Shadows of the Dust

by Kathleen P

Shadows of the Dust

    It mirrored a movie stuck on replay, the image which played in his mind most nights and many days. They were on their way to church. He dawdled behind. His mother rushed ahead, her hand clasped tightly around his. He remembered looking up toward her. She wore a full length wool coat, her sleeves and collar finished with what looked like fur. He remembered walking through tall arched wooden doors and the crowd surrounding him. He didnt remember much after that. From time to time he tried to picture his mother, her image, her features, but was always faced with just a blur, an emotionless blur.Mass ended and everyone headed out toward the door. A few lingered but soon left. He watched an alter boy and was mesmerized by the young man. Why was the older boy allowed up front, he thought to himself, but not he. Distracted by the young mans ability to walk amongst the priests, he hadnt noticed his mother gathering her things, her coat, gloves, hat, hadnt noticed that she had not gathered his. Her coat was buttoned, her hat snug on her head when she turned to her son, her three year old child. You be good now, he remembered her saying. It was at that moment in the memory that he imagined a tear running down her cheek. But if he was honest with himself he knew there was no tear, because there was no face. He couldnt remember what she looked like, not one bit. He was never told why his mother had left him that Sunday morning. All throughout his childhood, he was shuffled from one foster home to another, never staying long enough to form any kind of bond or relationship. By the age of fifteen, he had witnessed many things, not-so legal things. One can imagine what types of things. During his stay at his tenth home, he decided he wasnt going to move again. That was it. That would be his last foster home. Either they let him stay, or he was gone. Hed run away. No one would care, he thought. No one would bother to look for him. So when he heard his most recent foster father on the phone with his social worker, he knew he had no choice, time to run. In the middle of the night, before sneaking out, Marcus packed the one bag he owned, a no name book bag, and slipped out the back door. He skimmed the days paper for ideas of where to run. It had to be a place no one would question him, a place where hed blend in. He would have to get a job. There was no doubt about it. A large advertisement posted in the classifieds had caught his eye. It read, Custodial Position available, room and board included. Perfect. The listing printed an address and phone number. He didnt bother calling. He tore the article out of the paper and slipped it into his shirt pocket. He walked all night, only resting for an hour while the rain passed. He sat nestled under an overpass and watched the birds scurry about trying to catch their lunch. The worm special,he mused. It took him all night to walk nine miles, the distance between his last home and hopefully his new one. Relieved, he couldnt help but smile when he reached a sign that read Swallows Creek. Marcus did one last thing before leaving the last foster home hed ever live in. He swiped a hundred dollars from Mr. Fogal, his foster father. He felt a little bad for stealing, but he had earned it. After all the chores he had done around the house, every house. He never received allowance or even a thank you. One hundred dollars should be enough to get started, he thought, just to get me on my feet. Like the advertisement, he folded the five twenty dollar bills and stuffed it secretly in his shirt pocket. It was six a.m. when he came across a small motel adjacent to the highway he had been traveling. The sign read, Vacancy $30 a night. Pretty steep. He pulled out the stack of twenties for the first time since leaving his last place of residence, counted down two bills, and replaced the others in his pocket. Although Marcus was only fifteen years old, he easily passed for eighteen, possibly nineteen. So when he stood in front of the clerk and handed him the fake ID he had made (a trade learned from Kenny Swiggles, a fellow foster child he met along his way in life), he had no fear. Making fake Identification is a breeze, Kenny would say. While Marcus was grateful for Kennys gift of a fake ID, he wanted his own name printed on it - not some twenty year old five foot two man named John Smittenburger. His name was the only thing he had that was his own and he wanted to keep it. So, in-between packing his bag and searching for a place to run, Marcus had gathered all he needed to remake the ID. The new one read Marcus Spooner, age 18, height 5 10, Weight 170 lbs. He was happy with his work. Kenny was a good teacher. The clerk handed Marcus a room key, directed him on which way to go, then went about his business. His room was the furthest from the motels office, which was fine with Marcus, The further away, the better. He slid the key into the lock and pushed open the door. A twin size bed covered with a