Born between Silent Night and a prayer, in the church of St. Augustine, Nog, a melted-buttery-eyed muse, far from the beautiful goddesses of legend (more like a story told by some muse who was full of herself), finds his life turned upside down when his vessel, Danny, the man he was born to inspire, is killed. But what, or who killed him? And why and how?
Where man strives for his God, a muse strives for his vessel. But what happens when that muse’s vessel is gone? Most go to Rhapsody, an Eden-like sanctuary. Yet when Danny’s wife gives birth to a daughter, only days after his death, Nog feels compelled to stay in this world to try and teach the child about her daddy through her daddy’s songs.
While other muses don’t understand him, and call what he’s doing unnatural, this Christmas muse forges on into an unpredictable future of mysterious signs and “oddballish” concoctions amid the unforeseen dangers this world holds for a muse on his own. Left with only a fractured guitar and a ghost’s friendship, Nog discovers not only the unexpected joys after a broken heart, but a truer sense of what it means to inspire.
First Chapter Teaser
Nog: A Christmas Muse
A novel by
Chapter 1: A Rude Awakening
Nog, the little bugger that he was, lay half in slumber in the inner darkness of a guitar, which was in its case, his soft soled boots at his side. “It’s her,” he heard someone say. His abode rocked and his stomach sank as he was lifted and jostled about.
“Ha,” Nog said with boyish enthusiasm, “Danny’s got to get a peek.”
The door of the bar squeaked open. A few moments later he could hear some muffled voices, a man’s and a woman’s, conversing outside.
“I’m very sorry for you, mam. It … it was … it was left behind. You should have it.”
“That wasn’t Danny,” Nog thought. It sounded like Joe the bartender.
“Thank you,” the woman said.
But who was that? Nog tried to place the subdued voice. It was rather melancholy. Nog’s stomach rose as he sank this time, and the swinging stopped.
“If there is anything I can do for you, mam,” the man said, “just you call on old Joe.”
Nog had his hand cupped between his ear and the wall.
“Thank you,” she softly said.
The rocking started up again, but gentler than before, more of a meditative sway. Nog thought that that was peculiar. It was unlike Danny to eavesdrop on some others’ conversation, but Danny had something on his mind. The calmness in his walk told Nog so. He was either preoccupied sifting through lingering ideas, or sifting through newer light bulbs, more likely playing matchmaker and suitor for them both. Danny was a poet and musician, a songwriter. Nog did so like the new one Danny was working on, a Christmas song. He dipped and raised his finger in front of himself as if he could hear the accompaniment, and hummed the tune that quite easily drifted into words.
“♪♫ Savior all to us … ♪ Savior to who will be … ♫ Gentle as the lamb goes ♪ … A whisper over cries … ♫ Setting captives free … ♪♫ Master as he serves us all ♫♪”
Oh, he did so like those words. Nog had to put it up as one of his favorites. After what felt like only a couple of minutes, the meditative swaying slowly subsided and he was dropped …
… and tipped. Finding himself on his side with his small wreath, which he wore like a hat, drooped over one eye, he rested on his elbow and heard someone speak.
“What?” There was that woman’s melancholy voice again, but this time talking to Danny. He pushed his wreath up. Who was she and why was she so downhearted? Nog waited on Danny’s response for some help … and waited. “Is Danny’s talk low today?” Nog thought. “I honestly can’t hear him.” He tugged on the bottom of his long ears as if that might unplug a clog. “Speak up out there!” Nog shouted and knocked wood.
Together, light and a draft broke through the circular window.
“Ugh, Dan, that weren’t too pretty. I’m awake now! You know I prefer a morning call in a mild minor ‘C’ chord.” He shook his head and mumbled, “Told you that, time and time again.” He cracked his back and inserted one of his feet into a boot. “Okay, I’m up. What will it be today?” Nog sat and grabbed the other boot and was evidently more cheerful. “The Christmas song, or a merrymaker for the tavern? I do hope the Christmas piece.” He slid on the boot and opened his baritone, “Savior all to … whoa!” but was suddenly tumbled back onto his neck and thrown onto his face swatted by his close quarter’s abrupt rise and turn. “Easy!”
