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magazine coverIt’s a well-known fact among Talebones readers that Barb and J.C. Hendee are to blame for this fourteen year small press magazine. Fortunately, since they had run a small press magazine themselves (called Figment), they were both around to help (after I decided not to listen and start the magazine anyway). They now write the best-selling Noble Dead books, and Barb has her own vampire series, and upcoming is the Mist Born Witches series. She’s the sweetest person I know, without a doubt. This story came from our first issue. The cover is by Charles S. Fallis. It was our only black and white cover, printed on cardstock.



Tears in the rain don’t always fade into uniform oblivion, hiding behind a thousand other wet drops born from clouds or sadness. Especially if you’re dead. We never knew how Brennen came to us, only that he did.

My brother Joshua placed no stock in heaven or hell or God or sin or redemption. But only fools are arrogant enough to believe that everything in our world is visible. Josh and I grew up with a ghost, so perhaps that put us ahead of the game. Children of poor parents often experience richer childhoods in the halls and shadows of aging fixer-uppers that teem with the tattoos of past lives, especially in autumn and winter when the wind blows. Mrs. McPherson sat by the window in my bedroom each night looking out over our garden. I don’t think she ever saw me, but I often lay wrapped in my tattered comforter, gazing at her smooth pale face, and wondered what she thought about. Was she happy? Did she miss life? Why did she stare so at the garden? Josh tried to talk to her sometimes, but she never answered, and later we moved away. Our new home housed no ghosts, only dry rot. I was young then, and young minds are often more accepting.

After that, only the living passed through our doors until I was twenty-eight and Josh was thirty-two. We lived apart in our early twenties, each been married once and divorced, then the brakes on a fork lift failed and crushed his legs while he was working part-time down on the loading docks. When two orthopedic surgeons said he’d never walk again, he used the insurance money to buy a house in Portland, Oregon, and I moved in to help care for him. Not that it was any sacrifice. Josh had always been a good friend. He’d have done the same for me.

“Sherrie,” he called from the living room. “Channel twelve is showing Captain Blood in a few minutes. If you haul some wood in, I’ll build a fire.”

“Yeah, hang on. Dinner’s almost ready.”

He was careful about the television set. Too many of the invalids he’d come to know spent their days staring at one mindless program after another. So we went through the TV Guide every Sunday with a highlighter marking movies or sports events or news broadcasts that were being aired during our evening time together. Otherwise, the set stayed off.

I put a lid on the stew and pulled the bread out of the oven to cool slightly. “Be right back,” I called, grabbing his old jean jacket.

The night wind felt almost refreshing as my feet crunched down the frozen path to our back yard. Josh could do amazing things from a wheelchair, and the previous summer we had managed to construct a sort of makeshift woodshed (with a little help from a few friends). Burning the stove for heat was cheaper than electricity.

I’ve always liked darkness. I like to stand outside and see warm, yellow windows glowing with their welcome light. Odd, really, because that’s what made me stop that night — a light in the woodshed. It had to be clicked on from the inside, and nobody ever went inside but me.

“Is someone there?”

No one answered for a moment, and then I heard crying. Not a loud, wailing sound, but muffled, choking sobs. Should I go get Josh? The thought occurred, but never became reality. I stepped forward and opened the door, expecting to see a vagabond or perhaps a lost child.

Crouched by a stack of wood, he stood out clearly wearing khaki green pants, a white t-shirt, and two silver tags hanging around his neck. He looked about twenty-one and sported a nearly shaved head. Tears fell in shaky drops off his face but never hit the ground. He jumped when I walked in and whirled around with his back to the wall.

“Are you all right?” I asked.

“Something’s coming,” he whispered. “Something blue.”

And then he faded until only the wall was left.

There’s a ghost out in the woodshed,” I said to Josh after he’d started thefire, turned on Captain Blood, and taken a bite of stew.


“I think he’s a soldier. He’s wearing dog tags and his head’s been shaved.”

“Is he still there?”

“No, but . . . .”

“But what?”

“He was crying.”

“Then he’ll come back.”

“Maybe. He wasn’t sad like Mrs. McPherson. He looked scared.”

