The headstones were spread out in even rows. All of them the same ovular shape. Every one identical save for the names and dates written on them. The first time his mother took him to the graveyard, Xander was four years old and frightened. He was scared because he’d heard ghosts guarded the stones on the hill. No one had seen them, but everyone agreed that it was true so he believed it.
He followed his mother with wide eyes and thumping heart and gripped her hand tight not knowing the pain it caused her. The sickness was taking ahold of her even then, but she didn’t say a word about it or the pain. Instead, she tried reassuring him that the ghost stories weren’t true, but the idea was already locked deep in his mind. His mother set the flowers in front of his Nana’s grave and began talking. Xander didn’t pay attention but anxiously waited for her to finish so they could leave.
A pair of eyes peeked out from behind the headstone. They stared at him and he stared back, breaking eye contact only to glance at his mother. A giggle echoed through the empty burial ground. His mother didn’t seem to notice any of it. She kept talking despite the young girl’s chin resting on his Nana’s gravestone. He glared at the girl and pretended to act brave.
“She can’t see me,” the young girl said, “but I can hear her. I’m happy to see you again young Xander.”
His heart fluttered within him and he grabbed at his mother’s arm. She paused long enough to tell him they would leave soon.
The young girl walked around and sat in front of the stone. She stared at him. The large smile never leaving her face. She carefully touched the flowers his mother had brought. Their movement was so subtle it could have simply been from the wind.
“Xander dear. Don’t be frightened. It’s me, Nana.”
At that, he nearly let go of his mother’s arm and ran, but fear had frozen him.
“It’s okay. It’s a scary place, but it’s okay. Don’t speak, just listen.”
She came out every visit and told him stories. He never spoke to her until he started visiting her alone when he was fifteen and his mother became too sick to leave the house. His job took up much of his time and he had to drop out of school. When he wasn’t working or by his mother’s side, he spent afternoons at the graveyard asking Nana questions and listening to more of her stories. She was always there for him.
When he was sixteen, his Papa died. They brought him all the way back to town and buried him next to Nana. The next time Xander visited their graves he found two teenagers his own age. At first, he ignored them thinking they were visitors, or a young couple looking for privacy, until Nana called his name. He sat in the grass with them for hours talking about the trouble they got into at his age. They prefaced each one with a warning not to do as they had done, but he found himself laughing with them until the sky dimmed and the sun’s fading rays hit their faces like firelight. Then his Papa said, “Xander, my boy, it isfffs time for us to go.”
He stood. “I’ll come visit tomorrow.”
“No, little one,” his Nana said, “We are leaving.”
“We can’t stay here. There are things we should have done a long time ago,” his Papa smiled.
“Do you know why we told you all of our stories?”
He hung his head, hiding his eyes. “I’ll never forget you.”
“We know, but that is not the reason,” Nana said.
“True,” his Papa placed a hand on his shoulder, “It is good to remember the past, but you must live your life. Leave your dreams with the living, do not bring them here as we have done.”
“It’s okay,” a new voice said.
Xander looked over to see someone he’d only seen in a photograph, and his whole world crumbled. She had long, black hair and hazel eyes. She was smiling as she approached. He fell to his knees when she reached him and she knelt down to hug him.
“It’s okay Xander,” his mother said in her teenage voice. They sat with each other as the sun disappeared from the horizon. Its last rays illuminating the clouds enough for him to see his mother as she once was. “They’re right,” she said lifting his chin, “It is time for all of us to leave this place. I won’t be an anchor to you any longer. It is time you lived your life. Discovered the world. Go, live while you are young.”
“But mom…I can’t.”
“Of course you can. Let us be your guide.”