The side of Nog’s wooden canopy caved in, landing like a ship riding the wave of a storm into the jagged rocks.
“Haggard beef! What’s come?!” The window went dark in shadow. “Danny?!” He was flabbergasted. “Danny!!” Nog rubbed his banged head under an intrusive piece of wood from the outside, lifted his wreath from the floor, and placed his anxious hand through the porthole. “What’s this?” His chest ached from his heart’s pounding. “It’s cold.” He felt flat stone. “Where are the strings? Oh.” He grabbed just one. He didn’t like this, not at all. Nog frantically climbed through the aperture, placing one brown boot against a sill and the other on the cold stone and pushed the two apart, working his way down from between them both. His dwarf-like body shivered with the brisk morning that snuck up under his linen, which hung out from his trousers. He hurriedly tucked his shirt in. Wires scraped over him, poking at his eyes. He swatted them away and stepped back against the snow, squinting at the attacking sunlight as the frozen flakes and clumps sprinkled and rolled down his neck. “It’s broken?” He quivered as the wet chill doused his back. “Who could have?” Nog stared under his raised hand at the footprints leading away in the white blanket. His eyes followed them. He powdered the snow as he shuffled to the right to look beyond a stone urn and fat cherub. A woman with long blonde hair was exiting by the gate. “Charlene?” Nog trudged around the slab and blew the flakes from his face as if a couple of fewer feet would make all the difference. “Charlene.” It was her. Nog was confused. He turned back to the guitar. It was almost cracked in half. Peeled splinters from the crushed body and the base of the neck stubbornly held it together with the solitary help of a bent string, which miraculously had refused to pop like the others. The guitar drooped over the tombstone like an open school book with its pages falling out. “No, not the guitar,” he moaned in disbelief at its defeated condition.
Others of the dislocated strings bounced slightly from their knobs and looked almost like slender icicles, depending on how the winter’s light hit them. The low “E” string, the thicker of the bunch, hung further than the rest, dangling in front of an engraved name. Why he was drawn to it, he hadn’t a clue, but Nog squinted at the chiseled inscription, determined, and read, “Danny …”
“No!!!” The tiny muse’s voice echoed to not a living soul. “How’s this?” His big yellow eyes, like two large goldfish bowls with plump yellow fish in them, gazed around the cemetery in a panic. The fish in each tried to flip its way out of the bowl, flapping from glass bottom to rim and side to side until they each turned belly up. His basset hound-like ears, similar to all muses, stirred up small snow drifts around him in his search for someone with an answer, but he knew … no matter what the answer was, Danny was gone. His legs faltered and he dropped, the seat of his pants wedged in the snow. He sat there in his own frozen urn, with his rusty autumn hair and wreath looking like someone had planted a mum centerpiece.
“Danny, Danny …” He repeated the name and shook his head, and pronounced it again and again as if the sound of it would keep him there, or if pronounced more often than not, bring him back, but here was the end nonetheless. For thirty two years, from one December to another, Danny had been here. Nog never thought much about it in terms of time, but that’s what the etchings on the grave said. He knew he’d been born to Danny only a few Decembers after that first December, and he hadn’t known a moment without him … until now. There would be no thirty third year for Danny, nor more years for Nog to share.
“He needs time,” a voice in the distance said. “His loss is an early one, but even in their shortness together their bond was immeasurable.”
“We wait for him at his moment of rhapsody,” a woman’s voice said.
“A few more days, My Lady, and he’ll be ready.”
“A muse is a being of the heart and should be treated tenderly,” she said. “So be it.”
For two days that little muse with a nose that faintly resembled a small pear sat and stared at that name on the stone and did nothing else. He was number than any length of time in that New England snowfall could affect him.
“Who am I?” Nog said on the last hour of the morning of the second day looking inward at emptiness.
“Notabius Deliphrium,” a voice said from behind him.