Should I have told Josh about him speaking to me? It’s not that he wouldn’t have believed me. I just didn’t want to spook him. At least not yet. Living people see dead ones all the time, but the two sides speaking to each other is something else entirely.

I ate my stew without tasting it and watched the film with only mild annoyance after noticing it was colorized.

No sound or light or sobbing woke me later. I only remember opening my eyes to see his softly glowing form crouched at the foot of my bed, looking at my stereo.

I remained silent until his gaze lifted to me. He seemed calmer now, almost composed.

“What is this?” he asked.

I didn’t know what he meant and shook my head.

“This silver thing with all the lights,” he said. “Is it a radio?”

“The stereo? It has a radio.”

“Where’s the mouthpiece?”

“There isn’t one. I just use it to play tapes.”

He stared at me, dim illumination shining from his eyes. “Is this America?”

“Yes, Portland, Oregon.”

“What year?”


He winced and turned away. “Something’s coming. Something blue.”

Then the room was empty except for me. I didn’t sleep anymore.

Our friends, Mark and Dogger, came over the next night to play poker.

After Josh’s initial accident, they hung around the hospital out of guilt. Both of them seemed to think that Josh’s life was basically over since he couldn’t play football and chase a Frisbee around over a six-pack on the weekends anymore. But their attitude changed once Josh was wheeling himself around the Safeway store, building woodsheds, and shoveling snow off the front walk. It wasn’t that he resigned himself to some tragic situation or “accepted” his new lot in the world. I don’t think he ever gave it much thought. Driving his truck and reaching the higher kitchen cupboard had suddenly become a problem, but other than that he didn’t see things as any different. Since he didn’t express the least amount of sympathy for himself, no one else did either. He was a lot of fun before losing the use of his legs. He was a lot of fun afterwards. That’s all.

“How many cards?” he asked Dogger.


“Four? Poor guy.”

“Just deal.”

I was still wrestling with how much of last night should be shared. Not with the others, of course, but the vision of that wan, transparent image as he visually dissected my stereo seemed an unfair item to keep from Josh.

Who was this phantasm?

How could he speak to me?

How could he hear me?

“How many cards?”

“What?” I looked up into Josh’s broad face.

“I asked how many cards you wanted,” he said. “You’ve either got a killer hand or a pretty sad one. Your eyes look fifty miles away.”

“Oh, sorry. I’m not feeling very well. Maybe I’m just tired. Do you guys care if I call it a night?”

They grumbled a little because I’d only lost six dollars so far and Mark was hoping to clean me out, but Josh nodded his head toward the hallway.

“Are you getting sick?” he asked.

“No, I haven’t been sleeping.”

Our hall was covered in cream wallpaper with tiny faded rosebuds—warm and old-fashioned. I walked down our worn carpet among the rosebuds toward my bedroom.

Then I heard the sobbing. Not so lost anymore. Controlled. Terrified.

The attic.

Without thinking, I took two steps back and reached for the ladder. No one had been up there for nearly a year, so dust filled my mouth, choking me slightly as I pushed up the wooden, hatch-style door on the ceiling.

It was dark, but I could see his pale outline, sitting by an aged cedar trunk, trying desperately to open it, but his fingers kept passing through the latch. I climbed all the way in and closed the entrance behind me.

“What are you doing?”

He turned. “Help me.”

Josh and I had never bothered to clean the dusty, attic relics of the previous owners away. Partly because we had no use for the extra room and partly because we still remembered the peaceful chills of our childhood in the old Manhattan house with Mrs. McPherson. All around me lay tattered shawls, imitation Tiffany lamps, an over stuffed velvet chair in varying shades of dark green, broken pottery jars, ceramic horses with their ears chipped off, and several mismatched cedar chests.

“What’s inside?” I asked, after pulling the beaded light cord, kneeling down beside him and looking at the rusted latch.

“We have to find it. Just start looking.”

“Looking for what?”

“I don’t know yet.”

My presence seemed to calm him a bit and his visage stopped wracking quite so harshly. But what did he want? Perhaps he was confused. I opened the chest. Inside lay ancient, moth-eaten clothes from the thirties or maybe forties. I couldn’t tell.