worn green blanket took up most of the room. A small dresser topped with an old television set sat adjacent to the bed. The other room held a small sink, a toilet and a tight shower. Not permanent, he sighed, dropping his bag on the bed. He didnt waste any time. Although exhausted from his over night excursion he wanted to make sure to call the number in the classifieds before someone beat him to it. He dialed quickly, prepared to sound mature and educated. His school teachers always told him to Enunciate. Something he told himself over and over before dialing. Speak calm,he told himself, then Hello, Im calling about your ad in the paper. He paused. For the custodial position. There was silence on the other end of the phone. Hello? he questioned. Oh yes, sorry my lad. Mrs. Wround was talking to me. I am truly sorry. Yes the ad, well, sorry but that position has been filled. Oh, okay. Bye. Marcus said as he hastily tried to get off the phone. Young man, the voice on the other end of the line spoke before he could hang up. There is another position available if you are interested. Oh? Marcus spoke softly. What type of position? You just be here tomorrow at 8 a.m. and well see about that. 1410 Creek Road. Its The Bird Creek Inn. You cant miss it. But. See you then. The gentleman hung up before Marcus had a chance to ask any further questions. Marcus sat in silence. He worried if the position available would be something he was capable of doing. He worried even more if it too offered free room and board. He sat in silence for a bit before flicking on the dated television. Every channel seemed to advertise some sort of food, reminding him further that he hadnt eaten since early the day before. He remembered seeing a small pizzeria and a laundry just before the motel. He withdrew the three twenties he had left, plus the ten, change from renting the room, and counted what was left, two slices and a soda. No water,he debated. Water is cheaper, should cost no more than three dollars. He slid the three twenties back into his shirt pocket, turned off the T.V., and headed out the door. Opting to return to the motel instead of sitting in the pizza shop (in case someone had been looking for him), he paid for his food and once again he was back in his room. Just temporary,he reassured himself, just temporary. He woke early, five thirty, reached over to the pizza box left on the night stand. Ive had worse, he thoughtas he bit into the hard leftover crust and then hopped into the shower. He dressed in the only nice clothes he owned, a blue button down shirt, gray tie and gray slacks - an outfit his second-to-last foster mother had purchased for him. Only to be worn in church, she had said as she handed him the neatly folded clothes. So much for that, he thought as he folded over the tie and pulled the knot tight. He returned the key to the clerk and was on his way. Six thirty a.m., he looked to his watch, a gift from Luna Smith, his one time foster sister many years back. He imagined she stole it but didnt care. It was sweet of her to have given it to him. He followed the directions offered by the clerk and was off. It wasnt far, not in comparison to the trek he had walked the night before. Only a mile, piece of cake, he thought to himself. He arrived less than a half hour later, a whole hour and a half before his interview. The Inn was overwhelming. It spanned two entire blocks front to back. Large ten foot shrubs surrounded and defined the Inns property line. Every foot or so stood a brick column adorned with a large iron light fixture. He imagined the bricks and the bushes where more for looks than they were for security. Large black iron gates outlined the Inns entrance. Marcus peered between the thick bars. The building itself was several yards away. A luxurious garden, filled with statues carved from marble grew before him. Lush grass and flowers filled every crevasse of the lavish courtyard. Amongst the statues, several men gathered together, dissembling something strange, a larger than life spider. Men and women all throughout the lawn packed what looked to be skulls and tomb stones.    Excuse me, sir. A man behind the gate spoke. Marcus jumped. Sorry didnt mean to startle you, he said with a smile. Halloween decorations Huh? We are taking down the decorations from the party last night. Its November 1st the day after Halloween. You know the holiday where little kids ring your bell and threaten you with a trick if you dont give them candy? Marcus had forgotten all about Halloween. In his many years in foster care he remembered only two years where he went trick or treating. One where he slipped on a sheet and went as a ghost and another he just knocked on doors without a costume. The entire ordeal was depressing, seeing all the other children with their store bought customs. He gave up on trick or treating a long time ago. Oh. Yeah. Right. He grinned awkwardly. May I help you with something? The man asked. No, well, um, I have an interview but Im early. Marcus? Yes, he answered