Nog slowly turned his neck like the loosening of a cork in a tight wine bottle. It was Requiem, Requiem Portentine, a friendly enough, but solemn muse responsible for collecting the muses orphaned by a departed vessel. He had dark, pointed hair, but a greying five o’clock shadow, and silver blue fish floating in his fishbowl-like eyes. The profile of his nose was slightly less than horizontal, until a quarter of the way along where it then changed direction and dropped nearly vertical, ending out with a cherry tomato above his nostrils. Like Nog, he was the size of a small rabbit and had the same basset hound-like ears, but due to his title of collector, wore a white gown. His white cloth, losing itself in the snow, made him almost appear a head without a body, a hapless apparition at this point for Nog.
“I don’t know who I am,” Nog repeated himself.
“Nog,” Requiem said, “a muse … and a very good one at that. Your vessel Danny was the fortunate benefactor of your influence. No doubt his daughter will carry on in his footsteps.”
“Daughter?” Nog picked up something through the haze.
“Yes,” Requiem informed him. “Within a sad and happy hour she was born this morning.”
Dong!!! Dong!!! …
“The church bells at St. Augustine,” Requiem said. “Christmas, or have you forgotten?”
“Christmas?” Nog said, faintly remembering it was coming.
“Yes, Christmas,” Requiem said. “You remember that.”
“Well, the baby?” Nog asked.
“Healthy,” Requiem answered. “The cock dropped its proud chest, cock-a-doodling against her prolific wailing. A stubborn knocker on that door, wanting everyone to know she arrived.”
Nog closed his eyes, and then opened them again, but only to the name on the gravestone.
“You need more time, my friend?” Mr. Portentine asked. Requiem was keen to subtleties, a sound reason for his appointment under their mistress.
There was a moment for pause.
“I think I do,” Nog answered vacantly.
“We can do that,” he said. “I’ve been assured. The Lady In Waiting herself said you are in no immediate danger,” Requiem stressed the “who,” who had said this, as if this was by far not her usual practice and an honor. All his stressing in the world though, would not distract Nog from the muted place he was in … and Requiem quite easily saw this. “I will call on you then, when the second half of the moon reappears, if that’s fine with you?”
There was no response from Nog.
“Then the second half?” Requiem brushed the front of his robe and waited fruitlessly as before for a nod, or … anything. His own fishbowls for eyes rested on Nog and looked as if they’d grown heavier. “Find cheer, my friend,” he finally said … and then vanished.
An organ’s tremolo wobbled through the pores of the neighboring church. A sudden rise in its volume welcomed the late arrivers to the celebration and accompanied them inside, and was muffled again to only pore-seepage as the doors closed shut behind them. Its surge and settling were like the weighty sighs in Nog’s chest.
And then they awakened, “♪ Joyful, joyful we adore thee … ♫” The congregation of St. Augustine joined in and lifted its voices to the miracle of the day. The celebratory strains bled through the stained glass windows of its aged tan limestone walls, and found their way out to the graveyard only to bleed some more against Nog’s inner ears, which were already well into beating out a funeral march on their drums. The two mixed like oil and vinegar and left him feeling … much … more alone.
The sun had set and wiped the earth from its chin many times before Nog finally found strength enough to get up, and uncovered a patch of spring thaw, some incubated blades of grass that had benefited from his warm bottom. He knocked an elf’s cap from his head that had formed out of snow and beat his wreath on his thigh.
“Hmm.” He brushed away a last tear and stared at the fractured instrument in the sun going down. One thing for certain, he couldn’t keep Danny’s guitar out here for the elements to wither away, or to be picked up for someone’s kindling. He hadn’t seriously considered his surroundings before, but the gate to the yard seemed dreadfully further than he remembered, and where was he to go anyhow? This was Chise, a small town only known for potholes. On top of that, he hadn’t noticed the passing nights or where the moon lay in its phases either, but he had a notion as the cloud cover broke that Requiem would return soon. Standing there like a displaced mushroom, Nog saw the exposed dark brown timber and the chipped olive-green paint of the Tudoresque Glocken Stew Tavern, Joe’s place, one bookend of the graveyard awkwardly mismatched with St. Augustine on the other side. The illumination from its windows was rosy and blushed like a satisfied lush.