“Do you see it?” I asked.

“Start digging.”

“For what?”

“Anything that looks like it could be mine.”

That lost me. “How could I possibly know which things might be yours?”

“Just do it!”

Anger replaced his expression of fear, and he tried lifting the top layer of clothes himself. His hands disappeared into a cotton skirt. I leaned over and began pulling items out for him to see. He watched carefully until the last hole-ridden pair of hand-knitted socks lay on the floor next to us.

“Nothing,” he whispered, staring at the pile. “I thought for sure . . .”

He trailed off, and I took in the sight of his tense young face, blue eyes, and short — almost nonexistent — covering of reddish-blond hair.

“Who are you?” I asked finally.

“Who . . . ?” He moved to a crouched, but more relaxed position. “Brennen Marcher, Private, third class.” His gaze suddenly lifted and for the first time, he looked straight at me. “Something’s coming. Something blue.”

Then I was alone.

Josh, are you awake?” I called softly from his bedroom door about midnight.

“Yeah, what’s wrong?”

He often had trouble sleeping. I took him to a local doctor once who gave my brother this sterling advice, “Just stop worrying about everything a few minutes before you go to bed. Turn your mind off and relax.” Words of wisdom. All I could think at the time was, “You went to school eight years to learn that?”

Josh clicked on the nightstand light by his bed.

“Nothing’s wrong,” I said.

“Well, yeah . . . can I talk to you?”

He sat up and moved backward, leaning against his headboard. I smiled when the sheet fell to his waist and I noticed he was wearing a threadbare t-shirt our dad bought him years ago that said in big block letters, QUESTION AUTHORITY.

I moved in and sat on the bed. “That ghost is back.”

“So? I told you he’d be back.”

“He’s speaking to me.”

Josh’s brows knitted. “Are you sure?”

“Sure? Yes, I’m sure. He made me go through an old trunk in the attic looking for . . . for something. He’s afraid.”

For a moment I watched Josh’s expression change, nothing overt, just a flicker. “Sherrie, what was he looking for?”

“I don’t know. He didn’t know. Maybe he doesn’t even belong here. He seems pretty confused. He asked me what year it was.”

Josh turned quickly and grabbed his bathrobe. Then, using his arms, he propelled himself down the mattress toward his wheel chair. “You saw him in the woodshed and the attic?”

“And my room.”

He stopped. “Your room? Maybe he can go anywhere he wants. Did he give you his name?”

“Um, yes, Marcher. Brennen Marcher. He said he’s a private or something.”

The items in this bedroom were always far more chaotic than the ones in mine. Josh liked photos and knick knacks and paperback books strewn all over the place to remind him of his history. He stopped pushing himself down and glanced around, toward the door, then the closet, then the faded braid rug by his nightstand.

“Brennen, can you hear me?” he said.

I held my breath in surprise. That seemed too easy. But then a blur of white caught the corner of my vision, and gradually a translucent figure materialized by the cluttered mahogany desk. He seemed disoriented for a moment. His gaze shifted first to me, then to Josh. At the sight of Josh, his face shifted into profound relief.

“Oh, thank . . . .” He trailed off and turned to me. “You found help. Good girl.”

Good girl? What did that mean?

“We have to hurry,” Brennen rushed on. “Do you have any weapons? Guns? A decent hunting knife? Anything?”

These last questions were aimed at Josh, who sat staring in fascination. “There’s a 20 gauge shotgun in the kitchen. Why?”

“Go and get it. We don’t have much time. He’s coming. I can feel him.” Then Brennen saw the wheelchair and he froze. “Whose is that?”

Josh smiled almost sadly. “Mine.”

“You’re a cripple?” The words came out with that panicked choking sound I’d heard him make so often. “Then we’re lost.”

I suddenly felt frustrated, and Brennen was beginning to frighten me. We were all speaking, but no one seemed to be saying anything. “What’s wrong?” I blurted out. “What’s coming?”

Schutzstaffel. Waffen SS.”

