by Julian Babad

Grave Affection

Walton, September 3rd
I saw a ghost in the garden last night, and I’m not sure I mean that as a metaphor. She was walking – gliding – between the fig trees and the southern hedges. I can understand taking a stroll (except for being private property). It was a warm night. Stale breeze. The moon was just bright enough to make her white gown luminous in the way headlights catch vacant billboards on the highway. Perfect weather for a ghost, now that I think of it. Plus, the plants have all but petrified since I dismissed Nina, which added to the Poe-esque nature of the scene (my imagination embellishes with curling fog and lightning. Silly, I know). Why am I bothered by her? Well, because though I recoil at the cliché, I swear I’ve seen her before – as an advertisement model or a bank teller or a busker downtown – who knows. Most haunting was that she stopped right before the dry wall-fountain and looked directly at me. I don’t know how she could’ve seen me – I was peeking through the curtains of father’s old study with the lights out. But her gaze was direct. Piercing. And… Sad, maybe? She was beautiful. I am flying to Reno in the morning for the dreaded legal circus with Adolfo and the estate. But when I return I will watch for her again.

Luna, September 2nd
I just saw a man and he saw me, too. I have grown so accustomed to feeling only confusion – to being only lost – it was a shock to even feel shock, to know that I could. The endless dark and soil melted back into the old grounds – I don’t how long it’s been since the last time, or in what order to put the memories – but it was still the grove, still Fall. Always Fall, never Spring. Through the smears of material I saw the man (maybe not “saw”, but “felt”). Space is compressed when I try and focus on things: he was far, but also very close. He was watching me. I could see each wrinkle of his intense fascination. He could see me. I don’t know why that frightened me so, but I hurried back through the hedges, here once more. Was the hall not abandoned? My wits are jumbled by this. This was the first face I’ve seen that was not blotched by ethereal mist; this was the first pair of eyes to meet mine as I am now. And those eyes reminded me of… Who? I must see him again.

Walton, September 5th
Forgive my penmanship. Writing fast. Still jet-lagged and in a bit of a state. Meeting was fine. Adolfo did his job. Blah – please sign here – blah. But I saw her again! This time I was ready: I was waiting in the sitting room because I could easily see through the French doors (I think father stopped midway through converting that area to a conservatory) and I could rush outside if need be. Good timing, because three-quarters past midnight I saw her again – a little further this time, maybe sixty yards from the tree line – in that same flowing white gown. I stood there for a good two minutes, stupefied, mesmerized. Running outside, being careful to keep my distance, I called out to her. She was surprised, and I got my first good look at her face: pale skin, petite features, and big sad eyes like a movie star from the 20s. I was stunned – couldn’t recall the last time I saw someone that beautiful in the flesh (if she’s even corporeal). Her name is Luna. I tried getting closer, but I think I scared her; she just ran into the forest, soundlessly. I pursued, but it’s just too dark and dense to traverse at night. What an idiot I was to try and approach her! I am devising a more subtle plan.

Luna, September 5th
I am obsessed with this watcher – this man in the hall. He emerged to try and speak to me. “Who are you?” he said. I told him aloud, but it made me weak. Embarrassing as this is to admit, I was also panicked to be seen, fully, as I am now. It’s not proper. And he is handsome (in a way), but his eyes still reminded me of him – whoever “him” is… The memories only settle when left alone, like gnats at a market. I have felt this ache of something unfulfilled for so long, and I am beginning to suspect this man is the key to freedom from this suffering. Maybe this mystery is God’s way of answering my prayers.

Walton
To Luna, the apparition in the gardens,
I am sorry for my actions last night; I didn’t mean to startle you. My name is Walton – I’ve seen you walking the grounds twice and only now am having the good sense to leave a note. How did you know I was up in the study? I think you’re very pretty. Are you a ghost?

Sincerely, Walton

Luna
Walton,
Please do not apologize, I had no good reason to be frightened. I knew you were up in the study because I sensed you in there. Do I know you? Are you the master of the house? So much has changed – I thought this place was abandoned. I am sorry for disturbing you; I will trespass no further, if you wish.

– Luna
P.S. Thank you. I think you’re very handsome yourself.