with a nervous grin. Boy oh boy, you are early. I like that. Im Mr. Wround. We spoke on the phone. Marcus was silent. He suddenly became very nervous. Please come in. The short man behind the gate fit his name. He was short, just barely five foot four and very round. He led Marcus to the Inn, where they sat together in a wood adorned office. Halloween is big here, Mr. Wround explained. The Misses and I go all out. Invite the neighbors and have a big blowout. Marcus said nothing, his nerves getting the best of him. Now, you called about the custodial position initially if I am not mistaken? Right. Ah yes, hired Jones for that, John Jones. Good man. Good man. Has a wife and two kids, one on the way. He smiled once again. He hadnt seemed to stop smiling. Marcus sat silently unsure of what to say. But you arent here to hear about that are you? Flipping open a large book, Mr. Wround quickly, to himself, read down a list. Ah yes, see? I was right. We have a bag boy/room attendee position available. It involves taking the visitors - we call our customers visitors or guests - visitors bags to their room and helping them with anything they would need, such as extra sheets or towels, that sort of thing. What do you say, up for the job? Excited but unsure of how to act, Marcus stood, stuck out his hand, then waited. Fortunately for him, Mr. Wround did the same. The two shook and agreed that Marcus would start tomorrow. Seven a.m. sharp. Thank you, sir. Thank you. I bet youll do fine. Marcus turned from the large wooden desk. Ill see myself out. I remember the way. I dont want to trouble you. Mr. Wround stood silent for what felt like a minutes time. It was as if something had distracted him from the then and there. Then finally he spoke. Oh Im sorry Marcus    Marcus swallowed hard, fearing he had lost the job before it had started. The job requires you live on the premises.Will that be a problem? Mr. Wround questioned. Happy he would have some place to sleep that night Marcus happily answered Mr Wround. No, not at all sir. That wont be a problem. Then there is only one thing left to do and that is to give you the grand tour. This way, follow me. The Inn, although grand in stature, only housed a few guests at a time. The main floor, the entrance, held a check-in counter, which, like the main staircase, was adorned in granite. Completing the main floor was a cozy waiting and a state-of-the-art kitchen beyond that. The extravagance did not end with the staircase, Marcus noted while walking side by side with his new boss. The main guest area also donned high extras sure to catch anyones eye, rich or poor. Fancy, Marcus thought. This way young man, directed Mr. Wround. Just off the main hall a door simply labeled PRIVATE stood, unopened. Without hesitation, Mr. Wround pushed opened the door and walk through. The two entered into a large living area, complete with a small kitchen set along the farthest wall. What do you think, not too shabby, huh? With a nod, Marcus smiled. This will be okay, he said simply. In his mind, though, he couldnt have been happier. A room - no, an apartment - all to myself,he mused. Behind a half wall sat a good-size bed, a dresser and a large closet. Everything he ever wanted and more. Okay, Ill leave you to get settled. Mr. Wround exited as he spoke. Oh, one last thing, me and the Misses, we live on the floor above you. If you need us, you can call. The number is by the phone or just come on up and knock. You have to go through the kitchen though. The entrance to our apartment is through there. Okay. And thank you Mr. Wround, for giving me a shot and for, well, everything.     Marcus woke early the next morning. Two hours before their agreed upon seven a.m. start time. Hanging in his closet, he found a light gray uniform, pants and shirt. Both fit to a tee. Not too shabby,he thought to himself. Not bad at all. But one glance in the full length mirror, which lay against a wall in his bedroom, told him something was off. His black sneakers, although sufficient during his interview, looked out of place with his new uniform. He worried hed have to buy a matching pair, something he could not afford.    With no other option, he pulled the cuffs of his pants as low as possible and hoped no one would notice. Not a fan of coffee, he opted for a glass of water and made a mental note to pick up a bottle or two of Pepsi after work. Unfortunately for him, the kitchen was otherwise bare - not a morsel of food to be found. He figured it was on him to stock his own cabinets and he had no choice but to go hungry for the day. Downstairs a brown haired woman greeted him and introduced herself as the other half of the Wrounds. Her smile and her body mass matched her husbands. He liked her instantly. . I see you found your uniform. I do hope it fits well. We had purchased it for the gentleman who was to fill your position. Sadly, he left us before he could get started. She leaned in closer and whispered. He had She cleared her throat, marital issues. Marcus smiled as if he