No one said anything. I still didn’t get it, but Josh moved to the edge of his bed and lifted himself into the wheelchair. “You do know you’re dead, don’t you?” he asked Brennen.

“Yeah, I know.”

“When did it happen?”

“January 6, 1943. Just before 02 hundred hours.”

Fifty-one years ago, to the day. I looked at my watch. 1:05 a.m. January 6th. Brennen’s agitation made a little more sense now, although I still didn’t understand what he was so afraid of. He’d either died or been killed almost exactly fifty years ago. Josh and I both sat quietly, somehow knowing he would go on.

“We were running supplies in Libya.” His low voice whispered now. “It was hot, so hot you couldn’t breathe, then freezing cold at night. My dad always told me deserts were cold at night. General Montgomery commanded entire divisions down there, Brits, Aussies, a small bunch from New Zealand, some Indians and South Africans, even a few Americans like me. All good fighters. They had Rommel on the run for Tunisia. He knew it. They knew it. Everybody knew it.”

The hatred in Brennen’s voice when he mentioned Rommel’s name surprised me. Wasn’t Rommel some sort of WWII hero, even to the Allies? Mark and Dogger used to stay up until three in the morning just to watch Desert Fox movies on channel thirteen.

“It had turned into a supply war. You can’t imagine what the land looks like. There’s nothing. No food. No water. No cover. The British Navy got as much into port as they could. Then it was up to the fliers and ground convoys to try and run it in. Our convoy was a gold mine: food, water, trucks, tanks — Crusaders and a couple of the new Churchills — rifles, heavy artillery . . . even three 17 Pounder antitank guns.” His voice drifted. “Those Germans couldn’t have used that stuff. Not then. Rommel wasn’t even retreating anymore. He was flat-out running down the coast.”

“What happened?” Josh broke in.

“I fell asleep.” The face of Brennen was somehow crystalline clear and hazy at the same time. “We’d been pushing hard for a week. Montgomery needed our convoy to keep up the chase. We were trying to intercept him nine hundred miles inside the eastern Libyan boarder. We kept going that night until 22 hundred hours, and I was one of the guys who pulled first watch. I was exhausted. I had dirt in my eyes and my mouth, and I just fell asleep over my rifle.”

His words sounded shaky and uncertain now. I listened with silent interest as though all of this had happened yesterday.

“Something woke me up, and I saw this dark blue coat standing over me. I couldn’t believe it. We were rationing blankets to keep from freezing after sundown and somebody’s standing there in a long coat. Then I saw the Swastika on his arm and his black shirt. There were dozens of others behind him. Dozens, all wearing black shirts. I’d heard about Waffen SS corps from my Sarge, but I’d never seen one until that night. I only had a few seconds, but I still remember how much they all looked alike. The guy looking down at me wore a skull and crossbones insignia, which means he’d been part of a death’s-head battalion. He had the coldest face I’d ever seen and an automatic pistol pointed at my chest. He told me to keep still, and I went for my rifle. I felt my lung explode before even hearing the shot. I got a few rounds off into the air, but it was too late. There were bullets ringing out and troops screaming all around me. I lost it. I lost the whole convoy because I was too tired to keep watch, and Waffen SS corps always found the weakest point inside.”

“Oh, Brennen,” I breathed, not knowing what else to say. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“Yes, it was.” He started nodding and kept it up. “It was and it’s going to happen all over again tonight unless we can find whatever’s keeping me tied to this house.”

“What do you mean?” Josh asked.

“Exactly what I said,” Brennen snapped back. “I’ve never seen this house. I’ve never even been to Oregon. But just before two o’clock this morning the whole scene is going to replay itself right here. It’s a punishment for my crime.”

“How do you know that?”

“I just do. I don’t know how. Just like I know that something from my past is tying me to this house or I wouldn’t be here.”

“Did someone tell you that?”

Brennen frowned. “Maybe . . . I don’t know. I don’t remember anything after being shot. But we have less than an hour to find whatever it is and get it as far away from this house and this town as possible. Maybe we can run it into the woods somewhere and keep anyone but me from becoming involved.”

