramberly ghosts?”
“I do know who she is. She has only recently ‘awaken’,” Goody said. “She is trying to bring you a warning.”
“You already knew, didn’t you?” Frankie took her turn at feeling duped.
“I had to make sure, but yes, I knew.”
Goody explained about Madie, her recent and unexpected wanderings. He told Frankie about how her great-grandmother lived and died, and that the only reason she would willing leave her final rest was to protect a loved one.
“She died from cancer?” Frankie asked. “Do you know what kind?”
“I can’t know for sure, she calls is ‘blood pollution’, but I believe it was leukemia,” Goody said. “One of the other Gramberly residents was able to communicate with Madie, and then relay information to me.”
“What is she trying to tell me?”
Goody wanted to choose his words carefully.
“You said that when she visits, you feel a tingling in your neck? Like the hair on the back standing up.?”
“No, it’s more along the sides,” Frankie said, absentmindedly touching her throat.
“Do you have that feeling any other time?”
“Now, that you mention it, yes,” she said, “but it’s not a tingling. If feels more like a bruise, or how it feels when you have strep throat, all swollen and tender. Why?”
“Lilith – that’s the Gramberly resident who is helping me communicate with Madie – thinks she is trying to warn you that you might be sick,” Goody said.
“Sick? I don’t feel sick,” Frankie said, still rubbing her neck. Then a look of recognition came across her face.
“She thinks I have cancer?” Frankie asked barely above a whisper.
“I can’t know for sure,” Goody said, “but it may not hurt to go see a doctor, just for a checkup.”
They packed up the remains of their picnic in silence and didn’t speak on the drive into the Township.
When Goody stopped at the Cafe the next day, Frankie was conspicuously absent. It was at Lilith’s urging, or nagging, that he finally called Frankie’s phone, an unfamiliar voice answered. He barely got his name out, when the woman on the other end introduced herself as Frankie’s mother and thanked him for saving her daughter’s life.
Frankie had early stage Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. After a course of chemotherapy and a few rounds of radiotherapy, her prognosis was very good. Before they hung up, Frankie’s mother made Goody promise to come by to visit, Frankie had asked for him.
On his rounds of Gramberly that night, Lilith stopped him.
“How’s our girl?” she asked.
“From what her mother said, she is expected to completely recover,”
“Are you going to see her?”
“Yes, I’m going by tomorrow. I’m taking her ice cream, her mother said it would be okay.”
“Have you told Madie?” Lilith had grown fond of the taciturn ghost.
“I did,” Goody said. “She visited Frankie to see for herself that she was okay. I think Madie may become a regular wanderer.”
Lilith smiled and nodded.
“Good,” she said, “she and I can keep you in line now that you’re dating her granddaughter.”