“There’s a home if there is one,” Nog said, and agreed with himself that that was the place to be. He tapped his wreath one last time against his leg and put it back on, scanned his immediate circle of space, and scratched his head. “Where’s the case?” He retraced his tracks back to the other side of the grave. “She wouldn’t have dropped it further than this when she opened it.” Nog poked his head out of more and more of the urns he created in the snow, searching for the missing guitar case, but eventually he accepted the fate of it. “It’s gone. Someone took it.” He sunk again, and looked up beyond the uncovering stars. “Forgive me, Danny. I didn’t see it taken, but if I had, I would have fought for it. I would have … but I still have the guitar …” He faced the slung wooden carcass. “… both parts,” he mumbled and fretted.
A cool breeze whipped in and unexpectedly lifted the downed snowflakes from their retirement, spraying Nog with the freckles of a snowman and urging him on to the business at hand before nightfall. He approached the bottom half of the guitar hanging off the backside of the grave, and had to reach up over his head like a yawn to touch it, but lost height in his arms when he tried to grab both sides of the wide body. Nog jumped and pressed his two hands toward each other as if he was trying to clap with the guitar between them, but his weight attached to the two suction cups was in no way remotely adequate for the job. “Useless, unanimously useless,” he muttered. Nog tugged on one of the strings, but it appeared the top of the stone was unfinished and grabbed the masticated wood. He went around to the other side and found the knobs and handle just plain out of reach. He scratched his temple at the predicament.
Thud! Thud! Thud!
Someone was hammering? The noise echoed the chilled valley air. It was at a moment like this that Nog realized, only after the silence had been disturbed, how quiet it had been.
Thud! Thud! Thud!
“Yes, think, think, think,” Nog muttered with the rhythm and glanced around.
Thud! Thud! Thud!
“What is that?” Nog’s fish bowls grew by the gallon. A misty formation, maybe fog, lighter in appearance than the warm breath on the cold air stood there, little more than an outline of a man banging away at a tombstone. Nog had never seen one, and considered a subtle and invisible approach to be of common sense, though others would have argued that leaving in the opposite direction had more sense and was far more common. Nog however, not being a commoner, advanced as commonly as his person saw fit.
Thud! Thud! Thud!
Nog was easily concealed by the fallen snow, and if he needn’t jump up over it to get by, he could tunnel through it like a mole peeking out at spots, and so it was in this manner that he processed forward towards the apparition. With more snow down his back and a wet chill to go along with it, he was doing well with his judgment of distance, poking his head up at intervals as planned … but further along the way the snow must have gotten lighter, and as a result, he covered more ground than expected and was startled when he popped his head and ears out just under the curiously shaped bank of fog with bushy hair reaching down to its equally thick sideburns, and a … pirate shirt? Below its eyes, a darker patch in the fog alluded to a five o’clock shadow, and an even darker patch within that patch looked like a scar. Above its eyes, two sharpened, fuzzy pencils rocked and shifted, and were perpendicular to the clef in its chin that could have been cut by a knife.
“Hey there,” the fog spoke. “You’re a funny looking rabbit.”
Nog figured he could be a rabbit if fogs were friends of rabbits.
“What’s your name?” the fog asked.
“Do rabbits have names?” Nog said.
“Then I’m Nog.”
“No, they don’t,” the fog said. “I lied. You’re not a rabbit.”
“But a pet rabbit could be given a name,” Nog protested.
“You’re not a rabbit.”
“You’re not a ghost are you?” Nog asked.
The “whatever it was” raised its head back. “Is this New England?” the fog asked.
“Yes,” Nog answered sheepishly.
“Is this a cemetery?” The bodily challenged specter gestured to the yard of rock.
“Yes,” Nog baahed.
The ghost’s head suddenly enveloped Nog’s personal space just off the muse’s small pear nose. “Then, what don’t you understand?” he said.
“But the daylight’s not totally gone.” Nog held his ground with no bad breath to flee from.
“Oh, you’re one of those,” the ghost said and tipped back, “a traditionalist.”
“It’s just I didn’t think …”
“That’s your problem, you should.”
“Now you don’t have to get like that.” Nog was distracted from the ghostliness of the ghost to a defense, but then he was quickly distracted again. “Is that blood?” The grave was stained, and the snow beneath it was also splattered, by whatever it was, around a globular puddle of it.
“This? No, no, no, no, no,” the ghost said. “It’s cranberry sauce.” He tapped the label.