Walton
Dear Luna, I was amazed (and a little disturbed) to find your letter on my nightstand – how did you do that? I was also pleased! Most females do not care for correspondence with me. My father was the owner of the estate, but he hasn’t lived here since falling ill. I suppose, as of four days ago, I am the “master of the house,” as you say – though I’m only staying here for the season. Maybe you’ve seen me? When I was a boy I used to sneak into that study and father would beat me whenever he found out. I like the view of the grounds from up there. May I ask: where is it you go, out in those woods? Are you alright?

Most sincerely, Walton
P.S. I’ve given it some more thought and have come to the conclusion that you are in fact the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met.
P.P.S. You never answered my question! Are you a ghost?

Luna
Dear Walton,
I think I may be. Please don’t be frightened. I haven’t talked with someone for so long, and I enjoy you, Walton. I don’t know where I go – places are difficult.

Walton
Dear Luna,
I think you are definitely a ghost, and I am not frightened. I always knew ghosts were real, ever since I saw one as a child. My brother would tease me terribly, but I would leave notes (much like this one!) all throughout the house, hoping someone from the other side would write back. Perhaps this is rude to ask, but how did you die? Why can you communicate with me and not others?

Luna
Walton, I wish I knew. I have been steeped in torment and starved of answers all this time. If I am being honest, I think you hold the key. Your… Presence is ever so familiar to me. Maybe it was me who you saw when you were a boy. I’ve walked these grounds for an eternity, it feels. In some way, you’re special, Walton. Tell me more about your childhood; did you see many ghosts? I’m sorry to hear about your father.

Walton
My Dear Luna,
Just the one, I’m afraid – but not for lack of trying! I thought it would be easier in a place like this, where there’s so much lore and mystery, but I was rarely here. I’m sure you saw Oskar (that’s my brother) loads of times – he spent practically every day here, with tutors and trainers and private coaches. My childhood wasn’t nearly as interesting. Father sent me off to boarding schools and private programs whenever possible. You didn’t have to be a genius to know my father didn’t think much of me. Still, I wish he were here. I’ve always had other people to tell me what to do, but now they’re all gone. But that’s neither here nor there, and I just had a wonderful idea! I’ll go through the old library and see if I can’t dig up some old pictures of me when I was a boy, you’ll love them!

Luna, October
My dear, sweet Walton,
Thank you for sharing your poetry with me; you really are quite a passionate writer. And your anecdote amused me – I have always wanted to go to Europe (I guess it’s too late for that). I do have a confession, though. In the bliss of these last weeks I have felt too happy to admit that this… This wonderful connection between us, it cannot last. Before Fall fades into Winter, so do I fade from this world. I don’t know where I go or when – which autumn, which eon – I’ll return. Please believe me when I say you have made me happier than I ever was in life. I wish I had answers, for you and myself. I am so sorry, my dear Walton. I want to be with you, but I won’t worsen the pain of leaving any more than I have. I love you.
Affectionately, Luna

Walton, October 16th
Why me? Whatever gods and spirits that be: why me? My brother was the smart one – he could understand the difficult books and speak to the grown-ups and hide where I couldn’t find him… “Do what you’re told,” father said, “You’re not good for anything else”. He’s right, I’m not equipped for this! I have been a lost dog, weeping and wailing night and day, praying for a miracle. What a curse is love!

First I tried looking for her in the woods. I found a thicket with a small, obelisk-like capstone. The soil beneath the foliage was disturbed and blanketed by papers – at least sixty journal pages, all penned by Luna. My letters were there, too. That’s where she’s buried. Yes, I considered exhuming her, but that felt wrong. Instead, I went to the library to see father’s private collection of family history. All the manuscripts were packed away – most in boxes, some in bags, none of it organized. I spent hours in there, combing through histories without rhyme or reason before I found it: a photocopy of a newspaper editorial from decades ago. It was a rumor, dramatized. Apparently the heir to this estate was a young man named Arthur, who was chained to his father’s obligations. But Arthur fell in love with a maid of the house (I think you can guess her name), and they plotted to elope. Supposedly, the father found out and had Luna killed, burying her out in the woods. Thus, a dynasty preserved. I was horrified and ashamed of this heritage, marred by bloodshed and greed. I took Nina aside (I rehired her so the gardens would be beautiful for Luna) and asked if she knew about this. She did not, but believed it wholly. “This house is filled with spirits,” she said, “Your father forbade us from even discussing the secret rooms and passageways lest the demons learn where to find him”. Funny, all these years and I never knew father and I shared a belief in spiritualism.

