“The fall of noon.” That’s what Grandfather called it. I never really understood how noontime could actually fall, but he liked to say it that way. “Evening rises,” was another. “Morning booms,” he’d greet the day.
My childhood summers at Abasteron House by the sea were filled with colorful sunsets, juicy blackberries off the backyard vine, and sea-lavender abundant in my bedroom. Late at night, Grandfather would wake me and point to the window.
“See the waves shining under moony light. Observe! The shivering flakes of night.”
Poetic, yes, but Grandfather was a genealogist. He tracked family origins, tracing ancestry back through the centuries. He especially enjoyed the history of angels and demons; he spent his life teaching the evolution of their mythologies from primary cultures to the Age of Reason.
“Look, Davida,” he’d say sweetly. “The sea’s wind leaves ancient face prints on the windows. There. Do you see them?” I never saw any faces, just salt-caked streaks. My name is Davida Kipling Livingston and everybody called me Kip, except Grandfather.
“What were you dreaming, Davida? Did Duma protect you?”
Duma is the angel-prince of dreams and awarded the job of guarding us against nightmares. One day Grandfather asked me to paint a picture of Duma. I had just turned fourteen and drew the angel with spiky blond hair, gigantic green torch eyes, skull-faced, and dressed him in a black tuxedo jacket with guitar-shaped hips. Purple and black background gave it a punk-rock-star quality that I adored. Grandfather wasn’t pleased. What did he expect, wings? He did. So I added a bunch to Duma’s back, designed like jail bars with chains and padlocks.
He hung it upstairs in his attic study. But I knew he didn’t love it like I did.
At precisely the fall of noon, every day, Grandfather would walk the sand dunes along the upper beach. With the sea rocking and seabirds calling, I’d watch him from the attic study window. It was a hatched window at the top of Abasteron House and the view pulled the eyes out far and wide. I felt like God up there, watching Grandfather grow smaller with each step. Why did he walk at the fall of noon? He never failed this devotion, not even in the rain, or during storms. He’d come back, his face all flushed, eyes bright. Did he meet someone there? One of his imaginary people?
Aunt Agatha, his sister, told me Grandfather had imaginary friends all his life. Dream people—friends he brought alive into his waking life. “Don’t ask,” she warned.
One day I secretly listened at his attic door. Rizzle-rizzle. When I heard this hissing from Grandfather’s study, I dared not enter. Menacing growls, odd flapping. My heart jumped; my legs trembled. Scraaaaatch-scratch. Rizzle- rizzle. I imagined witch-men with long tails in suits of fire, hideous claws, their bones twisted, their gaping mouths gurgling. I backed away.
“Mice,” Grandfather explained.
Abasteron House was an antique, built in 1874 by a sea captain, but mice? “No way, Pops.”
When the rizzle-rizzle transformed into shrieks like some foul attacking its prey, I cried into my pillows. Next day, I poured my anxiety out on canvas, painting the sounds into pictures of these witch-men.
“No,” Grandfather said, examining every stroke. “You’ve got it all wrong, Davida. They don’t look like that. You listen to too much rock music.”
At his insistence, I spent the day listening to Chopin’s piano concertos. “Now, draw again, please,” he instructed.
I spent hours at the canvas, letting my mind wander, letting the brush and paint create images from the concertos. Suddenly there was a golden staircase by a river with vine-wrapped trees. Some kind of wild ghost-gods floated down the spiral steps. I was astonished. “Who are they, Grandfather?”
“Pioneers?” he suggested.
“No they’re not pioneers!”
“No? Who then?”
“Are they … your dream friends, Grandfather?”
He laughed. “No, my pet. They are your friends.”
I began living with Grandfather after my parents died. He more than filled the loss during my teen years, college time, and now as an adult. The day he died, Grandfather walked the dunes at noon, the winter sun tilting over his head. I watched him from the hatched window. He shuffled along, his heart slow and failing.
My whole life, Grandfather had forbidden me to walk with him at noon. We’d walk on the beach but only at sunset. This cold day, I challenged that command and ran out of Abasteron House. Wet sand shushed under my feet. Seabirds screeched. Great horned shadows hung over the dunes like ghouls.
I caught up to him, slipped my arm into his. “Grandfather, you’re trembling in this icy wind. I came to walk you home.”
He stopped and looked at me. “You can’t do that.”
“Of course I can. Lean on me. You shouldn’t be out here alone.”
He looked out to the grey sea. “I’m never alone on the dunes. But, I can’t leave her now. Who will watch for her?”
“Watch for whom?”
“I don’t want to miss her. I’m sure she’s here.”
“Who do you come to see here every day all these years?”
“Abasteron? The angel of the fifth hour after sunset?”
“You remember your lessons well, Davida. Do you see her?”
“Grandfather, I see no one here.”
“She’ll come. Abasteron guards night. She visits day.”
“Is she … one of your dream people?”
“Will you watch for her, Davida?”
“Of course. Come home now.”
Hours later he passed peacefully, his last words whispering “Abasteron.”
I stayed on at Abasteron House. I painted, listened to Chopin’s concertos, and walked the dunes. Like Grandfather, I never actually saw the angel Abasteron. The attic study grew silent—Grandfather’s dream people all gone now. Then one night, under the moony light at my window, I dreamed of a firehawk, hooked wings, boney claws, greedy teeth plunged out, grinning with rage and flying at me from the shivering flakes of the night.
Rizzle-rizzle. I bolted awake. Great horned shadows advanced.
Paula Cappa is a published short story author, novelist, and freelance copy editor. Her short fiction has appeared in Every Day Fiction, SmokeLong Quarterly, Fiction365, Twilight Times, and in print anthologies Human Writes Literary Journal, and Mystery Time. Her writing career began as a freelance journalist for community newspapers in New York and Connecticut. Night Sea Journey, A Tale of the Supernatural is her first novel. A second novel is planned for release in spring 2013. She writes a weekly short story blog at paulacappa.wordpress.com.