It was only at that point that Nog noticed the dented can in the fog’s hand, and looking through him, the pile of cans at his rear.
“I love this stuff,” the ghost continued. “Managed to manipulate objects with my hands, but don’t do too well holding them down in my stomach.” He looked at the sullied ground. “Or rather up. Sloppy, beg pardon. I swear I can taste it, but that’s all probably in my head, six feet under.” He pointed to a different plot. “You know, fanciful memories.”
“You’re not even making this mess at your own place?” Nog looked at the ghost’s marker. It looked near perfect as compared to the chipped and cracked graves around it, and was the only one not bathed in some sort of discoloration. “Where’d you get it?” Nog asked.
“Canned food drive at the church.” He pointed to St. Augustine. “No canned turkey though.” He appeared disappointed.
“And you open it by banging it?” Nog asked. “I thought someone was hammering.”
“Oh, I was hammering.” The ghost livened up.
Thud! Thud! Thud!
“Believe me,” the ghost said, “more graves get worn away like this, and age and weather get blamed for it. What a misnomer. Look towards the generosity of canned food givers and see the correlation.”
Nog was speechless with the fog’s nonsense. He’d lost his voice, because he wasn’t sure if the nonsense was really true, which wouldn’t make it nonsense at all … and he thought, how sadly all the damage could have been prevented if someone had only known. It was an eye opener, or at least raised a skeptical lid.
“I’ve never seen a ghost before,” Nog said. “Thought I’d be afraid … but I’m not.”
“It’s the night,” the fog said. “It gives us ghosts a bad rap. If your Aunt Petunia suddenly showed up in the dark, that’d scare you, but place her in a kitchen with fresh baked cookies in her hand, not likely. It all has to do with the circumstance of the surroundings.”
“Maybe ghosts should bake cookies then,” Nog said.
“… Maybe.” The fog nodded.
“Are there others who will come out at night?” Nog said. “I hadn’t noticed, but it is New England.”
The ghost exposed a grin of gaps and jagged pebbles. “Some do,” the fog said, “but we’ve got a lot of grave potatoes and absent tenants.”
“So you know the other occupants?”
“I’m friendly. I do, some.”
“Do you know Danny?” Nog directed the ghost’s attention to the guitar pummeled gravestone.
“Yes.” Nog had a glimmer of hope.
“I heard him say once that his singing fell on dead ears, if he only knew.”
“I think it was deaf,” Nog corrected him.
“Go frop fead. Steal a man’s humor, but I really enjoyed that ‘Bleeding Blue’ song of his,” the fog said, and appeared to hum the song in his head, and then came back. “But sadly, no, he’s not here. Paid him a visit, like to keep abreast of the newcomers. Tapped the stone awhile, but no answer. Didn’t perceive him as the rude type. Figured he took flight.” The ghost seeming to be done fooled Nog and continued “I went back a day or so later and took a peek, in case he was hard of hearing. I heard many musicians suffer from that, but he wasn’t there. I mean his body was … but you know … he wasn’t.”
“Right … might I ask how one takes flight and one doesn’t?” Nog said.
“Comes down to understanding, I guess,” the fog said. “Your answer’s probably in the church. Not well versed. Haven’t been there myself.”
Nog eyed incredulously the mound of canned goods.
“Got them in the pantry,” the ghost said.
“Have you ever thought of going inside?” Nog said. “In the church I mean. It could be uplifting.”
“I read you. No more breaking cans?” the ghost said.
Nog raised an eyebrow.
“Maybe one day,” the fog answered. “Not sure how wanted I’d be.”
It was strange talking to someone whose body drifted back and forth through a gravestone. Following along that line of strangeness, Nog had an original idea and probably safe to say an untested one.
“Why don’t you just stick your face through the can and eat what’s inside or taste it that way?” Nog said. “You wouldn’t spend all your time banging, and no embarrassing mess. Your neighbors would like you for that. I’m sure.” Nog was thinking of Danny’s stone, fresh in the cemetery and still looking new.
The ghost pulled back the sides of his lips and shook his head.
“I never thought about doing that,” he said.
“Well try,” Nog said and waited … and the ghost did … and did it quite successfully.