This was all getting too weird for me. Too much. Too fast. But Josh sat there as if soldier ghosts materialized into his bedroom every day. “Do you have any idea what we’re looking for?”


“Before I bought the house, it belonged to a older couple named David and Margaret Banks. Did you know them?”


“All right then. I’ll take the downstairs. Sherrie, you take Brennen back up to the attic and dig through everything. When we find it, he’ll know. I’ll call out if I see anything I don’t recognize as ours.”

Brennen turned to me, his expression still tense but relieved to be taking action — perhaps even taking orders. “I’ll meet you up there.”

“How did you manage to turn the light in the woodshed when you don’t seem able to touch anything else?” I asked while breaking into another trunk and pulling out half its faded contents.

“I don’t know. It was dark and confusing. I wanted a light to see what was around me. Suddenly it came on. That’s all.”

Our search of the attic had proven fruitless so far. The light up here was dim and flickering, casting dancing shadows across the plank board walls and slanted ceiling. We were working on the last chest and nothing appeared even vaguely familiar to Brennen. I’m not sure I really believed him, but it was quite clear that he believed every word of his prediction and each passing moment brought him closer to panic.

“Oh, look,” I said. “It’s a 1920s flapper gown. This must have belonged to someone’s grandmother. I wonder why anyone would leave all this behind?”

He barely glanced down. “Yeah, it’s pretty. Listen, when this starts, you get down and stay down, understand? I’m not going to be able to protect you.”

Protect me? I stopped digging. “Brennen, I can take care of myself.”

“Just do it.”

Part of me understood his fear, especially if he honestly thought his own death was about to take place all over again. But something else he’d said in Josh’s room kept tugging at the back of my mind.

“Whatever happens, you shouldn’t think you’re being punished.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said quietly.

“Yes, I do. Everyone makes mistakes at some point in their life, sometimes serious mistakes. I can’t believe that fate or a god or whatever force is out there would make you go through all this again as some sort of penance or retribution.”

“Then why am I here?”

I don’t know how I would have answered that question, but the words never came. Instead, Josh called up from the hallway.

“Hey, guys, get down here. I found a loose floorboard.”

I jumped for the ladder and found Brennen below, waiting while Josh tried to pry up a rattling wooden board in front of his chair. Falling to help him, my fingernails slipped down the side and we lifted it to find nothing but dust and a worn nickel.

“I’m sorry,” Josh sighed. “I’ve covered most of the downstairs already.”

“We can’t stop, “ Brennen said as he stood up, then his gaze fell on the wall and he froze. “Oh, no.”

Josh backed up. “What? What is it?”

“Get out of the house!”

“No, Brennen, you tell me what you see.”

I stood there silently watching our soldier ghost choke again, as if he were trying to breathe.

“The wallpaper,” he said. “I bought that wallpaper on leave in London and sent it to Hoboken as a present for Maggie. She always liked roses.”

“Who’s Maggie?”

“My girl. Now get out. Don’t you see? We can’t steam this off in time. He’s almost here.”

The little rosebud wallpaper decorating our halls. I thought about the names, David and Margaret Bond. Maggie. She must have married sometime after Brennen’s death and moved from New Jersey to Oregon with her husband, taking this paper with her. How had she felt when the news first reached her? I couldn’t imagine.

Brennen groaned suddenly as though in pain, and I turned from the wall. I’m not sure what any of us suspected would really happen, but the sight of his hand stunned me. It was solid, flesh and blood, the dark tan tone was moving up his arm toward the sleeve of his t-shirt. He staggered backward.

“Sherrie, get that shotgun.”

I bolted toward the kitchen, cutting though the living room, but stopped in my tracks when a huge green truck materialized right in front of me. The couch disappeared inside it, but through the army green transparency I could still make out the velvet burgundy lines. I went to the window. There were trucks and tanks and sleeping soldiers on the back lawn. All of them slightly translucent, as Brennen had been. Peering inside the living room truck, I saw crates of supplies and a young man, about eighteen, shivering inside a thin brown blanket. He looked like a child in the dark. He was awake, but didn’t notice my presence, as if he couldn’t see me.

“Josh,” I called. “Come out here.”