Afterwards, I waited for Luna. I wasn’t sure whether or not to tell her what I’d learned, so I asked: “What if you knew how you died? What if you had finality?”. She was silent for a long while, probably fighting to stay material, before saying, “I met the soul of an orphan once. He had drowned in a stream. When I helped him find it, he faded away into whatever comes next.” “Summerland,” I said. She was on the verge of tears – I could tell she wanted that more than anything. I didn’t tell her then, but I promised I would make her happy. Now, I am in anguish. If I tell her, she goes. If I don’t, what kind of a lover am I? Is there no course that ends with beyond agony? I will ask her to meet me on the night the murder occurred; everything I’ve found in my research of the paranormal tells me that the magic which binds her to this plane will be strongest then. Perhaps there is a way…

Walton, October 20th
I saw Luna for our final meeting. It was last night – the anniversary of her death. She looked more solid than ever before; I could even caress and kiss her soft, beautiful flesh and look into her deep, emerald eyes. I told her the story of her passing and we both held each other and wept. She said she remembered and was grateful, but also that she understood: I have Arthur’s eyes – his spirit is mine. I’ve never been able to discern my past lives, but it all makes sense now: the disconnect with my father, my bond with Luna… When father wrote Oskar out of the will because of his habits, or when he expressed animosity towards me, or when he feared the supernatural, it was so the pieces of the past could fall into place. History was rhyming with itself. I did the right thing, telling her. Luna has left me one last letter before she crosses over. I don’t think my heart can take writing about this anymore.

Luna
Walton, my love,
I fear I have traded one heartache for another. You have given me peace, the greatest gift I could ever receive, but you have also taken my heart, and I will be leaving it with you when I go. I see now that your soul has circled back around for me, drawn by fate. How can I bear to lose you again, my love? Perhaps it’s my turn to wait. I will bear this, even for another million years, if it means being with you. You will remember, won’t you? Find me, Walton.
Love forever, Luna

Walton, October 22nd
To the authorities,
I don’t expect you to understand why I have done this. Know that it was done not out of despair or suffering, but out of love. This is not a retreat from my existence – the opposite. I am confronting the dark, head-on, to be united with the other half of my soul. All my life I have struggled to find a purpose and a companion, and in death I have both. If I ever lacked courage, nobility, or compassion in life, my debts are now paid in full. We were, she and I, crafted – destined – to be together, and my affection transcends the grave. So like the crumbling of a dam I will aid the universe in correcting itself – in making things right. The estate now falls to my brother, who has been far better groomed for this responsibility than I ever was. And if my father were here, I think he would understand. I think, for once, he’d be proud of me. See you soon, dad. And to my beloved: so begins our eternity. It won’t be nearly long enough.
Goodbye.
Sincerely, Walton Hardcastle

Oskar Hardcastle, November 3rd
Dear Margaret Epstein (no, I will not address you by your stage name),
I am going to graciously forgive you for the offensively aggressive tone of your last letter, as I’m sure you didn’t mean to threaten me, of all people. I must have misunderstood – you weren’t implying something as stupid as blackmail, were you? Remind me: who is in possession of a dozen or so letters and journal entries written in your handwriting, “Luna”? And which of us can now afford a whole gaggle of lawyers at no inconvenience? Really, you should be thanking me – try what we did without knowledge of my brother’s weaknesses, or the family history, or those secret passageways. Two-hundred grand [see enclosed] was my very generous offer (no, that number doesn’t go up because he grabbed your tits) and if you don’t like it, then I’ll change it to zero and see to it that not even Madame Hirsch at the community theater will take you back. Which reminds me: “melodramatic prose”? That’s rich coming from Ms. ‘I met the soul of an orphan once’ – Jesus, you almost blew the whole thing.

Now let’s get this straight. He’s a half-brother, sweetheart, and it’s not murder if he does it to himself, and it’s not stealing if it was mine to begin with. If that doesn’t help you sleep at night, just know that you’ve helped rid the world of another awkward, unaware, eternally-starry-eyed, ever-pubescent man-flower. All Romantics deserve what’s coming to them. Remember that. Best wishes,
– Oskar, your humble benefactor

 

 

 

Julian Babad is a student writer, filmmaker, musician, and game designer.  Beyond working-toward graduation as a double major in Film and Psychology for Spring, 2019, Julian spends his time developing personal projects within several disciplines, including video editing, music production, screenwriting, and programming.