It had been a hot July day, and as Jack’s feet shuffled forward, a five-o’clock shadow covered the lower half of his face. Meanwhile perspiration was soaking through his clothes, and he was having a rough time keeping up with Daisy, who in stark contrast to her master, was scampering along with great enthusiasm. The golden Labrador was also making frequent pauses to smell the weeds or to investigate a crawling caterpillar.
The two evening strollers were moving along a gravel path, which ran through the cemetery, lying across the street from their house. The man had selected this route, because he was tired, and he did not want to hike any farther than he had to tonight. As the trail turned to the left though, he spotted a wild raspberry bush, and his energy level jumped a notch. Raspberries were his favorite fruit, and coming to a halt, he popped a morsel into his mouth.
However, the wiry canine apparently decided that she was uninterested in any stop that was not of her choosing, and after a few moments she began to howl in protest. Nor was she the only creature who seemed concerned. At the same time two crows heard the rustling sound, and as they looked down from the limb of a nearby weeping willow, where they had been searching for insects, they cawed out in distress.
Jack did not want to give up his treat though, and in response to the rebellious behavior of his walking partner, he tightened his grip on her leash. He also ignored the birds, while reaching out for more of the enchanting fruit. This carefree attitude was too much for the winged creatures though, and when they took off in hasty flight, the man’s faithful companion tried again with greater force. Furthermore, although her master put up an initial resistance, he quickly lost his will to continue the struggle, and after moving past the raspberry bush, he headed back toward the aluminum sided residence on the other side of the street.
A minute later the two adventurers stepped over the opposite curb, and the dog snarled at a chipmunk, who was trying to salvage crumbs off the asphalt driveway. As the rodent scrambled into the grass though, Jack stopped the Lab from giving chase. Then once her nemesis entered the house, the tiny creature resumed her search for nourishment, while a casual conversation drifted through the kitchen window.
“Hi Honey,” came a female voice. ”How was your walk?”.
The sound of a pan plunging into dishwater followed this comment, while the man removed the leash from his dog’s collar. He then sat down at the brown kitchen table.
“It was kind of hot,” he told his wife, “but Daisy was glad to get out.”
“She needs the exercise,” the woman agreed, before adding in a more concerned tone, “What’s that red mark on your chin?”
Another pause followed, as her husband checked out the question, and during this interval the chipmunk scooped a tiny yellow fragment of Ritz Cracker off the driveway.
“Hmm, looks like berry juice,” the man commented, and with a grin he added, “We found some raspberries on our walk, and they were ripe for picking?”
“Uh, where exactly did you find them?”
“On the path into the cemetery,” he replied.
The husband sounded cheerful, as he described his mini discovery, but the revelation sent a shiver down the rodent’s spine, and the woman did not seem happy either.
“Jack!” she exclaimed. “You shouldn’t eat fruit growing next to tombstones.”
“Why not?” he argued, sounding a bit irritated. “They were wild berries, and I’m sure no one is going to miss them.”
“I don’t care. That’s a graveyard, and eating there gives me the creeps,” she insisted.
However, her agitation now struck the man as funny.
“Are you afraid the ghosts might be offended?” he suggested in a light-hearted manner, which proved too much for the miniature mammal to handle.
At that point the chipmunk abandoned her quest for a meal, and jumping off the asphalt, she rushed across the lawn. Yet before she reached the white picket fence, she heard an angry rebuke from the woman coming through the window.
“Jack! Don’t laugh! It’s not funny!”
* * *
Late that night after the lights were out, a sudden force shook the oak tree outside the master bedroom and woke up a grey squirrel resting on one of its branches. For a moment the furry little creature thought a thunderstorm must be coming, but she sensed no humidity in the air, and when she looked up, a full assembly of stars were shining in the sky. Then from the other side of the street an eerie noise arose from between the tombstones. The disturbance sounded like a cross between a whistle and a shriek, and a moment later a dark shadow appeared in that same spot.
As the apparition moved across the street, the squirrel’s instincts told her that she did not want to see this, and she buried her eyes as deep as possible into her nest. Whatever it was kept coming though, and after sliding over the front lawn, it started climbing the outside wall of the house. Then when the shadow reached the second story, it slithered through the window of the master bedroom, and came to a halt on the blue rug right next to the man’s bed. With only a sliver of moon showing that night, a casual observer might have concluded that this strange intruder had only been an illusion, but that would have been before his deep and angry voice roared out.