Instead of Josh, Brennen walked slowly out of the hallway entrance. He was darkly tanned and completely corporeal by now. He had some sort of rifle slung over his left shoulder; it appeared to be as solid as he was.

“Why can’t they see us?” I asked.

He didn’t answer and went to the very edge of the room. First he dropped to a crouched position, leaning on the gun. Then he slid all the way to the ground and began breathing lightly. I started toward him.

“Don’t,” Josh said from behind me. 

“We have to wake him up.”

“No, just get over in front of the truck, by the window.”

That didn’t make sense. Did Josh want Brennen to die all over again? I moved over in front of the truck, and he pulled me down in a tight huddle. Why were we hiding? None of the soldiers could see us.

“Josh —”

“Ssssh. Be quiet.”

We stayed like that for five minutes, then new movement blurred across the hallway. Black shirts. They were all on foot. The small platoon had probably been tracking this convoy from a distance for days, waiting until exhaustion set in. Whatever vehicles they travelled in had now been left somewhere behind. I remembered what Brennen said about the land offering no cover.

Josh gripped my wrists to keep me from moving. Then I saw the blue coat. No experience in my life prepared me for the sight of that SS officer when he slipped in. I’ve often heard emotionless people being compared to reptiles, but I’d never really understood the image before. His face had no movement. It was smooth and motionless, like some perverted Michelangelo statue come to life. He was about fifteen feet away from us and I could make out every detail clearly, just as Brennen had described. His men followed closely, silently. There were only two differences between him and them. He was wearing a long, blue coat over his black shirt, and he was solid. That’s why Josh had hidden us. The Waffen officer was real.

And so was his gun.

But then he took a step toward Brennen, and I struggled in Josh’s grasp. “You can’t let him die again.”

My brother’s hands felt like bone manacles. “Quiet,” he whispered. “Brennen’s already dead. Just watch.”

The SS soldiers moved like coyotes in a narrow fan, their eyes clicking back and forth. There had to be more outside the camp. The officer was standing over Brennen now. Everything shifted into the past.

The young private opened his eyes.

“Don’t move,” the voice above whispered.

Brennen jerked up his rifle, and part of his chest exploded. He fired into the air, and two bullets caught the Waffen officer, one in the shoulder and one in the face. Rapid fire burst from the back of the truck. Five of the SS soldiers dropped like wheat being mown down. The others didn’t even flinch and began firing back. The element of surprise was lost; now it was simply down to a fight.

White bullets and screaming and running feet surrounded us. But all I could concentrate on was the gasping sound near the wall where Brennen still fought for air, his gaze locked on the ceiling. Josh let me go.

Crawling across the carpet, I suddenly found myself staring down in the open eyes of a black-shirted soldier. He was about nineteen and he wasn’t breathing. Somehow the concepts of right-side/wrong-side, good and evil don’t make very much sense when you’re kneeling over a dead kid.

Brennen was still gasping when I reached him. I pulled his head into my lap. I couldn’t see any part of his chest for all the blood. The black shirts who still lived were running away now.

“Can you hear me?” I asked.

“Yes,” he whispered.

“You didn’t lose the convoy. You warned the others. It’s safe. It must have reached General Montgomery.”

There was no joy or sense of victory or honor inside me. Men had died over a mass of inanimate objects. I was ashamed, but I still turned Brennen’s head toward the Waffen officer. “Look, you killed him. He was standing too close.”

His face was incredulous when he turned back to me, gasping even harder, making wheezing sounds in his throat. He gripped my arm.

“Sherrie, who won the war?”

Why had he never asked me that before? It was the one question I most expected. The one I kept waiting for him to put to me. I hate ticker-tape parades that celebrate death. The very essence of the belief that two or more countries can solve their problems by sending young people out to kill each other makes no sense to me.

But holding Brennen’s head in my lap filled me with a sense of despair that went beyond ideals or governments.

“We did, Brennen. We won.”

His grip relaxed and he smiled. Bit by bit, his form changed back into transparency, and then he just faded away, still smiling. I touched the carpet where he’d been lying.

It was still warm.

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