knew of what she spoke about. Its a good fit, thank you. Good. Good. She said eying Marcus up and down. Hmm, something is off. Marcus pulse raced, he feared shed spotted his footwear. Thoughts hed be reprimanded or worse, fired, raced through his mind. Oh, I know, its your collar. Here let me fix it. The short woman stood on the tips of her toes, flipped down his collar and continued her train of thought. Relieved Marcus silently swore then and there hed run out that night after work and buy a new pair of fancy shoes, even if it ate up his left over stash of sixty seven dollars. With a motion to follow her Mrs. Wround led Marcus towards the kitchen where she introduced him to the head chef, Mr. Galic, an Englishman with a thick accent and a scowl on his face. Nice to meet you Mr. Galic, Marcus said while eying the eggs Benedict he was preparing. Hungry? The gruff man question. Sorry didnt mean to stare. I havent had a chance to get to the store. He was quick to make up an excuse. Stop tormenting the young man, Mrs. Wround joshed. Make him one of your fine French Toasts. She smiled warmly towards Marcus. Just this time, we cant have you eating during work hours. From now on Mr. Galic will send up your breakfast before the start of the day. Its part of your pay. Room and board, remember? Mr. Galic knows hes supposed to supply breakfast to all employees but was not aware of our newest. For the second time that morning Marcus breathed a sigh of relief, room and board, thank God. Weeks passed without incident. He had met every staff member and grew to like all of them even gruff faced Mr. Galic. Under his grumpy exterior Mr. Galic was a kind sweet man. He, like he swore he would, bought a new pair of shoes along with a few bottles of soda and some snacks to fill the cabinets. And as he was promised, every morning, afternoon, and evening he was supplied with a delicious meal. Life couldnt have been better. Before he knew it almost a complete year had pasted. In just a months time it would be Halloween. Remembering his first day, he knew the holiday was a big one for the Wrounds. He in return was excited, almost giddy. Like every morning Marcus woke, ate breakfast and dressed for the day but this day when he opened his apartments door he was faced with a frightening lifelike skeleton, a note taped to his breastbone read; Join me and my spooky friends in the basement ASAP. Excited he hurried down to the basement where he found Mr. and Mrs. Wround hunched over several boxes. Oh. Hun, look! Mrs. Wround said emerging from a box, a bloody ax sticking out of her head. HA! Mr. Wround laugh, delighted with his wifes find. Ah, my boy glad you are up. Give us a hand would you? Upstairs the Wrounds along with Marcus and John Jones, the janitor, decorated every inch of space with realistic spider webs complete with life like spiders and skeletons Marcus swore came straight out of the pyramids themselves. Ah yes, looks good, Mr. Wround grinned to his wife, both admiring the work done. I think its time, my lovely wife. What do you say we outdo ourselves this year?     Lets! To the front yard! Mr. Wround nearly yelled as he hurried toward the double doors of the Inn. Not a stitch of grass could be seen, every inch of the Inns front lawn was covered by cardboard boxes Marcus assumed had been brought up before he had woken that morning. The Wrounds truly loved Halloween and woke early every year to decorate. It took several hours, but when they were done the lawn resembled a haunted cemetery, dead bodies and all. Good job, my boy, said Mr. Wround. Good job. Thanks. You guys really are into this holiday huh? Not just a holiday, my son. Dont you know? Mr. Wround turned to face Marcus, studied his expression. You dont know, do you? Well let me be the first to enlighten you. On the 31 day of the 10th month those who have passed, well come back. Just for that night of course. Of course! Marcus joshed. Not a joke, my boy, not a joke. With that said Mr. Wround walked off happy with the years decorations. Six Halloweens passed, six years where Marcus grew closer to the Wrounds. So much so he thought of them as family, a welcomed notion. And although he never witnessed or really believed in the dead reappearing, he grew accustomed to the stories and even looked forward to them each year. Just as the years before, Marcus woke, began his annual trek to the basement, fully expecting to find the Wrounds engrossed in last years after holiday discounted purchases. Much to his astonishment he found neither Mrs. nor Mr. Wround, only the many boxes he helped packed away the year before. Could I have awoken before them? He wondered aloud. Expecting them at any time, Marcus began gathering the boxes putting the smaller ones closer to the door and carrying the largest upstairs. What are you doing? asked Malinda, a newly hired check-in girl. Um, its Halloween. What do you think Im doing? Marcus asked baffled by the absurd question. You didnt hear? Malindas expression concerned Marcus immediately. Lowering the