“Who’s been eating my raspberries?”
Jack woke with a start, and his eyes turned toward the sound. Yet what he thought he saw did not make sense. The trespasser stood seven feet tall, and his entire body was covered by a grey shroud with a narrow slit where his mouth should have been. This opening apparently allowed the nighttime caller to see and speak, but it was not wide enough for the man to identify any of his facial features.
“What? Who are you?” came a sleepy reply.
“What or who I am is of no concern to you,” his visitor admonished. “I am here, because you have been eating raspberries in the cemetery!” and the accusation caused the man’s eyes to open all the way.
Then when the apparition did not disappear, he gasped from fright, and as he attempted to answer, his lips started to quiver.
“Bbb- but those are wild raspberries,” he whimpered. “What does it matter who eats them?”
This was not what the intruder had wanted to hear though, and a loud crash sounded, as the man tumbled onto the floor.
“Ouch!” he moaned. “Why did you do that?”
“Silence!” the voice screamed, and a wordless moment followed, as the phantom made certain his host had gotten the message.
“Those berries belong to the spirit world!” the apparition then announced with authority. “They are not to be picked by mortals.”
At this point Jack seemed to fall apart, and his hands gripped the sheet in an effort to cover his face. However, he had landed on top of the bedclothes, leaving this maneuver nearly impossible.
“Yes Sir,” came a frightened sob. “They should only be eaten by spirits,” and his visitor nodded
“And I trust in the future, we will not see the likes of you nibbling on them,” he continued.
“Absolutely not,” the man agreed. “I will never touch your raspberries again.”
“Good!” the firm voice asserted, and slipping out of the room, the shadow glided down the side of the house.
As the apparition crossed the lawn, the wind picked up, and wanting to know what was happening, Jack jumped to his feet. By the time he reached the window though, his mysterious caller was moving back across the street, and the spooky sound that greeted the shadow’s return to the cemetery caused the man to faint from fright.
* * *
When the sun rose the next morning, the robin in the oak tree broke into song, and after a while Jack began to stir. Then as he realized he was lying on the floor, he remembered the strange intruder, and his face turned as pale, as the sheet sagging over the side of the bed. At this point though he stood up, and as he looked out the window, a sunny sky hovered above him. He could also feel that the humidity had dropped from the evening before, and the prospect of such a beautiful day made him feel less spooked.
A moment later, the man told himself that his nocturnal experience had been nothing but a weird dream, and ignoring the bruise that had formed on his hip during his tumble out of bed, he stepped into the bathroom. His normal routine proved therapeutic, and as the electric razor removed his stubble, a smile formed on his face. Then as he turned on the shower he began to sing. Before long though his off-key melody upset the robin.
The man’s rendition of “My Wild Irish Rose” made it difficult for the bird to concentrate on his own music. What disturbed the winged creature even more however was this arrogant human’s ability to brush aside his visit from the spirit world, and with a sad flap of his wings, he launched himself into the blue sky.
After donning his grey suit and red tie, Jack consumed a hearty breakfast of pancakes with maple syrup and bacon. He also drank three cups of coffee with cream, and a half hour later he felt ready to resume the rat race. However, as he stepped out his front door, the wind made an eerie whistle through the trees, and a frightened look crossed his face. It sounded like what he had imagined hearing, during that weird dream, when the shadow had slipped back across the street. His setback only lasted a few seconds though, before he laughed and shook his head, as if he could not believe he had been so silly. Then pulling his keys out of his pocket, he climbed into his little white Golf.
* * *
That evening while the chipmunk was hunting for tidbits by the trunk of the oak tree, she spotted the man’s car pulling into the driveway. To her surprise though, as Jack stepped toward his house, his face appeared free of any anxiety, as if nothing unusual had occurred within the last twenty-four hours. Then a few minutes later, the tiny creature heard the sound of laughter flowing through the kitchen window, and despite the warm summer temperature, a cold tingle ran up her spine.
After dinner the woman started clearing the table, and Jack led their dog out the front door. By now the man had changed into shorts, tennis shoes and a green T-shirt, and he looked quite comfortable. He also appeared to have quite a bit more energy than he had demonstrated the night before. Meanwhile, Daisy was wagging her tail, perhaps hoping that she would get to chase a rabbit that evening. As the pair passed the kitchen window though, the man’s wife called through the screen.