“It’s like an everlasting, entombed lollipop,” he said, smiling, and stuck the can in again like someone would an orange wedge, “always there, always fresh,” the fog spoke through what mimicked the canister insert of a gas mask and dropped his head closer to the ground. “Thank you, Nog.”
“Are you in need of aid?” the ghost asked. “I see your guitar is broken.”
“Can you fix it?” Nog quickly asked.
“Oh, well … I’m trying to move it,” Nog said.
“Out of here?” the ghost asked.
“Yes, I’m trying to keep it safe,” Nog said. “It was Danny’s.”
“Danny’s?” the ghost said “And you, who are you, little one? I heard someone say ‘muse,’ Danny’s muse?”
“Yes, I’m Notabius.”
“Nog the rabbit,” the fog said. “I thought muses were beautiful women … goddesses.”
“That’s funny, that’s what Danny said when I first met him,” Nog said. “Come to think about it, he was a bit disappointed.”
“So they’re not?”
“Oh no,” Nog said. “That’s why it’s called mythology. Probably some muse, full of herself, told her vessel that line and the rest is history.”
“Interesting … so I guess I have you to thank for that ‘Bleeding Blue’ song? But what’s with the wreath?”
“I’m a Christmas muse,” Nog said. “I was born in the season, imagined into life by someone touched by Christmas.”
“You were imagined? So you’re not real?” the ghost asked.
“No, I’m real,” Nog said. “It takes an imagination to create me, but I’m real.”
“Oh. How about that? I’ve never seen one like you,” the fog said. “I wasn’t too imaginative, so that would make sense … but why do I see you now?”
“I don’t know,” Nog said and rocked his head. “I’ve never met a ghost before.”
“I knew some artist types when I was alive,” the fog said. “They never mentioned anything about a muse.”
“Well, they wouldn’t remember,” Nog said.
“Wouldn’t remember?” the ghost said. “If I had a muse I think I’d remember that.”
“No you wouldn’t,” Nog said. “It’s not personal. It’s just the way it is. You see, when I talked to Danny and had his attention, then he could see me and knew of me, but if someone interrupted us and drew his attention away, he’d instantly forget me. If the other person asked who he was talking to, Danny would honestly answer that he was just thinking about an idea for a song.”
“He forgot you?”
“Yes,” Nog said. “It’s not that Danny wanted to. He couldn’t help but forget. It was natural. This way he wasn’t inclined to tell anyone about me. You see a vessel comes first.”
“A vessel? … Danny?”
“Danny, right,” Nog said. “A muse is supposed to remain unknown in the background. It’s the vessel’s song, the vessel’s painting, not the muse’s. A muse only helps to inspire. Now, when I talked to Danny again, he saw and knew me again and was never surprised and said ‘Who are you?’”
“Like temporary amnesia?” the fog asked.
“Yes, that’s a good way of putting it,” Nog said. “I like that, temporary amnesia. When he was talking to others he’d have amnesia, and then it would wear off when he heard me again … but he always remembered the ideas we discussed, even though not the discussion. I guess it was a kind of selective temporary amnesia. He never forgot anything about the ideas … and that’s the way it is with a muse and his vessel.”
“Interesting,” the fog said. “I’d never have guessed. Well Nog, I can bring the guitar as far as the gate.”
“Could you?” he said. “That would be wonderful.”
“You’re loyal, Notabius, looking out for Danny’s stuff,” the fog said.
“He gave me life,” Nog said. “I owe it to him.”
“Ah no, no you don’t do this for him, because you owe it to him,” the ghost said. “You’ve a big heart. I can tell. You wear it on your head.”
“The Christmas wreath,” the fog said.
At that moment, though he didn’t know why, Nog recalled the baby. It hadn’t been a dream after all. There was a baby. Wasn’t there? Requiem had said that. He had said that Danny’s daughter had been born on Christmas morning, a Christmas birth like himself. Nog was empty, but that emptiness due to Danny’s passing, some of it had filled with the thought of the child. He was drawn to her. Nog gazed around. Maybe Danny was pushing him from his aerial state … but the fog said that Danny wasn’t there, and Nog figured that the fog was more suited to making that call than himself. Still, he was feeling Danny, there was no mistaking that. He could only be sad for Danny, because he felt him. He could only know the loss by remembering what he had had with Danny. Maybe it was because he knew Danny all too well, and knew he would have loved the child and sung to the child what made him happy, maybe that’s why Nog felt drawn to a baby he’d never met. Danny would have loved to share his happiness with her. Nog felt drawn to the baby, not for himself, but for Danny, for Danny … because Danny could never meet her.