box he asked, Hear what? Last night. Last night, what?! Last night Mr. and Mrs. Wround, um She cleared her throat, afraid to finish her sentence. What! They passed away. Bewildered and confused Marcus hurried through the kitchen, a path he walked many times in the six years since arriving at the inn, towards the Wrounds apartment door. There was no answer. Theyre gone, a mans voice and a consoling hand appeared from behind. They were on their way back from their weekend trip. Marcus suddenly remembered the short trip the Wrounds planned a few weeks back. The small plane they chartered crashed. The voice was of Mr. Galic the chef and a good friend. How-how can that be? Marcus turned; a tear fell from his eye. Cops came around midnight; we didnt want to wake you. But Lost for words Marcus fell to his knees and cried. With the passing of the Wrounds the Inn was forced to close. No will was found and subsequently the once welcoming doors were shut never to be opened again. Homeless and out of work many of the Inns employees chose to move away from the town. Either in search of jobs or to ease the pain of their loss, but not Marcus, he chose to stay. Stay close to where he felt his home was. The only place he felt free and safe. Depressed, sad and hopeless, Marcus roamed the small town surrounding the Inn. A help wanted sign posted in the window of an eatery caught his eye, beside it a room for rent notice. With a defeated sigh he pushed open the glass door of the dinette, walked in and asked about the position available. Behind an aluminum counter that spanned the length of the small eatery stood a tall robust man, whose dark goatee contrasted his bald head. The job required little skill, man the counter and the grill from time to time, and clean up. Easy enough Marcus thought. After agreeing to take the job he left the dinette, found a pay phone and dialed the number on the room for rent sign. Located down the block from the dinette, the rental was decent but it didnt feel like home. It wasnt home. His new job required Marcus to start early and was to end late at night. Hard work but Marcus didnt mind, he wanted the distraction, needed it. He had visited the small dinette a few times while living in the Inn, but hadnt realized how busy the small place had been. The month of October was quickly coming to a close. Halloween was looming. Marcus couldnt bear to think of the mansion empty halls. He very much wished he was back in the basement lifting boxes filled with bony skeletons and fake blood or hanging larger them life spiders on webs made of cotton. Suddenly a thought dawned on him. Even though Marcus highly doubted ghosts existed who better than the Wrounds to prove him wrong. If anyone were to come back from the deadhe thought it would be the Wrounds. So, with that thought in mind Marcus made a plan. He would break into the Inn on Halloween night and wait. Wait for the Wrounds. Luck while not normally on Marcus side was there to lend a hand that Halloween night. Fortunate for him the locks had not been changed and the key, he still kept on his key ring, fit. His hours of planning how to break in had been a waste but the candles and flashlight he packed had not. With a flashlight in hand Marcus slipped through the front doors. At first glance the Inn looked and felt the same. Other then the particles of dust which hung from the ceiling and coated just about everything else all was as it was just twelve short months ago. Right down to the guest sign in book, open to the date the Wrounds had died. He had to get on with his plan and get out of there. No time for tears. No time for memories.            Mentally, he walked through the Inns many rooms and decided his former apartment most probably was the best place to connect with his former bosses. There were fewer windows making it less likely someone on the outside would see the flicker of the candles he was to light. With the beam of his flashlight leading the way he hurried up the stairs, walked straight to the door marked private and pushed it open. Entering was bitter sweet. He had loved the apartment. Hadnt dreamed hed ever have to leave it. Although nothing in his past told him differently. Hes had to move from every place he had ever called home; why he believed this dwelling was different he didnt know.He pushed back the sadness and situated himself center room. Leaving his flashlight on the floor he opened his bag and began placing the candles in a circle, lighting each one as he positioned them. Before long the room felt nothing like its original state. The walls seemed to disappear. The flickering flames created a feeling of being outside on a moonless night. Large shadows, he couldnt place, danced around him giving him a scare. Shadows of the dust, he mused, trying to calm himself.            