“Honey! You’re not going to pick raspberries in the cemetery tonight?” she asked in an uneasy tone, and the question brought a startled look to the man’s face.
When he answered though, he managed to remove the surprise from his voice.
“Why not? They’re delicious, and nobody cares.”
“Please, Jack, don’t do it,” came her reply. “It freaks me out!”
“That’s ridiculous,” he argued.
“But it scares me,” she insisted. “I had a dream last night that a demon came into our bedroom and yelled at you for eating his raspberries.”
The news that they had both experienced the same dream unnerved the man, and for a scary moment he wondered if the visit might have been real. He quickly shook his head to try to brush off this thought, but he still looked disturbed.
“A demon?” he repeated,
“Yes, a hideous grey creature with a head that almost reached the ceiling,” she pronounced, and her husband felt his right-hand twitch.
“All right,” he agreed. “I won’t go in the graveyard.”
“Thank you,” she replied, “I feel much better.”
Jack and the dog then headed off on one of their other regular routes, taking the mile and a half path around Butler Lake. However, with the pleasant weather this evening and the pink clouds reflecting the sunset over the water, the man soon convinced himself that the similar dreams last night had been a coincidence. Perhaps their conversation about the raspberries had triggered subconscious images from some scary movie, which they had once seen together but had long since forgotten. Still, he had told his wife that he would stay out of the graveyard, and as he watched the white geese swimming across the lake, he intended to keep his word.
When Jack reapproached his house though, a whimsical look appeared in his eyes, and he glanced toward the other side of the street. No one was in the cemetery, and as he recalled the spot, where he had spotted the raspberry bush the night before, the sweet little morsels hanging from its branches seemed to be calling his name. He knew he had promised his wife that he would leave the forbidden fruit alone, but his mouth was starting to water, and deciding that what she did not know could not hurt her, he stepped over the curb.
Realizing what was happening, the squirrel dropped the brown nut from her mouth, and with her hair standing on end, she raced down the trunk of the oak tree. The miniature mammal was not alone in this reaction though. When she reached the ground the chipmunk joined her, and jumping over the garden hose, the two rodents scurried around to the back of the house. Meanwhile the robin took off, like he had just seen a cat climbing his tree, and as he rose above the branches, the crows fell in on his right.
At this point the wind started blowing, and taking the gust as a confirmation of her instinctive fears, Daisy pulled back toward the house. This only caused her master to yank harder on the leash though, and it was not until they started up the gravel path, that she managed to break away. Then as the man watched her fly across the street, he mumbled a curse. Rather than trying to catch the dog though, he took another step toward the raspberry bush.
By now the wind had swept a covering of dark clouds across the sky, and when a heavy rain started to fall, the man looked up in surprise. A minute ago, the heavens had been almost clear. However, he continued his trek, thinking that soaked clothes were a small price to pay for the enticing flavor of the little red berries.
Unable to wait, Jack soon started to run, and his feet splashed through the puddles that now covered the ground. Nor did he allow himself to slow down, as he felt his shoes starting to sink into the mud. Then when he reached the bush, he grabbed at the fruit like a man possessed and stuffed the tiny morsels into his mouth. The first handful only strengthened his desire though, and with his eyes glaring, he yanked additional raspberries off the branches.
The wind spotted the dark shadow rising between the gravestones, and it shrieked louder, trying to warn the poor creature on the ground of the folly he was engaged in. Over many millennia the forces of nature had learned to recognize the approach of an evil omen, and the racing air knew that this foolish human should be fleeing for his life. Yet Jack’s only purpose now was consuming as many raspberries as his stomach would hold. His fingers were turning red, and stains covered his clothes, but he did not care.
In a final desperate effort to attract the man’s attention, the wind ripped a branch off the weeping willow and tossed it at his feet. The effort proved to be in vain though. Without pausing in his berry consumption, Jack kicked the timber to the side, and as the shadow reached his back, the wind became too frightened to watch. Then when the gust retreated from the scene, the black clouds saw their own chance to escape, and they scattered in all directions.
The sky turned blue, even quicker than it had darkened, and surprised by this freak change in the weather, the man looked over his shoulder. The sight behind him though inspired a scream that might have woken the dead. Only the wad of raspberries filling his mouth muffled the sound of his cry, and not a soul heard his plea for help. Nor would anyone ever know what became of Jack.
No one in his world anyway.