“Is that enough to stay?” Nog asked. “A big heart?”
“Stay? I don’t follow you, but does that matter? It’s enough for anything. That’s for sure.”
The fog’s words were free enough, and without being given a hint had honestly confirmed what Nog thought he could do with how he felt … and Nog knew he had more to do. There was more to be taken care of than just the guitar. He had to keep Danny alive.
Ethan Partridge, the name Nog read from the ghost’s gravestone, placed the guitar properly with its neck stretched out in the snow just inside the cast iron gate. Nog watched how the fog carefully pushed the guitar out the gate without his hand passing by it itself.
“Can’t you come out?” Nog asked. “Can’t you leave the graveyard?”
“No,” Ethan said. “I’ve tried.
That type of imprisonment didn’t sit easy with Nog. “But you’ve gotten cans from the church,” he pointed out. “That’s outside the fence.”
“I’ve never had a problem with that,” Ethan said. “I don’t know why, but I can’t leave here besides that, and I’ve tried.”
“Will you burn up or something?” Nog asked.
“No,” Ethan said. “It just won’t let me, and it saddens me. I mean it actually saddens me, physically or spiritually, if you want to cut hairs. I’m not sad now, but if I touch it I will be.”
“There’s a barrier?”
“Must be,” the fog said.
“Oh come on, Ethan.” Nog gestured to the ghost. “You can come out.”
“You want me sad?”
“No,” Nog said, “but sometimes we have to chance sadness to find happiness. I’m sad because of Danny’s death, but would I trade in that sadness for having never met him? No. When I fish through my memories of him will I stop fishing when I start to cry? No, because I know there is so much more there than sadness. If we chance it enough, the happiness will outweigh what’s sad.” Nog wrinkled his brow and scratched his head. “I believe that from somewhere … maybe it was Danny.”
“You want me sad.”
“You’re looking sad already. Come through, Ethan,” Nog said with his hand out on the other side.
The fog examined the cast iron frame of the entrance, and the backside of the cemetery’s name arched above. He looked where Nog stood, and then where his own feet hovered.
“Come on.” Nog’s arm reached longer for him. “My big heart says so.” In one breath he hoped to encourage Ethan, but at the same time he hoped to relinquish any slight doubt that itched him about a big heart’s ability. He himself was chancing his own sadness. “You said a big heart could do anything. I need to know that,” Nog said. “Please come.”
The fog’s posture changed. Nog guessed he didn’t like his words challenged.
“I am not a liar,” Ethan said firmly as he nervously licked his lips.
“I would say not, but I am doubtful of my own heart,” Nog said. “Come through and help me find its strength.”
With that, Ethan’s eyes locked on the little muse and he stepped forward. His foot passed the gate … and he smiled.
“Do you smile when you’re sad?” Nog asked.
“No,” Ethan said and hurried the rest of him out as if a fire was at his breeches. “I made it through.” Ethan was touching his arms and legs, touching the earth outside. He sounded surprised, which in turn surprised Nog. Had there been something false about the ghost’s words concerning big hearts? Nog could nitpick at it forever he supposed, but whatever the fog had said, true or untrue at the time in his own mind, it was true now. Nog saw it, and it was good enough for him.
“Oh this is wonderful,” Ethan said.
“You gonna come?” Nog asked.
“No, no, not just yet,” Ethan said, rubbing his hands together. “I think I’m going to stand here until the others wake up, and show them. Surprise them. You know, they couldn’t get out either? Ha, I’m giddy.” He saluted the little muse. “Thank you, thank you, Nog.”
“You’re welcome, Ethan. Thank you.” Nog was happy for the first time in many days. He took hold of the “D” string’s knob, tipped his wreath and bid farewell as the ghost danced to a tune in his head.