Feeling silly hed let himself be spooked by such a simple thing as dangling dust bunnies he abruptly stood forgetting his foot was mere inches from the candles. The tip of his shoe grazed a candle, causing it to teeter. He tried to reach it in time, but before he knew it the candle had fallen and the rug beneath caught fire. He leapt atop the rug, tried his best to stomp out the fire, but his efforts were useless. With the speed of a racecar the fire spread. Marcus had no choice but to run, if he hadnt hed surely be trapped. He ran, ran fast. He heard the sirens as he hurried down and across the street. Unable to catch is breath he crouched down in a dark corner and watched. Watched as one by one fire trucks lined up, back to back. Watched as the men ran their hoses and rushed inside. His stomach turned to knots, he wanted to throw up. The eatery was all a buzz with chatter about last nights happenings. All eyes, including Marcus were focused on the over head television set waiting for any news of the fire. Many thought a gang of kids broke in, as a Halloween joke but according to the news anchor no evidence of a break in was visible and no signs of foul play were found. Marcus did his best to not look guilty. It wasnt easy. He felt horrible. In the months following the fire Marcus stomach eased. He hadnt been confronted as he feared he would. No one accused him or questioned him in regard to the fire. Over time Marcus eased back into his daily routine, throughout this time he continually heard word of the sale of the Inn. He hadnt had a chance to contact the Wrounds that Halloween evening and with the threat of new owners he felt he would never have the chance again. He watched the Inn closely over the next few weeks and sure enough a new family had begun to move their belongings in. Curious as to how someone could live in a partially burned place, he knocked on the door with the guise of being a friendly neighbor offering good tidings, a far stretch from his normal behavior of I dont see you, you dont see me. A young, brown haired girl opened the door without so much as a peek out the window or a question of who was knocking at her door. Hi. He did his best to appear friendly. Hi. She smiled. Um, your mom home? No mom, She said matter-of-factly. Hold on. Dad! Someones here for you. She yelled across the marble hall towards Mr. Wrounds office. (Former office he reminded himself). Behind her cardboard boxes lined the floor and check-in counter. Yes? May I help you? A tall, blonde haired man double his age hurried to the door. Hi, Im Marcus. I live near by. I just wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood. The man barely glanced his way, the phone in his hand beeped continually. I used to work here at the Inn, Marcus began surprised by his own openness. Really? The mansions new owner looked up from his phone. Then you know the lay out and where things are, like the fuse box. The man continued before Marcus could comment. The realtor was no help. I think she was upset her commission was way less then she had hoped for. I got this place for a steal. Did you know there was a fire? Good no one was here at the time, sad though I heard the rooms up there were something to see. Yes they were. Marcus whispered to himself. Im looking for help fixing up the place, you interested? The fast talking man ushered Marcus in quicker then he could react. Ill pay you of course. Marcus realized then the man assumed he had been the Inns Handy man." Im planning to gut the second floor, seeing most of it is beyond repair. Gonna make it one grand room. Rent it out for weddings, sweet sixteens, events like that. With the garden out front and the marble staircase people will flock to this location. Marcus half listened as the new owner went on. From where he stood, he could see the damage upstairs, the damage he caused. The reality of it pained him. My name is Ronald by the way. Ronald Wise. The little girl, well not so little anymore, shes my daughter, Josie. Well be living upstairs, that floor is intact. I will however be renovating that floor as well. The third floor is last on my list; Ill work up there after I open The Grand Creek. Its a play on this places former name, The Bird Creek Inn. How I figure it this place was well known and liked, why change the name totally. Right? Right, Marcus nodded. Ill take the job, Mr. Wise, happy to. Together they worked out a schedule that suited both Marcus and Mr. Wise. Ronald explained that hed be unable to pay Marcus a full salary until The Grand Creek opened. But once it was hed hire him full time which included a large paycheck and benefits. Marcus would continue his job at the eatery while helping at the Inn. He worked tirelessly for a full year in which time the second floor of the building was totally gutted, by his and Mr. Wises hands and reworked into a main gala fit for any extravagant wedding. When all was said and done and the work had been completed Marcus stood back, studied their work. Happy he had undone the damage he caused, he smiled and as he smiled he heard a familiar voice whisper, Good job my boy, good job. But when he turned, there was no one there. He was alone. The End.

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