It's my favorite time of year, Halloween. Or All Hallow's Eve to some. Dia de los Muertos to others. To celebrate I'm participating in the Haunted House of Manlove Flash Hop.
Don't forget to check out the rest of the hop participants this week! The schedule is below.
************Jared angled his camera a touch to the left. He wanted to get the shot just right. All around him people were dressed in traditional celebration outfits. Colorful sombreros adorned their heads. Men, women, and kids had their faces painted white with color or black lines accentuating their skull. This was a day of celebration and Jared was in the middle of the cemetery. Taking pictures.
Dia de los Muertos. He’d read all about this day before planning this trip to Mexico. Did all of his research. Even went as far as putting together a costume for himself. Granted it wasn’t nearly as elaborate as some of the ones he’d seen already. And it was only three o’clock in the afternoon.
He checked the filter once more. The lighting was perfect. Now, if that person would move just a little to the left I’d have the perfect…
The person moved, but Jared didn’t click the button. His camera made no noise. His attention was diverted. To a man standing just beyond the table of candles and sugar skulls Jared had been trying to get a shot of. A memorial to a loved one. The subject of his entire trip. And yet, the man in the gray suit with white accents and a gray top hat stole his focus.
Jared walked to him. What was he doing here? In gray and white rather than the black he’d seen most of the day, this person stood out in the crowd. Jared had a sudden desire to learn more about the ghost. Maybe he’d let Jared take a picture or two. As Jared approached the guy turned to face him. His head slowly raised from where he’d been looking at the ground, a grave for a loved one? Family? Friend? Or someone else?
His heart pounded. Jared’s breathing became shallow. Quickly he tossed the strap of his camera around his neck. Now would not be a good time to drop the camera. He viciously wiped his sweat-soaked palms up and down his jeans.
Jared cleared his throat. “Excuse me.” He held his hand out.
“Yes?” The man’s deep baritone rattled Jared even more.
He squinted at the man in front of him. Something about him was…different. His eyes were a clear blue, as though Jared could see right through them. See into his soul.
“My name is Jared. I’m here photographing some of the memorials and costumes. Would you mind…?”
“Afternoon, Jared. Would I mind what exactly?”
“I-if I…umm…who are you here for?” Suddenly unable to ask the man for permission to take his picture, Jared looked at the headstone in front of them. He read the engraving.
Their brother. My forever love. Taken too soon. Forever remembered. Never forgotten.
Markus. If Jared did the math right he was only twenty-five when he passed. There was no date of death, only the year. Three years ago.
“I’m sorry for your loss. How did it happen, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I was stupid. We’d been celebrating all day. Drinking. Partying. The parades were over. I shouldn’t have been in the car. Phillip didn’t want me to go. He begged me to go home with him. If I had…”
The mood around them shifted. No one stood by. For all Jared knew the cemetery was empty. I should leave him here to grieve in peace. But he couldn’t walk away. It was like his feet were cemented to the ground.
“If you had?”
“Then I wouldn’t be staring at my own grave on the anniversary of my death. My Phillip wouldn’t have set up that table right there.” He pointed to the memorial Jared had been waiting to capture.
His heart stopped as the man’s words replayed in his head. His own grave. The anniversary of his death. His Phillip.
“Wait. You. I mean…this…”
“Yes. This is my grave. Turn around. Look to your left.”
Jared’s skin broke out in goose bumps when a blast of cold air passed over him. He’d been watching Markus and didn’t realize the man had lifted his arm and pointed over Jared’s shoulder. Jared shook his head. Surely, this was a dream. He’d sat down in the cemetery to wait for the crowd to thin so his pictures would come out perfectly.
No way was he standing next to a ghost. It wasn’t possible. Not even today. Not on El Dia de los Muertos. Because ghosts were not real.
Yet, he did as instructed. He turned and looked to his left. Another man knelt at the memorial. His head buried in his hands. Silent sobs shook his shoulders. Jared’s feet moved on their own, no longer rooted to the ground.
As he moved to the newcomer, a sense of knowing settled in his chest. This was Phillip. This was Markus’s lover.
“Take care of him for me, Jared. He is the most loving, caring man I ever met. For the five years we were together I was the happiest man in this world. He will give that to you as well. You just have to let him. My Phillip needs a man like you. A man who will be there for him. Who will take his pain of my loss. When you worry that he will always miss me. That I will always hold a special place in his heart, know that I am the one who sent you to him. I’ve chosen you to fill the void I left behind.”
The words filtered through Jared’s thoughts. He didn’t hear them as though someone stood next to him and spoke. They came from inside. From his soul.
“Phillip?” Jared whispered the name. The man kneeling on the ground looked up to Jared. Black streaks ran down his cheeks.
“Yes. Who are you?”
Jared didn’t know exactly what to say. The truth seemed too strange. And right. Phillip would believe him. Of that he had no doubt.
“Name’s Jared. I…well, I think I just talked to Markus.”
Phillip sat back on his heels. “My Markus?”
Jared nodded. “It sounds crazy, but yes.”
The other man laughed. Not a chuckle, but a howling, throw your head back laugh. He clutched his stomach and fell forward.
“Son of a bitch. He told you he chose you for me, didn’t he.”
How did he know? Then again, it didn’t really matter. Jared had just talked to a ghost. “You knew?”
Phillip stood and extended his hand to Jared. “Yep. The bastard told me just before he passed that he’d find someone to love me the way he did. Said he’d send him to me when the time was right.” “I guess the time is right.”
His smile was so bright Jared actually took a step back. “Looks like it. What are you doing here? How did you find this place?”
“I’m a photographer. I’ve planned this trip. Everyone told me to come here for the best pictures. So here I am. Coincidence brought us together I suppose.”
Phillip shook his head. “No. Markus brought us together. I can show you some other places with even better scenery if you’d like.”
Wow. Jared couldn’t believe his luck. He twisted back to where he’d seen Markus. No longer did a man in gray stand looking down. Jared smiled. Maybe ghosts really were true. “I’d like that.”